Four Rules for Life:

“Show up… Pay attention… Tell the truth…

Don’t be attached to the results”



Angeles Arrien is one of my favourite ‘wisdom teachers’ when talking or writing about Conscious Eldering or Spiritual Elderhood.


For example, when someone challenges me to be more specific when I use the word ‘spirituality,’ I often defer to her definition, which, for me, captures it in its essence:


"…spirituality is the experience of recognising states of grace, the transcendent, synchronicity, and that which is sacred or holy; it can be found in nature, silence, art, music, family and friendship.  It can bring wholeness to the emotional, physical, and intellectual dimensions of life.  The spirit, or life force, within us is the essence or centre point of mystery and meaning that is present at the core of our essential nature.  It is the force that allows us to integrate our internal and external experiences.  The essence of spirituality provides a sense of intactness and wholeness in our nature.  When we are in touch with this central core, we experience self-trust and unshakeable faith.  Connecting to this core brings us into alignment with what has heart and meaning, and conveys what remains mysterious and transcendent for us all.  It is that which makes us unique."   (from the book Living in Gratitude)


A cultural anthropologist, born to Basque parents in Spain, Angeles Arrien moved to the USA when she was 7 where she went on to become a lecturer at the California Institute of Integral Studies.  The results of her considerable inter-disciplinary research have been published widely and in multiple languages.  She is probably best known for her books, which draw upon this research.  These include The Second Half of Life and The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary.


This latter book, The Four-Fold Way,  is a study of the ways in common which indigenous cultures throughout the world support creative expression, health and adaptation to change.  It provides a development of four major principles that integrate ancient cultural wisdoms into contemporary life. These principles provide us with unusual clarity that can nourish us as we get older and as we attempt to manage today’s complex world of constant change:


  1. Show up, or choose to be present.

Being present allows us to access the human resources of power, presence, and communication. This is the way of the leader/warrior. We express the way of the leader through appropriate action, good timing, and clear communication.

  1. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.

Paying attention opens us to the human resources of love, gratitude, acknowledgment, and validation. This is the way of the healer. We express the way of the healer through our attitudes and actions that maintain personal health and support the welfare of our environment.

  1. Tell the truth without blame or judgment.

Truthfulness, authenticity, and integrity are keys to developing our vision and intuition. This is the way of the visionary. We express the way of the visionary through personal creativity, goals, plans, and our ability to bring our life dreams and visions into the world.

  1. Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.

Openness and non-attachment help us recover the human resources of wisdom and objectivity. This is the way of the teacher. We express the way of the teacher through our constructive communication and informational skills.


She tells us that optimum health is often found when we live with a balance of these four areas of leading, healing, visioning and teaching.  Additionally, she suggests that, cross-culturally these four areas reflect the four human resources of power, love, vision, and wisdom:

  • the Leader/Warrior’s way is to know the right use of power – and through the resource of power, we are able to show up;
  • the Healer’s way is to extend love – and through the resource of love we are able to pay attention to what has heart and meaning;
  • the Visionary’s way is to express creativity and vision – and through the resource of vision we are able to give voice to what we see;
  • the Teacher’s way is to model wisdom – and through the resource of wisdom we are able to be open to all possibilities and unattached to outcome.


And if we have lost the will or the ability or the insight to nurture and use these resources well, we become ill.


“In many traditional societies, if you came to a medicine man or woman complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they might ask you one of four questions: ‘when did you stop dancing?  when did you stop singing? when did you stop being enchanted by stories? when did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?” (The Four Fold Way)


The implication is that when we stopped doing any/all of these things was when we begin to experience some form of ‘soul loss’ or ‘loss of spirit’.  Re-integrating dance, song, storytelling and silence into our lives is often a way to retrieve those parts of ourselves that have become lost or ‘unremembered’ along the way and through the years of our lives.


The book is a resource, rich in wisdom, for anyone in the Autumn years of one’s life, interested in becoming more ‘connected to one’s central core’ and ‘aligned with what has heart and meaning.’


Another of my Conscious Eldering ‘wisdom teachers’ is Mary Oliver, the widely admired poet whose poetry invites one to pause, reflect and be changed.


It was not difficult to find four poems of hers that complemented beautifully Angeles Arrien’s Four Rules of Life.  Because they are all fairly long, I include only excerpts here… but do read the full poems here:



Show up… and be present...


When Death Comes (excerpt)   by Mary Oliver


“… I want to step through the door full of curiosity,



what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?


And therefore I look upon everything


as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,


and I look upon time as no more than an idea,


and I consider eternity as another possibility…


*  *  *  * 


… When it’s over, I want to say all my life


I was a bride married to amazement.


I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder


if I have made of my life something particular, and real.


I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,


or full of argument.


I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”


Pay attention to what has heart and meaning…


Sometimes (excerpt)     by Mary Oliver




Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.



Two or three times in my life I discovered love.

Each time it seemed to solve everything.

Each time it solved a great many things

but not everything.

Yet left me grateful as if it had indeed, and

thoroughly, solved everything.



God, rest in my heart

and fortify me,

take away my hunger for answers,

let the hours play upon my body

like the hands of my beloved.

Let the cathead appear again --

the smallest of your mysteries,

some wild cousin of my own blood probably --

some cousin of my own wild blood probably,

in the black dinner-bowl of the pond.



Death waits for me, I know it, around

one corner or another

This doesn’t amuse me.

Neither does it frighten me.


After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.

It was cool , and I was anything but drowsy.

I walked slowly, and listened.


to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.”


Tell the truth without blame or judgment…


Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches  (excerpt)   by Mary Oliver



“… Do you think this world is only an entertainment for you?


Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides

with perfect courtesy, to let you in!

Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!

Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over

the dark acorn of your heart?


No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint

that something is missing from your life!


Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?

Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot

in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself


Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed

with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?


Well, there is time left —

fields everywhere invite you into them.


And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away

from wherever you are, to look for your soul?


Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!


To put one’s foot into the door of the grass, which is

the mystery, which is death as well as life, and

not be afraid!


To set one’s foot in the door of death, and be overcome with amazement!...


*  *  *  * 


…Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?


While the soul, after all, is only a window,


and the opening of the window no more difficult

than the wakening from a little sleep.


Only last week I went out among the thorns and said

to the wild roses:

deny me not,

but suffer my devotion.

Then, all afternoon, I sat among them.  Maybe


I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge-red,

hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.


For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,

caution and prudence?

Fall in!  Fall in!...”




Don’t be attached to the results...


In Blackwater Woods     by Mary Oliver


“…every year


I have ever learned


in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side


is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world


you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it


against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.”





N.A. October 2019