Podcast

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Stephen Jenkinson: Elderhood In A Time Of Trouble

Wisdom is in short supply. How do we bring it back?
Monday, September 17, 2018, 5:12 PM

In past eras of human civilization, the wisdom of respected "elders" guided much of the decision-making in society.

But today, when youth is revered and age is equated with obsolescence and irrelevance, that role and its sage counsel have been lost.

It's not that we as a culture don't have desperate need for such wisdom. We do. Perhaps more than ever given the intractable and unsustainable issues we face -- an over-indebted world economy, resource depletion, species loss, eroding civil liberties, etc.

In this week's podcast, Stephen Jenkinson, author of the new book, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, returns to explain how the role of elder might be re-instated. It won't be easy, but it may just be one of the essential ingredients we need to make it through the challenge times ahead:

How do you come by wisdom? Now, it even crept into the way you characterized it if my hearing was good. And it's this, that wisdom is more or less a naturally occurring resource that's a consequence of – not unlike coal or natural gas – it's a naturally occurring resource that will simply derive from the passage of time and enough kind of pressure placed upon the human strata.

In other words, if you get old enough, and you're old enough long enough, wisdom is an inevitable and naturally occurring consequence of that ageing process. Chris, if that was true, we would be utterly awash in life wisdom right now. Why? Because this is the oldest any population on the planet has ever been as a ratio of its entirely, or, in addition to that I should say, in real numbers, there are more old people among us than have ever been anywhere ever in human history to the degree that that's ever been tracked. So that's a profound roadblock or collision to come to. We have more old people than ever before, and we have more information than ever before, at least access to it.

And it appears to me that we are more disabled fundamentally than we have ever been as a kind of felt condition, that it's the shear consequence of this information has a paralyzing effect, not an enabling effect. And the only way you overcome that is through anger or a sense of utter moral disillusion. So if this is the background to the moral revolution that's being fermented, I'm not unhappy that I won't see the consequence of it, even my age, because I'm not sure I would want to.

So I would come back to the understanding of wisdom and imagine out loud something like this, that wisdom is not an inevitable consequence of the aging of a person or a population, that, in fact, there's nothing inevitably occurring about wisdom at all. And if it's not naturally occurring and it's not inevitable then what is it? The answer is, to me, it's an accomplishment, it's a labored over accomplishment. So how is it accomplished? Is it inherited? Do we get it from the worthies, from the grey headed worthies of the bygone era? My answer is, almost inevitably, no, it's not derived from that. That's where we get our prejudices from.

Because wisdom, first and foremost to me, is a consequence of a deeply labored over travail, meaning that your wisdom is achieved according to which you engage the particular problems of your particular time and place. And so the example of laboring over wisdom can be inherited, but the actual content, the terms of engagement for wisdom, they have to be crafted according to the times.

Therefore, if I've come to the end of this, you could say that elderhood, as a social institution, is inheritable. Yes, of course. But the function of elderhood, the content of it, the actual labor that elders are obliged to and the way by which we are nourished by them, is the degree to by which older generation takes up its lifelong work of understanding the world that they’ve inherited, of understanding how deeply underserved the world has become by virtue of their lives, in our case, a willingness to assume an immense amount of moral represent for that truancy, and at least the beginnings of a labored over sense of conscious. Not personal consciousness, but social and political and moral conscious about the condition of the world that the likes of people my age are about to hand over to people in their 20s and their 30s and younger. So you could say then that elderhood is first and foremost a functional, seismic, ongoing responsiveness to the particular troubles of the times. And that's why you can't generalize about the content or the real function of elderhood from one generation to the next.

One of the deep problems that younger people are facing now is they don’t even get to have generations anymore because the rate of change that you mentioned is happening so quickly that their sense of who their peers are have been reduced to a matter of a decade, not a generation. A generation loosely could have been once upon a time thought of something in the order of let's say between 30 and 45, even 50 years. But we're talking about decades now. And that's who your people are now if you're a younger person, somebody on five years either side of you, those are your peers. And anybody older or younger than that, by virtue of the rate of change and what it's doing to people, is making those people strangers to you, that they're literally born into and inhabiting a different time, a different era of life than you are, even though you're literally both alive at the same time.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Stephen Jenkinson (78m:53s).

Transcript: 

Chris: Welcome, everyone. I'm your host, Chris Martenson, and today, we have a very special podcast for you. These are troubled times. I know this deep down in my gut, and perhaps, you know that, as well. At Peak Prosperity we say these times and how you fare through them will be defined by three things: what you do, of course, what you know – those are your skills – and how you are. And, of the three will be your beingness that makes the most difference, and that's the slipperiest for most people, the being of it all. It's no small question. It's always part of the human condition, of course, but perhaps never more so than a time like the present when one's main cultural narratives are falling apart.

Our main narrative of endless exponential economic growth on a finite planet is not simply senseless but self-destructive, and therefore, clinically insane. Every day, more participants on this spaceship earth are awakening to the predicaments we face. And as this is being recorded, right now, Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the Carolina's with a fury rarely seen throughout history, but, now, is simply a repeat of last year's destructiveness. Europe has sweltered and baked through 50 degrees Centigrade, and that's now lurking as a regular condition. This is our new normal, people. In other words, what was once thought to be a future condition is our present times. Species are disappearing and each loss is registering in my heart as a painful pluck.

So who are you in these times? Who do you want to become? How can you even face the grief drenched proposition that accompanies even modest awareness of the predicaments we face? These are among the profoundly philosophical questions of our day. And so I'm pleased to, once again, be inviting Stephen Jenkinson to an interview.

Stephen teaches internationally, is a creator, and teaches internationally and is the creator and principle instructor of the Orphan Wisdom School, founded in 2010. With Master's degrees from Harvard University in theology and from the University of Toronto in Social Work, his thinking, writing, and teaching is revolutionizing and illuminating the once dark corners of our culture in such areas as grief and ageing and dying.

Apprentice to a master storyteller, he has worked extensively with dying people and their families, is a former program director in a major Canadian hospital, former assistant professor in a prominent Canadian medical school and consultant to palliative care in Hospice organizations. He's also a sculpture, a traditional canoe builder and whose self-built house won a Governor's General Award for architecture. He is the author of Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity in the Soul and Money and the Soul's Desires: A Mediation, which was the subject of last years podcast. And, most recently, and the subject of today's interview, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble.

Stephen is also on the road right now travelling the North American continent with a presentation called the Knights of Grief and Mystery Tour. And we'll provide a link at the bottom of this podcast, but in case you're in listen only mode today, you can find out more at orphanwisdom.com/events for more about that tour. And I'm quite fortunate that one of those productions is coming really close to my hometown. It'll be in Turners Falls, Massachusetts on November 6th at the Shea Theater from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. I'll be there. More on that later.

Stephen Jenkinson is also the subject of the feature length documentary called Griefwalker, which is a lyrical, poetic portrait of his work with dying people, and which had a very large impact on me as well as everybody I've given it to. Stephen has already had an enormous impact on many lives, my own included, and I am just very pleased to welcome him. Stephen, welcome to the program today.

Stephen Jenkinson: Chris, that's an enormously generous introduction, and over the next little while I'll try to live up to it.

Chris: Thank you. I'd like to begin here with your new book, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. And to help set that stage, I want to work in reverse off that title by asking what you mean by a time of trouble?

Stephen Jenkinson: Well, you covered it pretty well in the introduction to be honest. Usually, it falls to me to sing the requiem of the age, but you beat me to it. So I'm not sure I have anything left to add, except this. If it were a matter of opinion or if were a matter of personal disposition we might get away with it; we might get away with our rather considerable excesses. But every sign is that we are not getting away with it, and it's not even a future tense, it's really a present tense. And you know, it's not – I think it's better understood not as a crisis, because crisis implies some kind of peak moment at which, one way or another, passes and gives way to, the phrase you used, a new normal.

I would really prefer that we don’t dig that phrase normal out of the closet. The reason being that the phrase normal suggests having grown accustomed to something. It doesn't mean it's great. Normal just simply means what you’ve agreed to be governed by personally and idiosyncratically, but also at the level of culture. These things, the times really plead with us, I think, to do away with our classic capacity for growing accustomed to virtually anything, and really nurse the idea that profound sorrow is a moral act and a political obligation that the citizenry now has.

