Council of Elders Letter # 6 for the Millennium
We have come to this time and place and there is nothing more to say. We know the words well, all the theories and exhortations. But, also, in the midst of the agonies of these times, we have all been visited by the miraculous, by moments of incomprehensible beauty, by kindness that astonishes, by events that have the indisputable signature of the Divine.
This autumn I was visited by condors. Some twenty years ago, the California condors were, except for a few individuals, extinct. Taken into captivity, their eggs were carefully protected and hatched. A territory was returned to them. Now, more than a hundred birds have been released into the wild.
These vultures with a wingspread of nine feet are carrion eaters; they feast on the dead. For many peoples, vultures are sacred birds. The ancient Egyptians honored them as Mut, Maat, Nekhbet, the great mothers, and the compassionate ones as they are also known in Hebrew and Arabic. The Chumash, the native people of Southern California, also speak of the condor as the great mother who saved the earth from burning.
Several times during the High Holidays when I was deeply engaged in ritual or meditation, nine condors appeared inscribing the holy letter, Samech – the endless cycle, the circle, the wedding ring, shelter, support, the spiral of the soul upward toward the Divine and the emptiness which bears the imprint of the holy transcendent light – onto the sky and clouds overhead. I took this as a sign.
Their appearance, so like a visitation, gives me hope for what can be restored and for renewing the dialogue between people and creatures and spirit that has been interrupted to our great jeopardy these last hundreds of years.
Midnight, December 31, 1999. This date has been given to us or imposed upon us. Believers or not, we feel potential or dread as this date insinuates itself, globally, into the imagination, re-enforced, as it is, by the co-incidence of Y2k. Other traditions also consider these times momentous. If only for these reasons, we are at the threshold of possibility.
But no one will or should or can come to save us. This is certain. Still, if we each honor this date, something will come of it. We can cross over an invisible threshold, or pass through a wormhole, to a world or dimension that may appear the same but is governed by different laws. In that world, where the human does not impose hegemony over nature, spirit or other humans, each of us sustains the other and each of us lives a life in dynamic relationship with the natural world and all the creatures in it. That world, unlike the one we have established, has a future to it.
Here is the secret teaching: Each of us has been called to that world. Each of us knows how to bypass the fears, undermine the habits, and controvert the mind that insists that such a world doesn’t exist or cannot be realized. Each one of us carries the internal instructions for crossing the impassable barrier in order to enter that world. Each of us has seen the signs, knows how to read them, and knows how to open the door.
Each of us, then, knows what to do – it is part of the secret knowledge we carry. And there are questions that can help us across: Where must our closed hearts open? What is required for us to walk in the world as healers, lovers and compassionate ones? What path leads each of us to becoming an elder, a bodhisattva, messiah, lamed-vov, saint, holy one? What is the nature of the summons we have received to beauty, generosity, love, compassion and exquisite kindness? What is the particular shape of the life to which we are, individually, being called?
The world that awaits us has many forms and many names … The Divine or implicit law, the cosmic order, hozro, Torah, Logos…. The miracle of this incomprehensible teaching is that each of us is called to our own mystery. For each of us there is a separate door, vision and possibility. And yet, the realization of all of this depends on each of us, independently, stepping forward into the holy life.
Let us step across. Let us hold nothing back. Bless this time and what it offers us.
P O Box 186
Topanga CA 90290
P.S. As soon as I finished this letter, the condors, who have a range of several hundred miles, returned for one day to the dead tree outside my window where I first saw them.
Also, this letter was written during the unprecedented police attack upon the spontaneous protest taking place in Seattle that had united, among others, organized labor, indigenous peoples and environmentalists.
And these words from the poet, Peter Levitt:
“I send, as my offering for the Daré, two sentences from the Dalai Lama’s Novel Peace Prize talk.
“‘Because we all share this small planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature.
“‘Live simply and love humanity. For as long as space endures and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I, too, abide to dispel the misery of the world.’
“Since I see that the bodhisattvas will be present at the Daré, and called forth, my only humble suggestion is that this last sentence, where the bodhisattva dedicates herself/himself ‘for as long as space endures and for as long as living beings remain,’ be explored [by those who want to] as a path of freedom. So many people want out, in various forms, but to take up this path means there is no out, and that in itself is freedom.”