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Learning from Elders

Before my friend gave a guest lecture to my class, we realized that he had a half century of work experience in the helping professions as teachers and counselors. Together we had nearly one century. So we decided that with all that experience we should tell my Stanford students to sit down, shut up, and listen to our wisdom, and if they were lucky they would absorb a little. That gave us a good laugh.

Since we’re a couple of old fools we decided instead to tell them that we had nothing to teach them. We imagined that in the Zen story, they might respond, “So I have nothing to learn from you.” And our comeback would be: “You can not teach Wisdom, but you can learn it.” Then there would be silence. Haha, another laugh.

We’ve been teaching and counseling for a long time and have learned a lot through this work. We’re also just fellow imperfect humans walking the same path as all others, making the same mistakes, and still open to learning new things. We know that the best we can do is tell what we know, no more, and no less.

In our twilight years we have a sense of harvesting wisdom, seeing it as the art of living with what life brings us, being both courageous and gentle with the unknown. Wisdom seems to be the art of balancing the known and unknown, the suffering with the joy. We have a strange and comforting sense of belonging and returning home, as if somehow the whole of life comes together in a new and deeper unity.

We ask our young students about fear. Sharing our fears in our beloved community, we accept how most will never happen. And we trust that if something that we fear does come occur, we will find the strength to live on.

We see how fear prevents us from living and loving more fully. Accepting that as humans we will never be fearless, we realize that we can live and act despite our fears. Asking ourselves what we would do if we felt less fear, we challenge ourselves to be more than what we have become, going beyond our self-limiting beliefs.

My friend and I believe that through our counsel, students can learn to engage their destiny anew. We have faith that they can learn to live and love more deeply and with less fear of what lies ahead. As their elders we let them know how we quiet fears with a forgiving heart and the generosity of others and the universe, reassuring us that despite everything, we will be alright.

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