On Elderhood

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“Elders are the axis mundi of our mutual life”

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That is a quote from Stephen Jenkinson’s new book Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. I’ve interviewed Stephen twice before, the first on the issue of ‘right livelihood‘ and the second around the question, ‘Am I ready to teach?‘. As his new book, quotes above, just came out and he is about to hit the road with a North American tour, I thought that the time might be ripe for another interview on this topic of elders.

Because, after all, if elders are so important, then where are they?

This seems to be the central question Stephen is asking and wondering about in his book and it’s a question I see many of my clients wondering about too. Most of them, on their healing journeys, were without the kind of ongoing, deep, sustained, cultural guidance that they now do their best to offer. Most of them did not grow up with any real elders in their lives. Almost all of them have met trainers, workshop leaders, healers, self proclaimed gurus and the like, but that’s different than what Stephen is describing above: the axis mundi of our mutual life.

“An elder Abkhasian woman who was famous for knowing many curses was asked what was the most terrifying curse than can be placed on a human being. Her answer, ‘Let there be no old folks in your house to give you wise counsel, and no young people to heed their advice.” – John Robbins, Healthy at 100

So, what happened? Stephen explores this in his new book, but for this interview I wanted to explore the relationship between the lack of elders we see and the growth of the personal development movement.

The absence of elders from the scene feels important precisely because it is not registering as important for most of us in this dominant civilization. That’s the most compelling evidence there might be that the curse this old Abkhasian woman describes is in full effect. The spell and been cast like a net and we are all caught in it unawares.

Stephen often says that ‘food makes hunger’. You forget you’re hungry until the scent of food being cooked in the kitchen reaches your nostrils.

And then it all comes at once.

You’d gotten so caught up in whatever you were doing that you’d forgotten to eat. Or, you’d been eating the cotton candy, fast food diet of this culture and, while you forgot what real food was, your body did not. It remembered the moment it smelled it.

I think many of us in this modern, dominant culture of North America, walk around with a deep ‘elder hunger’ but we don’t recognize it as such until we meet someone willing to elder. And so, I believe that this book, a visitation of eldership itself, will make hunger.

Stephen makes the case that waking up to this hunger and learning how to contend with it well might be one of the most needed things in this time and place we live in.

Stephen offers no easy answers but instead, urges us to wonder: What is an elder? What is it that crafts an elder? Can one simply pronounce one’s self to be an elder? What does an elder do? Is elder a noun (something you are) or a verb (something you do)? Where have the elders gone? Why did they go? Why aren’t they appearing now at the time when the world needs them most? Why do we have more old people now than we’ve ever had and yet so few elders? How could it be that we’ve had a hundred years of books on personal growth, personal empowerment and leadership, a rapidly growing industry of therapists, ‘shamans’, healers and life coaches, more seminars and retreats than you could shake a stick at, and yet so few elders? What do we do with our hunger for them once it appears? How is it that the elder has become an archetype and no longer a part of the architecture? How has it come to pass that we are instructed to find our inner elder but there is no real-world, institution of elderhood? And, perhaps most importantly, what might it take to conjure the practice of eldership into this world again?

I look around me and I see an immense amount of resentment of young people towards old people today.

I see old people seeking for elders themselves or for someone to recognize them as an elder.

I look around me and see the hunger for convenience, efficiency, ease, freedom and ‘more’ but perhaps we might be better served to open the pages of this book and see if a certain relationship to this old, human hunger might help us conjure the food that the soul of our culture so desperately needs.

I’ll sign off here with another quote from Come of Age. It’s a question, “What will hold the young people in good stead?” I believe that Stephen’s book and his life has been his answer to this question and the invitation to craft our days so that it might be the same.

Note: I wrote this as if you’ve read Come of Age. If you haven’t, buy the book and reread this interview. You’ll see new things you missed the first time.

To Listen to the Recording of This Interview Click Here

And before you dive into the interview, I invite you to listen to the opening track of a CD recorded from their last tour – Nights of Grief and Mystery by clicking on the album below…

Tad Hargrave: Welcome everyone. This is Tad Hargrave from www.MarketingForHippies.com and I am here today with Stephen Jenkinson who is the author of the book Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. Welcome, Stephen.

Stephen Jenkinson: Tad, thank you.

Tad: You write so beautifully in your book about elderhood and the function it plays in the lives of many cultures, some still and in our own cultures in times past, the consequences of its absence, and how it might have come to be that we are where we are. When I think about these cultures, where that function of elder is still intact, it seems that we’re a long way from Kansas – at least in North America these days. We seem to live – first of all, if you’re listening and you haven’t gotten a copy of Stephen’s book Come of Age, I urge you to get a copy, and if you go to get it. If you get it in a bookstore, you’re going to find that book in or near a section called personal growth. It seems that there’s some relationship of … when there aren’t elders in our midst, we seem to have this swelling raft of life coaches, therapists, semi-qualified gurus, YouTube personalities, and workshop leaders. I’m curious for you, what do you see when you look out and see that? When you see the size of half the book store in a lot of bookstores, I’m curious what your read on that is?

Stephen: First of all, that might be the only kind of bookstore there is anymore, with a fiction section tacked on the back side of it as if you can distinguish the fiction section from the self help section which I’m not persuaded that a distinction should be made between those two enterprises. There’s a lot of fiction involved in both of them.

First of all, I don’t see the characterization that you made, that there is a conscious awareness and something approaching mournfulness or a lament about “no elders in our midst.” I don’t think that’s a shared take, largely because I don’t think people have looked at it and decided otherwise. I think there’s absolutely no attention given to that question, that possibility, that rupture, that lacuna in the cultural life or whatever we have instead of a cultural life.

“So, there’s the first dilemma is that the absence of elders doesn’t detonate, doesn’t register.”

So, there’s the first dilemma is that the absence of elders doesn’t detonate, doesn’t register. It metastasizes, and you’ve described one of the tumours that people will pay for tutelage, if you will, but the understanding of what the actual qualities of the tutor might be is do they have a website or is your friend going, or do people testify to having appeared at these things with a deeply enhanced sense of purpose and reason, and give a shit, and some clarity about how to giddy-up because that’s obviously what sells, right?

Nobody goes to an event to have the world changed in a way that changes them, in a way they didn’t count on, not from what I see. All of this is to say, when I look out on this thing, I have kind of a second order malaise over and above the one that you described which is I wonder when and if, or even should the dominant culture of North America actually long after elders.

I don’t think that’s operative but it has a lot of consequences. The failure to identify that and to legitimately long for something that you’re not going to get, in all likelihood, is something I deeply recommend but I don’t see it practiced very much. I have to stand up there night after night, day after day, and week after week at these events and actually make the case for a kind of catatonia about this thing, a functional coping catatonia, which is what I think all the self help thing is.

Particularly, I don’t know what to call it. Let’s just call it a dangerous emphasis on growth. It is after all called the personal growth or the human potential, or the humanist tradition, whatever you want to call it, but all of those imply that you’re probably not good enough as you are, which, okay, that’s not an unreasonable take, depending on what the criteria are.

But, then the prescription is ‘more’. The prescription is never ‘less’. I don’t think, not that I’ve ever heard – I was talking to a guy whose kids were coming, let’s say eight, nine, ten years old, somewhere in there. We were talking about parenting and the slings and arrows of it all.

He was deeply motivated in the conversation by misgivings about whether or not he would be able to provide for them, the standard provider-gene dilemma that was coming up in the conversation. I don’t know what possessed me but I dropped this in to the midst of his lament.

I said, “Do you know, if you really want to love your kids in a way that’s contemporary and responsible both, you might consider a strange truism. Your kids deserve less than you had when you were their age.” There was absolute silence on the other side of the phone. It just didn’t go anywhere at first.

“Your kids deserve less than you had when you were their age.”

Your kids deserve less than you had when you were their age. Of course, when you start working on it, I think quietly it begins to move inside you but it sort of categorically, it’s apostasy frankly. Then you just tie a couple of things together, and it’s not. It’s a well wrought necklace, and it goes like this.

Well, the world that we have, the corner of the world that I live in is a direct consequence of several generations feeling the obligation as young parents to provide their children with more than what they had. The more is the devastation of the world. That’s where the more comes from. Period.

There’s not a lot to negotiate about that. That’s the mania and that’s the consequence. At the very least, your children – and I use the word deserve deliberately – they deserve less, not in a sense of deprivation less but in the sense of less bloating, less swelling, less walking in your own footsteps.

This is what the growth mania predicts for us all is we become more of ourselves. No matter that if people veer away from the material increment of that, still in all, the notion of growth does not imply reduction, diminishment, thinning out, winnowing away, being reduced in place and time. None of that is included.

If it does include it at all, it’s a preliminary stage from which you enter into ever deeper swaths of more, of growth and ‘if you’re not busy growing, you’re busy dying’ apparently to paraphrase Dylan. I guess my case on the whole matter is I take my cue from wine in this regard.

I wrote about it in that book. Thank you, by the way, for the acknowledgement of the quality of writing. I don’t know if that’s a boon or a challenge, or even some way that makes the reading and entering into the sorrow of it perhaps more difficult. I don’t know. In that, I wondered about wine.

I should say that I’m not a wine guy. I can’t talk about all those adjectives about wine but I’ve come to appreciate it in the second half of my allotment. I didn’t know anything about it. I thought it was either red or white, or black or white for that matter.

I’ve learned that there’s a subtlety and there’s a universe in there, and I’ve come to appreciate it, and the devotees and the rest. For all of that, we could be really deeply educated in this fashion. Let’s say you start out ten years ago with 100 gallons of grape juice, and whatever else gets added.

You’re ten years down the road, if you can afford to keep it in a bottle for ten years as a vintner. Let’s imagine that you’ve come up with some extraordinary wine over that ten year period because the vintage was kind to you, and the barrels were kind, and whatever else the reasons are.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the only way you got good wine from grape juice is that you ended up with less wine, and that’s how you got it, less wine. In other words, the only way to get something that good is to give up in volume what you gain in depth. In other words, the recipe there is clearly for diminishment in wine and perhaps in life too.

There’s something about depth that requires diminishment because failing that, you opt for growth. You become more capable as you go along, and I don’t know where this more is supposed to come from but like all acquisitive projects, there are holes left in the ground by virtue of your insistence on becoming all you could be.

There are holes left in the ground, and the basic humanist orientation simply is not having that, but any other program for growth, be it economic or recreational, look around and in five seconds, you’ll see a direct consequence somewhere in the world for your ability to have a recreational weekend, or whatever it might be.

There’s no program for more that doesn’t take from somewhere to contribute to the more-ness, it seems to me.

Tad: This is something I’m curious about because the orientation of so much of the new age or personal growth scene we’re talking about says, “Okay, we’ll acknowledge that there are holes in the ground and that there are troubles in the world, and the best way that we can contend with that is to put on your own oxygen mask first and to heal yourself, and that will inevitably lead to the healing of others and the world.” You don’t seem particularly convinced of that approach is my sense. I’m curious what your understanding of that is.

Stephen: First of all, the notion of healing yourself is hilarious frankly. I mean, that’s like changing your mind. It’s easy to say, and it’s not a matter of changing attitude. Changing mind is fundamental. It’s an architectural alteration that requires building permits when we’re talking about the psyche.

“the notion of healing yourself is hilarious frankly.”

Very simply put, if the enterprise is to change your mind, the question becomes who is doing the changing. The answer is you but okay, is that different from your mind? The mind that you propose to change, is that the one that’s doing the calculation for the change, that’s itemizing what kind of change and what kind of increment, and how far, and how long, and why?

Does the unchanged mind register the need for a change to the mind? Does it? How could it? It may identify itself as unhappy but this is something else. Changing mind is not changing the weather. It’s changing the architecture, it seems to me.

That’s the first dilemma is that there’s an unchanged mind simply generates from the kind of inner architectural digest magazine, the favorite kitchen and the favorite entrance way of one’s psyche and one’s soul. That’s where the notion of change comes from.

There’s a paradigm program. The problem is that the perception of the change needed comes from the unchanged. Then every prescription, every recipe for the change carries this germ of the unchanged in it, and you’re not five seconds away from what I’ve come to call junky wisdom in this regard.

Every junky knows that he or she should stop using, and they all have a solution for how to do that, at least on their better days. Every one of the solutions includes the junk. I can’t escape the parallel between that and the self help movement, or the self improvement brigade. I can’t.

The parallel is so exact and so broad that it’s inescapable. That’s not to say that your mind can’t be changed but you can’t do it yourself. It’s one of the reasons there are other humans in the world at a given time is that your world and your life is changed as a consequence of the presence of other people in it, not fundamentally as a consequence of your withdrawal into the pristine event that you have yet to become.

At least after 64 years of looking around, that’s the way it occurs to me. I think it’s fundamentally irresponsible to enter into a deal, a kind of Faustian deal that you make with yourself that says, “I know the world is in rough shape. I know my corner of the world has benefitted fiercely and unfairly, and we’re beginning to bear the signs now. That’s all true, and I feel the personal increment of that fiercely. So, what I’m going to do is withdraw from the fray and leave it to the rest of you, and I will self improve. And once I’ve done that to my apparently to my own satisfaction, you can count on me and I’ll be in for the duration,” although I don’t really hear those kinds of vows.

I’m imagining that that’s the imagining of why one works on oneself, and we ask the world to wait, or we ask the workers that are left to keep working, and apparently they’ve worked on themselves, and that’s why they’re continuing to work whereas I wouldn’t assume that for a second. At some point, there’s a choice that has to be made in a time like the one we’re in.

“There’s no retirement from the siren song of a troubled time.”  excerpt from Come of Age

We have, as the book title so gorgeously has observed, we’ve had over 100 years of psychotherapy in the west, and the world is by every measure in worse shape than it was, during the same period of time in which we’ve relished in self discovery. Now, I’m not saying it’s a simple cause and effect because it’s a complicated thing to observe but I’m saying this… that the willingness of western people to disappear or to retreat for considerable periods of time because the news is too bad, because there’s too much information – whatever the motivations are – leaves the field cleared for the convicted, for those utterly and absolutely convinced. These are the ones that Yeats was talking about in The Second Coming, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Alas, I have from time to time, and I don’t brag about it a bit. I’ve wrestled with myself about teaching at sort of retreat centers and things like this, and I haven’t felt that it’s a good thing to do. On occasion, I’ve done it because I wanted to find out how wrong I could be about that estimation.

Alas, I found that I wasn’t wrong about it, in principle at least. I offer this little exercise up to you, and I’ve been tempted to do it. I’ve never done it. Someday I think I will, to take the season’s offerings from a given retreat center or self help emporium and simply clip out the names of the seminars or the sessions – just the names, no other identifying information at all – and put them in a hat, walk out into the street somewhere, and shake up the hat, and ask people to reach in and choose three of these things.

Then they read them and you ask them, “What are these? Where do they come from? What are they about?” Anyway, I want to do it because I want to hear what the person on the road is likely to say about them. My guess is that there would be very little inclination to guess that these were recipes for becoming a better you.

Tad: You’d referenced James Hillman and Michael Venture’s book, and I’m curious what you see as the difference in functions, I know you worked as a counselor for awhile, and now I see you experience you, and I know many others do as well, playing this elder function very beautifully in the world. I know you’ve been on the receiving end of that as well. I’m curious how you would articulate the difference in the functions between therapist or counselor, or things in that vein and this function of eldering.

Stephen: That’s a good question. I’m going to have to think about it by answering. First thing is I wouldn’t want to drive a hard and fast wedge between those two functions. I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic about it and not be able to imagine the people whose business card says counselor or something are not capable of the elder function, or vice versa.

Maybe we could talk in a general way about what tends to characterize counseling in a general sort of way. It seems to me that you’re unlikely to make much of a living as a counselor if you do not engage, pretty thoroughly, in an act of clear and consistent corroboration. I just can’t imagine it working out for you.

What would the word-of-mouth be on you if you were not engaged in corroborating people’s basic take on life and what’s necessary, and how to get there, and things of that order? I don’t think the word would be very kind about you.

I learned this, frankly, in the death trade. This is where it occurred to me, where I realized that the basic counseling dynamics and paradigms were grotesque parodies of what dying people deserve from us, largely because dying people aren’t customers, so they aren’t to be satisfied whereas in the counseling game, there is a degree of customer so there’s a degree of customer satisfaction.

Even if you try to do it an end run around it, you’re going to recraft it so that you’re secretly satisfying the secret customer by overtly subverting the overt customer. Do you see what I mean? By prescribing things like ‘becoming comfortable with your discomfort’ as one of the classics, whereas you’re still trafficking comfort but you’ve introduced discomfort as one of the ways to become comfortable.

“It’s an utter shell game.”

It’s an utter shell game. All of this is to say two things. I had a gig on the weekend in Toronto, and I was introduced – it was a very kind introduction, and rather lengthy, so very hard to live up to, at least for the following two hours because you need a few years to live up to a lively introduction. It puts you in a bit of a hole.

One of the words she used to describe me was ‘visionary’. I don’t know why but I took that one on when I stood up, and I thanked her very much. I said, “As to the visionary thing, I’m just not persuaded about it. It’s rather lofty but divisionary maybe. It seems to me that that’s what I’ve become, not a visionary so much as a divisionary, and trying to live up to that.”

I took my cue from the death trade wherein I began to understand that people deserve things from us that they would never ask for. They deserve to die well when their intention was not to die at all. Okay, so how do you possibly get return business, generate return business, leaving aside the dying aspect of things?

How do you get return business when your fundamental obligation is to subvert people’s root conviction about what they deserve, about what life is for, about what this time of life asks of you, your fundamental obligations as a citizen, your obligations to the generations to come? How are you going to get anybody to come back if you take these things in hand when they’re not asking you to do it, because of course they come to you as a counselor with some degree of personal torment that’s brought them there?

“How do you get return business when your fundamental obligation is to subvert people’s root conviction about what they deserve?”

Then over and above all of that, you have this frankly terrible dilemma – at least to me it is – where you are about to send the person, whatever changes you were able to engineer in their psyche, out into the world, an unchanged world, the very world and its unchangedness that drove them to your door in the first place. You’re about to cast them loose into the same unchanged place. There’s just something about that conceit that I can’t abide. That’s all. I’m not saying nobody else should but I can’t. I can’t practice that way. I can’t see the world that way.

Now let me bring in the world elder here and imagine that it is in the function of elderhood, that it’s not activated by personal unhappiness, that it’s not geared to personal satisfaction because fundamentally elder is not a personality. It’s not a character type. It’s not a particular wrinkle of personality.

It’s not in that sense in any way unique. In living cultures, it’s a position if you will. It’s a kind of status. Minus that, you can still talk about it. I talk about it as a function instead of as an identify. In a world of ‘identify politics’, this is an extraordinarily radical proposition.

The function among others of elderhood is to subvert identity mania because elderhood itself is not an identity. It is when things are going well, the end of fixed identity. How does that happen? It happens because elderhood is, first of all and lastly, a child of its time.

The particular responsibilities that befall elderhood all are derived from the particular dilemmas of the time that the elder is born into. As such, the elder’s own personal life is simply a cipher or kind of a temporary surrogate until the elder catches wind of the prevailing currents of the time.

That’s where the elder’s jobs and responsibilities are derived from, from what prevails, not from personal needs, longings, hurts, slights, sacrifices, or diminishments. If I put all that together, that’s why I said I’m not saying the two functions couldn’t find their way towards one person’s work.

I’d love to believe that that’s possible. The fact that I haven’t seen it very much doesn’t mean that it’s not out there but I would say that there’s something about counseling in its way that does remain mired in the idea that you have to gain the confidence, trust, and so on of the client whereas in the circumstance of elderhood, one of the elder’s jobs is to subvert the usually occurring understanding of what constitutes trust, just for starters.

Elders are not trustworthy by an unexamined understanding of what trust is.

Tad: I’ve heard you speak about older people appearing at your events and wanting some sort of stamp of approval or certification that they are indeed elders, and wanting to be recognized in some way, validated, and yet this doesn’t seem like any manner of eldering to be obsessed with, “What about me?” and at such a late stage in life. I find myself thinking about that question that Parzival asks the Fisher King, or one of the versions of it when he asks finally, “Whom does the grail serve?” I find myself wondering whom or what does eldering serve? What is it that eldering sustains? What flourishes, if all goes well, in the presence of eldering if it’s not ‘me feeling comfortable’?

Stephen: If eldering is prevailing, there’s not much eldering going on. Why? Because it’s the elder’s principal responsibility to work themselves out of a position. If they’re doing their job well, there’s no job to do. Why? Because the fundamental understandings of the time have been democratized, that’s why, not that they’re evenly distributed across the culture but if the elder function is in full effect, it becomes so sublime as to it’s kind of hard to register, and it’s indistinguishable from old people sitting there leaning on something, appearing not to do very much. Let me take about two minutes to elaborate a kind of envisionable story. There’s the idea out there that elders are somehow inherently strong and capable but you could easily imagine elderhood or elders as being exemplars of failure and ruination.

“If eldering is prevailing, there’s not much eldering going on.”

They actually provide active and mandatory instruction in the nuances of failure, the understanding being that wherever humans are wildly successful at what they want to be successful in, the world almost inevitably suffers as a consequence. At the end of the day, to answer your question way back when, an elders principle job is that they’re anointed by the world and by their times.

That anointment is recognized by the culture but not initiated by it. The culture employs the anointed status that the world confers upon the capable elder. This is how the world continues to appear in the elder function, the nurturing after the world, the concern after the natural order of things.

One way you could understand this is probably like you, I’ve been in more than a few dentists’ offices, looking at old copies of National Geographic. In these copies, sooner or later you will find yet another “lost civilization” as they’re typically called where they’ve been digging around and they just can’t figure out what happened to these people. Of course, climate change or degradation of the soil are the usual culprits.

There’s no thought apparently lent to the considerably likely possibility that deeply cultured people cottoned onto the idea that enough of them were in the same place for a fixed period of time, that had a degrading consequence upon the place they claimed as their home, and they were claimed by.