And if we could only understand that profound sorrow is fundamentally mobilizing; not disabling. This is the fundamental reason why every time I used to do an event that had grief in the title you'd have people looking for the rest of the title. I did something called Grief and Climate Change, for example, on the West Coast one time. And a few people stormed out of it claiming that they came there for a session to learn more about climate change, you know, from me, which is kind of funny. But, more to the point, it suggests either that they feel that they already have a deep enough understanding of grief and they need more climate science, which I'm not believing for a second, or the more likely belief that grief does them no good because it's immobilizing, and that the only way to get up and get going is to get angry, and that's what they were looking for, more climate change science for.

But anger is enabling in a very, very short attention span circumstance. That's it. You have to keep getting angry to use it as fuel to really participate, and it's really hard, among other things, on the adrenaline system, just for starters. Never mind the fact that it's not required. Never mind the fact that there's no profound insight involved in becoming angry; all you need is personal offense. But at the level of the sorrow that you and I are both talking about, this asks of us something more participatory than incendiary. That means that we have to be willing to be sorrowed and understand it as evidence of our capacity to know what's going on and to live accordingly.

So the phrase In the Time of Trouble in the subtitle is a general call, a quiet call to arms, to be alert to the fact that a time of trouble is nothing to wait for any longer. And, I must say, you know, the climate dilemma is not the most profound call to arms that you could mount, I don’t think. I think the deeper running one – I mean, it's not to discount that, I should say – but the deeper running call to arms by far is the fundamental threat to our capacity to be human beings, which seems to be on the rise.

Elderhood is one of the signal features of humanity, and particularly cultural humanity. I've come to understand lately that there's something about elderhood that is so scarce among older people now that you might well imagine that elders have become our sentinel species in this time, which is to say that they are more vulnerable characterologically to subtle and catastrophic changes in this social climate and in the capacity to be human. And their susceptibility to those changes are silencing them, and that silence has become deafening. And that's what I alluded to in the introduction to the book when I said let us see if we can come to an ability to hear the sound of no hand clapping.

Chris: Stephen, you know what jumped out at me in there was you said to be sorrowful. And I can only imagine those people rushing out of your grief and climate change that are saying I want to do something, so we're in an age of doing. This, perhaps, I'm thinking now, that perhaps maybe more than a time of trouble, as you say, but I'm thinking of this as being maybe a more momentous time. And I think of it like this: We've hit the edge of our petri dish, and that's a big moment for any organism. But to a social species that's wedded every single hope, every dream, every institution, every cultural narrative to this idea that there is no edge to that petri dish, it seems like quite a lot to have to unpack all at once.

And so Come of Age, this is turning into quite an important book for me because I'm 56, and I'm interested in being an elder, not an older, and I'd like to think I will have some wisdom to impart that I've yet to really come across. I've got a lot to wrestle with, and this book is coming to me right at the edge of that desire for me realizing I'm coming to this next age. But to help move into that territory in thinking about elderhood, I'd like to ask you to read a passage that begins in the overture section which entitled The Robberies of Age. Could you read that quote for us now?

Stephen Jenkinson: I could do that. Thank you for asking. Well, it's halfway through the paragraph, but I’ll try to make it sound like it's a naturally occurring first sentence.

"And should you come of age in a grief illiterate culture, as I did, there isn't much that can equip you to abide at the ebbing away of the lives of strangers, the ardent madness that can ensue. There's no training that can genuinely qualify you for it. you secretly count on the simple idea that there are times crafted by the lords of life to bring out the best in everyone involved. Crunch times that eclipse the old grievances and the family hurts, the old convictions, turning them into pocket size regrets and odd notions that can finally be lived with. And you figure you could help that alone. Now, I haven't given up entirely on this idea, but I know now that dying is, as a rule, not one of those times. There are exceptions, no doubt, but it seems to me now that crunch time in human affairs tends not to transform very much. Instead, they seem to congeal and to intensify what's already there, sometimes to an almost impenetrable degree of full clarity and indefensible, intolerant conviction about right and wrong, about love and leaving and limit and ending. Crunch time turns out to be one of those times when right and wrong are only two of a handful of possible actions and outcomes. You'd think that getting old enough and old enough to know better would serve someone in good stead, and that good judgement would prevail. But it turns out that getting old is one of those ragged, dissembling crunch times too. If you wait for the wisdom of age to take over you often wait in vain."

Chris: Stephen, that's beautifully written and beautifully read, and there's a lot to unpack in there. And so it seems that, like crunch time, like so many, and I have to include myself here, are imagining that somehow, when it really matters, we'll have that wisdom, we'll know how to be and how to approach that time. And it's certainly – some do rise to that occasion, but what strikes me here, what you're really talking about is that we can't – we're not at the stage where we can hope any longer. We can't just hope that this comes along, that there's a skill that needs to be developed here.

Stephen Jenkinson: I wouldn't say you can't hope, first of all, because people hope all the frigging time, Chris, you see. I mean, for Karl Marx it was religion that was the opiate of the people. And all hope is is a secular religion, and that's what it's become in the humanist dominant culture of the West, that hope has become the new moral code. And then you can't even be looked to to answer the call of deep running citizenry if you haven't cultivated a lifelong addiction to hopefulness that somehow predisposes you to doing the heavy lifting that any kind of cultural work requires.

And, of course, this is ludicrous because the time that we're in simply does not legitimize being hopeful. So you have to be hopeful now in spite of all the signs around you, not because of them. I'd rather say that our obligation now is to proceed hope-free. That you’ve experimented with hopefulness and hopelessness which are two sides of the same addiction. and you found them both profoundly wanting. Or you could say you have found yourself wanting while in the grip of hopefulness or hopelessness. and maybe you’ve come around to the notion that hope is simply not required for you to occupy the adult scale labors that are before us.

Now, I cut you off three quarters of the way through your question. What was the rest of it? I'm sorry.

Chris: Well, this gets me in an even better direction, and it centers on this, which is: in my line of work I often have occasion to work with people of all ages. And when young people come up to me increasingly, because I have all this data that sort of speaks to the hopelessness of it, meaning that our culture thinks we're facing problems which have solutions. Hey, if we just go to Mars or invent a better battery this would all be fine. And, in truth, once you get into it, even slightly, you understand we're facing predicaments which don't have solutions; they just have outcomes. So young people see that. They face if directly, and they say I don’t have any hope for the future. And it gets back to that how do you "be" with that information?

And so, my basic question is this: How does an elder, somebody who grew up maybe in the 50s or 60s, even begin to figure out what to offer in service to the next generations when they're asking questions we don’t know answers to? And the rate of change, Stephen, is beyond anybody's ability to properly integrate. And that's my perception of it, so I want to just – I'm not sure if there's a question in there I'm trying to ask, but I'm offering this up as a point of starting, which is to say how do we begin to move through such uncertain territory?

Stephen Jenkinson: First of all, the idea is how to begin is a beginner's question. And that is to say that it's a much better question to my mind to ask not how do you do this but how have you? And if the answer is you haven't, then that's where you begin. You don’t begin by telling me how can I begin. You begin by assuming responsibility fundamentally for being derelict of duty. That's heavy freight, and it's no fooling around to say such a thing. And yes, it's implicating, at the very least.

You used the word wisdom maybe about five minutes ago or so. And let me wonder about that one for a moment, and here's how I'd like to do it. I can't believe I didn't get this in the book. It occurred to me after it was too late to make any changes, so this is hot off the mental press, you could say, since the book just came out only a month and a half ago. And it's this: How do you come by wisdom? Now, it even crept into the way you characterized it if my hearing was good. And it's this, that wisdom is more or less a naturally occurring resource that's a consequence of – not unlike coal or natural gas – it's a naturally occurring resource that will simply derive from the passage of time and enough kind of pressure placed upon the human strata.

