Today, I feel like an old-time explorer. I’m looking for a place others have been to, but that doesn’t appear on any map. I’m not talking about Bolinas, which keeps tearing down its sign, as if hiding changes anything. I’ve heard that there is an intersection of two rivers of energy, that once you behold them, change the way you see life. I know I am searching for something. I know not what, but I know it is here, that it exists, that it is real, and that it lies at the heart of a confluence, the place where two energies meet.
As an explorer I’ve found what I thought was this confluence many times. I’ve been wrong. I have discovered some new places, but they have all proven to be something beside a true confluence. Maybe I’ll be wrong again. I can only hope my hubristic failures of the past have taught me something. I am an innocent explorer. Yes, I’ve made mistakes (and probably will again). But, I keep going, searching for something that exists both within me and in the world. My innocence is directly proportional to my ignorance, or if you prefer, to my unknowingness.
The confluence I’ve stumbled upon is surprising. I’ve been searching for it everywhere, for as long as I can remember, and here it is, not in some mysterious place, but right in the way of where I have been headed anyway. I was destined to come here. And yet, if I hadn’t been searching I might never have found it. I can’t explain the paradox of this finding, the discovery I couldn’t help but notice after a life of searching, and an arrival that comes as a surprise. Here, is what I’ve found.
The Transitions movement is one of the rivers of energy. Deep in these rushing waters is an awareness that we as a species have cornered ourselves. Our reliance upon cheap energy, ever-ready resources, and of someone else to pay the price, has pushed us into a spreading crisis.
The Transitions movement has come about in response to the dawning awareness that as a species we are about to go through something. This something is poignant and painful because we did this to ourselves, we’ve known we were doing it for a long time, and because we’ve known it will be fatal. We, as the peoples of Earth, are entering an era of deep uncertainty. We appear to be in some deep doo-doo.
Many have talked about this time as a species-wide rite-of-passage. This is a creation, the destruction of life as we’ve known it, which may deliver some of us, someplace beyond adolescence. This may, or may not, be true. The events may unfold differently. But, the longing, the steadfast stubbornness, that has governed the prevailing norms, has seemingly guaranteed this kind of difficult transition. Like my discovery, this moment is fraught with inevitability and surprise.
I am deeply and humbly impressed that another river of energy is flowing into, and meeting, this one. Self-destruction is a pretty powerful river, the fact that it is met, is rather amazing to me. To add to the rather mind-blowing nature of this confluence is not just that I am discovering this, but that I am a part of it. What, on earth, am I talking about?
There is another river of energy that meets the self-destructive tendencies that seem to have doomed humankind. I am talking about elders and elder wisdom. By virtue of increased life-expectancy there are more old people, both as a percentage of the population, and in sheer numbers, than ever before. This is historical, and maybe well-timed. Here is why I think so.
Elders, as opposed to merely old folks, have been through something. They have gone through some sh**. They have been killed off by loss in a way that has made them again, and given them perspective. Just as we as a species are being confronted by our own limitations, we re-discover that this process (being limited) has been going on, beneath the cultural radar, for a long time. There are those who have spent time suffering with the losses of that could inform us now.
And, what do they have to say? How could this confluence be meaningful? Elders have a kind of accumulated wisdom, a particular wisdom about resilience. This isn’t the kind of knowledge you’ll find in books, articles or lectures. It is about surviving, about being changeable and unchanging in the face of change, about what really matters. This wisdom isn’t written down in a book somewhere, it is too precious and ephemeral for that, it is only, and primarily, available through relationship.
The river of elder wisdom runs deep beneath the surface and meets the destructive force of the river of self, and environmental, neglect we have unleashed. Elders know the awakening that attends awareness of a life of poor choices. They know something about being boxed in by themselves. They know the transforming power that comes with humble submission to what is. They know something of the perspective needed to endure. Theirs is a hard-earned wisdom, a wisdom that could be meaningful now, that could be timely, that could help us find a way to ripen through this time of hardship.
What makes this a stupendous discovery, at least for me, is the fact that I am one of them, the older folks that is. I have to laugh when I realize that my personal happiness, actualization of my self, and the potentially subversive antidote to what ails us culturally, all intersect. This is the confluence of my dreams, and a great moment to be alive. The challenges are great, the stakes high, and now being a new kind of human matters. And, surprisingly, as I am growing older, elder wisdom is needed like never before.