Dear Friends Committed to Living and Aging Consciously;
We send you love and pray for your wellbeing and growth as we near the end of a Summer unlike any we all have known. It has felt like the human family has been stormed out of familiar harbors and is struggling amid roiling, unfamiliar seas while relying on charts and maps that depict a world that in essential ways no longer exists.
In this newsletter we bring you articles and poetry, and introduce you to resources which we hope will inspire you, comfort you, and give you courage as, together, we navigate the turbulent waters of immense change. The world's Wisdom Traditions do provide maps for times of crisis such as these, and the work of the Center for Conscious Eldering is to help empower you to claim your elderhood, capable of using these maps to help you and the human community find the shores of a healthy, life-supporting world.
While coronavirus has required us to cancel our Autumn retreats and workshops, we include information about our new four-session online workshop on "Navigating Life's Passages: Wisdom for Times of Crisis", and Anne Wennhold's excellent new online course on memoir writing.
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 crises 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, economic breakdown and the worldwide outrage over social injustice have right on their heals other multiple crises, including predictable yet preventable devastating climate disruption.. 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, both in private reflection and with at least one other person who shares your commitment to growing into a conscious elderhood.
What role does growth play in your understanding of what conscious eldering means?
- 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?
An earlier version of this article appears in the blog section of Sage-ing International’s website: www.sage-ing.org/blog
Ron Pevny is a Certified Sage-ing Leader, Founding Director of the Center for Conscious Eldering, and author of “Conscious Living, Conscious Aging.” Beginning in late October, he will be presenting a four-session online course through Sage-ing International titled “Navigating Life’s Passages: Wisdom for Times of Crisis”. For details click on this link:
by Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark
A couple of months after I retired, I took a workshop entitled, “Navigating a Graceful Transition" at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. It was the perfect step into my retirement, but the world has changed since then. However history describes this time of COVID-19 and the world-turning-upside-down movement of Black Lives Matter, I seriously doubt that “graceful” will be found anywhere in the description. The trauma is too deep, the upheaval too wide. “Revolution,” even “inevitable” or “necessary revolution” may be more descriptive, at least of the kind of change many of us hope for. “Graceful transition,” I dare say, would be hopelessly naive.
Still there are some timeless lessons –many in the form of questions-- about navigating transition that may serve us well in our current situation.
The first lesson is to acknowledge the disruption. “Dare to pause,” or “Be here now,” as Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it. This is NOT business as usual, not a brief pause before we return to “normal.” We have now moved off the map. I think (and actually hope) humanity will look back on this time as an axial moment, when we pivot to a more just and sustainable direction.
As we move forward, then, day by day, we might search for metaphors, or images, or symbols that may most serve us. More than mere literary devices or parts of speech, metaphors can help shape our thinking and, consequently, our acting. Parables, which were the primary form of Jesus’ teaching, are really extended metaphors. “There was a man who had two sons...” “A sower sewed some seed....” “What woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one, does not light a lamp, sweep the house and search diligently until she finds it ..” “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed....” [OK, that’s technically a simile, but this is not for a grade.]
There are three metaphors that are helping me think about and thus navigate the transitions we are currently going through: the chrysalis of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, crucifixion/
death/resurrection, and the phoenix rising from ashes. The chrysalis is perhaps the richest image for me right now, suggesting ways for me to live my days, while the other two are important touchstones for my thinking and growing.
So, first, the chrysalis– the bundle of silk or fibrous material that wraps the cocoon hanging beneath the milkweed plant looks nothing like either the caterpillar who spun it nor the butterfly that eventually emerges from it. And inside is just goo–no discernable structure or suggestion of the previous or next stage of the insect’s form.
In the chaos and upheaval of COVID and America’s reckoning of its endemic racism, it’s often hard to get our bearings. The landmarks are literally falling. And yet, the chrysalis is a natural, organic process; evolution is built into it. If left to develop, a butterfly will always emerge. Not a spider, not a chipmunk, a butterfly.
So, the question for me is, Who am I at my best as I go through this transition? If we have only the present that we are sure of, how can I be present in the moment? How can I live with integrity and mindfulness as we cross this abyss into the unknown? As Plenty Coups, the last of the great Crow chiefs, discerned in a dream, though our traditional way of life is ending, there is reason to hope for a dignified passage across the abyss, because God–by whatever name we call that Greater reality–is good. Can I be open to the radically new possibilities God may intend for me/us?
