Gratitude for My Lifetime of Spiritual Deepening

by Bob Calhoun

On my 74th birthday, I received a card and package from a life-long friend. The card read, “Dear Bob, Once upon a time we were fostered and enriched by books by Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Maslow, John O’Donohue, Phillip Newell, Frederick Buechner, David Whyte, Frost, and Richard Schwartz. They were tools of knowledge that we used when we were young. But those times have passed. We need new literature to help us deal with the new challenges we face as we age. I hereby gift to you the tools you will need going forward. Happy birthday.”

Opening the package, to my surprise, I found more than a half dozen children’s books including the titles Frog and Toad are Friends, The Rabbit Listened, Blueberries for Sal and Nobody Hugs a Cactus. I am sure my friend was clearing out books his grandchildren had ‘outgrown’, and they will be great additions to my grandchildren’s bookshelf. But the message that jumped out to me became quite clear: On this elder journey, having been blessed to still be alive, we are being called to let go, to return to the deepest parts of our true self, to what many call the great not-knowing.

Many of the great spiritual paths speak of developing the beginner’s mind or seeing like children see, where the miracle and mystery of life can be fully experienced. In this latter stage of life, we are drawn spiritually downward toward the True Self where a lifetime of gained wisdom and perspective merge with the simplicity and awe of the uncluttered child mind—where each moment, each new day is a new adventure to be cherished, waiting in anticipation of the next miracle to emerge before us. It is a path of letting go (of ego, striving, fear, self-protection) and living more in the present, aware of our connection with all things living and not living, and staying open to the gift that each moment offers…and the first words spoken each day are words of gratitude.

My spiritual work over a lifetime not only brings me ‘back home’ to a calm center, but comes as well to my aid as I enter and embrace this elder time in my life and face the many challenges of aging and embrace more fully my mortality. A deep spiritual center offers me a space in which to step back. At a cancer support group I recently attended, a line from a John Bell hymn (‘We Cannot Measure How You Heal’) was shared by a fellow group member and caught my attention: “Lord, let your Spirit meet us here…to disentangle peace from pain, and make Your broken people whole.”

Disentangle peace from pain…the pain from loss of loved ones, of abilities, of opportunities and anticipated losses to come. Disentangle peace from fear of the unknown, depression, anxiety, physical discomfort from illness My spiritual space offers a perspective of the larger view and the impermanence of my life journey. The various ‘pains’ are never eliminated but my spiritual center, my soul, is the place within where solace can be found, wisdom and loving presence can be felt and shared with others, as I continue to engage in the gift of life.

Another birthday gift I received was from my wife, a gray t-shirt with the following phrase printed on the front in large, bold, black letters: “Do The Work”. Our spiritual nature and knowing are gifts with which we were born. They have always been a deep part within me. Even though there are times over my lifetime when I have been surprised by insights and truths, moved by coincidences, taken to new places by a Something I cannot explain, I still need to “do the work’ to nurture my spiritual center, my soul, my True Self. The work is varied, from silent reflection, meditation, and writing, to long walks in the forest, sharing honestly with others…and staying open to the wisdom that comes out of my ‘dark nights of the soul’. But it is work well worth my efforts on this Elder Journey.

I end with a poem I wrote during a Conscious Eldering retreat in the desert at Ghost Ranch.

Receiver of Doubt

Spirit of the East
for the transforming power of your presence,
I am forever thankful

I entrust in you, the doubts that block my eldering journey

into your care
they are lifted by gusts
of evening wind beyond the towering red walls

I now embrace my truth and doubt myself no more: free to live and walk the Elder Journey

Bob Calhoun is a retired counseling psychologist and passionate writer of poetry about the human spirit, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. He can be contacted at

The Journey of Conscious Aging: Reflections and Insights from an Irish Psychotherapist

by Martina Breen

One of the most significant cultural transitions around the world is the demographic shift in many counries toward an older population, with a declining birthrate and people living longer than ever before. This evolving ageing population presents both challenges and opportunities. The challenges can appear daunting, and receive much more attention than do the opportunities. In this article I write about the possibilities for personal and cultural enrichment that lie before us if we are willing to stretch our thinking and embrace an evolving new understanding of the gifts of the ageing process.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, author of From Age-ing to Sage-ing, poses the question of why should we live beyond the time of begetting and raising our children? He goes on to state: “ If we do live longer, then nature must have a task. There must be a purpose. The purpose is to hothouse consciousness, generation by generation; so that the older generation can transmit something to the younger.”

So, while ageing is a natural process that does indeed involve physical changes and a gradual decline in physical abilities, Eldering or Sage-ing, on the other hand, is an intentional approach to aging that involves actively seeking out opportunities for growth and transformation in life’s later chapters. It’s about getting older with intentionality, resilience, and grace. It involves not only addressing the physical and mental aspects of aging, but also the spiritual aspects such as finding meaning and purpose in the lives we have lived, as well as exploring and visioning the rich possibilities for the time we have left. Rather than viewing ageing as a period of decline and loss, it can be a time to look at it as a unique and precious opportunity for growth, wisdom, and personal transformation.

