Stephen Jenkinson has been at the deathbed of more than a thousand people. He says death can be a wondrous and empowering mystery but we need to start talking about it differently.
“I don’t think the problem was that we weren’t talking about dying…the dilemma was, and has always been, and remains, what are we saying when we talk about dying?
The principle habits of the mind and the psyche are always manifest in the language…In a culture that’s allegedly speaking more and more about death all the time…The word ‘die’ doesn’t appear very often, the word ‘death’ even less, and ‘dead’ hardly at all.”
A former leader of a palliative care team, here Stephen shares his insights with Chip Richards from UPLIFT on how to support death to be a positive process.
There are days that come – and surely they have found you – when assuredness about the aim and the reasons for your life is the first casualty of the giddy good fortune of awakening again and heaving to uprightness and bringing anything in particular to mind. You are suddenly awash in wonder at the ordinary unlikeliness of your days and your place in them. It isn’t confusion, exactly, that comes round. It is more the entirely mandatory happenstance encounter with The Reign of Chance. You wake up once more, but all the habits of your mind have not yet done so, and you come to first light as an amateur again, bereft of order and the easy stride it grants. You have a lightness to your limbs and to your first contemplations, an imprecision you’d never seek, so much like ‘sudden nothing’ does it seem, like the end of the old purpose and of the old clarity, and the beginning of something older.
I have, thanks to the persistence of he Mankiller Tour that began in earnest in 2015, become a denizen of the road. And so I’ve become prone to these kinds of encounters. As on many another strange morning, I have washed ashore just now from ten weeks on the road, from the Oceania Tour, and awoke in this arrhythmia at yesterday’s first light. It began as you’d expect: “Okay. Where am I? Is there a gig tonight? Interview? Does today have an airport in it somewhere? Will I make the weight limit? What is my business? Is there anything of the Old Life standing?” But there was only a room not at once familiar, and a view of the river I once knew now free of ice and risen over its banks, and the particular quiet of an off-grid house that I’d over these months learned to live without. And the grace that comes with the end of momentum. In that quiet, I considered and reconsidered.
If you came to your age of majority labouring under the gaze of two parents who managed a steady fondness for you and your errancy, that’s probably because they managed a stout fondness for each other, and I trust you count yourself in fortune’s company and in something grown rare. And if as you came to the gates of your life’s saunter and sojourn as a young man or woman one or two others raised up the dragging hem of your soul and all its allegations and became your soul’s parents, then the Graces themselves had their way with your days. And if you awakened as you went to some retroactive reasons for your birth and the persistence of your pulse against the entropic odds of this jangled time of ours, you may sometimes be by turns giddy with the assignment of real purpose, and you may sometimes be rent asunder by only a glimpse of how the radical ramshackling beginnings of wisdom are more rarely sought it seems than they might have been in former times, and that they traded in so often now for personal style or for dominion. In those days the longing for companionship for your purposed soul is heavy.
And if you’re gone away for a legion of days at the firm beckoning of the Old Worthies and the Ancients of Days, and if you arrive at a home where someone waits, candle in the window and heat in the hearth, and affords you a bit of room afforded should you have to find yourself again, you are of course fortune’s son or daughter. And all of this, all of it, comes bounding to you as portents and wonders, and signs that the Gods of Chance have rolled the knucklebones of fate and your worthiness has been agreed upon, and that you’ve only to submit, to wear the raiment afforded you by the travails and the truing of your time, burdensome and telling as it often is.
