“Where are the Old Souls? Those great repositories of wisdom – where have they gone? I want to sit at their feet and learn a thing or three. Oh, that I could once again listen to their holy silence and bow my heart in awe! Where is Older Ned when you need him?” The Book of Rhino
In 1996, Robert Bly wrote a book called The Sibling Society. The main premise of the book was that modern society was growing increasingly horizontal in human relationships and was fast becoming like a society of siblings, parenting themselves. Just last week I read an article about what makes a book a bestseller – routine and familiar plot structures, short sentences, sex scenes interspersed with action scenes, and an occasional “human engagement” scene. This is a fair representation of the Mythic-Literal Stage of Faith that James Fowler attributes to children.
In a sibling society, each generation learns about life and living from each other. There are no vertical, intergenerational connections. Thus the knowledge gained by each generation becomes static and stratified in one’s peer group. “Group Think” sets social norms by consensus. However, consensual learning and identity can result in one-dimensional thinking if there are no elders to provide depth and perspective. A sibling society lives in Flatland.
It used to be different. Intergenerational relationships used to be the norm. Children sought the wisdom of their parents and grandparents who passed on the treasures they inherited from their parents and grandparents. This practice led to the creation of “Old Souls” in each new generation.
Through careful instruction and example, the seed of an Old Soul was planted and cultivated in the heart of every child. It was magic. Young and old could commune soul to soul, in wonder and delight. Each interaction was filled with the promise of insight and enlightenment. It was “I ~ Thou.”
My siblings and I were fortunate in that we were raised in a vertical family culture. Our parents were our first, best teachers, handing down to us the wisdom they had learned from their parents. We learned things from our grandparents that they had learned from their parents. My parents and grandparents planted the Old Soul seed in our hearts – as my brother and sister and I planted it in the hearts of our children. My parents nurtured the seed and kept it blooming. Now I can sit in holy silence with my son, my nieces, and my nephew and learn from their wisdom – the next generation of Old Souls.
But where are the other Old Souls in our society? I am seeking them but they are difficult to find. I wonder if any new Old Soul seeds are being planted today. Or are they being sown, but like in the Parable of the Sower, are not taking root? The cares and busyness of life work against growing an Old Soul.
My generation will eventually be the oldest generation. The time will come when there will be no elders at whose feet I can sit in holy silence. I am counting on the younger generations to be there for me – Old Soul to Old Soul.
Have you found the Old Souls? Who are those rare individuals in your life at whose feet you sit? What have they taught you?