by Ron Pevny
I recently had a conversation with a woman who has participated in two of our Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats in the last ten years. She told me that while her commitment to aging consciously remained strong, she felt she had fallen off the path because her deep passion for helping ease suffering in third world countries took so much of her time and energy that she wasn’t engaged with various inner work practices. Our conversation served as a catalyst for this article about how we know if we are indeed on the path, or merely wishing we were.
Those of you who have read my book Conscious Living, Conscious Aging and other writings by me and others know that conscious eldering is both a vision of the rich possibilities that call to us as we age, and a multi-faceted foundation of inner work that can support us in fulfilling our potential as conscious elders. The key aspects of this inner work—belief, release and healing of the past, finding and living with purpose, community, and spiritual deepening are all critical components to supporting the emergence of the fulfilled elder within each of us. It is important that we use this precious time in our lives to engage with all these key tasks of eldering. But since we are unique, multi-faceted individuals, how we engage with this inner work, when we engage with it, and how much emphasis we place on its various aspects at any given time depend upon what feels right to us as we try to be in touch with our most authentic inner voice.
For the woman with whom I had the conversation, her long-time purpose is her strong need to serve. At this point, that is what she believes is the most important expression of her life energy, for her own fulfillment and the wellbeing of others. I can easily point to others equally committed to conscious eldering who strongly feel the need for focusing much of their energy on the inward journey with its reflective and contemplative practices. There are many ways to age consciously. And there are many ways to fool ourselves into believing we are doing so when we aren’t, and they can be so subtle.
At the top of my list of ways to deceive ourselves is equating the collection of information with growth. Information can be useful in enhancing our awareness and can give us an inspiring picture of what is possible. However, information not reflected upon and acted upon is meaningless in terms of our growth, and does not make us wiser. But it certainly can support the feel-good illusion that we are growing, and some of us for this reason become “workshop junkies.” I believe that a true commitment to working over time with the information and practices from one good personal growth workshop that somehow calls to us is worth far more than going to many enticing workshops or listening to many webinars in the hope that ever more information or temporary inspiration will change us. We change through our intention and commitment to using the precious resources available to us.
So, since all of us are works in progress as we seek to age consciously, and our paths are so unique, how do we know if we are indeed making any progress? I believe most everything I know about conscious eldering can be distilled down to the following. We are on the path if each morning our strong intention is to in some way grow and in some way serve, and if at day’s end most days we can identify some way we have grown and served.
There are so many ways to grow: in curiosity, in skills; in willingness to step outside our comfort zones; in ability to be flexible; in ability to forgive; in ability to keep our hearts open as others close theirs; in self-understanding; in learning more about our world; in discovering potentials we didn’t know we have; in shedding self-limiting beliefs.
And there are so many ways to serve: through giving our gifts in ways that fulfill a specific sense of purpose, like the woman I referenced earlier; through responding to some of the myriad opportunities that arise each day to extend love and caring to another; through being truly present to those who cross our paths each day; through engaging in social and environmental actions that help promote a better world for the generations that will follow us; through finding our best way to send love and compassion to people and events in dire need of loving energy.
Living in this way requires intentionality and focus. As we embrace ways to grow and serve each day, this commitment will gradually shift from being a practice we engage in to a way of being that reflects who we are becoming. Growing and serving will become our primary motivations. This is how we know that we are indeed growing into true elderhood.
And there will be days when we don’t live in such a way, days when we numb out, days when we live mindlessly. But each day is a new day, offering the opportunity for recommitment to our overriding goal. Remember that nothing sabotages our noblest intentions like critical self-judgment that closes our hearts to ourselves, fills us with guilt and feelings of unworthiness. Guilt does not support conscious eldering. Telling ourselves how weak and unworthy we are whenever we go unconscious (and all of us will often be unconscious) does not support conscious eldering. What does support this journey is acknowledging ourselves for choosing this path and for the progress we are making; developing the self-awareness to know what from within and without pushes us off the path; committing to showering ourselves with love as we slowly but surely move forward; and using our ability to connect with our inner knowing—our spiritual dimension—and from that place making choices each day, one day at a time, to be as conscious and intentional as we can. Each day is a new day, a new opportunity for a fresh start on our journey toward conscious elderhood.