In other words, their love of the place that they called their home eventually turns into a willingness not to be there. That’s sort of the more radical expression of a love of a place is to leave it alone and not to occupy it. This never comes up in the writings about it. It never comes up as an aspect of philosophical enquiry. Why not?

Generally speaking, it’s because our understanding of growth is incremental and acquisitive. Our understanding of love is attachment and increase, a spooky parallel to growth. There’s no notion whatsoever that an act of love could include parting from that which you love for the sake of that which you love.

That I would submit to you is an elder function, to see that necessity rising on the horizon and to deeply advocate for it. That’s what happened to some of those people in some of those places, that they looked up one day and realized that it wasn’t working, because it was, and because of that, “For God so loved the world,” I think that’s somewhere in the New Testament.

How about this? Cultured people so loved the world that they’re hard to find, they don’t stay in one place for untold generations. It’s a very strange and sort of mournful proposition but I’m suggesting to you that it is in the realm of the elder function to be willing to see the deeply unwelcome proposition that our well-intended presence has a kind of deleterious consequence that we simply don’t calculate.

It asks us to see it and to respond accordingly, lovingly, not self-hatred wise, not misanthropicly but lovingly. Misanthropy is a human’s response to our excesses and the irony about misanthropy is it’s another human excess. It’s so wretchedly unnecessary and so apparently called for but if you look around, you don’t see much of a world affirming things that comes out of misanthropy.

“Misanthropy is a human’s response to our excesses and the irony about misanthropy is it’s another human excess.”

As it happens, humans are only incidentally the victims of our excesses, only incidentally, the world considerably so. Yet it would not appear that there’s any life form in the world that has generated misanthropy as a response or as a solution to our excesses. The only life form on the planet that seems to have come up with that solution is guess who – those who are occupying the anthropy scene.

You could say self hatred is another aspect of our excess and another form of our self absorption continuing to make us a clown of creation inadvertently.

Tad: It’s interesting when you speak about the need to see this and see it lovingly. I was reflecting a few weeks ago about this theme that I see in all of your books. There’s a thread that seems to go through all of them. The first, there was How it All Could Be but then there’s the book about money, and then there’s the book about dying, and now this book about elderhoodI know you have a book coming up around matrimony. The theme that I see is that all of these are artifacts of culture. There’s a way, and I’ve heard you speak about this. It’s such a compelling approach, this way of looking at things prismatically. I remember you speaking about dying and how you could see the dominant culture of North America there at the bedside, and often in the school I hear you speak about, “It’s all here in the room. We don’t need to go anywhere,”. I think of the Dark Side of the Moon album cover where the light is going in the one side of the prism and comes out refracted on this other side. We can see the constituent elements of the light just like your books help us see the constituent elements of the artifacts of this culture (i.e. in money, dying and elderhood). This to me has been one of the more profound pieces I’ve had the pleasure of being on the receiving end for you, this capacity you have to see things prismatically; to see the culture in things. That’s the theme I see in your books, the capacity to look at ordinary things in a prismatic way and thus to really see them for the first time. I find myself wondering because this is the type of thing that people could be doing with any part of this culture, any work that they are engaged in. There’s the capacity, the possibility of seeing that thing, be it massage, woodwork, life-coaching, crafting, permaculture or more, in a prismatic way. I find myself curious how you came to that way of seeing and if there’s any wisdom you would share with people about how to see things in that way or what questions might be asked. How does one learn to do this?

Stephen: Well, it’s probably extremely expensive which is one of the reasons that it’s rare, if you say that it is. It’s extremely expensive in the sense that it’s relentlessly revealing of what would rather stay in the shadow. It’s a very costly enterprise to wonder, and then again to wonder about your wondering.

It’s not uncertainty, nor is it its opposite. It’s a kind of, I don’t know, devotion I suppose. We’re not in the most devout of times. We’re in a time that’s riddled by certainties of conviction and prejudice, but that’s not what I mean by devotion.

I think the way it probably came to me, certainly I didn’t pursue it because I never would have known anything about it and I certainly was not “instructed” in it because this is the undoing of it. If you’re not exposed to the practice of it, there’s no way for you to come to it.

Minus the practitioners, you have only teachers. I guess I would put it this way. What I was lucky enough to be in on from probably a very early age is stories of all things, and stories are not just ‘one thing after another’. Stories have a very particular arc or you could say only stories have arc.

Arguments don’t. Diatribes don’t. They have intentions. They have sometimes diabolical strategies but there’s nothing strategic about a story. A story has a kind of arc that’s somewhat user friendly but absolutely world friendly. There’s something about the arc of a story that is as naturally occurring as snowfall or the rain that’s falling just outside the door as I’m talking to you now.

“A story has a kind of arc that’s somewhat user friendly but absolutely world friendly”

Naturally occurring doesn’t mean without consequence, by the way. It doesn’t mean benign but it certainly means that it’s in the order of things, that stories virtually seem to tell themselves although God knows they need a good teller, and they need a good hearer to appear as a story. I was exposed to the arc and the lilt of storyness or storydom, or something from a very early age.

Of this I’m fairly certain because I’ve never not heard that way. It’s in my ear, not a particular story, but storyness is in my ear and everything is available to me that way. I’ve found that people credit me with a certain capacity for memory but it’s not a factual memory.

The memory that I have is a kind of nuanced Geiger counter of ‘story movement’. That’s how I remember things, because the story suggests in almost a serpentine fashion what preceded the moment that you’re enquiring after right now, and with enough attention to that, the story begins to suggest to you something about the moment that you have not quite arrived at yet.

There’s at least three increments ongoing at any given moment that are available to you, not quite past, present, future, what we normally mean by those terms but certainly they’re in there. I did an interview years ago on a little radio station. I came in and sat down.

The first thing the guy asked me was, “So it seems you’re capable of slowing down time,” which wasn’t really a question. It rather stymies what the proper answer should be but I think this is what he was talking about. I think he meant something like this.

When you’re talking about a given thing, certainly not all the time but if I’m on my game, let’s say, then there’s something in this storyness that, if we enter into it together, you can feel the thickness or the thinness of different kinds of time. You can feel the current and the currency of those different kinds.

They’re not all the same. They don’t move all the same way. They don’t have the same consequence for you. Maybe that’s what he was talking about. Certainly, that’s the way it appears to me. There’s clusters of times, and then sometimes they thin out to the point where they’re almost negligible.

If anybody is interested, though I wouldn’t know why after that description but if they are in pursuing this particular way of coming to things, prismatic sort of attention span as you’ve described it, then they could do worse and probably have done than to attend to stories, not for their own sake, not as decorative things but as a kind of an alchemy.

In that sense, it seems to me that maybe elders have a similar consequence simply by their elder function. They have a kind of alchemical consequence that ensues from them, that’s beyond inspiring or dispiriting. It’s simply beyond the realm of whether you welcome it or not.

It kind of mobilizes you in ways that would never have occurred to you, either to approve of or disapprove of. Stories and elders in that way, they’re kind of one recognizes the other. It’s no surprise that elders are fundamentally storytellers.

If you just take the Jesus example, he was a little young so he probably doesn’t qualify for the elder status but in the formulations that you read in the New Testament, he’s asked a question. It’s usually a question that’s designed to back him into a corner or get him some sort of logical impossibility to ponder.

“Who is my neighbor? Who am I supposed to pay this money to in taxes?”, or half a dozen other things, and he responds as, “You’ve heard the one about…” like that. Who knows if that actually went the way it went but the fact that that passed through God knows how many iterations before it was approved of as the canonical declaration of what Jesus actually said, and so many of them remain stories, palpably stories.

They call them teaching stories but there’s no such thing. That’s not what stories are. If they’re teaching, then they’re kind of finger wagging, and that’s not a story because a story doesn’t need a finger to wag. A story just says, “Well, there’s this guy walking down the road. Some strangers came upon him and beat him up, left him there for dead,” and you’re thinking, “My God, this is the answer to my question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’”

The point is, you’re still not told who is your neighbour because the story simply steps outside of the terms and conditions that your little question dictated. It simply steps around them and proceeds to tell the story, and invites you reinhabit the narrow confines of your question once the story is over, if you insist.

Otherwise, it gives you another kind of universe to inhabit where cause and effect are not really the story’s servants. They’re its executioners.

Tad: So many colourful threads there to weave together. It’s interesting, when I read your writing, it feels like you’re doing something very different than I see many authors doing. I see many authors essentially, at least in this personal growth scene I’ll say, there’s a lot of regurgitating the culture’s unquestioned back to the question. What is written is perhaps more acceptable because it neatly fits within, what you write about as “the spells of the west” in Come of Age. The book feels very affirming at a certain level. There’s a sense of, “Yes, that fits with what I’ve been told and I already know,” and yet you seem to be doing a very similar thing of handing people’s assumptions back to them, or their habits of thinking on them as back to them, and dropping the dye in the swirling water so they can actually see the swirl. Your focus in these four books seems to be about helping people learn the constituent elements of that which you’re discussing – using the topics of the books as a sort of prism with which to refract the light of the culture. You help make the culture apparent in it rather than reiterating the culture. So much of the work I’ve seen out there seems to facilitate and encourage, and deepen introspection, and your work seems to call for a kind of outrospection, not that there’s a binary between the two. I see this call to the see the world. One of the things I was curious to ask you about, because you brought up Jesus and parables, and storytelling… it seems like a central approach that many people use in these days in teaching all things, all matters spiritual and personal growth is that of a metaphor and similes and such. I think the way it’s rendered is, “Well yes, you see Jesus, he was using a simile. He was saying, ‘This is like this, and you already know this thing. Here is the unknown thing. This simile will be a bridge between the two,’” piercing our modern language a lot. On the ride home from the Apprentice Program, there were a few of us in the car and we played a game with it because we noticed how often we were saying “like” and it was horrifying us. “You know, like, it’s like.”

Stephen: It horrifies me too.

Tad: There’s a simile in the language because we’re not saying, “This is this.” We’re saying, “It’s like, it’s sort of, it’s as if.” We were calling each other on it. It seems very wrought in our language.

Stephen: What did you come up with as to why you have so much recourse to that word?

Tad: One is approval of each other, that to speak eloquently requires a certain slowing down and a tension, a formality in a way. One passenger in the car speaks English as a second or third language. She was sharing how of course, there’s a wanting to fit in, wanting to have the slang and wanting to be a part of the group and not speak so formally. There was that, and it also occurred to me that it’s very tied to this way of seeing the world where things are like things, so we don’t have to say the thing we think. We can hedge it. The habit was so deep. We would say it and then someone would look at us and we’d reply, “Did I just say it again?” I guess I found myself wondering what are the unintended consequences of trafficking in metaphor and simile because it’s recommended, it’s encouraged. This seems to be the way of teaching but what does it do to us, to the world, to our capacity to learn, to be trafficking in this?

Stephen: I think one of the things that it continues to do is mitigate against any possibility of seeing things otherwise. When you traffic in all the proximals, “like, such as, sort of, sort of like, kind of like,” these are more than reflexes now. These are surrogates for speaking, and not just in idle conversation either, in un-idle conversation too.

One of the consequences of doing that is you’re forever likening, literally, the thing that you’re trying to approach linguistically with the things that you’ve already approached linguistically. Now, you might think that works well when you’re trafficking in information because there’s information that people don’t know, that’s new to them.

If you find some way to compare it to something they already know, then this is some kind of entree of the new into the existing. That’s called going mainstream. A lot of people are hankering after mainstream attention and notoriety, and all the rest. How do you get it?

By resembling so faithfully something that’s already there with the particular kind of glow that all the other knowns don’t quite have because it’s been worn away. My point I guess is this, that when you do this kind of thing, you blunt pretty much permanently the ability to be wrong.

This is the first casualty. You could never be wrong if you’re trafficking in vague associative ways of speaking. If you say it’s “kind of like,” how could you be possibly be busted for that? If somebody says, “It’s not really like that.” You can reply “Well, it’s kind of like that.” It doesn’t mean anything either way anymore.

What if there are some things that are so without precedent that they’re not like anything at all? Can they even appear on your radar? My answer is not on your radar, no, but they can appear in your conscience. How can they do that? By not being obliged to lose their ramshackling power by having to fit into the scheme that you’ve already established for understanding

Many’s the time I get a response in school or otherwise that claims that the thing I’m talking about is hard to understand. Now, I use pretty simple language I think, and so it’s not a vocabulary problem. It’s not even really a conceptual vocabulary problem.

The problem that people are running into, and not really alerting themselves to, is the unwillingness to consider it, and there’s an active unwillingness to consider. Why? Because it’s too expensive to consider, because if you really consider some fundamental alternative to the current regime, there’s something about your ability to get out of bed that’s going to be compromised.

Somewhere in there, you kind of know that or you know it enough to know not to go any further. One of the classic ways of defending yourself is by “not understanding”. Isn’t that a bizarre strategy? I’ve seen it many times. One of the ways you maintain your “not understanding” is by trafficking in a language that says that you have to approach my normal way of talking with what you’re saying for me to understand you, never mind the fact that my normal way of talking precludes anything fundamentally new and challenging, and undoing, and unhinging from coming in.

That’s an awful lot to lay on a word with four letters, “like,” but there’s a reason that, to my mind, the most skillful storytellers are not people who traffic in similes or metaphor, or allegory. Why? Because all of these words point back to the known, the familiar; they’re the touchstone.

“the most skillful storytellers are not people who traffic in similes or metaphor, or allegory”

Like – I just said it myself. You see children in the mall absolutely enthralled by that shit on the shelves at Toys R Us for a little while, and depending on their age, they’ll suddenly look up from their kind of hypoglycemic exposure to these toys, and look for you know who, and if they can’t see her – more often her than him – then the whole attraction to what’s going on is suspended, and they go on a mad search for the mother-ship.

Do you see what I’m saying? People do this linguistically all the time, and that’s what “like” is. It’s groping for the mother-ship in this dark when you’re in Toys R Us and you’ve decided that the toys aren’t enough to head off the fact that you’re not quite at home after all.

“Like” is the attempt to make everything into an effigy of your home, what you’re familiar with. It’s essentially like a Best Western hotel everywhere in the world. They’re all the same. That’s what they’re selling you. When you’re in the Best Western in Dubai, you’re not in Dubai anymore, and you never were because you could just be in Dubuque, Iowa instead. It’s exactly the same.

I think that’s what “like” does for starters. I could get excited about this and really launch on the thing but that’s my misgiving. When we’re in school and this stuff starts coming up, one of the things I try to point people’s attention to is “you didn’t come here to exercise what you already know how to do. Just tell me you didn’t”.

People happily acknowledge that no, indeed, they didn’t come here to be habitually themselves. Okay, then the cost of being otherwise is in your speech (see pages 235-241 in Come of Age). If you don’t speak otherwise, you cannot think otherwise. That is a stone in the shoe because it sounds absolutely counterintuitive.

We really do imagine that our thinking leads our speech, but nothing could be further from the truth. All the habits of your speech guide your thinking, guide your perception, guide your hypotheses. All of them do. If you really want to make a revolution in this world, one of the ways to begin is to hold your speech to a degree of sustained discipline whereby the intricacies and the realities of the world begin to show up in how you formulate sentences so that your language is onomatopoeia, the way it once was many eons ago.

I think we can do this even with a kind of ornate syntax the contemporary language gives us. I’m not talking about grunting here. I’m not talking about making a sound that sounds like a sound “in the wild.” I’m saying that the wild has a syntax and can easily be understood as having its languages which are stories.

The degree to which you start saying “like” and “as” are the degree to which you’re not longer trusting the story you’re trying to tell, and you’re trying to compare it to a story that everybody “already knows” and fit it into that. That’s the mainstream thing I was telling you about earlier.

Tad: If we turn tourism into a verb, ‘touristing’ or something of that mind of wanting to turn the places we find, or the teachers we find, or whatever it is we come across into something more familiar, until it’s more and more familiar.

Stephen: Sorry Tad, until they become another thing that we know. There’s a reason for it. We don’t just do it because we don’t know what else to do. The reason that the unknown is constantly pressed into a mold that looks more and more familiar is because it’s unnerving to not know, as a “grownup”, to proceed, isn’t it?

Or worse than unnerving, it’s humiliating and it’s innervating. Nobody bargains for that. Revolutions are made this way. They deeply and truly are made this way, but I interrupted your question. Sorry. 

Tad: I think I may actually go in a different direction due to time, because this is such a rich topic that we could go on for a long time. I heard one person describe the Orphan Wisdom School – I’m always curious when people go to describe it, how they say it. He said, “It’s something about learning to be a more cultured human,” and that resonated with my experience at the school. We seem to have so little culture in this dominant civilization of North America. I’m curious about your understanding of what is culture, and what is the role of elders or eldering in the fashioning of culture?

Stephen: I wouldn’t use the characterization fashioning of culture largely because of that unchanged mind thing that we began with. If you have an idea of what culture should be and you set about creating it, which are basically what intentionally communities set out to do, what you have, what you will end up with is an expression of the unchanged part of the change you were seeking.

In other words, you will inadvertently create the thing that you were fleeing because by virtue of fleeing it, it remains preserved. You see? There’s the dilemma in a nutshell. You cannot flee what you’ve learned. You have to work it. You won’t leave it behind.

So then, rather than imagining culture as something that we fashion and take apparently some considerable pride and credit for doing, we could imagine as I’ve tried to do, that culture is an inadvertent consequence of a certain number of people proceeding in a kind of simpatico fashion when they’re held to a certain kind of standard of fundamental responsiveness or responsibility, which is actually what the word means whereby the understand that their wellbeing is derived from the wellbeing of the world.

We are on the receiving end of every good intent and every noble action that we undertake. We’re on the receiving end of it. This breeds in you a capacity for a kind of radical humility that pretty much takes care of your humiliation. This is the dilemma with learning in a place that’s hopelessly addicted to competence is that most learning is humiliation or seems to require humiliation, but it doesn’t.

“To a cultured person, learning requires humility.”

To a cultured person, learning requires humility. It requires simply ‘not knowing that’. It’s not a bad way to have a school. If I have enough time, maybe I’ll try to make a school that’s based on that idea. I think I’ve done that actually. I would say to you that culture you could understand to be born fundamentally of a grieved people’s willingness to engage their grief and recognize that the limits imposed upon them by their biology, their anatomy, and their imagination, and their home place, that all of these limits are not there to be thwarted by ever cresting levels of accomplishment.

Every one of these limits have been granted to us in order to find our capacity for a culturedness within. In other words, the real midwives of culture are limits, frailties, and failures. The real odious alternative to that is a limitless, growth addicted, competence addled, be all you can be, and if you can, you should.

Limits are there to be thwarted, and limits are only in your imagination, and so on. This is idolatry. It’s idolatry of the imagination by the imagination. Culture is an antidote to idolatry. It’s a willingness to be limited so that the world can continue, whether our iteration of what we’ve come up with continues or not.

In other words, cultured people are cultured as a consequence of being citizens of a particular place and time, and civilized people – if I could use the distinction – are people who are on the road towards being civilized. They, of course, never get there but they’re ever greater arcs of capacity and willingness to leave the path behind, and learn from “our mistakes.”

There’s no learning from mistakes in civilization. Civilization’s job is to not make mistakes. If it does, it isolates the particular evildoers, leaves them behind or exorcises them and carries on. This is why the egregious examples in human history are so useful to civilizations because we can locate the darkness in us in particular places and times, historical individuals and so on.

If we’re not “like them,” then we are free from whatever bedeviled them. Then sometimes you do that to whole races of people, don’t you? Or whole city states of people and ethnic cleansing becomes an inevitable consequence, and before you know it, you have entire non-races  of people, “white folks,” which is not a race of course.

Their young are looking desperately to find a kind of racial homeland and racial purity to offset their sense of being nobody, from nothing worth being from. They actually invent a background, invent a racial identity which is of course what we’re in the throes of now.

I’ll never forget being at a small island in the Gulf Islands off Western Canada, and an alternative community in every sense of the term. I was with maybe two dozen of the island’s young folks from about 14 to about 17. I was talking about ancestry and elderhood, so on like this.

Two aching comments will never leave my memory. One was a young girl said, “I’m beginning to see how initiation is so important. I’ve read about it but I had no idea how important it was. It makes me so sad to learn how important it is.”

I said, “Why is that?” She said, “Because it will never happen for me.” She was 14. She had it figured out, sadly. The other thing was actually more mournful but with less grief in it. It went like this.

A young guy said, “Oh, I don’t worry about this ancestry thing. I just make my own ancestry.” He was very flippant about it. Apparently ancestors, there’s an aisle in Wal-Mart where you can go shop for them. Of course that’s what a lot of comparative religion classes prompt us to, and comparative literature class, doesn’t it, who you identify with, all of that.

Oh, I don’t worry about this ancestry thing. I just make my own ancestry.

Literature of the oppressed, who do you identify with, and before you know it, you’re cherry-picking again. Nobody wants – I shouldn’t say nobody – there’s an awful lot of people on the move, adrift, trying to be from somewhere, and their option is to be from anywhere except where they’re from.

You could say culture is an antidote to that kind of aimlessness, by being willing to be from a particular somewhere and forgo all the other hypothetical possibilities of being from anywhere.

Tad: I find myself baffled by how it can be that there are so many young people these days that are starving for the sustenance that can only come from older people or this elder function in action, and yet so resistant to eating it when it appears, and I guess a lot of older people too. I suppose my final question is when this elder function appears in our midst, what might we do in response to its arrival? What might hospitality of that function look like because there’s such inhospitable environment right now to it, even though it’s so important?

Stephen: Stop trying to eat it. Okay, enquire after its appetite instead. Stop trying to consume it. Stop trying to have it. Get it inside yourself. Be it. Improve on it. Take it in. Turn it to take-aways. Digest it.