In this present moment, in this “goo” of the chrysalis, I do have a choice about how I will shape my days. I can exercise self-care, which is NOT selfish, but “self-full,” as Dr. Maria Sirois describes it, and it is more than the typical, eat right, get plenty of sleep, exercise regimen. It includes positive self-regard, that is, treating oneself with respect. It includes self-compassion, forgiveness and kindness toward oneself, being gentle with yourself during this transition. It includes self-esteem, that is, seeing oneself as having worth and being able to effect change– “watching oneself do the brave thing,” as Maria says. Self-fullness means saying “no”–having healthy boundaries–and saying “yes”–actively choosing life, experimenting with life. It is maintained with daily practice–at least one “self-full” habit each day. And it includes the usual “self-care” choices–what would be nourishing, uplifting, healing today? The research tells us that even small doses of positivity each day offer respite, offer a touch of hope, and naturally elevate meaning. “It is inherently meaningful for us human beings to take care of ourselves,” Dr. Sirois says.
Several months after I took the “Graceful Transitions” workshop, I attended a week-long retreat presented by the Center for Conscious Eldering on “Choosing Conscious Elderhood, diving deep into the transition from later middle-age into elderhood [which is NOT simply “getting old”!]. One of the essential elements of making that transition is discerning what we are ready to let go of. What can we leave behind with gratitude for all it has taught us or given us to make room for the new to grow? The chrysalis has to let go of its life as a caterpillar in order to become a butterfly. It is clear (to me) that we as nation–or, more specifically, those of us who are “white” Americans-- must let go of so many of the stories and assumptions and myths which we had assumed and were taught as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There is so much we need to let go of so that the new, the more complete, the more inclusive may emerge.
So, the image or metaphor of the chrysalis speaks to me of an organic process of unfolding, using the gifts and abilities I have been given, trusting that I have what I need to get me through, that it is only my gifts and abilities–my best self–that I can offer in creating the new, though what the final outcome will be remains a mystery. I trust in the Mystery. CLICK HERE TO READ COMPLETE ARTICLE
We Were Made for These Times
by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. So many of us recently are deeply and properly bewildered. We are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not place your focus there.
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these - to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
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.
Work Song, part 2: A Vision
— by Wendell Berry in New Collected Poems (2012)
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting.
Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.
I Must Go Into the Earth
by Nancy Wood
in Many Winters
When the hand of winter gives up its grip to the sun
And the river’s hard ice becomes the tongue to spring
I must go into the earth itself
To know the source from which I came.
Where there is a history of leaves
I lie face down upon the land.
I smell the rich wet earth
Trembling to allow the birth
Of what is innocent and green.
My fingers touch the yielding earth
Knowing that it contains
All previous births and deaths.
I listen to a cry of whispers
Concerning the awakening earth
In possession of itself.
With a branch between my teeth
I fel the growth of trees
Flowing with life born of ancient death.
I cover myself with earth
So that I may know while still alive
How sweet is the season of my time.
A Benediction from Heather Vesey
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
And....May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
by Maya Angelou
The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
...sings of freedom.
Prayer to Future Beings
— Joanna Macy © 2012 Inquiring Mind
You live inside us, beings of the future. In the spiral ribbons of our cells, you are here. In our rage for the burning forests, the poisoned fields, the oil-drowned seals, you are here. You beat in our hearts through late-night meetings.
You accompany us to clear-cuts and toxic dumps
and the halls of the lawmakers. It is you who drive our dogged labors to save what is left.
O you, who will walk this Earth when we are gone,
stir us awake. Behold through our eyes the beauty of this world. Let us feel your breath in our lungs, your cry in our throat.
Let us see you in the poor, the homeless, the sick. Haunt us with your hunger, hound us with your claims, that we may honor the life that links us.
You have as yet no faces we can see, no names we can say. But we need only hold you in our mind, and you teach us patience. You attune us to measures of time where healing can happen, where soil and souls can mend.
You reveal courage within us we had not suspected, love we had not owned. O you who come after, help us remember: we are your ancestors.
Upcoming Conscious Eldering Programs
It has been with great disappointment that we have had to cancel all of our Autumn retreats and workshops, on top of the cancellation of all the other of our 2020 programs, due to the pandemic. The retreat centers we use were closed, and, even if they were open and following strict safety protocols, we would not ask participants to take the risk of traveling in these times.
