Dear Friends committed to living and aging consciously:
Welcome to the Winter 2023 edition of Conscious Eldering Inspiration and Resources, which we are now sub-titling The Journal of the Center for Conscious Eldering. Readers have told us that this quarterly offering, with its substantial articles, inspiring poetry, beautiful images, and resource suggestions, is in actuality more than a “newsletter.” Many recipients tell us that they read it in several sittings, taking the time to savor and reflect upon one article at a time. And with more writers offering us their informative and inspiring articles, we have decided to include even more articles in each edition, with the hope that among them you will find some especially compelling material that is just what you need at the time.
The outer and inner seasons of Winter—the season for quiet, darkness, and gestation inform the central theme of this issue. Our first article, by Ron Pevny, explores the light of hope within the darkness of Wintertime. What is hope? What is "Deep Hope?" How can we keep hope alive?
Then Dennis Stamper offers his reflections on “Wintering” as nature’s yearly call to slow down and be more inward, and the human psyche’s periodic call (which may or may not coincide with the yearly seasons) to experience and embrace our times of darkness –our “neutral zone” times—as precious opportunities for conceiving and gestating the new beginnings that inevitably will emerge if we allow our inner garden to lie fallow until it is time for Spring.
In the next article, Martha Abshire Simmons tells the story of how she found life-giving new roots and experience of interconnection on her recent Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat at Ghost Ranch.
Our fourth article, by Al Rider, is his account of his passionate quest to learn about his family’s ancestry. In the process, he learned that the process of Life Review, critical to conscious eldering, benefits greatly by learning about the experiences of our ancestors, experiences which leave strong psychic, energetic and genetic imprints on each of us.
We also present poetry to touch your heart and stir your intuition. You will find information about our 2023 Conscious Eldering retreats. And we share information about books and partner organizations that can be valuable supports for your conscious eldering. May this journal support your growth into the conscious elderhood that is your birthrite, but which requires your willingness to accept it as both gift and responsibility.
Hope in the Season of Darkness
By Ron Pevny
Hope is a verb with the sleeves rolled up.
In Winter, the season of darkness in the Northern Hemisphere, since time immemorial people have enacted ceremonies to affirm their trust that the light of hope continues to shine brightly even as the days are short, the nights are long, the natural world is in hibernation, and the life force itself, within the human family and without, seems held in suspension. Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, indigenous solstice ceremonies –all celebrate hope and trust that the light will yet again return to give light to all of earth’s beings.
The world’s wisdom traditions teach that seasons of darkness are necessary for renewal, both in the natural world and in the psyches of human beings. In the physical world the seasons provide the opportunity for renewal. In the inner world of human beings, the seasons of our lives are not so predictable, yet are necessary for emotional and spiritual renewal, for healing of imbalance, and for the emergence of new vision and creativity.
Perhaps the most significant gift of the Winter season in the natural world and its celebrations of trust that light shall return is Winter’s ability to remind us of the necessity for our inner winter times and of the importance of cultivating hope to see us through our dark times in trusting anticipation of the return of the light.
What is this Hope that we celebrate and seek to cultivate? It seems to be a multi-dimensional facet of our humanity that can be cultivated in multi-dimensional ways.
At one level—perhaps the level on which most of us operate most often—hope is the combination of a strong desire for our individual and collective lives to unfold in a way that we believe is positive, and at least some optimism that this can actually happen. We all know how having such hope can lift us out of inner darkness, bring our energies alive, and enable us to see life through what seems to be a much clearer lens. For most of us most of the time our sense of wellbeing and our energy for fully engaging with life depends upon how much hope we are feeling at a given time.
As we experience our lives in today’s chaotic world, with, all too often little apparent light to be found, our hope can easily wane, and with that we lose our joy, our optimism, our energy, and our desire to give our gifts. I and many people I know build into our lives activities and experiences that serve our emotional and mental needs to keep the flame of hope burning. We develop friendships with people who inspire us. We read and listen to teachers and others who seem to radiate hope and trust in the future, and see our energy is raised and our mood elevated. We look for signs that elements of the future we long for, for ourselves our descendants and our world are alive and healthy, amid the surrounding darkness. We give our gifts as best we can, knowing that we feel much more alive when we do so.
