Departures

July 3, 2012 · Comments Off
Category: Masculinity Movies, Reviews, Syndicated 

Daigo Kobayashi lives with his wife Mika in Tokyo. He plays the cello in a struggling symphonic orchestra. As the movie opens, the orchestra where he plays for a living is disbanded by the owner. Daigo’s dreams are crushed. He was going to be a famous musician and the concert halls of the world were going to be the stage of his life and his marriage with Mika. Those temples of high culture seem far away now.

A new job

Daigo’s mother is dead. His father is gone, having run off with a waitress when Daigo was but a child. He is for all intents and purposes an orphan and his childhood home in Sakata northwest of Tokyo stands abandoned. It is a quaint house, surrounded by cherry trees, perched on a piece of land above a babbling stream. His mother lived alone there after Daigo moved out. The house was his only inheritance when she died two years previously.

Daigo sells his expensive cello to stabilize their finances for the next leg of their journey – a new life in his childhood home – and feels relief as he does it. Maybe the dream he had pursued wasn’t really his dream after all, he tells us in a monologue. This is a pivotal moment in his life, and he rightly recognizes it as such.

When a man finds himself stuck in a dead-end life, he is wasting his birthright. We are put here on this planet, I believe, to find our true gift and courageously give that to the world. Every man yearns deep down to leave a mark. I think I know that much about you, brother! I don’t think the gift that will leave that mark necessarily needs to be our livelihood though. But if our work is draining us of energy and makes us daydream of a life that isn’t ours, we should course-correct. Many men reach that point of recognition, but few are those who act. For stepping into that unknown is a scary thing, especially if he is the main breadwinner of the family (in certain conditions, it would even be irresponsible).

Men have always, it seems, sacrificed their inner yearning for depth, vitality and meaning in favor of a stable job that puts food on the table. But hearts of men close when their life experience turns certain, controlled, measured. So how do we make a living and live with open, beating, passionate hearts? Many, if not all, men will struggle with this question in their lifetime (I do – and I haven’t even started a family!). And finding a satisfying answer is always a process of risk and challenge.

Daigo is lucky in a way – fate intervenes and forces him into a time of transformation. It is as if the universe conspires to give him what he needs to find a truer path, when he himself has neglected the seeking (note that he only realizes after selling the cello that he was chasing the wrong dream). This process, when it arises in our lives, often signals an entry into the sacred time of the Magician Archetype. If we resist, we will suffer. But if we embrace the mystery of life’s unfolding and learn to die while we still live, we will be in for a ride that will almost certainly change our lives for the better.

A hieroglyphic job ad about “departures” takes Daigo to a red house on a hill where large wood coffins line the back wall of the front office. NK Agent is a company which has made dead people its business. The owner Sasaki prepares them beautifully and gracefully for their final journey as if he were an artist. Through his work, the bereaved uncover deep and forgotten feelings of grief, love and joy. This is the gentle and beautiful ritual of departure that has become his craft. And since business is reasonably good, he needs a right hand man.

Death as a doorway to feeling

When the story plays out, Daigo’s new boss has been widowed for nine years. When she died, he prepared her body and sent her off. When he shares this story with Daigo amongst the thick foliage of his upstairs living quarters, we understand there was a profound depth of love and feeling between the two. I’m reminded of the universal rule that suggests that our true gifts to the world shall emerge through our wounds. Sasaki has embraced his loss and transmuted the grief into a gift he can pass on to others.

Daigo’s first days on the job serve as a baptism by fire and he learns soon enough that dead people smell. He is challenged beyond his comfort zone, but something remarkable starts happening to him: He realizes, as if it were a surprise, that he is surrounded by death. When Mika brings home a dead bird one day, he feels ill. A wave of emotion takes him as he appears to tune in, perhaps for the first time in his life, to the frailty and preciousness of life. Perhaps he sees that we are all so fragile, so beautiful in our infinite vulnerability. He embraces his wife and starts kissing her with tender passion.

Later that night, he pulls out his old childhood cello, with which he performed for his parents in his early years. As he plays, memories of his father, whose face he cannot even remember, pour in. He remembers that they gave each other a “rock letter” by the riverside. A rock letter, his father taught him, was a way of communication used before words emerged. It would tell the recipient something about the mood of the sender based on its weight, shape and surface. He remembers that he gave his father a small, smooth stone back then. In return, his father gave him a rough and heavy rock.

