Resilience and Intentionality in 2021

We are almost at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. You may be one of many people who take this “in-between” time – whether at the Winter Solstice or the calendar New Year – to pause and reflect on the past year and to begin to look forward into the new.

This always makes me think of the pause of many in-betweens in shamanic life: the gaps between one breath and the next, between one day and the next, one project and the next. A reflection of that is in the shadowy gap between a stone and the ground upon which it sits, a state of neither rock nor ground, but what lies in between.

Being able to release enables being able to receive; letting go of the old provides space for the new. And the gap between release and receive is very like the end of one breath and the beginning of another. The way that we move through that gap is just as important as any other part of change and opportunity.

The way that we end things is as important as the way we begin them. It can easily be said that 2020 was a difficult year. The overshadowing blanket of the pandemic has been hard on people worldwide, as well as in your region, your town, and in your home. There was a lot of loss, certainly. No doubt about it. We will look back on this past year with a sense of sadness, dread, and relief. But we are not quite there, yet.

The past year has required a great deal of patience, persistence, and resilience. The flex of your response is what has brought you through. It is time to celebrate that resilience, in particular because you have been forced through many unexpected challenges and probable life-long changes have occurred. And here you are, now pivoting forward with the hope and strength that resilience gifted you.

What have you learned about yourself this year?

The year might be divided into what was before the pandemic and what came after the first shock of the realization that something potentially devastating had suddenly dropped into your life. Something that had the potential to change it irrevocably. For many, it took weeks or even months to recognize what that meant to the arc of your life. Yet, at some point, it dawned on you that your life would never be the same – that you would never be able to return to life as you knew it. And something would have to give.

Have you taken time to reflect on that shift and how you navigated it? The isolation that the pandemic forced upon us affected everyone differently, of course. Still, you had your own way of adjusting to the waves of emotion that washed through your experience of life and living. How did that go for you? How did you adjust to the grief of the loss of your old life and perhaps even the loss of friends, family, and colleagues? That takes a toll. How did it change you?

Where are you stronger? What have you released of your old life to make way for the new? In many ways, resilience is about how you let go of beliefs, ideas, attachments, stories that are no longer true, and how you are clearing the way for a new way of being in the world.

Who do you aspire to be in the coming year?

As you take some time to look forward into the coming year, take stock of a question you may have asked yourself before: Who do I want to be? Who do I CHOOSE to be as the pandemic eventually wanes. What does your new future look like? More importantly, who are you going to be in that new future?

Rather than focusing on what you want to be doing or behaving, instead consider how you want to feel in this new year, this next opening into your future. Do your best to let go of any expectations of how this new feeling might come around. In other words, envision 2021 the way your heart wants to lead you.

This year, rather than setting goals and resolutions that are rooted in your intellectual, rational way of planning, invite your heart to fearlessly guide you into imagining an intentional new you in 2021. When you can imagine and hold the feeling of this new you, your rational, planning mind can help you create it.

Remember though that the key is the feeling, not the specific outcome. Focus on how you want to feel, not how you think you will get there. It’s not the new car, or a new job, or new place to live. Once you give up on your expectations of what the future might look like according to your old pre-pandemic way of thinking, you open a broad panorama for inspiration to work within.

Now is a good time to envision the new post-COVID you, remembering the advice of Joseph Campbell. “Follow your bliss. And do not be afraid.”

The shamanic journey video inspired by this article is now available.

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Elder Parents Journey: Returning Home

My father’s stroke happened near the first of January this year. The journey from the hospital, to skilled nursing care, and then assisted living was very quick, and many things had to fall exactly right for it all to work out. Yet, it did. My sister and I were amazed by how the unfolding of my parents’ odyssey seemed so extraordinarily Spirit-led. We were able to keep them together throughout all of the changes; the timing was always perfect.

My sister, Sandra, did an extraordinary job of finding and arranging resources for them, overcoming her own challenges and obstacles along the way. Had it not been for her, things would have turned out far differently. And, as the story continued to unfold, she had a powerful influence on one of the most difficult decisions we had yet to make.

