Everything that has a beginning has an end

Posts tagged “Stephen Jenkinson

Dr Sharon Blackie interviews Stephen Jenkinson

“Today we have an Easter treat for you: a new episode of The Hedge School Podcast. In this episode, Hedge School founder Dr Sharon Blackie interviews teacher and creator of the Orphan Wisdom School, Stephen Jenkinson (https://orphanwisdom.com/). The conversation is focused on what it is to be an elder in today’s world…”

via The Hedge School Podcast: Stephen Jenkinson — The Hedge School blog

Reposting this podcast of a conversation between two people I greatly admire, this serves as a reminder that there is great and urgent work still to be done. Both Sharon Blackie and Stephen Jenkinson bring a unique perspective to what the western world lacks in terms of a mythological connection to the land as well as a truly mature human outlook on the predicament of the contemporary catastrophe we find ourselves in.

Here is an excerpt from Jenkinson’s forthcoming book, ‘Come of Age’

“It used to be that age was held in some esteem, considerable esteem even, as the concentration of life experience. Life experience and its many lessons were once the fundament of personal and cultural wisdom. It stands to reason, then, that with this many old people around we should be awash in the authentic, time-tested, grey wisdom that should emanate from them. And there should be cultural initiatives that expose the general population to this wisdom. And this should deepen this culture’s sanity and capacity for sustainable decision making. And that should make us all ancestors worth claiming by a future time, now that we’ve come to our elder-prompted senses and begun to proceed as if unborn future generations deserve to drink the distillate of our wisdom and our sustainable example. At the very least, the distillate of aged wisdom should balance the burden and the books, and old people should have worth as they once might have done, and the culture should break even on the deal. You’d think that this is an inevitable result of an aging population in a civilized place. We should be smarter, deeper, wiser. Especially wiser.

Well, here’s what is becoming glaringly obvious: there is nothing inherently ennobling about aging. Nothing. There’s no sign that anything lends old people steadiness or wisdom or magic from on high or from down below, just because they get old. If we don’t train young people and middle aged people in elder hood we will have no elderhood. There is no such training.

It isn’t any longer a matter of inviting elders, those of them left, back into the fold. They aren’t out there , waiting on our invitation. They aren’t out there. Elders are a sentinel species for humanness, and like other forms of life in our corner of the world they’ve mysteriously gone missing. Young people are, often involuntarily, looking for them, and they can’t find them. How about this: old people are looking for them too. The retreat centres attest to it. If you’re looking for signs of the end times, that alone might do.

I am making the case for elderhood, not for easy agedness. I’m doing so mostly by wondering what happened. Because something happened. Something happened to ancestors and elders and honour. There’s work to be done, and there’s an old wisdom to be learned where there used to be the wisdom of old, and you can’t fix what you don’t understand. That’s where we’re headed: to grievous wisdom. Let us see if we can bear the sound, the particular sound, of no hand clapping.

This is a plea and a plot for elders in training.”

‘Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble’ should be available beginning in July of 2018.

 

Advertisements

“If you awaken in our time, you awaken with a sob”

 

In the video above, Chris Hedges and Tim DeChristopher discuss the deadly failure of the industrial world to confront the effects of climate change. The following is a brief excerpt from that conversation.

 

HEDGES: Let’s talk about grief. I feel it. I read the climate change reports, I have children. It fills me with despair. How do we cope with it?

DECHRISTOPHER: I think part of the way that we cope with it is admitting that we were always headed towards that path. That we were always going to die.

HEDGES: As a species?

DECHRISTOPHER: Well and as individuals as well. You know we like to have this progressive notion that we do these good things to make a better world at some point in the future and even if consciously it sort of falls short of a utopia or a sort of promised land in the future. It’s still sort of this outcome based value system, that’s based on things being okay in the end.

HEDGES: It’s the myth of progress.

DECHRISTOPHER: Yeah, but I think that’s also tied to a myth of immortality. That when we talk about some of the most honorable things that we can do. We use language like we saved someone’s life. But that person’s still going to die. Every person that we do something nice for is still going to die. So if it’s really outcome oriented then we’ve always been kind of deceiving ourselves with that value system.

