Fulfilling our potential as we age
By Ron Pevny
Some of the primary catalysts for my understanding of conscious eldering have been questions that began to be very significant for me as I did oral history work with older adults in my community nearly twenty years ago: Why do some people age with joy and serenity, always seeming to be curious, engaged, savoring each moment although they have experienced many losses, looking optimistically toward the future and the opportunities of each new dayÉÉ..while others become cynical, beaten down by life, living in the past with no apparent goals except to hang on as long as possible to who they have been? Why do some people become the kind of elders we all aspire to be, alive and full of inner light, while others inner light fades and they just become old.?
Most of us pay attention to the states of our finances as we look to our senior years; many of us give thought to what we want to do during those years, and there are an increasingly large number of books and approaches that can help us with these needs. Far fewer of us reflect upon who we want to be as we age, apart from what we want to (and hope we are able to) do. The old adage is true: Wherever you go and whatever you do, there you are.
Conscious Eldering provides both an understanding of the kind of person it is possible for us to be as we age and practices that can help us grow into elders who, in whatever life circumstances we are in, are peaceful, resilient, and passionate about life, continually growing, serving and shining our light. Conscious Eldering is a way of life that requires choice, intention and willingness to step out of our comfort zones in service to being truly alive throughout the later chapters of our one, precious life. This way of life is grounded in both inner work and outer expression.
The inner work focuses on both our future and our past. Gaining a clear vision of what feels most important for us to be and do as elders that comes from our authenticityÑfrom what is most natural and true in ourselvesÑrather than from the images and prescriptions of the culture around us, is a primary goal of this work. And then acting with focus and intention to make that vision reality, is critical to true fulfillment as we age.
However, no matter how lofty our goals, achieving these requires that we bring to them strong, clear energy, with healthy mind, emotions and spirit. If our energy is stuck in the past, fueling regrets, resentments, unhealed grief, and negative stories about our worth, then all this old emotional baggage will dull our inner light, sap our energy and sabotage our best laid plans for the future. It may well turn us into the cynical stuck-in-the past people none of us aspire to be. The inner work of conscious eldering very much focuses on transforming regret, forgiving ourselves and others, healing grief, and letting go of attitudes, beliefs and ways of defining ourselves that will not serve us if we are to move forward emotionally. It gives us the tools and opportunity to transform the negative stories many of us carry about ourselves into stories of our potential for growth through, all our life experiences, whether we perceived them as positive or negative at the time.
While conscious eldering work certainly involves examining and transforming our beliefs about ourselves and our aging, and working to align our emotions with our highest values, at its core this is deeply spiritual work, which may or may not be supported by our religious affiliation. It requires us to honor that call from within that comes naturally as we leave mid-life adulthood to deepen our contact with the spiritual dimension in ourselves, in whatever ways are most effective for us. It is the spiritual dimension (whatever we call it) that is the source of our most true vision and guidance for who we can become. It is this dimension that offers the courage, strength and compassion that enable us to heal what needs to be healed and let go of what needs to be shed so we can move gracefully from who we have been to who we can become.
A great many people, whatever their religious preferences, say that their deepest experiences of feeling in touch with the sacred, or spiritual, dimension of life have happened when they have been in nature, away from human-created structures and ideas about what is important. Because the natural world opens the human heart and mind to what is most true and natural in the world around us and within us, the work of conscious eldering draws much of its power from time spent in nature. Humans have long been drawn to nature to find healing, inspiration, strength and spiritual connection. Most of the world’s rite of passage traditions have involved those in transition spending time alone in nature. Jesus and Buddha retreated to wilderness places for extended periods before embarking on their teaching missions.
The journey from mid-life adulthood into the elder chapters is one of the most significant transitions in life, one which we can support through our commitment to conscious eldering, or choose to ignore. The results very much depend on the choice we make. If we choose to support this passage in our lives, I know of no more powerful means than to spend time regularly in nature, focusing inwardly. While there, write in your journal about your vision for your elderhood. Spend time daydreaming about what stirs your passions and holds meaning for you. Reflect on what needs to be healed or let go as you move forward. And do your best to connect with that bigger-picture understanding that the spirit within you can most easily provide when you are quiet and carefully listening to that subtle voice of guidance from your own wise inner nature.
Ron Pevny has a career-long history of supporting people in moving through life transitions. He is Director of the Durango-based Center for Conscious Eldering, which offers weeklong retreats and shorter introductory workshops for people wanting to learn the principles and practices of conscious eldering. Ron is author of the book Conscious Living, Conscious Aging published by Beyond Words/Atria Books. You can learn more at www.centerforconsciouseldering.com.
Robin Avery will return next month, in the January 2015 issue. He wants to thank Ron Pevny for his work in the field of “Conscious Eldering”.