August 9, 2013

The Words of the Wise. ~ Ann Cason

The Ordinary Wisdom of the Elder in a Culture of Rejection.

I recently returned from attending my son’s wedding, a happy time which made me think once more, “There is something basically good about being a human being.”

And yet, according to Pope Francis at a recent conference, we live in a “culture of rejection.” He added, “We are used to this culture of rejection with old people; we do it often, despite the life wisdom they give us.They are left on one side as if they have nothing to offer.”

And it does seem, according to leader of the enlightened society movement Sakyong Mipham, we have to shift our view to include all of society as worthy. If we take on negative views, we forget our worthiness. We all share the desire to be happy. We all share being born and aging and dying. Whether happy, sad, sick or well, we can all wake up to the present moment.

The well-known gerontologist Dr. Robert Atchley says, “While the world has always extolled the value of wise men and women, there are everyday people from all walks of life who have matured spiritually and gradually developed the qualities and skills we associate with the wise sage.”

Ordinary sages have many qualities of the sage; one skill that struck me is they are skilled at discernment, seeing the essence of things.

I saw it while at Caritas, the memory unit of Mary’s Woods retirement center in Portland, Oregon. Sixteen elders suffering from some form of dementia—making them vulnerable and in need of complete care—live in this special care area. Each person at Caritas is toward the end of life, frail and lonely and some might say sick.

I saw basic healthiness.

After lunch, chaplain Reverend John gathered the residents for singing. The room at Caritas was nice, with tall windows and lots of light. Reverend John had a guitar and led the singing. We sang songs about animals being at peace, particularly the Pete Seeger song, “Wimoweh.”

With a deeply evocative rhythm, I was reminded of hearing about traditional societies where the elders who once lived in family compounds, instead of being labeled demented, could wander at will, “communing with the gods.” The residents of Caritas also wander freely in their world.

After the singing, Reverend John asked a question of B. It was her birthday. “What wisdom can you share with us from having lived so long?”

After a long silence, B told us, “Take care of yourself and others.”

The elders clapped their approval.

Then, Father John asked another elder to say a prayer. J said, “May we be better than before and keep our eyes on the future. Amen.”

For a moment, I glimpsed The Shambhala Principle in action. Even with all of our foibles and hurts, our aggression or dumbness, there is something soft and open and feeling within. It might be covered over, but can’t be taken away. In spite of all of the details of each individual illness, these lovely beings are old and frail because they have been born human.

They will die (with wisdom intact) because they were born, as I have been, as human beings.


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{Photo: via pranayogacollege.com}

Assist Ed: Dana Pauzauskie/Ed: Sara Crolick

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