Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Playfulness, Sage-ing and A New Wrinkle

When we play, we step out of ordinary time, and get free of self-consciousness.
Playfulness is wonderful because it lifts us out of mundane concerns and sets us free in a beautiful open field, where we have a chance to express ourselves spontaneously.

I offered a workshop on Playfulness and the Art of Aging at the Sage-ing International conference. Wow, was that fun! Over 30 people participated. The sharing we did on our childhood play experiences was marvelous, and sometimes very touching. We made faces, funny sounds, told stories, made believe in various ways and we laughed and laughed.  What a pleasure.

I also had a chance to perform some of the songs from A New Wrinkle, our musical revue on aging, at the conference.  I love performing. It is a form of play that I find very freeing. And to perform in front of such a welcoming, loving audience was very exhilarating indeed. I sang Baba Yaga's Raga and excerpts from Sex after 60, and shared the lyrics of Death is Right around the Corner, too. Dr. Rick Moody and I were sitting next to each other that evening. His comments really made my heart sing! When I came back to the table after performing, he was enthusiastic. "Genius!" he exclaimed. Wow, okay, that's a good review in my book. Later he told me, "Your performance was the capstone of the conference."

Thank you, Dr. Moody. That kind of affirmation and encouragement is helpful to me as an artist and human being. He gave me some other feedback too, suggesting that I could add stand-up comedy to my repertoire. Ha ha ha. Seriously. I do love being funny, silly and foolish. I appreciated his comments and the self-reflection they afforded. And yes, it felt great to have the songs from A New Wrinkle so appreciated by the Sage-ing folks.

Composer Laura Rich and I continue to work on new songs we are creating for A New Wrinkle. I'm working on one about Medicare and Social Insecurity right now. I've written lyrics for another song titled The Silver Tsunami as well as two songs that are meant to contrast with each other on ways of perceiving the aging body. One is sung by a woman who thinks plastic surgery will solve her problems, and the other is a gospel song The Body is the Temple of the Soul. I know they are going to be fun together. That's what's happening with A New Wrinkle at the moment.

I wanted to share some comments from Sue Shoemaker, who came to the Sage-ing conference from Michigan. I first met Sue on ElderwomanSpace, an Internet community we both belong to. It was delightful to meet her in person. I think that her comments are insightful, especially since this conference was her first experience with Sage-ing. Now she is headed to Indiana to take the Sage-ing Leadership training! You go, Sue!

Sue liked  "the consistent references to storytelling ... right from the beginning, we brought our voices into the room by telling the story of the water we brought from home. Gaea's workshop really brought out the storyteller in each of the participants. When they talked about their joyful childhood memories, it was clear they found enjoyment in the remembering and telling. I attended the workshop The Power of Storytelling, and it was clear that we all are natural storytellers. We had lots of opportunities to share what we we thinking and what we have learned."

Sue continues, "In all of the sessions, there was a healthy blend of listening and sharing.  It was extremely participatory.  For me the opening session, singing that beautiful song BY BREATH  touched me deeply. Then to be welcomed by the gentleman from the Cherokee Tribe, realizing we were meeting in the part of the country that they inhabit. I also appreciated that all of the people who were fairly renowned were as friendly and approachable as anyone else. LAUGHTER -- from the session on Playfulness to the various Plenary Sessions, humorous comments and stories led to lots of laughter.  Don't think I heard any complaints, gripes or curmudgeonly comments the whole time I was there. I also did not hear about any health issues, surgeries, or aches and pains."

Sue also pointed out the spiritual quality that was an important part of the conference. "I am sure that is why the opening and closing sessions resonated so deeply with me.  I felt a connection that moved me deeply inside. Having been disconnected from "religious" experiences for several years now, the music on that first night moved my being in the way that certain spiritual music has touched me in the past."

Thanks, Sue.  Your comments tell a good story about the conference.

I also met Ina Albert in person for the first time at the conference. Ina is a Sage-ing leader who lives in White Fish, Montana. She and I we realized we were kindred spirits and started connecting by email and phone.  I asked Ina to send me some of her observations about the conference to include here. They will be part of my next blog essay.

We are familiar with the various ways people dress up and decorate themselves in our culture in an every day way.  Halloween is nearly here, and people are getting ready to go even further, take on alter egos and make believe they are Elvis, the upstairs maid,  Mary Poppins or some chap from Transylvania.

