Teaching: Making a Village
Years ago I showed a film to a group of men who were newly bereaved about how Tibetans once – maybe still – cared for their dying and their dead. When the film ended, the long silence was finally broken when one of the men said, “I feel like I come from nowhere.” And that seems to be what happens inside most of us when we see or hear of a people wholly at home where and how and who they are: we feel the shadowed hollow of our immigrant, refugee history, and our lack of ceremonial instinct and experience, or we try to fill it up by stealing something from those people who are miraculously still deeply, ancestrally, ceremonially alive.
Communities with endurance, purpose and commitment to future generations aren’t built on a footing of longing for such a community, or missing one. They are built on a willingness to learn and try and fail and learn some more about how real villages are a kind of cooking pot, the clay for which was taken from ancestral soil, and how that cooking pot hangs from a tripod of relation: how the villagers are with each other, how they are with the created world around them, how they are with the Unseen World.
The balm for feeling like you come from nowhere is to learn in a massive way about where you are from, and to do that with others. The workshops here are a beginning for that kind of learning and doing.
Making a Village Whole: Caring for the living and carrying the dead
For those who have not known a village life in their younger years, the longing for such a thing is usually the uncertain foundation of their project of making community. But longing is seldom solid enough, enduring enough, to build anything of worth upon. Our life with each other, or relations with the made world around us, our way with the Unseen: these are what can make a village whole, and they together are the proving ground for our humanity.
This workshop begins the unwieldy project of teaching people of uncertain ancestry and tradition the rudiments of village making. This will involve some reading and study beforehand, some ceremony and some training for eloquence of tongue, ear and eye.
Health, Hearth, Whole, Heal: What indigenosity teaches about living well
Towards the end of his long life Carl Jung said that if he had to choose he would rather be whole than be good, a bit of wisdom he learned from studying tribal Africa. Being whole is a skill of living: it isn’t the absence of fracture or flaw, it includes them. Indigenously, there is no self to preserve, and health and wholeness are rooted in the health of ancestors, the health of your home place, the health of your people.
This workshop will teach a liveable, practicable understanding of this way of being whole.
Making Your Best Case to the Holy: The art of prayer
Prayer, properly and vehemently done, in service to something beyond our comfort or need, for the sake of something we may not benefit from nor live to see, carried to a mystery that grows more mysterious the more we learn of it: learned in this way prayer is part supplication and part demand, part heart brokenness and part jurisprudential spiritual savvy, part hard to defend nerviness that could be mistaken for arrogance, part devastation of most everything you bargained for being true.
This workshop will teach the redemptive, human ability for this kind of praying.
No One Gets Out of Here Alive: Young people and death
In traditional cultures and times young people were initiated into their humanness through deliberate ceremonial instruction in the necessity, justice, purpose and merit of their own death – a prerequisite for living deeply and well – by highly skilled elders who knew death well. In our time, rife as it is with death phobia and grief illiteracy, kids are utterly on their own where death is concerned. They come to it by dare, by drug, by an unformed fascination that disarms or terrifies parents and teachers. This radical and private curiosity about death should be an occasion for deep teaching about life instead of psychiatric referrals. It requires grief teachers, a birthright of all young people, not grief counsellors.
This workshop gives guidance on wondering about death. It delivers a powerful mix of provocation, affirmation and obligation in a rambunctious, thoughtful meditation on this, the great mystery of human life. Using scenes from Griefwalker, the feature NFB documentary film about my work and ideas, the workshop frames grief as a skill and fascination with death as vital in coming to a deep love of being alive.
This programme is suitable to high school age students, and can be formatted for inclusion in sociology, health, psychology or current events curricular.
Initiation: The midwife of human being
What would a culture look like if it didn’t have authentic initiation for its young people? Well, look around, friends. This is what it looks like. Initiation coalesces a person’s kinship with humanity, with creation, with the other world. Well understood, well done and well lived, initiation happens half a dozen times in someone’s life, ever deepening their humanity on the way towards elder-hood.
This workshop teaches the demanding blessing and human making power of initiation, and will make a place for the untutored yearning for initiation that is still current and still possible among us.