Hope at this level is important, and it is incomplete. It is rooted in and dependent upon us seeing evidences that what we desire has a decent chance of materializing. Our sense of well-being and our energy for serving are tied to how much optimism we have that the future will unfolding as we desire it to.
However, there is another level at which hope manifests in which our aliveness is not tied to external events. Becoming able to bring the energies of this level into our lives is one of the primary goals and gifts of the deeper inner work of most spiritual traditions and certainly of conscious eldering. I have heard this understanding of hope expressed in various ways. For me, the closest I can come is “Trust.” Perhaps another meaningful term is “Deep Hope”. We trust not that things will unfold the way we want them to, but rather that there are larger forces at play, in our personal and collective lives, than we can perceive—and that the outcomes will serve the greater good, even if that doesn’t look like we want it to.
With this type of hope, our commitment to, and energy for, giving our gifts to the world is not dependent upon how optimistic we are feeling. Rather, our trust/hope is grounded in us realizing that our integrity and our true well being require us to give our gifts and express our God-given aliveness because that is what we were born to do. And with this realization comes a powerful trust that if we give our gifts and express our best selves, we will be supporting a larger plan that is seeking to unfold, in the world around us and as we face our own experiences of darkness. Who can be better examples of this in today’s world than Victor Frankl who kept his humanity and true hope alive during his holocaust yeas in a concentration camp.? And the courageous people of Ukraine, who, against all odds do what they can out of love for their homeland and for the preservation and growth of democracy.
Hope at this level is not easy to find and embody. It is important for us to strive at the emotional and mental levels to keep hope alive, while also doing the more difficult work of cultivating our ability to a strengthen our connection with our spiritual dimension. It is this dimension that lies at the heart of Winter’s ceremonies and empowers our access to our Deep Hope and our endeavors to live from that source of wellness and strength.
May the light of hope shine brightly within you during this holy season when light pierces darkness and we remember what is most true about our humanity.
by Dennis Stamper
There is an old song my mother used to sing to me around this time of year. I didn’t know all the words but I could always join her on the chorus. “I’ve laid around and played around this old town too long” we would sing. “Summer’s almost gone, yes, winter’s coming on”.
Mothers and other wise people always know these kinds of things. Like it or not, winters do just keep coming around. Days of cut-off jeans and bare feet inevitably come to an end. Eventually we will need to put our boots on and bundle up.
Although my mother has passed on now, the truth she sang into me is still present today. As the grass and plants I have tended and mowed since April turn more brown than green now and as the chill that arrives the moment the sun sinks below the tree line shoos me inside before I am quite ready, I know that summer is indeed almost gone and before long, once again, winter’s coming on.
I’ve been thinking about the approach of winter a great deal lately and frankly I’m not sure I am ready for it. It’s not that I haven’t been through a winter before. This will be my seventy third such occasion. But this one will be different. This will be the first winter of my “retirement”.
Up until now, winter involved little more than wearing a sweater over my dress shirt when I went to work and remembering to grab my coat from the coat rack as I went out the door. And of course, there was the deep-felt gratitude for the spiritual blessing of heated seats, or as we call them in our family, bun warmers. But when I was working, the activities and structure of my days remained much the same no matter the season.
This first summer of retirement was also the first in our new home in the country. I have loved clearing the brush from the periwinkle under the old walnut and cedar trees, planting flowers and bushes in the beds around the house, planting the first real vegetable garden I’ve had since I was a kid and harvesting the surprising first year abundance, especially the home-grown tomatoes. I have had much to do and it has kept me joyfully occupied. I have been as happy as a clam, as they say, or in the more local vernacular, “happy as a pig in slop”.
