Living My Elderhood Intentionally

by Steve Heaviland

In September, 2023 the associate pastor of my church and I started a “Sages and Souls” class, meeting every other week in small groups. We share our lives and reflect on questions from several books on a variety of topics related to aging and eldering. There is a hunger for people, including myself, to connect with and support one another on the aging journey. Then, after reading Conscious Living, Conscious Aging I knew I was ripe to attend a Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico in May, 2023.

My overriding intention for the retreat was to let go of the midlife stage of my life, including a career as a teaching tennis pro, to embrace wholeheartedly the life of becoming a conscious elder. Near the end of the retreat, we were given the opportunity to begin envisioning our ideal elderhood and identify intentions that support that vision.

Some of what emerged during that guided meditation and the subsequent period of reflection while on the land, were several intentions I was already living out as part of the rhythm of my life. These include a centering prayer practice, reading sacred literature, journaling, recording and reflecting on my night time dreams, wandering in nature, painting watercolors, and cultivating deeper relationships with my family, including two young grandchildren, and my friends. And central to my life has been my lifelong commitment to pursuing racial reconciliation and anti-racism work in partnership with an interfaith coalition in Illinois, where I live.

Other intentions which I realized were stirring in me and now seeking expression fell into the category of exploring within the next 12 months future possibilities that had been on my inner radar screen. These include a spiritual direction/companioning business, facilitating a weekend conscious eldering retreat in the Chicago-land area, and offering a conscious eldering class at the local senior center.

Following the retreat, I have had the opportunity to reflect more deeply on my intentions and why they are so important to me. What resonates deep within me is the need to build an intentional life as a conscious elder that flows from my core values. In my early 30s, I was drawn to a nine-month program to live the Benedictine rule, with an emphasis on living and learning in community, silence, solitude, prayer, learning, growth, and compassionate service. This transformative, life-giving rhythm helped shape a spiritual foundation that continues to nourish and enliven me today, and is central to the intentions that help ground me, nurture me toward wholeness, and are a catalyst for my soulful engagement in the world.

The words of Howard Thurman, the theologian and mystic, have been important to me. He wrote, “There is something in every one of you that waits for the sound of the genuine in yourself, and if you cannot hear it, you will never find what you have been searching for.” From that soulful place of listening to the sound to what is genuine in my life, my intention is to glean wisdom from my past experiences, pay attention to what is unfolding in my life, and seek to intentionally live my soul’s mission. I have trust that I am being guided by the Holy Spirit as I move toward my life’s completion.

This trust was greatly strengthened several years ago, when I had an epic dream, perhaps symbolic of a shift in energy into my emerging elderhood. I am standing on the shore of a river and invited by an old man (who seemed to be an inner wisdom figure or sage) to come onto his boat. I sit behind him as he steers the boat down the calm river. I notice on the hillsides homes that are framed but not finished. The boat now comes to an opening into a large body of water, and I notice a stirring in the water at the mouth of the river. I experience a feeling of spaciousness and curious expectation.

I am learning to trust the inner sage of myself to guide me down the gently flowing river…a deepening surrender to my soul’s slow ripening. I feel an invitation to simply enjoy and delight in the journey. I think the unframed houses may represent unlived or unhealed parts of myself beckoning me to grow into my true elder self. I am compelled to pay radical attention to the stirrings of my soul as I courageously face my fears and vulnerabilities and venture out on uncharted waters.

I brought to the Conscious Eldering retreat a small weaving I created in sixth grade. I placed it on the altar we created at the beginning of our time together. I did not realize at the time the powerful symbolic impact the weaving’s expanded meaning would have: The intentions I embrace represent a tapestry woven into a harmonious whole in concert with other conscious elders seeking to use their gifts to bring hope, healing and love to the world.

Steve Heaviland, whose background includes being a teaching tennis pro and following a lifelong commitment to pursuing racial reconciliation, can be reached at

A Message

By Anne Wennhold


The Vermont sunshine blanketed me with its golden warmth as I climbed onto the sandy bank of the swimming hole. Glorious day! I shook my head flinging water drops into the still air. Reaching for the towel I saw a small transparent spiral curled up in the grass. As the rays of the sun touched its surface it brought out a translucent glow that revealed a small snakeskin perfect from head to tail. It must have belonged to a young garter snake completing its yearly growth. 

A message?

Alerted by my Native American teachers to be aware of information relayed from the universe through nature’s beings large and small, I wondered if this could be just such a notice. After all, I had just completed my first experience facilitating a Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat! Something I had wanted to do ever since retiring and attending my first retreat several years ago.  Message or not, I decided to act as if the universe actually did send this snakeskin as confirmation of time to move into the work I desired. Carefully I wrapped the snakeskin up to take home and place on my altar.  

Message received!  

For the next eighteen years I was honored to facilitate retreats with Ron Pevny, director and creator of the Choosing Conscious Elderhood program. From Ron I learned about the micro management of time, place, content, process and, more importantly, the nuances of flow learned only in the act of doing: things never taught in the classroom or found in a book.  

