The Gift is in the Giving

A reflection on the movement from transformational action to transformational presence.


Ned Abenroth

5/29/20243 min read

One way I describe Elders is that the balance of their influence on others has tilted from transformational action towards transformational presence or if you prefer, from loving action towards loving presence. When an elder is in the room, they can shift dynamics from their mere presence--the whole room breathes a bit easier!

I’ll never forget after one of the Elders’ Rites of Passages, a group of men gathered in the kitchen to celebrate and debrief what had been a remarkable EROP. In our midst was a young man in his 20’s, who had never had so many fathers available at once. He took the opportunity to pour out his heart for almost 25 minutes, going to the depths of his grief, questions, doubts, and fears. The anxiety within me grew--how would we tend to him in this space? What could be offered that could meet him?

After he was silent, Belden Lane leaned over and put his hand on the man’s arm, and said very quietly, “There are no easy answers.” That was all he said! It wasn’t the words that made the difference, but the presence behind them that spoke volumes. “We see you. We acknowledge your pain. We are with you in the struggle. We aren’t going to bullshit you that life is going to be easy.” Between and under all the words, was a kind of troubled equanimity that held in paradox both the turbulence of the moment and the well of grace that comes from deeply knowing that “All shall be well.”

The entire room exhaled.

Of course, this is a tipping of the scales, not a wholesale movement from action to presence. Elders still offer transformational action in the world and adults need their presence itself to be transformational in order for their actions to sink deepest. But those on the threshold into elderhood might ask how are they called to offer their presence to those whose life stage is still primarily biased towards transformational action in the world.

At the recent British Columbia MROP, elder Rick Bergmann ushered us into this during morning meditation. As a grandfather himself, he invited us into the gifts of presence a grandfather offers a baby that are not always as available from a father. A father loves first through ensuring the baby is safe, fed, housed, boundaried--it is a lot of beautiful active work that is absolutely essential! Rick spoke as one whose only role was to simply hold in love and “hum his frequency” into his grandson. He invited us all in the morning meditation to hold a babe in our arms and hum a little ditty into the child with love…and as we did, something broke open in that old wood barn. Men wept and hummed for the next 20 minutes. Everyone became a grandfather, everyone a babe, everyone the love between them…

How beautiful to have the tables turned on us! In offering a posture of transformational presence for another, it was WE who were really transformed. Loving presence in the end is always most transformative for the ones offering it, rather than those to whom it is extended. The gift is in the giving.

This fall, folk will converge from all over for the Elders’ Rites of Passages at Ekone Ranch. It will be the 7th EROP we’ve offered, including an EROP last year in the Czech Republic and one this fall open to all genders which will happen the week before the traditional men’s EROP. “For such a time as this,” as Terry Chapman likes to say, the world needs folk to step out of adulthood, in which the scope of focus is often more narrow and work oriented, and become Elders who advocate for LIFE, for wider circles, for those without voices, for the healing of the world. The eldering journey is never about the Elder…it is just new ways of giving ones’ life away. Whether you join us in person or not, please hold us all while we gather.

man in white and red polo shirt carrying boy in white and red shirt
man in white and red polo shirt carrying boy in white and red shirt