On Inertia, Aliveness, Nature and Spring

As I sit here at my desk in our new (to us) home in Fort Collins, Colorado, watching an early Spring storm build from gentle snowfall to “Winter Storm” intensity, I find myself reflecting on inertia.  The inertia that makes it difficult for me to begin writing an article for this newsletter and to make progress on my book project.  The inertia that keeps me in bed in the morning when I have had plenty of sleep.  The inertia that leads to my reading yet another “spiritual growth” book and feeling yet another temporary high when I know, thanks to the impact the many crises of these times have had on me, that what I really need is to do more of the difficult inner emotional and spiritual work I am seeing is certainly not finished   It is inertia that many registrants tell me they hope to overcome by coming to our retreats this year after feeling numbed by the seemingly endless challenges of these past two years. 

At times it is clear to me when I am giving in to inertia.  At other times I feel confused about the difference between disempowering inertia and the life supporting dynamic of lying fallow—hibernating  to restore myself for the season of growth ahead.  I want to choose to experience and savor aliveness in each of my precious and numbered elder days, yet often feel ambivalence as I settle for activities that require little effort and produce little in return.  

I know and teach that elderhood is a time for shifting from a primary focus on “doing” to a focus on “being,” yet I see so many people whose “doing” seems to give way to filling their days with shallow enjoyments that do not fulfill the human need for true aliveness and service.  To my mind, this is not “Being,” but rather, “existing”, with the choice for aliveness undermined by inertia.  So I reflect on question such as these: How can those of us committed to conscious eldering overcome such inertia while not feeling we need to constantly be efforting?;   What is a healthy balance between living consciously and allowing ourselves to just relax?;  and When we feel we need to bring more intentionality to our days, how do we overcome the inertia that stands in our way?

While I do struggle with such questions and bring them to our retreats to tap the wisdom of the elders there, most of whom have these same questions, here is what I do know about inertia as it relates to the commitment many of us have to growing into a conscious elderhood.  At any stage in life, and moreso in our later years, fulfilling our potential for growth, fulfillment, service and aliveness requires effort— pushing beyond our current perceived boundaries and comfort zones.  This is difficult, and as we age it becomes increasingly easy to tell ourselves that we are done efforting; it is now time to relax.  

This is why it is such a critical element of our conscious eldering work that we focus on becoming more and more aware of what brings us truly alive versus what provides much less fulfilling distraction or enjoyment and helps fill our hours.  A key to such awareness is whether our choices feel like they open our hearts to appreciation, gratitude and creative expression. And whether we feel we are contributing our life’s energy to the world and in reciprocity drawing in life energy, or not.  The more we feel true aliveness as we make our daily decisions, the easier it is to make the effort to push beyond our comfort zones. The reward makes it worth it.

Another critical factor is making a disciplined commitment to engage in certain practices over a period of time that will support our aliveness, growth and momentum.  We have all heard that establishing new positive habits requires that we engage in certain behaviors each day for at least a month, or 40 days, or whatever.  By doing so, these behaviors become a part of us.  It is so much easier to incorporate them into our lives, and the energies of inertia weaken.  For this reason, making a long-term commitment to our growth that involves doing tangible work each day or each week to support our emotional and spiritual growth seems to be the only way, amid inner inertia and pervasive outer distractions,  to bring forth the  conscious elder that lives within us all.  This is the reason Katia Petersen and I are writing a conscious eldering growth-book intended to serve as a year-long practice guide to the many facets of aging consciously.  

Whether you use our book to be released early next year, or my book Conscious Living, Conscious Aging or other of the fine resources available, I encourage you to make a commitment to using practices that speak to you (and some that may seem more challenging) on a regular basis.  On our retreats, participants often report that, in their experience the only way to assure that their commitment to their growth work is sustained is to schedule into their lives time that is used only for this work.  It is not sufficient to tell oneself that you will do some growth practices when you don’t have other things to do.  If your growth is truly your priority, make it a priority as you schedule your weeks..

Inertia thrives when we are isolated.  Having the support of one or more kindred spirits who share our vision for what aging can be makes all the difference in the world.  Sharing our aspirations—our challenges, our achievements, the personal growth work we are doing—with at least one other infuses our commitment and confidence with an energy that overrides disempowering beliefs about our potential as we age and the inertia that is fed by these beliefs. 

Finally, with the arrival of Spring I remind you of the vital role the natural world plays in bringing forth the aliveness of the elder within us.  Most of the people who come to our retreats, whatever their religious preferences, say that their deepest experiences of feeling in touch with the sacred, or spiritual, dimension of life have happened when they have been in nature, away from human-created structures and ideas about what has value, what is possible, what to strive for. The natural world opens the human heart and mind to what is most true and natural in the world around us and within us. Eldering is nature’s way of supporting our growth in life’s later chapters.  