You see, it’s the same language for learning that’s used so often. Our understanding of learning basically is consumption but there’s no learning in consumption because it’s all gone. I’ll leave you with this story. You’ve probably heard me tell some version of it. This is the short version of it.

I’m appearing at an event called a prayer festival. We’re in the back room. I’m sitting beside a Tibetan priest or monk. He was in his robes and so on. He’s going to lead the Tibetan prayers I suppose, and God only knew what I was supposed to lead. I was sitting beside him, and in the vain attempt to make small talk, not knowing even if we had a language we could speak together because I don’t have much Tibetan at all.

He turned to me and said, “Why do you teach?” That’s what he asked me. That was his opening gambit, “Why do you teach?” I said to him, “Why do you ask?” He said, “They eat teachers here,” meaning North America.

My answer to him was, “That’s why I teach.” It was a devastating encounter for us both I think at some level. If you can picture a Tibetan monk being devastated, it’s not an easy picture to conjure but I was there, and I promise you, it was there too.

“They eat teachers here,”

He didn’t have a lot of equanimity that his years of training granted him at a moment like that. He was genuinely distressed at the extraordinary willingness of Western people claiming to want to learn things from elders, to trying to be elders instead, fast track everything, inhale everything, and mainline everything.

As far as I can tell, elderhood, to the degree it becomes sexy, and it may never but I think it will become a sexy beast shortly after death is removed from the front pages. It may be geezerdom instea; the new sexy thing. Somewhere in there, I think what will happen, and it will go into another degree of eclipse is that elderhood will be the next thing to inhale like ayahuasca.

It will be the next thing to do eco-tourism trips to. What am I saying? Of course it’s already in the works, right? I’ll go out in a limb here and I’ll close off by saying something like this. I was in a room full of people the other night in Toronto.

Maybe I went too far, but I said something like, “You know, there’s one guaranteed way to get a room full of white folks to use the word elder, and that’s to put someone who is older and not white up in front of them.” That’s how but you try to get a room full of white folks to use the word elder when there’s only white folks in the room, and you’re going uphill.

There’s a lot to be observed from that. I don’t say that out of any particular grievance. I’m saying that because the unwillingness to confer that word upon anyone but an exotic outsider is part of the poverty. That is not a solution.

There is a lot of shame in that, and trafficking and shame as well, and a lot of extolling the exotic and idolizing and fetishizing it, and all the rest that’s kind of obvious. The sad sort of scorpion’s tale of the thing is that you will, at least engender, another two generations of elder free existence while you hold up somebody from another continent as your template.

After all, elders are specific to times and places. There’s no generic identity to my mind. There can’t be. You can’t fetishize it. You can’t standardize it. If a time changes subtlely, then the function of elderhood changes as subtlely because it’s a servant.

“Seeing that, you can see the function of the elder in a living community. The elder is the amanuensis of the unseen, its onomato-poeia. The eclipse of early family allegiance, the concentrated frailties, the utter extinction of potential, and the wisdom that can ensue from that—in this we have elderhood, and elderhood when it is honoured in the midst of a living culture and employed in its ceremonial, political, and economic life is that culture taking dictation from the unseen, from the Great Beyond. Elders do not take their guidance from their Ancestors and their Gods nearly as much as they in their tempered, archaic, implacable ways are the mutterings of the Old Ones that the rest of us, with respect and a learned ear, get to overhear. Not the weavers, no— they are the weaving.” – excerpt from Come of Age

It’s proper that you can’t generalize. You can’t identify a particular people or a particular person and say, “That’s what that is.” The closest you can come is to say “for awhile, our times granted us that”. I certainly have understood Leonard Cohen for example in exactly those terms. I still find it not that easy to walk around with him not breathing the same air as me but, for awhile, I did, and for awhile, he was something, man.

Tad: Stephen, thank you so much for your time. I know you’re hitting the road tomorrow off to B.C., and in the blog post that accompanies this, I’ll be putting all the info about the tour that’s coming up, the Nights of Grief and Mystery Tour, and hopefully see many people there. Thank you for your time and hopefully we’ll see you down there sometime.

Stephen: Amen, thank you for your thoughtful questions. You made me work, the kind of work I appreciate. Thank you.

Tad: You’re welcome, take care.

Stephen: Okay, you too.

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2018 Nights of Grief & Mystery Tour – North America

Deacon, Guelph, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, SSI, Duncan, Victoria, Seattle, Portland, Tucson, Nevada City, Mill Valley, Los Angeles, Boulder, Ithaca, New York , Turners Falls, Ypsilanti, Minneapolis, Ottawa, Toronto

For more information on Stephen’s upcoming tour with Gregory Hoskins and band click the poster below…

Lifestyle Design: A Conversation Between Alex Baisley and Allegra Stein

Alex Baisley is a dear old colleague who’s been featured on my blog and emails many times.

He’s the one who gave me this gem: design the lifestyle you want first and then back your business into that, not the other way around.

Watch here as he’s interviewed by my colleague Allegra Stein.

Interview with Mark Silver re: Business Model

So excited to share this.

If you want a profitable business that is safe for people to approach but also sustainable for you, then business model is the thing you need to focus on.

At my last weekend workshop in Edmonton this was what I spoke about with everyone in their hotseats.

“How are you planning to make money.”

I’ve known this for years but not had a resource to send people to that I trusted. The other week I realized that this is something that my dear colleague Mark Silver of Heart of Business focuses on.

So we sat down for this 75 minute interview. In it, you’ll hear the best definition I’ve ever heard of what a business model is, where it can can wrong, why it matters, the four key principles of business model building and more.

It starts off slow and foundation setting but picks up the pace as it goes. I urge you to check this out. Mark has a day long training on this coming up on April 30th. There are only about 20 spaces left but, he might do more of them in the future. You can learn more here (this is not a affiliate arrangement – I get nothing if you sign up).

Interview with Kundan Chhabra: How to Make it Easier to Get Business by Creating a Context of Good Will, Nurturance, Trust and Alignment

A few months ago, my Facebook friend Kundan Chhabra posted something that caught my eye. It was about creating a context of good will in your business. I messaged him asking if he would be willing to write a guest post for my blog about it. It took a few months of conversation but what you see below is the result of those back and forths.

Kundan is someone I met online with whom I’ve been consistently impressed. His ethics on business and marketing and his commitment to social justice are values I wish I saw in more entrepreneurs.

The approach Kundan outlines is true in my experience.

I hope you enjoy.

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Tad: We were connecting recently about an ‘aha’ you’d had about the connection between one’s dating and romantic life and marketing. I was wondering if you’d be willing to share it.

Kundan: I’ve been thinking of my love life recently and how it’s starting to have parallels with my business as I go through the soft launch of my new site. And I’ve been pondering a new model of dating that I like to call “contextual dating” or “communal dating”.

I once asked a client: “When you go to a party or an event, do you talk to everyone or only to the women you’re attracted to?”

“Only the women,” he said.

“Talk to everyone. And be a Source of Stability for everyone in the room. And be fully your True Self.” I suggested.

This is the lifestyle I live and teach.

As a result, I’ve had some great experiences.

The number one thing I have noticed is that by the time I talk to a woman, they have already seen me, felt me, known me and become attracted to me (or not). Often, they saw me before I saw them. For example, one time I was dancing on my own during blues dancing (I often dance on my own in between dancing with partners to rejuvenate and recharge myself. Sounds strange but I am also doing energy-work on myself and the room as I dance. That’s why it actually recharges me).

Through the mirror, I could see a woman sitting by the wall and looking at me with complete admiration on her face. It just so happened that I was also attracted to her. So I eventually went up to talk to her as I sat next to her. At some point, she said, “I like the way you dance.” That, I already knew. So eventually I asked her to dance with me. And it was enjoyable.

Another time, I was dancing at another event, and I heard a voice from behind me say, “Thank you.” I turned around and saw this beautiful woman. I’ve had a wonderful intimate connection with her for 2 years since that day.

I’ve been noticing a Parallel with my business as well.

How so?

Lately, as I dive deep into the deepest depths of what I call my Heart Virtue and Super Power, and create content from that, I’ve been noticing a similar effect.

(Your “Super Power” is your most powerful strength, your greatest gift to the world and simultaneously the number one way you desire to be loved. Your “Heart Virtue” is your deepest Why, your most meaningful “virtue” you were born to embody, experience and express).

Clients and prospects reach out to me first.

By the time they are on a Discovery Call with me, they tell me, within the first 5 minutes of the call, “You don’t need to sell me anything. I already know I want to work with you.”

So, there’s no fight, no war, and no “overcoming objections”.

There’s also no “being a stand for them”.

What’s your take on what ‘being a stand for them’ is all about? Why is this taught so often?

“Being a stand for them” is a popular tactic these days that supposedly replaces NLP manipulation in the teaching lore about enrollment conversations. I think this still comes from a Warrior mindset of seeing it as a fight (Supposedly a fight between the client’s Ego defenses/fears and what they really desire which is apparently your program or offer).

It sounds compelling. Is it that it frames you as the hero and them the victim?

Yes. It does.

But it is not necessary if you set a proper context long before the enrollment conversation. In some  cases, the enrollment conversation is not even needed if there is a proper context: people sometimes go directly to the sales page and buy. In fact, for all sales below $200, I am able to completely eliminate the enrollment conversation altogether.

How do you do that? And why?

How? By having a crystal clear point of view, problem, solution, story and offer are so that they create deep empathy in the client: that it, they feel fully seen, gotten and understood. In other words: through the social context itself that we’ve been talking about.

Why do I do this? Because I’d rather not give away an hour of my time for free just to make a $200 sale (or below) when my rates are at $1000 an hour.. Plus, it’s unnecessary when it’s clear to the client that either this is all the money they want to spend or that particular session/offer is what they want. My enrollment conversations are not to convince people to buy from me. They are already convinced when they contact me. So, it’s just a question of helping them decide which offer is right for them.

“My enrollment conversations are not to convince people to buy from me.” Amen.

This is why I ask the following pre-enrollment question when they fill out the enrollment form when they schedule the enrollment call with me on Calendly: “Do you have capital or a budget to invest in your education? “Yes I do. I have: 1. $1000 to $5000 2. $5000+” Choose one. (Minimum Investment of $1000 required to work 1-1 long-term with me. Are you prepared for this?).”

If they say, “No” to this, I message them and re-direct them to an offer that’s below $200.. (Although I may raise this to $333 soon. No reason in particular for this. Just my Intuition).

I have absolutely no desire to convince a client to get a loan or credit card or some other way of ‘making it happen’ if they are already convinced that anything above $1000 is too much. I used to do the convincing in the past. Not any more. This is why I’ve created this “social context system” of getting business in the first place.

That sounds like a lot less work. How are you defining ‘context’?

I see context as the entire container for why we are having the enrollment conversation. It’s the Facebook groups we are both a part of, the Facebook Live videos they have watched before and/or other content, prior comment threads and PM messages, and the larger conversation about our deeper reasons for doing the work we do.

And I am learning that Robert Cialdini, author of “Influence”, says pretty much the same thing in his book “Pre-suasion” – that most of the ‘sale’ occurs long before the sales conversation even takes place as a result of the context you set or don’t set.

So, how do you create a social context of goodwill in your business?

You become a source of stability, nurturance and transformation for your industry.

You be fully your true self.

And, tactically, how does this show up in your business?

You share relevant content that authentically expresses your unique point of view about how your people can best address their issues. You share your own stories of transformation or those of your clients.

Do you have a different take on this than others who talk about ‘content marketing’?

I think of this as being a ‘key holder’.

Let me expand upon this. Imagine your clients have a treasure box. In this treasure box lies the solutions to their problems and the specific thing they desire in this specific area of their life that you have expertise in.

But that treasure box has a lock. Your expertise (especially your Super Power) is the key that unlocks this box for them. I can’t emphasize this enough. When it comes to business, your content actually has to be relevant to your audience. Not just relevant. It has to exactly fit what they are searching for: like a key to their lock. This is how you create the good will that specifically inspires your audience’s Deep Intuition to be activated so that they go: “Wow! This person is my Keyholder for this specific problem.”

And it’s all from the content I create which sets up the context for the enrollment conversation.

But, it can’t be just random good will. It can’t be like Santa Claus shouting “Ho Ho Ho” and spreading good cheer. It’s more like Being a Yoda to the Luke Skywalker in them or being a Morpheus to the “Neo” in them.

Frank Kern calls this creating Good Will by providing “Results in Advance”. If they want to go from A to Z, you create content that takes them from A to C. My model is more about providing a way for them to do it all themselves (for most of the stuff I teach anyways) but if they want to go deeper and be even more effective, they can hire me as their coach.

This is where prior work around Niching and Point of View Marketing is vitally important (which Tad Hargrave can help you with).

What’s your take on niching?

Your niche is the group of people for whom your Super Power is the key to unlocking their treasure, and because your Super Power is completely unique (no one else in the world has it), you magnetise a very specific audience that is specifically attuned to you: your Super Power can’t solve any other problems: only their problems. So it’s also important to know the number one problem you’re born to solve. So this is where deep Inner Self-Connection is critical: a lot of this is based on deep Self-Discovery work.

So, just to recap: it sounds like most people put most of their effort in sales towards the actual sales conversation and you’re suggesting that the focus be moved to much earlier in the process in the creating of a context of good will. Is that right?

Yes, that’s right.

What are the three biggest factors that contribute to this?

The three biggest factors that contribute to this are:

Self-Connection (whether through the meditation I recommend here or the deeper work I do regarding “Heart Virtues” and “Super Power“).

Relevant Content to your “1000 True Fans” AKA “Brand Heroes” which brings up:

Niching (Again, I have a slightly different take on this. My definition today is that your niche is the group of people for whom your Super Power is the key to solving their biggest problem. So it’s an inside-out approach rather than outside-in).
And regarding niching: if you really got your niche right, there is also less struggle and manipulation or even “taking a stand for you” conversations.

Can you give more real life examples of this that you’ve witnessed in others? I’d love to hear times you saw people destroy the social context of goodwill too and how it hurt them and others.

Yes. I was once on a Discovery Call with a woman who claimed she could help me find exactly what my niche is: she apparently had a magical power to immediately tell exactly what my niche is. I was told (by the person who recommended me who it turned out was her coach) that clients cried in their sessions with her because it was apparently so powerful and eye-opening.

That’s why I reached out.

She immediately asked me to be on a Discovery Call with her – even though I didn’t know her at all, which itself felt odd to me. So there was no prior social context of Good Will, Nurturance and Good Will at all.

During the call, she wouldn’t let me off the phone. She wanted a $1000 sale right on that phone call.

And she kept saying, “This may be uncomfortable for you. But I am putting a fire on your butt so that you take action. I am taking a stand for you.” I ended up not hiring her even when I eventually did have the money.

And it sounds like, the way you see creating this context of good will has a lot to do with you being very attuned to yourself, being stable inside, so that you’re coming from a place of generosity rather than being a vampire?

Bingo!

I’m also hearing that your sense of it is that when you figure out your Super Power which, by its nature, solves a very particular problem for people, and you share that with the world more freely, you’ll be coming not only from a place of strength but your ideal clients will recognize that and be drawn to it?

Exactly!

So, is your Super Power related to your take on things? Your point of view? Is it connected to your diagnosis of their issues or is it some other thing?

Yes. It’s part of my Point of View when it comes to helping other coaches and healers make a sale.

It’s how I create content when it comes to my own business. When I write a post or, especially, when I make a Facebook Live or Live series, I tune in to who I want to communicate to. And I do that by tuning in to who best my Super Power can serve, what Purpose I serve, and what treasure I am unlocking. And so, I am not particularly worried about Facebook algorithms or visibility.

For me, it’s not about how many people I reach but exactly whom I reach: I set the intention to reach exactly the right people for whom I am either their Keyholder, OR their audience includes people for whom I am their Keyholder.

So it’s a mixture of Inner Alchemy with outer Business Strategy. So there’s a certainly a certain level of “Co-Creation Magic” – what some people might call “manifestation” but I prefer calling it “co-creation”.

And it’s not always about attracting a client.

For example, one time I posted my poem called “A Love Letter to Anger”. Within 2 minutes of that post, someone with a large mailing list immediately messaged me and asked if she can mail it to her mailing list with complete credit and links of course. Another great example is you yourself reaching out to me to write this article for Marketing for Hippies, Tad. Right? You did that as a result of my post in Awarepreneurs.

So it may not always directly attract a client yet but it certainly increases credibility, visibility and good will with our target audience or “brand hero”, which creates a cumulative context of Good Will, Nurturance and sense of Alignment with me.

Anyways, I just wanted to offer this up an alternative path because this is a topic that has come up often in the Conscious Business community regarding manipulation in sales, marketing, sales calls and selling from the stage, etc.

To summarize: it’s about setting up a Social Context of Good Will, Nurturance and Specifically Relevant Alignment with our “Brand Hero” and sets us up as their Mentor in the Epic Story of their Lives long before they even get to the sales page or the enrollment conversation, whatever the case may be.

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About Kundan: Kundan helps you simplify your business as a vehicle for creating that more beautiful free world that you had a glimpse of in your Awakening, mystical, psychedelic and flow experiences.

He does this by helping you discover your Greatest Gift (your Unique Super Power) and Deepest Why that had been created out of your Greatest Longing. Your Greatest Longing that had been born and grown out of your Greatest Struggle the way diamonds and pearls are created.

He then helps you embody your Remarkable Legacy in communion with exactly and only the people with whom you can create the optimum collaboration. Out of this service to the exact people whom you were born to serve, you experience the Deepest Spacious Fulfilling Intimacy with yourself, others and the world. You can learn more about his work at: kundanchhabra.com.

Note: If you sign up for his email list you’ll get the pre-enrolment and enrolment questions he refers to above.

Coaching As Activism

andrea

What if your coaching could be a potent, effective and inspiring form of activism?

In asking this question, I am suggesting something to you that might be hard to hear: there’s a good chance that it’s currently not.

Let me make my case: the coaching industry grew out of the personal growth industry and the personal growth industry spawned by such books as Think & Grow Rich by men with deeply questionable ethics like Napoleon Hill.

The personal growth scene has largely been (and just watch The Secret if you don’t believe me) almost entirely led by white men. Seriously. Consider that 28 out of 29 of those featured in The Secret are North American. Consider that 24 our of the 29 are white males. That only 5 of them are female and that only 2 of them are people of colour. This might be a part of their secret.

Think of the most successful authors in the personal growth space. How many (outside of Iyanla Vanzant and Rev. Michael Beckwith) can you name who aren’t white?

Over the past decades, we’ve seen the new age and healing scene grow and be led by primarily by women (who are almost all white). I can testify to this from leading dozens of workshops all over North America and the UK over the past more than a decade.

This uniformity of background, this whiteness, has led to a certain limit in perspective.

There are certain things that people of colour see that white people don’t.

There are certain things people of colour must contend with daily that white people don’t.

There are certain privileges that accrue, and have always accrued, to being white in North America at this time. There are certain disadvantages pulled by the gravitational force of the way it is to darker skin tones.

White people, in North America (and particularly the USA), have benefited the most from the way things are. Are white people screwed by the man too? Yes. But not because they’re white.

But what you see from most of the personal growth scene is largely uncritical of the current system of white supremacy (entangled as it is with capitalism, the prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex etc.) because, for most white people, the system of racism is invisible to us. We never have to contend with it. Most of what I see offered up by my peers is about how to succeed within the current capitalist system but not how to change it.

It’s how to manifest what you want without any encouragement or insistence on considering the impact that this might have on the world (e.g. can everyone have that mansion they put on their vision board? Is this actually sustainable?).

To put it another way, many coaches are waking to the realization that the system isn’t neutral but harmful.

The unspoken but impossible to avoid message of much of the personal growth movement is that the universe is your personal slave.

The other implied message is that you are responsible for everything that’s ever happened to you – period. And so, the Jews manifested the holocaust and indigenous people their own genocide.

There is a deeply entrenched and utterly unexamined worldview of individualism in the personal growth scene. Not only are notions of the village absent, they are seen as weakness. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps already and stop whining.

However, in the past few years, we’ve begun to see this change.

As White Nationalism has been on the rise and become more obvious to white people, there’s been a waking up of white people in the coaching industry to how bad it is (and has always been for people of colour).

As the gap between rich and poor grows, those who came from middle class to wealthy families in the coaching industry are having to reckon with the class divide as it’s becoming harder to ignore how hard the poor have it.

And this is leading to a very real and very deep realization that simply coaching people for their own inner growth isn’t enough. The world is on fire. Coaching people on how to be more effective might actually make things worse if what they’re being effective at is predicated on the destructive to the world.

Elder and dedicated social change agent Joanna Macey speaks of the Three Pillars of the Great Turning – one of which is about inner work but the other two (creating alternatives and holding back the juggernaut) are equally important. And not only missed but dismissed in most of the coaching scene. All too often, I hear the message that protesting against the war simply creates more war.

Enter Andrea Ranae, the daughter of a coach, who wrote the provocative blog post Why The Personal Growth Industry Is Not Changing the World.

After writing this piece, she got such a response that she created a program from it called Coaching As Activism on how we can make our coaching a genuinely effective force in contending with the very real troubles of our times.

When I heard about this program, I sat up and took notice. This is a perspective that has been desperately needed in this space for a long time.

And so I asked Andrea if I could do a video interview with her. Sadly, I would be on the road and unable to do it live but she graciously consented to being sent questions and doing the strange and lonely work of talking into a camera. Having just finished watching it I am sad I missed the opportunity to connect with her more directly. The kindness emanates and I find myself having to settle, for the moment, with being so glad she’s in the world.

The Five Levels of This Video:

The video is below but I’d like to make the case for watching it on four levels.

Level One: Meet Andrea! You might be interested in checking out her coaching program and this video is a fine way to meet her and learn more about her story. It’s hard to not like this good woman.

