Dear Friends Committed to Living and Aging Consciously:
In this autumn issue of our newsletter, we provide an opportunity for you to reflect on the fruits you have harvested through your efforts to age consciously, knowing that the seeds from these fruits can eventually provide an even richer harvest in your future. Toward this end, we present three articles which we hope inspire you. Ron Pevny writes about the importance of identifying, owning and using our signature gifts. Dennis Stamper contributes the script of his recent Tedx talk on why what elders know is so important. And we honor our dear friend and mentor Bob Atchley who died recently by presenting parts of his interviews with Ron Pevny for the Shift Network's Transforming Aging Summits.
You will also find inspirational poetry, recommended resources, and a listing of several of the workshops and retreats we are offering as supports for your growth into a conscious elderhood in 2019.
May the upcoming holy season, however you celebrate these deeply meaningful days and events, bring you the peace, courage, clarity and hope you need to thrive in the new year.
Your Signature Gifts: The Keys to Aliveness and Fulfillment
by Ron Pevny
A while back I read an article that for me has catalyzed a lot of reflection on what brings fulfillment in life’s elder chapters.
The author was a woman who told of her life after retirement from a fulfilling yet stressful career as counselor. She told how throughout her career, when she was engaged with her work, which she felt was her calling, her energy was strong and her mind sharp and focused. She was organized, effective, and generally felt she brought her best to each day.
She retired anticipating a life with much less stress and a lot more freedom. Her article tells how the first year of her retirement saw her struggling with being unfocused, unmotivated, constantly feeling disorganized, feeling her mind was often in a fog. Along the way she began to feel that the freedom of retirement came with a price for her. She had given up the opportunity to share what she called her signature gifts—those innate qualities that brought her most alive and brought forth the best in her. She knew that it did not feel right for her to go back to her former career—that chapter was over. Rather, she decided to find a couple of volunteer opportunities in which for several hours each week she could use her gifts of deep compassionate listening, seeing deeply into difficult situations, and providing wise counsel. As she did this, everything changed for her. The focus, sharp mind, motivation and aliveness returned for those hours and for much of each week. Her life after ending her formal career became richer all around because she had found ways to keep using those qualities that were her signature gift to the world.
As I look at those who I see as models for aging consciously, and those who come to our retreats and workshops aspiring to bring the best of themselves to their later years, in virtually all of them I see commitment to expressing their unique gifts—those innate qualities sometimes referred to as soul gifts. They do not “retire” these gifts if or when they retire from their careers. Using these gifts is key to their aliveness and fulfillment.
When I talk about signature gifts, I am not talking about specific career skills or the abilities found on resumes
, although these gifts often find expression in our work descriptions. Rather, I am referring to certain innate qualities of being that we bring to our job descriptions and skill sets that support our being truly alive in our work. For those of us not fortunate to have fulfilling work, these qualities may find their primary expression in away-from work passions and avocations. Here are some examples of soul gifts:
For as long as I can remember, I have been aware that, and been told that, I have a strong gift for inspiring others to see and reach beyond what they think is possible. That gift has found expression in my work with rites of passage, as a corporate trainer, as an adult education consultant, and finds it now as I inspire others to see the rich possibilities in conscious eldering. When the time comes for me to let go of this work, I know that my fulfillment will depend upon somehow finding ways to continue to serve as an inspiration to others.
My wife Barbara’s signature gift has found continual expression throughout a long career as a social worker focused on the welfare of children. Her gift is bringing an energy of calm and centeredness to highly conflicted situations. These stressful situations have often drained her and required her to learn ways to shield and nurture herself, but giving these gifts is clearly when she has been most alive.
My primary partner in conscious eldering work, Anne Wennhold, sees her signature gift as the calling and ability to bring diverse people together to explore meaningful issues and challenges. This gift has found many expressions throughout many decades, and is a quality that has enabled her to succeed and find fulfillment throughout all of these.
My friend Bob sees his signature gift as being an ability to deeply analyze data and other information to identify trends and help generate strategies for dealing with big-picture changes. He loves such analysis and comes most alive when somehow using this talent. After retirement, he is using this gift to help non-profits plan for a rapidly changing future.
Using our signature gifts is about more than our own fulfillment and aliveness, however. Barbara Marx Hubbard, the esteemed visionary, teaches that when we use our soul gifts, the gifts of our true, authentic self, we are serving as agents for the evolution that is seeking to unfold on our planet now. We have been given these gifts to use as our contribution to life in this time of great ecological and cultural peril. Using our signature gifts is how we can best make a difference in these critical times. I love these words from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
We run a big risk in not using our soul gifts as we age.