Now, for all of that, should the road find you in conclave with those who will conspire to take all your reasons up with theirs and prize a better day with them, you might just reel from the strange mercy of it all. And you might plead for mercy from that strange, Godly mercy. And that is what happened. The Nights of Grief of Mystery were granted me by the kindness of the peoples of Adelaide and Melbourne, Newcastle, Wentworth Falls, Sydney and Hobart and Auckland, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Bangalow and Coorabell, Yandina and Fremantle, and Bali and Maui, and all the other good places these last months, that is true. Still, the gold and the glint of those long days was finding myself in companionship of the Round Table kind. Companionship: it means – and still means – the way of being with bread, the table fellowship of kin. Scoring my mischief and my muse I had the good graces of a band, one Gregory Hoskins, and a road apprentice, one Aaron Berger. Concerts for Turbulent Times they surely were, sonorous hours and rapture. I will tell you that these times were served by whatever talents of tongue and timbre granted the band and the bard, and by the raucous willingness of the sold out houses down under to be drawn into wonder and poetry and the kenning of these times. The doors were pried at night’s end, and still many lingered and couldn’t leave or wouldn’t, and there was something like victory in the air, and a weary, luminous midnight rumour that people heretofore unknown to each other can still join for the sake of the young among them and of the world still entrusted to them, and that the Mercies count us kin, and that wonder is the currency of the Gods. To all of you who wondered aloud with us these last two months over that vast country in the south: would that the storehouse of mystery out behind the house of your ordinary days be full, no matter how threadbare you’d grown certain it was, and that your neighbours hear tell of it and find their’s full too.
And now this caravan of consequence and conjure, these Nights of Grief & Mystery, are bound for Wales and for England in May (Fishguard, Totnes, Brighton, Norfolk, London, Sheffield and Bristol). Would that some of you come to hear these tales that those who parted from your Old Countries in centuries past came for in Oceania. Would that you grant us, two more sons Come From Away, the honour of your evening.
Vajra Body Vajra Mind, is a provocative podcast that explores the outer limits of spiritual practice and human development. On their show, they talk with leaders in the Buddhist, entheogenic and somatic fields and through these conversations they attempt to glean the most pragmatic and succinct bits of wisdom to connect us deeper into our heart and mind. Their show is dedicated to the evolution of the human species and the benefit of all beings. Here is their recent interview with Stephen Jenkinson. Listen to all our published interviews with Stephen Jenkinson.
Stephen Jenkinson and Gregory Hoskins – Oceania Tour 2017. Stephen is a Harvard Educated Theologian, Culture Activist, founder of The Orphan Wisdom School, author of DIE WISE: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, subject of a National Film Board of Canada documentary, Griefwalker. He comes with teachings of the ramshackling kind, about honour and grace under pressure, about elderhood in an age of age-intolerance, about the withering World Tree, about how we might learn our darkening times. And there will be evening concerts too, because he has Gregory Hoskins to lend his music and his road-tested grace to the cause. Picture it: A storyteller. A band. An evening of mongrel sorrow, dappled by magic and wonder, fringed with regard for the gift of the tongue, harkening and hortatory and bardic and greying, steeped in mortal mystery, uprooted from its uncertain home in the North of America and cast divination-style like bones on a dusty proving ground down under. What would you call such a thing? Video courtesy of ianmack.com. Tour, dates, locations, teaching descriptions and online tickets.
The Interview: It is a strange conceit. Someone is drawn to you because of something you said in another interview, and they want you to say it again, but this time more achievedly, or more clearly. The unenviable occupation of the interviewer is to work you around to a handful of moments wherein you outdo yourself, and in so doing eclipse what drew that person to you in the first place. And you, the interviewee, must allow yourself to be drawn into imagining several thousand chairs gathered semi-circularly and devotedly, occupied by several thousand willing conscripts who have been raised up out of their ordinary and mortal days by the sudden out-of-the-blue chance to overhear the unlikely and blessed murmurings that your life has entrusted to you, and all of you gathered round this imaginary fire of subtle salvation in this dark night of the collective soul that the current regime not very secretly has become. That might sound a little overblown, but that’s what’s come my way. In a consumer culture interview you are obliged to imagine people out there, assembled by torment and by the hope that someone has it All Figured Out, and somewhere in the interview you are called upon to deliver the goods, and get it sorted, to sell certainty, to put up a road sign that reads: ‘The Way – a few moments ahead’.