Level Two: Be a Better Coach. I think that her approach can help you be a more effective coach. If your mission is to help create a better world, then how will you do that without a deeper wrestling with how things are? How many books have you read about the interlocking and intersecting issues of injustice? Most coaches have read many and most I know are struggling to come to terms with it all. And they’re trying to do that all on their own. But consider how much more you could help change the systems and challenge your clients if you came from this perspective? What if you were not only holding your clients feet to the fires of their personal commitments but also to the larger fires of this cultural moment? What if an edge of your coaching became about asking people to find their right relationship to the travails of their particular time and place? You think you’re seeing resistance in your clients now? Wait until you ask them to consider the ecological and social consequences of a goal. So, yes, you’d see more resistance but you would also see a much deeper and more meaningful transformation. Imagine the skillfulness it might ask of you to contend with patterns that didn’t start in their childhood but thousands of years ago. I suggest that taking on Coaching as Activism will make you a better coach.

Level Three: Learn about Marketing. So much of what I talk about in marketing is present in her work. Andrea shares her bigger why and her point of view. The title of her program is a deeply compelling message. The whole program is a unique niche. There’s a lot to learn here.

Level Four: The Questions. I emailed Andrea a series of questions. Whether or not you sign up for her program (and I hope you’ll consider it) I invite you to take the time to consider how you personally might answer the questions. You might even pause the video as you watch it to come up with your own answers. Doing that would be a fine step towards coaching as activism.

Level Five: Your Resistance. As you watch this video, I invite you to write down all the places you feel resistant to what Andrea is sharing. Be candid with yourself. If you’re feeling brave, put it in the comments below. You can learn more about yourself from this simple exercise than most workshops you’ve ever taken.

Here’s what in the video:

  • the story behind where this program came from
  • how Andrea defines healing, activism, coaching, justice and liberation
  • three tips to use coaching as a form of activism.
  • the central pitfall of trying to use coaching as activism
  • a short poem

For More Info on Coaching as Activism:

andrearanae.com/invitation

Important Note: There is a Self Study which closes Sept 14th and Community Study (everything from Self Study + live weekly calls) which closes Sept 10th. And spaces are limited. She’s getting close to filling her program.

The 1000+ Small Dreams Project

19800699_10154606493405671_8906803628215049469_oA few weeks ago, I saw that my old friend and colleague Alex Baisley (pictured here) had launched a new program when I read the following words in an email from him:

“Have you been wanting to horse-back ride? Scuba dive? Take a weekend road trip? Get a tattoo? Play the song you wrote in front of people? Go canoeing or camping with your family or friends? Host a dinner party for your neighbours? Try bringing improv or acting into your life? Do a life-drawing class?

Maybe you’ve thought about writing poetry, or taking a Mediterranean cooking workshop in your community, or martial arts? Learn what opera or bluegrass is all about? What about an instrument, a language?

Just that… you haven’t got round to it. Could you use a nudge?

Would you be willing to listen to my project about: The 1000 Small Dreams Challenge?

My goal here is to inspire 1000 good salt-of-the-earth people across Canada (and in a few other countries – wherever you are!) to pursue a small dream that rocks them”

Small dreams are so important in business.

I see so many people going for something big and huge. 

But business growth comes from small, little projects. In fact, most impressive, large and profitable businesses I know of come from this. Most non-profits start like this. They start small. I speak about this at length in my Niching Spiral Home Study Program: the need to create small, niche projects or experiments. 

And so, I thought I’d interview him on this subject that he has a great deal of experience with.

1000 small dreams

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What’s the story of this project? where’d it come from? what did you see was missing?

I’ve had the unusual opportunity to be on the ground of a lot of big dreams and new businesses for a long time. And I see ONE THING missing that would help folks bring them to realization a little or a lot sooner.

I’ve had the Big Dream Program for something over 15yrs now and I spend my days talking with folks – a lot of them – about Big Dreams they’ve had for years & businesses or lifestyles they so want to create for themselves – if ‘life’ didn’t keep getting in the way for them. Jobs, responsibilities, feeling paralyzed by too many possibilities… Maverick people who feel in their bones they are meant to be doing something more in this world, for this world. And living day-to-day in the way they dream of – such as more spiritual practice, leaving a soul-sucking job, more family time, or traveling.

And… though there are many reasons for these challenges, I have found that manifesting ’the dream’ depends on one capability that most of us are not nourishing well:

If this sounds like you, and if you’re anything like me… you have about eight journals-full of ideas and schemings, hundreds of hours spent brainstorming and daydreaming, you have taken classes on this sort of thing, but… for some of us (me included)… months slip the hell by. And then years. And still… it ain’t happening. Eff. This hurts.

My, and my clients’, hard-earned point of view: I don’t think in most cases we are ‘wanting’ for genius or a more finely tuned idea.

I think the problem is usually that our Big Dreams are so big – at least emotionally – that we don’t know where or how to start, OR get ourselves to ‘do it’.

Enter the Small Dreams muscle. (you can see what happened with Lisa and her showers project below, for instance)

If we want to make ‘anything’ happen – like making a sandwich, there is a base-line capability at play. Let’s call this the ‘I can do this muscle’.

The stronger and more ‘you’ this muscle is, the more you can create for yourself. Period.

How to work your Capability muscle? And quickly?

Make dreams happen. Now. Small Dreams. Have a blast working THAT muscle, and watch what can happen. Examples below.

How?

Start a Small Dream. This week. Doesn’t matter if it’s related to your Big Dreams or not. The muscle doesn’t care. It. Will. Grow.

instagramWhat is a ‘small dream’?

A Small Dream is this:

  • Something you’ve been wanting to do, or explore for a long time, and not getting around to. Life is busy.
  • Requires no extra time or money than you have already – meaning there is nothing ‘outside you’ standing in the way, except perhaps for lack of the beauty of more social encouragement ;)
  • You give yourself a 3wk (21 day) window in which to do it.

In the Small Dreams Challenge, folks start with a workbook to help them decide what they’d like to do.

Why do small dreams matter? What’s the potential impact of people following them?

Small Dreams matter to a lot of us, because it’s SUCH A GREAT WAY to get started on something you care about, without turning it into some big thing we never get ‘round to. People are accomplishing things (examples below) that they’ve been thinking about for FOREVER. It develops the very muscle we may have been needing to accomplish our bigger dreams – such as starting that business!

Moreso: Small Dreams also matter for a much bigger ‘world reason’ which is 50% of why we are doing this, and publicly talking about it:

“You may not heal the whole planet with your small dream. But… you will contribute greatly to the ONE THING, I believe, that if anything is going to do it WILL heal our planet…

You become more sunshine, earth, and life-giving rain for the garden of the ideas in human hearts around you.

In other words, you help you and others unlock ideas and interests that WILL evolve our world further…

Here’s what I mean:

When we look around us at the world, or accidentally listen to the news, we can be taken out at the knees by the challenges in our world. At the same time… check this out…

  • Someone, somewhere was Small Dreaming of ditching the car and bicycling to work, not realizing that it would inspire his neighbours and children to do the same. It ended up resulting in a career change to someplace closer – and WAY better job.
  • Someone, somewhere is Small Dreaming of joining a pilates class. Little does she know she will meet Eshru there who will become her best friend, and change her life incomparably.
  • Someone, somewhere is Small Dreaming of learning to ride a horse, and it’s about to make her feel so, so, so lovely and authentic inside. It’s going to feel like she found a piece of herself she didn’t know was missing until she found it. And her kids TOTALLY notice, and love the new Mom in the house. Her twinkle is back.”

Can you give ten examples of small dreams?

Lisa had been wanting to provide showers for the homeless community in her home-city. She and her team had been working on this idea for many months. It was a Big Dream. When she adopted the ‘what could I do within 3 weeks’ Small Dream idea… they wound up giving showers, and more to homeless folks in exactly 3.5 weeks. Success.

natashaNatasha started and completed her first Small Dream: She and her hubby had been dreaming for a long time of doing a honeymoon camping trip. They did it! From Natasha: “I LOVE camping! So does my husband, Patrick, except he also loves his hairdryer (he does have REALLY nice hair!!) Finding a minute to sneak away is hard so we opted out of a big ticket honeymoon. After being together in 1990 for 1yr9months, finding each other again after 21years to be together, I finally married the love of my life this summer. Sneaking away just the 2 of us is extra special w 4 amazing kids, 2 dogs & 2 rabbits & busy jobs! It isn’t where you go; it’s who you’re with that makes any moment special.”

michelleMichelle took new look at a small ‘storage’ room in her apartment. She went to work a few days ago in the Challenge, and here’s what happened:
from Michelle as a poem: “storage room goes from stagnating, boxes and bags of clutter, to beautiful oasis meant for, relaxing, reading and marvellous meals, homemade hamburgers with pickles and coleslaw on a pretzel bun” Well done Michelle! She’s now working on her book of poetry.

michaelMichael started a Small Dream some time ago, and here’s what he said about where it LED to: “I always wanted to be on stage in front of alot of people and so i started telling stories to youngsters. 10 yrs later i met Alex, and started to tell at an open mic in front of a storytelling community. And now I not only tell, but am paid to PERFORM (with my whole spirit and body) in front of dozens of kids – who are a tough and most rewarding audience. I’m not quite at my full dream yet, but its coming!” 

cathyCathy had been reading and salivating over the book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” and dreaming of transforming her home. She joined the 1000 Small Dreams Challenge. From Cathy when she started: “My small dreams challenge is to purge my home… I’ve been wanting to do this FOREVER and I keep putting it off. So for the next 21 days I am tackling a different aspect of the house (ie. clothes or a particular room).” Well she’s half-way through now, posting pictures every day, and just wrote this beautiful blog post called ‘My Suitcase and Letting Go ‘about her experience. (http://www.fortheloveofmommy.ca

Me, Alex, I founded this challenge, and I’m the same as every other leader in there. I picked a Small Dream for myself. EFT is SO helpful for me – it changes my life. AND I seem to avoid it like the plague. Armed with the beautiful encouragement in the group, I’m now on Day 7 of doing 20mins of EFT every day. And it’s making SUCH a difference, my god. 

Nicole has been writing poetry for years. And she loves it. After some deliberation in our challenge, she decided she was going to do something about this. She’s now compiling her book of poetry. Accountability for her (and many of us) in the group has been key for her now being at least a third of the way through completing her dream project.

jillFrom Jill in the Challenge: “Hi all. I’m glad to be in the group! I’ve been thinking all week about what I want to challenge myself with and … I wanted to commit to making 2-3 new recipes each week. I love buying beautiful cookbooks and never end up using them… My first recipe tackled last night …Baked Brie with candied pecans, raisins, brown sugar and phyllo pastry. The guests gobbled it up!” 

From Sarah: “Hi everyone – my small dream is to organize my time / activities better…so I can enjoy what I do…and also enjoy my down-time (because I won’t be over-thinking about what it is that I think I should be doing….). When I do this (set a schedule) my mind feels free, my stress lessens, I sleep better, eat better (who knew planning my food would actually help?) So – I’ve ordered a School year planner from a company called Passion Planner – and I’m looking forward to using it. I’ve also created a month envelope system for collecting all receipts, etc.” And Sarah has motored ahead with these things since.

Others: Gerri is finishing her book, Heather has designed and begun a 21-day self-love practice, Carol is taking a horseback riding lesson, Anne is doing an abstract art 21-day challenge for herself, Olivia has launched a workshop in her hometown, and Bill is finalizing his plans for a permaculture-based Challenge for himself. And there are piles more stories happening in here as I write this. Two posts just came up in our group with new Small Dreams while I write this. Yay!

What are the top three mistakes you see people making when tackling their small dreams?

  • Not starting one.
  • Too big. Choosing something that requires something they don’t yet have. (money, time, resources) – the essential point of a Small Dream is to evolve our accomplishment muscle. Ergo, I suggest choosing something with who you are, and what you have NOW.
  • Going it alone. In my personal experience – I’m doing 21 days of EFT and I’d have NOT done it several days now due to ‘busy-ness’, but knowing I can post my daily ‘accomplishment’ in the group – and get pats on the back to be honest – is the ONLY thing that got me through the times I didn’t want to do it. I see the same echoed over and over again in our group. Bottom line – try not to do it alone. Join us in our group OR get yourself a buddy to do your Small Dream with. Judging by our members so far, 90% of these small dreams would not have left the gate or got past day 5 were we not excited to post about our developments each day.

What are the top three tips you’d give people?

Choosing a Small Dream? Well aside from the pitfalls to avoid above, here’s what I recommend after YEARS of experience:

  • Fun Over Duty: Choose something fun or meaningful rather than something you just think you SHOULD do and honestly are just not caring about right now. Work your Small Dreams muscle first – and then you may find more energy or inspiration for some of the should-dos.
  • Share the heck out of your accomplishments, and even your challenges: Small Dreams are wickedly contagious. When you talk about them with other people, or share on social media, we have found a PILE of folks pick up on the energy of it. You can absolutely help others who might be feeling very stuck, or alone, with your Small Dream.
  • Re-consider the ‘I’m too busy thing’: A Small Dream doesn’t take more time or energy or money than you already have – I know you’re busy. My wife says that even when she’s quite full, she has a whole other stomach for a nice dessert. I believe she is right. Such is true also of small dreams and busy-ness. You’ve got a whole other ‘schedule’ for a bit of gorgeous Small Dream-ness, I reckon.

Can you offer up some Small Dream ideas to get people started thinking?

  • Design your very own daily spiritual or fitness practise based on activities that light you up – that you would like to commit to for 21 days.
  • Take a class on some topic that interests you: art, economics, permaculture, growing your own food, history…
  • Design you own educational experience for yourself for 3 weeks to explore something.
  • Pick a little doable goal for learning a new language, an instrument… Committing to a couple of lessons for instance, or getting yourself to the point you can order a simple meal or ask directions in Japanese.

What I think you’ll get, and not get, from a Small Dream Challenge whether with us, or on your own:

You may not suddenly become a perfectly-together buddha of a human being from doing a Small Dream. Didn’t work for me at any rate. It would seem, alas, I’m still imperfect (according to my teenagers anyway). But… you will become a lot more YOU in doing a small dream. This is the #BestGoalEver

Your ‘Small-dream-into-reality’ muscle will get stronger, and that means your more-buff muscle is available for another Small Dream, or a full-on Big Dream, or something for your family or career… you can start making new moves in your daily life, open up doors you couldn’t before because the doors were too heavy.

And… I think doing Small Dreams also, quite simply, makes our lives, and US, more interesting :)

Where can people learn more about your project?

If you would like to find out more about joining our 1000+ Small Dreams Challenge:

Here is the way in to our Challenge: 

bigdreamprogram.mykajabi.com/p/1000-Small-Dreams 

Here is our Private Facebook workgroup – The Small Dreams Forge – though you’ll need to register before coming in.

We are open for the summer – or maybe longer, and the price is a whopping $23 Can. You can do as many Small Dreams as you wish. There is also an optional (low-priced) Advanced Keener Club coming down the road for folks who want to turn Small Dreams into a life or WORK change. :)

Ongoing updates on my personal FB profile

Personal note from Alex:

I would love, for many reasons, to persuade you to join the 1000 Small Dreams Challenge and let me post about your accomplishments. And to give you the power of our beautiful social group. But… sales pitch aside…

I just really want you to start a Small Dream. Or a new one.

And if you do so, but prefer not to do it in our challenge, I would love one thing SO MUCH:

Would you write to me and tell me about it. I would like to hear if this post influenced you to try something new you’ve been wanting to do. And let me inspire others with your example. I’m talking to people every single day about what people are getting up to with their Small Dreams, and it makes a difference to them when I do. It is contagious. Inspiring. If you get up to something, tell me about it!

Big hug,
Alex

Scatterlings: An Interview with English Storyteller Martin Shaw on Nomads, Being Local and Belonging

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Martin Shaw is currently doing a book tour across Canada. You can find more information on that here.

You can listen to the interview here.

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Tad: Hi, everybody. This is Tad Hargrave from MarketingForHippies.com and various other endeavors. And I have the good pleasure and the good fortune of being here on the phone with Martin Shaw who is a storyteller and award-winning author who has written the book, A Branch from the Lightening Tree, Snowy Tower, and Scatterlings: Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia, his most recent.

He is director of the West Country School of Myth in the UK and he has also devised and led the oral tradition courses at Stanford University. And I’m sure many other things.

I had the pleasure to meet Martin and see him at work I guess earlier this year on the west coast of Canada at Hollyhock Retreat Center. And was suitably impressed and amazed to be in the presence of one such as this with so many old-time stories brought alive in a new way in the world today. And so Martin and I were just chatting before we got started. He’s been working on his current book, Scatterlings, which we’ll be talking about today, for the last five years.

So, Martin, reading the write ups and seeing the video that you made about it, it seems like such a poignant book at these times. Because we’re in a world where localism, where shopping local, and local food are becoming more important. But we’re also in a world of immigrants. We’re in a world of digital nomads where it’s become sort of this idealized lifestyle that you can have the laptop lifestyle and travel anywhere, where home just becomes a feeling. But also this world of refugees because of the destabilization of climate and political realities. And here you are, this traveling English storyteller, with something to say about it. And so it seems like such an important time for a message such as this. So I guess I lay that out as the overture.

And I’m curious why the title Scatterlings, what that word means for you?

“I realized to be honest that although my family were from a place, they weren’t necessarily of it.”

Martin: Scatterlings for me really is a term for everywhere and nowhere. When I was growing up, I think like a lot of people I come from a place — I come from the west country of England, from a county called Devon, where variants of my family have been there for 200 years.

But I realized that although my family were from a place, they weren’t necessarily of it. And so I began to suspect that being from somewhere might be a little bit overrated. I think by the time I was 20 I had lived in 14 different parts of Great Britain. And I would always use overly romantic terms to describe it.

I’d call myself a nomad or a gypsy.

But the truth is I wasn’t either of those things. I was a scatterling. And really what that means is, as I said, of everywhere and nowhere. You know, it was as though I had traded depth for endless growth. In doing so, my knowledge was three miles wide and two inches deep.

And as a storyteller and a mythologist, which is a very sort of endangered species type of profession these days, I realized that stories from everywhere are now available to us all the time. And with that, I realized that they are somehow ruthless and in fact as a storyteller I felt weightless to some degree.

So, about five years ago, I effectively drew a sort of chalk circle of about 10 miles around where I grew up. And I said, “This is going to be my mythography. This is where I’m going to dig in. This is where I’m going to begin the labor of finding out what wants to disclose itself to me right here and now.”

What does it mean not to claim something, but to be claimed by it? What does it mean to behold a story or a stretch of land, not just to see it? You know, when you and I, if I took you for a walk where I live, we’d go for a little while. And you and I would see a thistle. But William Blake didn’t see a thistle. He saw a small, gray, glowing man waving at him.

That’s called beholding, and that has a visionary aspect to it. And you know, one of the kind of modern hysterias is this feeling about how do we become indigenous again? Like it’s a pill that we can pop. And funny enough, I’ve never met anybody worthy of calling themselves indigenous. I’ve never heard that phrase being used.

“a huge difference between being from a place and of a place is your capacity to behold it.”

But one of the things that I think makes a huge difference between being from a place and of a place is your capacity to behold it. A long time before I became a storyteller, a long time before I wrote books, when I was about 23, I took myself to a stretch, what we optimistically call a mountain.

You wouldn’t call it a mountain. You’d call it a hill. It was in Snowdonia in Wales, there’s a mansion called Caer Idris, the Seat of Arthur. And if you spend a night alone on Carta, you come down mad, dead or a poet. And so I went up for four days and nights without food to make absolutely sure, to see what would happen.

And I had quite unexpectedly, a deep and protracted mystical experience. I had an experience that doesn’t fit in the self-help books. It doesn’t fit in modern books about rites of passage. It was like something out of some Siberian anthropological report from the early 1900’s.

And it happened to a white kid on a Welsh hill in 1996. And so I was left in the detritus of that experience, wondering how on earth — how can a doorway like that still be open? A doorway where you can walk out of this century altogether? That’s what I did really. And the last 20 years has been a slow walk back from that into the village. Because you know, the epiphany of the wild is not enough.

“Don’t make a marginal life out of a marginal experience”

I say to my students, don’t make a marginal life out of a marginal experience. Initiations tend to take place on the fringes of things. But there is a secure route back into the middle. You know, people like Yeats was political his whole life. He didn’t just sit there as a poet at a great distance. He got amongst it.

After 20 years of stories, 20 years of witnessing and traveling stories from all around the world, it felt important in the time I had to realize I had been claimed by a small stretch of land, a place called Dartmoor. And to do something about it. To do the labor and do the work.

In some small way, I wanted to be a good little Shetland pony for the 10,000 secret things that riddled around me all the time. And so that’s what Scatterlings is.

Tad: Now I can imagine some people pushing back and saying, “Yeah, but part of the benefit of the time that we live in is it’s this globalized world. We exchange cultures and it’s so diverse and so eclectic. I can eat food from a curry shop over here, I can have a burrito over here and then I go to an African dancing class over here. Then I go to my Zen meditation over here. We’ve got this big, eclectic global world. And so globalization is wonderful. We get to travel, and that’s part of the benefit of being in these times. We don’t have to be so rooted anywhere. You know, we get to have this globalized experience, and isn’t that adding to the richness of our life to be in this more globalized world?”

And I’m curious what you would say to that?

“It’s easier and easier and easier to walk away from situations, from relationships, from people and from cultures and from ideas that we don’t see them through anymore.”

Martin: I’d say all of that is true, but it is also leading to an addiction to severance. It’s an addiction to severance we get. It’s easier and easier to walk away from situations, from relationships, from people and from cultures and from ideas that we don’t see them through anymore. We don’t see anything down anymore.

I think when I meet many people bereft in their emotional lives I see them as almost sort of paralyzed by choice. There’s a tyranny, actually is the word I would use. A tyrannical element to choice that is distinctly unerotic. It doesn’t feed life. It actually paralyzes you.