In other words, if you get old enough, and you're old enough long enough, wisdom is an inevitable and naturally occurring consequence of that ageing process. Chris, if that was true, we would be utterly awash in life wisdom right now. Why? Because this is the oldest any population on the planet has ever been as a ratio of its entirety, or, in addition to that I should say, in real numbers. There are more old people among us than have ever been anywhere ever in human history to the degree that that's ever been tracked. So that's a profound roadblock or collision to come to. We have more old people than ever before, and we have more information than ever before, at least access to it.

And it appears to me that we are more disabled fundamentally than we have ever been as a kind of felt condition, that it's the shear consequence of this information has a paralyzing effect, not an enabling effect. And the only way you overcome that is through anger or a sense of utter moral disillusion. So if this is the background to the moral revolution that's being fomented, I'm not unhappy that I won't see the consequence of it, even my age, because I'm not sure I would want to.

So I would come back to the understanding of wisdom and imagine out loud something like this, that wisdom is not an inevitable consequence of the aging of a person or a population, that, in fact, there's nothing inevitably occurring about wisdom at all. And if it's not naturally occurring and it's not inevitable then what is it? The answer is, to me, it's an accomplishment, it's a labored over accomplishment. So how is it accomplished? Is it inherited? Do we get it from the worthies, from the grey headed worthies of a bygone era? My answer is, almost inevitably, no, it's not derived from that. That's where we get our prejudices from.

And this is a strong distinction to make, so let me elaborate for a moment. By prejudice, I mean an instinct to feel obliged to know ahead of time, to be ready prior to the readiness being employed. That's what, literally, the word means – "prejudge." Then, if you take it beyond its racial overtones, prejudice, and you revisit the idea as a kind of strange moral conundrum that you're obliged to achieve a degree of readiness for a thing that hadn't occurred yet, how are you ever to achieve such a thing, and where is readiness supposed to come from, and how would you ever know if you'd gotten there until it's "tested?" So I would suggest that prejudice is a consequence of direct inheritance from prior generations. In other words, their example can predispose you to a shear imitation of that example, a kind of loose and fairly shallow imitation of that example.

And that's usually what happens when people cop their ancestry without learning it. And they cop their moral code from their "forefathers" without really learning the upside and the downside of the lives of their forebears. So when people cherry-pick amongst their ancestry, you can hear it very clearly that they never fess up to the downside of the ancestry that they're copping.

All of this is to say then that it could be that prejudice is basically inheritable with mother's milk, and no one has to labor over their prejudices. No one ever does. No one ever feels that they're backsliding on their prejudices. No one ever seems to indicate to themselves or each other that their prejudices need a little more work, and they have to apply themselves ever more devoutly to cultivating them. They seem to be the most naturally occurring thing around.

And if you go to the racial prejudice example and ask a bigot from whence comes your racial prejudice? The answer will be from the deeply objectionable character of the people that they are prejudice against. That's where it comes from. In other words, they're almost involuntarily prejudicial. If they had it their way, the world wouldn't be like this, and there would be no need of their prejudice. But because the world is the way it is, and they're objectionable other groups of people, then their prejudice is an inevitable consequence of that objectionability in the world.

So is this a kind of subset, is this a macabre misapprehension of wisdom? No. there's no wisdom in it whatsoever. Why? Because wisdom, first and foremost to me, is a consequence of a deeply labored over travail, meaning that your wisdom is achieved according to which you engage the particular problems of your particular time and place. And so, the example of laboring over wisdom can be inherited, but the actual content, the terms of engagement for wisdom, they have to be crafted according to the times.

Therefore, if I've come to the end of this, you could say that elderhood, as a social institution, is inheritable. Yes, of course. But the function of elderhood, the content of it, the actual labor that elders are obliged to and the way by which we are nourished by them, is the degree to which older generation takes up its lifelong work of understanding the world that they’ve inherited, of understanding how deeply underserved the world has become by virtue of their lives, in our case, a willingness to assume an immense amount of moral responsibility for that truancy, and at least the beginnings of a labored over sense of conscious. Not personal consciousness, but social and political and moral conscious about the condition of the world that the likes of people my age are about to hand over to people in their 20s and their 30s and younger. So, you could say then that elderhood is first and foremost a functional, seismic, ongoing responsiveness to the particular troubles of the times. And that's why you can't generalize about the content or the real function of elderhood from one generation to the next.

One of the deep problems that younger people are facing now is they don’t even get to have generations anymore because the rate of change that you mentioned is happening so quickly that their sense of who their peers are have been reduced to a matter of a decade, not a generation. A generation loosely could have been once upon a time thought of something in the order of let's say between 30 and 45, even 50 years. But we're talking about decades now. And that's who your people are now if you're a younger person, somebody on five years either side of you, those are your peers. And anybody older or younger than that, by virtue of the rate of change and what it's doing to people, is making those people strangers to you, that they're literally born into and inhabiting a different time, a different era of life than you are, even though you're literally both alive at the same time.

Chris: So much is raised in that, Stephen, and I'm going to jump ahead a little in my art because it comes up now. One of them is I have so many judgments of our culture, very few of them any good at this point because my larger, overarching judgment is that it's being self-destructive and rather unconscious in its gleeful approach to that. One of these judgments might be that we spend a lot of time, maybe entirely too much time, at this individual level you're talking about, even this fractionation is down to a single ten-year band. So then, questions posed at that level, while they can be very meaty and very insightful, they something miss the mark.

For example, what does it matter, truly, if I'm conducting myself well within a system that busy destroying everything in its path? And so I want to take on this idea of ageing head-on because this will get at the heart of the cultural beliefs. So out of those many cultural beliefs we hold about ageing is that it robs us of our competency. I'd like to ask you to read another passage now. This one is starting with the second paragraph on page 288, and this is in the Chapter entitled The People Who are Going. I wonder if you'd be willing to read that passage to us now?

Stephen Jenkinson: Sure will. I should preface this by saying there's a word here used – it's actually pronounced from the Greek daemon, but I will pronounce it from our current understanding of the term demon.

"Your demon is your ageing. It does not suddenly appear. It's been there for years, for decades. The demon, age, was by your side long enough to help you to the unsought understanding that age is something that you do or you don’t do or won't do, and it is not something that happens to you. This is to say that, yes, it seems possible for you or me not to age. We might refuse to age, forget to age, be truant to the understanding that ageing is a skill entrusted to us. We might refuse to come of age in a time and place addled or bereft of culture where there is no tutelage for growing old. To a competence addicted people, ageing is the undoing of competence. It is the sheltered workshop of the compensatory swoon, the sow's ear, repurposed by those who can no longer carry lint and spare change. Think of how a mercantile culture, in the thrones of growth, and you can see quickly that our expression to grow old is at best a misnomer, more likely, a lie. Growth gathers as it goes, as does youth, and ageing, demonstrably dispenses. Ageing is a pay as you go enterprise. So unless the phrase 'grow old' employs growth the same way that grow poor does, then you can lose the scent and the warning signs and the cautionary tale that is ageing in this time and place."

Chris: That gets right to the heart of it for me. And I personally was very moved by that particular passage in part because it speaks to some of the ways our cultural instructions reinforce the idea that our highest and best and perhaps only value comes as a function of our consumptive abilities. As I look out, judgements I have might be that we're warehoused as children until we're ready, and then we're set loose during our most productive years, and really encouraged to both do it and then overdo it in terms of consumption during this period of life. And finally, we're set out on an ice flow in old age, which are more politely termed ageing facilities, as if we needed to consume ageing even to do that correctly. There's a place for that, and we can sell it to ourselves. As I look across this, I'm wondering how, given that mercantilist culture you just described, what needs to be reclaimed in order to begin to reclaim even the process of ageing?

Stephen Jenkinson: Well, as is my want, allow me to quibble a little bit with the characterization. I wouldn't say, in fact, that ageing is any kind of a process. This is a term that is used as a kind of cover story for this inevitability thing that I was talking about earlier. As soon as you invoke the idea of process, you don’t really invoke the idea that this has to be labored over very much because you have a sense it has an inward momentum, it's a kind of irreducible momentum that will have its way. And the only question is how shall you ride this horse of momentum into your "ageing?" So that passage that you asked me to read, one of the things it evokes is the idea that you may not age at all. You may refuse to do so.