Rather than allowing ourselves to just grow old, we can make a decision in late midlife to intentionally envision and work toward a new life stage—a conscious elderhood.

This approach to healthy aging aligns with the wisdom shared in Reb Zalman’s book and Ron Pevny’s Conscious Living, Conscious Aging, along with books like Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. They each offer us profound lessons about the value of inner growth, personal transformation, and the importance of having a sense of community as we grow into our elder years.

A key message in these and many other empowering writings about ageing is that as we need to let go of being an adolescent to become an adult, likewise to become an elder we need to have completed our adulting. Elderhood is a distinct phase of life, given to us by the grace of longevity. There is a newfound freedom in embracing our age—choosing to live consciously and intentionally. By modelling conscious aging and embodying its principles in our own lives, we can inspire the people in our lives to do the same and create a more compassionate and fulfilling world for ourselves and others.

Ron’s book is a guidebook in exploring the aging process with awareness, curiosity, and purpose. He writes extensively around the personal and spiritual growth that occurs as we age and he models his own teaching in his own personal life. He says that this growth that’s available to us as we age is not necessarily a given; it requires a deliberate effort to engage with our own aging process and to cultivate qualities like self-awareness, resilience, and wisdom.

He teaches that conscious eldering involves several key practices. One is self-reflection, which involves taking time to reflect on our life experiences, our values, and our goals for the future. Another is community-building, which involves connecting with others who share our interests and values, and who can support us on our journey of growth. Another practice is commitment to service, which involves using our skills and experience to make a positive impact in our communities and the world at large.

I experienced these teachings first hand by attending Ron’s Choosing Conscious Elderhood Retreat at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, in May of this year. Ron and co-facilitator Barbara Roth skilfully created a safe holding space for 13 elder questors. We met on a Sunday afternoon at this magnificent high desert retreat center in New Mexico and with a deepening process of exploring, reflecting and sharing, we created a community that was the lived experience of conscious eldering. In our week together, we learned experientially that when we connect with others and share our interests and our values, when we have community time and solo time, when we have ample time in nature to learn from Mother Earth, and when we connect through ritual and ceremony, we create a rich fertile ground where we meet the deeper parts of ourselves. And when we are connected to ourselves, we naturally look to see how we can serve others.

The need for wise elderhood in our current world of crisis cannot be overstated. In modern society, the value of elders has been diminished, along with their voices. The cultural narrative too often focuses on youth, and the value of experience and wisdom is overlooked. Many older adults have negative beliefs about aging, such as feeling that they are less valued or less capable as they get older.

The voices of our elders need to be reclaimed and supported. Most of us are well aware that ageing can come with significant life transitions such as retirement, changes in health, loss of sense of meaning and purpose in life, and loss of loved ones, and that these are often accompanied by emotional challenges such as grief, anxiety, or depression. We need to be reminded that the conscious elders of any community have developed a unique set of skills, knowledge, and wisdom about how to negotiate transitions, to develop resilience, and to deal with emotional and spiritual challenges, that can guide all of us towards a better future.

The elders are the ones who have lived through the ups and downs of life, accumulated a wealth of knowledge, and gained invaluable insights that can guide society through these challenging times. They possess a level of wisdom that can only be acquired through years of life experience, and it is this wisdom that is sorely needed by contemporary society, and perhaps most of all by young people, our future, whose world views are shaped by what they see modelled by the adults and elders around them.

I do believe that the United States has progressed in this area. In western Europe, where I live, it is time for us to finally acknowledge, not only the value of our elders, but to endeavour to grow into elderhood ourselves. As a psychotherapist, I’m acutely aware that it’s important that I become a conscious elder myself, in order to better support conscious aging in my clients.

We helpers, are in a unique position to model conscious aging for our clients by embodying the principles of conscious aging in our own lives. It is necessary for us to continue to grow and develop, not just as professionals, but as ageing human beings. Only when much greater numbers

of us value ourselves as elders, will humanity truly harness the power of wisdom to create a more just, equitable, and sustainable world for all.

Martina Breen, M.A. is a Gestalt Psychotherapist, Supervisor, Spiritual Director and a Certified Sage-ing Leader (CSLÒ) She works in private practice in Ireland and internationally facilitates programmes on conscious living, ageing and dying . She will be co-facilitating a Choosing Conscious Elderhood with Ron Pevny in Kiltegan, County Wicklow, Ireland September 11 – 17. There are three spaces still available. For retreat details, visit the Ireland retreat page.


Notes from an Elder Nomad 

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 ( 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 and can be reached at – He attended a Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico in May, 2022.

Facing Mortality, Embracing Life

By Bob Calhoun

“Life is short…and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”( Henri-Frederic Amiel 1821-1881)

Last week I waited patiently at a familiar intersection for the light to turn green. As it did, I took my foot off the brake pedal moving slowly forward, looking left, then right, then left again … a driver came barreling around the bend and through the intersection at 45 MPH seemingly without a clue that the light had turned or that there was a traffic light at all. I took a deep breath… and proceeded with my left turn. Dodged that bullet.

