Reb Zalman Shacter-Shalomi
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ZALMAN INTV. PT. 1:
I THOUGHT WE'D BEGIN BY TALKING FROM A PERSONAL LEVEL ABOUT HOW YOU GOT IN TO THE LINE OF AGING, AND WORKING WITH THE PRINCIPLE OF AGING .... SPIRITUAL ELDER. TELL ME A BIT ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL JOURNEY TO THAT.
It's beginning with the work I've been doing for a while now which has to do with the general topic of spirituality. Spirituality is something you're involved and you're engaged in. It takes up a lot of consciousness and reflection and introspection. There's something the Catholics used to call the examination of conscience. And in our tradition, you do this every night before you go to sleep. You check through the day what you have done, what were your motives, how did you do it. And then on top of that came psychology and that checks on why the motivation? What was the cause? What was the association? Where was it rooted? What experiences did you have that caused that first or early thing to happen to you? Then along with that came ah what I learned about meditation in our tradition and in other traditions. And that had to do with how do I shape myself to be the best instrument I need to be in order to do the task that's mine to do. And for a long time I knew what that task was. It was very clear. It had to do with study, with research, with teaching, a lot to do with teaching. Once when I was testing deeply where did this teaching thing come from, and I was reciting some psalms and there it says in Psalm 51: (dialect)... I will teach the rebellious ones by ways and the sinners will return to you.
And I felt that that was a way in which ah having been saved from the Holocaust, getting to the United States in 1941 was sort of one of the last exists from Europe that ah something was needed for me to pay back. And ah and also felt like this that when I saw what was happening to our tradition, that it was being diminished. That the best and the most advanced of our people had been decimted, were killed. So I was moved to think about creating a Noah's ark for our tradition. So just as in Noah's ark there were all the animals in two by twos, I felt it was necessary to take the spiritual wave that worked for our people before the Holocaust and to find people who would embody them. I had read Farenheit 451 and there was a society of people who not only had learned the books, they knew the books by heart, in fact in that society they were the books. And so I felt that it would be wonderful to create a society in which people were those particular aspects of the tradition, embodied them.
It was about that time that the Dead Sea scrolls were found. When ah I realized that all the Western monasticism, whether it was in the Eastern church or in the Western church or even in Sufism and Islam had its root among those people in the Judean desert whose scrolls were found at that time. When they thought of themselves they called themselves B'nai or children of light. And there is one scroll in which they describe the war of the children of light against the children of darkness. So it looked to me that it would be good to create that Noah's ark under that name, children of light, B'nai or, and so way back when I was in Manitoba, ah at the University of Manitoba, a group of people, some of them came even from the States, gathered around me and we began to work on liturgy, spiritual paths and so on and so forth. These people and I continued to develop in this way for what I understood in those days as restoration. I wanted to restore us to the place where we were before the Holocaust had happened. Well when ah the opening came to come to Temple University in Philadelphia, I took that opportunity because there were more people who were of like mind at that time who had been through what the '60s had offered and who had been through what they did in various summer camps. In 1968 I had my sabbatical from Manitoba and came to Brandeis University to do some study for myself. I studied Arabic, Syriac and Acadian Ogoritic, all those ancient Near Eastern languages because I was interested in what had happened to our people prior to the patriarchs. Remember all that stuff that was happening about the goddess religion coming up. And I wanted to now what was pre-patriarchal Judaism like. And in those days people used to speak of that as a paganism. Well, there was so much happening around redisovering the ways of nature and wicka and so on, so forth that I wanted to find out what are our roots around there. So this is how it happened that a Chavourah was founded in Boston and during that year that I was at sabbatical I participated in the founding of that fellowship. A Chavourah is a fellowship in which like-minded people gathered together sort of in a living room congregation sharing leadership and power and so on. And we did some remarkable things at that time with liturgy. Having seen how people sat and meditated on cushions, we did too. We used a lot of body movement and dance in what we were doing and that was part of the delight. And gradually I was moved from restoration to a whole other idea that had to do with renewal. Not everything from the past was necessary in the future and it was a difficult question which I had taken up since with every guru that I met. When I went to see Muktamanda I asked him this question. On what basis do you decide what of your tradition to bring forward and what to leave behind. There was at that time in St. Norbert outside of Winnipeg was a Trappist monastery. I had a correspondence and a friendship with Thomas Merton and on account of that we visited often the Trappists at St. Norbert. And there I saw adjornimento in it's process, adjornimento, bringing up to date the church. So at first there were a lot of statues in the church and there was Latin. And there was a shift and liturgy became - was done in English and things were made more plain. Instead of the carved, wooden seats there were different kinds of benches made for meditation and so on. So I was seeing all this happening and I felt this was important to see how we in Judaism needed to do that.
