My Thoughts On Elder Matters

Ken Kuffner June, 2003

Carl Jung once wrote:

“A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the human species… The afternoon of human life must have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”

I like that term – – “Afternoon of life”.  To me, what we do as New Warrior Elders can be characterized as

Exploring and living in the questions and challenges of the “afternoon of life”.

I will be speaking today about my views on some of those “questions and challenges” – – the ones around which I have some charge. 

My mission is to create a world of peace and joy by empowering the elder energy in myself and others.  I really believe that the tendency of humans to live well beyond the child-rearing and hunting/gathering years has a lot of meaning for the human species and, indeed, does have a significance all its own.  And, I have a strong personal stake in having the afternoon of my life, and your life, be more than “merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”

What I really want to do here is to empower “Elder Energy”.  I want to teach, and share wisdom.  I want to dispel myths, clear up misunderstandings, and proclaim and validate some truths that I have come to believe about Elders.  I may instead only raise questions, stimulate some thought, and even provoke controversy.  So be it.  I trust the process – – and, I am very grateful for the opportunity.

This presentation will be around five (5) separate topics.  What I say may appear dis-jointed and unrelated at times.  I encourage you to follow along and see if you can “connect the dots”.  I believe it will all come together at the end.

Here are my Five Topics:

  1. The Shadows around Growing Older
  2. I Create My Own Reality
  3. Accept The Projections
  4. The Elder Warrior
  5. Blessing (After all, my name is “Blessing Bear”).

The Shadows Of Growing Older

As in any afternoon, there are shadows present in the second half of life.  And, as they do in the afternoon of the day, the shadows appear different in the latter years, and somewhat longer and larger, than they do in the early part of life.  I say an Elder must become more aware of and awake to what his particular “later life” shadows are and how to confront and deal with them.  If they don’t, those shadows may well eat them.

What do I mean by that?  Let me explain. 

Sooner or later, every man has moments when he is or feels dissatisfied with the results of his life.  When this happens to a man who knows he is past his prime productive years, there are various outcomes. 

  • Some men seem to lose themselves in regret or in bitterness.  If they don’t deal with it, their lives become about recrimination and blame.  They become angry, bitter, resentful or depressed.  I say they have succumbed to their Victim/Predator
  • Others seem to go to a place (inside) where they simply wait to die.  They have given up.  They are to Life as if it doesn’t matter … and it doesn’t.
  • Still others lose their confidence and become like frightened children, afraid of the uncertainty of Life.  Like deer frozen in the glare of headlights, they become rigid and unmoving, as if they are afraid to go in any direction…until it is too late. 
  • For many, the inclination becomes to settle for whatever success – – by whatever measures – – our life has afforded us.  As we get older, we learn to live with whatever we have accomplished, justifying the choices one way or another.  In other words, we cope.  We spend our lives going through the motions, hoping that some day things will be different.  All the while, however, there’s a deep sense of unfinished business, as if life has passed by and we don’t quite know what we are supposed to do next.

For me, Jack Nicholson, in “About Schmidt” personifies the men about whom I am speaking.  The truth is – – at least as I see it – – such men are stuck in the shadows of growing older.  They are hollow shells of what they could be as human beings.  These men will never become Elders.  Instead, they will become “elderly”.

All of us have shadows.  As we age, it appears to me as if the shadows we carry don’t disappear; they just mutate.  I still have my “I’m not good enough” and “I don’t want you to look at me” shadows, for example.  The key is that, as initiated men, we continue to do our work, become more and more aware of what our shadows are, and choose to face them and not be stopped by them. 

To me, it is even more significant that many men as they age seem not to even bother to question whether they have discovered their true calling, or touched their deepest gifts.  They never discover their deepest purpose, the mission that would culminate their life.  Without a clear sense of meaning and purpose in the face of inevitable physical decline, longevity may prove to be an unbearable burden. 

On the other hand, you and I have touched our missions.  We are on that path.  Like Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, and yes, even Ronald Reagan, we have not given up on life simply because we are chronologically enhanced a little.  We are Elders!  We do not let the shadows of later life hold us back.