Now, this is not to say that time won't register upon you, and that your chassis won't carry the slings and arrow, thereby. But that's to understand ageing as something that is fundamentally metabolic, that has virtually nothing to do with the life that you both choose and are responsible for and to. It's just kind of a program of inescapable givance. You know, death and taxes, right? That's what they say about it. So I would rather hold the idea of age as something that is hugely labored over and therefore not inevitable at all, and that you may expire in the fullness of time, but with no fullness of person or character to accompany that. And yet, you simply disappear beneath the waves, and people are doing that well before they die now, frankly.

So in that sense older people are – there's more and more of them – they're less and less visible. Why? Because of the warehousing that you're talking about earlier. And their early or middle-aged children sometimes have two jobs to pay for that warehousing in addition to their own lives. And around and around it goes. And why would people ever do that to their parents? And the answer is because they would say they're not capable of taking care of their parents at home. But let me translate that slightly and say they're not capable of taking care of their parents at home as long as they maintain the current work ethic that they're maintaining. If that doesn't change, they're absolutely right, they can't do it. And, of course, my plea here is to say maybe you're "ageing parents" are all the signal that you'll ever get, that your understanding of what your principal responsibility is is not to achieve peak benefit in your peak income generating years, that maybe what that time is for is to care for those who brought you into the world. And I really don’t say that in a shaming sense, but there's an awful lot of shamefulness in abandoning that responsibility now.

And we could go back to this question of age and ask if it's not inevitable, how does it happen? How do we undertake the labors of it? My answer would be this, and I stumbled across this – as I've gotten older my palette has begun to appreciate this thing called wine. I knew nothing about it as a kid. I basically know nothing about it now, but I know what I like, like the old blues song says, there's something about that wide-bodied, full-bodied, red thing that's inescapable, undeniable, and deeply pleasurable. And so I take my cue about ageing from wine. This is what I'd say about it. Let's imagine that you are taking into your head that you would love a bottle of the good stuff, and rather than relying on a hundred other people to do your work for you, you've learned enough, you’ve read enough, you’ve made enough mistakes, you decide you're going to take a hundred gallons of grape juice and see what you can do.

And let's say you do it. And let's say you're able to sit on it for three or four or five years, let's say ten years because you're really hopeful and you got a lot of patience. At the end of ten years let's say you have wine if everything has gone well and you’ve done your work. My question would be do you have a hundred gallons of wine, though? And my answer would be you probably don’t. I don't know exactly the science of the thing, but I'm fairly sure it comes to this. In order to have the deep stuff you have less than what you started with because depth is a question of – there's a volume question to depth, that you don’t achieve depth without some consequence to the volume you began your life with or your wine with. And if you achieve depth, it's at the expense of volume. So you have less, but what you have is deep.

And from that you can imagine that in wine, as in human life, that the good stuff comes with age, and age has the consequence of deepening by diminishing as it goes. And you can rely upon life to visit you with ample opportunities to be diminished. But if you're in a growth addicted, competence kind of demented cultured, as certainly my culture seems to be, this entire understanding is disqualified, and it's forbidden. And your responsibility, as you get older, as you pointed out, is to be ever more adroitly consuming and contributing to the consumptive mania. And to guide your life, your moral life and your ethical life, according to the degree in which you can accumulate as you go. And I just don’t mean washers and dryers and Harley Davidson's.

I mean accumulate even at the level of personal development. So the entire personal development industry is a mirror of the consumer culture. It's not an alternative to it. It's more of the same because the actual language that's used all the time is "personal growth," and there's the idea of accumulation again. Well, where's all this personal growth supposed to come from? If you're going to become ever more fill-in-the-blank where's the more coming from? Do you really believe it comes from "you?" How can you contribute to your own moral density? And my answer would be you can't. The only way you can do that is steal it from elsewhere. It's the same way you grow in any other facet of your life, you do it by taking from elsewhere and adding to what you have.

So, maybe the final thing to say about it for the moment is this. I'm talking to a father in his late thirties and his early forties, and he's rather troubled, and understandably so, about the prospect of engaging is a life's work that can both provide for his family and doesn't, in some kind of horrific and demonstrable way, diminish the living world while doing so. There's not a lot of men who can find that kind of work. Or women are discovering to, by virtue of being women, the moral complexity of the universe is not solved in the workplace, quite the contrary.

So I said to him, you know, this idea that you have to suffer, basically, to provide for your kids, it's misread by you. "How do you mean?" he said. I said because you're coming to this project of parenting, as did people who came of age during the depression of the last century – and I was raised by a woman who came of age during that time. And this would be no news to anyone of years, that one of the fundamental quotes that came from the time is my children deserve more than what I had when I was their age. Generally, that's trauma speaking, that kind of moral and personal trauma that forgets that the trauma was derived from a serious downturn in the political and economic order. But it was personalized, of course, because the consequences were drastically personal at the time. Of course, they were. And, of course, how quickly they’ve been forgotten as anything other than the weirdness of your aged parent.

So I said to him, you're parenting now with exactly the same mantra and holding your children to that kind of strange, I don’t know what you would call it – that strange – that their part to play in it is to receive this more-ness from you. So how about this? Could it be that their principle responsibility, and yours, is that they have less available to them in their childhood than you had in yours? And could that be a way of saving your little corner of the world a very little bit by being a parent that understands that your responsibility is to diminish the impact upon the world of you having had children? And one of the ways you do it is you don’t ring the world ever more so to provide for this sense – to compensate for this sense that maybe you're not able to take care of your children and not be a kind of small fee criminal at the same time?

Chris: So, as I weave together some of these elements as I listen, I'm thinking of this idea of gathering depth by losing volume, that there's a diminishment. There's a reduction that's happening, to use a cooking term, and in this reduction there's also this idea that less becomes more. And we're certainly learning all the different ways that giving more to our children has actually backfired because we lack the cultural appreciation for technologies that are moving far too fast to be assimilated in any logical or even intuitive way. We don’t know how to manage these things, yet they come at us full blast.

And so then the idea, though, that's heresy to people who are growing in a consumer culture, that less is more because more is always more. And so when I think about now this idea of laboring that you’ve introduced several times now, to labor towards wisdom, to me I hear a word under there which is fundamentally a contemplative effort. And so in this world, it really militates against contemplative activities; there just isn't time for that. That takes time, and its work, and it's hard, and you ruffle feathers if you're really asking honest questions.

So this all speaks to – in Come of Age, you talk about the importance of manner of approach, and I'm wondering, am I getting close to the mark here in pulling these pieces together? Does this somehow fall under the idea of the manner of approach? And I wonder if you'd be willing to explore that idea with us now?

Stephen Jenkinson: One of the ways you can do this without artifice is to attend ever more faithfully to the language you actually employ, so let me practice that now and say to you that your effort to try to restore or revive or resolve or rescue the idea of growth by saying less is more is not the most honorable thing. I'm saying it very gently. We don’t need more of anything. We're the most more-addicted culture that the planet has probably ever seen. So we don’t need to call something more and in so doing restore for ourselves the idea we can have more, and, in this case, it would mean more sense of personal well-being as a result of being willing to live with less.

Why do we still have to have more of a personal sense of well-being? Why can't the lessening or the diminishment also take place at the level of your confidence about how you're contributing to this? Why can't that take a hit too is what I'm wondering? You see? In other words, this is grown-up language, and the idea of resurrecting the notion of more is not a grown-up language. That continues to cater to people who are fundamentally unsure of themselves, so much so, that they gather around themselves all kinds of outward signs to placate themselves and to compensate for the notion that secretly this seems not to be working out. So let's not make it a secret anymore. It's not working out. And there's no amount of language thievery that's going to, for very long, mask us from the idea.

Let me give you an example of this beyond that one. Many times I was asked when I worked as a desk trade some version of the following question: My father is dying at home; he won't talk about it; he won't talk about it to me or anyone else; he gets angry every time it comes up. How can I support my father's wish to die in his fashion and at the same time feel that I'm contributing in a proper way towards diminishing this death-phobia that you keep talking about in your talks? My answer is you can't. And they just look at me. What? But I thought you were the guy who told me everything is going to work out in the end if I just read Die Wise and do what you say.