And the kind of globalization you’re describing means in the language of the romantics, and I’m definitely a romantic, it means you experience a lot of eros, but you don’t experience amor. A lot of eros, but you don’t experience amor in the sense that I can travel to Marin County or I can travel to the tundra of Siberia.

I can travel with the Kalahari Bushmen and I am moved and thrilled and interested. But when I am on Dartmoor, I am in the presence of something entirely different. And my body feels different. The tempering of my heart is different. And I’m very grateful that I have that relationship and that I can discern the difference.

Without that, I will move from flower to flower to flower to flower, experience to experience to experience, and I will marry nothing and my hands will touch nothing. And then I wonder why I want to blow my brains out when I’m 50. So, for me, that is part of the entanglement that comes with all of this endless opportunity.

I’m not an idiot. I understand all the good things about it. You know, it will be a long time before I’m rude about growing up on Sesame Street or listening to John Coltrane or going to the cinema or any of those things. I’m not a ludite. But I am aware that there is a tremendous price tag attached.

“I am aware that there is a tremendous price tag attached.”

Tad: That opens up a lot of loops. But one of the things that occurred to me as you were speaking is, certainly in a lot of circles I work with, there’s a sense of — of course most of my friends want to go to India because you have all the sacredness there and the Ashrams.

You can meditate there. And a lot of them want to go to South America and of course in South America you can do ayuhuasca and you can hang out with Mayan shamans and you can hike the Inca trail. And then people want to go to Asia and Thailand. Meditation! The full moon parties! All these other places.

Especially it seems for people of European descent, but maybe there’s something about this modern world. Because I imagine there’s a lot of people of a lot of different cultures that could relate to this sense. There’s always somewhere else.

And I can tell you that when I think of spiritual Mecca’s in the world, places you might have a transcendent experience, Devon is not one that would come to mind.

Martin: Yeah, and I’m relieved about that because that means it’s a secret.

Tad: There’s a woman named Grace Lee Boggs who was an Asian woman in the States, an activist. And one of the quotes she said, there are two that come to mind. One of them was, “The most radical thing I ever did was to stay put.”

The other one was, “You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it; unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.”

But this notion of being in a place, that you found something extraordinary in a place that other people might look at and see as ordinary in some way. And it seems like there’s an invitation in what you’re saying for people to perhaps stop seeking the sacred in these far-off places and to draw that imaginary chalk circle around a certain place for themselves and to find something there.

13838583_10153778182205980_337657412_o (1)Martin: Yeah, that is true. That is true. Scatterlings is the end. You mentioned the other books, A Branch from the Lightning Tree and The Snowy Tower, and then this book Scatterlings. Scatterlings is the one, and it’s very much the end of a trilogy. It’s the most urgent of the three.

And it is a very gnostic book. It is a very esoteric book. It pulls no punches. But it absolutely does offer, in its own strange, circuitous way, something of a map that whether you are living in Detroit or in a fishing village or you know, in a city or anywhere else, there is something you can do with this. I don’t quite know what, because I don’t like franchises and I don’t like bullet points.

It doesn’t do any of that. But it’s got a taste to it, it’s own undomestic language. And language is important to me. The guy that you would have seen me with in Hollyhock, Stephen Jenkinson, is a great pal of mine. And he’s someone who really relishes his language. He believes that language has moved like reindeer over tundra to get into the meadhall of your jaw.

It’s that you matter. That you have a degree of consequence. And that when you are feeling things deeply, you need to elevate that to a point where you nourish more than yourself when you speak it. That doesn’t mean it has to be high faluting. It just needs to have a kind of truth in it that the old gods recognize.

So staying still for five years, you know, and I travelled, but my psychic world was here. You know, the intensity of my creative life was here. Raising a child was here. You know, that’s the most important part of anything that I do, is being with my daughter.

“… many of my friends like yours were gobbling ayahuasca or hanging by their testicles off trees in Sri Lanka or whatever the hell it was.”

So all of these things were relatively undramatic, undramatic. And you know, many of my friends like yours were gobbling ayuhuasca or hanging by their testicles off trees in Sri Lanka or whatever the hell it was. Raising kids, dealing with the ignominity of living in the west. These are kind of private but very real mythological struggles for me.

They are what I would call ordinary grandeur. And I just knew that that was what I was going to focus on, rather than anything else that seemed too dramatic. I wasn’t going to get thrown off the chase anytime soon.

Tad: So a lot of people I can imagine who are hearing this would say, “Well, I haven’t left my damn neighborhood in 20 years. I would never have this kind of mythical experience.” I’ve been traveling and I’ve been in a place and there was no chalk circle, but if there was, I wouldn’t have left it. And yet I haven’t had this experience of being of this place, rather than just being from this place.

And so what do you make of that?

Martin: Well, they sound tacitly or explicitly depressed. And one of the things that I would have recommended is, as I sort of referred to briefly at the beginning is that this all comes out of an experience called wilderness rites of passage. Where I got profoundly shaken.

I was shaken to such a degree, I had absolutely no idea whether I would come out of this alive or not. So when I talk about the process that’s in Scatterlings and actually long before I wrote Scatterlings, I spent four years living in a tent on a succession of English hills. Exploring the notion of does wildness and wilderness even exist in Britain anymore?

“if your idea of your neighborhood is waddling down to Starbucks and back, no we’re not on the same page.”

So I did the hard yards and that kind of thing. I turned my head in that direction. So no, if your idea of your neighborhood is waddling down to Starbucks and back, no, we’re not on the same page. We’re not talking about the same thing. Absolutely not.

You know, the book asks more from you than you will want to give. That’s for sure. And I can talk about that on the phone, you know. But the main thing is to read the book and see the price tag attached. And most people would not want to do it. You know, Rilke the poet, he says really the function of poetry, real poetry, is saying this to you, “You must change your life.”

“The function of poetry, real poetry, is saying this to you, ‘You must change your life.'”

You must change your life. And so the book and my particular stance in the world is not designed for a mass market. But what it is saying is that mythological intelligence, in other words, your capacity whether you’re living in a city or a suburb or out on some farm or you’re part of a traveling circus, your capacity to recognize not just that you are in the presence of the gods but that you recognize which gods are speaking to you at which particular times through conversations and circumstance. That is a skill that you can develop. What Seamus Heaney would say, he’d say, “You need to tune your ear.” You need to tune your ear. And if you are living in a place and you are profoundly stuck, your ear is not tuned to it. And there are many different ways that people go about that.

And again, in the ’90’s and the early part of this century, anybody that I met that presented themselves as a spiritual being thought language was rather out of fashion. Everybody was trying to get to the place beyond language. And so to become a storyteller felt a very antiquated act. You know, a very strange thing to do. But because I believed that language was a kind of holy currency, it was a way of bartering with weather patterns and claiming some sort of intimate relationship with oak trees and ravens. And I believed also that when you did that, in some strange way, what we loosely call ancestors would roll up and have a look. This all seemed to be part of the move from the fromness to the ofness. Language was actually a bridge into that for me.

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Tad: Speaking of language, you made a distinction in the video. You referenced it here between wilderness and wildness. That had me wondering. Because some people live in the concrete jungle, and there is no wilderness around them. And yet you seem to be suggesting that wildness is still available.

Martin: Yes it is. It is. Now there are different types of wildness. You can be thinking of wildness like the long grass that is growing up between two tenement buildings. You can look at, if not a wild environment, then a feral environment, when you’re looking at street gangs.

I’ve spent, many, many years working with what we loosely call at-risk youth, and in prison sometimes. And you see versions of wildness or attempts at wildness trying to show their hands all the time.

I mean, interestingly for me, I believe that discipline is the dance partner of wildness. That actually I don’t want to be experiencing expressive dance or interpretive dance all day long. Sometimes I want to see a flamenco. I want to see steps. I want to see discipline. I want to see homemaking skills. You cannot be a decent storyteller without homemaking skills.

Because in the Gaelic and Celtic tradition, if your life isn’t beautiful enough, if you are not a kind of little trembling bird of sound, then stories simply will not land on your shoulder. There’s a whole maintenance program designed to curate and look after stories. Otherwise they’re simply not interested in turning up.

“The stories in Scatterlings are not auditioning for our contemporary polemics. They don’t care. They do not care.”

You know, you’ll see this in Scatterlings. The stories in Scatterlings are not auditioning for our contemporary polemics. They don’t care. They do not care. They have an agency all of their own. I travel about and people are always saying to me, they say, “Oh, you know a bit about stories. Can you give us one mono story for now? Can you just procure it out of the ether with all of the complexity of everything we’re living through? Can you do that for us?”

And my feeling is the stories we need arrived really perfectly on time about 5,000 years ago. They’re stepping forward now. The first thing that I recommend is, if you’re interested in stories, you need to live a life efficacious enough, humble enough and beautiful enough for stories to actually show up. Stories are not interested in us just beholding beauty. They want to see us make it. They want to see us make beauty and then they get interested and then they show up. And then they start to, as I said earlier on, arrive in the meadhall of our jaws.

“Stories are not interested in us just beholding beauty. They want to see us make it.”

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Tad: Is there some relationship for you between beauty and wildness?

Martin: Yeah, there is. There is actually. And I think most people can understand that very quickly. But civilization is also not the dirty word for me that it is to a lot of my contemporaries who would just be done with it. They would just like Rome to burn all day long and that would be the end of the matter.

And I’m not interested in that either. You know, it is a paradoxical time that we’re living in. You know, there’s no one that I know that on some level is not a hypocrite. Nobody. And you know, I would say this: at this point, for you and I, our incompleteness is our authenticity. It is. You know, I’m not saying we stay there. I’m not saying we stay there, but for me anyway, my incompleteness is my authenticity. Anything else is just hubris. And then I try to work at it in my own stumbling fashion.

Tad: Well, you mentioned the relationship between storytelling and homemaking. And I’m curious, because that word ‘home’, of course, gets used in a lot of different ways in this culture. And it’s come to mean a lot of different things. So I’m wondering, what does home mean for you? And what does homemaking mean for you?

Martin: I think there’s some practical stuff attached to that. Seven or eight miles from where I’m talking to you now, my dead are buried. You know, my aunt is buried, my grandpa is buried. My great-grandfather is buried, my granny is buried. My other aunt is buried. So there’s something to do with bodies in the ground. That’s partially to do with home. I can’t access that sensation by the Pacific Ocean. I can’t access it in Norway. You know, I have to be in a particular place.

You know, it’s funny how we talk about the difference between a house and a home. ‘Home’ I have to say for me is also a lot to do with books. I’m an enormous reader and I’ve lived in different places. But certain books, certain images, certain paintings, they orientate me, but I do not mistake that for what someone would call an axis mundi. That’s not my Yggdrasil. That’s not my holy tree.

So I have a sense, wherever I go, to some degree, I feel stabilized. But without question, when I am entering Devon, it’s to do with the smell of the air. It’s to do with the seasons I have witnessed over and over again. It’s to do with the child that I’ve raised. It’s to do with the rain in my face. It’s to do with all the failures that have landed on me in this place over the last 44 years. It’s a really nuanced confluence of things that for me give me a sense of home. And it’s not even a comfortable sensation. It’s just a thing. You know?

Tad: So is homemaking a skill, do you think, that we have to develop? Is it an innate human capacity, this idea of making home? Because for some people of course, maybe they’re a refugee or something else, or maybe they’ve moved for a different reason and now they find themselves in a new place that is not home. And some people have never known home in the way you’re talking about it: the bones of their ancestors. So then we’re left with this, I guess we have to make home.

“when you go deep enough into the local, you find the nomad.”

Martin-Shaw--224x300Martin: You do. And how does one do that? One of the things I found so fascinating about spending five years ruminating on your home ground, from where I come from, Devon, is when you go deep enough into the local, you find the nomad. There’s always a nomadic agency at the very center of the local. For example, a few years ago on a hill very near where I lived, a place called White Horse Hill, we discovered the burial cairn of a young girl. She was 14 years old. And she died about 4,000 years ago, or had been ritually executed. I’m not sure. And there were bearskins in there. And there was all sorts of jewelry. But the reason why we knew she was a big deal was that there were 200 little amber beads right there on this remote Devon hillside. And where did those amber beads come from? The Baltics. The Baltics. So that was going on 4,000 years ago. Trade was going on 4,000 years ago. One of the things I do in Scatterlings is I collect language that has remained outside of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, but was being used by farmers and sheepherders sand rural people in Devan for hundreds of years. And without question the root of their language for calling animals is Aramaic.

“And without question the root of their language for calling animals is Aramaic.”

You know, so in other words, one of the things as I’m trying to get soaked into the local, the further into it I go, the more and more scent I get from cultures from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. You know, I mean Dartmoor itself is 365 square miles of wilderness, but, for a long time, it was the bottom of an ocean. For a long time, it was a redwood forest. For a long time, it was covered by hyenas and elephants. I love the idea that an elephant is more indigenous to Dartmoor than I will ever be. I think that’s very charming.

So I don’t lock in too quickly. I stay curious. Put it that way, Tad. I stay curious about what the word ‘local’ is. Because actually, and I’m sure this is the same way you are, there’s a hysteria around the word local that after a while I find unattractive. It’s just become another word, you know. So actually one of the things that Scatterlings has to own as a book is local stories, local myths, local legends. They do not do what a Russian fairy tale does. They do not do what a big Irish saga does.

They are much more low-key. When you really do get a story that is based and locked into a particular stretch of the dark river, that oak tree with the moss on the northern flank, the information it gives is discrete and quiet and really requires you as a storyteller to bring people into what I call the mnemonic triggers, the landscape triggers of that story.

“You don’t tell those stories to 4,000 people.”

You don’t travel the world with those stories. You don’t tell those stories to 4,000 people. There seems to be an invitation the other way in saying — and that’s what happened with the book. It felt as if the land was saying, “We will disclose these stories to you, but the condition is if you’re actually going to tell them you have to tell them in place.”

And so that’s what I can see as part of my practice over the years with this book. It’s actually working with quite small groups in Chaw Gully or by the great weatherstones or wherever these stories actually arise out of the ground from. There’s a wonderful phrase from a writer called Sean Kane and he says myth is the power of a place speaking.  is the power of a place speaking. Not that myth is people speaking or an oak tree speaking or a jack door. It’s the place. And you and I can be part of that place briefly, sometimes. But I’m touched by that. That’s enough for me to go on.

“Myth is the power of a place speaking.”

Tad: That reminds me of an experience I had 10 years ago. I was at the Gaelic College and I ended up connecting with a storyteller, George McPherson up there. And he had all these stories that were so particular, like this rock. You know, what you were saying has me thinking. So much to say.

One is how this culture becomes very — identities can become so Puritan and so pure. So “I’m from this country,” or “I’m from this,” with no sense that the ancestors of those places came from other places at some point. And there’s been all this migration over the years.

People say, “I’m Scottish,” and it’s like from this place. But you know, where? When exactly? So there’s that. And, of course, we see the toxic bloom of that coming out in the United States right now with the rise of white supremacy. Which is this sort of toxic white as a pure thing, which of course has a larger story of often coming and fleeing from Europe.

And then a sort of freezing of this cultural identity of you know, Scottish or Irish or whatever it is. And it makes me think. One of the things Stephen Jenkinson said once was that the main capacity of storytelling is actually story hearing. The ability to hear stories.

So part of what I’m hearing of what you’re saying is there’s this notion that people in their communities, when we really look at our communities and neighborhoods and where things came from, each of those things has a story. And that if we can look at everything and say, “Where did you come from?”

Look at the dandelion in North America and know that they came from Europe. They got brought over. I’ve even heard people make claims that earthworms were not here, that those came over from Europe. You know, cattle and all these things. So there’s a capacity, even in looking at one square mile or one square foot almost, one could want to know, “Where did you come from? How did you get here? What’s the story of you? What’s the story of us?”

And then it just seems like there’s some — that seems connected to the capacity for homemaking.

10515116_10152921283898336_362192035662851658_oMartin: I agree. In this book I wrote, Snowy Tower, the epilogue of the book is called Foundational Stones to Myth Telling. And it’s all about that. It’s just saying, “Try this out, try this out, try this out.”

It makes people a little worthy for a while. Do you know that expression? Worthy? So you’re a bit anal. You’ve got people kind of wandering around with jackets that are sort of pressed in vats of their own urine and things like that. They’re a little humorless for a little while, but you get past it.

I mean, I have students who for example, there will be a small room in their house and everything that is in that room they know entirely the story of that table and how it was made. Or the shoes or the musical instrument. They can go right back to the source of it usually because they made it themselves. So, that’s a mighty task. It’s a wonderful task. But if people want to work in that manner, that’s a place that you can go. You can just say, “I’m really going to get to know how it is to handle wood, or to build a boat. I’m going to dig into this.” And the further you go, as I’m sure you’re aware in your own life, you get paid back pound by pound exactly what you put in. And you will know that you are on the right trail with it when you are no longer enjoying it for a period of time. And you continue. I mean, that’s one of the things in Scatterlings I’m talking about for a lot of this book. The book was not written on a crest of euphoria. You know, the book was a very diligent, slow, trucking through four very difficult winters.

Trying to find my way across Dartmoor without a map. So in other words, I would find a story or a story would find me that still had a beginning and middle and end that was describing a particular section of the moors. And I would go up there and I would walk — I hesitate to call it that, but you could see it almost like a song line. I would try and find my way from one end of the story to the other. And the commentary on the stories was not a kind of exegesis in comparative religion or comparative mythology. It’s what happened on the walk. It’s the belief that when you start not only listening to a story — you know, the suggestion you were saying about how we listen to stories, not just tell them — it’s also how we walk them. You know, to walk a story, to walk the geography of a story. To try the myth line of a story. And you do it in such a fashion that what discloses itself on the walk, whether that’s animals you encountered, people that came towards you, you know the way the weather turned, it’s all a form of divination, for me anyway.

And that’s kind of my disclaimer really, is that I am of a mystical disposition. And so it’s not necessarily that these are things that would work for anybody. But they are sincerely laid down in the book as well as I can, as well as I can do that.

Tad: Do you think that not being at home is connected with not knowing the stories of things and not knowing the stories of a place?

“The result of not knowing the stories of things means you do not know the story of yourself or your place in it.”

Martin: Yeah, I do. Because the result of not knowing the stories of things means you do not know the story of yourself or your place in it. And when you don’t know the story you’re in, you in the end will be victim — and I do say victim — to enormous floods of anxiety. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. None of that matters. It’s absolutely crippling and debilitating. So you know, you end up in a very bleak place. I mean, I’m sure with pals of yours one of the discussions at the moment is around the word despair.

People are saying to me, “Is it legitimate? What do you think about the word despair? Is it good to feel despair for the world?” And I’m cautious about that word actually. I’m cautious about it. I think sorrow is one thing. But true despair, true despair, that is a very, very terrifying proposition.

And to bring it back into the realm of stories again, you know, the myth teller — there is such a thing as a myth teller’s contract. In a tribal community, stories are the nutrient that are going to hopefully get you from one end of the winter to the other. You know, it has survival at its core.

And the stories that we remember are the ones of significance. Someone asked me the other day, they said, “Why isn’t there a story about the day that nothing really happened?” And I said, “Well that’s a good question.”

The reason why is that stories that come from oral cultures come from a time where we didn’t have an iPad that we could continually put down information into. We had a finite memory. So the stories we remembered were impacted with really important, vital information, psychic information about how to function in this world with dignity and a little bit of style.

And with all of that in mind, the contract of the myth teller is to get a group into as deep a place as you possibly can. In other words, into the arena of ritual. To the bottom of the well if you’re going to use a fairy tale term. But you are contractually obliged to get them out again. That doesn’t mean you say, “Ah, you know, and then it was just a dream and then everybody woke up and la, la, la.” It’s not that. It’s not that. And it’s not quite hope either. Or if it is hope, it’s a very sophisticated version. But to some degree, you do not leave people in the wound of the story as if that alone is enough. Because it isn’t enough.

“Your wound does not edify the gods.”

Your wound does not edify the gods. You know, again something I think in the book I talk about is I meet a lot of folks these days and I say that they are experiencing what I call the seduction of the wound. If you’re growing up in an anesthetized culture where nothing really is happening, to get in touch with something that feels painful feels truthful.

You know? So, for me, the first place that I wanted to go when I was a kid was the mosh pit. You know, that’s where I wanted to go. If I was launching myself off a PA system 12 feet in the air above a screaming bunch of punk rockers, I was alive. And it was going to hurt when I landed, but it would be a trance-breaking kind of hurt.

And it was a form of contact, because I was banging up against people in a peculiar kind of dance. But that in itself is a move towards waking up, but it is by no means the end of the story. You know, that might have temporarily edified me, but it didn’t edify anything else. And with my own students, part of homemaking skills — we’re coming back to that theme again — part of homemaking skills is saying — say you’re a writer– waggling your pen around in the ink of your pain is a seduction. It’s a seduction. There has got to be a more vital form of nutrient than that.

And so with the stories that I’m involved with, the stories that have claimed me, the ones that I’m telling, they have some very hard, what I would call prophetic, not pastoral information. We don’t need more pastoral stories telling us we’re doing all right. We’re not doing all right. If Trump has a possibility of being elected, we’re not doing all right. If England is under the hallucination that leaving the European Union is a good idea, we’re not all right. So I’m curious about how we raise our game with our artfulness in the years that we’re here.

“waggling your pen around in the ink of your pain is a seduction.”

Tad: You know, when you talk about wounds, it strikes me that one of the ways we can deal with wounds, certainly there’s directly addressing them. But there’s also giving them some bigger context that they’re in, which seems like one of the roles that myth has played. You’re not the only person to have felt this way and that there’s a bigger story at work around this thing.

It’s not just that. And so there’s this notion of being inside of a story. And yet, that seems so antithetical to our times, which our times — we’re so hungry for freedom and yet the way we define freedom in this culture, this modern world, seems to be about a lack of limits. So freedom means no limits.