Stephen Jenkinson confronts the language that we use in a death-phobic culture.  DeChristopher touches on it in the above comment regarding our myth of immortality. In the following short audio clip, Jenkinson explores the meaning of the word ‘hope’ and how it distracts and detours us from being present in this world, in our unique time in history.

On Grief and Climate Change


Rediscovering Deep and Beautiful Myths

 

Stephen Jenkinson writes,

 

“This breezy little tome I’ve written, Die Wise, was graced with a noble introduction by a denizen of England and of times gone by, name of Martin Shaw, with whom I was briefly reunited a week ago for a riotous night of elegy and lament worthy of the ages. (Keep a weather eye for a film record of that boisterous event, crafted by Ian McKenzie, that might see light later this winter.) In the spangled generosity of his Forward Mr. Shaw took me for a citizen of the Other World. And this was to my knowledge the first time I was recognized, the first time this drizzle of sorrow and love for life that is my claim for Orphan Wisdom was seen and called by name. This stirred my gratitude. I have gratitude for him personally and specifically, surely, but I’ve another gratitude that arrived in this slurry of anticipation and pause, one that rises in the departure lounge as I make my way back across the Atlantic, tracing the furrows ploughed centuries before when We Who Left, who could not afford to stay, parted ways so deeply with You Who Stayed, to become the great European fantasy of America. And Mr. Shaw wrote of we who left: “To us, when you left you became spirits. How does dying wise function when to we who stayed you are already dead?” This is surely the arche of sorrow and longing and the uprooting of the world in search of home that America has become. It is to this wonder that I am returning.”

 

Martin Shaw

“I have not a clue whether we humans will live for another 100 or 10,000 years.  We can’t be sure.  What matters to me is the fact we have fallen out of a very ancient love affair – a kind of dream tangle, with the earth itself.  If, through our own mess, that relationship is about to end, then we need to scatter as much beauty around us as we possibly can, to send a voice, to attempt some kind of repair.  I think of it as a kind of courting – a very old idea.”

“When we claim myth as nothing but a map of our inner-life we reduce it, make a prison of it in our rib-cage. We stay in a rather sad isolation, rather than the sophisticated awakening that we are frisky boars rolling in myths deep and nourishing mud. The delicate flecks of soil that lace the sides of our pen (that is the world) is the art we display from such a calorific experience.”

“I am saying that in a functioning culture, myth is the dwelling hut for the people, the goats, the gleaming little babies, the old ones crooked and crazy-wise, the heart-broken, the grand stretch of birch trees at the bottom of a Norfolk field. It contains it all. It’s not just a reductionist blue-print for a therapists handle on why you feel so blue.”

“This is not to deny the interior – much great art has been developed in its amplification. But at what cost? For many of us now, our inner-world has become more real than the real. So i praise the genius of psychology but i believe there is much gain in myth cutting loose from the corral of human allegory – these are wild horses we are encountering. They have much to disclose.”

 

 

A society continually emphasizing victory and progress is out of touch with myth. Myths emphasis on descent is erotic – it is the longing of the apple to fall from the quivering branch and be cradled in the dark arms of the soil. Gravity is a secondary issue. It is really the business of desire. I think our access to so many facts is causing us to be in a permanent state of hallucination. We are societally tripping. We have the facts but where on earth has the story gone?”

“Myths demand full occupancy of the lived experience. Which includes the myriad difficulties and slow-drip struggles that eventually carve out those rare and ordinary creatures we call elders. It requires a full, creative declaration of attachment to the world. That declaration, hewn into language, growing, loving, learning, music – is part of awareness of the impossible debt of gratitude we have for being here at all. The very sensation of the debt is a wonderful grounding in being a full human being.”

 

 


Die Wise

“Everything that has a beginning has an end, Neo.”

(The Matrix)

A friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for several years died suddenly I found out recently. He was younger than me and in good health.  The news was a shock and it brought back memories of him and I suddenly realized how much I missed him, how much he meant to me back when we worked together.

I don’t think death is something we think about until someone close to us has died or is close to dying from an illness. It is not till then that time and mortality and the existential questions of life seem to be of some importance, at least for most people (I presume).

