I turned 60 in April. My birthday came a few short weeks after intimately accompanying my Mum on her death-path and bringing the scattered threads of her long life together for her funeral in March.
I’ve crossed a threshold and my sense of personal authority is coming to life in new ways. I am curious about the application of my personal learning in all areas including, in this context, professionally.
In my line of work, approaches from clients are sometimes initiated when something is causing pain, has broken, or is no longer working as desired. Sometimes considerable resources have already been expended trying to fix and/or fight whatever is (or isn’t) happening.
At other ages and in different stages of my life, I have fought injustice and tried to fix what I perceived as broken. I pass no judgement on my younger self. She had no Elders, I respect her hugely and know she did the best she could.
However, at this age and stage of my life I am becoming an Elder. I am increasingly at ease admitting I am powerless to stop most things in the world that concern me. I am also aware of the importance and power of being fully present at times when there is nothing to say or do. This is not the same as hopelessness or lack of engagement. This was palpable as I sat with my Mother for two weeks while she was dying.
These days I see how fighting can be a way to maintain distance, to be separate, stay at a distance and hurl weapons to destroy what is beyond or outside of me without needing to change personally at all. And these days I see fixing as a way to impose my sense of what’s right without having to value or include other perspectives that would change or question my own.
I am exploring wrestling (rather than fighting) as a willingness to climb into the ring and fully engage, to hold in my arms, to intimately exchange sweat and tears and emerge transformed. To an onlooker, the lover and the wrestler can be hard to distinguish from each other.
Mending (in contrast to fixing) is acutely needed in times of intensity, because that is when delicate things can unravel. Mending is the capacity to patiently tend and weave threads in fabrics that want to continue to hold. There is great value in tending threadbare but beautiful fabrics of connection after storms have blown through and torn them.
So, mending and wrestling interest me these days. Stephen Jenkinson writes beautifully of how when wrestling with what truly matters, we grow muscles, and hurt in places we didn’t know we had. These muscles might be the as yet dormant aspects of our capacities needed in these times. Stephen Jenkinson also warns of the inevitability of losing by the “…. normal calculus of trying to engineer the life you’re sure you deserve. It will not come as you had planned….plans are usually the first casualty of the (wrestling) match”.
Can we celebrate the authority that comes from standing in the wreckage of certainty, the wreckage of culturally endorsed ways of doing business, and the wreckage of unsustainable practices? What if while we wrestle with what matters to us in our places of work, along with getting sweaty and stained with tears beyond our own, and dirty in the dust of so much of what has been all coming to ruin, we also begin to see great gifts emerging from the rubble of past certainties?
In his last column for the Guardian, Steven Thrasher writes of sitting in the final days of the life of someone he loved and the power in times when there is nothing to say or do. There is grace in admitting when there’s nothing we can do to stop the death of someone we love. And, this can be the most extraordinary gift we can give.
Another recent article by writer Neville Ellis speaks to the impact of climate change: “Just as grief over the loss of a loved person puts into perspective what matters in our lives, collective experiences of ecological grief may coalesce into a strengthened sense of love and commitment to the places, ecosystems and species that inspire, nurture and sustain us.”
In times of unravelling and breakdown, those who are willing to wrestle and mend will find that what remains is what was true all along. As far as I can tell, what truly matters is all to play for in these unsettling times. And the wisdom to know how to let go while investing in what can’t yet be seen may make all the difference.
I am eagerly turning towards what it means to become an Elder personally and professionally. I will not be retiring any time soon; I sense my most useful work is ahead of me. It lies in my ability to wrestle and mend and call time on fixing and fighting.