I encourage you to schedule time in a natural setting this Spring—perhaps a few hours or a day—reflecting upon what is most important to you to nurture as we emerge into the season of new life. In what ways do you need to bring healing to your past so that old baggage and stale energy (strong components of inertia) do not keep you from truly blossoming into your potential?  When you think of the various dimensions of who you are, how can you intentionally act, in whatever life circumstance you find yourself, to support your need for good health; for community; for giving your gifts to a world in need; for spiritual and emotional growth; for learning; for adventure; for personal expansion, for joy.  Allow yourself to get in touch with that yearning deep inside you to feel truly alive rather than settling for less. 

Back to my challenges with inertia.  I can honestly report that having written this article in spite of my inertia, I feel life flowing through me again. It’s like night giving way to day.   

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Hearing the Voice of Guidance

By Ron Pevny

The world has been turned upside down. I need not repeat the all-too-familiar litany of
environmental, social, political and pandemic upheavals assailing our sense of safety,
normalcy and well being, thrusting us collectively into the powerful dynamic of
transition. And, as we face these larger dynamics of breakdown of old structures and
attitudes, we experience the “ordinary” and “normal” upheavals and losses that are
inherent in personal lives and especially so in our elder chapters, and are thrust us into
our own personal life passages.

We all relish, and tend to become attached to, those times when our lives are feeling
stable, with no big changes happening internally and externally. We need such times to
rest, integrate, and savor life. However, when all seems stable it is easy to begin to live
on automatic. It is all too easy to: take our many blessings for granted; blind ourselves to
our kinship with other living beings; depend upon our known personal qualities and
abilities to guide us through each day; operate within inner and outer comfort zones and
avoid moving beyond them; not have a sense of urgency about being in touch with the
spiritual depths within ourself because we don’t feel the need.

And then, here comes change and there goes our sense of stability. We are thrust into
transition and a state of inner chaos. Those qualities and attitudes that we counted on to
make our lives good are seen to be inadequate in dealing with the changes in our
overturned lives. Because of this, we individually and collectively, have the opportunity
yet again to discover new, previously untapped inner resources to support us in creating a
renewed life, one more grounded than before in authenticity, awareness, compassion, and
relationship with our spiritual guidance.

We humans have long known that the most powerful times in life are usually times of
transition. These are the times we feel most truly alive — not comfortable, but ALIVE. It
is in such times that all the comfort zones mentioned above are dismantled and we are
energetically thrown into the state of unformed energy which is the necessary ground for
all new beginnings. In writing about transition, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi said,
“all beginnings come from situations that are without form, and void.”

And mythologist Michael Meade speaks of these dark seasons of life, those times of “dark gestation”
which are necessary for the energies of a new chapter to emerge to “revitalize life again.”

It is when we are thrust into this void that our inner comfort zones are cracked open and
we have the strongest, clearest access to the intuition, creativity, deep inner guidance—
and energy to channel that guidance into new beginnings. Thrusting people at significant
life turning points into this void was the role of traditional rites of passage and the intense
preparation that accompanied them. In todays’ world, without such rites of passage, we
are nevertheless individually and collectively thrust into the void. Yet we still have the
opportunity to access the guidance and energy needed for the new beginnings that can
renew our lives, deepen our growth, and help transform our world.

The inner work of Conscious Eldering/Conscious Aging/Sage-ing is invaluable in helping
us open to the guidance of Soul, Spirit (however we name it). But, how do we recognize
guidance, and distinguish it from the many other voices within which clamor for
attention, especially in the chaos of transition? Here are some realities about guidance it
is helpful to be aware of when our comfort zone is being broken open:

  • Our dream lives tend to awaken, and we may be aware of much more dreaming;
    for some people, strong guidance comes through dreams and learning to work
    with our dreams can be invaluable.
  • Synchronicities are more likely to happen and we tend to be more attuned to their
    presence and messages; in that space of “dark gestation” synchronistic events can
    have a profound impact upon us. It has been said that synchronicity is God’s way
    of answering our prayers.
  • Our emotions become stronger and we have less “control” over them; guidance is
    often imbedded in strong emotion.
  • We have flashes of an uplifting sense of possibility that, at least momentarily, part
    the clouds of our confusion and gives us a glimpse of a positive future.

Flashes of true guidance and strong emotions are usually mixed with messages
from ego calling us back to the past or urging us to try to push our way into a new
chapter to try to create a new beginning in which we don’t have to change – a
beginning that likely is just another reflection of who we have been in the past.

