Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Substances, Sweat Lodges and Eldering

Working my way back into feeling capable of writing something that makes sense...

For the past two nights I have been in sweat lodges to pray for the passing of the young man, who I will call Etoile, mentioned in the last post.  My daughter and her boyfriend asked me, on Saturday night, to pour water (the term used for leading a sweat lodge) for Etoile's friends on Sunday night. Many people were involved in preparing the site, which was right down the road on my friend's permaculture farm.  My partner came over to help with fire (he is by far the best fire-tender I have even known, and when he is there at a lodge with me it really makes a difference) and a few people started arriving as we lit the fire at 6:30 PM.  By 8 PM or so we had about 23 people there, most of them youth (which I define as between ages 18-25).  Many had never been in a lodge before.  One of the older people there, who is very close to these youth, mentioned to me that some of them had been drinking alcohol during the day, and that she thought it was better to do the lodge even so than to try to wait until they could get themselves sober.  I also saw more than a few light up spliffs before the lodge. 

Now, in my tradition and training, we do not mix substances with the sweat lodge.  It is called a purification lodge for a reason!  However since this was a special circumstance, and was really needed to help with this situation, and since many of the kids there aren't on this path of doing lodges anyway, I decided to keep quiet about these things and let them do as they would.

However, I felt called to speak up in the lodge about the issue of substance use - and abuse - which I know played a part in the death of Etoile.  I asked for each one present to look inside and ask themselves questions about their habits, to bring consciousness and awareness to their actions and choices, to remember to ask "Why am I doing this?"  instead of just blindly doing something because it's what they normally do, or because other people are doing it, or because it is familiar, or even because they know it makes their emotions easier to manage (in the short term, anyway).  I asked them to consider examining their behaviors around substances, to see if there might be something underneath the surface that might be helped by clear-headed attention.  I acknowledged that they might not want to look at these things.  I let them know that the sweat lodge ceremony would continue to work on them for the next 4 days, the effects of which might be very subtle, so encouraging them to stay really tuned in to see what those teachings and insights might be.  I encouraged them to take some sober time to grieve for their friend. And then we moved on with the lodge.

We ended the ceremony, and while most of the people got out of the lodge, several stayed inside.  As water-pourer, I was needed inside to hold the space for these ones - so when I finally came out half an hour later or so, it was to see 10 or 12 people sitting around what was left of the lodge fire, passing several bowls of ganja around.  I was unprepared for this, to say the least.  I started thinking so many thoughts: What it is that drives people to smoke pot all day and all night?  What do they get out of it?  What do they miss if anything - by being high all the time?  What insights or healing from the lodge might they have had if I would have been able to stop the smoking before it began?  What was my responsibility in this situation?  Is there a way to communicate about or advocate for clarity of consciousness without sounding like a stodgy old person?  I can say that if the ceremony had been held at my home, I would have made it clear from the outset that pot smoking was not acceptable behavior around the sweat lodge.  I would have suggested to people to be as clear-headed as possible before coming there, and would have recommended (at the very least) that all participants take the night off from substances afterward.  But this didn't happen, and so what was, was. 

Of course, overall, the lodge was very beautiful, and I trust that no matter what else, good things came out of it.   I pray to God that it was helpful to everyone, and that everyone who came there received something good.  I think many people were able to release some of their emotions around Etoile's death in the safety of the container.  There were many good teachings from the people who spoke and shared their medicine.  Some good connections were made, as well.

And still... I am left wondering how to connect with young people around these issue of drug use and abuse, self-medication, balance, healthy living skills, and healing.  I understand, having been an addict of one form or another my whole life, the overwhelming desperation which can make a person want to numb out.  For many years a major focus of my life was getting as wasted as I could, as often as I could.  I could NOT handle how I felt when I was sober!  I came to realize over time that drinking, especially, added to my general depression and roller-coaster emotions - yet I only stopped drinking alcohol entirely two short years ago, and that after years of attempting (and failing) to quit.  In addition, when I was a youth I did not have any adults in my life that I looked up to - I felt completely separated from them, misunderstood, judged, and condemned, due to the choices I was making that were not in alignment with the current societal paradigm in which I lived.  So I also understand the idea of generation gap and how young people today may not know that I am sitting here with an open heart , an open mind, and a LOT of experience, praying for a way to connect.

A good friend and I have been talking lately about the need for true elders in our lives and in the lives of our youth, and what it means to BE a true elder, and how the lack of true elders is one of the roots of our dysfunction as a society.  Looking around, it is easy to see that while everyone gets older, some people age into a state of grace and wisdom and find their way to be of service to their fellow man, and others just get older and not necessarily wiser.  My friend suggested to me that some - maybe even most - adults in our world today are actually just wounded youth themselves, who never really grew up because they were never initiated, never mentored, and never taught how to do more than survive.  This resonates with me. 

I looked up eldering online, as I have the tendency to do these days.  According to the Eldership Project, an elder has certain qualities and is also in certain roles.  Some of the qualities of an elder include: generosity, freedom, courage, self-validation, joy of living, curiosity, awareness, calmness, hope, empathy, compassion, morality, listening,  respect, healing, alchemy, grace... and more. (1)  (Note: I recommend going to this reference as each one of these qualities is well-defined there, plus a few others.).  In the Bible they also describe what makes an elder.  The number one characteristic is "An elder must be above reproach," which to me means he or she has impeccable integrity.  There are many more qualities in the list, such as "he must love what is good,"and "he must be free of the love of money." (See (2) for a full discussion of the Biblical list.)   So, in looking at these lists, even briefly, it is clear that there are authentic elders out there, and that overall, to BE an authentic elder means the person is extraordinary.  Nelson Mandela and Grandmother Agnes Baker-Pilgrim come to mind, just off the top of my head.  I am sure there are many other authentic elders, who are not famous or well known, except to those whose lives they touch.  And then we have most people, who age and get old but who obviously are not on par with nor would ever be considered extraordinary human beings, and who do not qualify as elders in terms of these lists.   For some obvious examples, look around at the leaders of this country!  As another friend of mine cheerfully says, "I'm not hatin',  I'm just sayin'..." 

In my second sweat held last night for Etoile's father, the water-pourer talked about how as he has gotten older, he has come to realize that it doesn't work to just live life for himself anymore.  He has realized that his life IS being of service to the world.  I would say this quality goes on my list of what it means to be an elder.   I also see the quality of authentic and complete forgiveness as one of the essential ones.  I am working on making a more thorough list and will post it next time.

The second part of being an elder is to be in an elder role: mentoring, passing on knowledge and wisdom, guiding the rites of passage of others, advocating for or helping people to reconcile their differences, and modeling being an elder. (3)  Rites of passage is another subject I intend on studying in this research, mostly for the benefit of my second book.  In the meantime, the question of\connecting youth and elders remains: how do we empower youth to 1) investigate, and perhaps discover, their need for elders, 2) be aware of and informed about the qualities of true elders, 3) use discernment in finding appropriate elders, and 4) receive the support they need from their elders.  More on this later.

(1) The Eldership Project: http://www.eldership.com.au/about/qualities
(2) Qualities of Elders in the New Testement: http://epreacher.org/sermons/b-elders04.pdf
(3) The Eldership Project: http://www.eldership.com.au/about/roles

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