COUNCIL OF ELDERS
In February 1998, Deena Metzger sent out the first of a series of letters outlining her vision of a global council of elders--Elders of the various world traditions, gathered together, discovering and teaching each other, as well as society, the ways and the means of wisdom.
Letter 7 - September 2001
Letter 6 - December 1999
Letter 5 - April 1999
Letter 4 - November 1998
Letter 3 - May 1998 (Appeared in Whole Life Times )
Letter 2 - March 1998
Letter 1 - February 1998
This letter is addressed to the elders.
I write this letter to you on the 50th anniversary of Gandhi's assassination and during another, most serious, US-Iraq crises.
The acute and critical issue of this crisis is the use of weapons of mass destruction. We do not know how the issue will be resolved, but war is increasingly possible. If we go to war, our alleged attempt to control, limit and/or eliminate biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, may actually unleash the use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. One thing is certain ñ if a strike of any sort does occur, massive suffering is inevitable and a terrifying precedent may be set for the testing or use of such weapons in further conflicts.
This situation concerns everyone. A war can and will effect the entire planet. The use of any of such weapons will effect us, our children and all future generations. Everyone and everything is in jeopardy. If it not Iraq today, it will be somewhere else tomorrow.
These are the questions which confront us: How do we deal with violence and evil without unleashing further violence ourselves? How do we deal with the direct consequences of violence already unleashed? How do we deal with weapons of mass destruction whether in the hands of western nations, other governments, or terrorists given, especially the alarming increase in psychopathic and sociopathic behavior worldwide? How do we deal with those weapons which damage the environment perhaps irreparably or which create long term or chronic illnesses or affect the gene pool? How can peace be maintained in the face of the existence of such madness and weapons of mass destruction?
Until now, no one individual nor individuals have been capable of solving these terrible questions. There is no evidence that anyone on the planet knows how to deal with this situation, globally or locally. Many of us have some hope, ideas, strategies, information, practices, but we must admit that there is no clear practical reliable wisdom on the subject and there is no global consensus of how to protect and save the peoples of the world and their traditions as well as the creatures, the plants and the environment.
Those in power are not to be blamed; the problems are beyond all of us. The best and most undistracted minds have not been able to solve these dilemmas. The task of eliminating or containing weapons of mass destruction while avoiding war is unique to this century.
It seems essential to start from the humbling premise that we are all without direction in this time. That the best minds and hearts are stymied by the complexity, pervasiveness and intractability of our tragic circumstances. To begin from not knowing seems the only recourse.
A vision I am carrying is of the elders around the world gathering together in council to address this global crises, taking back essential tribal or community responsibility from the randomness of the nation state, convening and acting ex-cathedra and in concert. I believe it is the elders' calling to help to resolve the current crises, to find ways of proceeding in the future, and to discover and teach each other and the world the ways and means of wisdom. I do not think that the elders can wait for the world to seek them out. The elders must take the initiative to protect the world.
I imagine elders sitting in council together. I imagine counsel, grief-speaking, meditation, contemplation, prayer. I hope that we will be informed, also, by the wisdom of those other creatures of the planet who do not speak human languages but suffer the consequences of our behavior. I pray that, ultimately, we will be informed or graced by understanding, perhaps even direction, from divine sources. I know that we will be profoundly informed by each other's traditions and ancestors and I expect that sitting in counsel together for the first time we will come to roads which can lead back to peace and survival. . Let us act on the hope that we will be blessed with solutions and possibilities.
When I first wrote this letter, I imagined the elders of the world gathering in Washington D C. in the coming weeks and staying there until the crises was alleviated. Though I still think such an ongoing council must occur, I realize that we cannot gather people fast enough from around the globe.
Therefore I am proposing that everyone who receives this letter gather a council of elders around herself or himself and that we simultaneously address the questions that have, until now had no answers. As an elder I offer myself to this task and as an elder I long also for the counsel of my peers.
What follows is an outline that is appropriate both for the local councils which we hope will form immediately and everywhere as well as the global council of elders toward which I hope we will move.
Who are these elders? And what is council?
Being an elder implies that one has been trying to live by his or her spiritual, ethical, political principles on behalf of the world. One recognizes that one has become an elder and yields to the burden and responsibility of it. One hopes one is wise enough, sufficiently conscious and awake. One has come to enough maturity to value, insist upon the perspective of different traditions and to reach for consensus while nurturing and protecting the others' distinct way of understanding.
