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.