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In The Face of Climate Collapse, We Need The Wisdom Of Elders

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I am steadily on the lookout for leveraging forces that can lift us out of heavy stuck loops, onto new ground. Often these are less obvious elements. One that has been underestimated is the presence of “elders,” whose presence calls us back to a bedrock sense of self and right relationship to the Earth.

We are up against a systemic reality in the U.S. regarding older Americans as they are abandoned in policy and practice on a national scale. Attacks on Social Security, Medicare, etc. are attacks on elderly people. Turning our view of eldership on its end is a beginning place to shift this utter disregard.

I am writing to those who are searching for a place from which to understand the disruption at hand and what is behind it, and also to those who want to respond in a way that provides a soft landing as systems collapse, while growing us into the human beings that we rightly are. Perhaps that “place” is under the wing of an elder who might offer shelter and inspiration, who has direct relationship with the spiritual reality that sits behind the concrete world, who is steadily available as a source of sanity and guidance.

Truthout’s Dahr Jamail will be writing the sequel to this piece, which will include the voices of several Indigenous elders who currently carry great weight. In recent months, I too, have been graced by the presence of Stan Rushworth, an elder of Cherokee heritage, author of Going to Water: The Journal of Beginning Rain, and Professor of Native American Literature at Cabrillo College in California. Stan maintains traditional ceremony, “which is for me, the root of it all.”

I can map a zigzagged journey in my life that is powered by a search for mentors and wisdom keepers. It all started with disappointment in my parents. I have come to understand that parents are rarely meant to be their childrens’ elders.

Elders or no, life is conspiring to catalyze new identity as life’s support systems collapse. A Great Initiation is under way on the planet, affecting all of us, as natural and human systems fail and we are all asked to transform our familiar and preferred lifestyles. Our former selves are being sponged out, mashed, decimated… rarely ushered out gracefully or without pain. At times, life presents a person who carries the spirit of elderhood to ease the way.

I remember well my first encounter with an “elder.” A group of younger women in the zenith of our careers gathered together to honor a shift into elder status earned by a 75-year-old colleague named Anne Dosher. Anne worked with disenfranchised youth at risk across the country; in San Diego County alone she established 17 youth agencies on their behalf that were intergenerational community coalitions.

I was one of many who followed in her footsteps. I remember when Anne was hired as a consultant for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, and their serious dismay when she finally retired. The council begged her to return on occasion to sit with them when particularly intense situations arose. They told her she didn’t need to say anything, just sit in the chambers, as they knew the quality of their conversations and their solutions would be superior if she was simply in the room. She continued in that role as elder.

Though her résumé and litany of national awards was impressive, we knew that they did not reflect the power of her leadership that inspired us so deeply. Anne gave me, above all else, prayer. Every morning for decades she took off her shoes, walked into her backyard, bowed to touch the Earth and opened herself to the presence of what she simply called The Great Spirit. Anne then spoke the names of specific people and places and situations that she held in her heart for safekeeping. Her prayer summoned potential and healing, even in the hardest of situations.

We gathered for a weekend of ceremony that we had created as a way to honor Anne’s accomplishments as an activist, and her crossing into the realm of inspiration and blessing for many in her wake. She was ready to pass her baton.

Anne was the mistress of circles and councils that learned together how to listen to life’s intent. The process of shared discernment restored sanctity to degraded situations, provided the conditions for individual healing, tapped collective vision and power. She lived in utter service to the health of our communities. Anne held open the way to regeneration amid the chaos of culture gone awry.

We youngers followed a deep impulse to name something important that was occurring in Anne. Lacking precedent or protocol for such ceremony, we made it up as best we could, listening together in the silence for instruction as she so often did. The ritual we designed honored her gifts and bowed to her substantial presence. I recall the receiving line we created toward the end of our time, when we lined up to greet Anne.