Something in Daigo is coming out of hibernation. His naïveté is starting to give way to a deeper feeling landscape.

Standing firm in the face of challenge

Death is a taboo subject in Japan, so much so that the director allegedly feared for how the movie would be received upon its release. So when the people in his life discover what he does for a living, they react with disgust. His wife even screams at him that he is unclean before she leaves him and travels back to Tokyo. But Daigo has found a calling now; he has seen how Sasaki’s work heals the wounds of the bereaved and brings more love into the world. He has seen the grace with which he carries out the ritual. He has learned that there is beauty to be found even in death. He describes it with these words in one scene:

One grown cold
restored to beauty for all eternity
this was done with a calmness, a precision
and above all a gentle affection.
At the final parting
sending the dead on their way
everything done peacefully and beautifully.

Daigo is alone now. He only has his work, his boss and the office lady. Surrounded by people who are mortified by the concept of death, he finds himself in a form of purgatory. “Demons are eating his flesh” yet he presses on. His heart is in his work now. That is all he needs to endure.

Our twisted relationship to death

The way we relate to death in the world today is very unnatural. I know that to be true for the Western world. This movie tells me that it is true for the Eastern as well. Losing touch with the wisdom and gratitude inherent in contemplating our deaths has a huge cost: We forget that we are finite, here for but a short time. And with the arrogance inherent in forgetting our finitude, we lose the basic humility and gratitude required for living a fulfilling life on this splendid, little rock.

But what can a normal man do when there is such pressure on him to be happy-go-lucky, to shit diamonds for breakfast and manifest heavenly mansions out of thin air for dinner? All while smiling, laughing, beaming success and having not a worry in the world. Well, he must become a courageous man. Because it takes great courage to shed the facade and allow the grief and wildness that is inherent in the depths of us to emerge in an authentic way in his daily life. The mature man has access to his feeling body and there is so much repressed feeling in today’s society.

For a world entranced by trends, fashions, and reality TV, the “wild man love” that is lived openly in the truly courageous man looks way too much like the heavy dark of death and strange, hairy creatures that live under the ground. Who wants to get soil stuck under their finger nails when they can get the latest in manicures on special offer down the road and look splendid to their friends?

But lest we embrace that life is a series of deaths and understand that the key to living well is dying well, we will never be truly happy. Consumerist culture is an empty promise. It delivers only fleeting moments of joy in an ocean of half-life. Most of us feel hollow and miserable. And who are we kidding anyway? In the depth of our hearts and souls, we know the truth: Something is seriously wrong about our culture.

Letting go at the side of his dead father

One day, a telegram arrives at Daigo’s door. His father has died. Daigo’s trials have all been presented him, it may seem, to prepare him for the most pivotal of them all – letting his father back into his heart. Ever since he ran off, Daigo has carried fierce resentment against him. He is now committed to not forgive. Fortunately, his wife is now back in his life, thanks to the beautiful ritual he performed for the sweet woman who ran the local bath. Mika has seen first-hand the beauty inherent in a graceful departure. Mika is back and Daigo has passed the test.

He finds himself at his father’s side somewhat reluctantly. His heart is closed – who is this sad, lonely man who lies on the floor before him? He doesn’t even recognize him! Then he starts carrying out the ritual of departure. As he works on the hands, stiff and cold with rigor mortis, something falls to the floor. It is the rock he gave his dad when he was little.

Daigo’s feeling body comes online like a great wave. His father’s last thought was of him. His father must have loved him! But life happened and feelings of shame and regret came between them. In that very moment, I know that a huge reservoir of feeling and power that was previously inaccessible to Daigo opens up. As he washes his dad, tears stream down his face. He forgives – and he loves. This is a good moment to remember that it is impossible for any man to stand up fully in his own power and beauty without finding peace in the part of his heart that holds the imprints of Dad. Daigo holds up the rock to the pregnant belly of his wife Mika as they smile to each other. Something is healed there – in the midst of the circle of life.

