The Good News In Bad Times

By Randy Morris

Bad news seems to be everywhere these days, like dark clouds hanging over everything we do. From climate chaos to zoonotic diseases to species destruction to the rise of fascism – the darkness around us is deep. But what if, rather than turn our eyes away from the catastrophes happening around us, we lean into the dark clouds and surrender to what they have to say? Maybe there are surprising virtues hidden in those dark clouds of uncertainty, grief and fear. Perhaps they can clarify ways to stay spiritually whole and mentally healthy in the very midst of collapse. If so, that would be very Good News indeed!

When I search for a model that can bring meaning to the current state of humanity, I find it in the language of initiation and rites of passage. I believe the human species is going through a generations-long rite of passage in which it must die to its most cherished beliefs about itself. Only when we face our darkest fears and open our hearts to witness the magnitude of the suffering, suffering that will surely get worse in the coming years, can we enter the liminal and unknowable vessel of our collective transformation. I can’t see a future beyond this middle passage, this ‘dark night of the species soul’. To predict anything about it would be using an old consciousness to anticipate a new consciousness never seen before. As Einstein so presciently said, “You can’t solve a problem using the same consciousness that created it.”

So in the midst of the uncertainty, sorrow and fear of humanity’s collective rite of passage, its dark night of the species soul, what is The Good News? How can I live a life of purpose and meaning in a deteriorating world without sinking into depression, bitterness, suspicion, and hatred? How can I be a good citizen of these dark times?

I am reminded of a lesson I learned from the psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan, who speaks about the revelatory power of what she calls the ‘dark emotions’. When we are able to be in the presence of these emotions with awareness and receptivity, they become our teachers. Greenspan writes, “The dark emotions bring us information and supply us with energy – the raw material of spiritual empowerment and transformation. When we know how to listen to them, we can ride their energy, like a wave, with awareness as our protection. Emotional energy flows, and a hidden doorway in the heart opens. Something shifts. A transmutation occurs: a movement through the pain to spiritual power. … Finding the power of the sacred, not despite suffering, but in the midst of it: this is the alchemy of the dark emotions.”

In the age of Collapse, it is Good News that the power of the sacred reveals itself in the midst of suffering and pain. Let’s see if we can locate some of the sacred revelations that await us if we abandon hope, embrace courage, and surrender to the wisdom of the dark emotions.

Take the darkness of Uncertainty. For thousands of years, Western culture has pursued truth, leading to the rigors of scientific inquiry and the idea of a ‘well ordered’ life. But now we are living in an age when certainty and order are challenged by gaslighting, misinformation and feckless leaders who spout opinions mired in ‘alternative’ facts. What revelation awaits us in the

dark emotion of uncertainty? In such a time, it is more important than ever that we become ‘students of uncertainty’ and engage in a quest to locate within ourselves a mythopoetic identity – the personal destiny with which we were born and which yearns to express itself — that is both resilient and timeless, that can hold the tension of opposites between fixed opinions and free- floating anxiety, that can find some sense of constancy amidst the flux of experience.

By opening ourselves to uncertainty and letting go of fixed notions, we enter the future improvisationally, not certain of anything, but deeply engaged in the art of creating music out of whatever the future brings our way. It is in such a state that the revelation of your own mytho- poetic identity will most likely announce itself to you. And once you know where you stand, where your ecological niche is in the web of life, you are grounded in the dynamic processes of the cosmos itself, a place of deep belonging and communion. How can that not be Good News in bad times?

What about the darkness of grief and sorrow? What Good News, what revelation, awaits us there? Contrary to America’s death-phobic assumptions, sorrow is an intensely communal emotion, deserving of community rituals of solidarity and release. Community grief rituals create Holy Ground where we can process the tears that deserve to be shed for both our personal losses and the immense sorrows of the world, including the innocent victims of violence, starvation and war. Not only that, sorrow reveals a deeper sense of who we are, reminding us of our place in the wider community of the more-than-human world. To grieve the extinction of a species, the beauty of which took millions of years to create, but which will never again be seen on the face of the earth, is to be in a loving relationship with those beings and with the creative forces of the universe that gave them birth. It is to be reminded of them as our kin, our ancestors, our teachers, our beloveds – not as simply an object among other objects, but as a ‘communion of subjects’ of which we are all a part. Our apprenticeship to sorrow has the revelatory power to awaken us to our own exquisite but perilous relationship to the web of life that gave us birth, and to which we will return. How can this not be Good News in bad times?

