After working for many years as a social worker in what he calls “the death trade”, Stephen stepped out of the mainstream to establish his Orphan Wisdom School. There, on his homestead in rural Ontario, he teaches the skills of living, dying, and elderhood, and the rituals of coming back in to right relationship with the land and the ancestors.
Stephen articulates the deep wisdom and healing power of grief and the need to learn the skills of grieving, both for our own sakes, and for the sake of the the world. He says: “A culture addicted to security, comfort and ‘be all you want to be’ makes no time in its public or private life for sorrow or uncertainty or the end of things. To a culture like our own, grief is mostly medicated or resolved, and our hearts elbow our lives out of the way in their headlong search for safe landings and getting their needs met.
But what would our culture look like and how would our children think of us fifty years from now, if we began to honour and teach grief as a skill, as vital to our personal and cultural and spiritual life as the skill of loving?”
Many of Stephen’s teachings have had a strong influence on me. His deep understanding of indigenous wisdom and his ability to articulate and identify how much we in western culture need those teachings offers a powerful framework for the work I do. He understands how fully the living need the dead and the dead need the living. And he knows that the proper ceremonies, heartfully done, are the key to keeping those relationships healthy.
Stephen says, “The mark of a good death is that it is a village making event.” I take that statement my marching orders. I see my work as offering practical ritual guidance to help dying people and their communities experience that village-making in a sacred and healing way.
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