So I asked this question of various teachers: What is it that you can leave behind and what is it that you have to pass on? I would often get a non-answer like, well what' essential you keep and what's not essential you (chuckles) throw away. But the litmus test of what's essential, what's not essential, was missing. So we began to do things in the Chavorah movement and once again the question was meditation and deconstructuring and ways of prayer and meditation that were part of our heritage and reconstructing them in our environment and with our setting and with our mentality. And of course now placing that into an egalitarian men-women equal framework and less driven by power from above as power shared. A lot more ecological - it was at that time I coined the term eco-kosher. It was quite clear that some things are kosher and some things are not kosher. Well kosher from the past would make it more kosher to drink from a styrofoam cup which hasn't been used before. But is it eco-kosher because now not only where does it come from but what's going to happen to it afterwards became a vital question. And the tradition had so much to teach about not destroying nature. So placing this into the modern context created a whole other thing. So all these things were happening in Jewish renewal and my Freind Schlomo Carlebach built the house of Love and Prayer in ah San Francisco and a group in Berkeley gathered around me when they did the Aquarian minyan of Berkeley. Aquarian was, you know, the Age of Aquarius had dawned and paradigm shift was happening and we got very excited about all these things.
Well in the meantime, I was also studying more about body. I was getting rolfed and Feldenchrist and all those kinds of things so that introspection and paying attention to body became more important. So as this was happening, I started to notice some shifts and changes in my own being. Ah the resilience that I had before wasn't there. The body started to give different messages than I'd gotten before. And along with that came also an awareness of kind of sadness that I couldn't be as powerfully active and as resilient as I was before and all kinds of things - shifts and changes were happening in my body to which I had to start paying more attention. It was getting very clear that body maintenance and maintenance of the right frame of mind was important. And I still hadn't connected it yet with aging.
Well I need to give credit to someone who I met in my many journeys of learning from people. His name was Gerald F. Hurd, Gerald Hurd, a friend and a mentor of Aldous Huxley. He lived in Los Angeles in Topanga. And he had written a book, The Five Ages of Man. It's a book that not many people had read it and yet it was a blue print of growth and human evolution in which he mapped what was happenig to humankind on the level of philogony against the experience of the individual person on the level of onthogony.
YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO BREAK THAT DOWN...
027 - ZALMAN INTV. PT. 2:
A BRIEF SUMMARY.
So Gerald Hurd, a Scotchman and had a nice brogue and beautiful face and eyes. He would talk about how people are in preconscious places and this was how we evolved from that preconscious place. And he compared this to childhood, to infancy. We haven't got words yet and the question of getting born, what does it feel like to get born. The ordeal of birth is the first ordeal one has to go through. And then he had ah a place in which people got to feel to be heroic and ah dragon slayers and this kind of stuff. And that fits very much and to the place where we are in adolescence. And then he describes the person who became the very strongly disciplined person of medieval times and ah that kind of person is one who wants to overcome the crisis of ah adolescence and become now the adult. And then comes that person who has become in full ego, in full consciousness and to whom everything in the world sort of gets addressed at this point. And that too is something that we could see in the Renaissance. And then we have modern man and modern man with all the connections. And so you find it both in history and that's how we created commerce and all that and at the same time you find a person in his business years. Then comes another transition and that transition is the one that makes it sort of difficult for many people because it brings on what Gerald Hurd called involutional melancholia. I can't help but it's not that I want it to - death is coming closer and this is another ordeal that has to be overcome.
TALK ABOUT THAT IN RELATION TO YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE. I REMEMBER YOU BEING EXTREMELY JOYOUS IN YOUR MIDDLE YEARS. JUST FULL OF BOUNCING JOY. SO TALK ABOUT THAT TRANSITION FOR YOU PERSONALLY.
Well that's, I'm going to get there. Let me finish the next part. It comes for having - experiencing that involutional melancholia. He feels that this is happening to humankind now too. That the fact that we - and he wrote this in 1950 with a vision of what's happening really to us at this time - that all the progress and all that hasn't helped us to be happier. It hasn't created the abundance that it promised, you know. And so you see this on the global scene and for the individual it's this way. And he argues that at this point there is one way to overcome that and that's to make a leap. And the new transformed person is whom he calls the leptoid, you know, the one who's made that jump, that paradigm shift. And it seems to me that as I reflected in those years when I felt - by this time I was getting to be 55, 56 and ah feeling less of the energy and feeling more of the demands that the body made. And when I searched inside of myself, I said yes, Gerald Hurd wrote about that. It has something to do with aging.
When I was out in Berkeley in the '70s, there was a remarkable woman, Gay Luce, Gay Gare Luce, who was doing the sage project at that time, working with elders and bringing them back to a kind of an aliveness. And I heard about it. I thought it was a wonderful thing for them to do for them, you know. It still hadn't come home to me that this was the direction to go.
