n this, the autumn edition of our newsletter, we share with you two articles that we hope you will find inspiring, our schedule of retreats and workshops for 2018 as it stands at this point, inspirational poetry, and information about other resources which we highly recommend.
The Power of Community In Supporting Our Growth
Into a Conscious Elderhood
by Ron Pevny
We all know that we live in a time of intense polarization in seemingly all aspects of life. To my mind, there is a potential gift in this painful polarization, and that is the reality that the human family has the opportunity to experience in a compelling way the stark difference between fear-and -ego-grounded unconsciousness, and consciousness grounded in vision of the human potential for vision, growth and wholeness. As we are assailed each day by images, messages and energies that feed fear and unconsciousness, those of us for whom the fulfillment of human potential is the highest value NEED the support of kindred spirits if we are to shine urgently needed light in a world teetering on a knife edge between transformation and collapse. All of us of any age need the support of true community; living in a culture in which there is no meaningful role for older adults, this is especially true for those of us committed to becoming the elders whose wisdom, commitment and courage can make a great difference in what the polarization of these times leads to. This article is about the importance of community in supporting our growth into a
I invite you to use your imagination as you begin to read this. Imagine that you live, as have so many throughout history, in a “traditional” society that recognizes the dynamics of life transition and supports its members throughout their lives in their journeys of growth. You have been so-supported throughout your life through wisdom teachings, ceremonies, and modeling and mentoring from the elders. You have been part of a community that expects -- in fact, needs -- you to discover, cultivate, and use your gifts for the wellbeing of all.
Continuing this journey of your imagination, now see yourself at the point in your life where you are undergoing the transition, both inward and outward, into elderhood. The elders have been preparing you for a while now for this passage, helping you do the work of letting go of your past identity and opening your heart and mind to the guidance of Spirit to show you how you can best serve your community as an elder. They have been helping you to understand and grow into the wholeness that will be essential if you are to serve as an elder yourself when the time is right. When you are ready, you go off alone into nature to shed your former identity, to ritually experience the power of that in-between time called the neutral zone, and to pray for vision of the gifts you are to bring to the community in your elderhood. When you return to community, you sit with the elders and younger community members and tell the stories of your rite of passage. The elders help you clarify your understanding of the gifts and personal qualities that will define your elderhood. With your community as witnesses, you affirm those gifts and have them acknowledged through word and ceremony. In this empowering way, you take the first crucial steps into your new life chapter.
The forms vary widely, but as scholars such as Arnold Van Gennep, who wrote the seminal work “The Rites of Passage” have shown us, such a process has been the template for the transition process throughout much of human history. We now live in a different world that has lost touch with understanding of what the human psyche needs to grow through life's inner and outer stages. Yet our human need for community support in moving through the transitions between these stages remains the same. As people seeking to age consciously, our challenge is to find such support. It is difficult, if not impossible, to navigate the life transition process without the support of at least a few kindred spirits. This reality became very real for me in this personal story I’d like to share with you.
Eleven years ago I experienced a health crisis that I have since recognized as my rite of passage into my elderhood. I came to realize as I emerged from this crisis how pivotal it was in requiring me to let go of my previous way of understanding and defining my life, and in helping me emerge from a long, difficult time feeling lost somewhere between who I had been and who I could become. This time of crisis ended with a profound spiritual experience that opened the door to my beginning to recognize and claim the role and gifts of my elderhood. However, my sense of new beginning was fragile, unfolded slowly, and at times seemed to be an illusion.
Then, a couple years later, while in a beautiful wilderness setting with a few friends and a wise elder I considered a mentor, I realized that my personal, informal rite of passage was missing something crucial – acknowledgment and ritual support from others who are my “community.” We were near a stream, and I asked this mentor to help me create a baptism ceremony for myself to mark and empower the new life stage I was slowly but surely growing into. With this impactful ceremony, my passage into a new life chapter finally felt real. It felt so very important to have others witness my telling the story of my transition, to affirm my story and my growth through this process, and to pledge their support moving forward.
I repeat: We
the support of community to successfully navigate our transition into a conscious elder hood. Here are ways you can utilize such support:
Ask someone you consider a kindred spirit, who cares about your growth and theirs, to be a conscious eldering buddy with whom you can share honestly and deeply what is true for you as you negotiate this challenging transition.
Find people who seem to share your commitment to aging consciously and create a support group.
Together, your group can share your collective wisdom and experience, your fears and enthusiasms, on this journey. You can read and write together with focus on supporting each other's growth.
Your support group can play a role in rituals you and they create to help support your and their important inner and outer changes. Examples include:
* ceremonies of letting go of attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and identifications that are part of your past but won't serve you in your next chapter
* personal vision quests alone in nature, in which you open yourself to healing, guidance, and empowerment for your journey ahead, preceded by them witnessing your yearnings and prayers for your time alone, and followed by them hearing and affirming the experiences and insights you share.
* a ceremony that marks your sense of emergence into a new chapter
* rituals of commitment to a way of being, a practice, an intention, or a type of service that will embody your new understandings and potentials.
* As you gain increasing clarity about your emerging new life chapter, share this with your community. Share your goals and intentions, and ask for their support in staying true to them as you nurture the new sense of self you are growing into.
* Ask others to send you their love and prayers at all stages of the process.
* Share uplifting, inspiring resources and experiences with each other.
* Make a conscious effort to engage regularly with children, youth and younger adults. The archetypal role of elder is one of sharing wisdom, big-picture perspective, and the energy of wholeness with the younger generations, while being energized, informed and kept flexible by their enthusiasm, idealism and attunement to societal changes. The elder that seeks to emerge in each of us requires being a contributing member of an intergenerational community.
Moving through the inner work of life transition requires living as consciously and courageously as possible. This is not, and has never been, a journey for those unwilling to endure the discomfort of stretching, and being stretched, beyond their comfort zones. With fear and negativity so pervasive, it is critical to counter these with the energies of hope, trust, inspiration, and love if our inner lives are to thrive and growth to happen. For most of us it is impossible to do so in isolation. We are hard-wired to resonate with the energies of the society we live in and the people close to us. Fortunately, it's not a matter of numbers. Even a few conscious people in our lives can make the critical difference if we are to have any hope of living consciously and intentionally at a stage in our lives where losses and fears are increasingly strong realities along with vast potential for growth and fulfillment.
Finding our community of kindred spirits is, for many people, not easy. Our family or social friends may not be our “soul family.” Finding our soul community may well require us to step outside our comfort zone, taking the lead in initiating relationships, and accepting that our search may result in various “false positives.” However, if our intention and motivation are strong, we will find conscious, kindred spirits or they will find us. There is a great, growing yearning in todays’ world for the kind of community that has supported peoples’ growth throughout history. In this age of polarization, the power of the choices we make is more apparent than ever. There is no way to truly thrive without aiming to
live consciously, with the support of kindred community.
A pioneering figure in the field of conscious eldering passed in mid-November. Wes Burwell was a minister, therapist, rite of passage guide, and hospice spiritual director in New England. In the year 2001 he and Ann Roberts, also a rite of passage guide, invited me, Ron Pevny, to join them in creating a program to support people in growing into a conscious elderhood. Together we developed and presented a nature-based retreat called Choosing Conscious Elderhood and, as far as I know, were among the first, if not the first, to call the inner work of aging consciously "Conscious Eldering." Our understanding grew and evolved, as did our program and recognition in the culture of the reality and importance of a life stage that, if consciously chosen, can rightly be called "elderhood." Wes was a wise and humble man whose elder years were beautiful reflections of what he taught me and many others about the fulfillment, growth and service that can define life's later chapters. Wes and Ann passed the torch to me and in 2010, strongly inspired and informed by their wisdom, I created the Center for Conscious Eldering. I owe much to Wes Burwell, and am so very grateful for his gifts to me and to a world urgently in need of conscious elders. The article below was written by Wes after he co-led with me in 2009 a pilgrimage of twelve older adults to do conscious eldering work in Copper Canyon, Mexico and learn from the indigenous Tarahumara (Raramuri) elders for whom Barrancas del Cobre is home. I feel it beautifully expresses an essential quality of elder hood -- a way of being that Wes grew into in his final life chapter.
How Indigenous Elders Touched My Life
by Wes Burwell
There is a substantial literature to help us understand the issues and stages of aging. But having crossed the threshold into my 81
year, I find myself listening more carefully to my own ruminations, hunches and yearnings.
Two years ago Ron Pevny invited my wife and me to join a group he had gathered for a pilgrimage into the Copper Canyon in Mexico where a friend of his had been working for a number of years to help improve health, nutrition, and education for members of the Raramuri people. Modern ways of assisting them was beginning to change their traditional way of life – schools, a few pickup trucks, and increasing numbers of stick- built houses – but many still lived in their traditional caves.
We were invited into the cave home of one of the elders for lunch and sat on the dirt floor as we ate the Tamales and blue corn Tortillas that they had prepared for us. After lunch we rejoined the others in our group that had eaten with other families, and sat in a large circle on the ground, with elders and members of our group alternating in the circle. Ron’s friend who had worked with these Raramuri, acted as Master of Ceremonies, interpreting the head elder’s greeting and welcome, and in turn interpreting our appreciation for their warm welcome of us. We lamented the loss in our society of the leadership of elders and spent some time asking them questions about their role in the community as elders.
But the most powerful experience for me was what they communicated, without words, the attentiveness with which they listened to our questions, the deep thoughtfulness with which they answered, the power of their presence. These qualities began working on me, as though they were by their very presence empowering us to become elders.
For me a new stage always begins with something “falling apart”. In fact things were “ falling apart” at the same time I was getting ready to go to Mexico. I had to push myself to get ready for the trip, whereas the excitement of a new adventure usually charges me with energy. But now my body was giving me a hard time. My knee which had never hurt before was now sore and inflamed. But it was too late to back out: tickets had been bought; arrangements had been made. I was angry but I would just have to tough it out.
And tough it out I did with mumbling and grumbling.But at the same time I kept thinking about the Raramuri elders we had met. I kept wondering how they developed such a profound depth of spiritual presence. The impact that the Raramuri elders made on me was to draw me back into a deep inner place of quietness so profound that all anxiety was swept away and I found my center in peacefulness. This sense of calm and peace has continued most of the time since.
I wonder if this peacefulness is a gift of aging. And I sometimes wonder if this is a foretaste of what lies beyond this life. If so there is nothing to fear in death.
The quality of this silent time is similar to meditation. I drop into a reverie that is much more a feeling state than a thinking state. I usually have little difficulty in stopping the mental traffic and dropping into a non-thinking reverie.
This state of quiet wellbeing is sometimes the result of my sitting meditation and sometimes the result of a quiet soft focus on nature, such as the wind moving through the leaves, or feeling a part of the natural world. Instead of thinking about “some thing” I become part of the scene and enter into it.
I like to think that this kind of quietness is an essential part of the elder developmental stage of life. It is a gift of quietness that prepares us for leaving the busyness of this life behind and begins to prepare us for leaving our body-ness behind and living as pure spirit.
IN THIS DEEP RICH VALLEY
By Dennis Stamper
(Written while on retreat at Ghost Ranch)
In this deep rich valley
guarded by sun yellowed sandstone
and copper colored cliffs,
where the sensuous sage dances
seductively in the gentle breeze
flaunting her perfume among the common folk,
where spiny cactus
wears her yellow and tangerine flowers invitingly
but warns me to watch my step
and keep my distance carefully,
where gnarled pines hunker down
hold to deep roots
and cling tenaciously
even to their dead parts
but offer me a sheltered place to rest,
“Make yourself at home” they tell me,
“We’ve endured much worse than you”.
