Cycles – Variation on an Easter Blog


Last week I had the great opportunity to be in Yellowstone – the first National Park in the world.  Yellowstone stands out for loads of reasons – but recently I’ve learned another feature of its distinction.  The park makes up over 20% of the largest generally intact ecosystem in our planet’s temperate zone.

All of these are fun facts.  But the realities that support them have gained particular significance to me from working alongside the people charged with tending that global treasure.  To do their work well, these inspiring leaders must adjust daily – even moment to moment – to the flawless unfolding that defines Yellowstone.  Their work is informed by expertise, but it only matters in attentive response to the land – its water, rock and wildlife.  All constant expressions of the cycles that all living beings may only live with and through.

The work of successful leaders is the work of wisdom – not established, fully fledged wisdom – but wisdom that arises reliably at the front edge of devotion to learning.  As I watch and learn from ever-wiser leaders, I see curiosity, listening, humility and a deep and essential sense of interdependence.  I also see resilience.

If you’ve been following my writing here over the past year or so, you’ve no doubt noticed an uptick in attention to what I’m calling Elderhood ™ .  It’s not a new term, but I’m increasingly impressed with its relevance to human experience in these days on our planet.  The underrating of older people and thus of Elderhood ™ has been evident to me for as long as I can remember, but I’m thinking today of that tendency as it is inevitably corrected by our relationship with the cycles of the natural world.

To participate in that cultural degradation of old people is possible only if we practice the same discounting inside ourselves.  By that, I mean to suggest that each of us has Elderhood ™ within.  Something like the idea of inner-child, this inner Elderhood is the wisdom no one can take from us – ever.  It’s a quality of knowing we come to ignore and thereby override as we’re socialized into prevailing beliefs linked with money, youth, beauty, ideology — individual identity and worth.  Still, I’m finding Elderhood ™ – at any age – is the reliable source of visionary and effective leadership.

Leadership can be hard to get to through all the distracting noise of socialization.  But it does get through – in large part because of the uncontrollable assertion of life’s cycles.  From the passage of days into nights, to the turn of seasons, to the stacking of years with their stories, vocations, interests, and inevitable wrinkles.  Each cycle of time defies control and opens the way to leadership – to Elderhood ™ .

My friend, Peter Borten, is an acupuncturist.  Over the past 15 years, I’ve learned from him as he’s deepened in his understanding of the cycles underlying the  ancient Chinese philosophy of the Five Elements.

Here’s some of what Peter wrote in a recent blog about this philosophy.

Part of why I appreciate my exposure to the seasons is that the world displays so clearly the prevailing dynamics of the Earth and Sun. Daoist sages developed a language around these expressions, and applied this language to everything – including human lives, politics, and relationships. Knowing some of this language encourages us to tune in to what’s happening around us and to apply our observations of Nature to our inner and interpersonal processes.

 I think Peter, like me and most probably like every one of you, is an Elder-in-training.  I’m not sure when we get to full Elder status.  I might even argue that understanding ourselves as on-the-way (i.e., not there) is a good sign of openness to the ever-wiser leadership I mentioned above.

Read what Peter has to say about the Five Elements – the time honored teaching of that cycle.  Pay attention to your local ecology.  See if there is anything here for you – as a leader – as a person in a life.

For sure, Yellowstone is a powerful teacher. But the grand mystery of that place, while perhaps more subtle, is really everywhere in the natural world – in its cycles large and small.

Watch for the awareness that never abandons you.  The deep understanding you have of the absolute reliability of day following night – of the season’s turning one way or the other – of time’s passage in hours, in instants.  And in those cycles, watch for wisdom – watch for your Elderhood ™ .

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