Conclusion

Departures is a wise and beautiful movie about life’s big questions. It is a movie about art: Music connects all cultures in a way similar to death and Daigo could take to the art of departure more easily because he was a musician. It is also a movie about mentorship: Sasaki opens Daigo’s heart and helps him reconnect with his own core truth in a way that empowers him to find his calling and forgive his dad. But most of all, it is a movie about life. It reminds us gently of the invisible cords that connect us, of the petty little things that keep us apart, of the vulnerability of life and humankind, and of the healing, life-giving power of true grief. In that, I sense that it beckons us to get more intimate with each other, to go beyond fear and judgments in order to heed the eternal call of the Lover archetype: Love one another today. Tomorrow may never come.

Eivind Skjellum

Eivind Skjellum, is the founder of Masculinity Movies, where this originally appeared in his blog. Eivind completed the New Warrior Training Adventure in June 2011. Read about his experience HERE.

Initiation rites for boys

October 11, 2011 · 1 Comment
Category: Boys to Men, Syndicated 

Hi Men,

A mother and friend expressed in the comments of my blog post “The terror of young men” pain over a lack of programs, rites and rituals for boys. Many mothers of boys in this world – especially single mums – wish for programs like these. Now, I know these exist, but I haven’t taken notes of them and I don’t exactly remember the names of the ones I have heard about. I realize now that I have been more focused on men’s work than boy’s work…

I can spend lots of time doing research and compile a list (I WILL compile a list), but I’d love if you would help me by telling me of programs you know of in the comments below.

Thank you. Such a list could serve many people.

With gratitude,
Eivind

The Lion King

September 27, 2011 · Comments Off
Category: Masculinity Movies, Reviews, Syndicated 

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by Eivind Skjellum

Today we don’t have any myths to tell our children in the modern world. Fortunately we can rely on the myths that are transmitted through the movies. A good example of a movie that I let my boys watch is Disney’s modern classic The Lion King since it contains many good lesions for a boy – and for a man – to learn.

The beginning

The story features Simba who is born and hailed as the next king after his father, the current lion king Mufasa who teaches his son about the ‘circel of life’ and what it takes to be a king. Mufasa’s brother Scar, however, wants the throne for himself and uses his cunning to try to get rid of both Mufasa and Simba. First he tricks the young and eager Simba to go to the elephant graveyard where Scar’s allies, the hyenas, await him. Mufasa saves him from the hyenas and teaches Simba that courage is not absence of fear and certainly not rushing into danger. A king needs to be much wiser and more mature than so.

Next time Scar succeeds with his plan when he lures Simba into a ravine where his hyena companions set a heard of gnus on the runaway in his direction. Scar then tells Mufasa who rushes to his son’s rescue. He barely manages to get Simba to safety but finds himself hanging from a cliff where Scar can give him the final blow and throw him to his death. Scar then convinces Simba that it was Simba’s fault and sends the hyenas after him. Then Scar can claim the throne along with his hyena friends.

New start – new rules

Simba, who managed to escape, is found in the desert by the meerkat Timon and the warthog Pumbaa who adopt and raise Simba with guidance from their own problem-free philosophy Hakuna matata – no worries! And no responsibilities! Just put your past behind you, bad things happen and there is nothing you can do about it. And instead of hunting pray Simba learns to eat bugs and worms. Timon literary files his claws down.

Isn’t this the perfect illustration of the condition of the modern man? Being cut off from the past, from our own source of ancient masculinity, from our own identity. Feeling a pressure to stop oppressing women, stop destroying the world, stop being in the way, and where masculinity is viewed as a something that is destructive and problematic per se, even leaving us with a strong sense of guilt and shame. Trying to find guidance in self-help books telling us to be more in the present, to give up all identity, to forgive the past or just to be nice, happy and harmless.

In the now grown up Simba’s case he can recognize that something is missing in his life, a loneliness despite his friendly and caring company. Fruitlessly, he searches for his father in the stars where he was told to find him and all other kings of the past.