But now I find myself a bit more ambivalent as winter approaches. There is a part of me that welcomes the thought of ample time for rest and reflection, time to write and create in my new office/retreat that I finally took possession of when our youngest daughter moved into her own apartment last month. (Did I mention that this will also be the first winter in 43 years that I did not have a child at home?)
But I also carry a bit of trepidation that sometimes borders on dread. What will I do with so much open time on my hands? What if the creative juices refuse to flow or dry up by late November? If I dig too deep, will I find monsters down there? What if I start believing the cultural images of old age and begin to accept the label of irrelevant and useless? What if I just get bored? So it seems that my developmental task de jour is to learn how to best winter. Perhaps it is with you as well.
But of course, wintering is not just a matter of the cycles of the year but also the cycles of life. Times of warmth and cold, growth and dormancy, bloom and fallow are inevitable in our lives. Serious illness or the death of someone we love can bring on winter. Loss of a job or a relationship is winter too. Winter is anytime that things start to fall away leaving tender spots where the leaves used to be.
Some winters arrive suddenly and without warning like a thunderclap. Others come on slowly and we hardly notice until we find ourselves standing on a street corner with clenched teeth, our whole body shivering in the cold. We like to think that if we are smart and strong and determined enough we can live in an eternal summer. Life rarely turns out that way though.
Writer Katherine May in her lovely book “Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times” says:
“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”
A crucible, as you may know, is a container in which metals or other substances may be melted, reducing them to their basic essence or combining them to create something new. A crucible is the tool of the alchemist. Dare we hope for such a thing this winter: a bit of alchemy, a bit of magic.
May goes on to say:
“Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season in which the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.”
So perhaps that is where we need to start. Stop wishing the summer would last forever and start looking for the sparkle. Take time to reflect, recuperate, replenish, find ways to put our house a bit more in order.
In our Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats, we each spent a day out on the land in silence and reflection. Before we venture out, we are each asked; “What is the question you carry with you?” It is a good question to as ourselves today. What is the question you carry with you as you enter this liminal time of winter? How can you winter well and how would you like to be changed by the experience?
May reminds us that the tree is not coming back to life when the winter is over, it has been alive all along. But in the spring, she says, “It will just put on a new coat and face the world again.” What do you hope your own new coat will look like and how will it fit?
“I’ve laid around and played around this old town too long. Summer’s almost gone and winter’s coming on” my mom and I sang. The song went on, “I’ve laid around and played around this old town too long, and I feel like I gotta travel on”. Yes, ready or not, travel on we must, so travel on we will into this season of winter.
Dennis Stamper co-leads our Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats. He is a Clinical Social Worker, a Commissioned Presbyterian Lay Pastor, and a Certified Sage-ing Leader with Sage-ing International. Recently retired, he worked as a hospital chaplain for nearly 20 years. Dennis frequently travels to southern Mexico where he works closely with the indigenous Tzeltal people of Chiapas. He can be reached at email@example.com.
FINDING NEW ROOTS IN THE DESERT
A Conscious Eldering Retreat
by Martha Abshire Simmons
So I’m home from the wide New Mexico skies, having seen the Milky Way for the first time in decades. Ghost Ranch, 22,000 acres of desert, is surrounded by mountains worn into moon-scape shapes by wind and rain. With little surrounding “civilization” to insist on night lights, the firmament comes closer, multilayered with stars that - somehow - are always there - whether we are fortunate enough to witness them or not.
The cottonwood trees lining the arroyos slowly turned yellow over the course of the week. And the dogwoods were newly tinted red when I got home to North Carolina. Even though it felt as though I was suspended in time, as I got to know 14 new people, all passionately interested in this “aging phenomenon,” the sun kept descending in the Northern Hemisphere, as the Earth in its orbit moved ever so slightly further away from the intense heat. Nights are cooler now; the October sky has turned that characteristic azure. . .breathtaking.