I never said that. I never said everything is going to work out in the end. In the end, he dies, okay, but here's what's happening. She's established a program. How can she support him, which means how can she be with him in such a way that he doesn't notice any shortfall between her take on how he should die and his take on how he gets to die? Why shouldn't there be a shortfall? Why shouldn’t she be able to look him square in the eye and say listen, man, you brought me into this world, okay, now you're leaving it first. And you're leaving it in such a way as to cause me profound anguish, not only now, but when it's my turn, too. It's a double whammy because you're dying the way "you want to" with no willingness to assume the responsibility of the consequences that emanate from your refusal to die and your refusal to be present for it, your refusal to attest to it out loud, so that I can learn something about dying while I still have time, while you're still here, to give me a chance to miss you with you, not after you?

So, my answer to her and to everybody that's listening about that idea is you can't support lunacy and not be a lunatic. It's not available, I don’t think. So the moral challenge of the citizenry of today seems to me to be something like this. Can you reimagine what your fundamental responsibilities are to the generations to come, to not be an extension of what you hold dear and what you want and what you are nourished by? Can you imagine that the life of a fifteen-year-old bears utterly no resemblance to what it looked like when you were fifteen? Which is more and more the case now. Can you marshal the kind of moral courage necessary to look out upon the world and instead of trying to see a fifteen-year-old, see if you can see what a fifteen-year-old sees when he or she look out into the world? And in some fashion, then, govern the rest of your life as if these people are coming. How can you do that?

My answer would be you employ this kind of generic teaching, which is often referred to the seven generations understanding. And, of course, the simple part of it goes like this. You behave, you make decisions, you make career choices and you make buying choices as if there will be seven generations from now which is distinctly up for grabs. But let's proceed like there will be in some fashion. And that you govern yourself in a degree of deep conservation, bearing in mind those seven generations. Yeah, but any thinking person could object and say but how is one to know what the world will look like seven generations from now and what it will require of its citizens then? We can barely keep up with the changes from last year to this year, never mind imagine literally seven generations from now which is several hundreds of years. My answer to that quandary would be this. It's' not an act of imaging at all, it's an act of remembering. What? Remembering the future? Yes. Remembering the future. Could you say more that? Sure.

It goes like this. The only way we can govern ourselves as if seven generations from now is coming is to begin to understand our lives as the consequence of people seven generations ago proceeding, living, choosing, buying, fleeing, leaving, running, fearing as they did then. If we can understand our lives not as a consequence of our personal choices but fundamentally the consequences of what we have basically unknowingly inherited from those seven generations ago, we begin to realize that our capacity to act on behalf of the people to come derives from our willingness to see ourselves as the once children who inherited the world we had very little voice in forming or fashioning or choosing.

And, given that, we actually are in the midst of a fourteen-generation span of life. And it's not an act of imagining; it's an act of bearing a kind of responsibility to understand that grown-ups do not complain about not having had choices, that choice is not a human right. It's a particular perversion of the consumer West and that our real responsibility is to be a proper heir to the world that we have inherited. For all its wrinkles, for all its dilemmas, and they are considerable – we're not diminishing that at all, but I'm saying this, that the only way to be a deep running citizen today is to govern yourself as if you have an ancestry that you must lay claim to and really bear them along. And also, govern yourself as if you know that one day you may yet be an ancestor worthy of being claimed by those seven generations from now. And if that becomes something like the moral order by which you govern yourself, the changes are very good that you will find the current regime of personal growth and personal development and freedom of choice to be, let's call it, some kind of moral aberration that you’ve come to realize that serves no one at all, and you simple opt otherwise.

Chris: So, Stephen, as I think through that beautiful trails of dots you’ve left there, that thirty-year-old gentleman, that young father who showed up in your doorstep, he arrived with a very important question. And in your book, Come of Age, if I'm paraphrasing here, you talk about the idea that everybody should proceed as if someday a young person will arrive on their doorstep with an important question.

Stephen Jenkinson: Two important questions, actually.

Chris: Two important questions.

Stephen Jenkinson: One follows from the answer to the first. Should I remind you what they are?

Chris: Yes, please.

Stephen Jenkinson: Surely. Well, the first question – this is a parable of sorts, isn't it? And it's a troubling one, and it goes like this. No matter what kind of life you’ve lived, you are very likely to be on the receiving end of the following visit or encounter. Someone one third your age will, for no apparent reason, with no provocation in particular, ask you the following question. When you were my age did you know what was happening? And the only answer that seems available that's both authentic and frank and candid and deeply honest runs something like this. When I was your age the information stream was such that anyone that wanted to know what was going on could have known. But, as it happened, not everyone did want to know, and so not everyone did. Which prompts the second question from the young person. So what did you do then? And you and I are occupying a time of life where we are cobbling together, mostly involuntarily or unawares, our answer to that question – what did you do?

Chris: You know, there's no good answer for that, really, in a lot of ways.

Stephen Jenkinson: Well, there are authentic answers. There are authentic answers, right, and the authentic answer is to fess up to what you did, and the other half of the statement is, of course, what you didn't do. And we are adrift in a sea of things we haven't done. See, basically, we've inherited, and have done so for some considerable generations in the West now, these kind of undone, spirit projects, spirit projects that derive from other generations, the other dilemmas.

Let me take a very handy example, not only from your country, but certainly from your country: Slavery. So we've inherited – there's no question that we've inherited a moral order wherein slavery made sense. In its human form it may have been outlawed by now, but this is not to say that we've fundamentally set a slaving of any life form aside. We have not done so. We've simply decided humans are no longer legal to enslave them. But we've enslaved countless numbers of life forms in replacement of the form of human slaves. And so the moral order hasn't changed considerably. You see, and we're bearing the consequences of it now.

You and I, at our time of life, we inherited that arrangement. We didn’t craft it, that's true, but the other half of the statement is we are living off the avails of an unchanged system. Now that's just morally true. And until we're willing to know this and govern ourselves accordingly and assume a deep responsibility for a world that we didn't get a choice upon, then we're essentially adolescents complaining.

Leonard Cohen, God bless him, one of the national living treasures from my country – he's no longer alive in that sense, but deeply alive to me – he made an observation one time when he took himself up for five years to live in a monastery, a Zen monastery in California. And when he came back down five years later he's become a monk and all the rest, subsequently had a massive career revival and probably died and extraordinarily wealthy man. And somewhere in there somebody asked him about the kind of discipline that was imposed by this moral order up in the monetary. And he said, well, the whole operation is basically to get you to stop whining. That's how he characterized all his Zen training. To get you to stop whining.

And I thought to myself, you know, the very sound of that, there's something enormously restoring if you let it in to the idea that if you just stop whining you can begin to occupy the proper office and responsibilities of your age. But until you do, you will be indistinguishable from someone who's about nine years old wondering for the umpteenth time why everything is not as fair as it seems like it should be.

Chris: Well, there are entire industries of media and propaganda that are very interested in keeping us sort of at that level. You said my country. I live in a country that exports democracy, and we don’t even have any to export. So it's kind of funny thing. And I think about that thirty-year-old gentleman again because I get this a lot from people who feel like they're leading two lives. They have this life that they have to – they’ve got the job, need the money, kids are in school, there's a whole set of circumstances, maybe they’ve got ageing parents they have to take care of – that say hey, I've got to earn this money.

And then, there's this thing they think they ought to be doing or set of things maybe they should stop doing. And so that leading two lives really backs down to a thing where if I was going to reduce it they would say I feel like I need to be living a life with more meaning and purpose, that there's a deeper spiritual calling that they can feel. But I need to back way up. I think you're the perfect person to ask this. What is meaning?

Stephen Jenkinson: What is a meaning in life, you mean?

Chris: Yeah, what is meaning? Yeah.

Stephen Jenkinson: The word is abstract in the ways in which you’ve asked the question. So we have to plant it somewhere to begin to answer the question. So just like the term "the ancestors" is a rootless, disembodied proposition, and there are only your ancestors or mine or theirs, or his. That's the only kind there are. And by the same token, the only kind of meaning – I mean, if we're humans talking, which we are right now – and we're talking about meaning as it accrues to a human life then you have to plant it in the understanding are you're talking about meaning of life? Are you talking about meaning of death, for example? Are you talking about meaning of having involuntarily been an orphan and nobody thought that they could manage you when you were a baby? See, there's many ways to ask the question.

