Saturday, March 25, 2017

Angeles Arrien: The Challenge

Today is my 66th birthday. As I have shared with my husband and others, I don't feel a day over 56. Yet, here I am now approaching 70. Wow. With this awareness, I need to affirm my commitment to growing into my elder years with intention, purpose, and ever expanding consciousness, kindness, connection, and love. I'm also aware of this deep gratitude for all the teachers, healers, visionaries, and warriors for peace, justice, compassion and love who have graced my life and illuminated a path of embracing each of our life stages as significant and vital and ripe with opportunity. However, what we often see in American culture is a disappearing, denying, and disregard for the wisdom of our elders. Is it any wonder that our planet is in the midst of a sixth major extinction? It is any wonder that there is such a proliferation of Alzheimer's? I believe that there is a connection between memory loss and living our lives in the shadows rather than with wholeheartedness. It is also my experience that the many faces of violence in the world, our nation, and in our own hearts is, in part, directly linked to the loss of the wisdom of our elders and the deep listening and courage and compassion that is needed from each and every one of us. And this speaks to the great importance, I believe, of recognizing the truth of what my teacher Michael Meade has spoken to many times over the years: "A culture that disrespects its youth and ignores its elders is in deep trouble." We are needed, those of us who are growing older. Which brings to mind another quote from Michael Meade, the essence of which is that everyone grows into an "older" but not everyone grows into an Elder. Ours is a culture that is Elder starved. This speaks to the choices we have individually and collectively as we grow on in years - will we be more of an older or an Elder? It is my belief that the path of ignoring our gifts and what we have to bring to this precious life and this beautiful world we share is great. Of equal measure are the gifts of deepening into our capacity to be our authentic selves with eyes and hearts more open with each passing year. As long as there is breath in our bodies, there is more awakening to be embraced. Another one of my many teachers, Angeles Arrien, speaks with wisdom to this journey we are all on.
Bless us all - Molly

 To be young and vital is nothing. To be old and vital is sorcery.
- Carlos Casteneda

In The Wheel of Time, Carlos Casteneda said, "To be young and vital is nothing. To be old and vital is sorcery." How do we vigilantly sustain and conserve our vitality as we grow older? The Rustic Gate challenges us to learn to access our natural generative energy. Stagnation, despair, boredom, loneliness, or indifference may signal that our generative energy is blocked. These experiences are referred to as acedia, from the Greek word a-kedos, "not caring" or sour. The Chinese written word for "boredom" consists of two characters, one for heart, and the other for killing. Boredom and apathy kill the human heart, and open the door to acedia. Thomas Aquinas defined acedia as the lack of energy to look at new things, and Hildegard von Bingen recognized the impact of acedia when she talked about the soul being weakened by coldness, indifference, and neglect. When asked about his approach to life in Seasons of the Heart, Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, said, "I am not an optimist, because I am not sure that everything ends well. Nor am I a pessimist because I am not sure everything ends badly. I just carry hope in my heart." Joy, hope, and possibility banish acedia and fuel generativity.

Matthew Fox made an important contribution to identifying the Deadly Sins of our time in his book Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh, which reveals the major barriers to creativity. He says that many are extensions or aspects of acedia: lack of passion, dissipation of energy, misdirected love, and self-imposed isolation.

Erik Erickson, in his developmental model of human nature (summarized below), notes that the later years require cultivation and expression of generativity and integrity, or the opposite states of stagnation and despair will manifest. Erickson examines these states from the perspectives of involvement, relationships, mental attitudes, physical image, and vocations --

Adult/Maturity Characteristics

Energy, Motivation, Mental growth, Other absorbed, Establishment of the next generation through altruistic and creative acts aligned with meaning and integrity
Boredom, Mental Decline, Self-absorbed, Narcissist self-indulgence

Growing, Selfless, Giving, Involved in the life of the community
Deterioring, Selfish, Taking

Open, Flexible, Growing, Creative
Closed, Rigid, Stuck

Realistic body image, Balance
Unrealistic body image, Imbalance

Sense of being needed, Ongoing sense of exploration and discovery, Daily contribution to life and others, Generativity, Character development
Disillusionment, Boredom, No sense of contribution to others, Stagnation, Loss of memory

The Four Rivers

Many traditional societies believe that the Four Rivers of Life - Inspiration, Challenge, Surprise, and Love - sustain and support them, and connect them to great gifts. They also believe that if they fail to stay connected to these rivers, they succumb to "walking the procession of the living dead" and begin to experience soul loss, depression, stagnation, or other manifestations of acedia.

The River of Inspiration reveals where we are in touch with our creative fire and our life dream. Any time that we experience expansive or hope, or feel uplifted, we are in presence of creativity. As log as we can still be inspired, we know we are alive, refusing to join the procession of the living dead.

The River of Challenge calls us to stretch and grow beyond what is knowable or familiar. We notice who or what is asking us to leave our comfort zones and explore uncharted creative areas or interests. This river always asks us to move past any fixed notion of what we can do. If we are willing to be challenged, to become explorers again, acedia cannot come into our lives.

The River of Surprise keeps us fluid and flexible, and requires us to open to options and possibilities that we may not have considered. The Intuits have a saying about it: "There are two plans for every day - my plan and the Mystery's plan." This river reveals where we have become rigid or controlling rather than curious, flexible, and ready to trust what emerges for our consideration. The River of Surprise shows us where our attachments repress the natural flow of creativity and generosity.

The River of Love shows us where we are touched and moved by life's experience. If we are not, especially in our work, we know acedia is present and our heart has begun to close. Humor, joy, laughter and love are considered medicines for the heart by some indigenous peoples. This river indicates that the work and service that we love can make us happy. Kahlil Gibran reminds us of the value of service: "Work is love made visible."

How will we use our generative energies and stay connected to the Four Rivers of Life? This is the challenge of the Rustic Gate.

- Angeles Arrien
Excerpted from The Second Half of Life:
Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom

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