Sun and Snake

by Shaun Dempsey

Growing up in a vigorously catholic household had its benefits and challenges. On the one hand I was introduced to prayer and ritual – staple disciplines of my life today even if they take on a very different appearance to what they did when I was a child. On the other hand I was denied access to a whole range of thoughts and feelings that my soul was looking for to make itself whole.

So I limped through childhood, willed myself through early adulthood and by the time I was in my 40’s I’d had enough stumbles on the road of life – a complete change of career, one failed marriage, some chronic health problems – to have landed safely inside my mothership of a supportive second marriage with one beautiful wife and two beautiful children. This gave me time to think, and at the age of 50, I arranged to go to the US to engage in a conscious eldering retreat in the hope that I would be able to unlock some of the secrets that I knew lay inside me.

Ghost Ranch in New Mexico is a serene retreat location in the high desert surrounded by red rock country and yellow mesas. The purity of sunlight there encouraged the regular pilgrimage of the much beloved artist Georgia O’Keeffe who made it her home and studio for 40 years. The ideal place for retreat and ritual. And so I invested time to create prayers and a ritual to allow me to imbue three wooden sticks that had been resting on my altar back home prior to the retreat for a quarter of a year, with some long terms qualities I wanted to transform – shame, naivety, and powerlessness. When I burned the sticks on the retreat, I underwent an internal transformation replacing those qualities with courage, discernment and visibility respectively. It felt important to not reject these long term qualities outright, but to recognise how they had literally kept me alive for many years. My prayer to transform shame went like this:

I want to express my deepest gratitude to that part of me that felt shame for such a long time. If it wasn’t for that part I think I would have been so much more visible and vulnerable and been exposed to so much more negative attention from my mother, or just people in general. Shame kept me small, unseen and safe.

But now in my life I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by my family who constantly allow me to feel safe and who consistently provide an environment in which I can be appropriately vulnerable without fear of criticism or shaming. So, I’m releasing that part of me that tends to feel shame solely to provide a sense of safety and I’m going to ask that part of me if it will focus instead on feeling courageous enough to feel secure in my worth. It’s the same part and the same energy but instead of feeling ashamed about who I am, it will help me to be courageous, quietly confident, and stand securely in the world knowing I have something worthy to offer. I think this will serve me better as I turn 50 years old and grow into my elderhood.

Similar prayers were created for the qualities of naivety and powerlessness. The burning of my shame, naivety and powerlessness sticks in the fire that evening during the retreat, preceded a day of silence spent in solitude and out in nature. So the next morning I made my way out to the location I’d chosen and set up my space. But it wasn’t long before the effects of another disrupted night’s sleep kicked in and I found myself a soft sandy place in which to lie down. The morning was just the right temperature and I was able to take off my grey hoodie so I could use it as a pillow. I had my soft black hat over my face and eyes and I was lying on my right-hand side and feeling very comfortable. The clouds were present, but themorning sun was trying to break through and I felt myself drifting into a different level of consciousness. Suddenly, even with my eyes closed, I became aware that the sun did break through the clouds with its full force as if accompanied by a clap of thunder. And literally at the same moment I felt it hit my cheek, I also had a visual flash of lights in my closed eyes – exactly the same as I do when I’m drifting off to sleep and there’s a sudden noise. Aware that something had changed, I allowed myself to drift into a place of magic.

I was warming up nicely and felt very heavy and dense – but because I had all day to spend in this location, I knew I had as much time as I wanted and I was able to fully relax into the sensation of heaviness and warmth. There was no urgency and no time frames and no responsibility. All I had to do was lie there and soak up this feeling. It was almost as if I couldn’t get up. Suddenly I was struck with the thought that was a cold-blooded snake and the sun was warming me up after a cold night, or even after hibernating through the winter. And by the grace of magic, in that moment I actually was a snake! I felt sluggish and heavy and I was just soaking up the sun and all the ‘snake’ energy through the ground. There was a real connection between being on the ground and soaking up ‘snake’ energy, and feeling the sun coming down at me from the sky. It also occurred to me at this time that the moment I felt the sun break through the clouds above me, and heard the thunderclap, and saw the flashes was the same moment the snake energy pierced me upward like a broadsword through the earth. Sun and snake. Snake and sun. I felt myself surrendering totally to this experience and lay fully immersed in my new identity.

