- Summary by Mark Ross of Mac's Talk at the Art of Mentoring Apprentice Conference in Harlemville, Feb 12-14
Mac began with a confession of sorts, around speaking to the theme of Mentoring; that is, he had never formally 'apprenticed', though we would soon see, he still had many Mentors. He took us on a guided tour of his early life, stage by stage, beginning with the age between 1 & 7 years old.
In one of his earliest memories Mac recounts being about 'this tall' (motioning with his flat hand somewhere between his knee and waist) and staring at a 4 pronged spading fork rhythmically moving between a pair of big boots (belonging to his father's legs), turning the earth over and over and over again. That's all he saw; these two feet and four tines on the earth, no face and no hands. And similarly with a bow rake. Later still he would recall his sensory experience in great grandma's garden; while picking beans he recalls that particular smell that would come from brushing past the tomato plants nearby. Recalling the last of three key early experiences, found him once again at his grandma's compost pile, on the south side of the barn. He and his sister would contentedly sit against the sun warmed barn boards atop the warm compost pile. These were experiences he can remember still & if one word would suffice to describe this time, it was "imitation".
Next we headed into the 7-14 age group. In retelling his personal history between 10 & 12, the fact that he was not only the shortest but the lightest in his class was indelible in his memory. His best friend, Buzzy, was 6 foot tall at 12. Buzzy was going to get him a job for a $1 an hour at the Mayola farm (Mac added; 'figuring out your pay was easier that way'...) So you could imagine the farmers doubt about little Mac being able to even lift a bale. Within a community that was half Italian and half Polish, Buzzy had good standing with this Italian farmer, discreetly assuring him under his breath; 'He may be small, but he is really strong!' This was Mac's first experience of hay, and a hook that would last a lifetime. And judging by the man standing before us, his height would eventually surpass 6 feet or thereabouts.
Earlier on, Mac could fairly say that he spent 90% of his waking day in the river-beds, fields and forests of Connecticut; a playground that hosted a topsoil between two and twenty feet deep. In this later time, he was now working in the field, sometimes at the Polish farm, but wherever it was, the word that spoke through this second 7 year period had to be "authority". To Mac, this meant doing what he was told, by people that he looked up to.
In the next period, between 14 and 21, we may find reference to the defining word "judgement". Well known within the educational realm, it is not lost on anyone who has raised teenagers. He had entered the realm of constant weighing, deciding and choosing. And around the town he grew up in, there were also many professionals, in amidst a predominantly farm based community.
As Mac saw it, these people could be divided up into 3 basic groups. Group 1 consisted of those who were trying to figure out what they could do to get off the farm. Group 2 consisted in the Country Club goers, of doctors and the like.
And it was in the third grouping that he placed himself and his father; in a place in between. He saw himself as wanting to bridge the two other worlds. Mac distinctly recalls, at around the age of 16-17, having the crazy idea to bring these two worlds together. In these worlds, as he saw it, the farmers were over-exposed to Nature, and the professionals were under-exposed.
It was at this point that Mac took opportunity to "interdigitate" (admitting that he didn't know if that was even a word, but that it somehow made sense to him) around some ideas on spiritual science that he met at the Spring Valley Fellowship, where there was an interesting combining of medical work with agriculture. He proceeded to inform us of the Fellowship origins, around a woman in the early sixties, who proposed to donate 1/4 of a million dollars for the building of this old age home, with the condition that this work had to take up with the care of children as well.
And in amidst the strong nursing, medical and agricultural impulses present at the fellowship, he found "education" to be a big component. There was in deed, a place for book learning as well. Case in point, he referenced a lecture cycle that he, with others, had taken up on the "Karma of Vocation" by Rudolf Steiner. In lecture 4 in particular he quotes (here paraphrased) "everything we do in vocation is a germinal building ground for the future".
From this study he came to understand that karma involved the presumption of many incarnations. In light of 'vocation', these days (unlike in the medieval times, where a "shoemaker" could be involved in a 'single piece' of the puzzle) we are freed from this single focus, toward a broader vocational element, and no less germinal towards fostering the birth of elemental beings in the work place. And it was through the work place, where Mac described the human being in early years as finding their vocation reflected in heredity. The early years could also be a window into the vocation of a past life.