In The Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” Healthy expression of our life energy depends upon using these gifts. Not using them can easily lead to our energies being numbed through depression, sadness and resignation, or distorted through anger, illness, discontent, and various addictions.
I meet many people who say they do not know what their signature gifts are. Here are some suggestions for identifying them:
Do some life review in which you look for qualities in yourself that were being expressed when you have felt the most alive, or fulfilled, or like you were truly being your most authentic self.
Ask several people who have known you for many years to describe what they see as your signature gifts—as those qualities that make you the unique person you are and have been. If you were to die today, what qualities of yours will they most remember and value?
Write a short eulogy for yourself in which you enumerate those qualities that seem to have been yours throughout your life.
Look at jobs you have had with an eye to identifying personal qualities you brought to the job that distinguish you from others with the same job description.
There are many facets to conscious eldering. I strongly believe that all of this crucial inner and outer work ultimately supports an outcome which defines most conscious elders: They are individuals who have come to know their authentic yearnings and signature gifts, have done the inner work to release the past and free up their life energy, and who find their aliveness and meaning in somehow using the gifts of their soul to make their contribution to the well being of their people and planet. Our signature gifts don’t retire if/when we retire. They are critical aspects of who we are and will be until we take our final breath. Their expression may well change as our circumstances change and the most appropriate balance between doing and being shifts for us. But the ongoing expression of these gifts is key to our well being as well as that of a world urgently in need of the gifts of conscious elders.
What Do Elders Know and Why Is It Still Important?
The script for a Tedx talk given by Dennis Stamper in North Carolina, 2018
Dennis Stamper in a Commissioned Lay Pastor and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He has worked as a hospital chaplain for the past 17 years. Dennis has attended Choosing Conscious Elderhood and the subsequent new Next Steps Retreat
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Several years ago, three significant events occurred in my life that would propel me on a journey
, a journey that would ultimately change how I see and how I live my life.
The first event was a sudden and very serious heart attack for which I, like most people, was totally unprepared. I had always been in excellent health. But suddenly one day without warning here I was speeding down the highway in the back of an ambulance with a complete blockage of a major artery in my heart. Not only was I facing my own mortality, the reality that I would someday die but I knew that in that very moment, I WAS dying. The only question was whether or not they would be able to open the blockage in time to prevent what would otherwise be inevitable.
I was told that the doctors would first attempt to open the artery through a cardiac catheterization and stent but if that did not work they would need to “crack my chest” (which is the most unpleasant sounding phrase in the English language) and do emergency coronary bypass surgery (the second most unpleasant sounding phrase). Spoiler alert, I made it. The stent worked but never the less, that, my friend, will get your attention.
The second event to occur was my 65
birthday. I had a Medicare card in my wallet. I was now receiving the senior discount at the movies without even asking. I was now wearing glasses AND hearing aids. Although thoughts of retirement had been rattling around in my head for the past few years it was always about when I might stop working. Now the question became more complicated. The question was no longer just when I might stop doing what I was doing but also what was I going to do next. What was I going to do with the rest of my life after that?
The third event that happened was that I woke up one day older than my father (or at least older than he was when he died). It felt strange. I was in my 30s when my dad died and from that vantage point, he seemed old to me, old enough to die at least. Also, I had always felt that in some sense I was following in my father’s footsteps through life but now the footprints had disappeared. I was walking further down the road now than he had ever walked. I had a growing and unavoidable realization; I’m old!
My reaction surprised me. I felt vulnerable, fragile, a bit lost and when I looked around I found that many of my friends and contemporaries were experiencing the same feelings. We were reaching a place in our life for which in some ways we had been working and saving and planning for much of our adult life and yet now that it was finally here, many of us were struggling --- many of us, but not all of us.
I found some who were doing well. They did not seem to be struggling at all with aging but were instead finding it to be a time of opening and fulfillment and maybe even the best time of their life. It seemed that they knew something others of us did not. It seemed that they were somehow rediscovering and reclaiming the traditional ,even archetypal, role of elder, the keeper and teacher of wisdom. And so I began a journey, a quest if you will, to seek out and learn from the wisdom of elders and find out what it was that they knew that I did not and to hopefully find a way to live into my own aging and to find my own way through.
