September Ghost Ranch Retreat

Join us for Choosing Conscious Elderhood at Ghost Ranch on September 26 @ 4:00 pmOctober 2 @ 1:30 pm

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.

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

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?