She and I had two goals: to find a place where our parents were safe and where they were happy. Those two guiding principles informed every decision. And yet, just a few months into assisted living, it was becoming clear that my father was growing less happy every day. He was becoming obsessed with the cost of care, in particular. But there was more.

As he made transitions from bed to wheelchair to a walker and finally to being able to leave the walker behind, he was able to do more things for himself and my mother. The transition was, to me, slow and practically imperceptible. For him, though, each week led to a new accomplishment and increasing freedom. And he began to talk about going home. The idea frightened both me and my sister since it threatened our goal to keep them safe.

Mom’s dementia was not getting better. She was sliding deeper into Alzheimer’s. Dad’s hearing was failing, and his left leg continued to weaken often when he walked. He appeared to me always to be on the verge of falling, and according to his physical therapist, that was likely not ever to change. I became entrenched in the opinion that their safety was threatened if they were to return home, so I began to refuse even to discuss the topic with my father when he would incessantly bring it up on my visits. “Going home” was not an option. For not the first time in our relationship, we mostly quit talking.

Sandy and I generally communicate by text, so it got my attention when she messaged that we needed to talk by phone. The conversation began with, “Dad is miserable.” With that, she had my full attention. The support system of the assisted living facility was changing for the worse. Whether there had been an owner or a management change, their support and services were declining rapidly. It seemed that as he got better able to care for himself and mom, the staff began to step back from providing care. Even the quality and substance of their food were declining.

During that conversation, I had to re-evaluate my fears and assumptions. In the end, the issue came to this:

As you approach the end of your life, you are confronted with a choice. Knowing an event will happen—a stroke, heart attack, or fall—that will be the beginning of the end for you, where would you like that to be? At home, which may not be altogether safe, or in a “safe” facility that you hate?

When I could let go of my own expectation, of our shared vision of many months ago, I could finally make a needed conceptual shift. In that conversation, we began to make new plans that could meet our twin goals of safety and happiness. Mom and dad would go home, and we would build as safe a structure around them there as we could.

The details of those plans are not important, other than this: Sandy was able to find two friends of hers that she trusted to sit with our parents five or six days a week. They had experience working with elders in home situations, doing light housework, preparing meals, and providing companionship so that they would not isolate as much as before. Without them, I am certain, the idea would never have worked.

The decision was made and we all began to lay plans for their return home within the coming month.

On the weekend before the move, I returned to Temple to make some preparations. It would be my final weekend at the house alone, at least for a while. On the last evening, I took out my drum and called to House to join me. While I drummed, I explained as best I could everything that had transpired and told House that my parents would be returning home the next weekend. I drummed for a long time to also express my gratitude to House for being with me during this voyage in time, as well as to ask for its continued protection of my parents.

I slept well that night.

Follow the story from the beginning. Previous posts:
Elder Parents: The Journey Begins
Elder Parents Journey: Making Plans
Elder Parents Journey: Heart of the House
Elder Parents Journey: Meeting House
Elder Parents Journey: Spirit of the Land
Elder Parents Journey: Tender Moments

Posted in End of Life, General, Healthcare, Learnings | 3 Comments

Three Pillars of Male Privilege in America

I believe that many women would agree with the assertion that male privilege is a significant problem, not only to women but to our society as a whole. As a male of more than sixty years, I am embarrassed to admit that it took the #MeToo movement of October 2017 to get me to even begin to understand what women have been shouting about for well more than forty of those years. Perhaps it took me so long because I suffer from the not-as-rare-as-it-should-be syndrome myself.

Let me also be clear that what I have to say reflects only the society and culture that I know. I am an American, born and raised mostly in the South. As a result, I can claim no actual knowledge about other cultures, societies, ethnicities, or any other group. However, I believe that what I have discovered will resonate across all of those divisions in some form and to some degree. My hope is that this examination of what I have come to envision as three keys to understand and call out male privilege will begin a much-needed dialog, both internal to every man and external to our society and its relationships to women.

It’s important to know that I have been working with women who have experienced a broad array of trauma for well more than a decade. For reasons that humble me, and rather confused me until very recently, my work with them has been mostly successful. I have my own theories about the necessity for these women to work with a safe male in order to heal wounds caused by men that are out of the scope of this article. Yet, I want it to be noticed that after all of this work with some quite wounded women, I still did not recognize my own deafness to what women have been telling us all for years.