And Magic happened!  Based on Ron’s carefully crafted framework, my own spiritual path was deepened and integrated even as I worked with nature, the spirits and human beings: actually because I got to work with them all!  Bringing my own spiritual tools of ritual and ceremony learned from Shamanic and Native American teachers and combining them with Ron’s spiritual format, we constructed an atmosphere of safety within which all participants could open their minds and hearts to the work at hand. 

One such ritual was to go outside early in the morning and drum a welcome to the sun as it rose over the mountains in New Mexico: a daily task  as satisfactory as greeting a loved one home after a long absence. 

After breakfast there was the ritual of drumming and lighting sage leaves, cleansing ourselves with their burning fragrance and inviting all supportive spirits to join us in our work for the day.  Rituals such as these are a repeated action or activity done to empower us and connect us to the spiritual dimension of life.

 Ceremony on the other hand tends to be a more specific celebration of one kind or another. For me, the Fire Ceremony is a bright/dark heat shaped by the Spirit of Fire leaping to the thunder of the beating drum and answering the call to be of assistance in transformation: always a mesmerizing event.   Often a fire ceremony is held to mark a time of ‘letting go’: a celebration of releasing something that no longer serves one’s life purpose.  That could be anything from an obsession with sweets, to a habit of judging others or a role that no longer fits. Opening to the nature of Fire can be cleansing, healing or an announcement of the completion of a time or a job.

In addition to gifts of nature and the spiritual helpers surrounding us, some of the best teachings I received through those years of spiritual feasting came from individuals who attended the retreats either alone, in couples or small groups: teachers, writers, healers and workers of all kinds, each intent on conscious growth as they aged.  We learned from each other’s stories of persistence, of doubt, illnesses, forgiveness, and strength and even as we witnessed each other’s truths, we were changed.  And we grew!

This last year as I retired from those mystical eighteen years as a facilitator in the CCE retreats, it was clear that it was time to let that work go. My body no longer had the energy or inclination for travel or managing weeklong events. Shortly after that retirement, while I was visiting with friends, I was asked to conduct a Fire Ceremony for them. Standing in the north, the place of the elders, of wisdom and transition, I realized I was there not just to conduct the ceremony for others as I had done for years, but that I now needed this Fire Ceremony to celebrate my own letting go of the work I loved.  As our drums sounded and the Spirit of Fire danced, I felt cocooned in a timeless peace. It stole over me like a benediction sealing the release of the past and slowly opening into the spaciousness of whatever was to come. 

Still later when I returned home and looked at the snakeskin lying on the altar, I saw it had disintegrated into minute particles lying, crystalline and sunlit, in the outline of the young snake it had clothed.

Message received!

I have spoken my Truth,

I have been witnessed and

I am forever changed.

Anne Wennhold is our conscious eldering guide emeritus, who for many years co-guided our retreats with Ron Pevny. She now runs support groups for older adults and facilitates online Memoir Writing, Drumming and other new courses.  Anne can be reached at

Turning Points

4th Tuesday monthly, 10:00 a.m. Mountain Time
March 2023 through February, 2024

In partnership with Sage-ing International, we are pleased to announce a unique new program, Turning Points, a 12-session interview series featuring 12 thought leaders whose wisdom has inspired and supported a great many people in finding one’s sense of meaning, purpose and growth on the path of conscious aging. The uniqueness of these interviews will be the focus on the pivotal turning points in the lives of those who will be interviewed by Ron Pevny, Director of the Center for Conscious Eldering and Katia Petersen, Co-Chair of Sage-ing International.

Learn more about this series.

Register for the series.

Conscious Eldering

To get a sense of what the conscious eldering retreat experience can be like, watch this short video by retreat participant Jerry O’Neill.


On Elder Activism

by John Sorenson

“Houston, we have a problem!” This was the message from three astronauts 52 years ago, as their spacecraft had a life-threatening design failure on its way to the Moon. I was a member of the Apollo engineering team that responded to that call for help. Today, within Elders Action Network (EAN), other concerned elders and I are urgently confronting national issues that include (a) life-threatening climate chaos; (b) growing economic disparity between the richest few and the lower 99%; and (c) democracy-threatening voter suppression and intimidation. These are truly Texas-size problems with cries for help from our younger generations. The following is a brief description of my improbable journey and transition from rocket scientist to one of elder activism, again answering calls for help. 

I was fortunate to have had a fulfilling career as an aerospace engineer, project manager, and business entrepreneur spanning 40+ years. In 2005 it was my time to move on. I was not ready to “retire”, but to do something different, not knowing what that would be. I began my search, realizing vaguely that I wanted to give back for the bountiful life that I had been given. 

To gain clarity and direction as well as to heal old psychic wounds, I went on a series of personal growth retreats. It was the right preliminary action for me to take, for in so doing I developed levels of forgiveness and compassion I previously didn’t have, and I regained my youthful spirit.