The Biggest Shadow Of Them All

But there is one shadow in particular that I must speak about – – the biggest shadow of them all – Death.  I have come to be persuaded that perhaps the most significant thing that influences whether a man becomes an Elder (as opposed to someone who is simply getting “elderly”) is whether, and how, he faces and deals with his death.

I say that the transition to Elder doesn’t really seriously begin until I have actually confronted and embraced the fact of my approaching death.  I say that it is only when a man fully confronts the end of his life, chooses to confront it in a positive, transformative way, and responds with a declaration of empowered commitment and full participation in the rest of his life that he is ready to begin being an “Elder”. 

For most of our lives, men behave as if we are immortal and “bullet-proof”.  The inevitability of our death simply is not in our consciousness.  Hormones definitely play some role in this.  The male hormone is about life, not about death.  Men are, by nature, adventurous, competitive and ever willing to confront danger and take significant risks.  As we age, those hormone-driven compulsions seem to quiet down some, but for most of us they remain in place until we die.
As our bodies begin to change, subtly at first, but then more and more noticeably, we resist.  Have you ever looked in the mirror and said, “Who is that person?”  At some point, sooner or later, a man finally confronts the truth: he is no longer a young man in the prime of his life; he is getting “old”.

Here, again, however, notice that I said what he confronts is “getting old” – not death.  The idea of “Death” can remain unspoken, not acknowledged, ignored – – that is, in shadow – – for quite some time after a man sees and accepts that he is getting old. 

Oh, I know Elders may talk about death.  As I experience it, however, the talk is mostly stuff like, “Yes, it’s there; closer than ever before.  I acknowledge that.  I have chosen to live the rest of my life fully.  I have people around me who understand what that means.” 

For me, all that talk does is give me permission to act out a little bit more.  I still don’t feel comfortable about my Death.  And, I know I stuff some feelings around it.  In short, I have a shadow.  I am afraid.  And I must acknowledge that.  And, I must acknowledge that my life will end – – probably soon.

The deeper shadow here is that I am afraid that there is really nothing else I can do, once I accept that I am getting older, but keep on living the way that I have.  Even if it is a little bit more “consciously”, still I must simply wait.  In the meantime, I am getting older and older.  It is as if the only alternative I have is to “hang it up” and begin to wait for the end.  

If I face that shadow – – actually confront that I fear my life as a useful human being is over and begin to live my life in the conscious awareness of the ever-present darkness of death – – I can see that life itself becomes clear and full, beautifully real, and self-evidently meaningful.  Then, I will be an Elder.

I read a beautiful analogy.  It likens the reality of death to the deep bass sounds in music.  If one turns the bass control on the sound system amplifier down – which is like removing awareness of the ever-present deep and dark reality of death – then the sound you get is very thin and unsatisfying.  It is jangled, tinny and shrill, much like our modern lifestyle that is full of superficial hiss and tinkle without any depth.  Conscious awareness of the presence of death is like adding a sub-woofer to your sound system, deepening and enhancing the experience of the music of life.

I Create My Own Reality

As I have aged and matured [those are two different processes, you know], I have become increasingly aware that I create my own reality through what I think and sense.  If I do not like my reality as it exists, and really want to do something about it, I can change that reality by trying on a different way of thinking or doing about it.  If that doesn’t work, I at least gather what understanding I can from the lack of success; and try another way.

Have I learned these gifts on my own? – Not really.  I have made decisions on my own as to what I accept as my reality, my mission, my beliefs, etc. – but all of these ideas that work for me now are centuries old – passed on through other Elders – both young and old, male and female.  [Thank you, Bill Kauth.]  At this point, I believe that I have a Sacred Trust to continue to pass them on.

Men have told me variations of these stories: “I would like to be an Elder, but I still have a career”, or “I still have kids in school” or “I have too many things on my plate.”  The really good one is “I am not old enough.”  To me, these are all versions of, “I am not ready”.  I have some sense that, underneath all that is the judgment that to be an Elder, a man must first slow down, “hang up his spikes” and retire.