For a week, we 15 were inside a library thousands of miles West, having gathered for a Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat, sharing our stories of aging, slowly and steadily learning to trust each other with more subterranean layers of fears, hopes, perspective shaped by our differing experiences.
In this group were nurses, people who counsel other people, writers, grandmothers and fathers, nonprofiteers. . .and the occasional early retiree who had segued into leading men’s groups. A curious bunch. Courageous in my book, as they were each sidling up to the bar and saying: give it to me straight. Let’s not just drift into these later years, day by busy busy day. Let’s pay attention and see what we can learn here.
I have not been much of a ritual person, unless you count the joy I get from making lists and calendars. I have friends who will smudge a room or seek out an essential oil with the slightest provocation. We didn’t do those things when I was growing up in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The closest we got was lighting candles on the altar. Incense and Mysterious Etcetera was for the Catholics on the other side of town. East Tennessee was more known for Davy Crockett and generational Republicans than for evoking the ancestors.
But evoke the ancestors we did, along with drumming, building an altar, committing
ourselves to deep listening in the wild for 24 hours, and ritually releasing parts of our past, present and future that no longer serve us. When you are thinking about that in your own house, between loads of laundry, it can all sound rather woo woo, right? But being immersed in it, far from home, it’s a different story.
Even though I was there, and as present as you can be in a room full of strangers-that-end up- being-soulmates-but-you-don’t-know-that-at-first, I’m still not sure what it was and is all about. I came back into Home World quieter, it seems, with a new batch of experience to digest. The world seems brighter, more beautiful, more iridescent.
The meaning of my retreat continues to unfold for me. But lately I’ve been getting a consistent message: Slow Down. Please. Slow Down. Rather interesting, in that as we age, we tend to fight the natural slowing process. I will admit that rather regularly I remind myself, as I stand in awe at the blue of that sky, that there are no guarantees. At 72, there are a limited number of Autumns in my future. At any age, there could be a limited number of Autumns in the future. Why not slow down and fully experience them? Why not, indeed?
With a couple of dear friends, I have been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful book Braiding Sweetgrass, about the rhythms and inter-relationships of the natural world. The rhythms of the animal world, of the plant world, of the mineral world, are all different than the ones that routinely order my day. Those rhythms are all slower, much slower, richer, more complex, more grounded. I find myself wondering, am I conscious of the gifts nature gives us all? Am I grateful? Am I aware that this relationship - on which my life depends - must be reciprocal to be sustained? Am I committed to that reciprocity? Not just for me, but for the generations to follow? Is this the challenge that the ancestors are urging me to accept?
These understandings began to experientially emerge for me on our “Solo Day”, when we left the library at Ghost Ranch one evening pledged to 36 hours of silence. We had each found “our spot” in the surrounding hills where we were to go the next morning to sit quietly and listen. I found myself nestled on a slight hillside between two scrubby trees for shade. At my feet was a depression that had gathered water. The sun grew hotter and more intense over the course of the day, then gradually, as it always will, it set in the West. In the interim, I noticed. It was only after I had truly settled that the birds began to show up, usually in pairs, all of them similar to their cousins on the East Coast, but unique to this arid desert environment.
The quieter I grew, the closer they came, perching themselves on the branches of the cedar-y tree and eyeing me, then swooping down for a drink of water. In the far distance, a tornado of ravens spiraled up from a copse of trees, until they were riding the thermals in what felt to me like ecstasy. Ants below me had their own agenda, and after I got the rocks out from under my camping chair, I could watch their industry with interest. All this after I built my altar and had asked permission of the place to encompass me during
this special time.
One of the retreat’s suggested exercises was to hold a “Death Lodge” and to invite in the spirits of people in our lives to whom we had something to say - now - and not to wait until agitated catching-up deathbed confessions. I had revelatory conversations with both my mother and my father, which felt as though they have led to forgiveness and resolution - on both sides. Again, if I had tried this in my kitchen, while stirring the bean pot, intermittently checking email, I don’t think it would have worked as well. We couldn’t have heard each other so compassionately.
