by Anne Wennhold
When I retired at 70 years of age a physician friend invited me to work with his group of Seniors in Recovery from alcohol. At the time I had never given a thought to what aging was about, how to work with ‘seniors’ or even that I myself might be considered an ageing senior.
I consulted a social worker about what to expect. She told me that seniors come in three stages: the Go Go Stage, the Slow Go Stage and the No Go Stage. The wording made me laugh.
Another friend suggested I attend a Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat with Ron Pevny and other leaders, explaining that this would be a good way to learn about the aging process. I went to what became a life changing, goal setting experience for me.
I am now 85 years old. Old enough to look back at my 70 year old self: to marvel at the last 15 years and, with some objectivity, to review both the colorfully described three stages of aging and the path to ageing that opened during the Choosing Conscious Elderhood week.
The 70’s were clearly a Go Go decade for me: a time of high activity. Hyped by the retreat experience, I threw myself into a life focused on becoming a spiritual and Wise Elder.
Abuzz with intention I mentored the Seniors in Recovery group, explored Native American Spirituality, studied and became a Shamanic Practitioner, made jewelry, developed art workshops, hosted a variety of spiritual groups, started weekly discussions called Transitions in Ageing, traveled, and gave library and weekend presentations on Ageing.
Early on in the Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat I developed a clear intent to become one of its facilitators. The initial experience had been so life changing for me I wanted to be a part of helping others to see ageing as a time of inner and outer growth for themselves.
Working with Ron Pevny at Ghost Ranch and at other venues, I discovered the truth of the concept that when you teach something you learn it really well. I became imbued with a sense of aging as my own life practice and process. Teaching it cemented my goal of becoming a Wise Elder.
The Slow Go stage began with a wonderful 80th birthday celebration cheered on by 35 friends and family. It is a sneaky stage though. It came in with gusto but soon limped to a milder pace due to a broken hip, Lyme disease, high blood pressure, eyesight and other physical changes that made it clear the Slow Go part of ageing was knocking at the door.
Now I’m halfway through my 80’s and am seeing how the vigorous activity of the 70’s has morphed into a focus on balancing activities rather than just getting up, going out and doing them: balance as in having to set priorities differently.
The question becomes not only what activities I want to have in my life but which activities best renew my inner energy and growth plus promote my ability to be of service. So, understanding that the balancing process requires daily reassessment, here’s what I’ve done to re-prioritize life. First I let go some of the weekly outreach work. Next I added to my morning reading and contemplation time. This addition became the most calming yet resourceful of all choices.
Another change includes selecting stimulating reading materials and having an art project at hand to replace some of the goings ‘out and about’ that filled the more active days. After spending so much time working with people I realized I need compelling activities at home to motivate the time spent alone. I now also experiment with homemade soup recipes in the hopes of becoming a better cook.
For the first time ever I am allowing time to enjoy being me rather than going out and doing whatever is probably a worthwhile but no longer fruitful outreach for me. And since I can only speculate what the Slow Go years might bring, I choose to wait until they arrive before deciding how to face them.
Perhaps it’s the age or the stage but I no longer aspire to become a Wise Elder. Life is full enough with the challenges of living in the here and now to devote further energy to the fashioning of a future self.