‘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 www.wendydudleyart.com. She can be reached at dudleyart1@gmail.com

The Sacred Act of Grieving


By Kinde Nebeker

Growing older brings many surprises. We might look in the mirror in the
morning and wonder whose face that is looking back at us. We may notice the worries
and upsets that used to send us through the roof don’t bother us anymore. We may see
that having lived so much life has given us a perspective that can offer clarity, guidance
and hope to others.

Elder years also bring loss. So much of who we have known ourselves to be begins
to leaves us. The strength, beauty, and capacities of our physical bodies are lost. The
identity we enjoyed through our work evaporates. Our energy and ability (or motivation)
to ‘produce’ wanes. More and more friends die. The world can seem like it’s moving on
without us. All this loss causes grief. It is an intrinsic part of being a human who makes
it to old age.

It is not easy because grief does hurt like hell. And in our modern American
culture, we are not taught what to do with it. We think of grief as that awful thing we
hope to avoid at all costs; that nasty situation that interrupts our ever-forward-moving
life trajectory. Most of us had no understanding or modeling in our families or
communities about how to welcome and be with grief. When we first encountered it as
children, we most likely went through it alone and unsupported. If the emotions were
overwhelming to us, we buried it as deep inside of us as we could, so we would never
have to feel pain, confusion and aloneness ever again.

Today our culture is coming to understand the price of locked-away grief. Grief
buried becomes a weight in the body and a rigidity in the heart. It narrows our vision
and our ability to be creative and to love.

A major task for initiation into true elderhood is to do the work of grieving.
Initiated elders connect with grief as an ally and intimate friend. They treasure the gifts
that grief holds for them, and for their communities. Conscious elders are able call grief
forward to flow and cleanse.

The disconnection from grief is a relatively new phenomenon in human culture.
Before the rise of science and rationality, of materialism as the primary epistemology,
we knew how to call the Name of Grief. We could recognize and welcome it because we
were in somatic and cultural contact with subtle energies. We understood that grief,
when honored for its healing power, became Grief — a sacred force that the community
held all together. We knew how to communicate with and participate in Grief with each
other through ritual, movement, and sound. We respected its cleansing and
transformational potential.

But that world is not available to most of us now. So, as we come to times in our
lives where grief comes, or where grief needs to be unlocked in us in order to get
unstuck, what do we do? How exactly, does one grieve in a good way? How can we come
into relationship with grief and transform it into Grief?

Here are a few thoughts to help get you started to begin transforming grief
into sacred Grief.

Acknowledge the Enormity of the Task & Love Yourself Up for What You Are Doing.

If befriending Grief were easy, more people would do it. It is very challenging at
first. You must appreciate what an amazing warrior, what a strong sorceress, what a
beloved soul you are, to be undertaking such a thing. Take a moment to actually feel the
warmth of love in your heart for yourself, and practice feeling it regularly.
Maybe you need help? Call a friend to help you get into the mood of loving yourself.
Who is your greatest fan? Ask them to help you out, and receive the love they give.
Loving yourself is one of the greatest ballasts you can have in the storm of Grief.

Take Care of Yourself

Grief can be a massive and powerful energy. Take this process seriously and
commit to taking care of yourself, first and foremost. Loving yourself includes caring
for your body (healthy diet, daily movement, quality rest) so it can be strong enough to
carry the potential intensity. It also includes caring for your heart and spirit. Grief
comes primarily through the heart, so fortify that heart of yours with doing, thinking
and enjoying things you love. Grieving does not preclude activities that bring you joy.
Make a list of what lifts you up — inspirational reading, hiking a certain trail, listening to
music you love, making art, spending time with friends or family (especially
grandchildren!) — and do one thing every day that is not habitual.

Release Expectations

First we have to be clear that Grief does not pay any attention to our schedule. If
we are dealing with a present grief, Grief will appear whenever It sees fit. If we are
working with a past grief, we have more say about when we might open to the energy,
but still we are not in control. Opening to Grief is an exercise in abandoning any
agenda, utterly letting go of hope, completely relinquishing control. Grief will ask this
of you, and your consent allows Grief to do Its work on you.

Call In Support

Remember that Grief is not meant to be engaged alone, ever. You do have
support, so call it in.
~ Are there people in your life who can support you in the right way; support the strong
one in you rather that try to ameliorate the suffering through soothing or activating the
victim part of you? Let them know what you are going through, and ask them for what
you need.
~ Who are your ancestors? Are there particular ancestors that you feel kinship with?
Call them in through your active imagination and ask them to stand at your back, or
whatever you sense would be helpful. Sense them and listen to anything they might
want to tell you.
~ Do you have other-than-human allies and guides that have shown up in your life?
Actively call them in to be with you, during intentional meetings with Grief, or whenever
you need help.