Where persistence of rain
has opened the earth
revealing the veins,
waiting to carry the blood red abundance
to all the places that need it
and surely some that don’t,
where misplaced boulders lie
crumbling and defeated
in the shadow of the cliffs now
like the liberated heads of once great giants
reminding me that high and mighty
is not a permeant state,
that what goes up must come down
and that even a rock can’t hold on forever.
I sit on my mat in the this place I have chosen,
or perhaps has chosen me,
where I have come to spend the day and the night,
to see the light and the dark of this place
and perhaps to find the light and dark of me as well.
I have made an altar
on the ground beside me,
sticks and bark and leaves
and something I cannot identify,
I haven’t a clue what it is
but it draws me in.
My alter is square with four corners
like the four directions of the earth
and of the spirit world as well.
Spirits of the East
where the new day begins
and new beginnings as well.
It is toward the east that God sent Adam and Eve
when the circumstances required that they
move on from Eden.
In spite of our orneriness
God still has hopes for us.
Spirits of the South
where new growth begins,
given the least opportunity,
where we are nurtured and fed
if we will but eat what is put before us.
Spirits of the West,
a place of letting go
with peace and calm and beauty,
trusting, even in the shadows,
that the light will someday return.
Spirits of the North
look up and see,
see the changing seasons that cannot be postponed
see the changing weather from sun, to rain, to rainbow
see the changing clouds always willing to be transformed,
now a frightening monster
now an open door.
I write because I need to
Hoping that just somehow
among the flow of words
I will discover why I have come to this place.
Is it to find something new
that I have never seen before
first seen and discovered in this distant valley
then carefully tucked within my heart and soul
and taken home to treasure?
Is it to remember something of value,
something I know
or once knew
or at least my soul or body did?
Or is it to forget something best forgotten,
to freely release it and lay it down
or to ask the spirits of this place
to wrench it from my still clinching hands and heart?
Is it to leave something here in this place so distant
that I could not tiptoe back and slip it into my pocket even if I tried?
Or maybe I have been brought here
because I am in need of healing and rest.
Although I most often keep it beneath my awareness
bearing witness to so much pain
with so many people
for so many years
has surely taken its toll.
Perhaps after sitting on the mourning bench
with so many others
it is time that I sit gently and compassionately
I will sit in this place
and I will walk gently on this small patch of infinity.
I will sleep beneath the bright full moon
that will reveal itself here this very night.
I will call on all the Spirits
and I will pray to the unity of all spirit I call God.
I will sing whatever song my soul lifts up
and I will sing it
knowing that it must be true.
And I will await the gift I will be given
trusting that it is real
and will hold my full weight.
For I have called on all the Spirits
and the Spirits always speak Truth.
painting by Lorrie Eigles
By Jan Richardson
If this blessing were easy,
anyone could claim it.
As it is,
I am here to tell you
that it will take some work.
This is the blessing
that visits you
in the struggling,
in the wrestling,
in the striving.
This is the blessing
after you have left
after you have stepped out,
after you have crossed
into that realm
beyond every landmark
you have known.
This is the blessing
that takes all night
It’s not that this blessing
is so difficult,
as if it were not filled
or with the love
in every line.
It’s simply that
it requires you
to want it,
to ask for it,
to place yourself
in its path.
It demands that you
stand to meet it
when it arrives,
that you stretch yourself
in ways you didn’t know
you could move,
that you agree
to not give up.
So when this blessing comes,
borne in the hands
of the difficult angel
who has chosen you,
do not let go.
into its grip.