So maybe that is one of the gifts that aging holds for us, as we naturally slow down. As our energy becomes less reliable, as our gait slows, as our life experience grows and our vision widens, maybe this could be the time when we “wise up.” Maybe relaxing instead of just living life on the surface, and thereby imagining ourselves “on top,” we could acknowledge what we know, deep within us: we are not separate, from the Life that holds us. And it is all a gift.
A different version of this piece was first published as: Briarpatch Newsletter, October 8, 2022.
Martha Abshire Simmons is the Founding Director of the Duke University Women's Center, an award-winning writer, and the current composer/publisher of The Briarpatch Newsletter, a wide-ranging. bi-weekly interactive email, exploring aging-related issues, available to all who subscribe. You can contact Martha at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honoring Our Ancestors
by Al Rider
“Know thyself” was one of the three great wisdom inscriptions on the Temple of Apollo in ancient Delphi – along with "Nothing to excess" and "Certainty causes insanity." In Sage-ing, we pursue self-knowledge under the rubric of “Life Review” – one of the core values taught by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and other guides to conscious aging. Usually, we think of “Life Review” as a searching examination of our own personal experience; but my guess is that even Reb Zalman would agree that to really know ourselves, we would be wise to move beyond just our own life-spans.
Psychology and spirituality both suggest that there is more to “me” than just my life experience. The roots of personality go deeper than that. We do not create our own egos: We are formed not only by our life experiences, choices, and relationships but also from DNA passed down through the generations and the cultures we grew up in.
“Life review” is incomplete if it stops with just personal self-assessment. To acquire in-depth self-knowledge, I also need to know my ancestors: Who they were, how they lived, their unique stories of triumph and woundedness, and acknowledging the something of “them” that still lives on in “me” and in my family network.
Sadly, most of us remember only the one or two generations before our own – sometimes less than that. Many of us never got well-acquainted with our grandparents; and even if we did, only a few of us know the particulars of their life stories.
Some families do manage to sustain vague “origin myths” across the generations – Where they immigrated from, perhaps, or some challenge that their forebears faced. But often the details of ancestral stories are never told. Achievements and “war wounds” of the past (both literal and metaphorical) often stay hidden. Though deep psychic and spiritual “woundedness” actually gets passed from generation to generation; the underlying causes for most family disorder often stays buried in our collective unconscious minds.
If only we could reach back into forgotten corners of ancestral history to trace the origins of our families’ strengths and weaknesses, might we be able to better cope with issues, and draw on our latent inner resources?
Family Recollection as a Goal
Fortunately, our digital age gives us a whole new source to tap: Genealogy is now within the grasp of everyone. Formerly the domain of a few wonky experts, the study of ancestral lineage is now within reach. Those who know how to do that research – what the tools are, where to find them, and how to use them for story-telling – can now come to know their ancestors, and thus better know themselves.
And more: We can bless our upcoming generations by reciting their ancestral stories. A family tradition is a priceless bequest. Knowing the family’s heritage can give young people pride in their forebears, and courage and inspiration to move out to live brave adventures of their own. I have recent experience of this. When the COVID epidemic first locked us all in, it gave me time to take on a long-delayed project. As a college history major I learned research skills and vowed to someday uncover my own family’s story. But I’d never done it. Then thanks to the virus, I suddenly had both time and a new sense of urgency: It’s now or never! What an amazing result I’ve had: During a year’s online investigation, I discovered 3,000+ named ancestors, back to Medieval days… Peasants and royalty, saints and sinners, artists and soldiers and entrepreneurs and builders and teachers and sages and criminals(!)… A rich family lore, along with deep connection to famous historic places and events we’d never imagined being linked to.
It’s been transformational for my family and led me to launch the new “Ancestors Circle” currently forming in Sage-ing International: A small group who will tap into available resources, support one another in the search, write our family story-books, and leave a legacy to our children.