Feeling is Healing

Grief becomes present to you through your body. It you can’t or won’t feel your
body, you will not be able to receive what Grief is giving you. Emotions create bodily
sensations. Feel deeply, with full attention and presence. What are the textures,
movements, locations in the body of your emotional responses to Grief? Be curious and
notice. Does this Grief burn? Is it jumpy, sharp, dull, heavy? Grief will change and
respond to your open attention. What do you notice about the movement of this Grief?
Is it slow, or fast, jittery or is it still and unmoving? It is the very act of being willing to
feel that contains the medicine of healing.

Ritual and Ceremony

Grief contacts you through the body. And, like all archetypal energies, Grief
understands the language of ritual. Learn to speak this language. What rituals can you
create, as an inherently creative human, to be in authentic relationship with Grief? Your
creativity delights It, and It will respond in kind.

Respond and Engage

Sacred Grief is not something that happens to you. It visits you, inviting you to
come into relationship with It. When Grief arrives as sensation in your body, you are
invited to respond to what you feel there. Movement, breath and sound are some ways
you can go beyond the story of your grief and have a conversation through the body
with Grief. Scream, cry, throw things, whirl around, crumble up on the floor. Do
whatever your body wants to do, and do what you need to do to not feel self-conscious.
Don’t listen to the ego, which wants to keep you safe and looking good in the eyes of the
world. The ego will be obliterated by Grief, so It will do everything in its power to stop
you from engaging fully with It.

Surrender

If you notice closely, you will find that what causes the most pain is your
resistance. So give in. Allow yourself ‘die’ of Grief. Let it burn, come in waves, crush your
heart. Don’t turn away. Allowing Grief is allowing the situation to be. You can’t change
it, so wishing it were otherwise only clogs up a cleansing and wise process.
We may resist falling down into the well of Grief because we sense it will drown
us forever. Perhaps you’ve known someone who suffers a loss that drops them so low
that they never feel happy again. But notice — after the alive energy of Grief has
subsided, is that person holding on to the story of that grief? If we allow the energy of
Grief to MOVE — that is, we don’t capture and contain it in a story — it is free to do its
work, and move on. The inner core of our Self is untouched.

Integration

Loss always changes us. After loss, we are not the same as we were before. If grief
is left to accrete in our psyches and bodies, we get smaller, more afraid, rigid, withdrawn
or angry. Our health and our relationships are compromised. However, inviting Grief to
come dance with us, letting It move through and with us, we become bigger, more
compassionate and wise, and more spacious inside. Instead of cordoning off the loss we
suffer and burying it in a safe space in the basement, we can integrate the loss
consciously into who we are now. We can choose to make new meaning of our loss and
grief, to re-frame it in a positive way that creates more love, more gratitude and more
depth in our lives.

In this way, Grief is sacred. It takes us out of our small selves and drops us into a
larger space. It reams us out, stretches us beyond where we would ever choose to go, and
so shows us a deeper dimension of human experience. When we approach Grief as a
sacred act, we find that we are more than/greater that we thought/ever realized.
As you experience losses, may you allow Grief to bless your life.

Kinde is a certified Integral Coach and wilderness rites of passage guide. She
offers community grief-tending rituals biannually in her community, and is
available for coaching — in developmental work and in ritual for grief and other
aspects of personal transformation.
Learn more at www.newmoonritesofpassage.com
Email her at kinde@newmoonritesofpassage.com

Saying “Yes” to Later Life

By Rick Moody

How long do we have to wait to become old? How long to see things as they really are? When Guatama Siddhartha, who was to become the Buddha, left the protection of his parents’ castle, he found himself on the road. On his journey he discovered three sights that shocked him: a sickened person, someone who was old, and a corpse. Sickness, aging and death were the shocks that impelled the Buddha to seek “something more.” He found it and people have followed that path ever since.

But if old age is a shock, then how can we speak of “positive aging?” I see more and more that the refusal to acknowledge the inevitable losses and diminishments leads to disappointment and eventually denial, even if unrecognized. Ageism is in all of us, and so is denial which fuels it. A prime example of such denial is so-called anti-aging medicine, which promises false hope for avoiding the shock that Buddha and all of us must encounter. A story about positive aging that does not prepare us to face inevitable losses easily becomes a “the power of positive thinking,” which is a recurrent American temptation.

But is there true hope, founded on reality? Viktor Frankl thought so, and he discovered it, not on the road but in a Nazi concentration camp. Frankl learned that, faced with devastating reality, denial and false hope were not an option. But it was, and it is, possible to say “yes” even in circumstances the limit our lives, as we all must discover in later life. He wrote about this in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, a gift across the generations. He describes those who managed to say “yes” to life:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. I have seen a sweatshirt that has the message: I thought growing old would take longer. As this sweatshirt says, growing old can come as a surprise—even to gerontologists. Have you noticed that doctors get sick, funeral directors die, and gerontologists grow old? Surprise is always the partner of denial, and none of us is exempt from the temptation for denial as well as from the reality of age.

