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
The call for a global council or councils of elders as well as local councils of elders continues to be necessary.
I think we must step out of all of our familiar and established ways of knowing and acting. The times are that urgent.
I do not know if we will find ways to save ourselves, the animals, the trees, the earth from our own destructive patterns. I do not think that any government or known system or individual will accomplish it. I am asking you to stand with me at this terrible place of not knowing without pretending or hoping it is otherwise. Let us stand here. Open eyed. Grieving.
There is nothing I can point to that if it were healed, would be sufficient. All the systems mesh. We are caught in a destructive system with multiple manifestations: nuclear war; biological or chemical warfare; fascism; genocide of original peoples; religious and ethnic wars; terrorism; famines; urban despair; abject poverty; unprecedented incidents of mental illness, depression, psychosis, socio-pathology among individuals -- too many of them in positions of power -- elected, inherited, appointed or seized; the decline of ethical concerns; the destruction of the rain forests; the pollution of the environment; the death of spirituality; the disappearance of the plants and animals; meaninglessness; these are some of the signs of the system which acts against us.
In contrast there is a living net through which all beings sustain and nurture each other. We have somehow substituted the deadly net for the living one. As humans, we have forgotten how to be part of such a living net. We have forgotten the way of it and also the beauty of it.
Realistically, how can we return? What can be done?
We can search out each other's counsel. We can come together in unprecedented, inter-connecting global councils, seeking out the wisdom which is not in our own traditions or ways of knowing. We can stand together before the ruins of everything that matters without blaming each other but eager to find new ways. We can seek out those who are not like ourselves and find camaraderie and solace with them by confronting all of this. We can stand together open eyed and open hearted. Even if we are able to do nothing but put our own threatened and weary selves before the decline that is taking our children, the calves and pups and offspring of the animals, and all the seedlings, we will know that we set our own personal lives aside on behalf of all the creatures, for what matters most.
Small, circles of peers sitting together in council, seeking each others counsel, openly speaking their grief and heartbreak, assisted when appropriate by prayer, contemplation and meditation, may be blessed with wisdom and understanding. Many of the elders on the planet know how to access the wisdom of Spirit and the natural world. Let us speak with each other.
Let us speak to each other of our grief and heart break and then of the grief of every creature.
Please don't look away. Please don't turn cold or indifferent. Please don't return to your own concerns and ambitions. Please don't be distracted by either hopelessness, your own, or despair, another's.
At first I imagined one council, meeting in one place, breaking up into smaller groups as people joined and the size became unwieldy. That would still be my preference. A time set aside. Everything stopping so that everyone who should be there would be free to come.
It's a wild idea. Naïve? Probably. Impractical? Certainly. Impossible? Not necessarily because it is appropriate to the gravity of these times, and the thought that it is impossible, that this is not the way that things are done, is, in itself, a sign of the trouble we are in. Within the system that we are living and that is destroying us, such individual and collective acts of compassion on behalf of the entire planet are not tenable. What is most important is most often subordinated to external, economic, commercial, bureaucratic, often relatively trivial but seemingly unopposible demands. But under another systemÍ such a gathering might be inevitable.
In my lifetime, there have been occasions when I and the members of my family, or kinship network, or community stopped pursuing our personal lives because there was something urgent to be attended. A friend was severely ill.. We didnÝt know if she would die. We thought she might recover. We wanted to do what we could to help her back into life. Nothing was more pressing that this.
The planet is dying. The animals are dying. The trees are dying. People are killing each other or being slaughtered in unprecedented numbers. Famine, drought, plague. At what point do we in unison saywe must stop our normal lives, set aside our preoccupations, divest ourselves of our allegiance to systems which destroy us and what we love, in order to attend this friend.
The people who were closest to my friend gave up almost everything in their individual lives to be with her. Is this not the right model? Those of us who are closest to the earth, who love her most, who have been with her longest, who have a particular passion for each or any of the creatures, should we not form a healing circle together, should we not gather from all corners of the earth to be by her bedside for as long as it takes to bring her back to health? Or to be with her at the moment of dying?
If we do this, then everything we are involved in will stop. Is this not a good idea? Isn't it appropriate that everything that sustains what acts against us should stop?
In these councils, we can tell each other what we do not know, what we do not understand, what breaks our minds and hearts, what makes us afraid. Then, quietly, we can speak of what our Gods say to us, what wisdom resides in our silence and also in our traditions. What we have learned from the long hard path of living with open hearts. We can reveal to each other what our dreams and visions teach us, what the animals say to us, what the plants say, what the elements speak, what whispers to us from beyond our understanding.
