There is a rather disturbing trend that is happening in our community, and in many other communities throughout the country, and perhaps throughout the world. I have noticed it for a very long time, but have not been heard when pointing it out…until recently when the community has finally begun to wise up a bit. People often have this misconception that if you are from somewhere/anywhere else in the world, then you are automatically much more knowledgeable than anyone who is local. “Experts” will come into the community from pretty much anywhere else, give a weekend course in something, go on their merry way and have absolutely no concern about all the emotional debris that they have left in their wake in the people who have attended their course. Then the local healers are left having to clean up their mess. In the meantime, those who took the course are suddenly thinking of themselves as “experts” in a field of work that they have only just encountered and for the sum total of a weekend. They now have their “Level 1” of such and such, or their “Level 2” of so and so. Suddenly, with the sum total of 12 hours they have an ego the size of a football stadium and an attitude that they know more than anyone else who has been working for over 30 years in a similar field. The Weekend Warriors end up creating an onslaught of damage as they stumble around in their new-found field “helping” those around them. Again, from this the locals who have been practicing for YEARS end up being the ones helping their “patients” pick up the pieces. It becomes exhausting. But god forbid anyone challenge the professionalism of the Weekend Warrior! Then suddenly YOU are the one with the ego that is bruised by someone else’s expertise!
And then there are the Popcorn Elders. These are people who either decide that they are now in an “Elder” status in the community (usually based upon nothing more than age instead of actual experience and wisdom gleaned from said experience) or who have become “assigned” by some supposed “elder” who has drifted through and told them that this is now their assignment. I have watched what was a pretty functional spiritual community become destroyed by the latter. Now, one could say that the mere fact that this happened shows us that the community “needed” such a challenge in order to “shake things up”. I do not agree. That is like the empty, hollow words of “God has another plan” or “Everything happens for a reason” being used to console someone who is bereaved. No, the community did NOT need that nonsense. And how DARE you, as a supposed Elder drifting through, take it upon yourself to “assign” ANYONE to take on a job for a community in which you do not live, and in which you did not even consult with the Elders that are already there. Eldership is not something that is assigned. It is something that grows. I liken it to making a chili or a stew. It might taste pretty good on the day it was made, but the NEXT day it will taste even better as the flavours have had a chance to actually set in. Wisdom takes time to develop. Knowledge can be gleaned anywhere. How to incorporate that knowledge into daily practice is where Wisdom comes in. The recipe for a chili or stew can be assembled by anyone at all. The flavours have to have time to fully unfold.
Three years ago I had a very personal experience on this. My wife had died just a couple of weeks past, and I was finding myself in need of some support. I did not want to go to a support group for bereaved people that was organized by the volunteers at a local funeral home. I was quite young to be a widower, and I did not feel like I wanted to be with a bunch of senior citizens talking about my feelings on the matter of losing my wife. I am likely completely misconceived about what the support group attendees would be in terms of age category, seeing as how I never went. But at the time, those were some of the thoughts that were going through my head. And I also found out that none of the volunteers were actually trained in bereavement counselling. They had just taken on that roll of leader as a way of perhaps processing their own grief. I could be completely off base, but to me that sounded like the blind leading the blind. It just did not appeal to me.
Then I heard about this shaman who was in town and was putting on this healing circle for men. Two things DID appeal to me with that. First, it was a shaman. I am a shaman, so I felt that we would likely have a good basis of “speaking the same language”. Secondly, it was for men. I felt that this would be a safer place to expose myself and my grief than some group that had women in it as well. Why? Because I had already, in the course of just a couple of weeks, experienced this twisted sort of “consoling” from some women who barely even knew me. They seemed to think that hitting on me was an acceptable way to show support for me in my grief. A friend of mine told me that his mother called those types of women “casserole whores”, which meant that they would show up with a casserole to make sure a widower was eating but they actually wanted to get in his bed. If anyone had told me about this before I became a widower, I would have thought that they were completely out of their minds. By the third time I was physically removing some woman’s hand from my butt I realized that this is a “thing” and one that I had to avoid at all costs. And so I felt it would be safer with men.
The circle was wonderful. I felt awful that a fair portion of it seemed to get focused upon me and my pain. I thought that it was going to be more of a mutual thing, but the shaman saw that I was hurting very deeply and so he provided us with a healing ritual to help me process that, and to actually teach the other men a constructive way to show support and compassion. For this I will always and forever be grateful.