Three years ago, having just turned 70, the doctors said I had one to three years to live. Small cell carcinoma, stage IV. Chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries and ongoing immunotherapy. It has been three years now. I anticipate each upcoming scan. My oncologist says I’m an outlier.

Of what have I been reminded … about this life in all my hours, days and now years of visiting the cancer center?

Life is short … for all of us. We know the number of years lived varies for each of us. I am reminded of my middle daughter dying at 10 1/2 months…my nephew’s young wife dying at age 32 of brain cancer. We each have our own list of losses. However, for many of us, we are able to measure our lives in decades…life on an elder journey, having been blessed with time, relationship, compassion received, opportunity , food, shelter, and quality medical care.

Of what have I been reminded?

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep
You must ask for what you really want
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
Across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!” (Rumi 1207-1273)

Rumi was not dealing with speeding automobiles, stop lights or the over abundance of digital interactions… yet much the same, with daily routine and distractions, physical vulnerability, plagues, violence and securing the basic necessities of life. But even in his day, he speaks of how easy it is to miss the mystery and miracle of life.

Stay awake….don’t get drawn back into the unawareness…ask for what you really want and follow the prompts that call you to be yourself….now. We can easily forget the deep center of self and this amazing life flow of which we are all apart. We must stay awake, Rumi reminds us, to see the beauty, the mystery, the connections and coincedences that surround us and come upon us daily.

Don’t go back to sleep.

Of what have I been reminded as time has been abruptly brought back into focus?

We do not pass this way again. What a gift to have lived into the last third of life, to receive from and offer to others compassion. Be present, love deeply, be real, give of your true self, respond to your gift calling from within and have the courage to follow its path. Many events and circumstances can wake us up, help us refocus. Yet it doesn’t have to be a speeding car, or a cancer diagnosis. It can be the discipline of quiet, focus and intentional action. A Conscious Eldering retreat was for me a wonderful example of an exercise of awakening into the ‘now’ of this life while we still are alive and vital.

“Listen to your life. All moments are key moments. Life itself is grace.” (Frederick Buechner 1926-2022).

Of what have I been reminded?

Life is Short …be swift to love, make hast to be kind…
The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you, don’t go back to sleep…
Listen to your life… all moments are key moments… life itself is grace.

Be grateful to be on the journey.

Bob Calhoun is a retired counseling psychologist living in Fort Collins, Colorado and a past Center for Conscious Eldering retreat participant. Bob is the author of Twenty Acres Deep, Poems and Reflections from the Rocky Mountains. His book is available at or by contacting Bob at


By Dennis Stamper

There is an old song my mother used to sing to me around this time of year. I didn’t know all the words but I could always join her on the chorus. “I’ve laid around and played around this old town too long” we would sing. “Summer’s almost gone, yes, winter’s coming on”.

Mothers and other wise people always know these kinds of things. Like it or not, winters do just keep coming around. Days of cut-off jeans and bare feet inevitably come to an end. Eventually we will need to put our boots on and bundle up.

Although my mother has passed on now, the truth she sang into me is still present today. As the grass and plants I have tended and mowed since April turn more brown than green now and as the chill that arrives the moment the sun sinks below the tree line shoos me inside before I am quite ready, I know that summer is indeed almost gone and before long, once again, winter’s coming on.

I’ve been thinking about the approach of winter a great deal lately and frankly I’m not sure I am ready for it. It’s not that I haven’t been through a winter before. This will be my seventy third such occasion. But this one will be different. This will be the first winter of my “retirement”.

Up until now, winter involved little more than wearing a sweater over my dress shirt when I went to work and remembering to grab my coat from the coat rack as I went out the door. And of course, there was the deep-felt gratitude for the spiritual blessing of heated seats, or as we call them in our family, bun warmers. But when I was working, the activities and structure of my days remained much the same no matter the season.

This first summer of retirement was also the first in our new home in the country. I have loved clearing the brush from the periwinkle under the old walnut and cedar trees, planting flowers and bushes in the beds around the house, planting the first real vegetable garden I’ve had since I was a kid and harvesting the surprising first year abundance, especially the home-grown tomatoes. I have had much to do and it has kept me joyfully occupied. I have been as happy as a clam, as they say, or in the more local vernacular, “happy as a pig in slop”.

But now I find myself a bit more ambivalent as winter approaches. There is a part of me that welcomes the thought of ample time for rest and reflection, time to write and create in my new office/retreat that I finally took possession of when our youngest daughter moved into her own apartment last month. (Did I mention that this will also be the first winter in 43 years that I did not have a child at home?)

