Coming Home in a Time of Crisis: Eliot Cowan Speaks about the Home Project

April 29, 2014

Eliot Cowan is a Tsaurririkame in the Huichol tradition, the founder of the Blue Deer Center, and a core provider and tradition holder at the Center. Recently, the BDC’s Home Project has been gaining momentum and we caught up with Eliot to ask him about the importance of this project, which he feels will be a cornerstone for the ancient healing traditions at the Blue Deer Center. These traditions, according to Eliot, remind people of the old ways that can nurture us during these times of increasing world crises. The Home Project will include under its umbrella what are currently called the Capital Campaign and the Annual Campaign.

What is the Home Project?

The Home Project is about making a good home for ancient wisdom traditions and the ancient wisdom keepers, who are the holders of those traditions. These traditions were given to our ancestors and have helped us get along with the world, have a good life, survive, and thrive, down to the many, many, many years of hard times, and better times. Under today’s conditions, some of these traditional teachings and practices don’t really have a home anymore. That’s not a very good situation. Not for the tradition holders, or for the people who could benefit from having contact with those traditional teachings and practices, which are just as relevant today as they ever were. So, one of the questions is, "Where does one go to have contact with that? To learn and to grow from those noble ancient traditions?" It’s a good question. Not everybody has the opportunity to go to far away distant places, (which are, these days, even more and more rare and hard to find) where those traditions and ancient wisdom still live and thrive. Few people have the opportunity to go looking, and actually find that, and come into contact with it.

How does the modern concept of “home” fit in with the Home Project?

When we say "home", in the sense of a family, it’s where the family lives and thrives, and where one can go and know that they’re there and can be received. Ancient wisdom needs such a home where our people can come and find it and know that it’s there… being fed and nourished and protected, as a home does, so that they can benefit from those things. They can come and know that ancient wisdom lives there. Permanently.

On the other hand, the Home Project makes it its business to offer a place for the wisdom keepers, authentic tradition holders, who may need a place for their work and their teachings and for themselves to take root. A place for them to live. A place for them to do their teaching and their ceremonial work. And that place is to be the Blue Deer Center, which is a place whose spirit is in support of exactly that. It’s a very special sacred place. And the Home Project is a big ambitious project, but a beautiful one.

Who are the wisdom keepers and why are they so important today?

To create the conditions for living a life of joy and connection to oneself, to each other and the human community, and to the wider community of the natural world around us, as human beings we needed some instructions on how to go about that. Where do we fit into this world? And how can we live here as custodians? And keep things in balance, rather than living lives of isolation, and fear, and aggression, creating more imbalance until we get to the point where our own survival is threatened? If we go back to the beginnings of humanity, we were gifted with what some people call "original instructions,” teachings and practices about how to get along well with the world, how to live a life of joy. Those teachings and practices were not invented by humans. They’re not cultural properties or something. They were actually gifted to our very distant ancestors. And to keep those wisdom traditions alive, they were passed down from generation to generation for the benefit of people who needed the vision, the inspiration, and the instructions on what it takes to live a good human life. So, each of these traditions had slightly different ways of making sure that these things survived down through the ages. But in any case, certain people were trained and instructed and chosen as holders of these teachings and practices. For the benefit of the people. They were in charge of keeping them alive and passing them down and helping people align themselves with a life of purpose and meaning and joy and connection. So, those people are called by different names in different societies, but that’s the way these things have been maintained down through the ages.

How does our modern culture relate to the concept of wisdom and elder-hood? And how does that help bring the Home Project into focus?

I would point to a couple of things. One is that it’s become more and more obvious that as humanity we’re in a very precarious time. A time of crisis. Intensifying natural disasters of various kinds: related to the weather, related to extinction of species, related to pollution and on and on. A time of escalating violence in the human world. A time where humanity is seemingly unable to really take care of itself, with even the basics of making sure that people have enough to eat. I read a statistic today that over a billion people in the world today don’t have enough to eat. Without going on through the list of dire circumstances, people are finding that somehow the way we are living and conducting our lives doesn’t seem to be working too well anymore … People are beginning to question, if this isn’t working so well, what does work? And people are beginning to find something that has worked since the beginning of humanity through very difficult times. And that is the ancient wisdom, the teachings and practices that I’ve been talking about.

On a more individual level, many people today have this yearning or this gnawing feeling that something very important is missing from their lives, even those of us who find it difficult to articulate what that is. Certainly in terms of satisfaction, feeling connected spiritually and emotionally to each other and to our society… peace and joy and simple happiness – These seem to be missing for so many people. This, too, opens up a longing and a kind of search for something that can help people live a more satisfying life. It is a time of a great deal of searching…

One of our sister organizations, the Sacred Fire Foundation, has a wonderful event called Ancient Wisdom Rising, where they bring together wisdom keepers from different cultures and societies, from many parts of the world. They get to meet with each other and, of course, share with the public who comes. It’s a fantastic event! Very enriching. Very enlivening. Inspiring. By the way, I’m happy to say that from now on Ancient Wisdom Rising will be held every other year at the Blue Deer Center, which is of course the perfect place for it.

The reason I’m mentioning this: as wonderful as Ancient Wisdom Rising is, people who come away from it feel inspired and full of joy and connection and want to ask, "Where can we go now? Where can we follow up on this? That was a great long weekend and now I want to explore this more deeply…” For many people, with the help of the Home Project, the answer is going to be the Blue Deer Center. The Blue Deer Center will be a place where Ancient Wisdom Rising lives 365 days a year. And people will be able to come there at any time and really explore and deepen in these connections.

And part of that will be due to the work of the Home Project?

Yes, because the Home Project will provide a home for wisdom keepers, a place where they live and can be found almost any time. It will provide all the infrastructure and support for the programs that they have to offer. We’ve made a good start with this already. But the Home Project is there to help support it, and deepen it, and help it take root and flourish. So, it means both infrastructure and providing good accommodations for the tradition holders, as well as the people who come to experience the programs. Also, it will provide assistance for the elders and tradition holders to help them promote and produce their programs, so it’s not something they have to do themselves. Because, typically, these wisdom holders are not very interested nor skillful at promotion, but people in society need to know it’s available. And the Center has an outstanding staff that can help with that. So, it’s a place where everyone can benefit through the help of the Home Project.

Of course, in order to make all this happen, in order to maintain and construct the infrastructure, keep the outstanding staff going, provide homes for the teachers and so forth… well, it takes money. And it takes an investment in the future and thriving of humanity. So, it’s a wonderful investment that brings a very high yield. Not like a typical investment that you get a certain percentage of your money back every year, but a high percentage of satisfaction in knowing that you can continue to provide benefit to people for generations and generations, something that will live on and keep on giving back to many people.

Thank you so much for your time, Eliot.

Thank you!

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