So with that in place, I'd imagine it something like this. Meaning is like happiness. If you pursue it as a goal unto itself it will elude every attempt that you make to grasp it. Why? Because your grasp drives it away, that's why. So happiness is a consequence of a kind of life that you lived. It's not a goal of that life; it's a byproduct, almost. It's an incidental, but deeply nourishing byproduct.

By the same token, the meaning to one's life accrues to one to the degree to which your neighbors, your accomplices, your coworkers, your coconspirators, everyone else around you who proceeded you and who will come after you, who are alive at the same time but not necessarily that only, all of these together contribute meaning to your life, and that's where your meaning comes from.

You know, there are cultures in the world where you are named not once, but perhaps four or five or even six times during the course of your life. And each one of those names you do not choose; you have no voice, you have no part to play other than to gracefully accept it and then do your best to live up to it, even though, in fact, the name that you're granted is not a piece of – it's not a carrot on a stick, it's an actual description of how people are experiencing your presence in their lives. That's where your name actually comes from. Of course, now, people self-appoint in their names.

Well, elderhood is exactly the same. Elderhood is not a consequence of you designating yourself, as such. In fact, you could go further and say if you designate yourself as an elder the changes are very good that elderhood in all its manifestations has utterly eluded you. That elderhood is a consequence of the culture around you recognizing your fundamental utility to them. And in that recognition, the notion that you have become an elder to them arises, and they designate you as such, and implore you to conduct yourself as such. Not only recognize it but ask more of you thereby. And you, hearing that, recognizing that your life has now come to mean this as well, begin to realize that elderhood is not the end of your years of service to the culture around you. Elderhood is the final iteration of your service to the culture around you. This is how your life acquires its meaning, but you don’t designate the meaning.

Finally, or as an illustration of that last observation – we have this word automaton, which I would call what all artificial intelligence is rapidly becoming, automaton. Yeah, I know what automaton means. Well, let's see. The word auto is a Greek word which signifies self. Some irreducible, in-dwelling, constant. And then we have maton. If you look up the word now it means self-moving. That's the current dictionary definition. But anyone who studied the English language knows full well that whenever you see the root word M-A or M-A-T, sometimes, M-A-D. this signifies what/? Every word that has that word in it derives from the word mother. So an automaton is literally a crime against nature. In what sense? In the sense that anything that's automatic is self-mothered. Self-mothered is what a competence addicted culture strives for. Self-direction. Self-description. Self-made. By natural fact, to mother yourself is to have criminals for parents.

You have not business making yourself, and any sane culture knows it, and knows the meaning of your life is made for you, is recognized for you, is granted to you, is entrusted to you. But if you don’t believe you derive from a legitimate culture, you will seek that normally from your family, from a few close friends, God help you all, from your spouse, and then, ultimately and finally, from yourself. It's a deeply impoverished, very narrow scale from which to derive the meaning of an entirely human life.

Chris: So, as I think about that ark of a human life, my own, as an infant, everything was coming in to me, all my sustenance and nurturance was coming in. I developed my own autonomy, as it were, in this story. And then, as I approached my elder-ness – listen, Stephen, the most important thing I think I've learned so far, and the thing I value the most in my life, is my ability to influence and reach people and have a positive impact, which is really in the spirit of knowing all the ways I've received these amazing transmissions from other people. They come and they rattle around inside of me and then, if I'm able, I can pass them on.

And the thing I've gathered up to this point is that it's really not so much my words that jump across that air gap between myself and another, but it's my presence. And that, in itself, is rooted in my integrity or lack thereof so that really, this idea of elderhood for me, as I understand it at this early stage, is really about becoming more authentically myself and being comfortable with that and operating from that position which is a very – the shorthand for that, Stephen, is the older I get the less I know, and the less certain I actually am of everything.

Stephen Jenkinson: How is that "being truer to yourself" I wonder?

Chris: Because it's operating from a place of knowing that comes from somewhere. It's the closest to faith I get that there's an intuition, a knowing, that lives inside me that it's "not me". It's coming from somewhere. And with age, I've learned how to access that, I think. That's as close as I can get right now.

Stephen Jenkinson: I just wonder from your characterization if the older you get the less you know, as you said, I wonder why that less you know doesn't seem to have made any particular claim upon this characterization you're making about being truer to yourself? In other words, if the less you know the older you get, could it not be true that the less you know about this thing called a self as well, to the point where you're not exactly persuaded, perhaps, as you were when you were much younger that there is such a thing that you're supposed to be faithful to and authentically reflecting? And that maybe – this is me pushing it now, obviously – and could it be as a consequence of that that what you're being invited to as you get older is such a profound reconsideration of this obligation you once had to this self of yours? That as you get older it is even this self and the obligation you once felt to it that comes under such withering scrutiny, fair-minded scrutiny, and testing? And it simply can't sustain itself. And it disassembles in some fashion and turns you into something like a citizen and something less like an individual.

And your citizenship is your final act of serving the world that, as you really pointed out very well early on, you were on the take for so very long. And, of course, so was I and everything that's listening to us. And that it is the act of assuming the responsibility of elder that you're selfhood essentially ceases to lay any particular claim upon you anymore, and it's the world instead? And that there is no self to be faithful to? And I'm not saying this like some kind of closet Buddhist. I don’t pretend I understand the machinery of this at all. But I'm simply observing from age 64, which I'm not appreciably older than you, but from this vantage point it's begun to strike me over and over again that this religion of the self that we have in the West is the thing that leads us towards the devotion towards the consumer, marketplace and personal hopeless, frankly, hopeless over involvement with the improvement of the person. And this strange choice that we seem to have to make between me and mine versus the madness that's on the other side of the razor wire that we're just waiting for the whole thing to dissolve in some kind of rag to rock style. The time seems to be coming ever closer, at least politically and acutely in your country, judging by the news that I see.

So all of this is simply to say could it be that it's in the nature becoming less certain as you get older, that your uncertainty sits upon you in a much lighter way than it did in your twenties or even your forties? And that that lightness is a consequence of having no strange obligation to the self, and that the world is waiting for you to rejoin it as a part of it? Just as your body is made biochemically from trace elements that are in the environment, so also this notion of the self is a consequence of a simple misunderstanding that your atomic, more or less whole unto yourself, and your principle allegiance is "to be true to that" which is a very platonic, frankly, idea. It derives from a very particular kind of philosophy and time and place that's not universal. Most of the world's people are not persuaded by that notion at all. Not that it makes it right or wrong, but if you intend to be a real-world citizen, you're not going to occupy a shared understanding of this notion of self if you engage most people on the planet.

So, it's simply an invitation. As I find myself invited to reconsider what, as a Western person, I thought I was born into a kind of truth soup, you could call it, that included the primacy of the self. And the older I've gotten, I'm less and less persuaded that there is a self to be true to, and more persuaded that the world has been waiting strangely patiently for me to overcome this rather adolescent preoccupation with being a better and better me.

Chris: I certainly agree with all of that. And I know that in my case, when I talk about this uncertainty, it's not a burden. It is enlightening. I used to be so certain. I knew a lot. I know a lot less now, and particularly about this idea of self. And the borders are becoming more and more porous, and I assume death is just become very porous at that point in time. But it's…

Stephen Jenkinson: If you do it well.

Chris: We'll see. But certainly this is something that – this idea that the more I lose the things that are standing between myself and those two questions I might be asked. Did you know and what did you do? I have to be vulnerable, I have to be willing to let my guard down, take the shields off and say yeah, I screwed up. I wasn't really paying attention. Maybe I have more context now, but could have, should have known different things at an earlier age. Yes. And whatever the narrative around that.

So that idea of getting to that is certainly full of grief and mystery, absolutely. And in the time, we have left, Stephen, in the spirit of wrestling with these and many other deep questions of our age, I'd love to hear more about this upcoming tour. So, “Night of Grief and Mystery.” Tell us about that.