But I also carry a bit of trepidation that sometimes borders on dread. What will I do with so much open time on my hands? What if the creative juices refuse to flow or dry up by late November? If I dig too deep, will I find monsters down there? What if I start believing the cultural images of old age and begin to accept the label of irrelevant and useless? What if I just get bored? So it seems that my developmental task de jour is to learn how to best winter. Perhaps it is with you as well.

But of course, wintering is not just a matter of the cycles of the year but also the cycles of life. Times of warmth and cold, growth and dormancy, bloom and fallow are inevitable in our lives. Serious illness or the death of someone we love can bring on winter. Loss of a job or a relationship is winter too. Winter is anytime that things start to fall away leaving tender spots where the leaves used to be.
Some winters arrive suddenly and without warning like a thunderclap. Others come on slowly and we hardly notice until we find ourselves standing on a street corner with clenched teeth, our whole body shivering in the cold. We like to think that if we are smart and strong and determined enough we can live in an eternal summer. Life rarely turns out that way though.

Writer Katherine May in her lovely book Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times says:

“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

A crucible, as you may know, is a container in which metals or other substances may be melted, reducing them to their basic essence or combining them to create something new. A crucible is the tool of the alchemist. Dare we hope for such a thing this winter: a bit of alchemy, a bit of magic.

May goes on to say:

“Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season in which the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.”

So perhaps that is where we need to start. Stop wishing the summer would last forever and start looking for the sparkle. Take time to reflect, recuperate, replenish, find ways to put our house a bit more in order.

In our Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats, we each spent a day out on the land in silence and reflection. Before we venture out, we are each asked; “What is the question you carry with you?” It is a good question to as ourselves today. What is the question you carry with you as you enter this liminal time of winter? How can you winter well and how would you like to be changed by the experience?
May reminds us that the tree is not coming back to life when the winter is over, it has been alive all along. But in the spring, she says, “It will just put on a new coat and face the world again.” What do you hope your own new coat will look like and how will it fit?

“I’ve laid around and played around this old town too long. Summer’s almost gone and winter’s coming on” my mom and I sang. The song went on, “I’ve laid around and played around this old town too long, and I feel like I gotta travel on”. Yes, ready or not, travel on we must, so travel on we will into this season of winter.

Dennis Stamper co-leads Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats. He is also a certified Sage-ing Leader. He has worked as a Clinical Social Worker and hospital chaplain for many years.

Honoring Our Ancestors

By Al Rider

“Know thyself” was one of the three great wisdom inscriptions on the Temple of Apollo in ancient Delphi – along with “Nothing to excess” and “Certainty causes insanity.” In Sage-ing, we pursue self-knowledge under the rubric of “Life Review” – one of the core values taught by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Usually, we think of “Life Review” as a searching examination of our own personal experience; but my guess is that even Reb Zalman would agree that to really know ourselves, we would be wise to move beyond just our own life-spans.

Psychology and spirituality both suggest that there is more to “me” than just my life experience. The roots of personality go deeper than that. We do not create our own egos: We are formed not only by our life experiences, choices, and relationships but also from DNA passed down through the generations and the cultures we grew up in.

“Life review” is incomplete if it stops with just personal self-assessment. To acquire in-depth self-knowledge, I also need to know my ancestors: Who they were, how they lived, their unique stories of triumph and woundedness, and acknowledging the something of “them” that still lives on in “me” and in my family network.

Sadly, most of us remember only the one or two generations before our own – sometimes less than that. Many of us never got well-acquainted with our grandparents; and even if we did, only a few of us know the particulars of their life stories.

Some families do manage to sustain vague “origin myths” across the generations – Where they immigrated from, perhaps, or some challenge that their forebears faced. But often the details of ancestral stories are never told. Achievements and “war wounds” of the past (both literal and metaphorical) often stay hidden. Though deep psychic and spiritual “woundedness” actually gets passed from generation to generation; the underlying causes for most family disorder often stays buried in our collective unconscious minds.

If only we could reach back into forgotten corners of ancestral history to trace the origins of our families’ strengths and weaknesses, might we be able to better cope with issues, and draw on our latent inner resources?

Family Recollection as a Goal

Fortunately, our digital age gives us a whole new source to tap: Genealogy is now within the grasp of everyone. Formerly the domain of a few wonky experts, the study of ancestral lineage is now within reach. Those who know how to do that research – what the tools are, where to find them, and how to use them for story-telling – can now come to know their ancestors, and thus better know themselves.

And more: We can bless our upcoming generations by reciting their ancestral stories. A family tradition is a priceless bequest. Knowing the family’s heritage can give young people pride in their forebears, and courage and inspiration to move out to live brave adventures of their own.

I have recent experience of this. When the COVID epidemic first locked us all in, it gave me time to take on a long-delayed project. As a college history major I learned research skills and vowed to someday uncover my own family’s story. But I’d never done it. Then thanks to the virus, I suddenly had both time and a new sense of urgency: It’s now or never! What an amazing result I’ve had: During a year’s online investigation, I discovered 3,000+ named ancestors, back to Medieval days… Peasants and royalty, saints and sinners, artists and soldiers and entrepreneurs and builders and teachers and sages and criminals(!)… A rich family lore, along with deep connection to famous historic places and events we’d never imagined being linked to.