This can become a strangely firm ground from which to begin, to set out to see if we can rescue something...everything we love... meaning...possibility... a future within the round of beauty and living things.
As a woman, it seems possible to me that after
such long periods together not speaking and then long periods together weeping
and then sitting together for whatever time it takes, it is possible that out
of our distinctly informed minds, hearts and spirits, something, paths, ways
of disentangling from a pernicious system that cannot help but destroy us, destroy
everything, we will come out walking toward new and unimagined possibility...
And if we donÝt do this, then who... and if not this, then what... and if not now then when...and if not, then...?
The original letter - attached - which calls for and describes these councils has gone round the world, is being considered in many different geographies and continues to travel. An encouraging number of people from several North American cities and various countries wrote that they were organizing councils or have been meeting in this manner in their communities. Others indicate that there are many plans to bring notables together to speak with each other. Others have indicated that they would like to participate and assist or have suggested conferences, funding, organizers, organizations etc.
Their responses lead me to these thoughts:
A global circle of elders sitting in council is not a conference, convention, workshop, forum, town meeting, important and effective as they forms may be, and should not be looked at as such. There are many useful forums currently addressing these issues - they should continue -- but they are not groups of elders sitting together in council and should not be looked at as such.
Seeking funding for such councils inevitably makes the councils beholden to different constituencies. We can find ways for moneys to be given anonymously to individuals who will not be identified, but who could not attend otherwise. Each one of us might bring someone who could not come otherwise. Elders meeting together can consider how they might meet together and offer their wisdom without any entangling alliances or obligations.
Just as we hope to find new ways to do this, we hope to design simple and effective ways for the deliberations of each council to inform the others. [Though it is not the same at all, there are people working on ways for the deliberations or understandings of these councils to be communicated to each other through the inter-net.]
These seem to be basic premises:
We have no answers. No one person
knows how to proceed nor will any one person or group find it alone.
We can send this letter to others until it inspires the wisest among us to find
each other and sit in council outside of liturgy, ideology or title. We can,
each of us, seek out our peers, particularly those outside of our traditions
and meet with each other in search of wisdom. We can take it upon ourselves
to search out and bring the elders we respect into such councils.
We cannot wait for others to do this for us. We can find ways to sit face to face and to exchange insight and wisdom across the globe. We can find ways to reach consensus on theoretical and practical concerns, and dare to enact -ex-cathedra-- what we imagine together.
Though we do not have answers, we can by doing this, at the very least, model and teach each other and our children the ways of heart, meditation, contemplation, ethical deliberation and council.
For weeks I have been imagining the council, who should be there. Of course, I realize that my list***is idiosyncratic as would be everyone's and the point is that these idiosyncratic lists should mesh. So either everyone on everyoneÝs list converges in one place at one time or global councils are formed and we invent ways for these councils to seek each other's counsel.
We can form a net, web or field of concern quietly and determinedly embracing the world.
We can find and implement new ways of governance and self-governance that are in accord with the implicit laws of nature, spirit and wisdom. We can step out of and away from all the systems that are destructive.
We can hope that Spirit in its many forms, including the voices of the animal and plants worlds is willing and able to assist us, that there is sufficient heart and spiritual understanding remaining on the planet to move us away from the path of destruction and that we will find ways for the animals, the natural world and human life to survive in their great beauty and diversity. We can pray and we can persist.
Peace and Blessings,
P.O. Box 186, Topanga, CA 90290
P. S. Honoring the form through which this letter is developing, here are some excerpts from a letter I wrote to someone who is initiating a Council:
....It is amazing to see the Councils beginning. Last night I was a wrestling with the implications of an unusual melancholy which I usually subsume under heroic activism. And my husband, Michael Ortiz Hill, bless him, reminded me of the reality of self-propagating systems. I refused to avoid the melancholy, it would be like avoiding Joanna Macy's Despair work that precedes the Empowerment work, or ignoring the essential grief-speaking that is necessary to the Council work, so, the ways that these Councils are beginning to form, the ways that the letter is being distributed, are particularly heartening to me in this moment.
My deepest vision is that the Councils will be the basis of ways for all of us to step out of the demands and ways of the dominant culture and find ways to self-govern ourselves which are outside of the manipulations of power and ego. That is, that the Councils of Elders will constitute elders in all who attend and they will, increasingly, with each other's support, act in each moment, in and out of council, according to their deepest visions of what elders might and could be. Real and cooperative alliances with each other; all groups of people and also the animals and plants -- the swimming people, crawling people, flying people and standing people as active participants.
And, as it is a given among most healers, that
Spirit heals and we are but the vessel, is it not possible to assume that Spirit
wants the planet to heal as well and that we have only the task of making ourselves
into a common body to receive it.