Living Our Lives… as Conscious Elders


Morning at Blackwater

Mary Oliver

For years, every morning, I drank

from Blackwater Pond.

It was flavoured with oak leaves and also, no doubt,

the feet of ducks.


And always it assuaged me

from the dry bowl of the very far past.


What I want to say is

that the past is the past,

and the present is what your life is,

and you are capable

of choosing what that will be,

darling citizen.


So come to the pond,

or the river of your imagination,

or the harbour of your longing,


and put your lips to the world.

And live

your life.



I first became more conscious of 20th/21st C  ‘Elderhood’ when Nelson Mandela founded the now famous group, The Elders, in 2007.  They are a group of “independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights” covering three themes:

  • Governance and Leadership
  • Conflict, its Causes and Consequences
  • Inequality, Exclusion and Injustice


These themes focus on six programmes:

  • Ethical Leadership & Multilateral Cooperation
  • Conflict Countries & Regions
  • Universal Health Coverage
  • Climate Change
  • Refugees and Migration
  • Access to Justice


Today, they are chaired by Mary Robinson and include peace makers, peace builders, social revolutionaries and pioneering women.  They come from across all continents; they no longer hold any public office; they are independent of any national government or other vested interest.  What they have in common is their ability to “lead by example, create positive social change and inspire others to do the same.”


To learn more about who they are, what they do, where and how, go to:



Around that same time, in 2007, I encountered Fr Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan priest who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico.  He was visiting the UK, doing some work with men on ‘Male Spirituality’ but finished his visit by coming to Edinburgh to do a talk on ‘Action or Contemplation?’ which I attended.  The answer, of course, was ‘both-and’!   But the concept of ‘Elderhood’ featured in his talk too, and in subsequent conversations.  Although now interested in Elderhood generally, he was initially more interested in how desperately young Western men, in the 21st C, need male role models they can learn from and with.  As a prison chaplain, his experience of young men in prison was that few, if any of them had positive male role models in their lives.  None of them had had anything approaching the traditional first nation ritual of ‘male initiation’ at the age of around 13 when a young man, in the middle of puberty and thinking they have all the answers, is required to be tested in a way that ultimately humbles the ego and potentially moves into a time of physical and spiritual formation towards becoming a potential leader.  In the 21st C, Fr Rohr noted, inner city gangs or the military are the two major forms of ‘initiation’ for young men in the West, and the former, at least, rarely focuses on the positive or the spiritual.


To learn more about Fr Richard Rohr’s Center, and the work that he and his Living School does now, visit:


Since then, and because I, myself, am one of the ‘Baby Boomers’ that are now in their 60’s and 70’s, I have taken a particular interest in what our generation is doing with whatever years we have left.  Some have put together ‘Bucket Lists’ of all of the things they would still like to do or places they would like to go.  Some have given up and become cynical about aging and often bitter towards the younger generations.  But there are a significant few who are beginning to speak out about political, social and environmental justice from their lived experience and are becoming vocal in their local communities as well as supporting younger people into leadership.  Many of them ask themselves a variation of the question, which they know will be asked of their descendants, particularly about the environmental crisis:  ‘what did you do, once you knew?”



Reverence  -- by Minx Boren


true reverence

for the earth

and all that lives

requires revolutionary restraints


yet our disposition leans toward

readily disposable lifestyles

our habitual mindsets and actions

tilt toward whimsy and waste


recycling may be touted

as a cure-all but it does little

to reduce the toxic overload

that threatens our very existence


how did I not know this?

how did I ignore all the warnings

pointing a finger at my trashy

and throw-away habits?


does it even matter anymore

whether I awaken enough

to jump on some ‘save the planet’

bandwagon and Be the Change?


I feel soooooo old and

embarrassingly apologetic

for being

such a late bloomer


for arriving at this more responsible

and respectful awareness

so late in life

and only after being the cause

of so much detritus and damage


and yet…and yet…

to give in to the luxury of guilt

while throwing in the towel

is way too much of a cop-out

to even consider


and so here I am

ready to find some response

to the question

‘What did you do, once you knew?’




What follows is an incomplete but growing list of groups who are taking Conscious Elderhood seriously and inviting others to do the same.