It’s been transformational for my family and led me to launch the new “Ancestors Circle” currently forming in Sage-ing International: A small group who will tap into available resources, support one another in the search, write our family story-books, and leave a legacy to our children.

Tools and Outcomes

Online resources are plentiful. It’s like “…drinking from a fire hose…” Hard to know where to start on one’s own. Our little group will be choosing archival technology, then tapping into a wealth of online data, history, photos, family papers, obituaries, and census reports, all available for the taking.

I can report two tangible outcomes already: (1) My wife and I offered a “Grandparents’ Camp” this summer where our granddaughters put together a chart of the grandparents, immigration ships, castles and royalty from whom they descended. They’re now conscious of being “princesses” and proud of it! (2) We’ve also gathered our grandmothers’ kitchen notes into a Family Cookbook that celebrates them with pictures and stories, and contains cherished recipes that enriched our childhoods. Our holidays have become more fun and tasty and memory-laden because of it.

Personally, I have a more profound sense of Place as I travel now. I feel more connected when I read world history and culture. And knowing how the “heroic” and the “tragic” both weave throughout my family story, gives meaning to the “heroic” and “tragic” that have occurred within my own lifespan.

Spiritual Growth

I was trained as a counselor/spiritual director, and so discovered how family trauma carries across generations. “Embrace the woundedness” is a motto for moving on toward psychological and spiritual maturity, and it relates also to ancestral work: By attending to the sources of our family pathologies and distresses, we get clues about how to move on toward healing and wholeness. Victimhood, abuse, PTSD, addiction, racism, history of enslavement, social injustice, war experience, prejudice, and selective forgetfulness will all appear as we unpack ancestral systems. But it can be freeing to articulate these “shadows” from my past, and then to opt for forgiveness rather than bitterness or depression. In my own family, for example, “healing of memories” became real as we reframed one grandmother’s tragic story, transforming her vague sense of victimhood into a badge of triumph over adversity.

In my Christian tradition, there’s a lovely scriptural metaphor celebrating the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” who lived before us and whose spiritual reality still enlivens us in many ways. To my delight, the archival family-tree software I use provides a “fan chart” to bring that metaphor alive. (see picture) Every time I call this chart up on my screen, it turns my laptop into a little altar, connecting me to my rich ancestral heritage. That same technology also provides a modern-day “Calendar of Saints,” displaying all my family’s births, marriages, and deaths in a 12-month graphic. It gives each week in my year new spiritual meaning.

In the same way, by crossing our family’s dates and geography with the history book, we’ve found synchronous links to events like the Battle of Hastings (1066), the Great Fire of London (1666), the Salem Witch Trials, most every major battle in most every war of the past two centuries, brushes with historic figures like Washington and Lincoln, and achievements in science, art, religion and business. A sense that “We were also there” in the past, in a very biological/ symbolic way, now gives my family a sense of mythos that transcends the dreariness of everyday routine. Which is the essence of humanistic spirituality.

Al Rider (CSL) lives with his wife Karen and a very unusual poodle in the midst of all their kids and grandkids in SW Columbus Ohio (USA). Retired from a career as a progressive pastor, career/vocational counselor/trainer, and chaplaincy coordinator on the US East Coast, West Coast, and in Central Europe, he’s now based in the Midwest as an interfaith spiritual director, tech guru of sorts, and is coordinating the new online Ancestors Creative Expression Circle for Sage-ing International. His email is

No Longer a Rope

by Jerry O’Neill

My rite of passage from midlife to elderhood was actually ten years in the making. There came the sudden death of my first wife Denise in 2010, then a move from Minneapolis to Whidbey Island, Washington, followed by a series of failed attempts to retire from work as a parish pastor. In 2018 I attended a Sage-ing International conference and completed a workbook based on Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s sage-ing principles. In spring 2019 I began to learn and play a new stringed instrument, turning to music and poetry to find my voice and the soul of my vocation for later life.

Preparing to go public with a collection of songs, short poems, and intentions, I found myself struggling to let go of my role as a pastor. Just as my book was about to be released I was asked again to consider serving a parish near our home in Oregon. How would I ever find the freedom and energy needed to use and further develop gifts I’d been excited about since childhood if I continued to feel roped into a job I no longer needed or found especially life-giving?

Then I read Ron Pevny’s book Conscious Living, Conscious Aging and I realized the missing piece. I needed a wide open sacred space for a public rite of passage led by a skilled facilitator in the wise company of other loving older adults. So, I signed up for a Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat , led by Ron and Dennis Stamper, at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. Postponed a couple of times due to Covid, the week-long event was finally held May 1-7, 2022. In hindsight, it couldn’t have been a better time!