Some elders are visible because of the leadership they exert and the political, social and spiritual work they do in their communities and in the world. Others may not have official titles or recognition but their contribution and devotion is obvious. Some less well known elders may live in remote areas, obscure villages, may have disappeared in the anonymity of the large cities or may have chosen to work quietly or in obscurity. Elders cannot be elected or appointed, though they are often acknowledged. Some elders are not recognized because the very idea of an elder has been lost in the culture. But being an elder, implies the hope that one's wisdom, heart and spirit are sufficient to assist the future and preserve the earth. And that one will make the necessary sacrifices in order to achieve this.
To meet together as peers and elders is a most humble and serious task which asks us to set aside self and self-interest, even our most considered ideas and affiliations, in the interest of the emergence of consensual wisdom and vision. It is to recognize that we are, to our great misfortune, ignorant of how to proceed, and that we cannot do this without each other, that each participant is essential to the process and the whole. It is to be willing to meet and consider whatever might be possible without contention or competition, outside of position, public office or ideology. It is to bring forward the best of oneself and one's tradition but as a gift or offering to the whole. It is to be wholeheartedly devoted to achieving the goal at hand ñ a restraint on, hopefully an end to violence, even the beginning of peace.
Council is a form of deliberation, historically practiced by different peoples, including Buddhists and Native American peoples. To meet in council implies meeting as peers, men and women without title, rank or constituency. Council is a profound forum wherein everyone, in turn, speaks truthfully, from the heart, from the depths of one's being and listens with great and respectful attention. In council, everyone's wisdom is elicited.
Council is based on a few basic rules. No one prepares a statement. No one challenges any one else's statement. Each person's struggle and contribution is acknowledged, valued and urgently requested. One admits grief, ignorance and despair. One is naked and honest in one's speech. One offers one's deepest wisdom whether it comes from one's tradition or from one's own practice and experience. One allows oneself to be enlightened and transformed by others.
Council continues until the heart and spirit of everyone present has been considered, all voices and concerns and insights have been aired, all aspects of the dilemma have been weighed and investigated.. Council continues until consensus is reached.
Here is a possible format. A common place is established for the council. The elders sit together in small, leaderless groups no more, let's say, than 18 people. When a 19th person arrives, the group divides into two groups of nine. The ways and means of council are reviewed, refined and the procedure begins again. The questions are refined and addressed repeatedly.
In council, groups will hopefully find simple means to communicate the essence to other groups and to make the process or fruits of council available to the public and the world.
Some councils may choose to invite the press to witness the deliberations. This opens up the possibility that the public will be informed not only of the outcome but, more importantly, of the way of council, will be able to witness the ways in which elders deliberate together. It may be appropriate to invite the elders among the press to sit in council with everyone else as it may be appropriate to invite heads of state, members of government, religious and spiritual leaders etc. In council these individuals will be private individuals not representatives of any institutions.
Our task is to gather without leaders, without hierarchy, without hope for personal gain, power or acknowledgment, without grand-standing, outside of ideology, liturgy and text but informed by our traditions and spiritual, emotional and intellectual practices and our experiences. Our aim is to consider only the well being of all peoples and the natural world. We must not aim to convince any one of what we know but to search together for what we don't know. Most importantly, we must seek out the other, the one who is unlike us, recognizing that the urgency of these times demand that the well known, public and acknowledged individuals sit alongside those whose work has been hidden, private or unacknowledged.
At this time, I think we must be careful not to establish organizations, solicit membership or dues. That the councils be spontaneous and self-initiating networks of concerned individuals encompassing the globe. That current or former world spiritual or political leaders or statesmen attend as elders, bringing the wisdom of their traditions and history but without representing a constituency, without personal or national self-interest. That we recognize that some of the elders among us may be very very young in years in deed and that we are seeking wisdom not hierarchy.
In time we will find a way for the global councils of elders to meet together. At that time we hope the wisest people from all the traditions will sit face to face as the guardians of the planet. At that time I imagine political leaders alongside spiritual teachers and native healers. Medicine women alongside physicians, religious leaders, poets and novelists alongside ecologists. Scientists alongside generals, mystics and visionaries. We will be especially grateful for the participation of native elders from all the traditions on the planet who have been so faithful to the preservation of original wisdom.
When it becomes time or possible for the global council(s) to begin to meet, we will have to seek out funds for those who do not have the means to gather with us. Even so, it may be necessary for everyone to make some sort of sacrifice, some ritual act of setting aside personal obligation for the sake of the whole. That we recognize the urgency of setting aside the demands of our own lives in order to meet face to face and sit with each other in these critical times.
In the present moment, let us reach out to whomever is next to us and also invite anyone we consider an elder to form a council in her or his locale. Let us dare to assume that we can, together, find ways out of our grave dilemmas to save the planet.
With deep respect and hope,
P.O. Box 186
Topanga, CA 90290