Which of course has the consequences of a rootless and weightlessness. And so I’d be curious to hear your understanding of freedom. Because in the words of Stephen Jenkinson again — we’ve referenced him a few times — he has a line he says, “We are modern and we are confused by freedom.” So I’d be curious to hear your understanding of freedom.

Martin: Yeah, I mean I don’t think about the word very much to be honest. It doesn’t register. You know, as long as I remain curious, curiosity is a more interesting word to me than freedom. Because what does freedom mean? Does freedom mean that I’m not indebted anymore? You know?

Does it mean that I don’t owe people stuff? I hope I owe people stuff. I want to owe people stuff for the rest of my life. You know, the old Platonic — in Greek thinking there are these modes that they call growing down. Growing down into the business of living. And one of them is you know, that strange troubled nest that is your family.

Accepting that there is some sort of divine principle at work. Or if you’re an orphan or wherever the hell you grew up, there’s some dynamic principle working from the beginning trying to get you to remember something. And there’s an indebtedness to that. There’s an indebtedness to a small stretch of land.

And it goes on to these four modes. But it culminates in creating a life to approach the unpayable astonishment that one should have at the experience of being gifted a life at all. So I want to be in the presence of unpayable things and I want to try to pay them anyway. So freedom, in any conventional sense, it’s just not on my radar I’m afraid.

Tad: It just strikes me that in this modern world we want to be free of everything, which includes free of a story. You know, “I just want to be my own person. I want to be an individual. I’m not a part of this bigger story that you want to tell. I’m just myself.” And yet the loneliness that seems to create in these times.

It means they’re dead. It means that guy died in this experience.”

Martin: I know. If you really want to make people uncomfortable when you’re having a gathering and people are talking about words like ‘initiation’ or words like ‘indigenous’, talk to them about the word submission. The function of submission in a rite of passage worth its salt.

There comes a point where you have to find out what it is like to bend your head. And at that moment, the polemic of your feelings matter not a jot. I remember a few years ago a guy rang me up and he said, “Yeah, I want to do your wilderness fasting, but I have to eat all the way through. We’ll just clear that up now so I can eat.”

And I knew the guy and I said, “Do you have a particular book on your shelf?” And I knew he would. And I said, “Go and open the book up.” I had it too. And I said, “You see page 82? You see this aboriginal ritual going on where all those guys are lying on the ground and every third or fourth guy there’s like a white stick coming out of the ground?”

He said, “Yeah, that’s really weird.” He said, “They’re out in the desert doing something like what you do.” And I said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Do you know what the white sticks are?” He said no. It means they’re dead. It means that guy died in this experience.

“And you’re telling me you’re going to rock up with a McDonalds and a Frappachino and expect to have an equivalent experience?” You know, ring me in eight years. Which is actually exactly what happened. He went out last summer.

So you know, I don’t know. Strange times that we’re living in. And you know, I’m very aware with Scatterlings and I’m very aware as a British person living in Britain, my situation with landscape is not the same I would suggest as an American of European origin living on Turtle Island. It’s different. And we have all sorts of gradient of relationship up until the present day, that Scatterlings has to tackle. It’s not as if I’m sitting here thinking, “Well you know, 300 years ago the red man was sitting in the forest next to where my house is.” It’s a different crisis. It’s a crisis of equal weight, but it’s slightly different. So one of the things the book has to do is deal with what I call English liminal culture. In other words, even through the Industrial Revolution, even through the political spheres, where were the pressure points? Where were the acupuncture points in British history when people were trying to reach out to the mysteries?

They were trying to reach out to what David Abram calls the more than human world. When was that happening? So one of the things is I hope for folks whose names maybe end in MacGregor or Vaughn or O’Brien, there are all sorts of clues in that book about this is a place you could go. This is a place that you could check out.

This is a place where you could raise your game, raise your wisdoms about what stands behind you.

Tad: I suppose that leaves me with one more wondering, which is a big one. It seems like so much of this coming to understand and find this bigger story that we’re in, this capacity for homemaking, this capacity to be of a place, has a lot to do with the relationship we have to the particular things of the place.

I didn’t get the sense you were sitting in Devon on a hill overlooking everything from a distance. But you talked about really walking through it. And in particular that moss on that rock and this tree and the way the branch is broken and that way.

And so there’s something about particularities, which of course could be just as true in a concrete inner city environment. There’s particular things to be seen there too. And yet one of the things you said in the little video you made for the book is this whole thing is about courting.

And one of the things you said earlier in this conversation was, you used the phrase what wants to disclose itself to me? And you made the distinction between beholding and seeing. And so it seems like there’s something about our manner of approach to the particularities of where we find ourselves that determines what we find.

“there are whole new growth pine forests on Dartmoor that were entirely planted for the construction of warships.”

Martin: Yeah. I mean, for the longest time, the forests where I come from have all the glittering, gleaming eyes. You know, when you go into a wild place, there’s many more eyes looking at you than anything you think you’re looking at. You’re always being looked at.

And what they have seen for a long time is us coming and looking at ancient trees as 2×4’s – as planks rather than a tree. They’ve seen us planting. There are whole new growth pine forests on Dartmoor that were entirely planted for the construction of warships. And so the very reasoning for those things to be there is for an act of war.

And so for 20 years I have often gone into wild places and I’ve stopped eating. One of the reasons you do that is because it is a primordial set of manners the wilderness understands. Because it means you say, “For a while, I am no longer devouring, but being devoured. I will be devoured.”

And I place my sword on the soil, and I bend my head. And you recalibrate yourself for a while to the humors of that place. To the hearing and the listening of that place. And so that’s why my relationship began to change.

Because quite frankly I was vulnerable when I was out there. I was cold, I was frightened. I was unpractical. I’m not a practical man particularly. So it was always a struggle for me, that kind of thing. But I did it with a particular type of humility because the old ones can smell if you’re on the take. They know. And they go, “Oh, it’s you again.” And so the manner in which they disclose things, the manner in which you move from seeing something to behold something is simple. Lay down your arms. Lay down your arms. And that is the beginning I would say of a different kind of conversation.

Tad: Thank you. I’m wondering if there are any last words you’d like to say. You’re about to go on this huge tour of Scatterlings all across Canada and be sharing this book with a lot of people. It will be a part of your life the next little while. So I’m just wondering, are there any last thoughts that you’d like to share?

Martin: I’m thoroughly looking forward to coming. And I’ll read you something from it.

Tad: That would be wonderful.

Martin: This is just a little bit. Two or three minutes. And it’s really the beginning of going out and looking for stories looking to get claimed.

I went out looing for stories in dark places. In caves, hundreds of feet into the base of hills. The immensity of tree roots and stones suspended above my fragile head. I leant slow words down there. Words flushed deep with water and bolder dust.

I took myself to dreaming places, forgotten places. Places deserving of shrines. I built small shelters in ancient solitary haunts and sealed myself into the dark for days and nights. It was in those places I learnt many holy names for time. Time is malleable as a concertina, as robust as Irish cattle, as slippery as the trout escaping the hook.

Each of the secret words was true wealth for my parched tongue. They required payment in full and I was not sad to give it. I went looking for stories in the palace of the birds, the pastoral murmur of the wood pigeon. The thrilling blue calls of the tawny owls in their midnight kingdoms. I learned feathered words up there, sounds that whittled a new and fragrant shape to my jaw.

For a little while, I was a boy of the moonlight, cloaked and rooted by the base of great trees. It is no great brag to say that a part of me is still there.

So yeah, there’s a bit of the book.

Tad: Thank you so much. So if people want to know more about the tour, they can go to — there’s a website DrMartinShawCA.wordpress.com.. And if they want to find out more about you and your work and about the school and learn more about you beyond this tour, where should they go?

scatterlingsMartin: There are two websites. One is called DrMartinShaw.com and that has a lot of my wider work. I do a lot of work with Celtic translations. I’m just finishing a book of translations of Lorca the poet. Various sort of stuff I’m involved with. I also lead a conference called the Great Mother Conference every year in New England.

And then the other website is SchoolOfMyth.com. And that’s my little school, my little hedge school that I have down in the west country where people come and study with me from really April to December. We gather five times for three days at a time. And we go very deeply into the kind of areas that we’ve just briefly discussed this evening.

Tad: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much. I know it is now 11:00 PM your time and you’ve been very gracious with your time. May your travels be wonderful and full of unexpected delights in every stop, and the seeds of many good things be planted in your life and the life of everyone who comes to your events.

Martin: Okay, thank you so much.

Tad: Take care. Bye.

Interview with Stephen Jenkinson – Am I Ready to Teach?

In February of 2015, I sat down to write a blog post that it felt ridiculous for me to be writing. It was entitled, 36 Reflections on “Who am I to teach and charge for it?”.

Being 39 years young at the time, and an elder in training at the very best, it felt like a strange thing to even presume to have an opinion on and yet, it was a question that rankled in the hearts of so many of my friends and clients – a silent torture of feeling called to teach on one hand but question their credibility to do it on the other. One on hand there is the call to proceed as if they might be needed, and on the other hand wondering what the best manner of proceeding might be.

And, so I found myself wondering what Stephen Jenkinson, author, speaker and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School, might have to say about it. I had interviewed him on the related topic of Right Livelihood in May of 2015 and hoped he might be willing to have another conversation. The request was made and sat on the heaping pile of the considerations of the days of Stephen and his wife Nathalie until a moment was found.

The conversation was sprawling and braided together the topics of teaching, culture, elderhood, globalization and cultural appropriation. The word ‘patience’ kept recurring like a caution in it all and reminded me of Wendell Berry’s line, “To be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial”. He implored us to see our cultural poverty and the woundedness that emerged from it but to ask that woundeness to earn its keep before giving it the megaphone and spotlight it might crave.

I hope these words are food for you and might enable you to provide food for others and all those yet to come.

You can listen to or download the audio version here.

stephen

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“From whence comes the, let’s be frank, demand for more teachers?”

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Tad: Greetings, everybody. This is Tad Hargrave with “Marketing for Hippies,” and I am joined by Stephen Jenkinson (pictured above). Stephen is a teacher, author, storyteller, spiritual activist, farmer, and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School, a teaching house and learning house for the skills of deep living and making of human culture.

It’s rooted in knowing history, being claimed by ancestry, and working for a time yet to come. Welcome, Stephen.

Stephen:  Thank you, Tad.

Tad:  It’s good to have you here. Months ago, as  a result of being in the Orphan Wisdom School, this question started to emerge, this wondering about being a teacher, coming from a lot of my clients wrestling with this, feeling like they’re looking at the world, and feeling like more teachers are needed, and feeling called into that.

And yet also feeling cautioned and not sure whether people asking them for wisdom or saying, “You should be a teacher,” is something that they should follow, or a temptation to avoid.

That, meshed with things I’ve seen in this scene of “In a weekend, you can become a reiki master,” people becoming life coaches in a year or two years. We just have this situation of people wondering, “Am I ready to be a teacher?”

A while ago I emailed you about this, and your reply was, “Who needs more teachers?”

Stephen:  [laughs] Yeah, a measured response.

Tad: Yeah. I guess I wanted to open it up to you to see what thoughts you had and reflections you had on this for people who are wrestling with these questions.

Stephen:  How about give me a located and concrete question to start with?

Tad:  Sure. There are people who are — and to think of people, I mean in the Orphan Wisdom School who I know people have come to and started saying, “You should teach what you’re learning here at the Orphan Wisdom School. You should be a teacher of that.”

Or people who are studying with various shamans or medicine people around the world. Their friends are coming to them and saying, “Oh hey, you’ve been studying this, and you know more than we know anyways, so why don’t you do a workshop or host something, and why don’t you teach a bit of what you’ve learned.”

They don’t know what to do with that. I think, from what I’ve heard from some of them, their wrestling with that. “Should I respond to that, and share some of what I’ve learned? Or should I demure and engage in some other way?”

I don’t know if that’s any better…

Stephen:  No, no better, [laughs] but let me not put you through it a third time.

One question, one place to begin is to wonder this. From whence comes this request? Not your request to me, but the request that you’re relating to me now? From whence comes the request/demand — let’s be frank — demand for more teachers, which I’m not sure that’s what it’s a demand for, but let’s start there.

The people who are asking for this, their request comes from? And the answer most certainly would be a combination of a proliferation of teachers already. Somehow that breeds the demand for yet more, on the one side. And on the other side, it comes from a fairly telling lack of familiarity with that thing that they’re requesting.

So the first thing to wonder about is whether this request is what it sounds like. I’m not inferring anything nefarious in here. I’m talking about something subtle, and the subtlety of a demand or an expectation for there to be more teachers is frankly a demand for what? It’s a demand for greater access to this thing that people are demanding.

That’s my first hesitation, is, “Look where this demand or expectation is coming from, and ask yourself whether or not it is to be served in that raw, frankly naked — and I might as well go the whole route and say — adolescent and uninitiated form.

Because any deep contact with a — let’s call it, in generic sense, a wisdom tradition, that’s really rooted somewhere, and at some place amongst some people in some particular time… I believe the first consequence of some kind of deep encounter with this is a more or less humble refusal to uproot it, to tear it from its home place and to insist that it proliferate where you live, where it has no kin, no homeland, no tradition, no history, no anything.

I don’t know if you can smell it… What I smell is something in the order of a kind of a conversion mentality, that most people who are making these kinds of requests or demands are ancestrally derived from them, and the conversion mentality — and I’m not just referring to Christianity, although it seems to take the biggest hit in this regard — but all of those religious traditions, and those traditions that claim not to be religious, who are engaged in some kind of transplantation, missionizing, almost across the board what you see there is it’s a kind of low-grade and maybe unintended assault on time, the specifics, the diversities, the rootedness of various times, of various places, and peoples and cultures.

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“this expectation or demand for more teachers strikes me as utterly in keeping with the globalization mind that many people who are requesting it would understand themselves to be categorically opposed to.”

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By which I’m saying that to my mind, this expectation — this is a bit of a leap here now, but this expectation or demand for more teachers strikes me as utterly in keeping with the globalization mind that many people who are requesting it would understand themselves to be categorically opposed to. Do you see what I’m saying?

This is a great dilemma, no? We fancy ourselves to be opposed to NAFTA, and because of that, we imagine ourselves to be free of the instinct to globalize.

Well, I’ll tell you. I see it everywhere, the assumption, for example. You can’t imagine how many times I’m approached on the road and elsewhere, usually in a kind of a conspiratorial fashion, as if I would be on the inside, obviously, of what they’re about to ask me, and very, very kindly disposed to it.

They’ll start talking about ayahuasca. That’s the big one, especially the further west I go on the continent. The general thing is, the tone of it is, “But ayahuasca’s cool, right? Me using it,” and then they go into detail about how Mr. Shaman took them aside in the Amazon, or maybe not the Amazon. Maybe the Fraser River, in BC, and because it was Mr. Shaman and he comes from x place, or she comes from y place, this all legitimizes the whole enterprise.

I think the underlying assumption of the whole thing is, “Well if it’s in the world, then it’s for everyone, right?”

Tad:  Mm-hmm.

12484786_1011935385494410_7657209842746102978_o

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The real learning of these things, in the places where they’re actually learned, means that you don’t have an undisturbed life, that the willingness to learn these things rules your days, and that your daily life is enthralled to this learning.

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Stephen: I don’t think so. I think that these things are specifically in specific parts of the world for specific reasons, and why don’t we learn that instead? Why don’t we learn about diversity and locality, instead of generalized ability based on the extremities of bereavement, culturally speaking? That most people who are making these kind of requests are living in day in and day out, generally unawares.

So the old adage, food makes hunger, is absolutely accurate. It’s not just true in the kitchen, but of course, it’s true culturally, spiritually, and the rest. When you are in the presence of something that seems bonified, legitimate, rooted, planted, ongoing, and that it’s earned its keep, the instinct in there somewhere is, “Where do I sign?”, without any willingness to realize that the labor of preservation of learning, of memorizing, and more learning, of losing and learning, of being entrusted at too young an age because of cultural mayhem and learning. All of that goes by the wayside.

And if it’s in the world, and it can be reduced to a weekend — oh, let’s be fairer than that — it can be reduced to a two-year program, once a month and… whatever it is, my point is that the real learning of these things is not something that your undisturbed life would be amenable to.

The real learning of these things, in the places where they’re actually learned, means that you don’t have an undisturbed life, that the willingness to learn these things rules your days, and that your daily life is enthralled to this learning.

Maybe you know people who are willing to go that route. I, myself, given the travails and the slings and arrows of normal life in urban North America, I don’t know that many of them. But I’m sure that the people you’re referring to who are making these requests and demands don’t fall into that narrow and devoted category that I just described.

I’m not saying that they should. I’m simply trying to observe a dilemma that I think underlies this expectation, so there’s the first consideration, is ‘from whence comes the request or the demand?’, and the answer is it comes from a place where the things that are sought do not live. There’s the first one.

The second one is something in the order of the machinery of teaching. This is something I’ve thought a lot about myself, and for what it’s worth, at least to get it started, I’d offer this up to you.

Teaching can be distinguished from other kinds of activity which would nominally, at first blush, might look like the same thing, but I don’t think they are. Teachers — and I have to generalize to say anything at all, so before anybody’s ready to take me down in flames, let’s just consider, before we vote, because I’m not voting. I’ve just been asked to consider out loud here, too, so let me see if I can do it.

Teaching as a function is a metaphoric function, by which I mean this. Teachers, even the best teachers, are conduit. I don’t know how to say it, plural of conduit — conduii, I suppose it is. They’re a pipe, and the things entrusted to them more or less flow unimpeded either to the next generation or the next semester, or whatever the arrangement is. That’s what the root meaning of the word “metaphor” is. It’s something in the order of to carry across, to transmit, if you will, this kind of thing.

There’s absolutely room in the world for that faithful function. Absolutely, that’s true. I think what’s missing in the function is a kind of discipline, if you will. Let’s start with a little etymology on this one. You’ve heard me talk about this one before, I know.

Discipline, the same etymologically rooted in the word “disciple,” and vice versa. People don’t like the word disciple in North America. They prefer teacher and student, I suppose, but disciple’s a little strong. It sounds a little mindless, right? A little abandoned, and the rest, a little slavish, and we’re not big on that thing.

The thrust of these two words happens something like this. It infers the following, that kind of quixotic combination of acquired habit and reigned in inspiration that you are willing to take upon yourself, for the sake of the — love is usually the word that is used here, but if that seems too strong, for the sake of the…OK, I’ll say it differently. Sorry.

That what discipline and disciple infer is that because of what you seek, in the name of what you seek, and from whom you seek it, you will take upon yourself a degree of studied, purposeful habit, and restraint, and all that goes with that, in the name of the devotion you have for the person you propose to learn from. That’s the kind of matrix of the thing.

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The truth of the matter is that we are bereft of the institution of apprenticeship, really, and that’s to our deep, deep detriment, I think. We have workshopitis,

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I don’t see the proliferation of teaching that goes on now as having, frankly, the patience and the belief in time in that such an arrangement, I think, probably requires. The truth of the matter is that we are bereft of the institution of apprenticeship, really, and that’s to our deep, deep detriment, I think. We have workshopitis, God knows, and we have weekend warrior syndromes and all the rest, but the idea of a long, unrewarded, unrecognized, unspectacular, ordinary, mundane, not-on-a-website kind of learning where there’s no sign that you are, in fact, learning, and the willingness to find the deep patience required in proceeding, minus any sign that what you seek is what’s happening.

That’s what’s missing, and that what I think the proliferation of teachers actually aids and abets, the unwillingness to slow down, to be an amateur, and to never graduate from that status.

So if anybody’s been in the Orphan Wisdom School and is presuming to turn it around, if you will — I’m not talking about the motivation now. I’m talking about the mechanics and the consequence. They’ve done so without ever asking me what I think about it, I could tell you that, because I’ve never been asked about what I think about that, or what my take on it might be. But you’re hearing it now.

Do people really imagine that as a consequence of one or two years, which amounts to between 10 and 20 days of sitting in the Orphan Wisdom School, that this is tantamount to the years that was required of me to be able to distill what I try to make available in those 10 or 20 days.

I don’t think anybody, when pressed, would ever say that they’re somehow similar, but yet the willingness to go ahead and teach this stuff after, frankly, nominal exposure to it, whispers that it is.

Or it whispers that the times are so desperate, that we don’t have time for time. [laughs] That could be true, too, and I would say to you, if that’s the sentiment, I understand it, but I would say, [breathes in] “It smells like more of the same to me.”

Does that get us started now?

Tad:  It’s, I suppose, a question that comes up for me is, given the incredible poverty that we see in our culture, the lack of elders, the lack of initiation, the lack of apprenticeship, the lack of culture, in any meaningful sense…I just finished reading “The Sibling Society” by Robert Bly, so it’s sort of the absence of that whole vertical structure. What might we better be asking for instead of more teachers?

Stephen: How about this, Tad? How about investigating this instinct of asking for? How about coming to that with more hesitation and less resolve than we’re accustomed to?

That would be my instinct first, not to, “Hey, here’s the new boss. Here’s the new thing. Here’s what’s going to replace the poorly sought other thing.” You know what I’m saying.

*

“I’m saying that the instinct to get it, to have it, to be it, to wear it, to eat it, to snort it, to festoon yourself with it, to bewitch yourself with it, to feather yourself, and fur yourself with it, that’s the thing to be wondered about, because I don’t see those instincts, to do all those things, informed by a real willingness to learn them. I see them as informed by a demand to have them.”

*

I’m saying that the instinct to get it, to have it, to be it, to wear it, to eat it, to snort it, to festoon yourself with it, to bewitch yourself with it, to feather yourself, and fur yourself with it, that’s the thing to be wondered about, because I don’t see those instincts, to do all those things, informed by a real willingness to learn them.

I see them as informed by a demand to have them. That’s the first thing.