Well, a lot of other personal things that had bearing on that but when I had my - when I got close to my 60th birthday I had a conversation with Jean Huston. I felt that I had to take retreat at this point. I had to do some assessing as to where I'd come from, where do I have to go now, because it was clear to me that the models that I saw were not good models. I give you such an example. I remember Pope Paul and ah the creed that Cardinals were to be active up to the age of 80 and then they had to sort of give up their cardinalship. It was sort of expected that when he would become 80 he would resign from the papacy and then pass it on to the next person as it were and also. But he died in the saddle. I looked at Jewish leaders and I saw the same thing. Once they were in power they wanted to die in the saddle. I look at gurus and spiritual leaders and I saw the same situation. They had brought up a generation of wonderful, involved and engaged people and when the time came to let them take the reins, it was not right. It had a sense of laissez majeste. It was a how dare you in the life of your teacher take on the mantle of leadership. And I saw how they were going to seed, how they could not work within the framework of their teacher which was a pity because they had the energy, they had the power, they had the generativity to be able to take the path of the teacher further. But because it wasn't the right thing to do, so they were sort of suppressed in their work. And many of them had to find venues outside of ah their group in order to take on something of leadership. Often it seemed like rebellion and so on.
For me this was something of the same sort too. I felt that my teacher, Lebovitch Rebbe, he died at the age of 92 and until the very end was very much on top of that leadership. And I felt that it would be so much better for a teacher to spend his remaining years to prepare for his transition and to model eldering and to mentor the upcoming generation with the additional and extended skills that their new position in leadership ah would require. So that sort of set itself up for me as a goal. This is what I need to do. Along with that, came a sense that not only was I now not to be as active and expansive but I started to look at what Freud had called the death instinct, thanatos. Libido I had recognized in many of its forms in my loins and in creativity and in all kinds of ways in which I wanted to spread information because in a sense genes are information and mind is information and all that stuff was there. But how does thanatos work. I began to pay attention to that.
I felt that I had to come to terms first of all with my mortality. I remember one shabas afternoon I had taken a nap. I woke up and I looked at my body, my skin, my bones. I knew that some day they would not be able to hang together any more, that they would all come apart and they would be lifeless. And I had a certain sense of compassion for the body and at the same time I was grateful that it sustained me that long. But it was very clear that the body was a vehicle and that that would come to an end. And counselling with people, doing pastoral work, I often had to sit with people who would say, from the best of your knowledge what do you know happens at death and after death. And there is a place where you just can't bullshit, you know. It's easy from the pulpit to speak, you know, to give a funeral oration about all these wonderful things. But when you sit next to a person whose days are numbered, how are you to respond to that? One friend of mine his kidneys had given out and a transplant was not available. He was preparing to die. I remember when he asked me, what is it that I might expect, I said let's meditate together and we'll see. And it came to me that on the time line, we run out of time in a linear way and that at death there was a 90 degree turn. If all your expect is going to be this, it comes to a stop. But if you could see there are other dimensions then other things would happen and I shared it with them. And he felt helped by that. Since that time, I spent a lot of meditation about doing that turn. What happens when you do that turn.
So coming to terms with mortality is that. Then comes the question, what is essential? How do I value my time? And that becomes a burden. What should I do? Should I only do what's essential? Oh the workaholic loves that, you know. No time to hang out, not time to enjoy nature. There's so much to do and I have to run around and complete this and complete that and complete this and that. And that didn't feel right either. A balance had to be found. So this is what got me to look closer at what thanatos was about. And I realized that it wasn't the instinct for death. In other words, it wasn't something pulling me to quiescence, to just drop things. It was something that said, complete, complete, complete. Make sure what are the things that are really important for you to complete. And it kept on like a mantra speaking to me. Pay attention, complete what you need to do. What can you leave to others? What isn't your job? What is your job that you must do? And at times I wasn't quite sure what it was. But it became clearer to me that two things I needed to do. To help Judaism go through its process of renewal, to do some of the theoretical and practical work of that and to renew liturgy and ah Jewish spirituality. And on the other hand, it was really important to help eldering. Having taught at universities, I often met students who couldn't complete their work in time. So many of them had incompletes. They hung out over the summer sometimes for another semester afterwards and sometimds they were listed as failures because they didn't turn their work in at all.