The problem with American male privilege is that it is insidious. This article is a beginning to what I hope will be an on-going excavation into why that might be true and what the cost of it is and will be in the future. There are at least three pillars supporting American male privilege. One way of thinking about how to get to these issues is as though they are archeological digs: in order to find the pillars, you have to dig through a series of compartmentalized and sealed chambers of the male psyche, each accessible only if you dig through the one above.

One core difficulty of addressing American male privilege is that the trap door to the very first subterranean chamber has not only been bolted and locked, but also has been hidden deep within the male consciousness since the very first breath baby boys take. It is as though the first portal to the top three chambers has been covered over with years of dirt and is difficult to find, even if one is looking for it.

I now believe that women have been pointing at the door under all of that dirt for decades, at least. However, because of the blindness that male privilege engenders, men simply have not been paying attention. Most men have not understood the frustration their blindness leads to for women. On the whole, men have dismissed that frustration as a kind of fundamental feminine flaw, an emotional upheaval that they could “just deal with” if they wanted to.

Embarrassingly, it took the #MeToo movement pounding on the trap door to get my attention. And I bet that many of the male readers of this article are scratching their heads, wondering what the hell I am on about. Well, let me share some of my recent insights, and perhaps they will finally pay attention.

And let me add that if you are a male and thinking to yourself “I already know about this,” consider that you may be part of the problem and not as “evolved” as you think you are.

Pillar One: Men Do Not Understand Women

The very first insight I had at the beginning of this exploration was that men do not understand women, not at all. I thought I did, but clearly, I did not. I can no longer even tell myself that I do in any meaningful way; that, I know, would be lying. It took a lot for me to dig into that fundamental understanding. Yet, it became clear at one point that, if I did not admit that I don’t understand women, I had to admit something worse: that I was a closet sexist. That hit me like a brick.

Some of my earliest memories around sexuality come from my experiences in middle and high schools. I was a sensitive boy, especially sensitive around girls. I clearly remember sitting at lunch at a table, the only boy at a table of girls. They talked openly in front of me about “girl things” as though I was not there. I was virtually invisible and quite uncomfortable. I believe, though, that I was possibly one of the very few non-threatening boys in the school or that would never have happened.

What our current president referred to in the Access Hollywood scandal and dismissed as “locker room talk” is real. I remember becoming physically ill when I heard what other boys said about my female friends, yet I was unable to do anything to stand up for them. Not only was it a dangerous thing to do, but there were also no guidelines or support for doing so.

I remember seeing what I thought of then as gangs of male students moving through the hall literally yelling obscenities about women as a whole. I was embarrassed, intimidated, and angry. But I said nothing for the same reasons that I did not speak up in the locker room.

With these experiences (and more) and my daily current work with women, surely I understand them, right? I mean, they tell me just about everything about their lives and challenges. Yet, as I now see it, almost all of those discussions carefully skirted around the deeper memories and emotions stirred up in them by the #MeToo movement. I work diligently to engender and prove my trustworthiness to my clients from day one. Yet, even so, either they did not trust me to receive what they really wanted to say, or much worse, they were telling me and I completely could not hear them.

It was only when I had the insight that maybe I didn’t understand women as much as I thought I did that I realized the best course of action was to: “Sit down. Shut up. And listen.” Does that mean that men have no part in the dialog? They absolutely do! I suggest, however, that the dialog can only be had in a meaningful way when men understand that 98% of what we believe about women is not true.

Guys, let me tell you that women are telling you exactly what you need to know about them. You are just not listening. As long as you think that you already know about them, you are wrong and you are adding to the problem, no matter how sensitive you think you are.

“You’re not talking about me, right?”
“I’ve always loved and protected women!”
“How can you not see what all I am doing for women?”
“How can you say that I don’t understand you? Haven’t I proven myself?”

If these are your words, you are part of the problem. That is an expression of a masculine language intended—subtly for certain—to deflect and shut down further dialog, not open it. Try this instead: Sit down. Shut up. And listen.