When it came my turn to stand in front of her, she grasped my hands, met my gaze, then leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “You carry the light.” It was as though lightning had struck my body. I bolted out of the proceedings, ran to my room, heaved myself onto my bed and cried for hours. It wasn’t the words, but the impact of having been seen straight through to my core. It was as though Anne’s initiation immediately gave her the power to initiate others.

My work and life changed thereafter. I co-founded an organization for women and girls called Coming Into Your Own that supports courageous transitions into new phases of their lives and new circumstances on our planet. This now includes coaching people who are adapting radically to climate realities.

Years later in her 80s, Anne told me that she was passing out of her elderhood phase, and becoming an “ancestor-in-training.” She described this as a step beyond elderhood that related to completions here on Earth and her now-primary relationship with the spirit world.

As the years went forward, I found myself gravitating toward other elders. The succession of these sacred relationships has made me who I am today, as I step into my own elderhood. Joanna Macy, eco-philosopher, Buddhist, author, Bioneer’s Lifetime Achievement recipient and life-long advocate for the Earth, became a mentor and elder for me. I recently saw a video of her being interviewed by Jem Bendell, a professor of Leadership and Sustainability at Cumbria University who is leaning into the necessity of “deep adaptation” as climate inevitabilities loom. I watched Joanna’s fierce and loving energy infuse Jem. It is worth watching the video to see eldership for these times, in action.

Joanna’s deep connection with ancestral streams and yet unborn generations alters concepts about time, leaving us with the profound support of many generations needed in this time of massive loss. We are not a bereft archeological layer of humans, flimsy in the face of planetary devastation. Here is an elder who places us in the continuum of life.

Meeting Joanna provided an initiation into the current iteration of my life that is wholly about looking squarely at the course already established by human separation from the web of life, and assistance to those who are navigating impending implications. I am quite sure that whatever needs to occur now can only happen with all the generations working together.

I have also been touched by Stephen Jenkinson’s call to eldership, beautifully presented in his book, Coming of Age: The Case for Elderhood in Troubled Times. I had the privilege of a week with Jenkinson last summer. He spoke about profound avenues of initiation through seeming mundane experiences. First he spoke about connection with our own ancestors as context for meaningful lives. Central in my home is an altar that holds pictures and symbols of my lineage.

I recall vividly the weight of his words and he spoke of mealtimes: “How we are with the people we break bread with, is how we are with our ancestors.” He then reminded us that casualness about food consumption is desecration of the sacrament of being fed by the Earth. How we are with our food defines and our relationship to Mother Earth.

Jenkinson said that our personal elderhood is either earned or destroyed by the nature of our actual honoring of every elderly person that we encounter, whether they seem wise to us or not. He spoke of the inherent rite of passage into our own elderhood as we accompany others through their dying journey. What a privilege this is. We are transformed by our healthy relationship to death, and our wholehearted willingness to grieve. Anne Dosher calls grief a “watercourse” that has a life of its own, that we must enter.

Jenkinson sees the presence of an elder, especially in these critical times, as an invitation to step out of the historical ruts of Western civilization. These means personal study beyond the standard textbook learning that reinforces stories of dominance and oppression, separating us from the Earth, one another and spirit. It means birthing a different way of being, mediated by the heart.

I am in my late 60s. It isn’t easy, particularly as a woman, to accept my own aging… the new lines in my face, the aches in my back when I long to garden nonstop, the invisibility I feel from many who prefer youth. But somehow, in ways I can’t fully explain, the acceptance of myself, just as I am, is bound up with my acceptance of the irreversible global plight we have wrought upon ourselves.

I no longer need to teach or convince anyone of anything. I am finding comfort in the inevitability of death, as integral to life. I am simply okay with not belonging to old forms of connection, preferring my own company. I am finding a slower rhythm and laughing a whole lot more. I hang my laundry to dry on the clothesline and plunge my nose into the sun-dried sheets to inhale the smell of the wind.