I think the Omo culture has magical ways of dressing and ornamenting themselves. This one image will give you some idea of what I mean. If you want to see more gorgeous Omo costuming from natural materials, get thee to Google and do a search.
The Omo tribe's traditional ways of dressing and ornamenting is very beautiful/.

On another note entirely, I love this funny Halloween group therapy cartoon.

Just before I went out to a meeting this afternoon, I headed to the mailbox and found The Five Stages of the Soul, by Dr. Moody and his co-writer David Carrol. I began to read it before I left for the meeting, thinking of one of Rick Moody's comments to me. "Let yourself go even more," he said. Yes, indeed. Letting go of the so-called self is one of the big jobs of aging.

I know I'm going to love this book, which explores the wish for meaning in life, especially later life. But more on that anon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sage-ing International Conference: Gathering at the Lake

The conference was held at Lake Junaluska, a Methodist Church-run conference center outside of Asheville, NC
I just returned from the Sage-ing International conference, which was held at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, a Methodist facility  in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina. It felt good that we were gathering at the big, peaceful lake.  Lakes have a strong association with the Feminine, with healing, fertility and growth. The surface of a big lake can be seen as a mirror for contemplation, consciousness and revelation. In Chinese symbology, the lake represents receptive wisdom and absorption. And the work of sage-ing contains all of these elements. 

Some Sage-ing History

The organization that is now called Sage-ing International began through the pioneering work of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, whose classic book From Age-ing to Sage-ing sets forth a powerful new vision of aging. At first, the organization was called Spiritual Eldering Institute. Then its name was changed to The Sage-ing Guild. The new name, Sage-ing International,  was chosen after considering many names submitted by members. The new name was announced at the conference.

Do you know anything about sage-ing and Reb Zalman's pioneering work? I encourage you to read his book if you haven't done so yet, and to learn more about him as a model of eldering. His contribution to the development of a new paradigm of aging is enormous.

A walking path circled the lake. We had sunny days--beautiful autumn weather.
I arrived at the lake in time to relax and unwind after travelling cross country. I took some long walks in the autumn sun.
I had hopes when I signed up for the conference, and they were met and sometimes even exceeded.  I wanted to meet people in the aging field that  I had heard about for years. I wanted to get to know how others in creative, conscious aging did their work. I wanted to learn more about the Sage-ing movement itself.

And I wanted to have the opportunity to share some songs from A New Wrinkle, our musical revue on aging, with an audience that I believed could give me useful feedback.

Bob Atchley

I met people.

Many wonderful people who touched my heart.

For instance, I met Bob Atchley. My friend Susan Bosworth studied with him at Naropa, and was always talking about him so I had wanted to meet him for years. Bob is a really delightful human being--funny, warm and engaging. After retiring from his academic career, he has taken up an encore career as a singer-songwriter. It was great fun to talk with him and see him perform his wonderful songs. Check out his website for more information on his music and workshops he offers.

I wanted to meet H.R. "Rick" Moody and Connie Goldman, too-- and I did! Connie began her career at NPR and has spent decades writing about aging. Her interviews and observations are well worth reading. You can check out her books and other services at her website.  

Rick Moody is Director of Academic Affairs at AARP.   I found Rick to be a generous, thoughtful and funny person. He made himself available to talk with people about a wide variety of topics, including marketing. It was a real joy to meet all three of these delightful folks.  I  hope my life and work brings me into contact with them again. 

H.R. "Rick" Moody (seated on left, in back) generously shared his wit and wisdom with us, including at two breakfast meetings devoted to marketing. 

The presentations I attended were all very well-done. I enjoyed learning more about storycatching from Christina Baldwin of PeerSpirit. I resonated with Ina Albert's workshop on the energetics of the heart and how we communicate through the heart.  I learned more about the intersection of spiritual direction and life coaching from Rev. Nancy N. DeStefano and Carol Scott-Kassner.

I was touched to be with those who have been involved in the evolution of the Sage-ing organization for many years, whose dedication has supported the organization as it has changed and grown. Thank you, all of you for your generosity and kindness.

I loved the plenary sessions where we all gathered  to brainstorm and create. The speakers were delightful, introducing topics with insight and humor. I especially liked the work we as a group did together on shifting the aging paradigm. The plenary session on spirituality and wisdom was quite wonderful, too.

Rituals were an integral part of the conference, and they were enriching and beautiful. During the final ritual,  the most elder among us were honored with ceremonial scarves representing the elements. The love in that room was resonant, let me tell you.

I joined Sage-ing International because I suspected the people in it might be kindred spirits. And I am happy to report that my suspicion was right. It felt very, very good to be so at home with scores of folks who had been strangers only hours before that. I met some people who moved me a great deal, with whom I shared deeply, and some of them will probably be my friends for years.

When you hang out with people in Sage-ing groups, you introduce yourself by name and then you say "and I have 71 years of life experience." Or whatever number of years it is you do have. That feels good, doesn't it? It did to me.

 Sage-ing International is a great place for you if you are an older adult who longs for meaningful connection, community and personal//spiritual growth.  In other words, you may want to join Sage-ing International yourself!

I want to write about Playfulness and the Art of Aging, the workshop I presented at the conference, and also the performance I did of some songs from A New Wrinkle, and I will do that in my next blog. I am feeling encouraged, stimulated, supported and loved, thanks to my conference experience.

These are some of the women I first met through ElderwomanSpace, an international internet community. It was wonderful to meet them in person at the conference!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Elder Hall of Fame: Vandana Shiva

We have a Baseball Hall of Fame and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but as yet we do not have an Elder Hall of Fame to celebrate elders who are remarkable, outstanding examples of what human beings can be in their later years. I hope we don't have to wait too many more years before an Elder Hall of Fame is created.  I wonder what city it will be located in. 

 I like to imagine attending the yearly award ceremonies designed to honor elders in different fields. Can you feel how wonderful this would be, too? Having an Elder Hall of Fame that acknowledges the significant contributions of elders in the arts, science, the environment, philosophy, athletics, business, etc...It tickles me to imagine it coming into fruition.

I have quite a list of elders I want to nominate for the Elder Hall of Fame. They are people I deeply admire for their passionate commitment to their life work. Dr. Vandana Shiva is one of them. At 60, she is still a young elder.

Do you know of her and her work? Let me tell you something about it, and in the course of that, you will understand why I admire her so. Perhaps it's best to start by recognizing the breadth and depth of her vision.  Well-known as an environmental activist and author of numerous books, Shiva is inspiring, a brilliant thinker and a tireless advocate for the wellbeing of the Earth and its creatures.

To me, it seems that ecological/-environmental issues are the main issues of our time. We utterly depend upon the Earth's integrity, diversity and health in order to continue living here as a species. Most of us are quite aware of how the  globalization of corporate power has affected the Earth and its creatures. This is the arena in which Vandana Shiva chooses to work --exposing how global corporations are plundering the Earth, and developing solutions for that depredation.

Vandana Shiva was born in Dehra Dun, India at the foothills of the Himalayas. Her father was a conservator of forests and her mother was a farmer.  Both parents were staunch supporters of Gandhi and Shiva herself espouses Gandhi's philosophy, saying "I have tried to be the change I want to see." This statement is simple enough, but when a human embodies it as Vandana Shiva has done, it is deeply moving. That is to say, I am deeply moved by her vision, her dedication and the profoundly integrative understanding she brings to the biggest issues of our era.

Before becoming an activist, Dr. Shiva was one of India's leading physicists. Troubled by what she calls the dark side of science, she decided to become a theoretical physicist rather than a nuclear physicist as she had originally planned.  If it were not for her enormous curiosity about social issues, she might have settled into a rather quiet life in academia. That was not to be.

The listing of her books, research and organizations she has created is long. She has received many honors and much recognition, and rightly so. She is described as an eco-feminist because she speaks to the inclusion of women. She has fought for change in the way we view agriculture and food. She created Navdanya, an organization that has developed native seed banks on 57 areas of India, as a response to corporate attempts to control what is grown and how seeds are passed along. Do you know how important an issue seeds are? Without biodiversity and free native seed exchange, we are imprisoned in corporate control of seeding, subject to dangerous GMOs and prevented from growing food in a natural, local way.

The Utne Reader) describes Shiva as "a one-woman movement for peace, sustainability and social justice."  I have to agree with that description. She is a person who has plunged into major social// environmental issues and applied her intellect and passion to creating solutions. I have only touched on some of her interests, involvements and accomplishments.

If you are inspired to learn more about her and her life work, you can Google her books or read some of her Resurgence Magazine articles.

If you wanted, you could even get more involved than that in her work to support global biodiversity, 
small, decentralized and local agriculture other sustainability efforts. As is stated in a website devoted to her green work, "Ecological recovery cannot be based on centralized and globalised control over resources. It has to be based on the decentralized logic of Gandhi’s “ever-widening, never ascending’ circles."

Vandana Shiva: an elder worthy of praise and support. I nominate her for the Elder Hall of Fame.