However, we are excited to be presenting an online, four-session course beginning in late October, called Navigating Life's Passages: Wisdom forTimes of Crisis. And Center for Conscious Eldering senior guide Anne Wennhold is offering a 10 session online course this Fall called Writing Your Memoir. We hope you will join us for one of these opportunities.
We are in the process of scheduling retreats, including Choosing Conscious Elderhood and Aiming High, for 2021 with the sincere hope and prayer that we can again sit in circle in inspiring natural settings with groups of people committed to growing into the fullness of their potential elderhood. The stories that will be shared of challenge, growth, loss, vision, joy-in-the-moment, and new beginnings during these pivotal times will add another powerful dimension to the conscious eldering work we will engage with together.
Please consider joining us in 2021 if you seeking an empowering vision for your elder chapters and tools for helping make that vision reality? If you need to have your idealism acknowledged, your hope rekindled and your dreams for a vital, passionate elderhood supported? Our 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 possibiities of your later-life chapters--for growth, purpose, spiritual deepening, and giving your elder gifts to support a healthy society and planet.
Navigating Life's Passages: Wisdom for Times of Crisis
an online interactive course presented on Four Wednesdays
by Ron Pevny
October 28, November 4, 11, 18
Offered in collaboration with Sage-ing International
For program and registration information, click here:
Writing Your Memoir
10 Tuesdays, September 22 - November 24, 1-3pm EST
presented via Zoom by Center for Conscious Eldering Retreat Guide
Memoir writing can be an important, dynamic process for engaging in the life review work that is critical to conscious eldering. Each 2 hour segment of Anne's course will introduce a topic for reviewing one's life, such as significant relationships, teachings, crossroads, values, spirituality and decision making, along with suggested possibilities for a writing approach. This will be followed by an interval of writing and will end with a sharing of the experience: reading aloud, comments, plus questions and answers. This seminar is limited to 12 participants.
10 Zoom Sessions: $140
For Questions or to Register: Contact Anne Wennhold: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 and registration information, please visit
I am very much looking forward to reading this book when it comes out in early September, as humanity continues to face a series of interconnected emergencies that threaten our very survival—from climate change to economic inequality and beyond. In this collective moment of choice, upon which our future depends, we urgently need eye-opening and inspirational visions for a unified, peaceful, and thriving world -- a world in which humanity is united in purpose. In this book, such vision is provided by forty-three leading-edge contributors, such as Gregg Braden, Lynne McTaggart, Bruce Lipton, Jean Houston, Michael Bernard Beckwith, Ervin Laszlo, Joan Borysenko, Larry Dossey, and many more.
"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
Joan Englander and I have been in communication for many years, and during that time I have come to deeply respect her for pioneering a new healing role in eldercare that goes beyond the constraints of traditional caregiving. This beautiful book, filled with stories from her 30-plus years in elder caregiving, describes her innovative approach to the psychological and spiritual needs of elders as they approach the end of their lives.
Laurie Hope, one of the book's endorsers, writes, "Joan Englander...is an inspiration to all of us who seek the sacred in every human experience. If caregivers everywhere took the wisdom of this book to heart, we might greatly lessen our cultural resistance and fear of old age and infirmity."
To order a print copy of Joan's book, go to www.healingcompanions.care
One of our partner organizations, the Elders Action Network (formerly called the Conscious Elders Network) 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 and planet. 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 in invited to join them in this critically important endeavor. Upcoming EAN offerings include:
* Monthly Elder Activists for Social Justice Community Conversation
* The Empowered Elder--EAN's foundational program
*The Autumn Choices for Sustainable Living online workshop
* EAN also produces an excellent quarterly journal, Turning Point.
*The new Sunrise Movement - an intergenerational collaborative effort between EAN and Sage-ing International
To learn about EAN and its initiatives and programs, visit www.eldersaction.org
Another of our partner organizations is Sage-ing International, the pioneering organization in promoting the principles of conscious aging, or "Sage-ing". Their work is grounded in the work of Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, who introduced conscious aging to the world with his workshops at Omega Institute with Ram Dass and others and via his seminal book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing.
Sage-ing International is committed to transforming the current disempowering paradigm of aging to one of 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 a training program for Certified Sage-ing Leaders.
* 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 modalities that include chapter programs and Elder Wisdom Circles.They foster collaboration with others, including the Center for Conscious Eldering, who share their vision.
To learn about Sage-ing International and their greatly expanded offerings of online workshops and seminars, visit www.sage-ing.org.
Ron Pevny, Founder and Director
One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time