Thinking about reincarnation, that's part of our tradition. My teacher once said something remarkable. He said, we believe in reincarnation but only a fool waits to start the next incarnation. After they die they can start the next incarnation any time. So that's a wonderful teaching. It has a sense of the right nowness. It's very existential that way. I began to see that the extended live span that we had offered us a different opportunity for life completion than we have ever had before. And here is where I remember Manitoba again. The only apples we had in Manitoba were crab apples. The summer didn't last long enough for the other things to ripen. And I had a sense that consciousness was like crab apples. And now that we are getting a longer summer and a longer ripening time that we might be able to grow better apples, more juicy and more nourishing apples. So I had the sense that many people had incomplete in the fall season of their life time. And I didn't want to have an incomplete here. So thanatos, old thanatos was very helpful in paring away inessentials and finally turning things over and creating that leadership vacuum so that other people could step in. And do the jobs that they had the interest, the motivation and the energy for and which allowed me to concentrate more on the issues of aging.
WOULD THE WORD CRISIS BE APPROPRIATE FOR WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH? THE POINT WHERE YOU ACTUALLY WENT OUT INTO THE DESERT.
Yeah, you see, the point is that when people speak of a crisis they pick the high point of the crisis and they don't see the iceberg of the crisis, you know. That place in which the crisis is gathering as it were, strength, momentum. So that what sticks out as crisis point has a lot of submerged stuff happening. Yes it was something of this sort on my 60th birthday that when I asked Jean Huston who I respect as being one of the ah - how should I say? - savants, a savant of our time. She has every cultural thing that's happening for us, she brings into her understanding of what the world is like and what the task of humanity is. She speaks about the possible human. So she and I had been friends for quite a while and here came the opportunity to ah ask her for suggestions. What do you think is worthwhile to do? She says, do one of those 40 day retreats. So I said should I do a Vippasana? She said you don't need to do that. You go off in a mountain some place. So Lama Foundation gave me the opportunity. There was a hermitage and so I spent time in that hermitage.
It was very clear to me when ah - how I ah - wore my beard and the garb of that particular branch of Hassidism and so on that this was not what I needed to continue with. I got a very strong injunction that I needed to have a hair cut and shave part of the beard and so on because if I wanted to survive I would not survive if I continued the role at the same pace that I had before.
About that time, one of my grandchildren was born in Toronto. And ah I was wondering would I be finished with my retreat in time for the briss, for the circumcision ceremony that would happen. And yes, it was, these 40 days were remarkable and I felt that I was surrounded by other elders, by spirits of other elders welcoming me into the elder circle. And about 5 days after I completed my retreat I was in Toronto welcoming my grandson and feeling very strong that I had taken a step over a threshold.
028 - ZALMAN INTV. PT. 3:
YOU SAID YOU CROSSED A THRESHOLD. WHAT DO YOU MEAN EXACTLY.
Something happens to people when they look different and when I looked in the mirror and I saw no longer the persona that I had cultivated, you know, to be the carrier of charisma and so on and what was staring back to me was somebody else. But a truer somebody else to my right now than I was before. And that also said to me something very important about my constituency. Before carrying ah full beard and side locks and the garb, that also meant a reach more into Orthodox observant groups of people, not that they were looking for instruction to me - there are many other people there - but it was like keeping that door open. The one who was looking back at me from the mirror wasn't the same kind of person as before. So that was a very strong reminder. There was also part of the 40 day thing was a fast, a cleaning - a cleansing fast. Lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne and ah that was important. So long walks in the forest, that was important. And just a lot of sitting and not talking. Writing in my diary and writing letters to the kids.
WHAT KIND OF LETTERS?
I thought back at each one of them - ah how do I know them? Who are they to me? Do I know who they are now or do I only know who they were then? And I wrote each one of them a letter. And later on after the retreat was over, I sent them the letter and I got some anxious phone calls, are you all right, you know. And I realized that we don't usualy pay that kind of attention to our relationships to children unless it gets to the time of saying goodbye. Well in a way I was saying goodbye to the papa and I was also setting them free. Another way by saying that now I'm moving to another place in life and I honour who you are and who you have become and who you have made yourself to be. It's like that statement that says, up to 35 the lines on your face are what your parents have left. After that you have to take responsibility for yourself. That's very much what it was.