Simba awakens

But Simbas masculine powers are soon to be awaken by two visits. First by his childhood friend Nala, now a lioness, who opens Simba’s heart as they quickly fall in love as they were destined. But when she urges him to return and challenge Scar to the throne he reverts to his old strategy of “Hakuna matata”, thus escaping from his responsibility to Nala’s great disappointment. His lack of courage isn’t exactly attractive to the lioness, but her main concern is that her savanna has been turned into a wasteland by Scar’s mismanagement. Scar was never interested or wise enough to respect the nature’s balance and the circle of life, he was only in it for his own gain and is now bored by the situation that he obviously cannot handle.

Next the old wise mandrill Rafiki pays Simba a visit and just like a zen master or a jester he guides Simba into some deep soulwork in order to find his father and get in contact with his true self. In a scene that resembles Luke Skywalker’s jedi training Simba follows Rafiki through a dark and shady forest and finding not Darth Vader but his father Mufasa in his own reflection in the water, in the bottom of his own soul. “He lives in you” Rafiki says. Then Simba hears Mufasa’s voice telling him that he has forgotten about his father and forgotten who he is. Simba thought that his father had abandoned him, but it was really he who hadn’t dared to look for him from the guilt he still carries. In order to find his father and all the past kings he now has to remember who he is, and that is much more than what he has become up till now.

The return of the king

Simba is far from done in his work with himself but nevertheless he knows that he has to return to free his country from Scar’s reign with the aid of his friends Nala, Timon and Pumbaa. Simba may be the stronger of the two combatants, but Scar has the psychological advantage. Simba still believes that he is guilty of his father’s death, which Scar uses to his advantage when he forces Simba to the edge of the cliff, just as his father. Unfortunately for Scar, his pride betrays him as he cannot resist telling Simba that he killed Mufasa. What’s the point of being cunning and outwitting everyone if there’s no one to share it with and no one to admire it, something practically all movie villains seem to think.

And with that all Simba’s destructive energy of guilt that until now has been turned inwards is released and transformed into pure rage within a blink of an eye and Simba can counter attack. Now Simba has reached his full potential and he can defeat Scar and the hyenas can be driven out of the country.

The circle is closed and continued

The movie ends as it started with Rafiki lifting the new lion cub, Simba’s and Nala’s son, to be hailed by all the animals of the lands as the next king – that is, if he can grow up to be one. And the circle of life continues.

Eivind Skjellum

Eivind Skjellum is the founder of Masculinity Movies, where this originally appeared in his blog. Eivind completed the New Warrior Training Adventure in June 2011. Read about his experience HERE.

Men living with heart

March 20, 2010 · 1 Comment
Category: 2010 March - Men and Love 

by Daniel Doty

A few months ago, I was talking to a close friend about my work with men and its implications for society.  The conversation became heated, and she made the following assertion: “Masculinity is slippery.”

What she meant is that due to societal and historical implications, we now must tiptoe around the topic of masculinity. She meant that being a man has become too complex, too undefined, and too inseparable from a negative historical inflection.

I felt pretty inflamed by this idea. Although her point was fully understood, my gut and my heart literally roared back.  I kept the lid on my emotional reaction. and I have since spent substantial time considering her statement carefully.  I have developed a clear reply.

The real imbalance in our society concerning masculinity, I feel, has nothing to do with the masculine essence. Rather the imbalance is much more subtly about living with heart.

When connected to the heart, masculinity is a powerful and beautiful thing.

I believe there is a solid mandate for men to stand up and live with heart.  Being a man with heart is not a complicated thing; it is simple.  A man with heart is not passive; a man with heart has a positive and proactive stance toward himself and the world.  With this stance comes compassion, power, the will to act, and the willingness to live in service.

We need of a new, positive discourse about masculinity.  We need to stop focusing on the problems or the conflicts.  We need to own and live the beauty of manhood.  Now is the time.

There is no prescription for this, no set of ideals, and no requirements.  The pivotal issues is simply the choice to cultivate one’s own gifts and live them in order to serve one’s community and the world.  This goes beyond men and has everything to do with being human.  By validating one’s own essence without fear or retraction, a great gift is offered to the world.

Masculinity is not slippery. Masculinity is a gift of immense beauty.

Dan Doty runs a private mentoring service for young men in New York City.  He has several years experience running therapeutic wilderness expeditions, has taught in urban high schools, and really is in love with life.  Dan started a blog, Men With Heart Project, dedicated to mentoring men to open up and get moving.