Stephen Jenkinson: Well, it's a very strange thing. It sort of genre free, you could say. There's music in it, but it's not a musical. There's poetry in it, but it's not poetry. It's not any reading per se. It's me with a three-piece band engaged in a kind of protracted wonder that has a kind of emotional broadcast bandwidth that the music, extraordinarily, makes a liquid and available to the people who come. It's about a two and a half hour show or so, and it wonders after this kind of irreducible mystery of life that doesn't give way as you get older. It actually deepens as you get older, somehow.

So it's not certainly a show for "older people". It is, however, a show for people who imagine they might get there some day or who are involved with people who are there at some point and who are mystified because, after all, this is a proper response to mystery is to be mystified by it. Trouble is a miner part of being mystified. So it's called Nights of Grief and Mystery as a kind of fair warning, you could say, and it's turned into a twenty-five or twenty-six city tour. I never saw that coming.

It's going all across North America. We already toured last year in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and then the UK. So, I guess we know what we're doing by now. I guess the youngest person is in their early 40s in the band. You could call it rock and roll minus everything you'd probably think of.

Chris: Stephen, I see dates booked all over British Columbia still, in Seattle, Portland, Tucson, a lot of locations in California, Colorado, New York, Minnesota, Toronto, and yes, here in Massachusetts. So for people listening in North America, good chance there's a tour location near you. You can find a lot of specifics about it at orphanwisdom.com/events. Stephen, how's the reception and feedback been so far?

Stephen Jenkinson: Well, if advance tickets are anything to go by, pretty darn good. I simply can't believe people's judgment to fork out good money on the off chance that coming to something called the “Night's of Grief and Mystery” could actually be good for you. But people seem to have made that decision, or they’ve had somebody make that decision on their behalf and is bringing them or something.

All I can say is we're both mystified by that and enormously encouraged by it. So we're kind of pros at this point, not so much as humans but certainly as performers and musicians and so on. The band that I've got is taking their professionalism in music and attaching it to this inclination I have to wonder about these things. You can't buy that, and yet I have it, and they're willing to give it to me. And between the four of us, we are somehow deeply alive during the course of these couple of hours in a given evening. And the fact that people will come honors us tremendously. The least we can do is be mystified together, and that's what it is.

Chris: Well, I'm really looking forward to it. And for people listening, again, orphanwisdom.com/events. And if you happen to be listening to this and are you're coming to the production at Turners Falls, Massachusetts, that's on November 6th at the Shea Theater from 7:00 to 9:30, and you'd like to meet with myself and maybe other Peak Prosperity members beforehand at a nearby restaurant, just drop me a line and we'll include you in those arrangements. Hey, everybody, we've been talking with Stephen Jenkinson, author of Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. His current tour is Nights of Grief and Mystery. His school in the Orphan Wisdom School. You can out more at orphanwisdom.com.

Remember, this is all part of building your emotional and spiritual capital, and you owe it to yourself to explore Stephen's work intimately, contemplatively. These are troubled times. They ask for each of us to bring our very best. Stephen, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your time today and for your work in the world.

Stephen Jenkinson: You're very kind, Chris. And I'd say we owe it to our heirs to come to these things, too. And you've given me a beautiful to wonder a lot about these things, and it's a great privilege and I appreciate it.

Chris: Thank you and you're welcome. This has been a Peak Prosperity production. I'm your host, Chris Martenson. Until next time, be well and may you prosper.

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SSTP's picture
SSTP
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Joined: May 10 2017
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Excellent podcast guys.

 

Was just talking about this issue with my dad yesterday :O

 

bwh1214's picture
bwh1214
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Posts: 40
Bad Advice

Of course I have plenty of people in my life older than I who have given me great advice.  That said, as far as life changing advice, the advice I have gotten from baby boomers has been overwhelmingly bad.  

One that I got over and over again in the early and mid 2000's was 'buy as much house as possible', I don't have to tell you how that ended.  I think the issue was they simply have been extrapolating their own experience, and I think my generation is realizing that is no way to give advice. The boomers were hitting their investment years as we were literally hitting the nadir in large asset classes like stocks and bonds. Education costs were also dirt cheap when they went entered college so they think its a no brainer to go to IOU University no matter the cost because it worked out for them.  

In many cases they have failed to have to dig deeper into 'the system' because for much of their lives the system didn't bite them.  Well its bit millennials, and bit us hard. 

I have made two decisions that have really altered my life for the better, and in a big way.  First it was go to a Maritime Academy and get into oil drilling after also being accepted to a prestigious business school.  My career has been hands down wonderful to me, while the lives of some I know that went to that business school has not been so good (smart guys too).  This career essentially bailed me out of that horrible 2005 home purchase.  Next was getting involved in crypto currency.  Both of these decisions were fought tooth and nail when brought up to the boomer generation.

Lesson learned is, first be very careful when taking the advice of the prior generation.  Second, when giving advice to my girls, I will always tell them to do their own exhaustive research on the micro and macro level when making decisions.  I will not guide them based on extrapolating my experience

 

Rector's picture
Rector
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The Source

I am continually amazed by the wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

We could use a dose of this kind of thinking - just a our forefathers did:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish mbition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:13-18

Rector

 

 

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
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Always Ask! Revelation comes from endurance.

1)

"Always listen to what others have to say. It may not do you any good, but it's bound to make others feel good about themselves".

2)

1st man: "Why do you Jews always ask so many questions?"

2nd man: "Why shouldn't we?"

3)

Father: "Son you should show better judgement!"

Son:  "How do I get that?"

Father: "From experience!"

Son: "And how do I get that?

Father: "From bad judgement!"

 

 

 

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
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Posts: 5968
Humility and Wisdom

I loved that line Rector, "by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom."  

Of all the things lost in these crazy days, it is perhaps the solitude and time to reflect that has cost the most.  The more I learn the less I know for sure.  

I am becoming more and more humble and living with humility as time goes on.  I've learned a lot, but that has only opened up vast portals to how much I really don't know.  Dig into any one subject and the well is bottomless.

Practice anything, no matter how trite, and you can always improve, find a new subtlety of motion, and become faster, smoother, more skilled.

The mystery of life is profound, and the more we uncover about the science of life, the more it is clear that the complexity involved in a single ribosome performing a well-regulated task is almost beyond comprehension.

So what is required of us in these troubled times?  How do we gather wisdom?  Where does it come from?

Increasingly I understand that it comes from everywhere and nowhere at once.  There's a great intelligence upon which we draw, and it comes from the void and can be heard best in silence.  I'm agnostic as to the language that is placed upon that source of wisdom.

Perhaps it comes from heaven: But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 

Perhaps it comes from a similar place with a different name.  Call it intuition, or call it 'the great unknown' and it doesn't matter to me, I don't know what the right name is nor do I care.    

I do care that I have access to that greatness, that intelligence, that wisdom, and getting to it (for me) comes from learning to let go of my ego, my sense of self and self-importance.  It's not something I gain access to, but rather something that I can perceive if I can let enough things go, the shields that prevent me from really hearing, seeing and sensing the great mystery of life.  

A great place to start is by questioning everything.  "Am I sure?"  "Do I really know what that thing is, or what happened?"  "Who am I?"

TwinTown's picture
TwinTown
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Posts: 13
crossroads

Tremendous podcast Chris and encourage you to continue booking guests that continue to develop emotional capital.  This was a master class in emotional intelligence, philosophy, and late night kitchen table talk.

I'm at a crossroads because I feel the insanity of being in two worlds: working in fintech to create the next hocus pocus AI tool while daydreaming about a permacultured life with more blue sky, oxygen, and love.  Seeking courage and wisdom for my next path.

My mens group is discussing death and dying this Friday so I'll bring some of this wisdom conversation into that circle.  Bought tickets for myself and friends to attend the show in Minneapolis.

Thanks again.

richcabot's picture
richcabot
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Growth in abstract things is different

There were may insightful pieces to the podcast but I must disagree with his perspective on human growth.  Unlike growth in material things, human emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth does not need to come at the expense of anyone else.  Though some people make a business out of helping others grow, it's not fair to criticize them for needing to pay the daily bills..  Admittedly there are, as in any endeavor, people who scam those who seek help in growing.  That doesn't negate the entire practice.  