Another thing about the threshold, I had a sense that I needed a new bar mitzvah. That ah the obligations that I had taken on now needed a reordering. Priorities needed to be reordered. Even the kind of prayer that I was involved in needed to shift. That in my private prayer I would have before recited a lot more than I did afterwards. I had a sense that less was okay but it needed another kind of awareness. So this business of awareness and extended awareness to go with the extended life span made me also a lot more concerned for humanity as a whole, not only our religion, our people, that that concern I felt needed a gathering of elders. Then I began to realize that it wasn't just chronological age that made someone into an elder. It needed tht conscious effort at self-transformation to become an elder. And so the whole notion of wisdom and elders, sage, looking in the mirror one day I asked myself, is this a guy whom I would consider a sage, you know. And ah I took to doing something that I got to feel good about. It sounds crazy. Sitting in the tub and holding a mirror in front of me and having a conversation with myself. I felt that most of the time I was so busy talking to other people. And then I asked myself, who could be a good spiritual guide for me, a good spiritual director. And then I decided this one, this person doesn't understand this part of me. So if I were to look for a spiritual director inside of my tradition, they wouldn't understand what my connections were with other traditions. And if I were to look for a spiritual director in other traditions, they wouldn't understand the whole network of relationships and living with the calendar that happens for me in the Jewish tradition. So ah one person would be too liberal, another person would be too reactionary for me. So I figured who would be the best person. Oiy, if I could only find somebody like me. So I decided (chuckles) to have dialogues with myself and that proved to be very fruitful because I knew that I would give good counsel to other people but I had never asked myself for counsel for myself. And it isn't the same thing as thinking what ought I to do but really to create this kind of mondo, you know, if you do this kind of dialogue. So that the one who asked the question and the one who responds become two different ones and the place of the one who responds is the richer one. At that time, Jean Huston had once taken us through a wonderful exercise in which we went back through time imaginely to a place of trauma in the past. And there from the awareness of the present consoled ourselves then, except that the then is still alive inside of me now. And it's remarkable how this healing of the wounded inner person coming from the adult of today is able to release right inside in the body in a very kinesthetic way some of the knots that are there from the past. And one day I held myself right after my my circumcision. I went back to that baby part from the adult part holding it, warming it, reassuring it.
Well another direction she took us was a direction to a realized self. Somewhere along the time line, past all incarnations and vicissitudes, there is one who is just about to enter into the final light, the final realization. And if I could have an appointment with that one, that would be wonderful. So one of the exercises we now use in the spiritul eldering work is that. You see, there is a level in which no guru, no other person can tell me the ultimate moves I have to make. They can lead me to some penultimate places and then they have to be very skilled and very wide feeling and wide thinking. But when it comes to the ultimate move, ah only that self that has made that move can make that move. So having access to that being within oneself and invoking them when I talk with myself in the mirror, that I found really helpful. And it told me some things that ah ah didn't come from the past. It didn't come from the tradition.
You know when it comes to visions, there is a wonderful phrase in the Bible about the elders and their vision. When it comes to visions, I felt that the visions came from the future. We have two words in Hebrew to the question, why. One word says what is the cause, why, the etiological why - how did it come about. And the other one, to what end. And part of the threshold move was to move from the etiological to the teliological(?) why. To what end, what's it all for? And I began to feel more input coming from the windshield than from the rearview mirror. And I found this a very important difference. And so too this had to do with meeting the sage at the other end of the road. So saging, becoming a sage, became really very important.
And I saw there was an aging population that was increasing in numbers and in confusion and without any roles in our society. People who knew nothing better but to become teenagers with white hair and the enclaves like Florida and what have you and ah not living who they could be, not living their potential. And I saw something else that had to do with the paradigm shift and with the global problem. Imagine you work on a computer and you come to some programs that are really complex and you want to execute that program and the computer will say, sorry, not enough memory there. In other words, you have to increase consciousness, have more RAM accessible in order to be able to deal with these problems. And I felt that our technology was a wonderful, wonderful place. We had great programs that had gotten us into this great trouble and in order to get out of that trouble, we didn't have enough RAM to manage that. Now think of that Random Access Memory and then I start to look at the fibres of society and so how short they had become and how necessary it was to be able to lengthen them to begin to see things in terms of 7 generations and the healing that the planet needed. And it was clear to me that if we human beings are the cells, the brain cells of the global brain, we are now in the planetary thing in the same place where the aged population is, the indiviual is in their own life. We need an increase of consciousness at this time. So saging - moving from aging to saging was an important thing not only for the individual to give the individual meaning for their life and also the right kind of entitlement.
You talk social insurance, social security when you think of that in terms not of money but social. What space is there for elders in our society? Well, people don't see them make a contribution. They see them consume vital resources and energy and not giving anything back. Well what showed - what I saw coming from the future was elder mind is needed, you know, like a requisition for elder mind coming from the future saying, if you want to save the planet you need elder mind, you need elder mind. And people had to be trained to become the elders that would be able to do that. So sitting in council together is something that was born out of that. And sharing and recognizing that as elders we talk to each other not in opposition but we say and, and we listen to each other and we recognize that it's not only, since we are holomnomic(?) beings, holographic beings which means you take one snippet of a hologram and the whole thing is contained in them. So the voice that I hear may not like the voice that I hear but it's my voice also. So that in the council of elders, something wonderful was happening, voicing.
My sense is that we needed to train and develop, as it were, mental and spiritual muscle to be able to create an endurance for council sessions. Today when we do them for a couple of hours, some people get bored. They don't see anything new. But my sense is that when you get to the second wind after the boredom, that's when the creativity kicks in and that's when we are able to operate as local area networks, as it were, to bring our mind and soul computers to work in tandem with each other on the great problems that we have. So this is how I moved from aging to saging.