I know of no prescription for infallibly knowing what is indeed guidance from our
spiritual essence versus information from personality levels of ourselves, such as our
emotions and our thinking minds. For me, distinguishing my inner guidance from the
other voices in me has been, and continues to be, a challenging work in progress. In my
current understanding and experience, these are key questions to ask ourselves in making
this discrimination:

  • Is what I feel guided to do grounded in trust (not blind trust but informed trust) or
    in fear? I believe that true guidance is not fear driven, although it may alert us to
    situations to avoid.
  • Does what seems to be guidance bring out the best in me, or something less than
    my best? True guidance brings out the best.
  • Does what feels like guidance open my heart or close it? Does it increase my
    compassion or diminish it? True guidance opens hearts.
  • When I have had experiences that in retrospect I have seen to be guidance, what
    has that felt like in my body? In my emotions? By exploring this, we gain
    understanding of how our bodies and minds know what is genuine and what is
    not.
  • When I have followed what seemed to me to be guidance, how has it turned out?
    Has some good arisen in my life? This doesn’t mean that it necessarily turned out
    just like I thought it would when I followed whatever voice it was within me, but
    rather that I can now see how following this voice resulted in something positive.

I believe that in these times of upheaval, Soul/Spirit is calling each of us to shine our light
in the darkness, illuminating a path forward for ourselves and the human family. This call
is our guidance. Our well being depends upon listening for it, and responding, with trust
that bigger energies are at work than are obvious in times of crisis.

September Ghost Ranch Retreat

 

Join us for Choosing Conscious Elderhood at Ghost Ranch on September 25 @ 4:00 pmOctober 1st @ 1:30 pm 2022.

It is in the natural world that we can most easily remember that which is authentic and natural in ourselves, and thus gain an eagle’s eye view of our place and potential in the larger web of life.  That is why, since time immemorial, at critical turning points in life, people have retreated to wilderness places to focus and intensify their inner questing and then return to their communities renewed and with new insight about how best to contribute in the next stages of their lives.  That is why many individuals feeling called to prepare for and claim the role of elder have chosen to experience the Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats over the past eighteen years. 

There is a big difference between simply becoming old and aging consciously–aging with intent. This retreat, for people in or approaching their senior years (50+), provides a dynamic experiential introduction to conscious aging and the types of inner work that are important on the path toward becoming a conscious elder.  Such an elderhood is a role that is consciously chosen and grown into through  preparation at all levels—physical, psychological and spiritual. We invite you to join us for an inspiring week at Ghost Ranch, a land of great beauty long-recognized as a place with strong earth energy and spiritual power—an ideal setting for supporting the inner work we will engage in.

Download the flyer using the link below to find full information including pricing and registration.

 

Download the flyer.

Aiming High | Hope Springs

Aiming High: Cultivating Purpose and Intentionality in Life’s Later Chapters is a highly experiential and interactive retreat for those who feel called to reach beyond their comfort zones and self inflicted limitations to look for opportunities that guide them to live into the life they want. Together we will explore and experience:

• the importance and power of purpose, and how to find and live with purpose as the compass by which we choose to develop our depth, integrity and meaning

• the essential role of passion in providing the dynamic energy that empowers our sense of purpose, and strategies for calling forth the energy of our passion

• intentionality: the dynamic process by which we aim for that which is truly important to us, and how we keep our intentionality alive amid the distractions, fears, and disempowering messages from without and within

• other practices that support growth and continual unfolding in the elder chapters of our one precious life

Download the flyer.

When You’ve Lost Your Way

The Wisdom of Returning to the Desert by Charles Ortloff

My two experiences in the wilderness with Ron Pevny and Anne Wennhold have been nothing less than life changing. The first was in 2016 and the second in 2019, one month before I retired. Nine months after my second experience, I received a diagnosis of stage 4 prostate cancer. My doctor told me, “There is no cure. We will try to keep you alive so that you die of something else.” This was totally unexpected. My two times out in the wilderness prepared me for this unexpected journey. Let me explain.

My first time in the wilderness for a Conscious Eldering retreat was not what I anticipated. I was three years away from retirement. I was looking for some direction of “what next?” From the very first night, gazing into the starry night sky of the Milky Way, I felt my heart opening up to something, but I didn’t know what. I was excited for this journey to begin.

Each morning, Ron led us in drumming. On the second day, and each day after, a strong sense came to me that I would get nothing out of this experience unless I approached it from the spirituality of this place — native American. This was a big hurdle for me. One that I accepted after only two or three days of nudgings.

On my day alone in the desert, after giving tobacco to four directions of the compass, I sat quietly and waited. I felt surprisingly comfortable with this very foreign experience. Almost immediately, I sensed a pow-wow going on. There was dancing and chanting and smoking of a pipe. I wanted to ask my question, “What’s next?” But the celebration just went on and on. It was a sacred moment. I don’t know how long it lasted. And then, unexpectedly, I had my answer. The leader looked at me and said, “You will be called snow goose.” And that was it. Not long after this the pow wow ended, but the answer stayed with me.

In the weeks that followed that first retreat, I pondered my new name. Snow geese travel great distances. The metaphor seemed clear. I was called to travel, leave my comfortable spirituality and assumptions about other religions. Several quotes came to mind that informed me of my new name. From Matthew Fox’s quote, “one river, many wells,” I was reminded of the one truth deep within the many great spiritualities of the world.

