by Ron Pevny
If you are reading these words, you likely are a person for whom the fulfillment of your potential in your later life chapters is a priority. You are someone who feels in your heart that your aging can be a journey of ripening—of reaching the pinnacle of your lifelong quest for emotional and spiritual growth—and grounded in that growth, finding the fulfillment that comes from serving the human and earth community as an elder.
You are well aware—painfully aware—that the mainstream culture in which your life is imbedded does not share this vision of the rich possibilities of elderhood. The cultural understanding of the critical value of true elders has largely been lost in most contemporary societies. This has left the vast numbers of us in our 60s, 70s, 80s and older without life-affirming paradigms to inspire, guide and motivate us to do the inner work of bringing forth those personal qualities that naturally seek to emerge as we transition inwardly from mid-life adulthood into that stage in our life’s journey of growth called elderhood.
Beyond the realities of ageism in the work world and the many demeaning stereotypes of older adults, an equally disempowering paradigm tells us that our aging should be a time when our priorities shift from our growth and our contribution of our talents and skills to the community, to having our primary motivations be our pleasure and security. This latter paradigm is rooted in the reality that emotional and spiritual growth throughout the human lifespan, including the elder years, are not understood, valued, fostered, taught and modeled by the societies we live in and are shaped by.
Yet, positive change is afoot. Ageism is increasingly being seen as a blight on society and an assault on the human spirit. Positive Aging, Active Aging, Healthy Aging, Successful Aging and various other models are helping to empower older adults to claim their potential to passionately engage with life. Retirement is a concept that is in the process of being re-imagined. More and more frequently we hear words like “Re-firement” being used to affirm the potential for creativity, engagement and service after so called retirement age. The millions of baby boomers turning 65 each day around the world are beginning to see many things they can be doing and lifestyle choices they can be making that could not even be imagined by our parents.
We celebrate these positive models. However, they are inadequate by themselves and can even be disempowering if they blind us to recognition of the energies, growth, motivations, wisdom and service that characterize the Elder within each of us that seeks to emerge as we age. These models largely focus on “what we can do” as we age. Conscious Eldering focuses on the Elder you can be as you engage with life in your later chapters; on the personal inner work that can bring your passion alive, open your heart and mind, and strengthen your connection to Spirit and Soul; on the inner sources you draw upon as you make choices about how you can best be of service to the community; and on ways to help foster your resilience as you face the inevitable losses and griefs that are part of—but only part of—the incredible journey toward the fullness of elderhood.
Many of you reading this are just beginning your transition into elderhood. Others have consciously (or perhaps not so consciously) already begun to manifest the qualities of elderhood. Elderhood is a stage of growth that some people achieve as they age, and is not equated with one’s activity level or state of health. Growth is an ongoing process, and we all have the potential to grow until the day we pass from this life. You may already have developed various of the qualities of true elderhood, but true elders are always growing, knowing that elderhood is a commitment to, and process of, continual unfolding in whatever circumstances life presents us.
The longer lifespans and health advances that make these times unique in human history support this unfolding; support from kindred spirits (friends, teachers, models of aging consciously) who are committed to this vision is absolutely necessary support for this unfolding; the reality of our mortality and its attendant losses also supports this unfolding if we allow ourselves to let go of denial of these realities. A deep commitment to waking with our priority each day being to somehow grow and serve is essential for bringing forth the Elder within.
Striving to hold on to the identities of previous life stages without allowing ourselves to gradually grow into elderhood precludes this unfolding. Buying into the societal belief that the best we can hope for as we age is maximizing activity, pleasure and security precludes this unfolding. Allowing ourselves to live out of habit rather than intentionality leaves little room for us to perceive and support this unfolding.
Many people reminded me, after reading the many diverse responses to my article in the last issue of this newsletter in which I wondered whether our work is indeed catalyzing a paradigm shift, that we cannot know at this point. I know that cultural tipping points cannot be predicted, but are built up-to and then happen seemingly overnight. The one common message in these responses was that our work and that of kindred other organizations, teachers and mentors, is vitally important to many people who are committed to the ongoing, challenging work of creating a lifestyle that will slowly but surely bring forth those Elder qualities that are their birthright.
Are you one of those people? If so, we look forward to continuing to offer you our support.