Old Time: Honour for elders
Young people need and deserve real recognition of their worth and purpose in life, and a living example of enduring discernment and courage for the hard and often empty times that are upon us all. The esteem of parents and friends can only go so far: elders must bring the rest. Grandparents must be grand not only for their children’s children, but for all the young ones coming into the world now. Their status as grand people comes from having wrangled wisdom from experience, and from having become elders more than senior citizens. Grandparents must now be elders even – especially – when no one asks it of them.
This is a workshop for elders. It is for anyone with a desire to be useful to those now inheriting an endangered and often dangerous world. It is for those who have an instinct and a desire to be an ancestor worth being claimed, worth coming from. We will learn something of the skills of grace in a graceless time, of mentorship and true teaching, of fierce and exemplary compassion. We will coax wisdom from old experience, and maybe we can replace retirement with esteemed elderhood.
A Handful of Kassim’s Corn: Ancestors and Immigrants
With any exposure to a culture that is intact and alive most of us feel some kind of yearning for more, for a clearer identity, to belong to something older than we’ve known. A new society such as our own, built by immigration, without shared myth and history to bind us to a home place and to each other, makes citizens who envy and sometimes plunder the wisdom traditions of others in their midst. Real culture is learned and made, not stolen.
This workshop teaches a template for learning the spiritual history and ancestry that brought us here. It teaches learning, living and redeeming the loss of ancestors.
Illiterate Grief: The long dark shadow of being from nowhere
Most dying people’s fear of what will become of them is bound up with their fear of what we will do with them after they die. They fear most our ability to live, eventually, as if they’d never been. This is the exponential consequence of living without ancestors, that we may have lost the ability to become one.
The willingness to remember great sorrow, unsuspected loss, blank pages in the story of who we are, this is grief in action. This workshop teaches the skills of personal grief and ancestral grief, in particular their redemptive power in learning and claiming ancestry for personal story. With grief learned we have ancestors to die unto.
Putting Your Face Towards Home: Spirit and history in the care of dying people
Dying might be the only human constant. It could – even should – be the place where all are bound to a shared understanding of what it is to be human. The historical experience here, the mingling of reluctant immigrant refugees and more reluctant aboriginal peoples over hundreds of years, is largely unknown and ignored by the dominant culture, and our understanding of what it is to be human is not much shared at all. One great dilemma: as people begin to die there is usually a great stirring of family and ancestral memory – not always welcome or familiar – and people begin trying to put their face in the direction of home. But where is home? Who are the ancestors?
This workshop will teach the daunting project of making a home in our lives and in our dying time for homelessness and ancestral loss. It is a project of enormous learning about what home is, and who your people are.
MusicFood: Eating of your ancestor’s way of eating
The truth of every culture, the ways in which each is true to its home place and people, hides the way all great things hide, in small, non-descript and ordinary places that thieves and depressed people wouldn’t think to ransack. To wit: music and food. The most transient, barely enduring places, the places that truly we go to every day with no feel for how much is resting there waiting for our hearts to give them a place to cook and sing: music and food.
Food and music: the twins of orphan wisdom.
In this workshop we will research, study, sample, tune, rehearse, drone, simmer and broil a mountain of learning into an operatic stew of eloquent, life loving human wisdom heading towards human culture which we will assemble on the Bonnechere and teach each other about, culminating in a multi-course feast to be spiced and then followed by a siren choral/orchestral display that we will regale each other with.
You’ll be the teachers and the learners, the cooks and the eaters, the singers/players. You’ll cook by fire, on the stove, in the ground, in clay cookers, maybe even who knows in an horno. You’ll find utensils no one this side of the Ural Mountains even knows of. Maybe you’ll have to invent utensils to do justice to your learning. You’ll bring in spices and ingredients that no one else knows exists. You won’t be cooking your favourite food. Instead, you’ll cook what that food led you to, in the oldest part of the Old Country, and you’ll sing and play the music that has always accompanied those spices and ingredients, not as soloists necessarily but more in the Georgian table music style.
If we do this learning right, the teaching itself will be cooking, the learning together will be a feast, the food will be a gift for the holy, the eating of it will feed the ancestors, the stories of how it all came to pass will be reasons to live for those who were not there. Not a hungry ghost in sight. Exponential redemption.