In the UK:


U3A - University of the Third Age –

an informal, co-operative volunteer-led organization of retired and semi-retired people who come together to continue their educational, social and creative interests in a friendly and informal environment


Autumn Voices –

examining creativity in later life and providing opportunities for writers in the autumn years of their lives 


ElderSpirit -

embracing spirited ageing, inspiring spiritual eldering & conscious ageing – providing resources to enable the evolution of re-membering the potential of our conscious eldership – including workshops, wisdom circles, labyrinth walks, death café, spiritual counseling


ElderSpirit Blog –

a place for reflections on aging, particularly spiritual eldering and conscious ageing


Elderwoman –

a meeting place for women of age, maturity and wisdom; a source of inspiration for women in or about to enter their ‘Third Age’; a node in a vast, international network of wise women, spanning the globe; a forum for discussion; an oasis on the spiritual journey


Luminate Scotland:

Scotland’s creative ageing organization, bringing together older people and those from across the generations to explore our creativity as we age and share stories and ideas about what growing older means to all of us


Age of Creativity –

a network of professionals who believe that creativity and culture supports older people to experience better health, wellbeing and quality of life



In the USA (and those facilitating global gatherings):


Sage-ing International –

a conscious aging nonprofit dedicated to transforming the current limited view of ‘ageing’ to a more expansive one; promoting life=long learning; building communities of conscious elders; encouraging social activism and service and the leaving of spiritual legacies -- wisdom and spirit in action -- changing the paradigm from Age-ing to Sage-ing


Conscious Elders Network –

an educational non-profit organization fostering a budding movement of vital elders, dedicated to growing in consciousness while actively addressing the demanding challenges facing the world.


Elders Action Network –

building a collaborative movement of elders to address the social and environmental crises of our time; includes a Regenerative, Sustainable Living (RSL) Action Group; Elder Activists for Social Justice (EASJ); Elders Climate Action (ECA); Lifelong Learning


The Center for Conscious Eldering –

believing that true ‘elders’ are urgently needed in today’s world, this is a comprehensive approach to helping people consciously prepare for elderhoods of fulfillment, purpose and service


The ManKind Project  --

modeling and championing Elder values and being actively  involved in making a positive difference in our world by supporting one another on a path of emotional maturity, spiritual awareness, and deepening community


Spirituality & Practice –

elder spirituality e-courses including ‘spiritual elder activism,’ ‘navigating life’s transitions,’ ‘soulful aging,’ ‘becoming a wise elder,’ ‘re-storying your life,’’ the sage’s tao te ching’


Elderspirit Community –

a community resource center and team contributing to the growing national movement in support of “Aging in Community” by encouraging the creation of communities of mutual support and late-life spirituality



BLOGS & other Resources in the USA:


Sage-ing Int’l Blogs –

a series of blogs written mostly  by Sage-ing Intl’ members



Sage-ing Int’l Blogs –

a series of blogs written by other ‘conscious aging bloggers’


Changing Aging –

a blog exploring the hidden dimensions of our humanity and, in doing so, inspires personal growth and social change


Crones Counsel –

claiming the archetype of Crone through the creation of gatherings that honour and advance the aging woman’s value to society; sharing stories; enriching connections to ourselves, each other, and the world


Conscious Aging–

mystical activism and the psychology, spirituality and mysticism of the new aging blog


Fierce with age –

boomer wisdom, inspiration & spirituality with Carol Orsborn


A New Vision of Aging

a philosophy and training program called ‘Fruitful Aging’ around five keys: revisioning, reclaiming, realizing, reawakening, recognizing


Generosity from our Elders: Gifts for navigating life’s journey –

a film that can be downloaded for free



In Europe:


Legacy of Wisdom –

seeks to document, curate, and disseminate the wisdom of celebrated teachers and leaders from around the world to provide pertinent knowledge for a comprehensive and integrated path towards our later years in life


- - - - - - -



The list will, I am certain, continue to grow as more of us in the ‘Autumn Years’ of our lives acknowledge our personal and community responsibility for where we find ourselves in this world today, and become more determined to try to make the last years of our lives ones that we can look back upon and say: ‘when I knew… I did what I needed to do for as long as I was able.’


To encourage us, In 2017, Clarissa Pinkola Estes (author of ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves) wrote this to the bewildered:


“My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They 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 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."



And finally, a poem from George Bernard Shaw, who does not mince his words about what he perceives to be our ‘true job in life’!


This is the True Job in Life

This is the true job in life:

The being used for a purpose recognised

by yourself as a mighty one,

the being a force of nature

instead of a feverish,

selfish little clod of ailments and grievances

complaining that the world

will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs

to the whole community and as long as I live

it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die,

for the harder I work the more I live.

I rejoice in life for its own sake;

Life is no brief candle to me,

It is a sort of splendid torch

which I have got hold of for the moment,

And I want to make it burn as brightly

as possible before handing it on

to future generations.


George Bernard Shaw








N.A. November 2019