For as long as I can remember I have worshipped the Sun and sun symbols – particularly Celtic spirals. And in that moment on the ground, I also became aware of my recent exposure to snakes: my beloved 12 year old dog had been killed months before by a snake in the back yard; a client brought in his pet snake several weeks prior and entwined it gently around my neck and arms; and internally I had become aware of a benevolent, serpentine, protective part inside me that had kept me safe for decades. These two elements of sun and snake mingled together as I lay on the ground, and in that moment, understanding tumbled down and collapsed on my crown. St Patrick did not banish the snakes from Ireland. In fact there never were any snakes in Ireland. The ‘snakes’ he was alleged to have driven out of Ireland were actually the pagan Druid priests who had tattoos of serpents on their forearms. The reference to the snakes is a metaphor for St Patrick driving the Druids out of Ireland – driving the pagan magicians out of Ireland. I became acutely aware of my second name being Patrick and the role that my catholic upbringing had in banishing my own snakes, my own Druids, my own inherent spiritual, magical, earthy connections. But now, the sun, snakes and understanding had come flooding back in. Penetrating me through some cosmic hole in the ground at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico where I had been laying down to warm up.

Some hours later, as I finally left the earth and stood up, vertical, but still aware of my snake energy, I felt my old skin drop away and hit the ground at Ghost Ranch. My understanding is that it remains there – having decomposed into the dirt. But of course, I moved on. A few days later I took the flight back home to Australia and touched down into Sydney airport. When I arrived back onto home soil, like the good pagan I am, I thanked the spirits of the North, East, South and West for my safe journey and then commenced the two connecting flights home to my regional town in North Queensland. After nearly 48 hours in time and 12,000km in space from having left the US, my wife picked me up at the airport and as we drove the final few kilometres home – not 50 metres from the front door as we were slowing down to enter the driveway, a snake crossed the road in front of us. We slowed down to let it slither off safely into the bush – gone but not forgotten.

Shaun Dempsey is a psychotherapist in Queensland, Australia. He can be reached at

Choosing Conscious Elderhood October 7 – October 13 Ghost Ranch

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.

An Encounter with Red Rocks, Snake and Transition

By Wendy Dudley

My pulse tripled and my muscles tightened. Only two hours had passed on my solo day in the desert at Ghost Ranch. And here I was, high on the cliff rocks, facing a snake. I live in the foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, so am used to dealing with bears and cougars, but not a venomous Snake. My adrenaline still rushing, my inner voice began to tell me I was fine, that this was meant to be, that things were unfolding as they must. I was outside my comfort zone, and I knew this is where we learn the big lessons. 

Meeting Snake was the pinnacle moment of my week-long Choosing Conscious Elderhood (CCE) retreat, held under the masterful guidance of co-leaders Ron Pevny and Anne Wennhold. 

Our group was well prepared for our solo. We had discussed our inner fears, and what we needed to release, so that we could move forward in a more free and joyous state.

We learned how important it is to come from our hearts, and to speak our truth, and how anything is possible if we overcome our self-limitations and remain open. 

Using intent as our gateway, we opened ourselves to receive light and love, and messages that can arrive through visions and from Nature. 

Surrounded by magnificent red rock cliffs and an oceanic sky, Ghost Ranch is the ideal setting for the CCE retreat, as it is in Nature where we often come face-to-face with our truths.  With daily opportunities to commune with the high desert environment, participants are washed with birdsong and the beauty of the spacious and humbling land. Science has proven that being in the natural world can take us into a peaceful state, where we often find clarity in our focus, thoughts and intentions. Some may call this space the Field, the Mystery, the Cosmos, God, or Spirit.  The label does not matter.  What is important is that we hold this sacred space dear to our hearts, for this is where we seek authenticity and our personal truths which help guide us on our unique paths. It is for this reason that indigenous peoples sought their life purpose through vision quests, when they left their villages and spent time alone steeped in Nature. 

By wandering among the trees, along creeks, or in the mountains, we are reminded that we are not separate from Nature. Rather, we are part of it.  We are all interconnected through a web of energy.  And in doing so, we welcome Spirituality into our lives. 

Nature is an integral element of the CCE program, whether sitting under a sea of stars, hiking mesa trails, or simply meditating beneath a canopy of arroyo cottonwoods.  With loving and caring support by fellow group members, and respectful guidance from the co-leaders, Nature also becomes our teacher and healer. 

Basking in the outdoors, we learn that Nature is full of signs to help guide us on our paths.  We may find meaning in a particular bird, the shape of a cloud, or an animal crossing our path.  The CCE program teaches us to be open, to be willing to receive and accept what is shown us. 

And so on this day, I was given Snake, symbolizing transformation since it sheds its skin, casting off an old identity for a new one. According to many cultures, it is also the sign of a medicinal healer, which mirrored my interests in Medical Qi Gong, Shamanic work, and art therapy. Snake rested half in shadow, half in sunlight, marking the importance of seeking balance in all that we do. It also was stretched out, an indication of awakening from a coiled state, as we move from karma to dharma. These signs of healing were significant, as I had arrived at Ghost Ranch with broken trust. Through the letting-go ceremonies and heartfelt group discussions in the retreat, I began to heal, to feel I could trust again — as in trust myself, trust Nature’s signs, and thus begin to trust others. 