And what about this pervasive sense of fear, the foreboding sense of doom that sits like a heavy rock on our chests, hardening our hearts to the wonder and joy that surround us? What is the revelatory power of that dark emotion? The Good News that fear is teaching us is that a new god-image is emerging in the global psyche of humanity as a whole – not as a new religion, but as an awareness that underlies all religions. No one can say for sure what form it will take, but hints are all about us. We can hear the “Sacred Other” speaking to us through dreams, intuitions, intense body states, and other psychic phenomena. That ‘Other’ is the Dream of the Cosmos speaking to us. Our job, as conscious human beings attuned to the Creative Intelligence, is to prepare a receptive place for this guidance to incarnate and to act upon the hints that it is giving. In doing so, we fulfill the cosmic role of human intelligence and play our part in the ongoing evolution of the Earth, assisting Earth to fulfill its cosmic destiny: to become a planet of Love. How can that not be Good News in bad times?

So it appears that being born in dark times like these is not a curse, but an opportunity; not an affliction, but an assignment! Everything that we love and hold dear is heightened in intensity. Gratitude and beauty are immediately accessible in the simplicities of everyday life. Excitement hovers in the midst of the uncertainty. Curiosity abounds, and we are being called by the Creative Intelligence of the Cosmos to live the most meaningful lives ever lived on this planet. When we approach this pregnant time with gratitude and reverence, great things will decide to approach us. Good News, indeed!

Randy Morris, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus at Antioch University Seattle where he taught in the BA Liberal Studies Program for 30 years and was the coordinator of the Psychology and Spiritual Studies concentrations. His search for an eco-spiritual revelation adequate for our dark night of the species soul has led him through experiences as a vision quest guide, dream worker, martial artist, musician, community ritual leader and elder-in-training. Randy’s investment in the future takes the shape of five grandchildren. He can be reached at rmorris@antioch.edu.

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging, 2024 Edition

New edition in July 2024

A new edition of Ron Pevny’s book, Conscious Living, Conscious Aging will be published in July 2024. The book will be available at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble, or request your copy from your local bookstore.

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging is an inspiring guide to the next chapter of your life. We’re living longer, healthier lives than ever before, and this book helps you to make the most of these new opportunities.

A new edition for 2024 updates the wise words for a new landscape.

Reviews

“Ron Pevny’s book Conscious Living, Conscious Aging is a unique and valuable resource for those seeking purpose, service, and continual growth in the later chapters of their lives. Its uniqueness lies in its weaving together of Sage-ing and other conscious aging practices, deep wisdom about life transitions and rites of passage, and inspiring stories from those who have chosen to engage in this inner work, all with the goal of supporting the development of the conscious elders our world urgently needs.” — Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, co-author of From Age-ing to Sage-ing

“Ron Pevny’s spot-on wisdom on the elegance of aging is spiritually relevant and deeply useful. His is an inspiring voice for living in greater mindfulness within each present moment.” — Michael Bernard Beckwith, author of Life Visioning

“Conscious Living, Conscious Aging fills a conspicuous gap in the literature concerning positive aspects of growing older…The book is well-documented, clearly written, and insightful.” — Robert C. Atchley, PhD, author of Spirituality and Aging

“Ron Pevny’s book Conscious Living, Conscious Aging is a gem of a book that I would recommend to every self-reflective person at or beyond mid-life. It will entice you on a journey of inner growth that makes the elder years richer and more satisfying and vital than most people can imagine. It could change the paradigm of aging and how elders can reclaim their traditional social roles as wise stewards and mentors. Ron brings to the book the wisdom of his great experience, both personal and from leading ‘Choosing Conscious Elderhood’ retreats and other nature-based programs (full disclosure: I participated in one recently). Each chapter takes up one of the issues we need to confront and work through to be conscious elders––for example, healing and releasing the past through reframing our stories , healing relationships, forgiving ourselves and others, and letting go of outworn identities; facing our mortality; building legacy, and balancing serving and savoring. Each chapter ends with an illustrative “story by the fire”; one of the most compelling for me was ‘From Grief to Gratitude in the Death Lodge,’ about a mother’s healing from her daughter’s suicide several years previously. Resources and exercises are appended. The writing is elegant and lucid, and yet at the same time it’s as though you are having a conversation with Ron around a campfire. I’m gifting this book to friends for the holidays.” –Meg Newhouse

“Prophetic wisdom!!! This book should be required reading for all who turn 50! The author’s writing is a culmination of sages across all time lines and cultures. The book is definitely most beneficial when it is used in a circle — in other words, when you put the words into action — for the purposes of personal reflection, support, and affirmation. When you engage the book on this level, you reap a treasure trove of gifts.” –Jivana