Tools and Outcomes
Online resources are plentiful. It’s like “…drinking from a fire hose…” Hard to know where to start on one’s own. Our little group will be choosing archival technology, then tapping into a wealth of online data, history, photos, family papers, obituaries, and census reports, all available for the taking.
I can report two tangible outcomes already: (1) My wife and I offered a “Grandparents’ Camp” this summer where our granddaughters put together a chart of the grandparents, immigration ships, castles and royalty from whom they descended. They’re now conscious of being “princesses” and proud of it! (2) We’ve also gathered our grandmothers’ kitchen notes into a Family Cookbook that celebrates them with pictures and stories, and contains cherished recipes that enriched our childhoods. Our holidays have become more fun and tasty and memory-laden because of it.
Personally, I have a more profound sense of Place as I travel now. I feel more connected when I read world history and culture. And knowing how the “heroic” and the “tragic” both weave throughout my family story, gives meaning to the “heroic” and “tragic” that have occurred within my own lifespan.
I was trained as a counselor/spiritual director, and so discovered how family trauma carries across generations. “Embrace the woundedness” is a motto for moving on toward psychological and spiritual maturity, and it relates also to ancestral work: By attending to the sources of our family pathologies and distresses, we get clues about how to move on toward healing and wholeness. Victimhood, abuse, PTSD, addiction, racism, history of enslavement, social injustice, war experience, prejudice, and selective forgetfulness will all appear as we unpack ancestral systems. But it can be freeing to articulate these “shadows” from my past, and then to opt for forgiveness rather than bitterness or depression. In my own family, for example, “healing of memories” became real as we reframed one grandmother’s tragic story, transforming her vague sense of victimhood into a badge of triumph over adversity.
In my Christian tradition, there’s a lovely scriptural metaphor celebrating the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” who lived before us and whose spiritual reality still enlivens us in many ways. To my delight, the archival family-tree software I use provides a “fan chart” to bring that metaphor alive. Every time I call this chart up on my screen, it turns my laptop into a little altar, connecting me to my rich ancestral heritage. That same technology also provides a modern-day “Calendar of Saints,” displaying all my family’s births, marriages, and deaths in a 12-month graphic. It gives each week in my year new spiritual meaning.
In the same way, by crossing our family’s dates and geography with the history book, we’ve found synchronous links to events like the Battle of Hastings (1066), the Great Fire of London (1666), the Salem Witch Trials, most every major battle in most every war of the past two centuries, brushes with historic figures like Washington and Lincoln, and achievements in science, art, religion and business. A sense that “We were also there” in the past, in a very biological/ symbolic way, now gives my family a sense of mythos that transcends the dreariness of everyday routine. Which is the essence of humanistic spirituality.
Al Rider (CSL) lives with his wife Karen and a very unusual poodle in the midst of all their kids and grandkids in SW Columbus Ohio (USA). Retired from a career as a progressive pastor, career/vocational counselor/trainer, and chaplaincy coordinator on the US East Coast, West Coast, and in Central Europe, he’s now based in the Midwest as an interfaith spiritual director, tech guru of sorts, and is coordinating the new online Ancestors Creative Expression Circle for Sage-ing International. His email is email@example.com.
A Leaf’s Leap of Faith
by S.C. Laurie
I think chances are.,
that if you ever got to speak to a leaf
and asked it to look back
on its life and recall
it’s most exhilarating moments.
It would say that there was no finer
moment than letting go of all
It knew and had experienced in life,
to free itself from it’s security
and comfort zone,
and surrender wholly to the wind
as it sung to it of
it’s coming leap of faith.
To take that plunge in the delicate and dreamyrays of the afternoon Autumn sun
and not know where it may land,
not care, because it was lost
in the magic of its flying.
Attack of the Heart
By Seth Caplan
If your heart attacks
you may not die.
Only the life you’ve known
will have ended.