I have an outdoor campfire circle on my property that welcomes people, young and ancient, to sit together and ponder what matters most in our lives and on our planet. I am handcrafting a large wooden table so there is plenty of room to break bread with old and new friends. Hopefully my writing is a virtual invitation to sit at my table.

Just as I was proofing this, a Native elder contacted me on the impulse to connect me to a close friend of his. The relaxation and rearrangement of the cells in my body remind me that a smidgeon of this potent energy is hardly a smidgeon. I am smiling and very, very grateful.

One of the elders of our time passed away this year, the poet Mary Oliver. I think that her death leaves open a hole through which wisdom comes. She wrote these words from the far shore of the watercourse that she knew so well.

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.


26 Comments on "In The Face of Climate Collapse, We Need The Wisdom Of Elders"

  1. Cloggie on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 10:26 am 

    Go visit Holland while you still can:

  2. JuanP on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 12:04 pm 

    It is the fault of the generation that most of the dumbass old white guys on here are from for the earth crisis. This is why I surf and sail when I want with no concern for my footprint. I didn’t create this problem they did.

  3. peakyeast on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 12:08 pm 

    Juan, give the mental masterbation a rest. This has gone on too long.

  4. More Davy Identity Theft on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 12:31 pm 

    JuanP on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 12:04 pm

    peakyeast on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 12:08 pm

  5. Shortend on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 1:08 pm 

    Wisdom of the Elders!? Like Trump and company?
    Too funny!
    Looking to make a water….Any takers?

  6. Shortend on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 1:08 pm 

    Wisdom of the Elders!? Like Trump and company?
    Too funny!
    Looking to make a wager….Any takers?

  7. JuanP on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 1:47 pm 

    Stupid fuck posted twice

  8. More Davy Identity Theft on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 2:08 pm 

    JuanP on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 1:47 pm

  9. Anonymouse on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 4:18 pm 

    If you are expecting wisdom, any wisdom at all, out of the elders around here, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

    Right exceptionalturd?

    Opps, sorry, you are kind of busy sock-puppeting everyone, even your beloved, CloggedAnus, in this thread. I’ll let you get back to that.


  10. Rolling Coconuts on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 4:18 pm 

    Whiz dumb of the El Derps.

  11. Anonymouse on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 4:39 pm 

    I got cock blocked by an Amerikan today maybe I will stay here on Vancouver Island. I can’t figure out where I belong.

  12. Anonymouse on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 4:48 pm 

    See, there you go Exceptionaltard! Way to highlight and showcase the wisdom of the elders here at

    Got anyone else you want to pretend to be? The day is still young as they say, unlike you.

  13. More Davy Identity Theft on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 5:34 pm 

    Anonymouse on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 4:39 pm

  14. More Davy Identity Theft on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 5:44 pm 

    Cloggie on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 10:26 am

  15. makati1 on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 6:55 pm 

    My “Elder’s Wisdom”: Move down the consumption ladder voluntarily now before it is pulled out from under you. A Sunny Monday morning here in the land of eternal summer. ^_^

  16. Davy on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 7:12 pm 

    Wow again makati1. Sounds like you got real REAL Green Adaptation down to a science. I’d love it if you’d do some guest posts on my blog.

    How long did you say your growing season is again?

  17. Anonymouse on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 7:34 pm 

    Wow again dumbass. Sounds like you got REAL BULLSHIT, down to a science exceptionalturd. I’d love to see you do some guest time at the local mental ward.

    How long did you say you’ve been suffering from multi-polar disorder again?

  18. makati1 on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 8:18 pm 

    Well, if it really is Davy, the “growing season” is 365 days long every year, plus an extra on Leap Year.

    What is the growing season in the Missouri swamp these days? Oh, that’s right, only rice growers can plant this year.

    When the rain stops, the drought begins. Then an early frost and…? Food security my ass! Mother Nature disagrees.

  19. Anonymouse on Sun, 23rd Jun 2019 8:54 pm 

    Mak, the only thing the expcetionalturd plants at his fantasy farm, is switchgrasss, moss, and dandelions. His ‘day job’, as we all well know, keeps him rather busy and affords him little time for, you know, growing anything.