On my journey to Ghost Ranch the green forests of the Pacific Northwest gave way to the wide- open high desert of northcentral New Mexico. The stunning beauty of sandstone cliffs and vast canyons provided a sacred portal to peer into the depths of deposition and seismic change that had occurred over the past seven decades on the inner landscape of my life. Surprisingly, very often as the wind blew, I heard nature’s song in my soul and felt right at home.

On a late Sunday afternoon the wind blew me like a tumbleweed into the retreat center, eager to help me plant new seed for the next chapter in my life. Circling with others in this strange arid land we faced uncertainty with blind assurance, quickly coming alive amidst the mystery of new beginnings from the Ancient of Days.

Gathered in the Agape Center we availed ourselves to Love’s way. Each of us placed on a table, which we made our altar, one or more symbols in our lives that have and continue to embody the sacred. Mine was a small tapestry with two figures of Kokopelli—one representing the stir of song and wild innocence in my youth and the other of a new and surprising playfulness of the muse now in my later life. I took off my gold and amber gemstone ring and set it between them trusting that it with, amidst the other signs of the sacred placed by the others, would encourage me to find a fulfilling balance of being and doing in my elderhood.

Intent to make a later life shift from role to soul, I danced with my shadows throughout the week, risking a bold look at my true self and the courage to step out onto a new ground of being. I corraled and tamed a nightmare with the wind of Spirit and found grace to face my fears. Time and again I experienced relief from ego stressers and found a wholesome oneness with what my soul desires.

One morning, while it was my day to hold close to my heart the Cord of Intentions representing the intentions of every elder in our group, I prayerfully walked them into the presence of the sacred deep within the Ghost Ranch labyrinth. As back out I walked, like an onion I peeled all externals away saying on everyone’s behalf, “I am now and to every end forever—Loving Awareness.”

As we entered the life review and repair leg of our journey we shared painful memories, hurts and fears giving those opportunity to be deeply heard. We encouraged each other to trust and bear fruit the truth of soul generates. At a letting go ceremony early one evening I buried a rope I had worn with clergy garb for years as a parish pastor. As I cast it into the “grave”, putting the role of pastor behind me, I heard our co-facilitator and colleague Dennis Stamper cry out, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” And as though from on high his words helped turn my tears of grief into laughter and great joy!

The following day we left the security of our circle in order for each of us to experience a twenty-four hour solo in the wilderness. Nature mirrored on my inner landscape the vast canyons caused by my first wife’s death and now the letting go of my career. As I communed with colorful sandstone cliffs the wind blew again and again enlivening me with grace and assurance.

Upon return to the circle we all pondered how we’d continue to be conscious elders back home.
I began and have since further refined ten intentions for the next seven years covering practically every known aspect of my later life. Shown a myriad of ways to grow more conscious, I am now applying what I’ve learned and experienced at Ghost Ranch. As stated in my first intention, I will practice being present in every circumstance to observe all thoughts, feelings, and relationships first and foremost in the light of my soul.

Perhaps the biggest surprise upon my return has been discovering my need for inner work to help develop a healthy and life-giving relationship between my inner elder and child. So, I am happy to announce, given the conscious elder I’ve become, that I will now take up writing songs and poems with my inner child for a book we might simply call “Child Alive!”

The Intentions That Guide My Elderhood

By Chuck Lee

Death comes to all of us.  We It can take the death of someone dear to us to help us fully grasp this reality. This realization can teach us much about living. And, when we are confronted with the fact that our own death is given a timeline, as I have been, we are then faced with an emotional reaction that requires thought and an inner strength that comes and goes until we reach a point of acceptance and understanding that Life is about Living –fully “Living.”

For the past nine years I have participated in eight retreats on Conscious Eldering, focused on “Aging with Intensity and Passion” under the leadership of Ron Pevny.  What has come from that is a list of ten Intentions and Resolutions that reflect my vision for my elder years.

For me it has been critically important to my well being that I live my elderhood with these intentions as my guideposts.  And I have been fortunate to have the support of another person who shares this desire to be on a journey of growth throughout her elder years.

For nearly five years I have met monthly with one of the other participants in a weekend conscious eldering retreat held at Mission San Luis Rey near San Diego. We have lunch and discuss how our lives, with our joys and struggles, has been unfolding. During the COVID pandemic we talked on the phone. Our primary focus is how we are doing with our intentions in our day-to-day living and how our intentions have given us purposeful lives.  My concentration on this goal, supported by my “Intention Partner”,  has given me the basis for being able to face this point in my life, with my health challenges, with a plan for Living.   

For me my list of intentions has been reviewed and revised many times.  The following is what I call my blueprint for life.


  • Be positive in my thoughts and actions
  • Be generous in giving to those in need
  • Listen to those who need to be heard
  • Practice kindness on a daily basis (doing a good deed each day)
  • Focus on protection of the environment
  • Continue on my spiritual path with meditation
  • Improve my connection with family and friends
  • Enjoy the humor of life by laughing a lot
  • Find joy in the life I lead
  • Talk with strangers

These are daily efforts in thoughts and actions.  When I focus on these I have found satisfaction and pleasure.  I look for the joy in events and interactions.  I find humor in much of life.  I choose for my attitude to be positive.  When I hit a bad patch, I recognize it is time to meditate and move myself back to calmness and positive energy.