THE SHORT VERSION. OKAY LET'S TAKE A BREAK.
When I first came to Winnipeg, I came to teach at the University of Manitoba in the department- and to head the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. There I established a Yiddish course, a language lab and all these wonderful things. Well during the weekend, people were, since it's largely a commuter school, most people went to the congregations they attended at home and I was free to serve congregations on Magnus Street. There were those congregations of the oldtimers who had lived in the lower North End for years. And they were wonderful people. Every day they were there for the service and ah they were wisdom keepers in their own way, in their own right. From one of them I learned old melodies. From another one I heard stories and ah there was this wonderful man who painted - who did the tinwork on the cupola of the Russian Orthodox church, a Jewish man from that congregation. These were wonderful people. And there was something there in those who came every time to participate in those services. Something held them together that was different than the people who didn't do that. There was one guy who would always come - first he would go to the sweat on MacGregor and then come in to synagogue after the services were over for the fellowship that came after the services. There I learned to respect him. There was also a matriarch of one family who was an amazing person again. All her children and grandchildren and so on and so forth, she knew how to deal with them. And like my mother of blessed memory who when she would light her candles on Friday night would spend about an hour and a half to two ours praying for each one of the children and grandchildren and great grandchildren as it went along. So here were wonderful models for eldering.
AND THAT WAS VERY MUCH PART OF THE JEWISH TRADITION IN EUROPE.
Yes and the self-help tradition that was there. The Hebrew Sick Benefit, for instance, people who would hire a doctor. I was the first HMO (chuckles) where people took care of health maintenance. You had to show up at least once a year so that you wouldn't get so sick that it would cost the society much more to take care of you. The Free Loan Association was another one of those things. And I know it was like this on the Jewish side and there was Olga and Vladimir for the Ukrainian population and they were doing the same thing, a lot of self-help. It would be a great model for today.
AND YET HAVEN'T WE LOST THAT TO A CERTAIN DEGREE?
Yes, we have lost that coherence. People moved out to the suburbs and ah those connections of clan and - well but not all of this was so good. There were also some situations that were difficult because if you belonged to that synagogue you weren't so friendly with the people who were at the other synagogue. And I'm sure that there were several Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox churches that were in the relationship to each other.
..... I HAD A GIRLFRIEND WHOSE FATHER IS HEAD OF THE UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN WINNIPEG. THAT'S ANOTHER STORY.
Well at the University of Manitoba, I had some remarkable connections with people in the religion department and then later on the extension department was so exciting during the early '70s. Allan Watts was invited at that time. Sam Keane was invited. And these were wonderful, wonderful things for awareness and for -
029 - ZALMAN INTV. PT. 4:
The numbers of people who are getting older are increasing in proportion, that never before on this planet have there been so many. And the question of their productivity is something that bothers people a lot. What would be the best public policy for them? And so with the best of intentions, people have figured, let's take this redundant population, warehouse them as comfortable as we can keep them until they die off. First of all, it's a fantastic resource that's not being used right. Many of those people are still capable of doing other things. Often they are embracing second or third careers at that time. When people used to say that they want to stay married until death do us part, death is not only physical death, very often after a life time, what used to be a life time before, a kind of emotional and interpersonal death had set in and new partners were chosen with whom one continues to live life together. So in all this it is so - it's coming to a crisis in time. I'm worried about the ...
So the sheer numbers of the people who don't have at this point a role in society. And what's worse, there's no model for this role. In indigenous societies there's always been a model for the wisdom keepers. Remarkable especially was the model that women after menopause, the crones in an aborigine clan held. They were the people who knew all those recipes and ways of dealing with things and who could look past the masks and the sham to the deeper ways and a clan would know that it was really important to consult with them. Now when you look at people who are looking for facelifts and for eternal youth and are afraid of what Betty Friedan called the aging mystique, then you see that creating, shaping a role is very necessary except where do you plug those people in and what you do with them.
So for all the legislations that are looking for the entitlements at this point, there are some people who say, why should we carry this burden on our shoulders. If they had made provisions for themselves before, good. And if they didn't, it's none of our business. Let the family continue to carry it. But the family has broken down. From the extended family and from the clan, we are down to the nuclear family and very often relationships between parents and children are very brittle. And if they exist, often they are antagonistic and painful and so on. So where should these people be?