    Other than boils on his ass.

  20. Cloggie on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 2:14 am 

    Where others have croissants for breakfast, I enjoy it with the DailyMail.

    “A Kingdom for a glass of spilled wine”

    “From the first flush of love to rows with his girlfriend after browsing two-for-one wine offers in his local Tesco Express: JANE FRYER asks if crumpled, unstatesmanlike Boris is feeling the strain during his bid to be PM”

    BoJo looks very vulnerable all of a sudden and his stellar advantage over Jeremy *unt has crumbled. Perhaps Carrie had 2nd thoughts about the wisdom of a BoJo premiership.

    “You care about nothing!”

    BoJo, a character straight from the House of Cards mold. Only the Tory party can produce those.

    It Remains to be seen if Jeremy *unt offers any advantages. His vision is to turn post-Brexit Britain into a city-state Singapore-2.0, for no other reason than that he has a Chinese wife, he wishes to please.

    Singapore has a population of 5.6 million and owes its prosperity solely due to its location at the Straight of Malacca, one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, connecting China & Japan with Europe.

    Post-Brexit Britain in contrast is a lonely isolated island, that has excluded itself from the #1 Autobahn of goods in the 21st century, namely the New Silk Road, that is going to replace the current #1, the Trans-Atlantic trade route.

    At home at last, oh the wonders of being an Anglo!

    “Britain COULD join Trump in a war on Iran, says Jeremy Hunt – as tensions rise after Tehran missile systems were hit by US cyber attack”

    Jeremy can’t wait to join DJT in bombing Iran, in order to show the rest of the world who is boss, that is the Anglos, for two centuries now. What could possibly go wrong?

    This is the US-jewish neighbor of BoJo. That is how satanic jewish genius operates: immediately recognizing the opportunity to destroy your political opponent in a blink of an eye. Put your iPhone to the wall and send the mp3 to the Guardian and you have a promising political career destroyed.

    Are we powerful or what?!

    Jeremy *unt for darkies!

    “Jeremy Hunt vows to abandon Theresa May’s immigration target if he becomes Prime Minister, insisting Britain should not ‘pull down the shutters’ after leaving the EU”

    Farage is exactly the same. Global Britain. This is British “right-wing” populism for ya, in total contrast to racialist right-wing populism in Europe. Anglo rightwing is about big business, low taxes, open borders. The entire world one giant border-less, English speaking, corporate money-making machine. And everybody who opposes that model is branded a raysist.

  21. makati1 on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 2:55 am 

    More Euro bullshit from the resident techie dreamer. If the US starts a war with Iran, the EU is toast along with the rest of the West that cannot live withing its means. So be it.

  22. Darrell Cloud on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 6:50 am 

    Here is some wisdom for you.

  23. joe on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 8:04 am 

    Here we go blaming ‘western culture’ (I defy anyone who sees anything western or culture in a McDonald’s staffed by Mexican migrants), for wiping out ‘indigenous people’. Shaka Zulu literally committed genocide, the rightful rulers of South Africa then currently reside in Zimbabwe. The king of the Franks (Charles the Great) committed genocide against the Saxon Pagans of Germany. The Spanish Conquest of South America was AIDED by those who were being subdued by the local rulers. The white man got help…..
    The problem is not skin color or religion, the problem is within us all.

  24. Sissyfuss on Mon, 24th Jun 2019 11:32 am 

    Is that free will thingy, Joe? That is then linked up to an enormous ego and an obdurate soul.

  25. Dooma on Thu, 27th Jun 2019 7:57 am 

    I really enjoyed that poem thank you Darrell.

    Here is one that I gain inspiration from. I hope that you have not read it before (doubt it) and like the wisdom in it…….

  26. Dooma on Thu, 27th Jun 2019 8:02 am 

    Hopefully this link works…

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