Do not run from this new landscape in terror.
Take time to explore
the crevices and canyons
of sandstone and ochre
cracked open by this seismic event.
Reach your hands into the dark places
to touch unexplored emotions,
ancient and fragile, glowing like quartz.
From here, the wind carries scents,
more fragrant than you remembered.
The sun rises so slowly from its golden pool.
Do not turn away and drift into thought.
Lie back and savor its journey across the sky,
all the way through the lava splash
that marks evening’s awakening.
How did you never notice
the grandeur of celestial flight?
Let go the detritus of all that has shaped you,
What is most precious to you now?
It is for you to consider
what wonders are before you
as you pick stars from the sky
to adorn your new life.
This and more your heart
has whispered and sung in the breezes.
It is only now, weakened by attack, you can hear
the words your heart wants to share.
How fiercely it has fought for your attention!
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life
and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives
with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water
and I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world,
and I am free.
I No Longer Pray
by Chelan Harkin
I no longer pray—
now I drink dark chocolate
and let the moon sing to me.
I no longer pray—
I let my ancestors dance
through my hips
at the slightest provocation.
I no longer pray—
I go to the river
and howl my ancient pain
into the current.
I no longer pray—
I ache, I desire,
I say “yes” to my longing.
I no longer pray as I was taught
but as the stars crawl
onto my lap like soft animals at nighttime
and God tucks my hair behind my ears
with the gentle fingers of her wind
and a new intimacy is uncovered in everything,
perhaps it’s that I’m finally learning
how to pray.
By Jeannette Encinias
How many years of beauty do I have left?
she asks me.
How many more do you want?
Here. Here is 34. Here is 50.
When you are 80 years old
and your beauty rises in ways
your cells cannot even imagine now
and your wild bones grow
luminous and ripe,
having carried the weight
of a passionate life.
When your hair is aflame
and you have decades of
learning and leaving and loving
sewn into the corners of your eyes
and your children come home
to find their own history
in your face.
When you know what it feels like
to fail ferociously
and have gained the capacity
to rise and rise and rise again.
When you can make your tea
on a quiet and ridiculously lonely afternoon
and still have a song in your heart
Queen owl wings beating
beneath the cotton of your sweater.
Because your beauty began there
beneath the sweater and the skin,
This is when I will take you
into my arms and coo:
YOU BRAVE AND GLORIOUS THING
you’ve come so far.
I see you.
Your beauty is breathtaking.
A Prayer from Malidoma Somé to the Ancestors
We call upon our Ancestors,
Spirit of the earth we walk upon,
Spirit of the universe.
We have come to a crossroad,
to a time when every word matters,
to a time when we must reevaluate ourselves and our actions.
Our heart is fragile
our body is shivering
in front of the unknown
our back is heavy with past burdens
burdens we do not know how to be rid of.
We ask that you shower us again
with love and compassion
make peace rain on our heart and soul
teach us how to see each other
with a brand-new eye
help us to appreciate and
welcome each other.
We need your blessing to move on,
we need your strength to make it through this time of turbulence.
Ancestors, hold us in your peace and warmth
Upcoming Conscious Eldering Programs
Our 2023 Schedule is almost finalized. In addition to two of our signature
Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats, we will be offering a new Oregon retreat focused on Conscious Elders in Service to Community, a weeklong retreat amid the emerald green of Ireland, our Next Step retreat for graduates of Choosing Conscious Elderhood, and, in collaboration with Sage-ing International, a unique, monthly online interview series called “Turning Points.” And we are always eager to present customized shorter introductory workshops for organizations that invite us and will handle the logistics.
Please consider joining us if you seek an empowering vision for your elder chapters, tools for helping make that vision reality, and the warmth of a supportive community of kindred spirits. Our programs provide a powerful opportunity to have your idealism acknowledged, your hope rekindled and your dreams for a vital, passionate elderhood supported? They offer you 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.