San Diego Boys to Men conducts second father-son Rite of Passage Adventure

June 23, 2009 · 2 Comments
Category: Boys to Men, Fatherhood, Men and Parenting, MKP News 

by George Selders

The San Diego Center of Boys To Men completed their second Father-Son Weekend this past April. Thirteen fathers attended the weekend, supporting fifteen boys as they participated in their Rite of Passage Adventure (ROPA).  In one case, two young brothers were fortunate to have both their father and their grandfather present for their initiatory entry into manhood. Another father was blessed to have two sons participate together in the ROPA weekend.

Boys attending a ROPA are exposed to an experiential training led by experienced facilitators and trained staff, providing a 2:1 ratio of men to boys. During the weekend, boys are challenged and supported through a series of carefully facilitated activities designed for them to touch their feelings in a safe environment.

The Father-Son Weekend setting creates an increased level of opportunity for a boy to speak directly to his father, telling him exactly what he needs from his dad for the boy to become the man he wants to be.  The photographs accompanying this article were taken at the graduation ceremony.

All boys attending a Rite of Passage Adventure Weekend are provided the opportunity to look at who they are now, who they want to be and to choose the man he will become.

BTM-logoBoys to Men operates with a vision of building communities of men who teach, support, mentor, encourage and support boys to become better men. The Boys to Men Mentoring Network has recently added centers in Germany and  Switzerland, creating a total of 28 centers operating in four countries.

For additional information on mentoring, staffing or attending a Rite of Passage Adventure Weekend near you, contact Craig McClain, Executive Director for Boys To Men, at 619-469-9599 or at http://boystomen.org.

GeorgeSelders George Selders is the chief operating officer of the Boys To Men Mentoring Network headquartered in San Diego. He is the former owner and CEO of national newspaper syndicate and a graduate of the University of Kansas William Allen White School of Journalism. Selders enjoys reading, writing, photography, genealogy, and volunteering He and his wife, Bebe, have four adult children. They live in Carlsbad, CA.

Film review: Fatherhood and mentorship in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”

June 21, 2009 · Leave a Comment
Category: Fatherhood, Reviews 

By Morgan Toane

In Wes Anderson’s film, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” we discover the legendary oceanographer and filmmaker, Steve Zissou (Bill Murray). Now an aging, self-absorbed charlatan with his halcyon days behind him, Zissou’s critical acclaim has waned along with his production budget. The man who inspired legions of “Team Zissou” fans no longer believes in himself.

lifeaquatic

Movie poster for "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (Courtesy Touchstone Pictures)

When Zissou’s mentor is killed by a fantastic and elusive sea creature, the mythical “jaguar shark,” Zissou becomes obsessed with revenge. He plans to make his next film into a documentary showing his hunt for the shark and its ultimate destruction.

Masking his inability to grieve and heal his wound, Zissou unconsciously reverts into a 12-year-old boy’s fairytale world. Paradoxically, although Zissou’s films were revered for his imaginative explorations of the ocean as a benevolent place, now he sees the sea as a dangerous unknown, a shadowy source of suffering.

Zissou’s inner struggle comes to a head with the arrival of Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), who believes he is Zissou’s long-lost son. Zissou struggles to acknowledge Ned. ”I always hated fathers,” he says, “and I never wanted to be one.”

Ned’s arrival provides a profound context for Zissou’s reluctance to step into an authentic fatherhood role.

Zissou tries to include Ned in his vendetta against the shark, but he ends up competing with Ned for the attention of Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), a pregnant single-mother and reporter covering the voyage. Jane becomes a focal point for Zissou to assert his faux-masculine dominance while alternately serving as an outlet for his repressed and self-conscious inner child.

Along the way, Zissou battles pirates and rescues his too-suave rival, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum), once married to Zissou’s ex-wife, Eleanor (Angelica Houston), who holds the secret about the oceanographer’s possible fathership of Ned.

In a tragic turn, after Zissou and Ned board a helicopter to search for the Jaguar shark, the aircraft malfunctions and crashes. Ned is killed. Symbolically, Zissou’s opportunity to forge a real relationship with his would-be son is sabotaged by his refusal to let go of his own derelict past.

