This year has been a time for me to reflect on what it means to be an elder. I like the term better than crone which gives me images of the Wicked Witch of the West, wart-nosed and all. I know crone means crown and wise woman, but my childhood programming is too strong for me to be happy with the term. I don’t feel like a wise woman, the updated version of crone, but rather see myself as a seeker aspiring to the title wise. The death of my mother a year ago, the birth of my first grandchild in April, and my turning sixty this July has edged me, willing or not, into the elder category.
In many ways I don’t feel like an elder. I’m the me that has always been, who contains the spirited child, the devastated 11 year old whose father died, the figured-it-all-out twenty year old, the joyful new mother, the shaky divorcee, the beginning meditator, the happy second wife and so on. Yet, there are some thoughts coming in that have not been there before. How many decades are left? Perhaps only one– or three, if I’m lucky. Does this change how I live my life? I feel I want to be more focused on what is important and to achieve a better balance between work, prayer, study, family and fun, but I’m not sure what that balance is and know it will require tinkering.
The joy of being a grandmother is delightful and I’ve reflected on what it means to be one, particularly since my granddaughter lives so far away. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am the field for the activity of my busy family just as a football field is for the intensity of that game. No one pays much attention to the field as they intently watch a game but the field is crucial to there being any game at all. I take seriously this role as field, holding the space for my family through love, prayer and being present to them. This is what elders do.
I realize that I also am a field when I guide, counsel and heal. My role is to be present to the seeker, to connect with the greater divinity within my self and him/ her, and to hold the space for the transformative work to take place. It is a very feminine action similar to the womb which supports the growth of the baby. There are a lot less hassles being the field. I don’t have to figure it out; I don’t have to prepare mentally or physically; I just have to be present and let the Divine Spirit work. In this way, becoming an elder dovetails with one goal of the spiritual life which is increasingly to let go of ego activity and wait for the spontaneous activity of the divine deeper self.
In reflecting on the role of elder as field, I am reminded of a Rumi poem about the ultimate field: Out beyond the ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other, doesn’t make much sense. As one ages, even language and ideas can go, but one can increasingly unite with this field, which is where we all want to be. All of you who have been touched by Light on the Hill, I’ll meet you in this field, as I send you blessings and love. Alice