Put your ego and sense of bruised self-importance aside and really listen to what women say. Don’t take it personally and don’t try to defend yourself. Know that is a dead giveaway as to your own lack of understanding and your own male privilege.

Once you do that and prove that you are really interested in hearing them, you will find that women will begin to talk to you about what is important. Once you do that and let them know you are giving up on the idea that you know anything and are willing (at last) to listen, you will likely hear the words, “Thank you.”

Only then can a real dialog and understanding begin.

Here is one more thing to know: Women don’t understand men, either. However, I have come to believe that 1) they know that, and 2) they understand men better than men understand women. Why? For safety. It is axiomatic in the animal world that weaker animals need to be smarter than the stronger ones—the prey needs to know more about the predator than the reverse. There is more about this later, but it is certainly relevant to know at this point, as well.

Pillar Two: Boys And Girls Are Socialized Differently

Among the first things that you will come to realize when you begin to listen to women is that girls and boys are socialized completely differently. The effects of that difference in socialization are profound. Both men and women grow up within two separate silos of socialization. Though we think they are the same, they are not.

Babies are color-coded at birth: boys are blue; girls are pink. This actually does not seem as true about babies born in the 2000s as it was for most of my childhood and adult life, including having two sons of my own. But this color-coding has absolutely contributed to the confusion around socialization of children and the effects on us as adults.

Color-coding has helped generations know how to deal with babies. The question, “Is it a boy or a girl?” is easily answered by what color clothing they wear. I instantly know whether I’m dealing with a “little man” or a “little girl.” (Notice the subtlety of the difference.)

The fundamental question, though, is why does it matter whether the baby is a boy or girl? The answer is so that we will know which socialization program we need to switch to in order to properly interact with the child. It would not do to treat a “little man” the same as a “little girl.”

My partner and I were walking back from the local store recently when we passed a young man sitting on the step of their front porch, watching his child play on the sidewalk. As we passed by, the child fell forward on the concrete and began to cry. The father did not move but instead said, “You’re OK. Come on. Get up and come over here. Let me take a look.” Until that point, I really could not tell whether the child was a boy or girl. Once he said that though, the gender of the child was clear. It was a boy.

Imagine the same scenario, but instead, the father rushed over to the crying child, helped her up, gave her a big hug. The differences in socialization are not even subtle when you begin to look for them.

These differences in socialization continue into every single aspect of the rearing of a child: schools, neighborhoods, churches, playgrounds, family constellations… on and on. Within the silo, it is almost impossible for the child to tell what is going on for the most part. Occasionally, one child will say of her sibling (usually the girl):

“Why does he get to go hunting, and I don’t?”
“Why do I have to wear a dress, and he doesn’t?”
“Why can’t I play dodgeball, and he can?”
“Why can’t I go out with my friends, and he can?”

Universal answer: “Because he is a boy, and you are a girl.” This is clearly the most frustrating response possible, often leading to fights, slammed doors, screaming, running away, and other “aberrant” behaviors.

Dad says, “What’s that all about?” Mom answers with a shrug, “She’s a girl. That’s just how girls are.”

Granted that these are very broad generalities. I would argue, however, that the boy tends to win in these situations; and the girl loses. Here lie some of the very deep roots of male privilege, nurtured by the male recipient of male privilege from his own father, and supported by the mother who, in this case, appears to have surrendered the field. Most likely, her mother did, as well.

Extending this imaginary case further, you might find the mother talking with her daughter later. What might she say? It is probably best to leave that answer to the women because I have no way of knowing. I don’t have any experience within that silo. I can only make assumptions, which by the way, is another deep root of male privilege. If we do not know, we tend to create stories, and those stories reinforce what we already believe.

But go ahead and try it. What do you believe they talked about? Whatever it is you think, it is a story you made up from your own beliefs. That is actually pretty important. You need to know the stories you tell yourself about life in the other silo.

Gender and Gender Identity

Certainly, some children fall outside of the established gender silos. One of the hard truths about the binary view of gender, in addition to the toll it takes on the socialization of children, is the toll that it takes on people who do not identify with their assigned gender roles. When a Tomboy looks in the mirror as puberty overtakes her and sees her body change, she can feel, and often does feel, betrayed by it—betrayed by her own body.