One of the pioneers and most loved figures in the conscious aging field died recently, just a few days after having gifted those at Sage-ing International's Global Conference with his wisdom, loving presence and beautiful wisdom-songs. Bob, a pioneer in the field of gerontology and a bridge builder between that field and the developing paradigm of conscious aging, was an award-winning teacher, scholar, author, and mentor to many who seek to manifest spirituality in their lives. He presented numerous lectures and workshops to a wide variety of audiences and has written more than a dozen articles for general audiences on this subject. His knowledge of the subject came from extensive interviews and research, being part of several working groups of researchers, writers and lecturers focusing on spirituality, being involved in several organizations promoting “conscious aging” and/or spiritual growth, and his own 30-year conscious spiritual journey. In addition to doing many workshops on his own, he co-presented workshops with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi on “From Age-ing to Sage-ing” and with Ram Dass on “Conscious Aging.” Bob was the author of many articles and books. His most recent is "Spirituality and Aging" published in 2009 by Johns Hopkins University press.
Besides considering Bob a friend and mentor, In 2015 and 2016 Ron Pevny had the opportunity to interview Bob Atchley for the Shift Network's Transforming Aging Summits. Below we share a couple segments of the transcripts of those interviews.
Ron: I'd like to begin by asking you to talk about the opportunities for growth and the stages of inner development as we move through early and then into later elderhood.
Bob: I resonate with the concept of Gero-Transcendence as proposed by Lars Tornstam. This is the idea that as we go forward into our later life, we can enjoy the fruit of intrinsic spiritual evolution. What that means is that we shift our attention from kind of role-playing and materialistic accumulation and those kinds of things to a more holistic inner perspective, and that goes hand in hand with the development of a more contemplative view of looking a at life from a more spacious framework. If you look at people as they get older, you see that in action. And in a lot of ways, aging itself really contributes to our being able to do it because aging sort of forces you to slow down a little bit, to take more time between the things that you do, to have a more times of solitude. And I think it's really important to make the distinction that Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi always did between solitude and loneliness, that loneliness is when you're feeling in need for companionship, but solitude is when you can really enjoy yourself with having others arounds. I think that all of those dimensions actually create opportunities for people to grow wiser, to be more alert, aware, and awake in the moments of their lives, and so there's vast opportunity there to gain perspective, to actually savor the life that you've led.
One of the things that most people do actually a lot of as they round 60 or 70 and head toward home is that we begin to reflect back on our life and to process a lot of the things that have happened to us, and the really nifty thing about it is that it as people grow older, we also tend to become more self- accepting. We realize that in most of the situations we found themselves in our life, we did the best we could under the circumstances we faced. So we become a little more charitable toward our failures. We become a little more appreciative of our successes. We also realize that a lot of what we think of as successes or what we used to think of as successes on the individual level were actually group efforts. We become more aware of all the help we got from people ahead of us as we are moving through life and of all of the help we got from our friends and associates as we were doing the various things that we did.
I think what it is, it's the question of who are you going to bring to the things that you do. Are you going to bring that same old achievement-oriented kind of compulsive person that got you where you got as a professor or whatever you did in life or are you going to bring a more spiritually centered you to this next stage of your life? This is an effort that many people joyously make because it's actually fun to get in touch with your inner self, because as you get in touch with your inner self you plug-in to this enormous spiritual power that is the universe and it's a tremendous shot actually that's available to you all the time. The more you practice it, the more easily you can draw on that. It actually can be a real shot in the arm for people as they get older. And the physical body is positively affected by a spiritual connection in the sense that your immune system works better.
Ron: What are some of the things we can do to help strengthen the resilience, to help us even more effectively deal with loss while keeping the flame of hope and life alive in us?
Bob: I think having a spiritual connection is crucial. Some of the byproducts of having a spiritual connection are: being able to go out in nature and see yourself as part of that; to look at the stars and see the universe out there and feel yourself a part of that; to think about the intelligence that is behind everything in the universe and to see that that is in you; to know that that strength is in you as well as out there in the world and is a strength that we all can build on. Many people have a regular kind of practice that allows them to nurture that connection and have a vantage point that's a little different from everybody else because they're definitely not centered primarily on themselves.
It's interesting too that with things like kindness and consideration, helping, truth telling --- there are a whole bunch of things that become a whole lot easier when you're coming at it from this non personal perspective, where it's not all about you and your ego and what your ego needs and all that stuff. It's about what's needed out there, what's needed here, what's needed now. Being able to look at that from a perspective that's not all about you means that you can actually more often identify what will be effective in helping others.