My experience is that there is some truth to that.  To be an Elder, it is important to slow down, smell the roses, maybe pay a little more attention to the “Big Picture”.  Nevertheless, I also believe that, underneath that judgment that an Elder must first “retire”, there is a fear that “I cannot do what an Elder does”.  Here is where I want to challenge men to take that fear out of the shadows and create for themselves another reality.  The reality is that I am an Elder, and what I do is what an Elder does.

If you watch for it, I say you can see a shift when a man takes on and claims his Elder Energy.  One way it can be perceived is moving from “doing-doing” to “being-doing”.  This is incomprehensible to the younger Warrior who (rightly for his phase of his life journey) is out planting and hunting.  In a way it is like trying to describe fire to a fish. 

But the Elder has reached the phase of his life journey where he can “get” it:  We are able to harvest the wisdom of our lives even while we are still planting and hunting.  I suggest that there is no reason for an Elder to wait to begin harvesting until he has stopped planting and hunting.  It is time to be in the moment no matter what we are doing.

The Buddhists call this “Wu-wei.’  That is a Chinese word that means something like “doing without doing.  The paradox of this is the most challenging concept for us, precisely because it doesn’t mean just sitting around doing nothing.  It means “being” while we are doing; it means being receptive; it means going beyond our egos in what we do and how we do what we do.  I say it means that we can bring the energy of the Elder to the workplace, the family, the community at large.  What it takes is staying awake, being mindful, and trusting the process.

Accepting Projections

One thing I really want to make clear: being an Elder requires stepping into and taking on the projections people have around elders.  We become holograms – 3 dimensional projected images of what others see (or want to see).  I have experienced a lot of Ideal father, ideal grandfather and ideal Elder projections put on Elders. 

When a man hasn’t adequately done his own father work, there may be some neediness involved.  Sometimes, however, people are just unconsciously projecting their own pictures on us.  Look, we emit “Elder energy” and Elder images and expectations are projected back.

On the other hand, when an older man has not adequately done his own father work, he may unconsciously seek to get from younger men what he did not get from his own father or, worse, buy into the projections.  On the NWTA weekends, this may present itself as inappropriately displaying and drawing attention to himself, and/or stepping in for a “blessing” at every opportunity.  Perhaps you have seen this?  I have done it! 

One way or the other, the projections can definitely cloud the reality.  Are you all clear about what I mean about projections?

Well, what do we do about it?  First, I recommend staying present to and working on our own Father and grandfather issues.  We must not “buy in” to the projections! 

Secondly, I have found that at least a semi-effective way to deal with the projections of other men is to be authentic.  At best, I can only be me.  I must simply stay present and awake and be as authentically me – – and the best authentic me – – as I can be.  And I must strive to have my words and actions be congruent with who I really am. 

Finally, I say that an Elder must accept and become comfortable with the projections.  Whatever we do, however authentically and consciously we deal with them, we will not stop the projections.  What we do may even increase them.  It simply doesn’t work to throw them off or deny them. 

I believe that younger men are naturally drawn to want to be around Elders.  At least part of what draws them is the knowledge that these older men have been through the challenges and the battles of life and have survived.  I say that younger men (I felt it in myself) hold a deep, underlying curiosity as to how that was done, and how ‘I might get some of it”.  I also believe that there is a deep respect that comes from the realization that “this man has actually survived and gotten through life’s battles”. 

But, some of what draws those younger men may be nothing more than their projections.  In any event, I say those projections are natural and that they are healthy.  I encourage you Elders to wear those projections.  Wear them and feel them as a mantle of honor.  Be proud of that mantle.  And, be authentic in your own skin!

The Mature Masculinity Of The Elder

So, what is it about New Warrior Elders that so many of them often seem to be without the “Warrior edge”? 

First, as we have discussed, when a man ages he changes physically.  One of these physical changes is a measurable drop in his hormone levels.  This change can have a profound effect.  Summarizing from the book, Reclaimed Powers: Men and Women in Later Life (1994) by David Gutman:

Across all cultures and within all social and economic groups within any culture, virtually the same thing happens to ALL men as they age–the hard, aggressive edge that drives them through their battles in the earlier years begins to morph into something that is gentler and softer.

(They even have a name for it, now- – “andropause”!).

