Over the last year or so many of the elders in spiritual communities that I have worked with over the years have fallen on some truly hard times. And it is with the grace of each community we support them through these hard times and hopefully to a safe landing on the other side.
I’m writing today because even though I see the goodness in this work of taking care of, triaging crisis and trauma it seems driven by a doctrine of neglect and poverty.
I look at the root as to why these women ( and men) get here and why they are left in this time of their lives with nothing. There are long winded manifestos of their gifts and selfless offerings to make the community, ceremony, festival, gathering as magical experiences. To encourage fundraisers and donations. And yet many of them have been living in sub par conditions, suffering from health issues and financially broke for years.
If they are so valued, WHY?
One of the first responses to this question is: They chose to live their life this way. They chose to renounce the real world. They chose to renounce the values of a society that didn’t value them and their work in the world. Hearing it from them, the saged wisdom keepers we flock to seems legit. This being their personal choice seems very noble, powerful and empowering.
Yet the reality of the conditions of their lives seems(to me) to be the very thing they claim they are not getting from normal social structures. To me the denial and disconnect is obvious.
I can’t help to wonder if really what they are doing is trying to fit into alternative social structure that help them justify their lack of skills to navigate in the real world (This can be do to mental illness, addictions, family/social trauma… Etc… ) It’s really easy to create uniqueness/eccentricities and be empowered by that (or expected fit into that role ) to justify isolation or feeling valued. This seems to be the way many communities are setting a precedent to glorify the inability to manage one’s self in normal society. It also cultivates a mind set of being spiritually moral or a more evolved human through accepting deprivation and poverty as lofty
A similar example are artists and other ceatives. They have digressed along these lines which is why the art world (the business of art) makes a tremendous amount of money off the artist while boxing the artist into an exploited situation.It is then this perception of the person that is used as a wedge between them and the very things they need from a community.
Many spiritual communities use this very practice as a means to exploit those who are socially unskilled or incapable of being socially skilled in a way that benefits the community or people who are in the upper echelons of those communities. This is a power dynamic that is acceptable in many of these kinds of groups. So entrained are these structures within these groups that questioning it will get you ostracized. When it is very cult-ish and abusive.
There are plenty of things about modern society that I can critique. There are many things about how money is used and misused. How resources are used and misused that I feel have led us to damaging the planet and damaging our society. But I’m also seeing within spiritual communities a way in which we say we value our elders but we do not even give them the resources to allow them to live a quality of life that is reflected back to them in what they offer. If they get sick they can make choices to get the best treatments and medicine.Where we make sure they have safe spaces to live. Communities often take from them and then value the sacrifice not the person. This misplaced value deprives them of asking for what they really need. It a dangerous immoral by-passing. It says their humanity is not important. It devalues them from having a life that is safe and secure.
As we are living through this time of catharsis, change and reevaluating our social structures/ spiritual structures, I think this is one of those moments where we really need to look at and come up with solutions that support the people we value in our society to know a vibrant thriving life.