Many have read Rowe and Kahn’s great book, Successful Aging. But, whether they admire it or reject it, they often miss the definition of “successful aging” given concisely in that book: “decrement with compensation.” Just three words. That’s all. Did you get the message? Decrement will come to virtually all of us. But how hard it is to find the compensation without denying the losses. That is the work of Positive or Conscious Aging.

Lars Tornstam, who I met but did not know well, described this path as gero-transcendence. A mouthful of a word, but what it means is stated well by Carol Orsborn in her new book, The Making of an Old Soul. It is both the hunger for, and the encounter with, “something more” than our roles and our egos—that something more which Orsborn discovered in what she calls “the great reveal.” And what is it that will be revealed? We will all have different names for it, because each of us follows a different path. And the path of human development becomes more and more individual in later life, which means that it becomes harder to speak of these things and generally impossible to give advice.

Connie Zweig, a long-experienced Jungian therapist, writes about this task in her new book The Inner Work of Age, where she defines it as a “shift from role to soul.” I’ve called Connie “The Queen of Shadow” because she is willing to look where few others have wanted to look, into the Shadow. Why look where there’s no light? Because for our society, aging itself remains forever in the Shadow, just as it was in Buddha’s time. If we don’t look, we won’t see.

So let us celebrate positive aging. Let us care for our health, let us help others around us, for as the Sufis say: “Those who God wishes to bless, God puts in their hands the means of helping others.” But even as we summon our strength and help those around us, let us also recognize that strength does not endure and that helping is often beyond our power. Seeing is believing, and I have seen a few of those who followed the path of conscious aging. They have inspired me. I saw Viktor Frankl only once, at a conference, where he stood up on stage before a crowd, a frail little old man. But when he rose up to speak, the world was lit up.

Can we, too, light up the world?

Harry (Rick) Moody teaches in the Creative Longevity and Wisdom Program
of Fielding Graduate University. He edits the “Human Values in Aging” newsletter.
For a sample or free subscription, send a request to hrmoody@yahoo.com

Aging from the 70s to the 80s

By Anne Wennhold

When I retired at 70 years of age, I was invited to work with a group of elders in recovery from alcohol. For years I had been teaching people of varied ages, but never those who were considered seniors: it was a new ball park for me. I asked a social worker what to expect from the elder population. Her succinct description made me laugh. “There are three stages of aging,” she said. “The Go-Goes, the Slow-Goes and the No-Goes.”

I am now in my 80s, a vantage point for understanding what she meant. The 70s were actually the Go-Go years of my lifetime. It was a decade, not only of integrating all the challenging aspects of my life but of sharing the results with others. Beginning with a Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat and its suggestions for aging successfully, I became a teacher, a leader and a facilitator for others on a path of self-discovery and aging.

In addition to co-leading the Choosing Conscious Elderhood Retreats at Ghost Ranch, I ran weekly discussion groups on aging for our local county day centers: gave lectures, presentations and workshops teaching the skills of aging to church groups and at libraries. I also held one-day retreats for small groups in several eastern states.

Other interests came to the fore during those 10 years: my love of art and the growing understanding of Native American and Shamanic spirituality and ritual. I held workshops at a variety of venues for those vested with a similar desire to learn more about these belief systems and practices. I held drum making, mandala drawing and dream decoding classes when requested.

Reading was a mainstay of that time. I wanted to learn as much as I could about what other paths might lead to a sense of my place in the world and a satisfaction that I was fulfilling what my mission and purpose seemed to be. Nature was both central to the work and a partner to my life: trees especially. They shared thoughts about roots, trunks, branches and leaves in support of daily life. My body was strong. It carried me forward with few complaints.

I cannot speak as definitively about my 80s as I can the 70s because I’m still in the middle of them but I can say this. Shortly after my 80th birthday there came what I now call a ‘sea change.’ It was like a soft breeze stealing in from the north, the place of transitions. My body felt it before my mind became aware of it and before my emotional self finally acknowledged that the Slow- Go years had arrived.

My body was no longer silently strong. It began to demand attention. Sorties to the doctors for check ups and tune-ups came first, dietary changes and attendance to exercise began to consume more time on a daily basis. Extensive travel for presentations and workshops was no longer the pleasure it had once been: easy access to nearby bathrooms became an obsession.

Nobody wants to hear this and as an 80 something year old I do not want it to preoccupy me either. I’ve already seen too many elders who bind themselves up in their ills. My body, however, is lagging while I myself, the ‘me’ inside, is still vital, still excited about growing and learning and being a part of the work world. Only now I must learn to compromise with the physical self.

I’ve always loved the work I’ve done with groups. It has been and continues to light my own path as I hope it does for others. However the COVID virus of the past year put a swift stop to all that: the distant, the local and the weekly meetings, all gone in a wink of time. On the other hand as often happens, while COVID took away with one hand, it gifted me with the other. Zoom opened the opportunity to continue meetings online and introduced new ideas: topics like Memoir Writing, Dream Decoding, Shamanic Journeying and Lectio Divina, a meditation practice with literary readings are now programs I offer on Zoom. I’m also toying with the idea of including Mandala drawing sessions there.