In the homes for the aged, while these facilities have been through government decree and through their own intent have made things more comfortable and more sanitary as it were but often at times without regard for the individual freedom of the person. We heard of a person who was subject to a shower who had a phobia for water and is screaming at that time, dreading the shower that the nurse of the facility is going to subject her to. So when you see ah that with the best of intent the spiritual needs of these people are not taken into consideration. And the sense in which if people would in the contemplative way behold aging they would see that this has to do with harvesting life with life completion. So a good facility would be one that would permit the people to complete their lives. In order to be able to do that, people have to learn the tools for life completion. So as I divide a life time into a model of months of the year, I'm thinking of the October, November and December of a lifetime, it was clear to me that many people who are in the December of their life at this point would have a real difficulty unless they're very special people to be able to do their life completion with the tools that they have. But the people who are still in October could acquire the tools and in the November of their life they could become the wonderful social consciousness that would feed in that awareness for 7 generations to the planet and therefore create a real resource, a national treasure as it were, that deserves the entitlement or the support that is required to keep them alive and keep them productive. But the productiveness, the productivity is not in objects, the productivity is in holding the field for life, in keeping the mind space of that. And this is where we are thrown back always at the contemplative traditions of the past plus what we have learned from transpersonal psychology and now the currently emerging technology of brain-mind connections. So all this is really very helpful and in the facility of the future in which I would like to spend my last days when I would need to have the assisted care and so on would be one that would enhance all that sharing and mental and spiritual work that I'd want to do till that time. And some of it is not only to help the planet but really to bring a life to a completion so there is no incompletes left for a life time.
Take a look at the amount of moral and social pollution that we incur in a life time. To be able to clean up camp, you know, after (chuckle) you break camp is very important. And I think this is a model for the moral and the inner work that needs to be done at this time. So the large numbers of people who now don't have a model and don't have a task to do and they're seen as a burden to society have brought us to a crisis.
Another thing has happened to the planet that is necessary to be aware of and that is that we have seen earth from outer space. I don't think that there is an icon that is as powerful as that one that sees earth from outer space. There we don't see boundaries; there we don't see nationality. There we see a blue planet in which earth and sky and clouds and rain forests, all of this brings it together. It was as if earth is sending us a message, look at me and see what my needs are. You cannot destroy the environment in which you live. And this has become the great cry that you cannot miss when you go inside of yourself and still the mind a little bit. The messages of the future coming with that cry are very strong and very powerful. So there is a global crisis and there is the opportunity that elder mind is offering you.
Now let's see what else is taking place here. In order to feel that the experience of a life time isn't lost when I die, how can - where can I put it? Right now into this camera goes some of that experience and it makes me feel less anxious about dying because I've made a civilizational, cultural deposit which will continue to have its reverberation. People will hear this and will say, yes I understand that, I know that and that wave will continue. And so I feel that I have been used the right way. And nothing gives an elder deeper pleasure than the feeling that I am used the right way. I think it's for everybody the same way, not only for elders. But for elders this becomes the strongest things because it is the most holistic pleasure that we have. It isn't the pleasure of an organ or of a sense or of a feeling, it's a total pleasure. Who I am has now been used the best possible way. And when we do this together, the pleasure is double and when we do this in the larger elder group the pleasure is immense of that but it doesn't - it doesn't register as a sensation as it registers as a feeling and as an awareness.
So that brings us to the issue of when I say expanded awareness. What do I mean by that? Hmm. When I think of this moment and I see you and I and the crew here together, that's narrow focus. And when I think of this weekend and right now and the possibility of tomorrowing and the editing that will take place and finally the viewing that will take place and the viewers that are out there, then my horizon is expanded. And when my horizon expands so far that I go back to my experience of the oldest ancestor that I had and I go to the possible experience of my youngest descendant, then that crosses a fantastic time line and gets very large. Now I go and ask myself where have I been in my life? And I go back from the place of my birth in Poland, now Ukraine, and to where I've been in Israel and Brazil and Egypt, you know, in South America, in Canada, all those remarkable places where I've been in my life. And I now let my mind wander for a moment and embrace all those places simultaneously together and do this together with both a time and a space. What a horizon this is. Now I add to this what I understand of my own feelings and motivation and in the various places where I was of the feelings and the motivation and the people who I knew and their feelings and motivations. And of the books that I read and their content and I try and scan them all at once at this moment. How vast that is. And then I go to what I've read of history and I go back to the earliest history that I'm aware of and I bring this into focus now too. It is so vast. And when I ask the cells of my body that still have memory from amoeba times to right now, how vast that - how embracing that is, how immense that is.
