Stephen Jenkinson writes about white folk who have lost contact with the web of all time and the cyclical pattern of existence.
Marshal McKuen made the distinction between circular and linear cultures.
Circular cultures are oral dominate and pass on knowledge through story-telling that codes the landscape with meaning, that sings to the ancestors, which maintains the connection of one generation to the other. Creative societal problem solving in a circular culture is focused on how to integrate with the changing environmental conditions and how to stay connected to the continuing cycles for generations into the future.
Linier culture is visual dominate, script writing, and oriented into the future, not the past, with an ambition to build more and bigger for short-term gratification. Problem-solving is focused around greater acquisition and having more dominance over the environment for the short term prosper.
Die Wise is Jenkinson’s tale and message of his own grief and frustration with dominant western culture’s emptiness in social - spiritual – community containers, linking how we die, how we care for the dying and how we carry the dead.
His words stream down from the mountain top. He implores us all to listen.
He says, Dying asks something from us. Dying is active. As much as birthing needs to be participatory for it to be a connective experience between baby and mother, so is dying. Just as we have birthing classes today, we need dying workshops to die in wholeness because we no longer have elders to show us the way. Similar to how we had lost the living memory of how to breastfeed our babies. Today, we no longer see the face of death in our culture, we no longer carry the dead ourselves and we hardly have time to care for those who are dying.
“Remember it is the living that need to care for the dead. Remember the skill of broken-heartedness.”
He repeats that dying is actually a goal, and a healthy one, as a result of living. Dying is meaningful and purposeful. But it is not easy. Why? Because we have lost the fundamental ceremony of initiation, orchestrating the ritual that will transition the initiate from one side of a dangerous stream to another. A birth is an obvious initiation into life. If mother and baby survive, they live on. We have come to expect that everyone will survive without a test to prove their worthiness of survival. Perhaps this sounds too harsh, too barbaric for our civilized minds, but look how we have become completely anesthetized to our expectations of life and our entitlement to what we should have – not what we should be skilled in, in order to survive. Adolescent initiation in traditional cultures involves a test of survival. If the individual survives, then he/she has proved to have the cultural framework, knowledge, spirit, values and skills to represent his or her people. They then can carry on and their human culture will survive.
Western dominant culture has lost much of this. Jenkinson points to trauma. Ancient, re-occurring trauma that has not been grieved – but has been run from to the point of homelessness becoming a dominant state of mind and the very reason we live out - of - balance to the natural world which includes our connection to our ancestors and our connection to dying as a part of the whole.
Each death is an opportunity to die well and learn the mystery of deep living, in the face of what often seems to rob life of its own depth.
What Jenkinson is pointing to is a reflection of the truth. His theories are uniquely his own. His stories do not prove his theories to be true. Theories are stories themselves. They simply exist.
Without saying so, he is a cultural anthropologist. He digs for the lost meanings and explores the paths of many wanderings, exploring how meanings got rubbed until their shapes turned into other forms.
His book is not about how we as humans have evolved to a higher status, socially, technologically or spiritually. Relating now to then and announcing that we are better than we used to be. Not Jenkinson. We have become empty-headed fools, who for all of our technology, education and mastery of the world, have lost our sense of indebtedness to life and to our sacred roots as a human culture. Orphan Wisdom is a process burned through hindsight and regret. Disconnected from the land and our ancestors our human survival has become plastic and we have come to see the world and our relationships around us as equally mutable in form and meaning. In other words, without a home and lost.
Jenkinson’s method of getting people’s attention is sometimes cruel. As if he is the hunter in his dialogue with others, hunting for their blind spot and then hanging them by it for the rest to witness. Maybe he does not see the self-sabotage in this? He loses the meaning of his message when his frustration takes over. Jenkinson is pointing at a truth but he neglects to deliver it with love.
Jenkinson turns away from western culture. He finds solace in elders from indigenous cultures that have stayed intact. The problem here is that he makes no mention of his appropriation of their ways or his initiation into their culture. Only that we should learn from his privilidged experience.
Yet if he were to look into his own European roots, he would find a rich fountain of myth, ritual and initiation that parallels indigenous streams of creation and thought.
What has come from eur-asian history is the art and science of astrology. Astrologically we are at a time when our feelings, intuition and the underworld are going to align us to our authentic, sacred path. Surface information will lead us nowhere. The silent radar of each individual is what is being developed.
Our seasons are a story of the cycles of life: birth, growth, aging and death and the stillness and storms of grief. It all happens before our own eyes. The mystery is located in the mundane.
We are at the ending of the Age of Pisces, a two thousand year time scape. We are wheeling into the Age of Aquarius, slowly processing our disappointments and illusions of the past and developing new perceptions.
We are being initiated into community (Aquarius). Death is the gateway as we come to our own rescue and truly become awakened. We are discovering that none of us have all the answers, each simply one voice among many. We are discovering our frailty, our unity in survival and our intra-dependence.