It’s that demand that perpetuates this witheredness that you alluded to earlier, I think, and it’s not just delayed gratification. It’s, “Is the world really here, materially and in its spirited form? Is the world really here to enhance our sense of well-being? Is that the fundamental dynamic? Is that what’s granted to us?” It sounds awfully like Genesis to me.

“You name everything. It’s yours, baby,” kind of thing. If some shaman looks you in the eye and says, “You’ll do,” why should you take that as it’s your turn?” [laughs] What if they’re wrong about you?

  There’s a wonderful story that, I know it in a kind of Buddhist iteration, but I’m sure there’s other iterations of it. The gist of it goes like this. Somebody, let’s say, who’s Catholic or Jewish — it doesn’t matter what his ancestral affirmation was, and he’s seeking a path, the path, some path, and maybe he’s in an ashram, I don’t know, something.

  At some point, he asked the guy in the robes how can he, he — the young guy — get to the status of the fellow with the robes. The fellow with the robes says to him, “You’re Catholic, aren’t you?”, and the guy said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, be a good Catholic, that’s how.”

  It’s so dispiriting, because what merit is there in being a good Catholic? Now, I’m not saying there is. I’m not saying there isn’t. I’m trying to say something else, which is…Well, maybe this is the heart of the beast. I see a lot of people who come to things that I do, and five minutes into any verbal encounter with them, you quickly discover that they’ve taken up all manner of traditions from the world upon themselves, either formal conversion or times in the wilderness, or whatever it is, whatever the compound fracture is. 

  They have it, and the thought that seems never to have occurred to anyone who’s done these things, when they speak at least with me about it, is this. Is there such a thing as real ancestry? Number one. If there is, is ancestry instantly and forever obviated, neutralized, withered, and rendered irrelevant as a consequence of dying? 

If the answer’s no, it means your ancestors, present tense, are cultured, and that part of them being the dead, as an honorific title, part of them being your ancestral dead is that they have not graduated from the ancestry that they themselves knew in life.

  I think this is very possible. Take all that and then wonder about the hordes of generic North American people who are seeking an affirmation from a religious, or spiritual, or cultural tradition that’s not their own, and ask yourself whether or not there’s any consequence at all that accrues to their ancestors who they so readily abandoned in the name of being from somewhere.

  And is it not possible, if any of these things are true, that the desire to seek out and seek out and demand yet again from the Amazon jungle, or from the Himalayas, or anywhere in between, doesn’t actually deepen the cultural misery and void that has animated, I think, a lot of what you’ve been doing in your life, and certainly has animated what I’ve been doing in mine.

  I think the answer’s yes. I think the solution that poverty whispers is, “More poverty.”

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*

“Well, the Dalai Lama and a lot of other people know very well the old history of Tibetan Buddhism, and it’s not glorious.”

*

Tad: It strikes me, sitting with this that what I see, and I’m sure experienced in myself often is this. I’ve been looking at wisdom traditions. It feels like there are two impulses that it’s coming from.

One is this, “How can this help my life today?” I’ll actually read from something I saw online recently. It said, “What is shamanism? How can I learn from these ancient indigenous practices and incorporate them into my modern life? How can I embody a balanced relationship in all of my relationships?”

  But just that framing of it, of how can this help you in your life today… So, I feel like that’s one of the thrusts of ‘how do we use it?’, and I’ve heard it talked about as these ‘spiritual technologies’, in our modern life, and then this other thrust is something more about, “Yes, I’m critical about this culture, and so I want to get out of this culture,” because yes, North American culture, you’re right. It’s impoverished, it’s terrible. It’s destroying everything, and so I…

Stephen:  Count me out.

Tad:  Yeah, right.

Stephen:  Count me out, right? Sorry. I’m sorry to interrupt. Yeah, go ahead.

Tad: Yeah, there’s that, “I don’t want to be a part of it, and I see that the religions, whether spiritual or the religion of progress of capitalism, I see that that’s all bankrupt,” and so there’s this deep hunger and desire for a direction to get out of it.

Stephen:  Sure.

Tad:  So either it feels like these get used either to get me out, or help me get deeper in and be more successful in it, yeah.

Stephen:  Sure. Look, man. I don’t say these things out of any joy or malice. I say them with lament, with great sorrow, that so many of the solutions that we craft turn into more of the same.

  But how the hell could it be otherwise, though? If we are following our own bliss…I just hacked a fur ball to say that, but I risked it. If that’s what we’re doing, from whence comes this bliss?

  For 50 or more years now, there’s a segment in North America that’s believed, that has consistently believed that this idea of bliss, personal bliss, is somehow above the fray, is somehow and in no way tainted or touched by the malaise that you’ve just read from, that people are trying to escape, that somehow bliss is…Or your personal path, or personal truth — it doesn’t matter how you describe it, you understand the thrust of the reference.

  The idea that there could actually be a part of you that’s not impoverished, that’s deeply informed, and that would know the real thing when it saw it, and would know how to behave in the presence of the real thing. That’s absolutely breath-taking in its naiveté. To me, it is. That’s number one.

Here’s number two. The various traditions that respond most favorably to their search engines on the Internet, [laughs] ask yourself whether the old history of these traditions is known by these people who are seeking them out. I can promise you that each one of these traditions is very likely to have a degree of historical darkness, or enslavement, or cultural imperialism, that is has inflicted as well as been on the receiving end of, but man, who knows about those?

  Who knows about that part of things? Well, the Dalai Lama and a lot of other people know very well the old history of Tibetan Buddhism, and it’s not glorious, just to take one example, no?

So these things that we seek out more or less uncritically, hoping, believing, imagining, requiring that they are a kind of pollution-free zone, that they’re above the things that we ourselves are trying to get away from, that’s a very naive thing, man, because they’re there. That stuff’s there.

  I don’t say this, I hope it’s clear… I don’t say this to discredit any particular tradition. I’m saying the real, the deep practitioners of these are, I’m sure, doing their best to live this stuff out, to wrangle it as best they can in their devotions and in their daily lives. I’m sure they are, but I’m sure they’re not doing this, believing that they’re somehow on the other side of all that stuff.

  Think about this. There are a lot of religious traditions, spiritual traditions, or cultural, ancestral ones, that have a practice when people — mainly men — return from armed conflict, war, and the rest, that they don’t let them into the villages, that they have to go through a rather prolonged ceremonial sequence to, at one level, the obvious level, detoxify them from what they’ve seen and what they’ve been obliged to do. Yes, that’s true.

  But the deeper realization is none of these things are undertaken for the sole or even primary sake of the returning war veteran. They’re undertaken, a) for the sake of the village they’re trying to re-enter, and b) for the sake of the people that they killed and made homeless and all the rest, and orphaned, and… All of that, and the ancestors of all of those people, and the descendants of all of those people.

  You see, there’s a lot hanging in the balance, when you take a life, and the deep practitioners of real human culture understand that if you’re okay with it, [laughs] that’s nothing.

  If you get on the other side to your PTSD, that’s nothing, man, because the real root of PTSD is the kind of, you could say, ripple of consequence that you didn’t intend, but that ensued, nonetheless.

  Well, this is one little iteration of what I’m talking about when I say “when we seek out a tradition as if it’s pristine.” These traditions internally understand themselves to be otherwise. I’m sure of it.

  This is a degree of torment that perhaps when you thought about talking about this, [laughs] it didn’t seem it was necessary to visit, but here we are.

Tad:  It has me think about purity, and I think especially in the New Age, for lack of a better term, scene, there’s this idea of purity, and that that’s kind of the point of life, whether through our raw vegan diets that we eat, or the spirituality as pristine, and that pristine seems to mean a lack of culture, that it’s pure, in a way, and that this is cross-cultural, that this is just from a more evolved spiritual level, where everything is pure, and everything is untainted and intact, and…

Stephen:  It may be not really humanly derived. Maybe not really a product of human endeavor, but somehow granted from the forehead of Zeus or the equivalent.

Tad:  Yeah, and then there can’t be any cultural appropriation of that, because there’s no culture.

Stephen:  Because there’s no culture to appropriate, exactly, because it’s there for everybody. I can’t make a distinction between that and fir trees, or oaks, or anything that the people who are the MacMillan Bloedells of the world, see these things as a renewable resource.

  Tell me the difference between that and what you just described. I’ve never seen the difference. I think it’s the same orientation. The grandchild of the MacMillan Bloedel executive is the ayuhuasca king.

*

“My heart is broken. I never want it to mend.”

*

Tad:  One of the things you speak a lot about in the school is heartbreak and poverty, and it seems like the…I’ve noticed in myself, when there’s that inclination to — which I’ve had in various points and various forms in my life — that instinct to teach, that instinct to want to be in that role. I can also feel like there’s a way of avoiding the heartbreak and the poverty, and getting…

Stephen: By teaching?

Tad:  Yeah, because then I know something, or I’m trying to help people get out of that, and it’s something I just see a lot, I suppose particularly in the New Age scene, but I guess I could imagine in other religions, too.

  If the instinct for more teachers is driven by this poverty and heartbreak, in part, of where we’re at, and yet what’s being taught is the getting over the heartbreak, and replacing that poverty with some new fancy information. It just strikes me that there’s not a lot of room on the altar for the heartbreak or the poverty.

Stephen:  Who that you know seeks out heartbreak? I’ve told you a story about a guy I knew who prayed for it, remember?

Tad:  Sure.

Stephen:  When he and I watched the film “The Elephant Man,” that’s what came out of his mouth at the end of it. He said, literally, to me, “My heart is broken. I never want it to mend.” He was not seeking a pristine sort of post-morbid restoration of his self-esteem or something. No, man. 

  He was seeking memory, and he realized, I think, that his capacity to remember the deep things that he was born to and that were entrusted to him at some point in his life, required that his memory be engaged, active, and informed by the realities of his time.

  And from him, although this image is not his, but the understanding is, I’ve taken this in the last year or so…I fancy — I even have an envy where the practice of rosary is concerned. I didn’t grow up with anything like that. I didn’t grow up with anything to speak of. I sure didn’t grow up with that, and I think it’s cool beyond measure, and here’s why.

  It is a kind of choreographed memory. You might — not you, personally, but someone might find this inauthentic or contrived. Well, okay, then you try to remember on your own.

[laughter]

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*
“… you become recognizable to them the instant that you begin to resemble the time that you were born to.”

*

Stephen:  It ain’t easy, man, and all the heavy hitters, and all the heavy cultures in the world know very well how hard it is to remember how to be a human being while you’re out in the field trying to be one.

  Often it’s the first casualty. Your memory of how to be one is the first casualty of your renewed efforts to try to be one, so these rituals of all kinds are fundamentally, in part, a way of choreographing your memory without leaving it up to you. In other words, the distinction would be your being reminded instead of being expected to remember. Different function.

  The rosary is in that realm. I think it’s as funky as it gets, but here’s what I think. I don’t know that our time is any more fraught than other aspects of our time, but I don’t know that it isn’t. I would suggest this, that…

  Man, there’s an eagle right in front of my house, just diving into the water. That’s amazing. Just as we speak, right now. Literally, right in front of the house, over the river.

  I’m sorry, I got distracted, as I was watching there. [laughs] It’s a sign, baby.

  [laughter]

But I’m not going to say of what. I don’t know.

Okay.  So now, those beads. It seems to me that the particular afflictions of our time have to appear on those rosary beads, that in fact the beads are not a way of not being in the time that you’re in or solving the time that you’re in, or give you an alternative to the time that you’re in.

  I think that they must be an incarnation of the time that you’re in, and the way I’ve taken to say it is those beads have to be engraved with the nature, including the poverties of your time, etched into every bead, and when you feel them, your times, your contemplations, your yearnings, your strivings, your happiness, your deep satisfactions as well as your heartbreaks, all of those things have to, I think, bear the mark of your time.

  And this is what renders upon you the possibility of being a reliable human being, reliable to other people, reliable to the non-human world, which is, frankly, most of the world, reliable to everything that had granted us our days, which may not be overly visible, and maybe particularly reliable to those ancestors who have you in mind, who find that you become recognizable to them the instant that you begin to resemble the time that you were born to.

  Now I’ve never said anything that good in my life, I don’t think. That last sentence, that last sentence, if I die tonight, that’ll stick. I think that’s as true as anything that’s ever occurred to me. I’m very lucky that I heard myself say that.

*

“For what it’s worth. No elder wants to be one.”

*

Tad:  [laughs] It strikes me so much how that doesn’t get a chance to show up in a manner of understanding the world, or teaching, or wisdom. That’s the sort of universal “It’s always been true.”

  I supposed I find myself wondering…Gosh, I suppose a whole other thing, but in so many traditional societies it seems like teaching — and I don’t even know if teaching is the right word, but the elders who are the ones doing that, and that there’s so many people today who are drawn to that idea of being an elder, and then self-appointing themselves elders.

  I’m curious, to your understanding of from maybe a more traditional standpoint, it feels connected to this teaching piece of how does one know when they are one? How does one know when they are ready? How does one not get prematurely out of the gate and do damage as a result? Nobody wants to be Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Stephen:  Okay, are you ready?

Tad:  Yeah.

Stephen:  For what it’s worth. No elder wants to be one.

Tad:  Yeah.

Stephen:  The desire to be an elder is the particular purview of those who are not. It’s very counter-intuitive — crazy idea. Not that welcome an idea, but “how do you know if you’re an elder?”

“Hey man, that’s not an elder question?”

“Well, wait a second. You’d have to know in order to be one.”

“No, no. That’s what it looks like from here.”

  Here might be a good parallel. I used to work in the death trade quite a long time, and it became very, very sexy during that time to take upon yourself the self-appointed task, generally, of crafting a living will or advanced directive declaration. 

For those who are not entirely sure what it is, it basically means that when you’re no longer able to operate or articulate or what have you, that the caregivers around you and the loved ones are guided by what you would have wanted for yourself should you have been able to direct them in that moment.

It sounds very good. Here’s the dilemma. “Who wrote that thing?”  

“Well, I did.”

“Yeah, but where were you when you wrote it?”

“Well, I was able to write it, so that’s obvious, I was able to articulate it.” [laughs] “I was able to consistently express my wish over time,” which is one of the hallmarks of being sane, apparently in our culture.

“Yeah, but you weren’t at the time that you were instructing people about, were you?”

  “No.”

  “No, you weren’t, were you?”

  “No.”

  “In fact, you’d never been there, had you?”

  “No.”

*

“…The real skill of elderhood in a time as demented as our is, the real skill of elderhood is the skill of being able to have elders in your midst, not the skill of being able to be one of those people, you see?

*

  And so all the articulation came from is an artifact of never having been there, which means you were engaged in a very volatile and probably useful fantasy about what “enough already” would look like, and you know what happened more often than not?

  When people got there, it bore almost no resemblance to what they imagined. This goes right back to the patience thing I was talking about at the beginning. The people who are longing for personal elderhood are the people who’ve never been there, because elders are not people.

  Elder is a function. It’s not an identity. It’s not, in that sense, an achievement. It’s being achieved by not being sought. It’s functionally servitude. That’s what elderhood is, functionally. It’s servitude. It’s mis-apprehended leadership. Our understanding of leadership is, to some degree, above the fray. Those are the people you trust, that kind of thing.

  The elders bear the thumbprint of the makers of their time, and they’re wrought by that. Let’s go further and say overwrought by that, and it weighs heavily in a time like ours, to be an elder in a time that allegedly seeks it, but has no use for it when it’s present.

  The real skill of elderhood in a time as demented as our is, the real skill of elderhood is the skill of being able to have elders in your midst, not the skill of being able to be one of those people, you see? Because if elders are not sustained in their function, in their trouble-making function, they will never be there for you when you seek them, and there will be no elderhood for you to take upon yourself.

  The only way to become an elder is to seek them out, in that sense, to employ them, to recognize them and to give them something to do. How are you going to do that if you, yourself, want to be that elder that you seek? That you want the confirmation.

  I’ve said, using the word “pushback” these days, but I prefer the more authentic rendering of hostility, which I think is what happens. You can’t imagine how much pushback I get if I ever have the kind of marred judgment of talking about these things out loud. You can’t imagine the degree of offense that people beyond a certain age take upon themselves, and it basically comes back, Tad, to this.

  “When is it my bloody turn? When do I finally get to cash in? When does it…?”

  You understand what I’m saying.

Tad:  Yeah.

Stephen:  It’s so sad. The answer is, “Man, as long as you’re asking that, you ain’t never going to get there.” It’s an exercise in controlled futility masquerading as a pilgrimage. 

  These things are mysteries. They’re not strategies. They’re mysteries, even now, in a blighted time like ours. We have blighted mysteries, but we’re not bereft of mystery. One of the mysteries about elderhood is, “Well if you’re seeking elderhood for yourself, then this is an uninitiated understanding of what it means.” So then you have to go back to the drawing board.

  “Okay, so I’ll go get myself some initiation.”

  “Man, you’re 48 years old. What are you talking about?”

  “Yeah, but it’s not too late.”

  “No, it bloody is too late for what you’re talking about.”

  Do you know why it doesn’t work for people at 47 years old? Or 52, [laughs] or 29, or 21? Here’s why it doesn’t work, because they can put your ass out on the top of a mountain, they can freeze you to kingdom come, they can not feed you, they can expose you to the torments of the age, they can threaten you with the oncomingness of the demons of the dark, all of that shit, but, somewhere in there you’re going to be able to say, “I’m cool. I’m out of this shit on Monday. I’m cool. I can get in there. I can imagine myself on the other side of this shit right here.”

  Now here’s the thing. A 12-year old can’t, and that’s why these things, in certain fashion, are timed when they’re timed. There’s lots of other reasons, too, but that’s one. So you see, you get to a certain age, that the machinery of the deep molecular conversion to a deep humanity can not have its way with you, because you become too clever.

  Something like this, I was superintending the death of kids for a while. It was a pretty rough ride, and of course the parents were, needless to say, out of their minds with all of this and the great lament that the parents had, if you really obliged them to verbalize it.

  It was not so much that the kid was dying, but that the fundamental, the epic rip-off of this was that the kids were not going to get to have a full life. That was the operative phrase, “full life.” You’ll see why I think this is pertinent now.

  So I would usually say, “Well, why don’t we just go ask the kid?” Seven years old, dying of leukemia in the hospital, but let’s ask him anyway, and the parents would be horrified that you’d even think of it, and then they ask you to go ask him, because they couldn’t bear it, and properly so, they couldn’t bear to go and ask their kid, so I would literally do so.

  I did it many times, and I can tell you that kids, up to a certain age are absolutely mystified by this question of whether or not they are being deprived of a full life. It simply does not compute, as they used to say. Do you know why?

  Because they have no capacity for the understanding of potential life, that’s why. Because the only life they’ve ever known is the life under their fingernails. In other words, their life is a lived life, not a hypothetical life, not a possible life, not a “if” life. The life that they’ve inhabited is entire, and — maybe the word “complete” is not right — whole. That’s the word I’m looking for. Their life is whole.

Up to a certain age, which it looks to me to be somewhere between 9 and 11 is when they learn how to be crazy like the rest of us, when they learn how to nurse a grievance about not getting their allotment, their hypothetical allotment. When they open up The Book of “Supposed To” and start reading from it, when somebody at school looks at them between the eyes and says, “You’re not living up to your potential,” and they take that inside themselves as an authentic rendering of their lives, that their real life is yet to be.

  Something happens, and we seem to have to learn that. The big dilemma now for that is that the capacity to inhabit the functions of elderhood, or to be inhabited by them require your understanding of yourself not to be one of…You’re like a human in waiting, or you’re some kind of potential something, or if you just fill in the blank, then you will just fill in the blank.

  The plea I’m making, I suppose, is that the degree of patience that I’m talking about approaches the primordial. It’s not some delayed gratification strategy by another name. The patience I’m talking about is the likelihood of you getting what you want. Your want being informed so deeply by your bereavement, because of the troubled time you were born in, guarantees that the troubled time will continue in its current iteration.

  The willingness to forgo being delivered from it so that you might be of some use in it is the patience that I’m pleading for and kind of a secret intonation of that is that might be at the very least, a proto elder function. The willingness to forgo the payday that you were certain that enough feathers and enough ayahuasca and enough being approved of by a smaller browner person than you was going to give you.

*

“Sit at the door and see if you can discern the sound of knocking when it happens, instead of flinging it wide open and saying, ‘I’m here. Any dangerous work for me to do?’, or things of that kind.”

*

Tad:  Do you have time for one more question?

Stephen:  One more boss.

Tad:  Sure. In the school, you make the distinction sometimes between the teaching and being a practitioner.

Stephen:  Yes.

Tad:  And that feels relevant to this whole conversation.

Stephen:  That’s the part I left out at the very beginning. I was going to come back to it, so thank you for prompting me. Did you want to ask something about it, or do you want me to just speak to that?

Tad:  I notice when I said, “How do you know when you’re ready to be a teacher?”, and in the email you replied, “Who needs more teachers?” That’s the place my mind went to, was the, “Do we need more people at the front of rooms imparting information, or do we need people living this and weaving it into their everyday living, and practicing the arts of hospitality, and practicing courtesy, in whatever they end up doing?” I suppose that’s where my mind went with it.

Stephen:  Sure, and a fair response would be to say, “Well, we don’t have to choose between those things, do we?” It is possible that somebody could be a deep practitioner of human life and then on occasion have a breakdown of good judgment and talk to people about it.

[laughter]

*

“I think that’s what friendship is, and I think that’s what these practitioners, as a function among us, are, is they make the world somehow worth the trouble.”

*

Stephen:  You’d like to believe that those two things are possible, and I suppose they are, but I think what I’m saying is that teaching shouldn’t be a time out from what you’re teaching about, and too often, way too often, it is.

  So if you’re really have been entrusted with something that you’re absolutely persuaded is the stuff of the ages, let the world let you know that. Sit at the door and see if you can discern the sound of knocking when it happens, instead of flinging it wide open and saying, “I’m here. Any dangerous work for me to do?”, or things of that kind.