And then, at the end of the evening, I found that I and another participant (we were both the oldest of the group by a number of years) were being asked if we would continue being the Elders of the group and provide time/space for the group to meet. I can only speak for myself about how this felt, as I am not the other person who was asked. So here we had just spent about 2 hours, with an unintended focus on my grief and pain, and I was feeling very vulnerable and fragile and grateful. Suddenly there is the assignment being given to the two of us. I felt like I owed the men in the group for their investment in my personal well-being. I felt obligated to say “yes” and totally ignore the fact that I was not in any condition to take on yet another circle (I already was an Elder for 2 other continuing circles in the community). So I said yes, I would do that. And I did. And it was somewhat fulfilling to do so for a number of months. But soon I hit a brick wall. The group was more focussed on blending with the women’s circle than they were on doing their own work. I suggested that we need to first take things deeper and do some of our own healing before “blending” with another circle. As soon as I suggested that, from then on the meetings got delayed or re-directed because of one thing or another. It became perfectly clear that this group was not interested in going deeper as much as it was interested in spreading out and blending. I finally had to come to the realization that, although this was something that was going to happen, I did not have to take part in the misguided actions of that. So I withdrew.
I then found out that the very same shaman, as well as another who had also drifted through town, were in the habit of telling people that they were the ones to carry the mantle and provide leadership for the spiritual community. And some of whom they told that were definitely ready for that role. But a number of them were not. And there was so much lack of communication going on because these shamans did not actually inform EVERYONE as to whom they had assigned. Suddenly there were power plays going on and disruptions in the community that needn’t have happened. Some were on an ego trip and others were hesitant to even step into that assigned roll because they did not feel ready to go there, and yet others were ready and were getting all sorts of blow back from those who were on their ego trips. It is very distressing to watch this take place within a spiritual community. It ends up becoming anything BUT spiritual. And so, like so many times before, I found myself, as did others in the healing field, sitting back, assisting those who wanted our help to heal, and waiting for all the dust to settle. I don’t know if it has even completely settled yet, three years after the fact.
Sometimes those shamans come back into town. Fine. Whatever. But for the most part they are NOT HERE. So they really don’t have an ear on the ground when it comes to what our community actually needs. They THINK that they do, but they really don’t. They created a bunch of popcorn elders, and I have a feeling that they might also be popcorn elders themselves. If they were not, they would have known that this is completely inappropriate behaviour, and they clearly did not understand that at all. I think that the actual healing work that they each do is wonderful. But the “assigning” of elders is completely misguided. One of them actually took exception to being called “Brother” by one of my friends, who calls every man he connects with a brother. The shaman felt that this was an assumption that my friend had that would seemingly disrespect him as an Elder. Pardon my bluntness here, but if you are all about status and not about heart connections then you have no place in the roll of an Elder, so back up.
I truly think that people need to get beyond their misconception that just because someone is from somewhere else they are automatically so much more learned and wise than anyone who is right here, always has been right here, and is so completely available to the community. I am not just speaking of myself. Our community has a great number of very qualified healers, each of whom gets tossed aside like a dirty tissue as soon as someone else comes through town. THAT is disrespect. THAT is complete ignorance. There is absolutely no wisdom in these behaviours, no honour, and no respect even for the individual self, because what people are doing to themselves is setting themselves up for deep pain that was completely not needed in any way. I suppose that the ego rush is worth all that. But that then calls to question if they are actually serious about doing their work in any way, or if it is just another “high” to make them feel elevated in the moment? Seriously, if you are going to approach your healing with such disrespect, you might as well just go back to using recreational pharmaceuticals. That will do you about as much good.
My suggestion would be that if someone is drifting through town and you want to see them and see if they have anything constructive to offer, then absolutely do that. But at the SAME TIME you might want to consider maintaining your connection to the healer you are already working with and invest in yourself in a way that is ongoing, and not just a weekend “trip”. That person who has been working with you for a while now, THAT person is here, RIGHT HERE, for you and has been from the beginning. The one drifting through town, as much as he or she may have good intentions, is NOT here for you on a day in and day out basis. They are only passing through.