In Change #14, we considered the importance of, and the absence of, rituals and ceremonies to mark thresholds for birth peeps and parents. Which brings us to the next logical call for Change: to call forth our elders, "Grandmothers" and "Grandfathers" to do what only they can do: patiently instruct through the telling of cultural and mythical stories, and to preserve and perform the deep essence of rituals that guide the youth across thresholds they might hesitate to cross on their own.
Bill Plotkin is one of the great visionaries and authors of our time, and founder of the Animus Valley Institute. Plotkin spent at least three decades developing his eight-stage soulcentric model of being human. In his book, Nature and the Human Soul, he addresses the “indigenous process by which a human child grows into soul-initiated adult.”
In cultures that utilize the wisdom, extra time, and patience, of its older members to initiate its youth, there is a Bridge by which youth can cross over into adulthood. Not just any older person can build that bridge, as Michael Meade, storyteller, mythologist, and author of a new book, Fate and Destiny, points out. Meade makes a blatant and humorous distinction between elders and “olders.” He says most people just get old and become “olders.” All of us become older without effort. Few become elders.
So what happens to a culture—a birth culture—with few elders? Just look! It becomes a culture populated by adults who are trapped in eternal victim, rebel, or princess-adolescence, following ego-centric whims, security-seeking, risk-age- and death-avoiding, depressed, and numb (either naturally or by medication). A culture without elders becomes a culture of eternal adolescence because when it was time to “leave home” and to leave adolescent identity, there was no elder or death-embracing/death-defying tasks or ritual to allow the child-adolescent to “die” --and to be “born” as an adult.
“Every step of leaving becomes a step of arriving,” Plotkin observes, “As you separate from your former society-centered identity, you claim more of your nature-and-soul-centered identity.”
What does an elder look like? Plotkin captures the essence of the elder, the “Grandmother”/”Grandfather”:
“A genuine elder possesses a good deal of wildness, perhaps more than any adult, adolescent or child. Our human wildness is our spontaneity, our untamed vivacity, our innocent presence, our resistance to oppression, our rule-transcending vivacity and self-reliance that societal convention can never contain. We are designed to grow deeper into that wildness as we mature, not to recede from it. When we live soul-centrically, immersed in a lifelong dance with the mysteries of nature and psyche, our wildness flourishes.”
If you are young or not yet an elder, commit yourself to knowing thyself, to completing the tasks of each stage of life. Prepare yourself to become an elder, not just older. They are waiting for you!
If you know an authentic elder-mentor, and you are willing, please share your experience here. It is helpful for us to cherish and to remember how elders can touch us and make a life-long impression.