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
In February of this year, which
marks the 50th anniversary of Gandhi's assassination, I issued a call for
Elders from everywhere on the planet to convene in Washington DC and sit
together in Council in small but interconnecting groups for as long as it
would take to find solutions for the US -Iraq crises and the global situations.
I hoped that the global urgency would prompt Elders to set everything, personal
or not, aside and that we would act in concert to gather everyone, regardless
of circumstances, who should be there.
When the crises was averted, we did not convene, but it was clear that similar situations could and would flare up because the world view from which it originated remains and continues to erupt with similar urgencies.
There is nothing I can point to which, if it were healed, would be sufficient as all the systems mesh. We are caught in destructive re-enforcing systems with multiple manifestations: nuclear war; biological, chemical warfare; fascism; genocide of original peoples; religious and ethnic wars; state and individual terrorism; famines; urban despair; abject poverty; unprecedented incidents of mental illness, depression, psychosis, socio-pathology among individuals ó [too many of them in positions of power]; the destruction of the rain forests; pollution of the environment; the decline of ethical concerns: all values yielding to economic concerns and private gain; the death of spirituality; the disappearance of plants and animals; meaninglessness; these are some of the consequences of the systems which act against us.
The acute and critical issue of the Iraq-US crisis was the use of weapons of mass destruction. If, at some point, we go to war, our alleged attempt to control, limit and/or eliminate biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, will no doubt unleash some use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. This happened in the first Gulf War when the US used bullets manufactured with DU [depleted uranium]. The consequences are grave. Whenever a strike of any sort occurs, massive suffering is inevitable and terrifying precedents are set. This has been a continuous pattern in the 20th century.
In contrast, there is a living net through which all beings sustain and nurture each other. We have substituted the deadly net for the living one. As humans, we have isolated ourselves from the living net, forgetting the way of it and the beauty of it.
Realistically, how can we return? What can be done?
Originally, I imagined Elders
from everywhere gathering in one place, but now I am imagining Elders finding
each other and meeting everywhere. I am beginning to imagine a change
in governance, a gentle and kindly stepping away from all institutions which
are not serving the planet toward compassionate forms which develop, as
we develop, out of our deliberations. Perhaps what is required is
that we begin to live differently, not in defiance but as a matter of course.
Perhaps examining each gesture and action to see if it has integrity with
our deepest beliefs and the wisdom of our heart will turn out to be sufficient
and we will look up one day and see that the old ruinous forms have been
abandoned, have crumbled into dust.
I do not know if we will find these 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. Quite the opposite: all the existing governments have become dangerous to those they govern, to the land and to all life forms. Similarly, the reliance on any individual, that is, abdicating one's wisdom and responsibility to a heroic model, will ultimately defeat us. Therefore, I am asking you to stand with me, grieving, at this terrible place of not knowing, without pretending or hoping it is otherwise.
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. Therefore, we must step out of all of our familiar, comfortable and established ways of knowing and acting. It is absolutely necessary to ask Elders to identify themselves and to gather together in Council, searching out ways of self-governance, taking back essential tribal or community responsibility for the world. The times are this urgent. It is the Elders' calling to find ways through which all peoples and the natural world will thrive in the future, and to discover and teach each other and the world the ways and means of wisdom. It is also the Elders' task to learn how to live lives whose gestures sustain rather than undermine what matters most to us. I do not think that Elders can wait for the world to seek them out and appoint them, but must take the initiative to step out of the destructive patterns that are imposed on everyone, changing themselves in order to protect the world. By so doing, they will become examples which people can follow in ways that accord with their own consciousness so that ultimately we will once again live lives which have beauty to them, are filled with awareness, kindness and a tender regard for all living things.
I seem to have been given the
task of scattering these seeds. I do not know what will occur when
we actually begin to meet in councils but I do know that Council is a particular
form which invites one to transcend personal interest and polemics and invoke
deeper wisdom,. It is a form which invites us to speak our grief
and to search out each otherís counsel, especially the wisdom which is not
in our own traditions. It also calls upon us to speak from not knowing
rather than putting forth our deepest held ideas or beliefs to which we
are, of course, attached. It calls us together in unprecedented,
interconnecting ways so we can stand together, open-eyed and open-hearted,
before the ruins of everything which matters without blaming each other
but eager to find new ways. Even if we are able to do nothing but
put our own threatened and weary selves before the decline which is taking
place, we will know that we set our own personal lives aside on behalf of
all the creatures, for what matters most.