What’s not to like about holding meetings in my own home in the comfort of dress down clothing with hot coffee at my elbow and a bathroom steps away? Perhaps this is one answer to the question of compromise throughout the remaining years of the 80s: a way to reduce the amount of travel while maintaining important group connections.

Nature remains a constant support. The trees about my house are an entertainment of light and shadow, of leaves that are green, then gold, and finally a riot of color before the bare black of winter. They continue to dialog with me about life’s cycles and events.

My interests have changed. I seldom look to books and lectures from touted authors or gurus for information about their aging or spiritual experiences mainly because they seem to be one-way conversations. Their ideas can however, work as a basis for connections in depth, a way for ordinary people like myself to converse and share thoughts about what’s happening in our own lives: experiences with Spirit, thoughts of death, dreams and how ventures into personal growth at this stage of life are working. The exchange of information is more important now than the acquiring of it.

And there is a most subtle change to my inner dialog. My life purpose, which is to be of service to others, is being challenged because I am less mobile now. I guess it is part of the refining of spirit as one ages. The question is, ‘What will that service look like when the role of teacher/facilitator is no longer as viable as it once was?’ So far there are a few possible answers. I’ve already mentioned Zoom as one of them, at least for the time being: another is the practice of listening. The gift of listening to others and really hearing them is one of the finest gifts one can give to others. And after that, whispers an inner voice, ‘Listen to Spirit. You have more time to do that now and you have friends who will share and talk about what is growing there.“

In the long run, having answers really doesn’t matter all that much because with the newly heightened vision brought about by the Slow-Go 80s, I see more clearly how, as one moves along the continuum of years, the answers come when the person remains open and ready to receive them. They did so in the Go-Go 70s, they are doing that now in the Slow-Go 80s, and I trust they will continue to do that for whatever might lie ahead in the No-Go years.

In the meantime I remain a Work In Process.

Anne Wennhold has for many years co-guided conscious eldering retreats with Ron Pevny. She also runs support groups for older adults. And Shamanic Drumming groups in New Jersey, and facilitates online Memoir Writing, Drumming and other new courses. Anne can be reached at annewennhold@gmail.com

An Elder Vision Quest Story

by Larry Gray

One of my favorite quotes from Henry David Thoreau echoed in my mind as I recently headed out into the Yukon wilderness for a 3-day vision quest:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I went to the woods this time to explore what it had to teach me about being a conscious elder. I had a lot of resistance to acknowledging my age because of the tremendous amount of cultural baggage, negative stereotypes and downright ageism that exists in society. I knew in my heart and mind these cultural messages were simply wrong. They certainly didn’t mesh with my own lived experience.

I spent three days and nights on a high ridge with an expansive view of a river below, forested hills and mountains in front of and behind me and the ridgetop leading upwards to a high peak. No sign of any human presence on the landscape.

There, I walked daily – more like meandering as the river was doing. I love Thoreau’s word for it: “sauntering” from his famous essay: Walking. I became acquainted with the many beings who live here – the aspens, spruce and pine, the sage and grasses, the eagles and chickadees, the wind and the rain, the hard earth and the soft composting leaves on the forest floor. Over time, I allowed all this to seep into my consciousness. Messages from Nature come in many ways and forms. But this form of wordless communication takes time, something in short supply for many of us and certainly for the culture at large. In this article, I would like to share two of these communications with you.

 

Meanders and Oxbows

When a river reaches a low-lying plain in its final course to the sea or a lake, it meanders widely. Deposition occurs on the convex bank because of the ‘slack water’, or water at low velocity. … When deposition finally seals off the cut-off from the river channel, an oxbow lake is formed.”

The environment surrounding me on that ridgetop afforded an expansive view of the river, its steep sandy banks, the nearby hills, the more distant mountain peaks, the dome of the sky, the movements of birds on their aerial traverses, the forests and alpine meadows and more. It was an eagle’s-eye view, as Ron Pevny has described the vantage point of an elder. Over time, I saw the meandering river before me as representative of my own life’s journey. The current was visible – a relentless onward flow of time and energy.

I was facing south and off to the east below me I could see an oxbow lake. Having taught geology before, I understood how it was formed and I could visualize the process at work over many years that formed the oxbow. One of the main intentions of doing this quest was to make peace with my former “selves” and all the hard experiences that those selves went through. These experiences had been crystallized into my neural pathways in the form of traumatic memories. I began to see the oxbow lake as representative of a traumatic memory. I realized and I could see directly that the oxbow was no longer part of the main current of the river. It had been cut off.

I walked down to the oxbow a couple of times. It was quite different than the river it was once part of. Crescent-shaped in form, it was quite swamp-like with more grasses and sedges than actual open water. I began to see my life’s journey in a new way, from a different and more expansive perspective – an eagle’s eye view. I began to see these traumatic memories that haunted my consciousness as “oxbow lakes”, no longer connected to the main flow of the river of my life. I could visit them, but no need to stay long. The river calls to me to continue my journey – ever onward.