I acknowledge that I am not always successful in following this blueprint, but it is my chosen path and it is working for me. I do not focus on my impending death but on how I am Living today!

‘Sisters’ in Aging Consciously

by Diane Allan, MSW

It has been a real honour and challenge to try to encapsulate in a short article the dynamics, challenges and gifts of a group of women who, for ten years, have been committed to supporting each other in aging consciously. Ten years! We began at Ghost Ranch on a Choosing Conscious Eldering retreat, initially a bit wary of each other and the startling desert landscape. But over the next few days, along with the other participants on the retreat, we laughed, cried, danced, and drummed together on the land. Our stories were shared and witnessed, ceremony performed and with the help of retreat leaders Ron Pevny and Anne Wennhold a strong sense of community was formed in the larger group, and a lasting bond was formed among five of us women. Each of us began to grow into our elder selves, and we committed to helping each other keep growing as we aged. Upon leave-taking, we five committed to monthly phone calls for ongoing support on our Conscious Eldering journey, and so we began our shared journeys of growth together.

Our calls have been guided by Life rather than by Agenda. Each call begins with sitting in virtual circle and passing the ‘talking stick’; sharing what has transpired in our lives. Each receives deep listening and heartfelt responses. Each of has experienced losses and successes, relationship beginnings and endings. Typical of our age, there have been many changes. One had a severe stroke and has worked through recovery and rehabilitation. Another suffered financial difficulties and loss of a treasured home. We have all moved, some to be closer to family and others a result of financial concerns or health issues or a combination of these. Work/volunteer lives shifted to doing less. I retired, gradually, and with much resistance. We are all active single women with full lives and yet we continue to commit to this group.

Our roles as parents have changed continually as our children have grown through early adulthood, birth of their own children and toward middle age. One mother had to face a child’s life challenging illness and pregnancy loss. Others have supported their children through divorce and trauma recovery. As a family member struggled with challenging situations we turned to our Conscious Eldering Group for support and guidance for adapting parental strategies and maintaining boundaries. Each of us has at times brought to the group a heart broken and need of the sustenance, and the group has provided as we witnessed and held space for painful emotions. And at other times we celebrated our own successes and those of our family members.

We have shared our own life experiences as leaders, counsellors and group facilitators. Each brings many gifts! And each of us has been encouraged as well as challenged by the others on our journey. Support for adaption and growth is unflinching, and falling into unhealthy patterns is queried and questioned. This comes from years of deep listening and knowing each others’ stories as we have changed and grown through difficult times.

The Life Review work we did on the retreat was just the beginning of healing related to early traumas, unresolved grief and relationship wounds. Each of us has worked individually with therapists and healers of all stripes. And, because we have built such trust, each of us has been able in our circle to find and provide unflinching support for healing and wholeness. One way we do this is to explore questions such as: ‘now that life is different, how do I find meaning?’; ’what do I value most?’; and ‘what feeds me?’

We met once in person in these ten years, in Oregon by the Sea. Our VRBO allowed us to easily access the vast beach and healing ocean and we spent time there alone and together. It was a challenging, growing time! What we had anticipated as a fun and nurturing time became for each one of us an opportunity to meet shadow characters, or a wounded inner child, or relationship issues of other kinds. There were hard conversations and unresolved conflicts. Each of us had to work hard to maintain connection, we dialogued about our process as much as possible, but there was no resolution. We left with each having to consider whether we would continue the group and how.

It took many months for us to reclaim that trusted safe environment we had created. It took asking for help, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and ability and willingness to take responsibility for choices made. It took having the strength to ask for forgiveness and to offer it. Most of us used the help of counsellors and healers as we dealt with these issues. It was a multi- layered process over months that involved revisiting painful events of the weekend, talking them through, sharing feelings and being grateful for small steps forward. The group was able to hold non judgmental space while members worked through hurt feelings and misunderstandings. This was a very feminine process – slowly coming back, sharing deeply, emphasizing the love and commitment we valued in the relationships. It took time and growing pains. I found it humbling to participate in such a powerful process.

We now share a real commitment to creativity. One of us is a published poet, another has created a variety of genres of art she has sold. One creates beautiful books of photos and poetry and another writes occasionally and plays with paints for fun. Family continues to be important, as does travel and friendships. We all explore Spirituality in ways that speak to us, including Nature rites and rituals, singing and prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices.

These calls have come to mean a great deal to me. As I am the youngest, at 70, I benefit from the others’ wisdom immensely. They are my wise crones and my guides and I feel blessed. I feel supported in my journey of healing and growing as a conscious elder. My creativity has been supported, my bruised ego repaired, and my soul has received solace during tough times. Living consciously means finding meaning, having a spiritual practice and a creative one, choosing uplifting people and spending time in nature. This group provides healthy portions of most of these activities.

