In October, I attended the 2016 Sage-ing International Conference at Sunrise Ranch Conference and Retreat Center in Loveland, Colorado. There were over 150 people including some of the real movers and shakers—thought leaders in the field of positive/conscious aging.
In fact, several of us got into a conversation about the word “aging.” Since the word stirs up negative stereotypes and images, we wanted to find another word that is more positive. Harry “Rick” Moody, the former Director of Academic Affairs for AARP and authors of several books on the topic, said it does not matter what you call it. Aging is aging. Even though Elderhostel is now called Road Scholar, people still know it as programs for retired and elderly. Carol Osborn has authored more than 25 books for and about the Boomer generation. She suggested “evolving” because that is what we hope we are doing—growing, developing, learning. And I like that idea and I think I am going to start using it. If we are aging gracefully, we are evolving and not stuck!
While at the conference, some of my highlights included meeting and listening to Sara Davidson, a New York Times best selling author. She met weekly with Reb Zalman, founder of the sage-ing movement, for two years and these conversations culminated in a book titled The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery. Sara concluded that spiritual wisdom comes from the heart and not the head. Both she and Zalman shared an intense sense of curiosity about life and death with Zalman being much more optimistic since he had been preparing for death for a long time.
But Zalman told Sara that the “December years”—the end of life—are not a cake walk. It was not all about joy and gratitude. It is a time when we can feel disconnected, irrelevant, lonely—what Ram Dass calls “nobodyness.” He told her that the only person he can share everything with is God. While he was so close to his wife, he wanted to protect her. In fact, he developed exercises that are in the book to help people “let go” in order to move on—focused on the practice of forgiveness.
There were so many good speakers and workshops during the conference that it was hard to make choices. I am told the sessions were recorded and we will have access to them at a later date. Another speaker I found inspiring was Gregg Levoy, author of Vital Signs: Discovering and Sustaining Your Passion for Life and Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life. He started by saying: “Being alive without feeling alive is like eating food without any taste.” Not very satisfying to say the least!
I had the opportunity to be at the same table with Levoy one night for dinner and he was as passionate in this encounter as he was as a presenter. He reflected a sense of passion and shared with us his top list of critical elements to remember about vitality and passion:
- Passion comes and goes. Ride it out and don’t give up.
- Passion for your work needs to be the primary motivation. Pay and status are secondary payoffs. If the secondary payoffs dry up, would you still do it?
- There is a tug between passion and security. If we are not expressing our passion, then we are repressing it. We can’t put “Get passion” on a to-do list. Have to ask ourselves tough questions.
- Ask vocational questions: Who am I? What is my calling? Who we are changes over time.
- The energy it takes to fuel passions increases—can’t just replace the batteries. Losing interest in life is optional.
- Passion can be cultivated. It happens in moments—not on a five year plan. Enjoy the moments now.
- Passion is in the risk. Taking small risks helps to clarify passions.
- Passion is exuberance and patience. Be patient with yourself.
- Passion breeds passion. Disinterest breeds disinterest.
I left the conference with many gifts—made a few new friends, connected with some old friends, learned of new video clips and exercises to use in workshops, took notes on which I will continue to share on this blog and on my blog (JannFreed.com).
Seeing “wisdom and spirit in action” for me is about continuing to learn, to grow, and to get out of my comfort zone. It is about evolving.