Later in my quest, while I spent an afternoon sitting beside the river, somewhat entranced by the swift current flowing by inches from me, I was gifted with a process to heal my wounded psyche. Whenever I encounter an “oxbow lake memory”, from my elder perspective, I send love, forgiveness and gratitude to the person I was then. It’s a personal ritual or ceremony. And when it’s over, I rejoin the river of my life in the present moment, the here and now. The memory is further integrated into my psyche. For me, that’s what healing is.

Life in Death, Death in Life

When you immerse yourself in wild Nature and drop your defenses of fear, anxiety and perhaps internalized nature-averse cultural stories, strange things can happen. Boundaries become blurred, perceptions shift, perceived alienations become opportunities for deep affiliation. Even the demarcation between life and death becomes indistinct. This happened to me. Spending a prolonged time deeply immersed in and in reciprocal relationship with so many diverse natural beings, my awareness became sharpened, senses attentive and alive, perceptions crisp and clear. Where previously, I always saw life and death as discrete entities, this was not so in the natural world.

I dwelled in a world of eagles soaring on updrafts, light rain falling from grey clouds caressing the sage that embroidered the hillside, orange and rusty brown leaves composting on the forest floor giving rise to an incredible array of wild mushrooms. Aspen leaves trembled in the afternoon breeze, the river’s current visibly moving ever onward, a startled mule deer darting into the forest. Wildflowers – some still blooming – others having transformed into the dry stalks that will provide nutrients for the next generation. And on and on it goes, without beginning or end. One unbroken continuum of life and death, the two phenomena forever yoked to each other in a sublime and eternal dance that is Nature.

All these beings and all these ecological processes – growth, becoming, allowing, nurturing, being, transforming – implanted themselves into my psyche and even into my body. I realized that life and death were all around and it was impossible to distinguish between the two – living and dying are one ongoing concurrent process! Guided by this growing realization – an awakening fostered by my surroundings, I needed to look no further than my own body to deepen this even further. As I sat in the forest or on the hillside or in the meadow or lay under the bewildering maze of stars we call the Milky Way, I felt and knew deeply that life and death are happening to me right here, right now. Millions of cells in my body are dying in each moment while millions of cells are simultaneously being born. It’s all right here. My body is my home – the temple of my spirit. Nature/Earth is also my home – a home that I share with all other beings – the temple of the Great Spirit.

In order for something new to emerge, to be born and to grow, something else has to die. That is the way of Nature. I saw, smelled, tasted, touched and felt this truth directly all around me, unmediated. Amidst the rotting compost of the recent leaf fall, amongst the brown dead grasses on the hillside, mushrooms and new plant growth were emerging. So it is, I realized with myself. For my true and conscious elder self to emerge I had to let go of my attachment to my former selves. They had to become compost and fertilizer, providing the life-giving nutrients for my nascent elder self to grow.

I feel that the Nature-disconnected environments we have created (like cities, where over half of humanity lives) fail to support our most authentic selves – what I sometimes call our “ecological self”. For me, wild Nature is the healing environment that bests supports my journey of growth and expanding awareness. I have now made a personal pledge to undertake a vison quest each year – to nurture and foster my truly authentic self.

Let us all use our remaining decades to become who we truly are and thereby heal ourselves and this beautiful and wondrous Earth.

Larry Gray is a professor in Environmental Studies at Yukon University in northern Canada and a guide with the Center for Conscious Eldering. He can be reached at lgray@yukonu.ca

COVID Disciplines as Spiritual Practice

by Arden Mahlberg

With social distancing, I am enjoying daily walks in our neighborhood in a new way. Following that discipline with fellow walkers and joggers is like dancing with strangers. People change course onto the grass to give safe passage to the walkers they meet. There are gestures of thanks. Joggers flow into the street’s bike path until the walkers have passed. Walkers glance behind them to avoid being in someone’s way. In the military, they call this situational awareness, a constant monitoring of the surroundings in order to act accordingly. Not everyone has developed this skill. It is an exercise in mindfulness, to not let ourselves be preoccupied or inattentive. This is a spiritual discipline that combines care of self with care of others. When others are similarly engaged, the resulting sidewalk dance is a thing of beauty and an occasion for joy.

All of the disciplines that are involved with COVID-19 are easier to do and have more depth when we relate to them as spiritual disciplines. This will also give them lasting value beyond the length of this crisis. Care of self and care of neighbor have the same expression. I have never before encountered such a strong sense of shared vulnerability and shared responsibility. The deeper we go into this, the more it may transform how we conduct other parts of our lives.

Stay-at-home orders provide fertile ground, especially for those of us with few or no housemates. What does alone even mean? And how do we experience it? A breakthrough understanding for me came in the 70’s when I read about a man who had been on a life raft in the Pacific for over 30 days before being rescued. Much to the amazement of the reporters who interviewed him, he described how connected he had felt with everything in his surroundings. “At night,” he said, “the stars were so close, it was like a blanket.”