I had a friend (since passed away) who was fond of saying "I had an idea.  I met a man with an idea.  We exchanged ideas.  Now I have two."

Bleep's picture
Bleep
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Felt uneasy after listening to podcast

I actually liked some of the podcast, but parts felt heady and disembodied to me.  Jenkinson seemed to not see the shadow of his expertise.  I especially did not like his conception of the "self" as being a negative thing.   For me the self is related to embodiment and as we get to know our embodied selves, there is a great deepening as we open ourselves to the great wisdom and intuition of the body - something that has been evolving and developing over several hundred thousands of years.  The types of therapy I practice as a psychologist including Somatic Experiencing and Neuro-Affective Relational Model (NARM) involve a base of the brain up approach (more right-brained) combined, in the case of NARM, with top-down awareness of developmental patterns, etc.   Jenkinson's heady top-down approach left me wanting.

 

 

Bleep's picture
Bleep
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Agreed

I agree, emotional and spiritual growth to me is a kind of deepening and shouldn't be equated with growth in the number of cars or growth of cancer, etc.  Jenkinson was also a little too heady for my tastes. 

Pipyman's picture
Pipyman
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?

That wasn’t really my understanding of what was said. SJ rejects the the “be all you can be” mentallity, but not the accumulation of wisdom. I think you’ve likely missunderstood. He seems to saying wisdom deepens, it doesn’t grow.......

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
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It's a slight against consumerism
Pipyman wrote:

That wasn’t really my understanding of what was said. SJ rejects the the “be all you can be” mentallity, but not the accumulation of wisdom. I think you’ve likely missunderstood. He seems to be saying wisdom deepens, it doesn’t grow.......

The way I hear Stephen is that he distains how "personal growth" has become another consumer item, something you go out and buy and get some of.

There are countless courses and books where you can get some "personal growth" without ever really having to go beyond the purchase and actually do the very hard work of challenging your existing belief structures, wrestle with painful ambiguity, and come to your own sense of proper wisdom.

There's an industry built up around self-improvement and, to put words in his mouth that might not belong, a lot of it is a waste of money and time.

I agree too that he comes very strongly from his head, and I come from a more combined place personally, but I derive a huge amount from his careful examination of language, narratives, and the way he observes the world.

As always, the invitation is to take what works and leave the rest.  

treebeard's picture
treebeard
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Posts: 627
Great subject

I did find the style a little wanting, but he did make many good points.  Seemed like he was trying to elucidate he difference between knowlegde and wisdom and the necessity of suffering and struggle as means of becoming wise, though not so clearly.  And a willingness to live consciously and be present to the conflict and ugliness of this world without trying to make it OK.

You cannot accumulate wisdom they way you do knowlegde, which is perhaps what he was trying to articulate.  Wisdom strikes in those moments when we see the relationship between the apparent dualities of this world and things suddenly become obvious, clear, and intense. Complextity and diversity remain, but without confusion.  The veil between the self and the other drops, and direct perception proceeds unabated.

And always afterwords, that is so obvious, why didn't I see that before! And in that clarity of direct perception (what I think we wrongly call intuition), we are somehow less and more at the same.  Less obsessed and absorbed with the Self and more connected to the world around us. It is in a way it a reductive process, but that is, in a way, trying to use materialist language to describe a nonmaterial process.

Good discussion, a foundation from which to understand all the other issues of our time.

dcm's picture
dcm
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Posts: 219
experience and wisdom

experience is the map

wisdom is the ability to read it

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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Posts: 919
So treebeard, what is it when the opposite happens

... when your understanding of the world and how it is suddenly drops away; when the direct perception undermines all clarity; when the relationship between things in this world becomes less obvious, and confusion is left as a permanent veil?

And because the foundations of my existence are destroyed, more absorbed with self than ever -- for how can I possibly help another person when my foundations are gone? I would do damage, even trying to help.

For that describes the coallescence of what I have experienced over my last twenty years, these last five years.

treebeard's picture
treebeard
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Posts: 627
When the road map changes

That is a challenge for all of us, when what we were lead to believe, (based on past experience, cultural conditioning, family upbringing, etc), is proved to be inadequate to describe what is coming at us in the present moment.  That is, I think, a permanent part of the human condiation and a challenge for all of us.

What direct perception means to me though, is something quite different. It is those few moments in life (some may say by the grace of god, depending on your belief system), that we are able to see things as they actually are, completely free of our own conditioning, both culturally and personally.  It is a connection so deep it transcends the individual self and puts us in contact with something much larger.

What that much larger thing is, I will avoid because any description, since it becomes a mindfield of belief systems. In my own personal experience, that connection creates an inner peace that transcends the turbulance of daily life. Saves us from the confusion of a seemly dualistic reality.

Mohammed Mast's picture
Mohammed Mast
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Posts: 198
pgp's picture
pgp
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Posts: 219
Wisdom in a nutshell

Wisdom isn't just something that happens with the passage of time or with the acquisition of random experience. It does require time but wisdom is definitely not the monopoly of the elderly. 

Wisdom is the process whereby the dogma we are programmed with at youth finally gives way to reason and knowledge.  That's a process that can take a long time and requires some intelligence as truth must be discerned from the constant rhetoric of belief and custom.  Distilled from background noise in much the same way as a detective searches for clues at a crime scene corrupted by careless passersby.

Humans love to believe and conform so it's inevitable that people blindly following the crowd, believers of the status quo, resist the alternative thinking that the wise proffer. 

Inevitably then it is only the famous, those with some kind of public recognition, who've earned the rank of "respected cultural leader", that enjoy the privalige of being heard.  Often those people are merely our presidents, our industry leaders or Hollywood music and film superstars. They are rarely particularly educated or intelligent. 

Thus it is only through crisis, when culture finally breaks down and the crowd finally begins to listen that the greater wisdom begins to be heard.

 

 

newsbuoy's picture
newsbuoy
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Posts: 324
The Mysterious Tremendum

Having attanded such a gathering in the 1980's, with the likes of Bly, Hillman, Meade and the mythopoetic wisdom which many men engaged afterwards seeking what, if not, the wisdom of our elders from seven generations ago. I say it is good that men and women can come together and speak of life, and death.

"Full circle, from the tomb of the womb to the womb of the tomb, we come: an ambiguous, enigmatical incursion into a world of solid matter that is soon to melt from us, like the substance of a dream. And, looking back at what had promised to be our own unique, unpredictable, and dangerous adventrue, all we find in the end is such a series of standard metamorphoses as men and women have undergone in every quarter of the world, in all recorded centuries, and under every odd disguise of civilization." -- Joseph Campbell.

newsbuoy's picture
newsbuoy
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Posts: 324
Self Centered Talk Therapy
…what we are taught. All and sundry adorn themselves with mind, use it as trimming wherever possible. Mind and spirit, when in combination with something else, are the most widespread thing there is. There is a masculine loyalty, the spirit of love, ‘keeping up the spirit’ of this cause or that , ‘acting in the spirit of our movement’ and so forth. How solid and unimpeachable it sounds, right down to the lowest levels! Everything else, the everyday crime of bustling greed for gain, appears by contrast as that which is never admitted, the dirt that God removes from under His toe-nails.
 
But when the spirit stands alone, a naked moon, bare as a ghost to whom one would like to lend a sheet—what then? One can read the poets, study the philosophers, buy pictures and have discussions all night long. But is it spirit that one gains by doing so? Assuming one does gain it—does one then possess it? This something called spirit, so firmly bound up with the form in which it happens to manifest itself, passes through the person who wants to receive and harbor it, leaving nothing behind but a slight tremor. What are we to do with all this spirit? It is continually being produced on masses of paper, stone and canvas, [social media] in downright astronomical quantities, and is being as ceaselessly ingested and consumed with a gigantic expenditure of nervous energy. But what happens to it then? does it vanish like a mirage? Does it dissolve into particles? Is it an exception to the natural law of conservation? The dust-particles sinking down into us, slowly settling, are in no relation to all the trouble involved. Where has it gone? Where, what, is it? Perhaps, if one knew more about it, there would be an awkward silence round this noun ‘spirit’…
—Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities (copyright 1953)
 

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