Choosing Conscious Elderhood
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
Conscious Elders in Service to Community
March 30 - April 2
at Buckhorn Springs Retreat near Ashland Oregon
in partnership with Cascadia Quest and Rites of Passage Journeys
for graduates of Choosing Conscious Elderhood
at Hope Springs Retreat Center
in the Appalachians of Ohio
Choosing Conscious Elderhood in Ireland
in County Wicklow, Ireland
online, monthly, beginning in March
The Center for Conscious Eldering, in partnership with Sage-ing International, will present a unique monthly program in which Ron Pevny, and Sage-ing International Chair Katia Petersen will interview leaders in the conscious eldering/ personal transformation field, with the focus being on those times of darkness and challenge, as well as inner breakthroughs and new beginnings, that have shaped the lives and informed the work of these leaders. Details and registration information will be available on January 2nd at www.sage-ing.org/events
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 found this novel to be an absolutely endearing account of one man's pilgrimage, ostensibly to visit an old friend before she dies, but gradually becoming so much more. Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn't heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live. Harold's journey turns into an inner journey of self-awareness, regret, forgiveness and redemption – a beautiful, charming, humorous and profound account of what must happen on the journey toward a conscious elderhood.
"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
Since Ron's book was released in 2014, many elder wisdom circles and discussion groups have found it to be an excellent resource around which to center their discussions and group practices. Ron is currently working on an expanded, new edition of his book.
Second Journeys: The Dance of Spirit in Later Life is a remarkable anthology edited by the late conscious aging pioneer Bolton Anthony and several others, including Ron Pevny. It contains essays, poetry and book recommendations from 45 leaders in the conscious aging movement on the many and diverse opportunities, challenges, growth practices, creative outlets, and areas of elder service available to be embraced by those committed to aging consciously. If I could recommend only one book to others seeking a comprehensive overview of conscious aging, written with many voices from many perspectives, embellished with inspiring personal stories, and certain to keep the reader’s interest, it is this one. It was published in 2013, is definitely not outdated, and is available through Amazon.
I and many others miss Bolton Anthony, and honor his magnificent legacy as a seminal voice for, and exemplar of, conscious eldering.
Online course taught by Center for Conscious Eldering guide emeritus Anne Wennhold
Aging Into the 80s
Coming in April
This is an eight-week Zoom seminar focused on the continuing transitions of growth and development beyond the active 70s. The focus off this seminar is to identify and develop ways of managing the unexpected turns taken by the transitions of later elderhood and to provide windows into topics and fears often hidden by cultural denial: such as Balancing One's Life Style, Continued Growth Practice, Letting Go and Facing Mortality. Now in her late 80’s and no longer co-guiding conscious eldering retreats, Anne will be bringing her own aging experience to this unique class.
For more information or to register, Contact Anne firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Human Values in Aging Newsletter
The newsletter you are reading is not intended to provide a comprehensive listing of workshops and other resources available these days to help support people in aging consciously. That job is well done by Rick Moody in his monthly Human Values in Aging newsletter. To receive it on the first day of each month, send an email to email@example.com
One of our partner organizations, the Elders Action Network is an educational non-profit organization fostering a budding movement of vital elders dedicated to growing in consciousness while actively addressing the demanding social and environmental 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. EAN offerings include, among others,
* Bi-weekly Elder Activists for Social Justice Community Conversations
*The growing and influential "Elders Climate Action" initiative
* The Empowered Elder--EAN's foundational program
*The new Sunrise Movement - an intergenerational collaborative effort between EAN and Sage-ing International
*The Elders for Regenerative Living initiative
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 "Sage-ing/conscious aging, Their greatly expanded offerings of online workshops and seminars, Elder Wisdom Circles, and their training program for Certified Sage-ing Leaders is grounded in the work of the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-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.
To view their website, visit www.sage-ing.org
Ron Pevny, Founder and Director
3707 Coronado Ave, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526
Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose, and not something you do in your spare time.
Marian Wright Edelman