I realize that with this perspective, there is no such thing as being alone. We always exist in context. We only feel alone when our awareness has become constricted or we have set conditions on what counts as an other worthy of connection. From that point on, at times of so-called physical isolation, I came to experience further, that every place and every time reveals an aspect of the Divine.

Let me invite you into a little exercise. Consider the number of souls who are in the same neighborhood as you are right now. Consider all living beings in that space. Extend a blessing to them all for their well-being and the well-being of those they love. Notice how good it feels to do so. Then expand the circle farther and farther until there is no farther to go, always noticing how good it feels to be participating in the well-being of others. As a daily spiritual practice, this helps us keep the important sense of mutual vulnerability and mutual responsibility.

I have been on a couple of retreats, one led by Ron Pevny, where we had extended periods of staying in place as a solo practice. In that time, I found myself engaging more in the few things around me and experienced a fascination with each of them. Also, somehow the few turned into an abundance. I was also better able to notice and value what was happening inside me. It is similar to the spiritual discipline of savoring, where we slow down to explore what we eat and engage it more fully. Often my mind goes to the life that was lost on my behalf, where the food came from and the people who tended to it and made it available to me. The amazing qualities of sun, water and soil. The beautiful environment fish live in compared with factory farming. To treat living things as food is spiritually and morally challenging when we pay attention to it.

Whether our homes contain a little or a lot, there is rich opportunity to marvel and savor. Trees were cut down for my benefit so I could enjoy the beauty of their grain. I benefit from human curiosity, discovery and ingenuity with the amazing inventions available to me. How did someone figure that out, I wonder? What about ceramics and glass – humans finding ways to create what volcanoes create. Metal working, wood working, art, music, cooking and baking, were all originally recognized as magical, mystical processes of alchemy. With the space for such awareness, things in our homes are no longer mere functions. They are worthy of our attention and reflection.

Stay-at-home has also meant that my calendar of obligations has been wiped clean. This freedom allows me to have more awareness of what is going on inside me. I notice priorities and interests being rearranged and reordered. Because of this I have less sadness that things may not return to normal. I’m less sure I want them to. I don’t know.

Uncertainty – not just mine, but the shared uncertainty all human beings have. This is a spiritual/existential matter. How do we reconcile with uncertainty? I say, when we relate to it as a spiritual practice. This pandemic is the result of chance occurrences. Chance viral mutations in bats were transmitted by chance to a human being. People around the world don’t know when they will work again. Don’t know how they can pay their rent. In the midst of this uncertainty, people in positions of responsibility are having to make decisions with huge implications for masses of people. Financial security has evaporated for many. Front-line medical personnel face uncertainty about having the necessary resources to help the expected influx of patients. They don’t know if they can even keep themselves safe. Hospitals face bankruptcy. Any and all of us could become infected. We don’t know how bad that would be.

The human brain has a love/hate relationship with uncertainty. It can become addicted to the uncertainty involved in gambling when there is a potential upside. But when there is no possibility of winning, there is only a downside to be faced. We hate taking losses.

The importance of reconciling with uncertainty is reflected in the fact that the Greeks and Romans gave chance the status of a god. Fortuna was her name. For people who design and administer vaccines, chance is the enemy of their efforts. Viruses are always randomly mutating, and some of those mutations will not be controlled by the vaccine. Some people in cancer treatment face the threat of random mutation every day.

With no certainty, there is only probability. There is something spiritually and morally important about living with this realization. This is how people stay sober. All we can know is now and that is challenging enough.

A spiritual and moral aspect of integrated uncertainty and vulnerability is that it can open the doors to greater awareness of the needs of others and activate the compassion to be of help. While there is research evidence to support this, it is also part of ancient wisdom.

A man who had everything going for him came to the Teacher seeking reassurance about his place in heaven. He sought certainty. His concern was only for himself. The Teacher gave him advice that would make him more vulnerable. He told him to sell everything he had, which was considerable, and give it to the poor. He wanted certainty, and was told to make himself more vulnerable.

The Teacher also told a story of a man who was robbed, beaten and left to die on the side of the road. Three people encountered the situation. The only one who stopped to help was the most vulnerable of the three, a man from a foreign country that was hated by the locals. He could easily be victimized himself.

While we shouldn’t glorify vulnerability, there is no denying that it has heart. In facing our shared vulnerability, many of us are responding with compassion and generosity. Vulnerability can open the window into the needs of others, when we acknowledge it and make our peace with it. As we know, people who have the least are the most generous. While resources of money and power provide security and predictability, they also make compassion and generosity more difficult.

The current vulnerability is not just a feeling; it is real. It is a shared reality. To deny the risk leads people to act carelessly and endanger themselves and others. To believe that everything will somehow be okay closes us off from our real needs and those of others. Some people are even predatory, seeking to exploit vulnerability.