One retreat was a long weekend led by Ron Pevny who introduced our group to “conscious elderhood.” During the event, Ron mentioned Theodore Roszak’s book The Making of an Elder Culture. Its message was that young, rebellious men and women of the sixties and seventies had the right ideals about American society being more just and equitable. However, they did not succeed in pursuing those ideals because they had no elders to guide them. Those young have become us old seekers, we have not lost our idealism, and we benefit by having gained some elder wisdom in the intervening years. We could now claim some semblance of elderhood and harness that idealism to transition to a new American reality. But only if we have the heart and will to take it on.  

That message struck a chord. I had done a lot of complaining over the years about the dysfunction of our government and society, why so little meaningful legislation got enacted, and what did get done was often counter to achieving “a more perfect union.” I needed to quit complaining and to do something about it. This would require re-inventing myself, transitioning from being a left-brained engineer, to using more right-brain imagination and heartfelt response to what would come.    

Another retreat was an Animus Valley Institute vision quest in summer 2011. During my solo time, I received the message, “teach leadership.” I interpreted it to mean that I was to demonstrate leadership by guiding a group to take on America’s societal issues.  I had understood that whatever we decided to do would not be small and it would be working with elders. But I was stymied by the enormity of what I was imagining – how could I, with little background in organizational development or this kind of leadership, proceed? I decided to go on another vision quest the following summer.

By pure synchronicity, in December 2012, Charles Lawrence, the very wise co-leader of that second quest was on a project near where I lived. Charles called me asking if I would like to have lunch with him. I jumped at the chance for I needed to relate my still present indecision dilemma and ask for his advice. Charles listened, said I needed to ask a small group of like-minded elders to join and help me see the way forward, that with them, we would form a circle with me in the middle, and Charles would facilitate the process.

I was, throughout this, operating on intuition. I called Ron Pevny, asking if he had colleagues who could help, which he did. By asking others, the following March 2013 six men and six women met to form that circle at a monastery on the Hudson River. Those included my wife Sue, Ron, Charles facilitating, and me asking for help.  It was for all of us an emotional gathering, and from it I got the clear direction I was looking for: Yes, we should begin a movement of elders to boldly take on our society’s serious problems, it would have a spiritual base, I should take the lead in forming it, and those in the circle would back me in the process.  

The following year I sought other elders who would resonate with this vision and would consider being included in forming the response.  Most were not interested, but I was not dissuaded. The result was that in April, 2014, 47 of us, including nine from the Hudson River circle, met at Mercy Center, a convent in Burlingame, CA. We were there, as fellow co-founders, to begin a movement of elders to transition our society to one that is more just, caring, equitable, and in service to life prospering for all future generations. We had a common vision, it would have a spiritual base, but we had few details to what and how it would unfold.

During our gathering, a participant Paul Severance came to me suggesting that we should take on climate change, as that was now seen as a growing threat to humans and all life. He suggested that we go to Washington DC, meet with Members of Congress, express our concerns about the changing climate, and urge them to act. I agreed, and Paul, who was a veteran community organizer, quickly formed what has grown to be known as our “Elders Climate Action” (ECA) group. In September 2015, 85 of us went on our first of several subsequent trips to DC and met with Congress.

Over the seven years since then, we have strived to be “sacred activists” committed to growing in our inner consciousness while taking on one or more forms of outer activism. In our evolution, we adopted the name “Elders Action Network” and the mission “To build a movement of elders to confront the social, environmental and governance issues of our time.” To the ECA action group we have added three others – social justice, regenerative living, and sound democracy. EAN has flourished as a virtual organization reaching well over 20,000 elders nationwide. Each year our activism projects expand, while understanding we still have a long way to go.

I currently serve as co-leader of EAN’s Elders for Sound Democracy action group, which includes forming the Texas elders’ voting rights team. It’s our response to misguided politicians that are intent on replacing our still evolving democracy with a white-supremacist-led autocracy.  

Yes, Houston, we again have another big problem, but we counter with an intrepid group of elders willing to face this and many other societal issues. We strive for the good of our grandchildren and all future generations, and in so doing realize our destiny as being activated elders and good ancestors.  For more information, please check our website

John Sorensen is EAN’s founder. As a youth he heard the aerospace call and followed it for 45 years of engineering design and entrepreneurial experiences. In 2005 John heard another, deeper calling – time to re-invent and dedicate himself to humanitarian service. He uses earlier experiences to fulfill that calling as an elder strategist for social / environmental justice and sound governance. He can be reached at


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

by Martina Breen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

Ghost Ranch Choosing Conscious Elderhood Retreats

Ghost Ranch is located in one of the most spectacular settings in the United States. It is the awe-inspiring former home of southwestern artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Here, in this stunning landscape, we offer the Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat to help people in or approaching their senior years make this part of life the most emotionally and spiritually satisfying time.

Using reflective time in nature, life review and legacy work, ceremony, sharing councils, and a day-long solo, we focus on the major themes of conscious eldering: belief; release of old baggage; living with purpose and meaning; community; and spiritual deepening. Empowered by strong supportive community, skilled guidance, and the heart opening power of the natural world, you will have an opportunity to let go of old beliefs, attachments, and attitudes that no longer serve you, and to get in touch with expanded vision for, and commitment to, your potential as a conscious elder.

Download the May Flyer

Download the October 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

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
  • 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.