Befriending Our Aging Bodies

by Shanti Mayberry

May your body be blessed.
May you realize that your body is a faithful and beautiful friend of your soul.

—John O’Donohue

Our body is our very best friend whether or not we realize this truth. Like a faithful servant, our body has taken us wherever we wanted to go and sheltered our soul through all the storms of life. It is our dearest companion to the end. Yet we are conditioned to ignore the body’s somatic intelligence and signals of exhaustion and stress in our speed-driven materialist culture that worships cognitive thinking and excessive productivity. But as we age it is vitally important that we heal this mind-body split and lovingly access our body’s wisdom and instinctive healing power in order to restore and maintain our health.

I’ve found that there are three primary steps to befriending our aging bodies and repairing this disconnection between cognitive and somatic (body-centered) awareness. The first is to honor the sacredness of the human body, rather than to regard it as inferior to the thinking mind, an archaic cultural legacy from Rene Descarte’s seventeenth century dictum “I think, therefore I am.”

By contrast, in the Buddhist view the body is considered to be the ‘hard-to-attain’ vehicle of liberation, and human incarnation is seen as a rare gift. For this reason, the Dalai Lama often praises his mother and all women for the great compassionate act of giving birth and hence providing the child with the possibility of enlightenment. So no matter the gender, color, size or shape of our body, we can regard it as a sacred gift and care for it as the temple of spirit.

Secondly, the practice of slowing down and paying attention to what our bodies are trying to convey is essential for healthy sage-aging. Befriending our body means listening and tending to it with compassion as we would to a close friend. We need patience and commitment to cultivate any loving relationship, but especially with our bodies. Here are a few ways we can deepen a sense of valuing and coming home to our body.

  • Become acquainted with the placement and functioning of your internal organ systems.
  • Cultivate inner body awareness of sensations, feelings and energy.
  • Feel how your body is part of Mother Nature’s larger body.
  • Practice a body scan, which is most easily done lying down in a comfortable and cozyposition. As you progressively relax, thank each part of your body, starting with the

    feet and slowly moving up to the head.

  • Learn its language, which may come in the form of pain signals, chronic tensions,anxieties, imbalance or beginnings of illness.

The third step is to turn towards the felt areas of physical or emotional discomfort with kindness and attentive inquiry. This step is the most difficult since we instinctively want to avoid pain, suppress it with pills or override it with distractions or addictive behaviors. Often these distressed areas are places in need of attention and may reveal hidden childhood wounds and suppressed emotions that can heal if accepted and embraced with compassionate awareness. And as Ron Pevny states in his book, Conscious Living, Conscious Aging, the older we get, the less able we are to suppress these trapped emotions. We simply don’t have the energy to keep them pushed down and defended with ego strategies.

Although it’s not possible in this short article to discuss the complexities of trauma healing and recovery, please know that we have all been traumatized and there is no shame in having embedded pain. Many of us did not receive the nurturing or mirroring from caretakers that we needed as infants, young children or teenagers and we coped by creating strategies to survive. These buried wounds are behind many diseases from cancers to auto-immune ailments, according to Dr. Gabor Mate in the book When the Body Says No. They must be compassionately addressed for healing to happen.

Courage, support and understanding are necessary to allow these earlier woundings to surface, but the reward for doing so is great since the frozen energy in the trauma will flow freely again in your system as it releases. And who doesn’t want more energy? That’s the main currency of aging and by doing this inner work your vitality will increase.

One way to gently address the wound is to place your hand on the area where you feel it is held and direct kind attention there, creating a sense of spaciousness around the painful contraction. You could then say something to the body like, “I’m here for you dear, you’re not alone, tell me what you need”, or “it’s going to be okay.” Just that reassurance from your adult self to the younger hurt aspects in your body can generate a sense of internal safety and support and open a communication channel between the cognitive and somatic minds.

By accepting the hurt, allowing it to be seen and receiving its message with kindness, you are opening the space to heal. Sometimes just witnessing the stored pain is sufficient to release it. Occasionally, emotional catharsis or spontaneous movement may be needed, which is why it’s advised to do such deep release work with a therapist or close friend who can offer external comfort, guidance and safety.

I offer my case as an example of how honoring the pain and regarding it as a messenger works to transform it. As a yoga and T’ai Chi instructor, I’ve always been active, fairly fit and flexible, but late one night just after I turned seventy, I slipped on my wooden stairway during a rain storm when I was rushing downstairs. The pain was excruciating, more intense than anything I’d ever experienced. On a scale of 1-10, it was a 20. This spinal and sciatica pain continued for over a year, making it difficult to walk or exercise.

My physical therapist couldn’t suggest much beyond a few therapeutic exercises, except for surgery and shots, telling me I wouldn’t be able to walk or stand for long without an operation. However, I made the choice to trust my body’s innate healing power and forego any surgical intervention.

Instead, I engaged in compassionate dialogue with my back and leg pain and was receptive to any messages from that area. As a result, I was able to release some traumatic memories stored in my back that gradually surfaced. I was also guided to do a series of slow mindful movements which unwound tensions and released blocked energy. The more I accepted and worked with the pain as a teacher, instead of fighting it, the more the pain decreased because it was being seen and heard. As Rumi said, “The cure is in the pain.” A year later I was quite free of pain and could walk and stand easily, which was an amazing testimony to the power of mindful inquiry and self-kindness.

Learning to treat our body as our dearest and closest friend makes the aging process easier. By directing loving awareness and deep listening towards our bodies, we come home to ourselves, allow healing and integration to happen and grow more fully embodied in the here and now. We realize that our body is indeed wise and self-healing and that our human incarnation is truly a precious gift.

Shanti Mayberry HHP, Ph.D., is a Sage Aging mentor, Holistic Health consultant, Somatic Ecotherapist, depth Ecopsychologist and trauma-informed meditation and movement teacher. Co-founder of the integrative health center, Inner Balance Health Group, she works with clients and groups at her office and online. You can contact her at doc.shanti@yahoo.com

Recognition Rites Honoring Elders

by Tom Pinkson

Some ten years ago I created a process that shifts attitudes about aging and older people to a position of respect and reverence—to a position that mature cultures throughout history have demonstrated by how they valued and had important roles for their elders. While I am no longer offering this program, I am writing about it here in the hopes that it will serve as a model for readers to emulate in your communities. This program offered a unique blend of ancient and contemporary knowledge that is the result of my fifty years of work bridging cultures, traditions, belief systems and peoples. Recognition Rites offers hope and a call to action in a most timely and necessary manner. It is a program that works authentically, integrally and skillfully with the challenges and opportunities for conscious renewal on the Journey of Aging.

Lee’s Story

Lee is a 76 year-old retired engineer, inventor and sailor who went through a Recognition Rite. When he began the program Lee was in deep depression, troubled by his failing body and memory loss. His former prowess and highly developed ability to do, to problem-solve, from which he had derived a lifetime of status, accomplishment, and self-esteem – were no longer working.

The Recognition Rites program led Lee through a workbook series of reflective questions reviewing his life, exploring its crucial turning points, his guiding values, beliefs, goals, coping strategies (especially his spiritual ones), as well as relationship with himself and with his significant others. Through this new perceptual lens he was able to glean previously hidden wisdom-teachings from his life experience. This enabled him to cross a transition bridge from his previous means of deriving self esteem and self worth – his various successful “doings”, the loss of which fed his depression and despair—to seeing that he now carried worthy gifts that derived from his “being”, his essence. Gifts such as patience, tolerance, faith, love, kindness, compassion, generosity, caring, courage and grace.

Realizing that he could offer his “Being-mode” gifts to others in meaningful ways gave Lee a new sense of purpose, identity and self-worth in realizing that he had a new and vital contributing role to play despite his limited physical mobility and memory difficulties. He went from feeling like a washed up, non-contributing old man, to a respected elder with purpose and meaning, available to share wisdom and resources with younger generations.

Lee then began to prepare for the second part of the Rites program – a gathering of family and friends invited to a Recognition Event to honor Lee, at which they would have opportunity to share how knowing him had impacted their life. It was explained to Lee that the event would also serve as a rite of passage leaving behind his old sense of self and stepping into his new identity as a contributing wisdom elder. Thus he needed to come up with a dramatic way – a poem, a song, a ritual, an experience he would take people through, to get his message across. Something that took him out of his comfort zone, testing his ability to bring it off. Every rite of passage has a test and this was to be Lee’s.

Close to ninety people from various communities and time frames of his Lee’s life gathered together at the big event. Lee began by welcoming people and sharing significant aspects of his life journey, then heard tender, humorous and touching Lee stories as people came forward to share their experiences of knowing him.

The second part of the evening Lee stepped forward to acknowledge his losses, then proudly take ownership of his gifts and put forth his vision for his future. He led everyone in a drumming ritual, then gave a heart-felt blessing prayer for everyone’s well-being. He pushed through his comfort zone announcing that he was now available to be called on whenever anyone was going through a rough time and needed a supportive prayer or blessing. This was the gift Lee had to offer that shifted him from feeling worthless to positive feelings of worth and purpose serving others.