When we treat the disciplines we need to keep ourselves and others safe as practices that are really spiritual in nature, we can calmly recognize our shared vulnerability and shared responsibility. Then these practices do more than provide safety, they open our eyes and our hearts.

Arden Mahlberg is a psychologist in Madison, Wisconsin. Follow his blog at ardenmahlberg.com.

Resistance to Growth is Futile

by Larry Gray

Up until a few weeks ago, the global consensus was that climate change is the defining issue of our time. Then came COVID-19. Of course, the two are not unrelated, but the global pandemic is an acute infection requiring heroic measures whereas the climate crisis is more of a chronic disease requiring ongoing management.

Like everyone else, I have been trying to make sense of the times we live in and to seek the deeper meaning of it all. I consider myself both a scientist (biologist) and a mystic and I see no conflict between these two perspectives. I see no conflict either between personal human experience and planetary experience. In this short essay, I will draw upon science, mysticism, personal and planetary perspectives in one of my many attempts to make meaning of COVID-19.

I’ll begin with a cartoon. There are two lineups of people to get into two different places. There’s a sign above the entrance to each place. One sign reads “Heaven”. The other sign reads “Books about Heaven”.

One of my dominant emotional patterns that came into the glaring light of consciousness during one of my periodic exercises in life review put me squarely in the line, “Books about Heaven”.

What does that mean? It means rather than simply DOING something (writing an article, initiating a potential relationship with someone, beginning and sustaining a solid exercise regime, eating the kinds of food I absolutely know are right for me, etc., etc. ad infinitum), I have chosen to instead buy books (yes, lots of books) on writing, relationships, exercise routines, untold number of diets and so on and so on. Not just buying and reading books, but engaging in any activity that might fall under the category of “procrastination”.

Why choose “books about heaven” over “heaven” itself? Well, the dynamic I uncovered within me and which I have since discovered is a universal energy pattern might simply be called Resistance.

In scientific terms – the terminology of physics – Resistance is “a measure of the opposition to current flow in an electrical circuit”. As a product of developmental trauma, I know resistance well. I began blocking and distorting my own authentic energy flow very early on in life. It was my way of surviving an uncertain and confusing family of origin. That resistance to my own energy flow has been devastating to so many aspects of my life and my capacity to experience the full joy, the unbridled aliveness and authenticity of living fully.

So, as a result, my life (until I began my conscious eldering journey) has been I think unnecessarily stressful and painful. There’s a huge cost to self-repression. Its stressful.

This brings me the next scientific term Stress. Again drawing on physics and engineering, Stress can be defined as “force per unit area applied to a material”.

It was pioneering Canadian physiology and stress researcher, Hans Selye, who borrowed the term and applied it to the fields of physiology, medicine and health. Now, when we use the word Stress in the way he used it, I think we can all relate – Stress is “the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response”.

We know that in response to stressors in the environment, organisms in Nature have a few options, such as fight, flight, freeze or even faint. My response to stressors (as learned and internalized in childhood) has been primarily “freeze”. In other words, shut down my energy flow. That’s pure animal survival instinct. Useful in certain moments, for sure. But completely detrimental and disabling when it becomes a lifestyle. Psychologists call it “learned helplessness”.

What, in any way, do these two stories (the heaven/books about heaven story and the resistance/stress story) have to do with the current global pandemic? Here enters the third scientific term – Fractals.

Fractals are “objects in which the same patterns occur again and again and again at different scales and sizes”. For example, the network of veins that move fluids around a leaf shows clear fractal structure. It is the same pattern as the tree itself.

Here is where science meets mysticism. I believe human beings are fractals of Earth itself. The same elemental energies that flow through the air, water and land are the exact same energies that course through our human bodies and minds and psyches. Humans and their societies and cultures are in, of and from Earth itself. We are individually and collectively intertwined with Earth’s elemental forces. This is reality, always has been and always will be. Ask any indigenous elder.

Can we see the dynamics of stress and resistance and fractality in the current global crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic? Can we see it the climate emergency (remember that?) or the current mass extinction of species? The answer, for me, is a resounding yes! And therein lies hope.

Humanity has been resisting change – changing the way we practice economics, how we consume resources, how we perceive our relationship with Nature and the biosphere, for example. Our collective Resistance has put the whole planet into a state of chronic Stress.

The first step in any program of change, personal or planetary – is awareness. As it took me the better part of a lifetime to become aware of these energy dynamics within myself, it has taken me a lot less time to become aware of their fractal counterparts in the bigger planetary picture.

If I can change and transform myself as a result of my growing self-awareness, of course, so can the whole planet. And this global scale change is happening – right now!

The Agricultural Revolution was a necessary stage in our species’ evolution. So, too with the Industrial Revolution. Both revolutions have given us much; both have also taken. But it is clear that the next revolution is underway – call it the Ecological Revolution or the Great Turning. The seeds of this revolution (already there in small ways before the pandemic) are now sprouting in an accelerated way. A new global, social, economic and natural order is emerging as surely as the butterfly emerges from the cocoon. Both involve resistance and stress.

