Three Elders I Have Known

Three Elders I Have Known

Shortly before she died, Norma T., a spiritual teacher whom I write about in Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation, told me that there would be no more major “outer” teachers for me. “Now,” she said, “they will be in the inner. “

I felt bereft when I heard this. There is something so comforting about a teacher or mentor whom you can count on to see the larger picture, give advice, let you know if you are off track. I have had the benefit of some really wonderful teachers and mentors over time.

Several years before my work with Norma T., when I was a candidate in training to be a Jungian analyst, my control analyst, Don Sandner, mentored me as I described each session with my patient, offering his own insight, always at the edge of my awareness. In this way he never overwhelmed me with what was also a much larger perspective. My confidence grew along with my skill.

Don preparing to carry a Taos drum to top
of mesa for a drumming. Ojo Caliente, 1971.

But Don also mentored us in several other ways. One summer he took my candidate group on a trip to the Southwest. By day we visited Native American sacred sites, often meditating in a kiva together for most of an hour; by night, Don taught us what he had learned from his own mentor, a Navajo medicine man, about the symbolic healing of Navajo sand paintings. Then we drummed for an hour . A single mother supporting two young boys, I felt I had gone to heaven these ten days! They changed my life. We learned from Don’s words and we learned by his being.

Shortly before Don died, he and I were discussing the coming of the new age, whatever that might be. Like Moses and the promised land, he informed me that although he had some idea of an overview, he would not live to see it. I objected. The turn of the century was only three years away! But he reiterated, “You will see the new millennium and the new age it brings: I will not.” He died suddenly a few months later, aged 68.

Southwest group preparing to make the assent with the drum.

Norma T. perceived energy, moving with me in the nonphysical, naming the territory. Through her, I gained confidence in my own perceptions in these other realms. Then, she too was gone, death moving her into the nonphysical, again before the turn of the millennium.

As the verse says, There is a time to give up childish ways (1 Corinthians 13). Eventually we have to take on the mantle of our own authority if we are to come into our own. Then it is our turn to give.

Another teacher and guide along the way, Joseph Henderson, one of the founding members of the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, stated to my candidate group: individuation begins when therapy ends. I think he meant this: When we quit turning outward for answers, and turn inward for the hard work of our own inner guidance, when we have received enough tools to do this and have learned to communicate in these inner realms, then we are developing, maturing, becoming elder material ourselves. This we pass on, not only by teaching, but by being present to witness.

My main work with Norma T. occurred in the last nine months of her life, the gestation period for new birth. While I grieved her physical presence as a mentor, I have come to see the importance of turning to inner guidance, whether that be of the higher self or other beings. Perhaps this is the stuff of the new age: less hierarchical, more creative, open to the divinity without and within. It is facilitated through the living presence that elders can offer.