“Our youth oriented society truly needs this book. Those of us who are already elders and those approaching elder hood need the encouragement and clear message of what can be accomplished, no matter your “old” age. It is all about Choice, folks. This writing defines it beautifully.” –Kathleen Guest

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 www.eldersaction.org

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 jasoren10@gmail.com

 

A Feather on Your Wings

by Katia Petersen

“Grandma, do you believe in Angels?” “Of course I do, she replied” “How do you know they exist and how do I become an Angel I ask?” “Well, I know they exist in my heart, and by looking at the miracles around us, like the sun rising every day giving us a new beginning, plants and trees coming back to life after the winter, the rain that nurtures our earth, a butterfly coming out of a cocoon in all its beauty, and so much more. All you have to do is pay attention. As for earning your angel wings, it happens one feather at a time, by doing things that touch people’s lives in special ways, and help you be a better person.” At that moment I declared that I would start earning my angel wings, and she gently reminded me that it takes a lifetime to do that. From that day on, she guided me to keep my heart and mind open, to listen deeply, to pay attention to what goes on around me, to listen without judgment, to love fully, and look for goodness in every human being. She explained that there will be challenging times, but also joy, and it will take courage to keep moving forward. All I had to do was trust my intuition and ask for helpalong the way.”

Thinking back, I believe, that special moment in time, was a big, impactful snapshot in my life as an 8-year-old, who was curious about everything and asked a lot of questions, simply because I wanted to find answers. My grandma along with my parents, taught me about life through stories and by example. I was exposed to something I could not quite understand other than that it all felt right with my world when I was given the opportunity to learn and grow. It was years later that I realized the significance of that particular conversation with my grandmother as the beginning of my spiritual journey.

Early on in my childhood I begun to have sensory experiences, and premonitions through repetitive dreams, especially during challenging times. My grandmother and mother nurtured my intuitive side and taught me to respect it and use it as a guide for unexpected events. As I grew older and went deeper in my exploration of the divine, those sensory experiences increased, and my dreams became stronger and more active. I was no longer afraid or questioning any of it because I knew it was all a part of me and as natural as breathing.

As a teacher of Sage-ing (another name for conscious eldering) I have learned that if we wish to deepen our spirituality, it’s essential to pay attention to both our inner and outer work. Spirituality is one of the dimensions seeking to encourage the idea that goodness, kindness and a sense of hope can prevail in each of us regardless of where we happen to be on our journey. When we choose to show up energetically with the intention that we can generate a new way of being, we can actually shine our inner light, radiating a sense of wellness and positive outcomes.

As we evolve into conscious elderhood, although we cannot predict the future or understand what’s yet to come, we can choose to be open to new possibilities and the belief that we have the capacity to live life fully, making a difference in the world. As Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, whose work introduced Sage-ing to the world said, “Elders serve as conduits between the divine realm and the mundane world, making the abstract truths of spirituality accessible to the community by embodying them in their everyday behavior.”

Entering the threshold of my personal Sage-ing journey, I find myself needing space for things that matter to me right now. I am learning to pause and ground myself in the present moment. I look forward to quiet time to nurture my soul. I have a strong need for connection to a community, and I treasure time with my family and close friends. To help me stay present and aware, I deliberately use rituals that support my spiritual growth. I begin each day with an intention for the kind of day I want to live into and I meditate in order to quiet my mind so I can connect with my inner self. I attune to the energy around me and access my intuition as my guide as I navigate

And I end each day with a sense of gratitude for being given the gift of life.

At the end of each day, I have a practice of asking questions such as What am I not hearing or seeing? What have I learned from these particular experiences of today? What inspired me today? What shook up my world? What am I willing to do differently? How do I choose to embrace the unexpected? Such questions help mark both an ending of a day and the beginning of something new and priceless. I know that I am the author of my own story and have the power to choose my own narrative; the people in it, and all my dreams and wishes as I continue to live my life with purpose. I have so often seen that once I and others have clarity and believe in our story, the Universe has such an elegant way of aligning with us, by providing a sequence of events to support our deepest desires and hopes,

My desire is to be an active participant in all that I experience throughout my life. I am grateful to be on this spiritual journey, as I continue to earn my angel wings …….one feather at a time.

Katia Petersen plays a lead role in Sage-ing International, and is President of Petersen Argo Inc., an organization focusing on Transformational Leadership. She can be reached at katia.petersen57@gmail.com

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 sheaviland1@gmail.com

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 annewennhold@gmail.com

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

by Martina Breen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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

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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.