Our global civilization is waking up – growing up. Awakening can involve pain and suffering (and that involves resistance and stress). It surely does at the individual level. I experience this pain and suffering in my own continued awakening. My struggles have been compassionately witnessed by many others during conscious eldering retreats, just as I have compassionately witnessed the struggles and transformation of others emerging from their cocoons.

I know I am healing when, more and more, I choose the “Heaven” door over the “Books about Heaven” door. My Resistance is melting. So is humanity’s.

As I contemplated all this a couple of days ago, I became aware of another dynamic within myself. I had learned early on to see myself as a helpless victim and I have spent my life looking for someone to take away my pain and suffering. Now that I am an “elder-in-the-making”, through my tears that day, I finally realized – I am the one I have been waiting for.

Similarly, the current COVID-19 pandemic and related global ills such as climate change and mass extinction has surely woken us up to the fact that no one is coming to save us. Or to save the natural world of which we are an integral part.

As the wise Hopi elder has said – we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. And there’s the meaning I’ve been looking for.

Larry Gray is a professor of Environmental Studies at Yukon University in northern Canada, a guide with the Center for Conscious Eldering and Research Affiliate with the Institute for Aging & Lifelong Health at the University of Victoria. He can be reached at lgray@yukoncollege.yk.ca

Body Wisdom

by Frolic Taylor

“In our body is our life journey – a record of all that we have seen and done. In our cells are the memories of all our joys and heartbreaks and all of our errors and deep wisdom.”

Seven years ago, I attended Ron Pevny’s Conscious Eldering retreat held in central New York and so began a profound journey – difficult but infinitely rewarding – into the depths of my mind, body, heart and spirit. Today, I am a 74-year-old woman filled with acknowledgement of, and gratitude for my gifts, clarity about my highest values, and a passion to share my BodyWisdomTM seminar with my fellow elders.

When, in later life, a desire to be of service arises, we want and need our body to have the alive energy to implement our intentions. In order to have that aliveness as an aging person, I have discovered that we must summon the courage to completely “befriend” our body. Primarily this involves a willingness to retrieve memories and enter into a deeply truthful relationship with our physicality in present time. Very likely in the past, our modus operandi has been to “tough it out” or cut it out, or to just “get over” our wounds and “get on” with life.

However, scientific studies at Harvard and Tufts Universities have proven that our body stores – in its very cells – unexpressed emotions. They may be grief or fear, anger, guilt or unfulfilled longings but they also include suppressed feelings of wonderment, arousal, love, joy, and peace.

In my personal journey I found it necessary to release adversarial attitudes that I felt toward previously damaged parts, and embrace my past traumas – including an abortion, being fired from a job I loved, and a rape. Miraculously I learned that my body yearned to be connected with my heart’s experience! When I did that, I could actually feel a beautiful healing begin. Slowly but surely, my abandoned and/or neglected body parts came to feel accepted, understood, appreciated, and cared for. Ultimately over time, my body has become my beloved.

It is inevitable that just in the process of living multiple decades, we experience trauma, illness, surgery, bad sex, loss etc. But Deepak Chopra in his brilliant book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind taught me that “Our bodies are composed of energy and information…[they are] an outcropping of infinite fields spanning the universe…The biochemistry of the body is a product of awareness…[and] awareness is curative…you [can] create your body in new forms.”

As a teen, my back pain was explained by an x-ray that showed I had an extra lumbar vertebra partially fused to my sacrum. In my 40’s, I developed a uterine fibroid tumor the size of an orange and in my 50’s, came the onset of high blood pressure. Three years after attending my Conscious Eldering retreat, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a harsh wake up call but a messenger that I must nurture a keen relationship with my aging body. Its history could easily be a burden in realizing my elder-life dreams.

However by employing the following techniques five years ago, and at various times in the last 30 years, I have restored my body to strength, flexibility and freedom from pain. How? By practicing yoga poses, directing breath and vocal resonance to my seven electromagnetic fields (my own invention – I call it the Chakra-Tune Technique(TM ), guided visualization, journaling that includes the flow of automatic writing, investigating my family’s legacy burdens, studying two books -The Radiance Sutras and Wheels of Life, receiving deep tissue work and acupuncture, following light affinity, learning movement re-education, self-massage, mindful eating of life- giving food, body mapping, basking in mother nature, and performing self-designed healing ceremonies. They were and are all methods for good “stewardship” of my body.

Today, my precious physical hostess trusts that I am devoted to an enduring partnership of my mind, body, heart and spirit – till death do us part. This was the last piece I needed to complete my conscious eldering puzzle. I am now blessed with a balanced body pulsating with alive energy enabling me to implement my purposes for the last chapter(s) of my life.

I wish the same for you!

Frolic Taylor has been a teacher/guide/facilitator/leader/educator for 40+ years. She has designed a unique “Body Wisdom (TM) course grounded in the wisdom she shares in this article. She can be reached at froltay@aol.com

Stages of Aging

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.