Further, many of the Elders on the planet know how to access the wisdom of Spirit and the natural world. Being an Elder implies that one has been trying to live by 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, hoping one is wise enough, sufficiently conscious and awake, and has enough maturity to value, insist upon, the perspective of different traditions and to reach and wait for consensus, nurturing and protecting others' distinct ways of understanding.
Some Elders are visible because of the leadership they exert and the political, social and spiritual work they do, while others may not be recognized because their constituencies are marginalized or because the very idea of an Elder has been lost in the culture. Being an Elder implies the hope that oneís wisdom, heart and spirit are sufficient to assist the future and preserve the earth.
How we conduct ourselves during the council may not be as important as who we will be after the councils. We will see what occurs when we gather without hope or desire of gain, power, prestige, recognition or privilege but only with concern for the planet. Also when we cast aside old and secure forms, even those which urge us to find funding or create an organization or institution to protect or extend our efforts. We will see how we will live our lives afterwards, whether we can become living examples, continuous and compelling ethical presences who influence through the ways of their being. If the council are fully what they might be, we will each leave one self and life behind and enter into a new self and a new life as we exit the council. And these new selves and lives will be, as in the natural world, highly diverse, original and particular, while being simultaneously inter-connected and inter-dependent. Alliance and diversity. In other words, Initiation may occur in these Peer Councils of Elders and we will in concert be enacting our own needed transformations on all levels.
I was just in Zimbabwe where
I had the rather awesome experience of both initiating and being initiated
-- in what I can only call an unprecedented, heart breaking and heart opening
give and take -- by a native healer, a Nganga, of the Shona and Endebele
traditions. It was there that I realized I could no longer avoid
acting formally on an intuition I have held for many years that it is necessary
to help encircle the globe with that luminous web of healers and healing
spirits. This became clear when I saw how easily, yet profoundly,
the energy moved back and forth between the healers from Zimbabwe and those
of us from North America as if, as my husband said, a wave of spirit came
through us and we each, individually and in concert were taken by the wave.
Neither rank nor ego. Only preparedness, skillful means, gratitude and willingness. In this spontaneous manner, we worked on each other, and in concert, and in tandem, others who came to one or an other of us for healing. A community of healers, each of us bringing what was already skilled and shaped within us to the circumstances and demands of the moment. A community of healers serving each other and the community in which we were in any given moment.
Perhaps, then, our task is not to find the ideas which may come forth as we seek wisdom from and consensus with each other across cultures, but the willingness to become other than we were through the agency of each other and to actively create sanctuaries for each other's differences.
Itís a wild idea. Naïve? Probably. Impractical? Certainly. Impossible? Not necessarily, because it is appropriate to the gravity of these times. 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 in which we are living, and which is destroying us, individual and collective acts of compassion on behalf of the entire planet are not tenable. What is most important is subordinated to external, economic, bureaucratic, often relatively trivial but seemingly unopposable demands. But under another system... such a gathering might be inevitable. Or to put it another way, it suddenly seems both obvious and startling that Council, in its form and essence is, in fact, the solution.
In the meantime, the planet is dying. The animals are dying. The trees are dying. People are killing each other or being slaughtered in unprecedented numbers. At what point do we, in unison, say we must stop our normal lives, divest ourselves of our allegiance to systems which destroy us and what we love in order to attend to the Earth?
Those of us who are closest to the Earth, who have been with her longest, should we not form a healing circle, should we not gather from all corners of the earth for as long as it takes to bring her back to health?
In council 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. 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 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.
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.
It is possible that out of our distinctly informed minds, hearts and spirits, we will come out walking toward new and unimagined possibility.
And if we don't do this, then who... and if not this, then what... and if not now, then when... and if not..., then...?
Peace and Blessings,
P.O. Box 186, Topanga, CA 90290