Notes from Elder Mountain
Musings on the Yin and Yang of things like aging, leadership, modernity, balance and life
Welcome to all! All who are recognizing, however painfully, that the world is not as it should be and wondering what to do about it. Welcome to those who are wondering “whatever happened to the elders, where did they go?” Welcome to those who see the connection between our Peter Pan leaders1 and the vast dysfunction we see around us. Welcome to those for whom the Hopi elder’s apocryphal comment “Old way, best way” seems to resonate more and more. Welcome to those who see that modernity and progress and the bright shiny futures technology promised us have dark sides. Very dark sides, indeed. Welcome to those who have decided to prioritize health and balance over “success.” Welcome to those who sense their Yin is in need of much nourishment in this over-Yanged world. Welcome to those who just never did fit in and still don’t. And welcome to those who find themselves at an age they never expected to reach and don’t know what to do with themselves!
In Vanessa Machado de Oliviera’s astonishing and brilliant book Hospicing Modernity, she tells a story told to her by a Cree elder, John Crier. It is:
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“…a story about four mountains. Each mountain represents a stage of life that human beings need to go through. There is a baby mountain, a warrior mountain, a hunter/provider mountain, and an elder mountain. If all is in balance, the land, the ancestors, all relations will support the human people to move from one mountain to the other. Humans, like other beings, do not own their time or their life. It is a more powerful force, which many Indigenous people call the Great Spirit or the Creator, who decides the length of time we will travel through life and the visions we will receive for what and how we are meant to contribute.2 (Italics mine.)
Each of the mountains are described it compelling detail; for me, at 77, the description of Elder Mountain was riveting:
“The rite of passage here is to help other people with their rites of passage; to develop further your hindsight, insight and foresight; and to become a good guide that can help people find their own direction according to the purpose of the mountain they are on. You will also revisit different teachings you received in your life and these teachings will show you deeper lessons....
On this mountain, no one reaches the top still carrying their body. Only your spirit reaches the top. At some point along this mountain’s path you will have to shed your body. When the day of shedding the body comes, you are ready to payss away to the place of the ancestors. You are grateful for what you been taught in this body; you have settled what needed to be settled; you have prepared your family; you have passed down your stories and your songs; the people you have mentored have become mentors themselves; you have helped people switch mountains; and you are at peace with the enormity, timelessness and incessant movement of the land. You go with empty hands. You leave everything behind. You leave no footprints. You become an ancestor… “ 3
This story is a great gift, a picture of the elder’s role that serves us well in these challenging times. My story in brief is that I am a Quaker, have known my spouse since I was 15, have four wonderful daughters and five grandsons, have been a leadership coach for several decades (mostly in high tech), live in the oldest mountains in the world, am a writer and a poet, a fierce elder aspiring to be a good ancestor. I believe that, whatever our specific directions from Creator, we all share a responsibility to grow up, to become mature, to become an “elder.” I hope to use this space for “passing down my stories and songs,” as well as my thoughts and my questions. And for starting conversations with others who are equally curious about how to live most fully on Elder Mountain.
The Fourth Mountain
In the Cree story, the fourth mountain
Was the one elders climbed,
After they had circled the others;
Baby Mountain, Warrior Mountain,
Provider Mountain one more time,
Helping the first timers.
Today, we elders can “hospice modernity,”
Helping what technology has wrought
To die with dignity, whilst
Saving the bits worth saving.
We can teach the children
How to survive in the ruins,
Teach the warriors how to stand
Strong for love, not hate,
Teach the providers what “enough”
Really looks like and how to find it.
And teach them all how to listen to the land,
Which will teach them in turn how to be.
So doing, elders create prenatal care,
Helping midwife whatever comes next.
Then, finally, we can slip our skins,
Ascending as spirits to the mountaintop.
At peace, knowing
We have become good ancestors.
Young, charismatic, have great adventures, never lose, and take really good care of the “lost boys.” Or maybe it’s just the “good ole boys.” And by the way, Peter never remembers the games he played yesterday, so he can play them over and over and over….
Machado de Oliveira, Vanessa, Hospicing Modernity, Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism, p.191.
Ibid, p. 197