From here Mac described how at the end of the 2nd, 7 year phase, this past is coming to an end. That is, after 14-16 years old, forces enter for the individual to find their 'new vocation', and expressly, not of the old. This has been corroborated in his work with many youth of this age, who are getting new cues for what they are needing to do. And in recalling his own situation, after many years of being at the Fellowship, he realized that he is kinda' doing what he wanted to do at
that age: "bringing these two worlds together". And Moreover, Mac has seen this very interest in many youngsters in these mid-teenage years.
Mac here paraphrases Rudolf Steiner from his "'The Study of Man", here paraphrased further: "If we merely take up nature and the study of it we are heading into a dead realm...but if we come into her with our senses, we are entering into her with our 'will'". In light of this, we are coming into a new time, where young people have gone through an intense study time, art school, etcetera...and are coming to the conclusion " I want to be a farmer!". By their nature, Mac has observed something of the future coming toward youth in their low to mid 20's. And it is from this vantage point that Mac begins to unpack an image which he finds useful in working with young people.
He prefaces this with the statement: there is a very strong healing impulse in Biodynamics, drawing again on a 2 part description provided by Rudolf Steiner, of the present stage of Earth evolution. In the first half, we have the Mars period of densification. In between the halves is the incarnation of Christ. And the second half can be described by its healing attributes, and is called the Mercury evolution. Rudolf Steiner connects healing with the being of Mercury, and is very connected to the stream of healers and doctors or the ones bringing plants to the earth.
Having set the stage for another story, Mac proceeds to tell one from the Bible: It is about Tobias and his father Tobit, who has become blind. In this story, Tobias sets out on a journey to heal his father, whereupon he meets up with a 'guide' who introduces him to the secrets of nature; herein he discovers a particular remedy made from a fish, that will heal is father. Mac reminds us of the archetypal journey that Tobias has embarked on, having left his past & heredity, finding himself in nature, he grows in new direction toward the future; it is not long before Tobias meets with a friend's daughter, Sarah, who has married 7 times. After each marriage, so the story goes, the husband dies. However, Tobias, follows his love courageously and doesn't die (even his friend, the father had gone out to dig the grave in anticipation of the seeming inevitability). Tobias goes back to his own father with the healing remedy. He is accompanied by his sun guide, who is revealed to be Raphael, the Archangel of Mercury and servant of this youngster.
This picture, is for Mac, the gesture of education, that he looks to (in an aside, he recommended "The On-Farm Mentor's Guide" put out by the New England Small Farm Institute which Miranda Smith, who presented at this conference, helped with; editor's note: if there is interest, this can be made available through the Ontario BD Society) advocating a blend of leading & guiding while allowing the apprentice to unfold (while taking care to not let your own karma get mixed up with theirs).
At this point, Mac passed around several painterly depictions of Tobias, from more recent veil painters to Renaissance Masters. In art, Mac said, he has discovered for himself the representation of the guide within a 'freely roving leadership', a relationship distinct from serving the one you are leading & where you never quite know whom is leading whom.
An example came to mind. When he was working at the Fellowship a neighbour asked them if they wanted to buy his farm, first dibs...or it would be sold for houses. After the Fellowship accepted the offer, Mac asked the old farmer if he would be their consultant for the orchard. He said that he would let Mac know & "Uhh, well, uhh, I don't know..."
The next day they spent 2 hours walking the fields and orchard together. He knew every square foot of the property, offering bits of wisdom like the Red Spider mite showing up on this particular tree would tell you this, or that is the coldest spot on the farm, so put your thermometer there. To this he added the solemn admission that this farmer, would be considered a 'conventional' farmer and therefore 'unenlightened' by the sometimes righteous standards of organics and the like. On this note, Mac brought this conversation to a humble close, encouraging us to get to know the farmers (i.e. Mentors) in our area.