From the quote, “From the top of every great tree in the forest, the view is the same,” I was reminded that all spiritualities in their most mature forms are the same. They are love. So for the next three years, I gave myself over to the study and practice of many of the great spiritualities. I experienced a great peace and connection to myself and my world.

With one month remaining before I retired, I eagerly went back out into the wilderness on a Next Step retreat. I had no idea what I would do in retirement. I was certain, I would get a clear message in the desert.

But nothing came, not in my long walks, nor looking at the night sky, nor in any small group time. After my day alone, with once again, nothing to show from my inner work, I walked back to the main lodge a little discouraged. As I walked, an image gently passed through my mind, hardly noticeable. Had a deer or even a squirrel come into view, I would have immediately forgotten the image. But I was all alone with an image of a small, clear votive candle. The light in the candle was flickering. And that was it. Was this my new calling? Was this my new name? It did not appeal to my heroic side that responded so well to the tribal circle of elders chanting. But that was all I had. I must have shown a little disappointment with my time alone when I returned to our small group and shared my story. One dear friend mentioned, “Well, Charlie, don’t forget that song you learned as a child, ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.’” And of course, she was right. It was so simple and profound, I had missed it. But I still did not embrace it. I went home a bit confused and disappointed.

At home my confusion continued. I retired in a month with no idea what I was to do next. For eight months, I floundered. Then, I got the diagnosis of stage four prostate cancer. Everything changed. For two or three months, every morning I awoke with this elephant on my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I did not want this diagnosis. And I prayed, “When will this be over?”

After a while, remembering my times out in the desert, I got my bearings back. I had asked God to use me in retirement. Be careful what you ask for. I saw myself as that clear, small votive candle. My body would sooner or later be taken away. All the outer forms of my life would be removed, one at a time. But the light of God would continue to shine. That would be my one constant. The image of that small, clear votive candle, once so insignificant to me, has now become the answer to my question, “What next?”.

As I let go of the outer forms of my life, all the places I had been hiding behind, I now started to let other people in. I wrote a letter to my children telling them how much I loved them. I had never spoken with such forthright passion. What a gift to have that opportunity before one dies. I wrote our Christmas letter to friends and family telling them that “I am not fighting cancer. But to paraphrase, John O’Donoghue, I welcomed cancer as a guest who has gifts to offer.” My family and I have experienced these gifts from cancer many times over.

My time in the wilderness with Ron and Anne has not only been life changing, it has been life inviting. In whatever time I have left, I’m that little, clear votive candle. I try to let God’s love shine through me. I’m writing a book for my grandkids, sharing my life with them, the real me. My subtitle for the book is: “The Making of a Modern Mystic.” I co-host a weekly podcast where I share some of my spirituality. I continue my work as a spiritual director. And I am learning to play the cello. All from this new perspective of my life as the clear, small votive candle.

Life is so good.

In 2019, Charles retired after 42 years as a Lutheran pastor. He continues to do work as a mentor and spiritual friend. He enjoys writing and is currently working on a book for his family entitled “Grandpa Speaks, At Last: The Making of a Modern Mystic.” He has two other books in the works, one for those diagnosed with cancer and one outlining his own spiritual cartography, that of a contemplative. Though diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, he has never felt so alive. You can reach Charlie at ortloffcharles@gmail.com

The Evolution of Eldering

Ron Pevny was interviewed on the Mission Evolution Radio Program on the subject of “The Evolution of Eldering.”

Listen to “ME: Ron Pevny – Reclaiming the Wise Ones: Evolution of Elderhood” on Spreaker.

The host, Gwilda Wiyaka, noted that our society has lost the wisdom of elders. Ron shared information about the organization Sage-ing International and his work in Conscious Eldering.

“We allow ourselves to drift into getting old,” Ron says. “Conscious Eldering is a view of aging that recognizes that this kind of aging requires work.”

Listen to the interview on this page, or download it at Spreaker.

We Were Made For These Times

By Ron Pevny

In her beautiful essay, We Were Made for These Times, Clarissa Pinkola Estes included these powerful words: “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for. Do not lose hope. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement. The fact is that we were made for these times.”

There are days – many in fact—when my predominant feeling is something like this: “All I want is to get back to normal. To feel that I’m in control of my personal life and that at- least-somewhat conscious people and institutions are making decisions that are allowing the world to maintain a sense of normalcy. To believe that, hopefully and slowly but surely, humanity is creating a better world. In this “normal” world, I and the larger community are able to live with some degree of comfort, security, enjoyment, freedom to do what we enjoy, and live with confidence that potential crises are under control. In this ‘normal’, I and others who strive to be conscious can have plenty of opportunity to give our gifts in the ways that feel comfortable to us. We can engage in practices, go to workshops and retreats that stretch us a bit but not too much—so that we can feel good that we are growing, but not feel too disoriented or torn open by the process. We can take days off from focusing on growth, fitting it into our schedule when we feel so motivated. We can be aware that huge crises loom in the future, but take some comfort that they are dangers down the road and we can live our lives now without much disruption.”