(Remember that my experience is primarily with women. I can assume that this experience is the same for boys, yet I do not know for certain. I leave that for them to express, or those who have more experience with boys. However, the work I have done with a few young men strongly suggests this is true for them also.)

The sense of confusion, rejection, and isolation of children who fall outside of the established social gender norms appears earlier than most people realize. The deep-seated feeling that the child does not belong anywhere often persists well into teenage and adulthood years, especially if the child does not find adequate support and assistance.

In the current American social system, being outside of established norms is never a good situation. These established institutions, including the silos of socialization, are long-standing and will be very slow to change. Yet, knowing about them is highly valuable to creating change in the American male privilege system.

Pillar Three: It’s In The Language

In December 2018, I posted on my Facebook wall a video regarding a study sponsored by two advertising agencies of men touching women in a Brazilian nightclub where 86% of women in the country reported being touched without consent. I was not as interested in the study (which was basically not at all scientific, intended only to raise awareness), rather in the responses the article might bring up and the discussion around them. I was not disappointed, and there were a few surprises.

The study involved a dress to be worn by women that had sensors embedded in the cloth. The study was designed to measure where the women were touched and how many times in a bar setting. The dress recorded up to 40 gropes per hour. Perhaps predictably, the majority of the touches were on the back, arms, wrist, neck, waist, and hips. When they showed the study results to the men, they expressed surprise.

The comments on my feed were enlightening in regard to how one might determine whether touching was appropriate or acceptable. My favorite guideline was:

“Imagine you’re in a maximum-security correctional facility, in a room of big beefy inmates with no guards around. What kind of touching would you be uncomfortable receiving from any of them?

“Let that guide you. If you wouldn’t want to be behind bars with a guy touching you that way, then don’t do it to her unless you know her and know that you have explicit permission to do it.”

There was a predictable discussion with comments from men indicating that women should be aware of how they are dressing and where they are going. After all, some asked what women should expect when they go to a bar? Other women indicated that they didn’t go to bars for just that reason. These are both expressions of and a cost of male privilege, which the study reflected also exists in Brazil, as well as America.

Of course, women should be able to dress however they want and go wherever they wish without being treated inappropriately or made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Apparently, though, many men who responded did not agree, and some women had simply given up.

Still, that is not what got my attention.

There were a couple of discussions between men that expressed some form of the defensive comments referenced in Pillar One that are sure signs they are not listening to women. Another was, to my eye, a somewhat benign exchange about how NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) might consider the issue. But then there was this from a woman:

“You got some dudes on here that don’t know how to not sound like a predator.

“That’s all I’m going to say here, but, seriously, some of them need to check their level of defensiveness as an indicator of possible predatory tendencies in thinking and speaking (likely behaving, too)—even if, or should I say, ESPECIALLY if, they are currently unaware (ostensibly) of these tendencies.”

Here is the key observation again: “…that don’t know how to not sound like a predator.”

Suddenly, I realized that underneath the social silos supporting the separation of girls and boys is language. Boys and girls are taught two different languages: boys, a predatory language; girls, a submissive one. Take a look at these statements that I regularly hear female clients speak about hearing as they grew up:

Don’t make waves.
Don’t be too much.
Be nice.
You’re so sweet! or Be sweet!
What would “They” think?
Give ____ a hug.

Then imagine saying those same things to a boy, instead of what men generally heard growing up:

Be strong.
Stand up for yourself!
You can do it! You’re a winner!
Get up and get it done!
You can do anything you want.

The situation is that these kinds of messages, these fundamental differences in language, are constantly and consistently reinforced throughout the children’s rearing. They simply do not know any better, other than when girls begin to notice the differences. Yet, girls, as well as women, are mostly not heard, which is another reason that such privilege is so pervasive and insidious in the male culture of America.

Healing Begins With Men

The only way to address American male privilege, and to begin to heal the wounding it has caused, is for men to wake up and make some internal changes. I heard over and over again that the only effective force for change is men who recognize and stand up against privilege. “No one listens to women,” has been a constant and true statement throughout this entire excavation.