DIRECTIONS FOR LETTING GO
by Anne Wennhold
When the time comes
To open the trap of whatever it is
That entangles one
And let go the Scoundrels within,
They that hound and inhibit,
They that seemingly squander
The magic of oneself to no avail,
Speak kindly to these beings
The Spiked Judgment of self
The Ego that belittles others
The Deafening Voice of habit
And all those others that fill the days
And hours of your being with bitterness…
Know that they have loyally served
As a barrier to keep you safe
Against your own fear of wholeness
Until you had strength enough
To claim your true identity.
Bless each one for serving you well
Thank it and send it on its way.
Then with a pack on your back
A compass in hand
Face the rising dawn with joy
And set out once again to meet
With that shining self residing within.
The Truth of Growing Older
By William Martin, in
The Sage's Tao Te Ching:
The truth of growing older
cannot be described,
We are unaware of becoming sages,
we just know that we are at peace.
We are unaware of being wise,
we just know that we are content.
We are unaware of being generous,
we just enjoy giving ourselves away.
May your coming years be filled
with all the blessings of the sage.
May your live your years with peace and joy.
May you die content and happy,
knowing all is well,
that it has always been so
and will always be so.
A Blessing for Retirement
by John O’Donohue
The Space Between Us
This is where your life has arrived,
After all the years of effort and toil;
Look back with graciousness and thanks
On all your great and quiet achievements.
You stand on the shore of new invitation
To open your life to what is left undone;
Let your heart enjoy a different rhythm
When drawn to the wonder of other horizons.
Have the courage for a new approach to time;
Allow it to slow until you find freedom
To draw alongside the mystery you hold
And befriend your own beauty of soul.
Now is the time to enjoy your heart’s desire,
To live the dreams you’ve waited for,
To awaken the depths beyond your work
And enter into your infinite source.
There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility out of whose depths
There is a hollow space too vast for words through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctioned into being.
There is a cry deeper than all soundwhose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open
to the place inside that is unbreakable and whole
while learning to sing.
by Max Ehrmann
The Desiderata of Happiness
Let me do my work each day;
and if the darkened hours
of despair overcome me, may I
not forget the strength
that comforted me in the
desolation of other times.
May I still remember the bright
hours that found me walking
over the silent hills of my
childhood, or dreaming on the
margin of a quiet river,
when a light glowed within me,
and I promised my early God
to have courage amid the
tempests of the changing years.
Spare me from bitterness
and from the sharp passions of
unguarded moments. May
I not forget that poverty and
riches are of the spirit.
Though the world knows me not,
may my thoughts and actions
be such as shall keep me friendly
Lift up my eyes
from the earth, and let me not
forget the uses of the stars.
Forbid that I should judge others
lest I condemn myself.
Let me not follow the clamor of
the world, but walk calmly
in my path.
Give me a few friends
who will love me for what
I am; and keep ever burning
before my vagrant steps
the kindly light of hope.
And though age and infirmity
overtake me, and I come not within
sight of the castle of my dreams,
teach me still to be thankful
for life, and for time's olden
memories that are good and
sweet; and may the evening's
twilight find me gentle still.
Who Will It Be?
by Marilyn. Loy Every
(shared by Marilyn at Sage-ing International's 2018 Global Conference)
It is human nature
to look for the path
of least resistance through tough times
The resilient path that calls us is one of generous love of kindheartedness
of courage to stand up for needs of another
While many turn away from frightening truths guarding edgy discomfort, we are named to recognize hardships that cannot be passably ignored in this symbiotic world... a connected reality longing for coherence
So, who will it be
who shelters in their arms,
carries in their hearts,
speaks out fervently for one neglected child
one abused woman
one immigrant man
one element of nature even just one at a time
It must be you
It must be me
It must be us—
who have witnessed other fruitless ways,
who are courageous,
who will speak for truth emboldened
fearless with compassion crucial for these times
The path of a sage
is always possible —
a conscious choice
a trustworthy way affirming all life
with heart-centered sagacity
for nations, communities
for our neighbors, families
for you, ...and for me.
Believe in your power
Our world longs to hear your voice rising
in a mortal wilderness
rising from the core of human wisdom
Will you dare speak?
Will you bravely shout?
Will you author a new story?
Come...Elder voices together, we will transform the world!
Come...Elder voices together, our stories proclaimed “in action!”
Hands open, voices strong for our generation, and for seven more to come!
Upcoming Conscious Eldering Programs
Are you seeking an empowering vision for your elder chapters and tools for helping make that vision reality? Do you need to have your idealism acknowledged, your hope rekindled, and your dreams for a fulfilled elderhood supported?
If so, we invite you to experience one of our week-long Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats, weekend Conscious Eldering Intensives, or our newest programs offered in collaboration with Omega Institute and The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) this 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.
