by Steve Heaviland
In September, 2023 the associate pastor of my church and I started a “Sages and Souls” class, meeting every other week in small groups. We share our lives and reflect on questions from several books on a variety of topics related to aging and eldering. There is a hunger for people, including myself, to connect with and support one another on the aging journey. Then, after reading Conscious Living, Conscious Aging I knew I was ripe to attend a Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico in May, 2023.
My overriding intention for the retreat was to let go of the midlife stage of my life, including a career as a teaching tennis pro, to embrace wholeheartedly the life of becoming a conscious elder. Near the end of the retreat, we were given the opportunity to begin envisioning our ideal elderhood and identify intentions that support that vision.
Some of what emerged during that guided meditation and the subsequent period of reflection while on the land, were several intentions I was already living out as part of the rhythm of my life. These include a centering prayer practice, reading sacred literature, journaling, recording and reflecting on my night time dreams, wandering in nature, painting watercolors, and cultivating deeper relationships with my family, including two young grandchildren, and my friends. And central to my life has been my lifelong commitment to pursuing racial reconciliation and anti-racism work in partnership with an interfaith coalition in Illinois, where I live.
Other intentions which I realized were stirring in me and now seeking expression fell into the category of exploring within the next 12 months future possibilities that had been on my inner radar screen. These include a spiritual direction/companioning business, facilitating a weekend conscious eldering retreat in the Chicago-land area, and offering a conscious eldering class at the local senior center.
Following the retreat, I have had the opportunity to reflect more deeply on my intentions and why they are so important to me. What resonates deep within me is the need to build an intentional life as a conscious elder that flows from my core values. In my early 30s, I was drawn to a nine-month program to live the Benedictine rule, with an emphasis on living and learning in community, silence, solitude, prayer, learning, growth, and compassionate service. This transformative, life-giving rhythm helped shape a spiritual foundation that continues to nourish and enliven me today, and is central to the intentions that help ground me, nurture me toward wholeness, and are a catalyst for my soulful engagement in the world.
The words of Howard Thurman, the theologian and mystic, have been important to me. He wrote, “There is something in every one of you that waits for the sound of the genuine in yourself, and if you cannot hear it, you will never find what you have been searching for.” From that soulful place of listening to the sound to what is genuine in my life, my intention is to glean wisdom from my past experiences, pay attention to what is unfolding in my life, and seek to intentionally live my soul’s mission. I have trust that I am being guided by the Holy Spirit as I move toward my life’s completion.
This trust was greatly strengthened several years ago, when I had an epic dream, perhaps symbolic of a shift in energy into my emerging elderhood. I am standing on the shore of a river and invited by an old man (who seemed to be an inner wisdom figure or sage) to come onto his boat. I sit behind him as he steers the boat down the calm river. I notice on the hillsides homes that are framed but not finished. The boat now comes to an opening into a large body of water, and I notice a stirring in the water at the mouth of the river. I experience a feeling of spaciousness and curious expectation.
I am learning to trust the inner sage of myself to guide me down the gently flowing river…a deepening surrender to my soul’s slow ripening. I feel an invitation to simply enjoy and delight in the journey. I think the unframed houses may represent unlived or unhealed parts of myself beckoning me to grow into my true elder self. I am compelled to pay radical attention to the stirrings of my soul as I courageously face my fears and vulnerabilities and venture out on uncharted waters.
I brought to the Conscious Eldering retreat a small weaving I created in sixth grade. I placed it on the altar we created at the beginning of our time together. I did not realize at the time the powerful symbolic impact the weaving’s expanded meaning would have: The intentions I embrace represent a tapestry woven into a harmonious whole in concert with other conscious elders seeking to use their gifts to bring hope, healing and love to the world.
Steve Heaviland, whose background includes being a teaching tennis pro and following a lifelong commitment to pursuing racial reconciliation, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org