However, thanks to Ned’s encouragement and faith in Zissou as his father, the adventurer continues his voyage into the depths. He finally confronts the creature, this time with more reconciliatory intentions.

Following his ordeal, Zissou at last can truly grieve. He grieves for the loss of Ned. He grieves for the loss of his mentor. He also grieves over the childhood wound he’d been repressing, the wounding that had inhibited him from fully accepting Ned as his son.

At this moment, Zissou’s transformation is realized. He accepts the shadows of his past and surrenders his fairytale facade. He is now empowered to offer authentic mentorship to Werner, a real-life 12-year-old boy we’d met at the start of the film. Zissou also feels empowered to show compassion toward Jane and her unborn child.

These generous gestures effectively nurture the magic and imagination of youth that Zissou was missing when the film began. While he seemed to lose every battle he fought, his inner victory ultimately marks Zissou’s progression from wounded child to mature father and mentor.

MorganToane-sm

Morgan Toane: Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Morgan lives in Montreal, Quebec. A poet, writer, and rambler, Morgan graduated in English and Creative Writing from the University of Alberta. His fiction has been published in The Western Producer, and he currently writes for the blog Artistic Things.

Wisdom of the ages: From elderly to elder – A guide for fathers and sons

by Ken Plattner

Fathers have sons, then sons have sons. It’s been going on for a long time, and that’s the way of it. The gracious and wise father has proudly held his children, rooted for them in school and sports, disciplined them with the courage to say “no,” encouraged their dreams, and emancipated them into mature adulthood.

With good fortune, you were launched into the world by a wise father who was comfortable in his own skin, who had his own friends and dreamed his own dreams. Hopefully, your father was a man driven by the values of accountability and integrity – someone you could trust – who wanted nothing but the best for you, who was there for you when you were scared or needed a papa.

Most of us, even if we had really great fathers, have still had to struggle with issues of identity, industry, trust, intimacy, and leadership.

The good news is that there is an ideal and a path through wisdom that’s lodged deep in the cells of every man. From our core, there is an eternal wisdom that will sustain us. We need only have the courage and persistence to delve into our sources. There we will tap the wisdom of the ages.

Ancient fathers knew and trusted the inner elder – the wise one who lives in every man. Much reverence was given to this way of seeing and trusting the world. Now, here in the 21st century, we are once again recovering the concept of wisdom and the power of claiming our elder energy.

Why is it that certain people age with vitality, vibrance and vigor, but many others shrivel, lose their juice, close themselves off, complain of aches and pains and wither away while waiting to die a sad and lonely death?

Many of those we know as “elderly” have adopted someone else’s idea of what their particular life should look like or be. On the other hand, “elders” have broken away from conventional thinking; they are generally free and willing to risk. These are people who are still growing and changing and trusting.

The Developmental Process to Becoming an Elder

As a society we have lost many of the ceremonies and passages around becoming an elder. There are still some societies that honor their elders. They respect the wisdom of those who have lived and experienced their life into maturity. It is a journey from the world-of-doing into the world-of-being. This is a sweet-spot of genuine freedom and radical bliss that, when achieved, creates a new lifestyle and a new consciousness.

Ken Kuffner, a Houston attorney and Lead Elder in the ManKind Project International, created a new framework on the stages of the elder journey just before he died. Kuffner identified a developmental process that involves a series of stages.

  • The Awakening
  • The Choice
  • The Struggle
  • Resolution and Development
  • Acceptance
  • Being in Service
  • The Ultimate Stage – Passing On

The Awakening – Facing the Inner Elder

The stage of awakening usually comes shortly after “midlife.” A growing realization starts to emerge: “This is my body and my life. I am responsible.” Sometimes it takes another form: “I do not wish to fight, to compete or to dominate. I would rather encourage, give, teach, honor and bless.”

This is the beginning or awakening of elder energy. It comes from deep inside. It’s an internal process and a “call” – sometimes beginning only with a whisper.

The Choice – Moving into Golden Elderhood

This is a new phase of life where we realize that we have more of our life behind us than in front of us. We want to take clear responsibility for how we live the rest of our life.