He shared his epitaph, crafted into a song whose closing refrain acknowledged the essence of Lee’s growth through the Recognition Rite process – “No longer needing to be somebody, now I can just be me!” Everyone joined hands to sing the song in a closing ceremony which turned into a standing ovation for Lee.

Lee was a new person. No longer a suffering, depressed old man, he was now a publicly affirmed wisdom elder, proud and happy in his new role. He’d crossed a bridge into the role of a community resource ready to serve his people. Lee wasn’t done with his life. He was just getting started! At a follow-up session examining how to build on the event experience, Lee shared his written assessment of the Recognition Rite program.

“Dear Tom: I’m holding great Gratitude for this marvelous experience. My preparation for the event was a TOTALLY EXCELLENT experience for me. I loved the process! Absolutely self- revealing, providing a fuller understanding of my personal richness. The sessions were amazing! Through them I was able to unearth, discuss and understand my journey in greater detail, understanding myself (and appreciating myself) more fully.

Lee’s wife reported – “Lee and I want you to know how much this ceremony meant to us, and all who were invited. You helped make this one of the most memorable days of our life
together. Thank you for helping Lee see how very important his “being” state is—-how much you acknowledged and appreciated his elderhood—–helping him realize the special gifts he has developed and can give to others.

People in the audience were impacted in a healing and inspirational way by the Recognition event as well. Lee’s experience enabled them to see aging and older people in a new and positive light. A seed was planted for a new vision of aging. A retired nurse reported the experience as “one of the most positive, uplifting, emotionally satisfying celebrations I have ever witnessed. I wish for this special gift to be bestowed on many more people and also for myself.”

The Recognition Rites Program helps people create rituals in alignment with their deepest core values, their sense of mission and purpose, their highest vision of who they are and why they are here, and how to best use the gift of longevity in their quest for fulfillment.

Tom Pinkson, Ph.D., is a transpersonal psychologist in private practice, coach, mentor, ceremonial retreat and vision quest leader, author, musician, sacred storyteller, keynote speaker, and shamanic initiate. He helped start the second Hospice program in the United States and worked for thirty-two years with terminally ill children and their families at the Center for Attitudinal Healing in California. He is author of Fruitful Aging: Finding the Gold in the Golden Years, and several other books. Tom can be reached at tompinkson@gmail.com.

Eldering: The Moonlight Years

By Nancy Hemesath

During this time of year when darkness takes a larger proportion of our days, I find myself wanting to skip the winter months and get right into spring. It is a good thing I do not have the power and means to make this happen! Winter has its own importance to give life. Without it my life and all of nature would be diminished. This is true both literally and figuratively.

Light and darkness are complementary, the yin and yang of life. Light would have no meaning without darkness and vice-versa. The balance creates wholeness. Nature demonstrates this as the trees through their roots bulk up on the soil’s nutrients and water during the winter months so they will have enough energy to grow buds and leaves in the spring. Hibernation of some animals is another example of nature’s way of enabling survival and wholeness. Bears reduce body temperature, heart rate, breathing and consciousness in order to survive the harsh winter conditions and lack of food. It is their annual rest period.

We humans mimic the pattern of hibernation by spending more time indoors with furnaces and fireplaces blazing. Physical activity is reduced, especially in the Third Chapter, and we find more sedentary ways to spend our time. The pace is less hectic and we enjoy the quiet and the solitude.

To counter my initial emotional response to winter, I reflect on the aspects I really enjoy. At this time of year, I pull out my jigsaw puzzle board and enjoy many challenging hours of assembling 1,000 piece pictures at a time. Another highlight of the winter months for me is watching basketball. I not longer attend the games in person but I schedule the times to watch them on television. It is fun to have a favorite team to follow! Maybe best of all is cuddling up with a good book when one is not tempted to go outside.

While we tend to identify winter with darkness, light is also an essential aspect of the season. Moonlight is to winter what sunlight is summer. Subconsciously or consciously, the sun promotes wakefulness, action, energy, and productivity. Moonlight, on the other hand, softens the gaze and promotes rest, gentleness, deep listening and peace. Some archetypes associate the sunlight with the masculine and the moonlight with the feminine. Of course, it is stereotypical to assume only men carry the masculine traits and women the feminine since both men and women carry both to varying degrees. There is a need for both in every whole person. The masculine or sunlight doers would be little more than workaholics without reflection. The feminine of moonlight people would reflect and rest but get little accomplished. I don’t know any person who is exclusively one or the other. As in all of nature, life only works if we have a balance of both.