And then, I awaken from this fantasy to see the reality of these times and remember that the crisis which are the necessary catalysts for the transformed world so many of us visualize, talk, teach and write about are not abstractions down the road. They are with us now. And coronavirus and the worldwide outrage over social injustice have right on their heals other multiple crises, including predictable yet preventable severe climate breakdown. How we respond to these, both individually and collectively, will determine whether our descendants live in a habitable, life- supportive world, or in a hell of ecological and societal collapse.

Each week I carefully choose a few webinars and podcasts to help me see the bigger picture, rekindle my hope for healing on our planet, and remind me of the importance of how I and each of us respond to the call to growth sounded by this time of crisis. Last week one of the teachers I was listening to said something that jolted me out of one of those days of hoping “normal” will soon come back. He emphatically stated that the greatest possible loss during this painful time will be if we, individually and collectively, endure and adapt to the losses and challenges, but waste the opportunity for growth—for allowing the crises we face to permanently transform our ways of relating to our planet, our selves and the humanity community.

I believe these are indeed the times we have been “learning, practicing and been in training for.” We have all been thrust into the transformative cauldron of a big-time neutral zone which, as in all significant personal and collective transition, accompanies the breakdown of old ways that are not truly life-supportive. The essential wisdom of rites of passage throughout history has been that it is in the neutral zone, with its chaos, disruption of normal life, sense of crisis, and experience of danger that the process of gestation of new beginnings happens, and the groundwork is laid for the emergence of life-enhancing new vision, new structures, and new ways of living.

The necessary collective transformations have to begin with each of us taking the importance of our growth seriously. That doesn’t mean each of us has to be doing big, visible things to promote change in society. It does not mean we forego those simple pleasures that offer us comfort and a much-needed sense of normalcy as we live each day. And our commitment to growth is certainly not served by castigating ourselves for those many times when we go unconscious, living out of habit with growth the farthest thing from our minds.

But, taking our growth seriously does require us, if we are to live as conscious elders-in- the-making, to make a priority of doing our best to get in touch with the soul wisdom within—that inner knowing of what we need to be doing, internally and externally, to grow personally and to bring healing to the human community. It means we see our growth as a necessity at a time when, with the future of humanity hanging in the balance, the contributions of true elders are absolutely necessary. And it means showering ourselves with compassion for not fully living up to the possibilities for growth that we aspire to, while remembering that each day brings with it an opportunity to reset, as we recommit to in some way using that precious day of life to grow and serve

It is a reality that our growth is, and always will be, uncomfortable. If we are to grow, we need to be willing to allow ourselves to stretch beyond our comfort zones. Growth involves cracking open our identification with our limited ego selves and the habitual ways of being that support a limited sense of self, so that new creativity, new strengths, new callings, and deepened spiritual connection can emerge. It takes courage and deep commitment to choose the challenging path of growth, and that is why this journey has often been called the Hero’s/Heroine’s Journey.

We were made for these times. Our commitment to conscious elderhood has been preparing us for these times. And now, moreso than ever, we need to find and embrace kindred spirits to support each other in taking advantage of this opportunity for personal and collective growth.

Here are three questions I suggest you take time to honestly respond to:

* What role does growth play in your understanding of conscious eldering?
* In what ways is this time of crisis catalyzing your growth as a conscious elder?

* What changes might you make in your life to support your using these crises as opportunities for growth?

Redefining Our Sense of Purpose and Meaning

By Katia Petersen

How we view the aging process affects the way we choose to live our lives. Entering into elderhood can be an amazing part of our spiritual journey especially when we choose to understand, embrace, and witness the daily miracles we experience every step of the way. Choosing to build our capacity to age consciously is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves as we celebrate the wisdom and perspectives that come with our life experiences. As Ron Pevny often points out in his teachings, “we have the choice of either growing into and expressing our elderhood or merely aging and growing old.” Research shows that as we get older, people with a sense of purpose and meaning who feel part of something bigger than themselves, feel more joyful, heal quicker, and live life more fully. At the same time, we need to acknowledge that life is not linear as we experience ups and downs, sudden changes, shifts in our perspective and ways of being and doing things. In other words life happens and we don’t always know what will be revealed to us, why or when. That is why it’s essential to redefine our sense of purpose and meaning along the way, as our needs and priorities change from lessons learned.

