• Elders Circle Blog

Welcome to the Elders Circle Blog

From time to time, Elders Circle members share thoughts about eldership. Please enjoy!

Key Contributors:

Paul Myers

Paul is a man of many talents and writing is decidedly one of them. From the practical and profane to the profound and philosophical, his reflections capture things we know we know, things we feel but hadn’t to put into words. He dashes off a regular column for the Gibson’s Farm Collective Newsletter, a weekly publication listing the produce on offer to members of the Collective. He writes with brevity and wisdom about whatever is on his mind and always brings it back to the practice of growing food. He and Dawn are deep ecology advocates, serious permaculture enthusiasts, and creators of BrookBank Farm – a veritable Garden of Eden and model of sustainable agriculture for the 21st Century. Paul has agreed to an ongoing republishing of his musings for our Elders Blog.

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  • 24 Mar 2017 9:58 PM | Barbara Joughin

    The SPEC Elders Circle has chosen “reclaiming elder wisdom” as its catch-phrase. In the Elder Circle Salons, core team meetings, casual conversations, and email exchanges we have clarified and elaborated the nature of such “wisdom.”

    In no particular order, here are some characteristics:

    ·         paying attention

    ·         showing up; being there

    ·         not being judgmental

    ·         encouraging others

    ·         meeting others with a loving gaze

    ·         flexibility and openness

    ·         an ongoing willingness to learn and engage

    ·         a sense of humour

    ·         not taking yourself too seriously

    ·         humility

    ·         gratitude

    ·         willingness to admit where, when, and how we've been part of any problem

    ·         willingness to change your mind and the way you live

    ·         willingness and ability to accept the changes in our bodies

    ·         willingness to accept help graciously

    ·         generosity

    ·         generativity

  • 16 Mar 2017 9:27 PM | Barbara Joughin

    Recently I was reminded of an epiphany I had while working in my peach orchard years ago. It was early in the year when the trees need to be pruned. It is amazing how many branches have to come off. When that job is finished, the orchard is littered with twigs which need to disposed of in some way. In those days, we made a big pile in an open area in the orchard, let the prunings dry, and then had a big bonfire where, at the end of the day, supper was cooked over the embers.

    If you pile the branches the way they come off the tree, the pile becomes huge and there are many spaces between the branches. This makes it nearly impossible to get a fire going. So, before they were gathered, I cut them apart so they could be bundled. The children always complained about this because it meant more bending over, more picking up. But in the end they enjoyed the big fire and loved to tend it.

    One day, while I was snipping the branches apart and thinking about bundling, I recalled a long-ago lesson about the Roman symbol of a bundle of sticks meant to represent community and strength. A single stick or branch can be broken easily but not a bundle. I also remembered what this bundle was called, a “fasces.” And that it was when the epiphany occurred. Rome was an empire. The strength they were after required bundling, required conformity. Everyone needed to be lined up, pointing in the same direction.

    I stopped cutting branches, rested my pruning shears, and looked up into one of the peach trees. There the branches were pointing in all directions, nicely spaced so that light and air could have easy access to every part of the tree. In a healthy, well-tended tree branches are not lined up in parallel, aren't bundled. Cleaning up an orchard may require bundling; but that is perhaps not what we should expect of people.

    I also recalled that “fasces” is the root of “fascism.” Uniqueness, variety, originality, difference, and non-conformity are features of a healthy society. Welcoming and making room for those who live and think in a different direction from us is a challenge but makes for a better world – just like a more fruitful peach tree.

    I am currently reading Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, by Olive Patricia Dickason. It is a comprehensive and detailed history. In the pages that recount the aftermath of the 1885 Rebellion, Dickason writes, “In the rough and tumble of building nation-states and extending them into empires, unity and conformity were the social and political ideals. Much as Amerindians might have been appreciated on their own merits in philosophic or artistic circles, in the political arena they were expected to conform to the prevailing ethos as exemplified by the dominant power. The idea of a cultural mosaic within the borders of a single nation-state was not yet taken seriously, if considered at all.”

    It was this passage that brought to mind that epiphany in the orchard all those years ago. I suggest it is worth our while to think about non-conformity at this point in history. We too live in an empire which exerts pressures for us to conform, to fall into line, to be bundled. Let us resist these pressures and encourage each other to think for ourselves. Let us be open to those who think and live otherwise.

  • 08 Mar 2017 10:13 AM | Barbara Joughin

    I was asked to make available my opening remarks to the latest SPEC Elders Circle event on February 28th, 2017.

    The overall theme of the evening was Contributing Positively in Negative Times.

    The old view about aging was that at a certain age we stop growing and in fact stultify in our learning and ability to absorb and integrate new experience. That’s the view that says, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” However, neuroscience information tells us that our brains remain plastic and open to learning and growing throughout life. Increasingly, gerontologists and authors on aging speak of a new developmental stage of life opened up by the expanded life expectancy of elders. A key element of that developmental stage is consolidating and expressing elder wisdom.

    We’ve worked during this year with the founding theme of the Elders Circle, Reclaiming Elder Wisdom. We believe it is both a dignified and important role in society at any time, and particularly in the turmoil and inherent uncertainty of our current historical moment, when every bit of wisdom is important.

    Developing wisdom is a continuing process throughout life. It includes our learned experience from a life well lived. Additionally, it involves a further developmental process that supports a big inner shift. We’ve already grown into a familiar personality that we carry in this life. Hopefully we feel reasonably satisfied and mature in that personality – but it’s a limited role in life. The next stage of growth is to let that personality settle back into a less prominent role, and let an even deeper and unlimited self develop – what some call the “true self.” This is a shift from the personality to the “mature human being,” with your full potential awake and aware of your deep unity with your body, with each other and with the whole of creation. Even the most stable and healthy personality cannot make this shift if it can’t get beyond itself.

    The first time I heard that phrase, “Mature human being” I was already past 65 and had accomplished many things in my life – yet my heart leapt at the idea. I knew that was what I wanted to become. We can miss this developmental stage, this shift if we’re not encouraged and supported, because it means letting go of our familiar patterns and embracing new ones. What we lose is only the limited range of our personality and its views. What we gain is supportive community, a whole new range of freedom and ease of well-being, and a conviction that our views emerge out of a deeper wisdom. It’s a courageous journey, but it is life-giving way beyond its sacrifices.

    It’s both a scientific and a spiritual journey; spiritual because it expands beyond our everyday selves, and scientific because it requires us to investigate into ourselves with the positive attitudes of uncertainty, openness, diligence, rigour, and a willingness to let go of false assumptions. We learn tools that help us assess what’s actually present in our lives, whether it’s encouraging or discouraging of our growth, how it was supported to arise, and how to support or interrupt it depending on its nature. These are scientific tools of inquiry.

    The impetus to this journey often emerges out of crisis, though it can happen anytime, to anybody, at any age. If you think of it, coming to the end of life often engages a low-level sense of urgency, even a crisis of meaning, and for many of us an accompanying wish to fulfill our purpose, to give back to life, and to leave a legacy of support and encouragement to next generations. It is wisdom that supports our engaging the journey and this developmental stage. The good news is that it’s naturally a part of who we already are, it’s already present and just needs to be uncovered.

    That’s the big picture and I’m passionate about it – as are the other elders in our core team. There are day-to-day attitudes and skills that we can learn and support that we give each other to help us along this path. Learning about and adding some tools for how to contribute positively in negative times is the topic for this gathering, and practicing these skills enhances our capacity to engage with the world in a generative and wise way.

    Dr. Carole Christopher

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