That men actually do begin the work is the only way male privilege can be addressed in America—the only way to stop the constant demeaning, diminution, and outright threats that women face on a daily basis. Period. That’s it. If men do not come to the defense and aid of the women that we say we love, we are all closeted sexist liars.

If you are in, here is what you do:

Stop talking. Stop defending. Really listen.

Understand that you fundamentally do not understand. Make that your baseline. When you are talking with women about anything that they think is important, do not assume that you know what they are talking about. Pay attention to them exclusively and practice active listening: ask questions, reflect back what you think you heard and make sure you got it right.

Pay attention to your own language.

Pillar Three postulates that the languages taught to boys and girls is different. I hope that you are properly impressed with how subtle that is. This is not only about what society teaches children. You need to recognize the effects of the programming on your own psyches and worldview. Your thoughts, reactions, and behaviors are fundamentally based on the language you have been taught. And the way to catch and change that programming is to pay attention to your own words.

One strategy for catching yourself is by listening to other men and doing your best to disambiguate what they are saying and the stories they are telling themselves. You can bet that you are doing the same.

Be brave. Take action.

I was outside working on the lawn not too long ago when I heard a young man walking down the street and talking loudly on the phone to his male friend. I mean very loudly. The words his friend was apparently using about his girlfriend—and women in general—was disgustingly sexist. I was shocked and surprised, and he was gone before I could get my wits together. Once out of sight, it was too late; and frankly, I was afraid to speak up, even if I had the chance. I still regret that.

Make space for women to be heard.

In general, women are not heard. They are talked-over, their opinions are negated or minimized, or they are simply ignored. On more than one occasion I have been told that a woman made suggestions several times that were simply not regarded as valuable. That is until a man made the same suggestion and got credit for the idea.

When you really start to listen, you will find that women bring a lot to any discussion. They think differently and they see things differently. That kind of out-of-the-box thinking is extremely valuable in understanding how to be more creative. And they should get credit for that!

From now on, do not let other men demean or denigrate women. Stand up for them at every opportunity. This is what it takes to be an ally, and women want (and need) allies in their cause to be treated, if not equally, at least decently.

Learn about institutionalized sexual harassment and abuse.

Take courses and workshops if you need to in order to better inform yourself about the topic. These courses are not only about sexual abuse, but also the structures that make it possible to exist. You will learn a great deal that you don’t know, including what you do not know about how male privilege shows up in your own psyche. You will see that it does.

Suggest (or insist) that your employers and other organizations in which you participate sponsor such training for its staff and members, as well.

Spread the word.

Guys, we are all in this together. Talk to your male friends about this issue. Recruit them as allies or at least deal with their misogyny when you see it. Call them out, too. If they don’t like it, then you might consider changing friends.

Here is a simple thing to do. Men tend to talk over or interrupt women when they are speaking. When you see that happen, set an example. Let everyone know that you want to hear what she says, to let her finish. It is really difficult for people in a group to ignore you, as a man, indicating your interest in hearing the woman out. That is a very clear statement and example for other men in the group.

This is important. By paying attention and taking on this challenge, men working with women can begin to chip away at the current dysfunction of our social systems. It is going to be a longer-term struggle and not quick or easy at all. Yet the cost of doing nothing needs to be ranked as completely unacceptable, which it is.

Posted in General, Learnings, Society | 7 Comments

Elder Parents Journey: Tender Moments

There are ten thousand things I would rather be doing than what I am doing right now. Looking through literally hundreds of personal files and photographs is both interesting and heart-rending. The most poignant from today was a birthday card my mom gave my dad in 2013.

It reads: “To my Husband. We’ve shared so much since we were married – our plans, our work, our fun, and every day I’ve found new reasons to love you… Even the challenges we’ve faced have made me realize how strong our relationship is, and how much happiness you’ve brought to my life. And I want you to know I’ll only love you more as the years go by.” She added, “Our love will be ‘eternally’.” Jo”

Then, in 2014 she added the note “I still love you.” And in a weakening hand in 2015, “Sweeter as the years go by!!!! Love u more.” In 2016 she added, “Nothing has changed except I love you even more! No other person in this world could have been as good to me as you have!!! We will be together FOREVER (Thank the Lord). Yours, Jo.”