After spending five hours with Snake — during which time I rattled to it and played my flute — I walked up a windy ridge. I felt like I was wrapped in a ceremonial blanket, as I gazed over the mesa and incoming rain squalls. I let the wind rustle my hair, as the rain washed and cleansed my soul. In that moment, I took back all the power I had mistakenly given away. I was now truly the co-creator of the rest of my life, consciously aware that my path was a worthy one, and that I myself was worthy. I felt my calling, as I received affirmation that I was to teach and share my love of Nature through my practice of shamanism and my painted drums which send out healing vibrations when played, echoing the heartbeat we sense and hear when we are still in the womb. To know one’s sense of purpose, and to answer it, is transformational and life-changing.

And so, without surprise, when I returned to the rock I had shared with Snake, my reptilian teacher was gone. Its lessons had been passed. My old skins were shed. 

It was up there, along the cliffs, where the eagles nest and the ravens dip and dive and dance, that my life began to take on a different shape. This could not happen in a boardroom, or among the competing distractions of an urban environment.  This could only happen in Nature, in the truth of its songs and chants and meaningful encounters. 

From modern-day spiritualists to monastic monks to native North Americans, many spend time in Nature. It is the ideal environment for meditation, since the Earth’s electromagnetic frequency is one that promotes relaxation and restoration.  When we are in Nature, the tendency is to synchronize with its healing frequency, which also puts us into a state of increased happiness and compassion. 

If there is one animal that reflects the essence of the CCE program, it is Snake. 

Through loving and gentle support, Ron and Anne assist Elders-in-the making with shedding patterns, releasing what is no longer serving us well, and setting intentions as to how we wish to live the rest of our lives.  I left the CCE retreat with increased awareness of the conscious state, which is where our dreams and wishes reside, and awareness of the importance of a caring and supportive network. I knew I would always embrace Life with passion, and that our truth comes from deep within our souls. Others may guide us, but only we hold the answers for our unique path.  

Building an altar is part of the CCE program, and today, a Zuni stone carving of a fully stretched snake holds a place of honor there, as does the CCE program that allowed me to so fully transform, so that I may trust myself to become the keeper of my own flame, knowing no one has the right to blow it out. 

The drumbeats and rattling, which welcomed each morning of our retreat, continue to vibrate throughout my very being.

Ron Pevny on Mission: Evolution Radio

Ron Pevny was recently interviewed about the role of conscious elders in today’s world on Mission: Evolution a radio show broadcast around the world and hosted by Gwilda Wiyaka. Mission: Evolution is dedicated to supporting the healthy evolution of humankind through spiritual and scientific dialogue. Listen to Ron’s interview at the Mission: Evolution website or in the player below.

Listen to “ME: Ron Pevny – Knowledge VS Wisdom: Evolving Purpose” on Spreaker.

Understanding and Supporting Your Passage Into Elderhood

The Transforming Aging Summit, hosted by Ron Pevny, is an online gathering designed to inspire and support those moving into the third act of their lives — and determined to thrive. Listen to an interview with Ron Pevny.

This interview is part ​of ​The Transforming Aging ​Summit, a free online event where you can learn from some of the most powerful visionaries and community leaders about ​fulfillment, creativity and higher purpose in your later years.

For more information, please visit www.transformingagingsummit. com


We’ve decided not to show the price on the main page for this event, because we want to make sure that you understand the full value of this program before you make your decision.

We understand that the cost of an event matters. You’ll find all the details on the flyer for the event. We hope you’ll take the time to learn all about the event before you decide.

Guest Post Guidelines

This website publishes blog posts written by Center for Conscious Eldering retreat leaders as well as individuals choosing to age consciously and willing to share their perspectives and experiences.  Blogs can focus on any themes important to the empowered vision for aging that the Center is committed to supporting. We encourage you to share your wisdom with the conscious eldering community! You don’t have to be a “polished” writer—just someone who is passionate about aging well and willing to share your thoughts with others.

Submission Guidelines

  • Your blog must not have been published elsewhere, in part or whole
  • Length should be between 300 and 1,200 words
  • No advertisements please; just a one or two sentence bio with your name and position or relevant experience, and your contact information for blog readers
  • Please submit your proposed blog post to Ron Pevny at
  • Each blog post accepted will be featured for several weeks and then archived
  • Blogs accepted may be edited for clarity and grammar

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging

Miriam Knight of the New Consciousness Review interviewed Ron Pevny, author of Conscious Living, Conscious Aging, a book about new views of aging.

Knight is the host of the New Consciousness Review Radio Show. “On the NCR Radio Show,” Knight says, “we interview some of the most passionate and exciting authors and filmmakers we can find among the dozens of spiritual and progressive titles we post and review each week.”

Knight describes her guests as “the thought leaders of the conscious awakening.”

In this interview, Ron Pevny shares the experiences in his life that led to his work in the area of conscious eldering, and the long-term effects he sees coming about from this work.

If the video does not play correctly on this page, please click through and watch on YouTube.