Some have characterized this “softness,” as feminine (even “grandmother”) energy.  Others have noted that it can be described as a move from warrior to peacemaker.  Whatever it is, I say it does NOT mean that we no longer have a warrior in us.

Moreover, with age does come some wisdom (at least to the man who is awake).  Often that wisdom suggests that challenging, competing, fighting (things that some of us see as the “Warrior” way), is not the best way to get results.  I know better now which buttons in me get pushed, and for what reasons.  I know better how to control my reactions.  In fact, am beginning to see the “truth” that “I am you and you are me” and that we are all related.  So, I really do not want to fight you.  I want to love you, and bless you, the way that you are.

This energy often presents itself in a way that is better taken as, “Look, I don’t want to fight anymore.  I have been there and done that.  I just do not feel the urge anymore.”  It is not softness – – at least when it comes from conscious choice.

Then again, I suppose, it is fair to say that some (okay, a lot) of the archetypal energy I project comes from shadow.  By that, I mean that it is not always fully developed and mature.  If I have “Warrior” as part of my “Elder Energy”, and I do, I admit it doesn’t always come out clean and clearly discernable.  I can definitely see how a man might misread it as something else.

At my initiation weekend, for the first time in fifty years, I saw that it was okay to have anger and it was okay to assert my own “wild” masculine power.  It was also okay to acknowledge my fears and weep and grieve over the tragic and sad events of my life.  This was like a marvelous awakening to me.  Holy Shit!  Men do this kind of stuff! I can express myself without shame!  I am a man!

I was filled with love.  I was filled with a desire to connect.  I soon learned that I was also filled with a desire to bless!  I did not feel the need to confront or challenge.  I felt compassion.  I related to every man’s struggle and my want is to let a man know that I see him as a good and decent man who may be struggling.  It is so gratifying, after a lifetime of suppressing and denying, to actually let down my inauthentic “macho” and “cool, aloof stud” energy and allow myself to love and bless another man. 

So, what I say is that a lot of men, particularly older men, who go through the NWTA weekend, are drawn, like I was, more to the softer, gentler side of the Elder energy.  We do not express the “hard” edge.

But I also say that this NOT “Grandmother energy”.  IT IS MATURE MASCULINE ENERGY.  Let us express our masculinity in a way that is authentic for us.

I see a danger, however: in accepting the softer, gentler side of me, I may miss out on claiming the entirety of my mature masculinity, especially the “Elder Warrior” part.  I may need that energy to fulfill my mission and hold steadfast to my values.

I find that, for myself, I need to develop the ability to balance forgiveness and compassion with an understanding of the need to hold boundaries and keep priorities in focus.  I need to balance acceptance and blessing, of others, and myself, with a steadfast commitment to keep my goals in sight and to protect the environment and the culture from harm. 

I see that I must work to have this world be a better place for my grandchildren’s grandchildren.  I see what is needed.  I know what must be done.  I must not stand idly by and watch it go down the tubes while some well-meaning, but sometimes thoughtless, men express themselves from some shadow place.  If I see it, I am going to speak it!

All of this means that I will bless you and acknowledge you for who you are and for the good work you are doing; I will listen to you with understanding and give you my wisdom in a compassionate and empowering way.  But DO NOT FUCK WITH ME on things that I hold dear.  I will call you to account when I see you stepping over the line.  And I will die, if I have to, in protecting and defending my family and my community, and whatever else I hold dear, from what I believe is endangering them.

This is the Elder Warrior.  I say it is in every one of us.  Those of us who wish to continue on our path toward greater consciousness must do what we can to access, develop and bring this aspect of our being to its full and mature expression.  I say that Elders who continue their own work, who do become more and more congruous, eventually do come to express the fullness of ALL their archetypes, including their Warrior energy.

Sterile bitterness in a crusty old man is difficult to deal with, even pitiful, in a way.  We have all encountered it.  Yet, shallow softness and platitudinal wisdom that avoids authentic, heartfelt reality, can also be, IMJ, pitiful and VERY difficult to deal with.