The elders in my family taught me about life by example and through stories. My mother told me that part of growing and changing is our ability to create space for new experiences and knowledge along the way. My grandmother taught me that life is like a bookshelf filled with books with chapters from each year of our lives. In order to create more space on the shelves so we would continue to learn and grow, we needed to share some of the books with those we loved. My father taught me the importance of being flexible and willing to adjust to the unexpected turns of events in order to navigate through life easier. He did that with amazing grace until his last breath. I am not sure I fully appreciated the wisdom in those lessons until later in my own life. I finally came to understand that there are no time limits to learning, being curious, or experiencing a sense of wonder and gratitude for the life I have already lived.

How do you redefine your sense of purpose and meaning at this point in your life?

The Gift of Stillness

As life moves forward at what sometimes feels like light-speed I find myself trying to balance the need to be productive as I continue to follow my passions, with the need for stillness. I am finally at a place in my life where I treasure and crave stillness, and I also see its value for my wellbeing. When I am still, I create spaciousness for my body to catch up with my heart and soul, experiencing the beauty of my surroundings. When I choose to be still, I find my inner peace, a place of consciousness that allows me to open up my mind, body and heart to what is possible, to find solutions, increase my creativity and find my happy place. Each one of us has the potential to find our true self and to live life with purpose and meaning. Meditation is an important part of my life, as a daily practice to help me stay centered, feel renewed and be more mindful about the present.

Where can you create a sacred place to experience the gift of stillness? What practices do you use to enhance your inner journey?

Be the Author of Your Own Story

There is something profound and liberating when we recognize that indeed we are the authors of our own story. When we realize the strength of our voice, our ability to freely express our emotions, and surround ourselves with people who see us for who we are and support our growth, our perspective shifts from “It is what it is and there is nothing I can do about it” to “I see my potential, I believe in myself, I love myself enough to open up to receiving goodness, and I can see and feel what I was born to do.”

Our minds are powerful. If we harness that power by believing that anything is possible, the rest of our being will take over and move us forward in the right direction. Conversely, if we give up, to stay in a negative place believing that the universe is out to get us and there is nothing we can do about it, that is likely the direction we will move in.

As you allow your story to unfold, imagine yourself walking with purpose and with your destination in mind. Choose the people you wish to encounter along the way, the places you want to explore; ask the questions you believe will lead you to the next chapter, and use the language that brings you inner peace, calm, energy and fulfillment.

If you could change your story, what would it be about and what would you call it?

The Fear of the Unknown

There are times in our life when an unexpected event or person shows up just at the right moment, when we need them the most. Is it a coincidence or do we energetically call for it? Maybe these are reminders to stand up for ourselves, to speak our truth, to set clear boundaries, to throw caution to the wind and do something totally out of the ordinary. I personally embrace the unexpected, sit with it, reflect on it, let go of what is not serving me well while keeping only what helps me grow. I allow myself to look at new opportunities from a place of curiosity rather than fear. I communicate with sincerity making sure I speak my truth, follow my intuition, and learn form the wisdom of the people who support me to be the best version of me.

In what ways can you choose to step into new experiences with an open heart and mind, free of fear of the unknown or of being judged for following your passion?

Celebrate the New You

We spend so much time of our lives trying to prove our worth, to please others, to live within the expectations of others. Deepak Chopra says, “Don’t step outside the box, throw the box away.” This is our time to live our lives according to us, to feed our soul with things that nurture our spiritual selves, to pay attention to our inner journey as much as we did our outer journey, because our motivation comes from a sense of new purpose. It’s time to celebrate who we are just because we can. I was blessed to have a strong foundation and a great understanding that I was my own person, with unique gifts, a voice, and the capacity to choose how to best live my life as each chapter unfolded. I love being the author of my own story and as I get older I finally own and honor the person I am meant to be and what I still have to offer. My sense of purpose and meaning continues to be redefined as my story unfolds.

How do you choose to celebrate the new YOU?

Katia Petersen, PhD, brings to the conscious eldering field decades of experience as a psychotherapist, educator, story teller, author, and director of the Conscious Aging Program of the Institute for Noetic Sciences. She and Ron Pevny team up to present the “Aiming High” retreat for the Center for Conscious Eldering, and are collaborating on a new book titled “The Art of Conscious Eldering: Your 52-Week Growthbook for Aging with Passion and Purpose.” She can be reached at katia.petersen@gmail.com

My Journey to Conscious Aging: From “What to Do” to “Who to Be”

by Susan S. Manning

This is my story about what brought me to attend a conscious aging workshop, and eventually to become a facilitator for the Center for Conscious Eldering. The meaning of conscious aging in my life has been profound. I was first exposed to conscious aging by attending a retreat at Ghost Ranch, a year before I retired as a professor of social work. I have always enjoyed a work life, and worked full-time since I was 20 years old. It seems odd to look back and remember my first job as a migrant worker. I dropped out of school when I was fifteen, married, and started a family. This was a not a good decision and reflected my adolescent mindset and stubbornness. However, it led me to the beginning of a wonderful career working with people – first in mental health and eventually as a professor in academia.