The key to this phase is a deep knowing – knowledge of becoming intentional and conscious; self acceptance with a refusal to sacrifice personal integrity; a commitment to “cross the threshold,” such as  becoming a declared Elder within the MKP community; and choosing perhaps to have a guide or mentor for the elder journey. This is a difficult decision to make, often frought with perils and resistance that block the development of the wise elder.

The Struggle – Facing the Shadows of Old Age

Our culture defines old age as a time of decline and disengagement. It’a a time of making peace with our losses – hair, teeth, libido, muscle structure, memory and our loved ones.

We begin to see that all our hurts, joys and struggles have contributed to our growth and wisdom. Kuffner said, “The opportunity for growth and development at this stage is as great as in the first year of life. And with this opportunity often comes struggle as we face and deal with our personal history.”

Resolution & Development – The Tools and Skills of Elderhood

In this stage of development, authenticity begins to freely emerge. The elder begins to study the ancient traditions and practices of other societies.

Emerging elders begin to review their own lives by taking a careful inventory, re-scripting and reframing their stories, then harvesting their own personal wisdom. Humility, feeling safe and nurtured, developing a capacity for compassion and integrity,  actualizing a desire to give back to the world in the spirit of service and generosity – these are the hallmarks of the elder journey at this stage.

Such an elder is comfortable in his or her own company. The elder has forgiven the past, let go of looking to the future. Instead, the elder enjoys the eternal present. The elder values slowing down and savoring the present like watching a slow-passing parade.

Acceptance – The Adventure of Elderhood

Now comes what Ken Kuffner called the turning point. The elder has made peace with the past (forgiveness, and letting go of fear and guilt), claiming true strength and wisdom, laughing from deep in the belly, feeeling comfortable in silence and self-acceptance. This energy is powerfully contagious.

Being In Service – Empowered Eldership

At this point in the elder journey, there is a passion for service. The characteristics of empowered elders include purpose and meaning, humility and wisdom, the grace and gift-giving of a master or sage. In service and blessing, elders are at home. Their mission is clear. There is a desire to serve the world with conviction and commitment. These elders have accepted the role of mentor, teacher and leader. Elder energy flows freely from the heart.

The Ultimate Stage – Passing It On Before I Pass On

Albert Einstein once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science.”

Facing a failing body and imminent death, the elder is once again stepping into a new phase of life, another beginning. Because the elder is a seasoned practitioner of change and new beginnings, this last stage, death, is much like the others – another beginning. On his or her final journey in this life, the elder looks at what was once important, contemplates how it got her or him to this place, to this “now,” and then looks at what part it plays as he or she prepares for the final letting go. Now is the time to say goodbye, to pay attention to beauty, mystery and awe.

These days bring awareness, contentment and connection. Most elders become comfortable with the idea that we are spiritual beings who only temporarily occupy a body. As the Elder prepares for the next transition, he or she completes what needs to be done before “it’s time.” For many elders, death is as beautiful as birth.

There is a satisfaction at the end: “I have lived my life full and well; and now my life is over.” This is a place of extraordinary power and peace.

This elder understands the journey of Morrie Schwartz (Tuesdays with Morrie):

  • Learn how to live, and you’ll know how to die.
  • Learn how to die, and you’ll know how to live.

Here is the message wise fathers pass to their sons. Hopefully, the brilliance of elders like Ken Kuffner, Kirby Benson, Terry Jones, Tom Daly, Don Jones, Robert Bly, Sam Keen, and countless other wise ones will light the way – so that all our sons may know the wisdom of the ages.

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[Editor’s Note: An unedited version of this article was first published in the Journal of the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, March 2005. Kenneth Kuffner was writing a book, Elder Energy, with Kirby Benson and Ken Plattner when he unexpectedly died in 2006. The book project was set aside after Kuffner’s death.

KenPlatner

Dr. Ken Plattner, a United Methodist minister, has served as a hospital and hospice chaplain, including service as the director of Hope Centers in Denver from 1981 to 2004. He also co-wrote with Rick Steves the award-winning 2006 guidebook, Easy Access Europe. Ken was the Colorado MKP center director (2005-07)  and now serves as the MKP Elder Vice-Chairman. For more information: http://kenplattner.com.