For Stephen Jenkinson however, death has become his life’s work.

“Apprenticed to a master storyteller, he has worked extensively with dying people and their families, is former program director in a major Canadian hospital, former assistant professor in a prominent Canadian medical school, consultant to palliative care and hospice organizations and educator and advocate in the helping professions”

Jenkinson who is the subject of a feature length documentary , ‘Griefwalker’ has written a new book called ‘Die Wise – A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul’.  In this book he

“places death at the center of the page and asks us to behold it in all its painful beauty. Die Wise teaches the skills of dying, skills that have to be learned in the course of living deeply and well…Dying well, Jenkinson writes, is a right and responsibility of everyone. It is a moral, political, and spiritual obligation each person owes their ancestors and their heirs. It is not a lifestyle option. It is a birthright and a debt. Die Wise dreams such a dream, and plots such an uprising. How we die, how we care for dying people, and how we carry our dead: this work makes our village life, or breaks it.”

 

Griefwalker the documentary referred to earlier has been available to view on Netflix’ streaming service for some time now but recently has been removed. However there are a few websites that are showing it still and it is embedded below. I highly recommend it for anyone who is dealing with the death of a loved one or family member or who is grieving the decline of the health of the planet. This film contains the beginnings of wisdom for us as individuals and as a culture in the west who has lost its connection with its ancestral heritage.

“Orphans are not people who have no parents: they are people who don’t know their parents, who cannot go to them. Ours is a culture built upon the ruthless foundation of mass migration, but it is more so now a culture of people unable to say who their people are. In that way we are, relentlessly, orphans. Being an orphan culture does not mean that we have no wisdom. But wisdom is being confused in our time with information. Wisdom is an achievement, hard earned and faithfully paid for; it’s not a possession.

Not knowing where you are from is not the same thing as being from nowhere, but it does mean that there is work of all kinds to be done. It could be that the only way for successful refugees to make a culture from their flight is to first be faithful witnesses to what their ancestry now asks of them, instead of what it might have fated them to be. Our culture, if a culture it can be called, or all those things we have instead of a culture, has come to a time of savage despair, it seems. We surround ourselves with generations of the debris of refugeehood, to fill the hollow of orphanhood. We have become a danger to ourselves, and a menace to all who will come after us and to the world. We abandon our dead to make our way, and we are mostly singular people. We might now be the twilight of our ancestors’ dream.

An orphan wisdom might be the only culture-making thing we can rightly, honorably or faithfully claim. There is immense grief in knowing this well and going towards it anyway. That grief could be our way of working now, our labor. It could be our beauty, too.”

 

Griefwalker (link to the film below)

https://www.fandor.com/films/griefwalker/player

 

 

 


Grief and the Praise of Life

(h/t Carolyn Baker)


 

“The crucible of making human beings is death. Every culture that is worth a damn knows that.
It is not success. It’s not growth. It’s not happiness. It’s death. That’s the cradle of your love of life, the fact that it ends.”

 

 

 

“Grief is not a feeling. Grief is a skill. And the twin of grief as a skill of life is the skill of being able to praise or love life which means wherever you find one authentically done, the other is very close at hand –  grief and the praise of life, side by side.”

 

 

(from the website) Griefwalker is a lyrical, poetic portrait of Stephen Jenkinson’s work with dying people. Filmed over a twelve year period, Griefwalker shows Jenkinson in teaching sessions with doctors and nurses, in counseling sessions with dying people and their families, and in meditative and often frank exchanges with the film’s director while paddling a birch bark canoe about the origins and consequences of his ideas for how we live and die.

A few of the themes appearing in the film: Where does our culture’s death phobia come from? Is there such a thing as good dying? How is it that grief could be a skill instead of an affliction? Who are the dead to us? How can seeing your life’s end be the beginning of your deep love of being alive?

Stephen Jenkinson has appeared at scores of screenings of Griefwalker across Canada and the U.S. The discussion periods which follow routinely go on for hours. It seems the film detonates a strong desire among people to talk about their experiences of death and grief, and especially to be heard by others.

Griefwalker is available for viewing on Netflix.