The majority of our 2019 schedule of programs is listed below. The flyers with the details will be available on our website by mid-December. There will likely be a few other programs, for which details have not yet been finalized
Choosing Conscious Elderhood
June 23 - 29 at Breitenbush Hot Springs, Oregon
October 6 - 12 at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
Weekend Conscious Eldering Intensives
April 26-28 near Minneapolis, Minnesota
May 31 - June 2 near Louisville, Kentucky
Embracing Your Conscious Elderhood
August 12-16 at Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, New York
This workshop will draw upon the practices of conscious eldering and wisdom and practices from the three Transforming Aging Summits hosted by Ron Pevny
The new Conscious Eldering/ IONS Conscious Aging workshop
March 3-7 and sometime in October (dates not yet finalized)
in Northern California near Sonoma
presented by Ron Pevny, and Katia Petersen of the Institute of Noetic Sciences Conscious Aging Program, this unique workshop weaves together core conscious eldering practices and conscious aging approaches from the IONS Conscious Aging Program
For Organizations, Faith Communities, etc
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
"I strongly suggest you explore the gifts of aging with the wisdom and insights in this book.
Conscious Living, Conscious Aging
offers an eloquent road map to begin your journey."
Connie Goldman, author of The Gifts of Caregiving and former broadcaster for National Pubic Radio
Life and death are a package deal. They cannot be pulled apart and we cannot truly live unless we are aware of death.
The Five Invitations
is an exhilarating meditation on the meaning of life and how maintaining an ever-present consciousness of death can bring us closer to our truest selves. As a renowned teacher of compassionate caregiving and the cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project, Frank Ostaseski has sat on the precipice of death with more than a thousand people. In
The Five Invitations,
he distills the lessons gleaned over the course of his career, offering an evocative and stirring guide that points to a radical path to transformation.
We have not yet read this book, but have heard about it from so many people that we know it is an important contribution to the field of conscious eldering. It is at the top of our to-read list.
We all sit on the edge of a mystery. We have only known this life, so dying scares us—and we are all dying. But what if dying were perfectly safe? What would it look like if you could approach dying with curiosity and love, in service of other beings? What if dying were the ultimate spiritual practice?
In this visually beautiful and deeply moving book,Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush enlighten and engage readers on the spiritual opportunities within the dying process. They generously share intimate personal experiences and timeless practices, told with courage, humor, and heart, gently exploring every aspect of this journey. And, at 86 years old, Ram Dass reminds us, “This time we have a real deadline.”
The core of
Walking Each Other Home
is a series of conversations between the authors, long-time dear friends and explorers of human possibility, about: being a “loving rock” for the dying; how to grieve fully and authentically; how to transform a fear of death; leaving a spiritual legacy; creating a sacred space for dying; fully embracing the transitory nature of each experience as we age as the most important preparation for our final moments, and much more.
This is a beautiful, book that teaches that the best preparation for a good death is living and aging consciously, and that living and aging consciously are only possible when we live with awareness of our mortality a an ally we hold near in our awareness.
Ron Pevny and Amazon
The Elders Action Network
(formerly named the Conscious Elders Network)
One of our partner organizations, the Elders Action Network (EAN) is an educational, non-profit organization fostering a budding movement of vital elders, dedicated to growing in consciousness while actively addressing the demanding challenges facing our country. They work inter-generationally for social and economic justice, environmental stewardship, and sound governance. They offer their multiple talents and resources in service to the goal of preserving and protecting life for all generations to come. Anyone committed to living and serving as a conscious elder is invited to join them in this critically important endeavor. To learn about EAN and its initiatives and educational programs, visit www.consciouselders.org.
Another of our partner organizations is Sage-ing International,
the pioneering organization in promoting the principles of conscious aging, or "Sage-ing". Their mission is grounded in the work of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who introduced conscious aging to the world with his workshops at Omega Institute with Ram Dass and others and his seminal book,
from Age-ing to Sage-ing.
Sage-ing International is committed to transforming the current paradigm of aging to sage-ing through learning, service and community. Their work is focused through:
- Learning: They share the Sage-ing® philosophy worldwide by providing workshops, conferences, webinars, and publications for the public and we train a network of Sage-ing® Leaders through the CSL certification program.
- Service: They encourage and support elders in serving their families, communities, and others around the world.
- Community: They provide opportunities for individuals on their sage-ing journeys to share and connect with others through interactive opportunities that include chapter programs and wisdom circles. They foster collaboration with many others who share their vision.
To learn more, visit www.sage-ing.org.
Ron Pevny, Founder and Director
Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone