Conscious eldering - growing old with purpose

Aug 4, 2013

As Americans are living longer and longer, the question arises – how do you want to live your life in your senior years? This week on “Take Care,” we interview Ron Pevny, a counselor, psychotherapist, and the founder of the Center for Conscious Eldering in Durango, Colorado.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Ron Pevny.

Today, many people may find themselves with two or three decades of life to live after retirement. But how do you make those years “golden,” and not a period of decline? Pevny says the answer lies in “conscious eldering.”

Pevny says he firmly believes, and has seen examples, that our lives can be a continual process of growth until the moment that we die. When people are younger, much of the purpose of life is about establishing self-identity and career. So for some people, when retirement comes and they no longer have their career to provide a natural source of growth and development, they feel adrift.

“To view this as a time of basically decline and disengaging and just kind of hanging on as best we can to what we had, is certainly not a way that brings fulfillment for many people,” said Pevny.

That’s where conscious eldering comes in. The final third of life, can be a time of growth in relation to our inner lives, says Pevny. In fact, there’s a natural tendency for humans to become more reflective and begin to want to focus on soul and spirit. 

Part of conscious eldering work, says Pevny, is to focus on “life review,” looking back at what experiences you’ve had in your life, which have been the most challenging, what did they teach us? What are your biggest strengths, what are the deepest values that have driven you, what have beeny our regrets? That’s how we learn and distill wisdom from our life experiences, according to Pevny.

But he says, it takes work. This is not just reminiscing, but active reflecting. To age consciously, according to Pevny, means to bring as much awareness as we possibly can to what’s going on within us as we look at our lives so far, and what our lives can be.

The idea is not to just look at life as a bunch of memories, but to think about what you can still learn from those experiences. Don’t just stew in painful memories, says Pevny, but rather think about what wisdom can you gain from the looking back at the totality of your life.

“See life as continual upward journey of growing rather than… just having a bunch of experiences,” says Pevny.

Facing mortality – rather than denying it -- is one of the major tasks of conscious eldering, says Pevny. While it can be difficult for many people, he says, it helps to think about other endings that have happened in your life.

The idea is to live like every moment is your last – not as an obsession – but as a reality. And use that awareness to make sure you live today as fully as you possibly can.

“To think about, when you’re on your death bed, what do you want to be able to feel about your life? What do you want to be able to feel about the final third of your life and how you’ve lived it? What is most important that you want to be able to tell your descendants… what do you want to be able to tell them about the meaning of your life and what you have learned?” asked Pevny.

As Pevny said, “one is never too old; it is never too late.” But it takes some conscious intention to grow old with purpose.