  It’s enormously seductive now. There are so many people willing, very temporarily, to listen to you, that the seduction is, “This must be the sign, that you should be talking.”

  Bob Dylan always said, when he was a young, young man, in one of his songs, he said, “I know my song well before I start singing it.” But he also said, “To live outside the law, you must be honest,” and that’s very compelling to me, because our normal understanding of law-abiding citizen is that you are honest, that you tell the truth, that there’s this faithful orientation to think, “Nothing of the kind, baby.”

  If you’re a law-abiding citizen, you don’t even need a conscience. You need a capacity for basic obedience, and that’s what the law requires of you, and that’s all it requires of you. It doesn’t require discernment. The enforcers of the law don’t say to you, “Now, Tad, which of these laws do you propose to obey today, because you know, it’s really up to you.” No, there’s no discernment at all.

  There’s no discernment at all. One thing only — “Obey,” and there’s no honesty in that, because there’s no discernment in the rest.

  On the other hand, if you propose to find yourself, or you do find yourself on the outside of the thing that you wish you could have been able to change, that outsider status, that’s the beginning of the possibility of you wrangling something that’s more authentic than obedience, and that, in his lyric, he called it honesty.

  So, yes, I think that the proper alternative to the multiplying of teachers is that if we had people practicing life instead of coaching somebody else in it…Let’s go one step further and say I propose to you that it is not a function of human being to teach human being to provisional human beings. I don’t think it is.

  I think that you have to take upon yourself as best as you’re able to a degree of humility that might be in the realm of…I think it was Rumi, but it might have been one of his cohorts over there, who regularly in his poetic kind of ramblings pleaded with people to wake up, and the way he often said it is he would end a particular iteration or plea or something with the phrase “like this,” and of course, you’re reading it on the page. You’re not exactly sure what the reference might be.

  But I think this is as close as a practitioner might get to teaching, is to, just in case you’re missing it, that practitioner might look up from the page or the spoon that he or she’s carving, or the shoe that he or she’s making, or whatever it is, and say, “Well, it’s like this,” and then look back down and keep going, because maybe you missed it, and they break form.

  So it’s not an orthodoxy I’m talking about here. It’s not the new ten steps or anything of the kind. It’s a kind of nuance, I guess, and the idea of being a practitioner, that’s the way I crafted an alternative that I thought might be available just with a phrase, that the mind could think something else, other than, “How do I impart this thing?”

  You don’t impart it. You practice it, and in so doing, see to it that it’s still in the architecture, and this means you have to rely on witnesses, not shanghai students, not…What’s that thing they used to say when they…Pressed. Not pressed students. That’s the old thing that they, when they would gather drunken guys off the wharf and turn them into sailors for the royal navy during the bad old days.

  So the press gangs of ashrams and the rest, maybe we could set that aside for a while, and entertain the subtler possibility that if there’s a real good practitioner, that if we’re willing to find practice and not inspiration, if we’re willing to find somebody who, in a much less spectacular way than we counted on, is seeing to it that the thing we’re seeking is in the world without them writing a book about it, or having a website for it, and that that way of seeing to it that it’s in the world is the thing that we’re seeking.

  To know it’s in the world…Okay, maybe I’ll end with this. I have a friend. I’m going to name him. His name’s Peter von Tiesenhausen. Quite a handle. Peter von Tiesenhausen’s one of the most accomplished sculptors in this country now. He lives in rural Alberta, up in the north in the Peace River area.

  I just called him my friend. We virtually never see each other, and somebody could say, “What kind of friendship’s that?”, and I say to you, “Well, here’s what kind of friendship it is, that on occasion, if I’m writing to him or something, I’ll say to him the equivalent of,” and he’ll say something similar, “You know, as long as I know that you’re in the world, then it’s a good world to be in. And I don’t need, much as I’d love it, but I don’t need the ongoing hit of visits and flowers, much as I’d love it. But if I have to choose between, I’d rather know that you’re in the world,” and then I’ll say to him, “so you’ve got to let me know when you’re not, because then what binds me to this place would become a little looser than it was.”

  I think that’s what friendship is, and I think that’s what these practitioners, as a function among us, are, is they make the world somehow worth the trouble.

Tad:  Stephen, thank you so much for taking the time. I know you’re in the midst of a lot of things going on right now.

Stephen:  That’s very true.

Tad:   And I don’t feel like a very good interviewer, but somehow you have wrangled something wonderful out of my stumbles and attempts and my questions, and so I’m grateful for that, and so grateful for your time, and for all the time that you’ve put in to be able to make something of this conversation, and for all the time that people put into you to deliver you to our doorstep. I’m just grateful for all of it.

Stephen:  It’s a great heredity we’re in, isn’t it?

Tad:  Mm-hmm.

Stephen:  None of this happens, Tad, and I’m not blowing smoke up your kiester when I say this, and I appreciate what you just said to me, but none of this happens if you don’t ask and you don’t proceed as if maybe, maybe, I might have something that’s been entrusted to me that’s worth hearing. If you don’t proceed that way, who knows, including me, who knows?

  But when you ask, I’ve got something to live up to, and that living up to seems to me to be…That’s the partnership. You ask, which means…I’m not naive about it. I’m sure that some place in your life, you’re being hit up all the time to do these very things that I’ve been talking about, and probably slandering during the last hour or so.

  I’m sure you are, so I wasn’t talking about something that you’re vaguely interested in, but doesn’t really touch your days, and I know that’s a risk for you to wonder about these things, because people who are in on what you’re doing are probably looking to you for the very same thing.

  So we really both took a chance, and we’re both hoping that there might be some merit in having done so for somebody who might, by accident, come across this rambling enterprise that was our conversation, and if we both kept up our ends, maybe there is.

Stephen J

Blog for Clients: An Interview with Corrina Gordon-Barnes

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.21.53 PMI’ve known Corrina Gordon-Barnes for a few years now and my respect and affection for her have only deepened. She coaches, consults and runs a very fine blog for conscious service providers. She’s got a lot of thoughts worth hearing about how to create a blog for yourself and how to do it in such a way that it actually gets you clients rather than wasting your time (In fact, she’s made her popular Blog for Clients course available as a self-study training course).

Blogging is something I know a bit about, having written 600+ blog posts myself. However, I can tell you that I’ve written precisely zero of them with any sense of strategy. It’s been a way for me to get clear on my own thoughts. What Corrina is offering here is a far more strategic, wise and profitable investment of time than anything I’ve done.

So, I thought I would invite her to share her thoughts on the matter.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.27.36 PMTad: What is the difference between blogging and blogging for clients?

Corrina: I like to use the analogy of cooking.

Scenario one: I’m by myself. I’m cooking a soup. Yum, I’m going to really enjoy this soup. I’ll just cook according to my taste, I won’t consider quantities, I’ll just focus completely for myself; my and my soup is what I’m all about.

Scenario two: I want to feed my friends. They’re hungry. They’re coming over in two hours. I think about their allergies, their taste preferences. I plan out my cooking so I have enough provision for all of them and so that it’s ready on time for them.

This is the difference. Blogging is for me; blogging for clients is when I focus on others, think about their needs, think about how I can serve them, and then work backwards, getting strategic? about how to meet their needs through what I’m offering.

When we’re blogging for clients, we blog in such a way that it gives potential clients a taste of our approach, plus – importantly – what we have to offer through our paid-for products and services. When we blog, we give our potential clients an opportunity to fall in love with us, to feel safe with us, to feel that somehow we’re aligned and belong together. We’re in the same resonance.

Blogging might be fun in and of itself, but blogging for clients actually leads to clients, increased credibility and increased income. Blogging for clients is not about writing as a hobby; it’s about blogging as your key marketing activity. It actually works for you, supporting your business to grow and flourish and become profitable. AND it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Why do most people’s blogs get so little engagement and no clients for them? What are they missing?

They don’t first decide what they’re selling and then work backwards from there. They don’t reverse engineer their blogs. In my self-study training course, Blog for Clients, we start with the product or service you want to sell more of, or have people hire you more frequently for, and then we choose blog topics and structure the blogs with this end in mind.

Wow. That’s so simple. Totally.

People at first worry about being strategic or having structure, they worry it’s going to limit their freedom or creativity, but here’s the truth: the writing of the blog actually can be more creative and free-flowing, once you’re writing from strategy and structure.

Another thing people miss is that they don’t give blogging enough of a chance. They give up too soon. And they don’t learn how to do it properly, from people who’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t. They stumble along, trying to figure it out themselves, rather than giving themselves the chance to invest in a learning journey with this incredible marketing approach.

Blogging is the #1 way I built my business over the decade I’ve been self-employed. People look at the word “blogging” and think it looks like something teenagers do, or people who have too much time on their hands. They don’t realize the power at their finger-tips!

What are the top three blunders people make when blogging for clients? And what should they be doing differently?

Blunder #1: They try to speak to everyone, a “spray and pray” kind of approach, rather than honing in on ONE ideal client and writing every blog for them.

Solution: Write each blog to ONE person. I actually start my blogs, “Hey Hannah”, picture my ideal client, write the blog, and then delete the greeting at the end!

Blunder #2: They don’t blog consistently. It’s sporadic, impulsive; they’ll write a flurry and then go awol for months. Think about your favourite TV show or magazine; we love that feeling of regularity, of being able to expect something will show up in our inbox or letter box or screen. We come to trust the producers.

Solution: Commit to an editorial calendar; hold yourself accountable for contributing great value regularly to your community. Be in it for the long-game.

Blunder #3: They forget that a blog is a conversation. We have a whole module in Blog for Clients about how to inspire more comments and what to do about them (because people worry about spam and trolls and negative comments).

Solution: In the way you write, and in your encouragement of comments, remember that a blog is powerful because it’s a heart-to-heart two-way conversation.

Any last advice of thoughts to people who are building their blogs to get clients?

We’re not born knowing how to do marketing.

Likewise, we’re not born knowing how to do blogging.

I often hear from people after they’ve taken Blog for Clients, they say something like: “I nearly didn’t take this course. I knew how to write. I liked writing. I didn’t realize there was actually an art and science to blogging; I thought I could just figure it out” – and they’re so grateful that they learned how to do it so it actually WORKS for them, business-wise. Otherwise, we can enjoy blogging but we won’t see the fruits of our labour. And our business won’t reach the level it can go to, with blogging as the catalyst.

About Corrina:

Corrina Gordon-Barnes wants to live in a world where marketing is fun, clients turn up easily, and money flows to those who do work that helps and heals.

As a certified coach, marketing teacher and self-employment champion, she’s been featured on MindBodyGreen, The Daily Muse, LifeByMe and MarketingForHippies and published in The Ecologist, OM Yoga, Diva, and The London Paper. She’s author of Turn Your Passion to Profit: a step-by-step guide to getting your business off the ground.

When she’s not writing blogs and teaching courses, you can find her reading chick-lit, making vegan blueberry cheesecake, and trying to catch her niece and nephew on the monkey bars.

Take her self-study training course – Blog for Clients – and read her book – Turn Your Passion to Profit – to discover how to stay happy and profitable on the self-employment path at http://youinspireme.co.uk

Interview with Loolwa Khazzoom: Penetrating the Mainstream

Mainstream-MediaThere’s no word with greater sting to it for progressives and radicals than ‘sell out’. And yet we want to reach as many people as possible with our message. This creates an inner conflict of wanting to ‘get the word out there’ and then the fear of what it might mean if we do. Not to mention the fact that the world of PR seems to be utterly inaccessible. How on Earth would you ever book yourself an interview on NPR?

It seems unreasonable.

So, with all of this in mind, I dropped a line to Loolwa Khazoom who had interviewed me years ago to get her thoughts on this all.

Tad: You talk about helping alternative types penetrate the mainstream. What do you mean by that?

Loolwa: Many progressive types, especially activists, have an antagonistic relationship with the media, which is discussed as The Media, with a knowing scoff and roll of the eyes. Activists are especially frustrated, and rightly so, with the kinds of mind-numbing garbage that often passes as stories in the press. Among other issues, there are a lot of lazy journalists out there, who are basically serving as mouthpieces for the representatives of corporations and government bodies.

Reporting is often a she-said, he-said assembly of quotes, instead of an in-depth investigation into a particular matter. Journalists often do not want to do the work necessary – ie, to go out of their way — to get the facts on various issues and challenge the people being interviewed. As an upshot, activists end up pulling out their hair over the kinds of reporting that goes on in the news. Not understanding how the media operates, and feeling powerless to change the way things go down in the press, activists end up protesting or boycotting the media itself, in addition to fighting the good fight on a cause of choice.

Rather than opposing the media – which doesn’t do anything for the cause, whatever the cause may be – I am a proponent of studying and mastering the media, so that we put it to work for us instead of letting it be used against us.

And what do you mean by alternative businesses and projects? Who exactly are we talking about here?

It’s really the gamut of anyone who is rocking the foundation of “the system.” The central issue is that paradigm-shifting visionaries are working to change the very system in which the media is entrenched. So without understanding how the media works, said visionaries find themselves constantly frustrated by and on the outskirts of media coverage.

This might seem obvious but . . . why would someone want to penetrate the mainstream? What’s the problem you are seeing that you’re trying to address through your work with clients?

If we want to change the world, we need to reach it. Yes indie media is a fabulous platform for us to find and communicate with each other, but therein lies the limitation: We communicate with each other. We need to communicate with the people who are not already touched by and part of our little revolution, in order to grow said revolution. The key is learning how to communicate in language that our target audience understands.

Bringing it to the “duh” level: If I am speaking in English to someone who only speaks Spanish, I am not doing an effective job of communicating, am I? It is incumbent upon me to learn Spanish, so as to get across my message. Just about anything can get through the mainstream press, if it is communicated in the language of the press. Activists just need to learn that language.

Are there any downsides to penetrating the mainstream?

Not if you know what you’re doing.

I could imagine some people might have a big fear about “selling out” – that to “go mainstream,” you’ve got to compromise your core values, lie.

They don’t understand how media works. Editors and producers work off a very formulaic template. Once you know the formula, you can put it to work for you. The very same laziness that makes a reporter serve as a mouthpiece for the government can make a reporter serve as a mouthpiece for you.

Why do so many “alternative” businesses fail to penetrate the mainstream? What would you say are the three biggest blunders you see?

First, they think they can just go straight to the biggest and baddest press, without having any previous media exposure. Instead, they need to work their way up the media hierarchy, starting with the local and independent press, then proactively leveraging that to get increasingly mainstream exposure.

Second, they don’t understand the inter-connected, dare I say holistic, nature of a media, marketing, and PR campaign. Starting with whatever and whoever is in your immediate access, you work your way up the ladder in three places: venues (speaking on your topic of expertise), VIPs (collaborating with experts in your field), and media (print, tv, radio, and blogs). You leverage one to get the other, and each time you climb another rung in the ladder, you add it to your bio and flash your bling. It’s a game of perception, and you need to work it.

Third, they don’t understand the difference between advertising in media and getting featured in media. The first is asking the media to speak your language – ie, promote your business. The second is speaking the media’s language – ie, creating a story out of your business. Everyone and their dog wants to get their business into the media. You need to give the media a reason to write about you – for example, by creating a community event.

Let’s say you run a green cleaning business. During one of the national cancer awareness months, you can partner with the local chapter of a national cancer association, a local integrative medicine oncologist, and the local natural foods store that sells green cleaning products. Together, you can put on a program that educates people about the hazards of chemical cleaning products. As part of this program, you can share statistics of how environmental toxins are linked to the increased rates of cancer, and you can discuss the alternatives out there.

Through this program, you position yourself as the expert, the go-to person, on the best natural cleaning products for the home. What products do you use in your service, and why? What should people look for, and look out for, when selecting a green cleaning product? You pitch the event to local television, radio, and print media – including the local affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and NPR.

What you’re doing in this example is piling on your news hooks – ie, reasons for media to cover you: First, you have the national holiday. Second, you have the local chapter of a name-recognized cancer association. Third, you have a local doctor. Fourth, you have a local market, where people can go and get the products you’ll be discussing. Fifth, you have a business that people can hire to implement what they learn.

You are spoon-feeding the media what it needs to generate compelling content for their programs. The upshot is that you, and therefore your business, get featured in the top local press, which in turn can be leveraged to generate coverage from top national press.

If you were sitting with someone who wanted to penetrate the mainstream – what would be the three biggest pieces of advice you’d give them?

You need to get crystal clear on these two questions: What do you do, and who the hell cares? Those two basic questions lead to a whole slew of other questions. In a nutshell, you need to do some soul searching about what you do, why you do it, how you do it, how you are similar enough to others doing it that there is a point of reference, and how you are different enough to others doing it that there is a reason to work with you in particular.  

Then you need to get clear on what’s out there and what’s not out there. What are the intersecting fields of your work? What kinds of services are other people offering in these fields? What do they bring to the table? What do they not bring to the table? What is an unmet need that you are filling? What do you, and you alone, have to offer that is going to rock the foundation of this planet? You need to get super clear on the answers to all these questions, before you have any business showing your face to the world.

Once you have all that in order, you need to figure out the language to use in representing yourself. Keep in mind that the language you use for one person, organization, or media outlet will be different than the language you use for another. To simplify my point: If you are communicating with a young child about something, you need to use different language than if you are communicating with a middle-aged adult.

Before you approach a media outlet, study it. Who do they feature? What do they talk about? How do they talk about it? It is your job to fit your message into that media outlet’s format. It is not the media outlet’s job to rework its format to fit your message.

Can you share three stories or case studies of fringe dwellers who have, somehow, penetrated into a broader appeal than just their own immediate networks? And maybe some examples of projects or businesses that tried and failed to bridge that gap?

The bottom line is this: If you want to get into media, you need to do the work of getting yourself media-ready. You need to nail down your brand, target audience, and message. You need to apply that message to your online presence, through compelling website and social media content. You need to establish a name for yourself by speaking at numerous venues, collaborating with VIPs and bringing them into your network, and pursuing media coverage from local and indie, then increasingly more mainstream outlets. You cannot skip over any step of this process, or it won’t work. You cannot demand that the media conform to your way of doing things, or it won’t work.

I had a raw organic vegan restaurant as a client. When I first discovered this restaurant, they had one of these free blogging sites as their “website,” and they did not come up in the search engines when I typed in “raw organic vegan” with the name of the city where they were located. Actually I had been looking for a raw organic vegan restaurant in this town for well over a year before someone told me they existed. So it was evident they sorely needed my services.

The first step was interviewing the restaurant owner/chef about all the questions I mentioned previously – getting crystal clear on the brand, target audience, and message. The second step was hiring a web designer to create a professional site. The third step was writing compelling content that embodied the spirit of the restaurant in language that would interest the average reader. For example, in the “about” section, I included the amazing personal story of how the chef herself struggled with health challenges – leading her to transition to an organic raw foods diet. Everyone loves a good personal anecdote and an individual to whom they can relate. I also included the science behind why an organic raw foods diet has helped so many people heal naturally from the spectrum of diseases. Our society values science, so give them the damn science.

Once the website was ready, I launched a social media campaign – targeting the kinds of communities that would naturally gravitate toward organic raw vegan food . Then, and only then, I launched the mainstream media campaign – ie, once the restaurant had its game face on. I guided the owner on creating special dishes for calendar holidays and on creating community events and special promotions around those dishes.

For Mother’s Day, I advised the chef to create an organic raw vegan pie specially designed for expectant mothers, incorporating ingredients that support the pregnancy and birth process. I also called it a funky name that would grab people’s attention. I had the chef announce that the pie would be rolled out (as it were) in the restaurant on Mother’s Day and that the restaurant would offer a discount to all the pregnant women ordering the pie on that day. I also advised the chef to teach a class on how to make the pie, the week before Mother’s Day.

In effect, I established multiple time and news hooks, customized for the media: a new dish at a local restaurant — specifically, a pie, and who doesn’t love a good pie; a tie-in to a calendar holiday celebration; a unique health angle for the barrage of stories on Mother’s Day; a feel-good special for moms celebrating with their families on the big day; and a community event gearing up for the holiday. We used the same formula for Father’s Day, and both stories were a hit.

The chef was featured on all the local morning shows on the affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, as well as in the daily paper, weekly paper, and the local magazine – in several cases, twice over. In addition, the restaurant website shot up to the #1 result for any variation of a search on the words “raw,” “organic,” “vegan,” and the name of the city.

As a side note, media is critical not only for getting the word out to the universe but also for generating high-profile incoming links to your website. Google likes all the major media networks and will give you extra love if you have those networks pointing to your site.

Getting into media is entirely doable if you have the goods, if you know how to work a story, and if you are willing to put in the time and energy to make it happen. Make no mistake: It’s a lot of work. When you get a clip in a mainstream outlet, however, you can reference it for the rest of your life. It becomes the foundation upon which you can build your entire career. And that is priceless.

If people want to learn more about you and your work, where can they go to get more info?

My website is www.loolwa.com, because, hey, there were not a whole lot of competitors for that domain name. In addition to offering public relations management, I offer coaching and consulting services, and I am developing a series of multimedia programs designed for paradigm-shifting, thought-leading, pot-stirring, let’s-change-the-world-with-our-awesomeness, social entrepreneur types. As part of these programs, I will pass on all the tricks and tips I have developed over the years, for nailing the mainstream spotlight.

 

headshotAbout Loolwa Khazzoom:

Loolwa Khazzoom is experienced in managing successful media, marketing, and public relations campaigns, through 25 years of work as a media and public relations specialist, business owner, community organizer, and/or holistic health specialist:

  • She has placed her clients in prestigious media, including Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, Forbes, and CNN.
  • She herself has been featured in top media, including The New York Times, Fox News, ABC News, and PBS’s “American Health Journal.”
  • She has written articles, including numerous cover stories, for leading periodicals including The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Self, and AARP.

In addition, wearing her various hats, she has worked with and/or connected her clients with top medical professionals – including Andrew Weil, MD, Mehmet Oz, MD, David Simon, MD, and Martin Rossman, MD.