I have no idea what to do with that card. Perhaps it would bring them joy; perhaps pain. So, like so many other things, I leave it in the envelope on his desk and wait for guidance.

Today my dad said that he had no idea how much my mom depended on him. She looks for him whenever she awakens from her frequent naps, and if he is not there she goes to find him. She is his constant companion, and he hers.

He does his best to keep her as strong and healthy as possible. He encourages her to eat when she is not particularly hungry, to drink more fluids, to walk even though he cannot yet walk with her. He keeps his eye on her to make sure she is safe and doesn’t fall, even though it is he in most danger of falling.

Dad isn’t supposed to stand without someone to support him. The stroke affected the stability of his left knee and he loses his balance if his weight shifts back to his heels. However, as I left them this evening, he stood up carefully from his wheelchair, wobbled just a bit, and took my hand with a firm grip to say, “Thank you for everything you are doing for us.”

I signed out and made it to my truck.

Follow the story from the beginning. Previous posts:
Elder Parents: The Journey Begins
Elder Parents Journey: Making Plans
Elder Parents Journey: Heart of the House
Elder Parents Journey: Meeting House
Elder Parents Journey: Spirit of the Land

Posted in End of Life, General | Leave a comment

Elder Parents Journey: Spirit of the Land

My father always had a connection with his land and property that could be called shamanic, though he would never use or approve of that term. One of the key characteristics of shamanic practice is that it is rooted in the Earth and implies a relationship with the “spirits of the land.” For that reason and many others, shamanic practitioners can be called caretakers of the land.

HouseBackYardMy parents lived in many places in their years together. In each one, my father always enhanced the look and feel of the landscape and took good care of the buildings. He almost always constructed some structure–a shed, storage, or workshop sometimes complete with a couch and air conditioning.

He remained alert for needed repairs and took care of them right away. When they decided to sell (a choice that is always up to be changed), my father said that the only thing of importance he knew of that needed to be done was to repair a strip of joint paper that had come loose in a corner of the garage. It was about two feet long.

I spoke with the next door neighbor while visiting last weekend. Dan had previously expressed interest in possibly buying the house when my parents put it on the market. Because he had asked, I told him that they may be close to deciding to sell, though for reasons of the VA assistance application and possibly Medicaid funding it would be quite a while. He remarked about how well dad had taken care of the place.

One time a family that had walked the neighborhood for more than 20 years told Dan that the house did not seem to have changed since the first time they saw it. The only difference they noticed was the improvements my father made.

Such care and improvements were always couched in the language of value. It made no sense to my father to let his property fall apart and decrease its value over time. He sees a property in terms of its investment value… or so he says. I also see that he is proud of what he has done, and I believe that he loves the places that he has lived in, regardless of what he expresses about property value.

Perhaps “property value” is his best expression of caring for the Spirit of the land. Yet, I know that his feeling for it goes deeper than what he admits. He just doesn’t have acceptable words for it.

Of course, this is my view, a view of a shamanic practitioner in this contemporary social context. And from that worldview, I believe we — all humans — have a deep, thousands-of-years-old relationship to the Spirits of the land, whether we understand or even acknowledge it.

Humans have had a deep connection with the land and nature for well more than 100,000 years. Is it reasonable to believe that our current separation from them by concrete, asphalt, and steel can erase that animistic core? I think not. I cannot even imagine how our species can completely sever that most precious relationship.

My father has what we all have: an innate shamanic connection to the land. It may show up for many in various disguises and descriptions over time. Still, I do not believe that we can survive without it any more than we can water and air.

I can easily envision an alternate future in which my father meets the many Spirits of all of the places that he has lived. And in that vision, I see him accept their gratitude.

Hotel_Ella_300Follow the story from the beginning. Previous posts:
Elder Parents: The Journey Begins
Elder Parents Journey: Making Plans
Elder Parents Journey: Heart of the House
Elder Parents Journey: Meeting House

Posted in End of Life, General, Society, Spirituality | 3 Comments