This group of wise elders with over 450 years of life experience includes Helene, living in Ohio, Leigh in New Jersey, Linda in San Francisco, and myself Diane, in British Columbia. Carol from Montana pops in when she can. It is astounding to me that we have maintained this bond through primarily tech connections for this long! Zoom is now our medium but for about 7 years it was just phone calls and sending occasional photos through email. I believe that we will continue to meet as long as we can still talk! There is such a deep heart bond, and that the connection will always be there, supporting us throughout our conscious elderhood.

Diane Allan lives in British Columbia after living most of her life in Alberta where her Eldering journey began. She have counseled seniors and facilitated groups in “Aging Well “in her work in Calgary. She has participated in two Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats and has studied and practiced Sage-ing. She has also studied Ecopsychology at Naropa University and Vision Quests with School of Lost Borders.

Be a Mountain

By Wendy Dudley

“I Am Mountain. I Am Ocean. I Am Sky. I am Sun. I am Moon. I am Pachamama, Mother Earth.” Standing at the Highwood Pass in the northern stretch of the Rocky Mountain Cordillera in Alberta, Canada, I spread my wings, declaring who I Am, and also who I am Becoming. This is a grounding exercise, a way to root my soul in the soil. Having recently suffered a family loss, I am vulnerable, and so seek the stability of the mountain.

This Misty Mountain range keeps me centered, the position of an Elder.

We stand in our space, hold our ground, and let world events swirl around us, for we have weathered many storms. Let the winds of change blow, let the wild rivers flow. We have lived through many challenges, we have witnessed many losses, we are aware of the bigger picture of where humanity fits into the history of the planet. There is so much more than just Us. Let such wisdom not fade from civic culture.

I believe it is from this position that we listen, support and guide those who are having difficulty navigating testy waters. Humanity is in transition, and we all know someone who is struggling to find her or his way, while trying to dodge the dark rabbit holes.

As Elders, our life experiences and compassion have given us the wisdom to stay centered, to not drift into divisive polarities. As a retired newspaper reporter, I know there are more than two sides to a story; often there are dozens. So many opinions, so many perspectives. No one position is absolute.

Coming from a place of compassion, we take the time to understand the stories behind multiple points of view. We model acceptance, equanimity and calmness. Wisdom is not intelligence, expertise or moral superiority. Elders know better than to focus on being Right, at the sacrifice of building Relationship.

And we, perhaps more so than many generations, should be grateful. Today, I am full of Gratitude, for having survived this long. For being able to say I have fewer years ahead of me than behind me. I am grateful for these wild mountains and rivers, for family, for friends, for my purpose. But I am especially grateful for the time in which I have lived.

Our generation slipped in between the Second World War and the ongoing pandemic that has no end in sight.

I think of our parents who toughed out the Depression era, who experienced the despair of a World War that lasted six years, who endured food rationing, and who in later years found themselves confused by a fast-paced generation that spoke in technological terms they could barely understand.

And so today, I stand in the mountains, giving gratitude that the greater portion of my life has been without life-threatening hardship. Most of us had it pretty good, when it comes to avoiding global crises. We’ve had a good kick at the can.

I think of the young ones, looking ahead, whose beginning years are now rooted in Fear, something we know will affect them for years to come, and take years to heal.

Unlike us, they have most of their lifetime ahead of them.

Will the Peace that we marched for in the ‘60s ever be found, in a world that presently seems to be more divided than ever, a world racked with cruelty, angst, anger, frustration and fatal overdoses? I offer this sentiment by the late theologist and physician, Albert Schweitzer: “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes the ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”

This is not to say that we too do not feel the intensity of these current times, from political turmoil to concern about the state of the planet. We may not always remain calm, but we do know emotional balance. We make the journey from Head to Heart, where we find inner peace, contentment, and compassion. We act wisely, because we do no good if we too fall off the rails. To take on anger and hate is to give power to those emotions. Humanity desperately needs healing. If we do not mend our divides, we will dwell forever in tribalism. And healing cannot take place when each side is trying to out-shout the other. Why feed divisiveness, when we can still be activists or pacifists without being pulled off-center.

If we succumb to the push-and-pull dynamics between polarities, we risk our mental, physical and spiritual health. And how well can we serve if we are not well? Is our purpose not to show compassion and a will to help others? So we ask: “How best can I serve, and in turn, what serves me well?”

To cite the Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Find what works for you, as only you know what makes you feel good, what helps you feel centered, and who makes you smile. Work and play within your circle to maintain your social health and sense of community and belonging. As elders, we know there are no problems, only solutions. Walk and talk with Presence.

We all know wise ones who say little, but whose chosen words say so much.
Their confidence is palpable, their posture one of confidence. They know who they are. They know why they came here. They know life. They stand as Mountains.

Wendy Dudley is an eco-spiritist, visual artist and writer, shamanic practitioner and spiritual healer. Her website is She can be reached at