My first “real job” was as a psychiatric technician at Fort Logan Mental Health Center. There I was exposed to psychiatric illnesses and people with various mental health problems who were receiving care across a spectrum from outpatient visits to inpatient hospitalizations. It was a wonderful time of learning about myself and about people from all walks of life, and I loved the work. I continued my involvement in mental health for many years. I left the inpatient system and moved into community mental health, where I rose through the ranks to team leader of a community mental health outpatient branch. My experience in mental health taught me about the strengths and resilience we have as human beings – our abilities to cope with opportunities and successes as well as difficulties and tragedies as we go through life. It truly was an education in understanding the ramifications of life we all address as we walk our steps.

Eventually I re-entered the educational system and graduated with a Ph.D. in social work. It seemed a good fit for my experience and interest in working with people. I taught social work students at the University of Denver for the next 20 years, moving through the professorial series to Full Professor. I taught a variety of courses including social work practice, mental health, leadership, management, and ethics. During the process, I authored and published a book on ethical leadership in human services. My leadership philosophy and practice is based on my social work education and profession. It includes being proactive, honoring values and ethics, empowering self and others, having a vision, and communicating clearly and honestly. Throughout the years in mental health and social work education, I maintained a small counseling practice, working with adults suffering from anxiety, depression, marital problems, etc.

Celebrating birthdays in my 60s confronted me with the realization I was getting older! I began to worry about what it would mean to retire, since so much of my adult life had been rewarded through a “world of work.” A year before retirement I decided to attend a conscious elder retreat, led by Ron Pevny through the Center for Conscious Eldering. I came to the retreat with the notion that there I would find the answers to what I was going to do next. The retreat was held at Ghost Ranch, and the location was magical. As the days passed, and I absorbed the content, I found myself thinking about retirement from a different perspective. By the end of the week, I had changed my thinking. I was less focused on what I was going to do, and began to consider the notion of who I was going to be – as an older person, as an elder, as a “workless worker in a world of work.”

The week at Ghost Ranch opened up my mind and heart to who I am and could be in my elder years. I had to turn inward and realize the power, pain, joy and meaning in that process. It brought forward another avenue to do what I have always loved – eliciting in myself and others what is meaningful, empowering, and connected to our truth. It is finding our inner voice that acts as a guide to our future.

Since that time I have been a co-leader for conscious eldering retreats at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, and most recently, in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, working with Center for Conscious Eldering facilitator Larry Gray. In that process I have learned and absorbed new truths and wisdom from our participants, as well as provided some of my own. It is always a stimulating and rewarding experience. I have learned over the years to always trust the process, and have never been disappointed. My mantra for myself and others has been provided by a wise author, Carolyn Heilbrun (1988), who so wisely suggested, “Follow your threads.”

Susan Manning and Larry Gray will be leading the Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico May 3-9.

Befriending Difficult Emotions in a Time of Crisis


by Ron Pevny

Like many of us these days, I recently participated in a virtual sharing circle. In this gathering, members of a spiritually oriented community shared their experiences of sheltering-in-place, aka mandated social distancing, during the first stages of the age of coronavirus. One of the focusing questions which we were asked to address was, “what do you do to help yourself feel better when difficult feelings arise?” I personally found this question powerfully evocative, multidimensional, and a doorway to deeper personal and collective exploration than what arises as a first response for most people. I’d like to share with you where this question has taken me.

As I experience the myriad of emotional states that arise each day, I realize that this question about feeling better is predicated upon a mindset that grief, loneliness, fear, disorientation and hopelessness, in their various shades, are negative experiences which call for a response of finding whatever ways we can to counter them, temporarily forget them, or overlay them with positive feelings. This mindset is bound together with the belief that crises such as the current pandemic, with all the inner and external turmoil that they engender, are painful interruptions in normal life to be endured and toughed out until life again returns to normal.

However, I and many others committed to our growth are asking if returning to normal, if that is even possible, would best serve humanity and our imperiled planet when normal means climate breakdown, extreme polarization, ever-escalating income inequality, and pervasive worldwide breakdown of human-centered cultural mores and values. The coronavirus pandemic has compellingly reminded many of us of what virtually all the world’s spiritual traditions have long taught. Life-supportive personal and cultural transformation occurs only through crisis. Individuals and societies tap strength, vision, creativity and connection with our deepest wisdom when old structures and ways of identifying ourselves are cracked open; when our complacency is shattered; when we are thrust out of our comfort zones; when we are forced to acknowledge that the lives we have been living and the attitudes we have been carrying will not be sufficient for the new realities we are facing and for the possibilities that the next stages of our growth call us to manifest. This is the essence of the wisdom about growth and change reflected in the world’s wisdom traditions and in the rites of passage grounded in those traditions. Crisis is the essential catalyst for growth.