Another archetype of the life cycle is the four seasons. Spring represents youth and summer is full, generative adulthood. Autumn is the time of harvest of the completed season and the slowing down of activity. Winter is the time of facing mortality as we do in our elder years.

Seeing the elder years as the moonlight years illustrates some of the importance of this time. It is not a time without light but a time to gaze upon our lives with gentleness. It is time to let go of the glare of self-reproach, regrets and judgements. Flaws disappear in the softened light of the moon. We are able to see what is significant and release the rest

It is in the moonlight that we spend time reflecting on our memories. We see what has contributed to our lives to make us who are have become. We cherish the gifts of relationships, shared experiences, family time, and enjoyable days. When regrets and old hurts emerge, we look at them without harshness but with “the eyes of kindness” for ourselves and others.

The moonlight years lend themselves to reflection on the most important life questions, such as…

Who are the people who have blessed my life? Have I told them? What highlight events have enriched my journey?
Where do I find beauty and goodness?
Have I forgiven all the old hurts and thus healed relationships? Have I forgiven myself for my shortcomings?

Who has loved me and whom have I loved?

Reviewing our lives with soft twilight or reverent candlelight prepares us to complete our lives with grace, whatever losses and sufferings we may face. The moonlight can shine through the windows of our inner lives, bringing gentle, soothing light into dark rooms.

Nancy Hemesath is retired from non-profit leadership, spending her Third Chapter as a life coach. Encore Coaching specializes in supporting people in finding meaning, purpose and joy in post-retirement years. She offers personal coaching, presentations, workshops, book studies and Wisdom Circles. She can be reached
at nanhemesath@gmail.com.

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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 calhonfc@aol.com.

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.

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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 (https://www.eldernomad.com) to keep notes on what has meaning and heart for me. I created a poster – Elder Spirit for the same reason and I write notes to myself to sort out the conflicts, confusions that inevitably show up from time to time. I remind myself that what I imagine I create, what I feel I attract and what I think I become. There are many tools for getting at important principles when appropriate. I have used many and hold some for later work. Among these are: legacy letters, death lodge meditation, life review, ten intentions, notes to yourself, lifeline discovery, reframing, healing the past, accepting mortality, letting go. It is important to find the ones that work for you at the right time.

When I look back at my former life I see conflicting goals, questionable strategies, and forced tactics to rationalize many of my actions that were often emotionally harmful. I believe what truly differentiates authentic individuals is their adherence to inner values, not those meant for others to hear. How people actually live their lives, what I would call values in action, are key. I have to work on it continuously – finding my way through my messy life – and I continue to struggle with it. I am grateful for the signposts I have on my journey.

The retreat happened at the right time for me. Everyone participating went through a change, some more profound than others. It was so palpable you could feel the shift in energy after the solo journeys. What each of us had in common was the change we felt but with change comes transition. Our transitions are different. The difference is the speed and dynamics as we each go through our own unique transitions. Change is an event, transitions are a different sort.

It may seem callous for me to speak in the first person and not the third person but each of us must accept our journey. It is ours alone. And though we can explore where others have been, we are unique in our own right. I have little to impart as “you must do this” or “here’s the path you should take” because it isn’t that easy and that would be presumptuous of me. I had spent many years in a practice where telling others what to do was part of the job. And yet, when I honestly reviewed my life and looked at the lives of other advice givers I have known, I began to question whether I and they were actually living what we have preached. This is not a criticism or indictment of myself; the coaching, advising, facilitation was good for the most part. It is an awareness I have now as an increasingly conscious elder nomad in the October of my life of the importance of coming to truly know my own needs and inner dynamics.

In trusting yourself on this journey, which is yours alone, you live your values as best you can and in so doing become a positive example for others you meet. I remind myself often “it is what it is” and “if it’s to be it’s up to me. As a conscious Elder Nomad, every moment is a lifetime. None of these moments will be repeated and there will come a time when memories fade and what is left is now – this time – this place – this moment. I try hard to simply be myself and hope that is enough to make a positive difference for myself and in those I meet. And, if you think about it, you meet yourself every day. So I ask myself: what difference do I intend to make in my life each moment?

Trust this journey…trust yourself…allow it to happen…with an open mind and an open heart.

Kris Govaars curates the Elder Nomad website www.eldernomad.com and can be reached at svengovaars@gmail.com – 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 oldfirehousebooks.com or by contacting Bob at bob@bobcalhounpsychologist.com

Wintering

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 a.rider@sage-ing.org.

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!”