By Kris Govaars
Elder: a person who has attained both a greater age and has developed wisdom and personal qualities that serve both their own fulfillment and the greater community.
Nomad: a person who moves from place to place – physically, mentally, and/or spiritually.
Picture in your mind a timeline marked off from January to December. Now, put a dot on the corresponding month for each of the following: I am in the October of my life – my mother-in-law is in the December of her life – my grandchildren are in their January – and my children – now grown – are in the May of their lives. Can you picture it? The visual is simple yet so profound and insightful into the stages of life we all go through – for me – this was an awakening. Putting those I love in the context of time was a powerful reminder that at any moment we may face the reality of our mortality.
“The real action of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” Marcel Proust
In May of this year (2022) I turned 70 – the day after attending a week long Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat in Abiquiu, New Mexico. It was held at Ghost Ranch, facilitated by Ron Pevny and Dennis Stamper, of the Center for Conscious Eldering. With my fellow Intrepid Elders, this was an opportunity to slow down, focus on myself, and celebrate the next stage of my life—a Rite of Passage signifying elderhood that I had anticipated embarking on for well over a year, stalled by the pandemic, until we could gather on site as a group. Would it be worth the wait?
We live in a world that judges our success or failure by speed and achievements – no matter whether they are worthy or not. I had been so busy making things happen in my life – being somebody that was respected in my profession and by my family that I had little time to think about the value of what was happening. When I stripped off the proverbial coat and tie with all that went with that former part of my life, the busyness of my life, I came face to face with – me. When I looked in the mirror I wasn’t really sure whom I was seeing.
Truth is I have been working on shedding my professional life and practice of advising, coaching and facilitating for quite some time in various ways – I designed a website, I read book after book, I attended seminars, I listened to Podcasts, and I wrote in my journal whenever time allowed. Yet, every so often I would stop and wonder – Whom do I see when I look at me? Who am I really? What do others see in me? And, wrapped around all these questions was why this urgency to find out? Why does it matter in October since all the other months are gone and I never gave them their due reflection? Something was happening here and it wasn’t exactly clear; I was willing to find out.
In an instant I found myself standing alone with my toes curled over the edge of an abyss – my former self looking at me. And, as I stand here on the edge of seventy – I ask myself – what is it I want to know? Where do I go next on this journey? I came to realize my problem was not figuring out what to do next or how to shake off this feeling – the problem was and continues to be finding the strength and courage to do what I know is right for me. It is easy to go along with other people’s opinions, to ask others what they would do . It is harder to go against matters of value, principles we honor for ourselves. And, as much as I would like to go along with the idea of universal principles or community values , they still need to ring true for me and each of us as unique individuals to be meaningful and support us in body, mind and spirit.
If you cannot control the rising tides of change, would it make sense to build a better boat?
To support my journey – I created a website – Elder Nomad (https://www.eldernomad.com) to keep notes on what has meaning and heart for me. I created a poster – Elder Spirit for the same reason and I write notes to myself to sort out the conflicts, confusions that inevitably show up from time to time. I remind myself that what I imagine I create, what I feel I attract and what I think I become. There are many tools for getting at important principles when appropriate. I have used many and hold some for later work. Among these are: legacy letters, death lodge meditation, life review, ten intentions, notes to yourself, lifeline discovery, reframing, healing the past, accepting mortality, letting go. It is important to find the ones that work for you at the right time.
When I look back at my former life I see conflicting goals, questionable strategies, and forced tactics to rationalize many of my actions that were often emotionally harmful. I believe what truly differentiates authentic individuals is their adherence to inner values, not those meant for others to hear. How people actually live their lives, what I would call values in action, are key. I have to work on it continuously – finding my way through my messy life – and I continue to struggle with it. I am grateful for the signposts I have on my journey.
The retreat happened at the right time for me. Everyone participating went through a change, some more profound than others. It was so palpable you could feel the shift in energy after the solo journeys. What each of us had in common was the change we felt but with change comes transition. Our transitions are different. The difference is the speed and dynamics as we each go through our own unique transitions. Change is an event, transitions are a different sort.
It may seem callous for me to speak in the first person and not the third person but each of us must accept our journey. It is ours alone. And though we can explore where others have been, we are unique in our own right. I have little to impart as “you must do this” or “here’s the path you should take” because it isn’t that easy and that would be presumptuous of me. I had spent many years in a practice where telling others what to do was part of the job. And yet, when I honestly reviewed my life and looked at the lives of other advice givers I have known, I began to question whether I and they were actually living what we have preached. This is not a criticism or indictment of myself; the coaching, advising, facilitation was good for the most part. It is an awareness I have now as an increasingly conscious elder nomad in the October of my life of the importance of coming to truly know my own needs and inner dynamics.
In trusting yourself on this journey, which is yours alone, you live your values as best you can and in so doing become a positive example for others you meet. I remind myself often “it is what it is” and “if it’s to be it’s up to me. As a conscious Elder Nomad, every moment is a lifetime. None of these moments will be repeated and there will come a time when memories fade and what is left is now – this time – this place – this moment. I try hard to simply be myself and hope that is enough to make a positive difference for myself and in those I meet. And, if you think about it, you meet yourself every day. So I ask myself: what difference do I intend to make in my life each moment?
Trust this journey…trust yourself…allow it to happen…with an open mind and an open heart.
Kris Govaars curates the Elder Nomad website www.eldernomad.com and can be reached at email@example.com – He attended a Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico in May, 2022.