I have submitted to probably several dozens of interviews over the last decade or so, not many by the strange standards of celebrity, but enough to conjure in an unsuspecting interviewee’s mind rumours of personal glory and the possibility of notorious swagger. The interview is a seduction in the way that pornography is seductive: it is a conclave of strangers fated, probably, to remain strange, gathered by the rumour of spectacle but conjured by the isolating concern that they’ve been left out of the procession of beauty and insiderhood. The talk show is the overweight child of the interview, and the person being interviewed is encouraged to eat all the attention, all that ‘centre of the universe’ status temporarily served up to him or her.
In the early going I’m sure I went along with it all, not very informed by the machinery and the chicanery of what is called these days The Conversation, throwing my two cents into the maw of opinion, watching it disappear without a trace. What made interviews more troubling for me as I got older was the heady and ludicrous obligation to have The Answer, to show people The Way, to solve the thing I had showed some concern about. To be able to wonder about what troubles, to craft a consternation which is articulate or a sorrow faithful to what sorrows: I treasure these things, and on my good days I practice them. But it is the lot of the interviewee to be asked in some way or other to collude with this bit of fog: sorrow or wonder or troubledness are preparatory, preliminary steps on the royal road to The Answer, The Fix. The truth is that in our time it tests patience and endurance to set off on an hour’s worth of wonder and perplexedness and grief without trafficking in grievance, and without the infantilizing saccharine drip reward that promises the bright horizon at the interview’s end, the new dawn, where everything – anything – is Great Again.
Steer your way past the truth You believed in yesterday Such as fundamental goodness Or the wisdom of the Way
That’s the recommendation of one patron saint of the Orphan Wisdom School (unawares), to get hip to the seduction of conviction and belief system and fix. It is an old woman’s or man’s wisdom. You could mistake it for bitterness or cynicism, but it has the tone of something road weary and road tested, something counterintuitive that has earned its keep. It is a grown-up’s way of going on, sometimes scarcely being able to.
Anyway, I write all of this to you by way of saying: Yes, here comes another interview. The interlocutor here was kind – not always the case – and he was concerned about what he was asking – also far from inevitable. A little behind-the-scenes for you about this one: the audience was one accustomed to finance-related themes, as I understood it, and I cautioned the interviewer that I had no useful notions or experience where ‘peak prosperity’ is concerned, and that I shouldn’t be relied upon to translate anything I’ve seen into that vernacular. That didn’t stop me from trying, as you’ll hear. Perhaps once or twice you’ll hear a ‘lord of the universe’ tone come in (some would say more than once or twice). But mostly what you hear is me trying to make some useful sense, again, of the trouble of the day, taking my respectful lead from those who invited me, carrying myself as if, perhaps, a few of you might be out there, listening.
So you have here a few moments pause from the fray, me turning the questions back upon themselves so that they could earn their keep as something worthy of the time you might give to listening, so that I could earn my keep. I like the laboured-over feel that shows up in this one from time to time. There is something here that reaches out to the possibility that you might recognize what I’m being asked about, or how I’m responding. I’m talking as if you’re out there. There isn’t a lot of ‘upswing’ to the thing, and you’ll not likely feel like dancing after listening. But at this darkened end of the year in the North, where I am, as the Litany of the Illumined and the Light banishes anything but obligatory joy from any family encounter, maybe the uncertain, brailed-out tone of the thing might be a welcome pause in the festivities. Afterwards, you can return to the merriment, perhaps with another take on happiness, another tempered and tuned gravity to lend to the frollick.
Would that the Mercies crowd the fortunes at your doorstep. Would that the Ornery Deities be granted their seat at the feast table this time around, so that they don’t claim all the others.
Listen to Stephen’s recent interview with Chris Martenson from Peak Prosperity.
Read the full transcript of the interview visit valuewalk.com
You die in the matter of your living. In poetic and soulful language, Stephen Jenkinson speaks of the moral imperative to contemplate and reconcile death as a way to inform how we live, reclaim our ancestral roots, redeem our past, and leave a legacy for those we love. Join Stephen at his upcoming Hollyhock retreat on July 31 – Aug 5, 2016.