It will wound you,
but I tell you
there will come a day
when what felt to you
was something more
as you moved into
of your new
and blessed name.
by Joy Harjo
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circle of motion
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon, within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
PRAISE WHAT COMES
by Jeanne Lohmann
The Light of Invisible Bodies
surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven't deserved
of days and solitude, your body's immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise
conversations with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks
before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps
you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs
you never intended. At the end there may be no answers
and only a few very simple questions: did I love,
finish my task in the world? Learn at least one
of the many names of God? At the intersections,
the boundaries where one life began and another
ended, the jumping-off places between fear and
possibility, at the ragged edges of pain,
did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?
Conscious Eldering Opportunities in 2018
Do You Need Renewal, Clearer Vision, and Rekindled Hope In These Troubled Times?
If so, we invite you to experience one of our week-long Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats or shorter Conscious Eldering Intensives in the coming year. These inspiring and empowering experiences tap the loving support of strong community, the wisdom of skilled guides, and the heart and mind-opening energy of the natural world to open you to the rich possibilities of your later life chapters --- for growth, purpose, spiritual deepening, and supporting a healthy society and planet through giving your elder gifts.
Below you will find the retreats that Ron Pevny and colleagues will be offering in 2018. Other programs will likely be added to this schedule and announced through our newsletters and on our website. Flyers with details of these programs and registration information will be on our website by the end of the year.
Our 2018 Program Schedule
Choosing Conscious Elderhood:
Our signature weeklong retreat
June 24-30 at Breitenbush Hot Springs, Oregon
October 7-13 at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
(Probably one other, not yet confirmed)
Weekend Conscious Eldering Intensives
April 5-7 near Austin, Texas
June 1-3 near Milwaukee, Wisconsin
June 15-17 at Sunrise Ranch, Loveland, Colorado
July 20-22 in Oceanside, California
A Next Step Retreat for People Who Have Participated
in a Choosing Conscious Elderhood Retreat
dates and location not yet determined
Other Workshops to Be Led by Ron Pevny
March 22-24: Institute of Noetic Sciences Conscious Aging Certification Intensive
in Petaluma, California
April 16-20: a new five day Embracing Your Conscious Elderhood retreat
at 1440 Multiversity near Santa Cruz, California
August 6-10: a new five day Embracing Your Conscious Elderhood retreat
at Omega Institute in New York
Custom Designed Workshops
We are available to present our weekend workshops or custom designed programs for groups who would like to sponsor one in their area. Contact us to explore possibilities.
for details on our programs, please visit
"A beautifully written and important book about aging and elderhood. Pevny reminds us that consciously moving into our greater years is a major rite of passage, and he offers skilled guidance through the many questions and challenges, endings and new beginnings, that arise."
Meredith Little, Co-founder of the School of Lost Borders
The Conscious Elders Network Journal
One of our highly valued partner organizations,
the Conscious Elders Network (CEN),
invites you to read the latest issue of
a quarterly online journal offering fresh perspectives by seasoned elders on social, environmental, and spiritual themes. With a goal of fostering creative dialogue around issues that matter most to us, our planet, and our co-evolving future, this issue’s focus is ‘The New Story’. Under Past Issues, you’ll find archives of ‘Living our Legacy’, ‘Sacred Activism’, ‘Climate Change’, and ‘We the People’.
To receive notice of future issues, just sign up using the Journal “Subscribe” tab.
A Heads-Up About a Highly Impactful Conference
bi-yearly international conference will be held October 25-28 near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Featuring many excellent keynotes, presentations and workshops by leaders in the conscious aging field, the theme of this conference will be
Elder Voices Changing the World: Our Stories in Action
For more information, visit www.sage-ing.org.
Another Recommended Valuable Resource
In the past several months we have come to know and respect the work of Paul Carter, a wise elder who has developed an approach to conscious aging which he calls
Paul makes available a free highly useful e-handbook as well as a webinar series based upon his
model. To learn more, visit www.gorefire.com.
Ron Pevny, Founder and Director
To the world you may be just one person,
But to one person you may be the world
Be the elder you can be