The art, the practice and the gift of conscious aging
by Ron Pevny
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Michelangelo
What do I aim for as I age? What does aging mean to me? How do I deal with my fears of aging? How can I find fulfillment and dignity as I grow older? What is the purpose of my life after retirement?
Such questions of meaning and purpose arise in the quiet hours for many of us but are seldom asked, answered or even acknowledged in public. Often we consider only the monetary aspects of aging. While addressing our financial and physical security is certainly important, it is equally important to address the needs of our emotional and spiritual selves — our needs to thrive as well as survive. My work is to share with others a vision of aging, often called “conscious aging” or “conscious eldering,” that recognizes and supports all that is life-enhancing and passion-awakening as we contemplate the later chapters of our lives. These years can be a time of deep fulfillment as we reach the pinnacle of our personal and spiritual growth. They can be an opportunity for the kind of service to community and sharing of wisdom that, throughout most of human history, defined the honored role that cultures accorded their elders.
For those inspired by this vision, conscious aging is a path characterized by meaningful goals for our elderhood that spring from our authentic selves rather than the expectations of the society around us, and by our use of the power of intention and inner work to make our sense of what is possible a reality. It is a challenging path that requires the courage to aim high and bring awareness and intention to our aging, rather than drift into old age without goals that can bring out the best in us.
This is not only about aiming for lofty goals, however. Our ability to reach our goals is very much dependent upon the state of our inner life and the inner development work we do to bring clear, healthy energy to our lives as we age. We have all heard “wherever you go, there you are.” There is great value in seriously reflecting on “what kind of a self am I bringing to my later life chapters?”
As we move through life, we suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” We are all wounded by others, by painful experiences, by our own misguided choices and actions. These wounds often produce lingering, heart-closing resentments and numb our emotional lives. Many of us harbor regrets and are weakened by disempowering internal stories of being victims, or inadequate, or unworthy. We have absorbed and internalized countless messages from the society around us about who we are and what should have meaning for us, and in the process we become somewhat estranged from our own authentic selves and our internal guidance for our lives.
All of these realities, largely unconscious for most of us, bind our life energy to emotional baggage, sap our passion and blind us to our unique potential. The lack of energy, passion and sense of purpose that so many experience in their senior years is not primarily a function of age, but rather of these life-draining inner dynamics. Critical to conscious aging is commitment to inner work to free up our energy and passion by healing old wounds, forgiving resentments, transforming regrets, re-writing disempowering old stories, replacing counterproductive habits with conscious choices, and getting in touch with the spiritual dimension from which our visions and our unique, authentic goals can emerge. We are then able to aim high.
Conscious aging is not a path that everyone will embrace. However, a growing number of baby boomers as well as those beyond their sixties are indeed hearing a strong call from within to age consciously. Are you one of them? What do you plan to do with the remaining chapters of your precious life? If you recognize that call within yourself, I encourage you to respond as if your deepest fulfillment depends upon it and the wellbeing of the generations to follow you depends upon the choices you and others make. Because they do.
Collectively we can lay the foundation for a healthy world in which our descendents can thrive. There is no greater legacy we can leave to future generations, and no greater gift we can give to ourselves, than to aim high as we age, ever reaching for our best. The world needs the wisdom, wholeness, passion and gifts of conscious elders.
Director of the Center for Conscious Eldering in Durango, Colorado, Ron Pevny is the author of Conscious Living, Conscious Aging: Embrace and Savor your Next Chapter, published by Beyond Words/Atria Books. Ron will give a presentation on Conscious Aging at the Fort Collins Holistic Fair on March 12th, and will be offering a workshop at Sunrise Ranch near Loveland on June 3–5. See www.centerforconsciouseldering.com.