Gandalf, the wizard in the Lord of the Rings movies, certainly is an elder warrior – perhaps a great model.  In the first movie, he is portrayed as a kind and gentle (“soft”) man who uses the warrior energy only to make a point now and then.  I liked his energy.  In the second movie, however, he comes back as a “no-nonsense, kick-ass” warrior, because the survival of his very world is at stake.  I definitely liked his energy!

About Blessing

There has been much talk around New Warrior about men’s concerns that, when we Elders bless, it is taking on aspects of “priesthood”.  I particularly liked how Ted Cartier (Eagle Rising, Dances with Wolves) addressed these concerns:

First, I personally feel no presence of priesthood when I bless a man.  I bless from my heart, my spirit, my energy, my compassion and my experience.  God, if there is such an entity, does not come into it. … For me, it is more powerful blessing a man from my own being.  In my judgment, that is the only energy I have to share and give away. ….

Second, I thought about how we view the word bless.  While blessing has been a prerogative of priests, we also bless each other when we sneeze, do a good deed or for some other such reason.  While the origins of this may arise out of fear of demons, asking for recognition of some god, to me it has moved away from that and has become a form of acknowledgement or support.  …

I also wonder how much of this fear is our own projections around our life experiences with organized religion.  My fear is that we will over analyze everything we do and will slowly become ineffectual as we tie our hands tighter and tighter.

I very strongly believe that!  To me, blessing is an essential and critical part of what we do as Elders.  It is a major reason why we need Elders and it is one of the most valuable things an Elder can do.  And, this is the interesting thing:  it is not so much that blessing is the role of an Elder, as it is that a blessing is made so much more powerful when it comes from an Elder.

Blessing is like a fuel for the mind and heart.  Blessing is a motivator.  It inspires us to reach for new possibilities.  Blessing gives us heart and sees us through.  It can be so empowering to receive constructive criticism in the form of a blessing (I have seen this!).

On the other hand, it can be very difficult for a man to create all of the life he wants without a sense of blessing.  If I am going to be the person I dream of being, then blessing must play an essential role in my development.  But, from whom am I going to get my needed blessings?  Why, from my Elders, of course!  What a valuable role!

Blessing is an essential ingredient in true Sovereign energy (and what are “Elders” if not Sovereigns).  To me, it doesn’t have to be something that some people do and others do not, or some Elders do and others do not.  I believe ALL Elders must take on and embrace the habit of blessing. 

David Spangler, in his book “Blessing: The Art And The Practice”, says it this way:

“[A] blessing is not the function of a particular role.  It is a natural expression of the fiery love and inclusiveness of our inner spirit.  It is the manifestation of a soulfire, and each of us can be its hearth.  To bless is not a prerogative only of ministers, priests and rabbis; it is not the exclusive domain of saints and holy people.  It is a natural human ability, and anyone can do it.  But first, we must claim that ability.”

I believe that.

Blessing is about connection.  As such, it is an expression of a deep archetypal energy in all of us.  It is the energy of the Lover in us that wants to connect.  Thus, the act of blessing is an affirmation of connection on a deeply spiritual level.  Every time we bless, we create the opportunity for the power of our connectedness to pour through our own life and the lives of others.  And the one who receives the blessing usually feels the response at that same deep level.  How do I know?  The man I bless often goes “Whew!!” when I am done.

So, in blessing, we are really affirming our sense of connection and exercising the muscle by which we access the power of connection and the sense of wholeness that emerges from its expression.  It becomes a “gateway” to the Sovereign.

In Rachel Remen’s book entitled “My Grandfather’s Blessings, Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging“, the author states the following:

“We bless life around us far more than we realize.  Many simple, ordinary things that we do can affect those around us in profound ways: the unexpected phone call, the brief touch, the willingness to listen generously, the warm smile or wink or recognition. 

Blessings come in forms as simple as the greeting commonly use in India.  On meeting even a total stranger, one bows and says ‘NAMASTE’ (I see the divine spark within you). 

When we recognize the spark of God in others, we blow on it with our attention and strengthen it, no matter how deeply it has been buried…. When we bless someone, we touch the unborn goodness in them and wish it well.

Everything unborn in us and in the world needs blessing.”

There are many ways to express a blessing. 