But, crisis itself is only a necessary condition for growth to happen. It is what we do with the disorientation, the grief, and hopelessness, the loneliness, the fear and vulnerability and all the other inner experiences evoked by crisis that determine whether our potential for growth is actualized. All growth experiences are passages involving two difficult dynamics: one is a severing from, or breakdown, of a sense of identity that is no longer expansive enough to hold the potential that seeks to arise in us. The other is an immersion in the painful, disorienting process that is in various growth traditions called the neutral zone or liminal (out of normal) time. A global human family in danger of ecological and cultural collapse, but full of the potential for living in mutually supportive community and for healing a gravely wounded planet, has been thrust into a crisis with the potential to be a global rite of passage. And as members of this community, each of us has been thrust into what can be our own rite of passage.

The world’s wisdom traditions tell us that in this hero/heroine’s journey of growth, the new life, the new beginnings, the new potential are found only by facing the dragons that guard the treasures. These are the dark, painful emotions that arise as the challenges of crisis seem immense. For me, facing those dragons means allowing myself to acknowledge, be with, and work to befriend these emotions when they arise rather than following the impulse to push them away with distractions to temporarily make myself feel better. This can involve just sitting with these emotions as they rise and fall. It can include journaling about them. Having conversations with them. Sharing about our difficult emotions with true friends of the heart. Creating simple rituals to honor these emotions as teachers.

By being with my grief and feelings of loss, I see myself getting in touch with what is most deeply meaningful to me—what is most essential to my well being—as I also see more clearly what activities and things tend to encourage me to live superficially day to day.

By feeling the pain, hopelessness, fear and vulnerability that arise, I am more deeply getting in touch with my compassion for my basic humanity and for my brothers and sisters in the human family who live with these emotions in situations much more difficult than mine. This is leading me to be better able to acknowledge my professional work, as well as the everyday acts of caring and compassion I have opportunities to perform, as vital service to others and to the planet, and to even more deeply commit to using my gifts in service.

My allowing myself space to feel loneliness, rather than immediately jumping to
making connections with others, I am more aware of the difference between relating to people who are true kindred spirits who feed my soul, and people with whom connections are shallow and sometimes draining. I’m becoming more aware of the difference between solitude, which feels full, and loneliness, which feels empty.

During this time when social distancing is required and I painfully feel the loss of many of the structured outdoor activities that I so enjoy, I am gaining an even deeper appreciation for my relationship with the natural world. By spending precious time outside without performance oriented activities, I’m viscerally reminded that my relationship with the life-giving beauty, bounty and energy of the natural world is more important than the role nature plays as a venue for recreational activities that I love and miss.

I’m seeing that my feelings of being lost and disoriented, without a roadmap for my future in a changed world, are showing me the limitations of my mind to plan my way forward and of my ego to control outcomes. I feel the necessity for even more strongly

committing to deepen my relationship with my inner sense of guidance, with my Soul, which knows how I can best give my gifts and thrive during this crisis and in the changed world we will live in after this crisis is over.

Perhaps the most powerful gift I am receiving from these difficult emotions is the heightened reminder of my mortality provided by the reality of being in the at-risk age group. I am making a practice of allowing my fears of death to be the ally that various spiritual traditions teach about—the ally that reminds me of how precious is each day and each experience, and how consequential each choice I make.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that we will be served by spending large amounts of time inviting or wallowing in difficult emotions. We all need at times to engage in activities that simply help us to feel better. My words here are not meant to produce guilt. But the reality is that, for most of us in this time of crisis, waves of difficult emotions will inevitably arise. We must each find our way to navigate these turbulent waves of change, and it is essential that we extend to ourselves and others plenty of healing compassion as we do so.

What I do want to communicate is that there is a big difference between “feeling better” and feeling that kind of centeredness and aliveness that comes from being fully present with our experiences. I know that when I allow myself to be present with, and work to befriend, the difficult emotions that arise, they are teachers providing important guidance for my growth. And, I also can trust that if I allow myself to experience them without judging them as negative and trying to push them away, each wave will gradually give way to a sense of centered, trusting relationship to my self and to spirit that is very satisfying and enlivening—much moreso than when I choose instead to search for activities just to help me “feel better.”

If your growth is truly your highest priority, then I encourage you to use this liminal time between an old way of being and the new one that seeks to emerge, as retreat time to deeply engage with the growth practices and spiritual disciplines that are important to you. People spend lots of money to go away on retreats where productively engaging with difficult emotions and attitudes is the goal. Now coronavirus has given us that opportunity and all it costs is willingness to, as best we are able, live beneath the chaotic surface of this extraordinary time. We have the opportunity to do the inner work through which this crisis can truly be a rite of passage for ourselves and potentially for the larger human community.

Ron Pevny is Founding Director of the Center for Conscious Eldering