So if I could stay in that mind-set and from this with my colleagues being the same mind-set consider the issues and the planets - the issues that are now around on this planet, could you imagine what kind of mind power, what kind of awareness there is. And now we are talking about U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia for instance. Could you imagine some people who have done this training to stay in such a level of awareness, who have put their affairs in order. At home I have a binder and that binder says, with the Hebrew word, ... - God forbid, you know, when something happens. And in there is from the cemetery deed to everything else that people will need to know how to get it together. Imagine a core of such people who have completed their stuff, who have reconciled with their children and grandchildren and people whom they have offended before and now this core is ready. And about a hundred of these people move in to Bosnia. And let's say three of us get chained now to an ammunition dump and we still say, but what you're doing is wrong. I don't mind dying. What you're doing is wrong. I bring to you an awareness. Could you hold my hand for a moment and tune in to what I see and what I think. I'm aware of your needs. I'm aware of the needs of the other people. Where do you think is equity in that, okay? Can you imagine Amnesty International holding the umbrella over an elder corps that is willing to step into such places. Moving to Tibet, for instance, taking a plane load of people coming to Lhasa and there to say, we are an international group of people and we are coming to witness what it is that you are doing. And we want you to know that we bring this awareness to you and we invoke Laotsu and Confucius and all the Chinese sages and all the beings of the Tibetan tradition to be in our mind-set at this point and we witness to you that what you're doing is wrong. And to be able to go to the Middle East and to do the same thing near the Gaza Strip. What an impact that would make. Everything that Martin Luther King tried to do with younger people, if this were done with elders, what an impact that would have. And so this is the hope that I have of the contribution that elders could make.
..... I THINK YOU DID A GOOD JOB OF EXPLAINING ....
People ask why do you use the word spiritual for the work in eldering that you do to call it spiritual eldering. And there is that part in which a person crossing the threshold into eldering asks him-herself, what is this all about? Why is there something rather than nothing. And the notion of who is God and what is God has by that time matured a lot from the cosmic
Santa Claus or the cosmic cop and there is a whole other sense of awe around. And making sense of life in relation to that and one thing to stay in a contiguous connection, being embraced by that, and yielding into that so that at the moment of passing into death one can relax and say, I'm glad to have participated in that cosmic show that's taking place, that's remarkable. And that's why this is spiritual. It isn't quite religious in the same way as we talk about religion. It has something to do with being integral to nature and it is the great yea saying to having been created and having been part of it all.
Now there are tools that allow us to get into those inner workings where spiritual takes place and they are contemplative but they are also not excluding of body. The whole notion that we used to have that body is separate from spirit does not quite work the same way because we experience the most deep connection with spirit right in our bodily existence. There is another thing that has to do with what's an organism. I am an organism but not only a physical organism. I'm an energy organism. I'm also a feeling organism and that is much larger because it embraces lots of people with whom I have feeling connection. I am a mental thinking, cognitive organism and that embraces all of awareness that is verbal on this planet but I'm also part of a spiritual organism -
030 - ZALMAN INTV. PT. 5:
In coming to terms with mortality and my mortality, I had to find out a little bit more about myself. I remember the title of a book, Who Dies?, by Steve Levine. And I spent a lot of time in the library reading about survival after death. You go to the library and read everything you can in 133 in the Dewey Decimal system and you see about spiritualism and all these wonderful things. And I was interested in parapsychology and spiritualism and so on, but beyond that I started to ask myself one day this question, who am I? Most of the time I had the notion I'm a person. But then I realized contemplatively, yes, that the person is only what I projected. Who am I? I'm an organism. And I realize that as I'm an organism that it's like a country. I'm a state, I'm a country. And there are parts of my constituency that hardly ever get to talk. And this was Dina Metska who brought this to my awareness. That I mustn't censor out some of the constituency of my organism. I began to see my physical organism much larger and what right each part of that organism had to speak. And then I realized that I'm not only a physical organism, I'm also an energy organism which is to say that it extends not only to my skin but beyond my skin like Kurlian(?) photography shows and it's very clear when I come into a room I can pick up the energy organisms of the people who are there. Sometimes you get to meet somebody who comes into a room and they are wonderful, nurturing energy givers. And then when people talk about vampires, I've experienced vampires. They don't go for blood but they suck up the energy in a space to themselves, for themselves, don't give anything back. Then there are some people who are toxic with their energy so there is also the energy organism. Bigger and beyond that is the organism of feeling of love and relationships that we have. And here I'm no longer an individual in that organism. When I become aware of that organism I get the sense that aboriginal people have of family, clan, tribe there. They are part of that feeling organism. When people speak of a universe of discourse, entering a universe of discourse, that's the mental organism and there are so many of these. And when they become fully enlarged and we can speak of a cosmos of idease and we are only talking about what happens on this planet can you imagine that concurrenty with mental productivity there are yet other planets. And that's also part of that organism because on that level we are not localized phenomena. We are beyond localized phenomena. Then comes that part in which we are part of a spiritual organism. And then I am just like a finger to the total body so am I part of the spiritual organism. And when I start looking at the fact that some day the physical organism will be sluffed off I no longer feel the dread of the other organisms to be passing at that time because it's really clear that I am participating in something much much larger. In Sri Aurobindo, you get a vision of that and some other mystics too.
OKAY.(END ZALMAN INTERVIEW)