Blessing can be explicit and implicit.  By ‘explicit’, I mean that the person or persons being blessed are very much aware that a blessing is being bestowed upon them.  By ‘implicit’, I mean that one can bless silently and even ‘surreptitiously’, with the person(s) or thing(s) being blessed not even aware of the blessing.

Blessing can be done through ritual or totally spontaneously.  It can be done with an embrace or a gesture, with a “laying on of the hands”, or simply with the eyes and an empathic projection of feeling.

What do I say/do in a blessing? 

  • It can be a simple thank you, or an acknowledgment of what you have seen.
  • It can be a straightforward request that the Higher Power give grace and happiness to someone; or to take pain away or ease the life of someone who has had difficulties. 
  • It can be an invocation; a call to Spirit, or to The Ancestors, or Spiritual Allies to be present and be with us. 
  • It can be a wish that someone’s life be blessed in some way, or that good things be somehow manifested. 
  • It can be an act that creates healing or protection in some way. 
  • It can be a moment of connectedness with another in a way that they really get that they have been “seen” or “heard” or just “gotten”. 

And, it can be two or more or all of these things in combination.

So, giving a blessing is really quite simple.  In fact, it is a natural human ability.  Blessing is wonderful when it comes naturally, as if overflowing from a joyous and loving heart.  But blessing is awesome when we are able to choose to bless even when we feel indifference, or when we would rather curse or strike out at the person or thing being blessed.  It is at those times that we demonstrate the power of the human soul to choose what affirms and supports life and what creates wholeness and well being, rather than what negates or stifles life and its value.

And, blessing doesn’t simply feed the one who happens to receive the blessing.  There is clinical proof that the act of blessing actually and significantly benefits the one who is giving the blessing.  It is truly “The Gift That Keeps Giving.”

Why is that?  Well, here is some more that I believe.  First, I have noticed that, in blessing, one of the things I do is direct my energies entirely outwardly, focusing on the person or thing being blessed.  So, my attention is not focused on anything about me.  It thus becomes an opportunity to drop all my own defenses and all my petty concerns and worries about me.  The end result is that I am able to speak from my core; from that authentic place in me where Spirit resides.

I have also observed that, when I bless, the energy tends to be all of a positive nature, even when I am giving ‘tough love’ or ‘constructive criticism’ to a person. 

I also suggest that when I speak authentically and from the heart about what I see inside and going on with another, it comes across favorably at least partially because of the fact that I am an Elder (remember those projections?). 

One reason I believe I am able to bless so convincingly is because I know that what I see and feel is really also going on inside me (“What I see in you, I know in me”).  Thus, by noticing and acknowledging what I see in another, and blessing it, I am blessing myself – – by getting in touch with a deeper sense of my own authentic nature. 

Elders, I encourage you.  Be open to giving and receiving blessings.


So, I have covered my Five Topics.  Those of you who stayed with me heard me discuss the Shadows of Growing Older and how I can face those shadows better by really getting that I Create My Own Reality.  I explained the projections that society places on Elders and encouraged you to wear those projections with pride and authenticity.  I assured you that Elders still have archetypal Warrior energy and gave you my opinions that it important for us to develop our Warrior.  And, of course, I gave you a little of “Kuffner on Blessing”.

For thousands of years, we men have been warriors.  We protected females, dominated other males, reaped bounty from our environment, and strove to sire the next clan leader.  Our mission was primarily to dominate, exploit, procreate and preserve the species. 

The Elders were there, to hold the container; to ground the community; to bring a sense of safety and security in a very scary world; to make sure that the warriors didn’t “act out” inappropriately”; and to remind the community that we are spiritual beings who inhabit these bodies only temporarily.

Today, as New Warrior Elders, we know that the old ways don’t work.  And, in a world in which the “old warriors” seem to be in control, the elders – – wise and awake and conscious and authentic Elders – – are needed more than ever.

In a world that demands change, we are co-creating a world in which people of all ages can and will know what it means and what it takes to be an Elder and what it means and what it takes to use Elders to the fullest.  There is much to learn – on all sides.  But, I say that is work that is worth doing!  And, to borrow from the NWTA Context Presentation – – I also say:“We can do this!!”