Cheryl's Blog

The Way of the Wise Elder

In January of 2012, during a TedXWomen talk, Jane Fonda referred to the last three decades of a person’s life as the third act, a developmental stage she sees as a staircase leading to: “the upward ascension of the human spirit bringing us into wisdom, wholeness, and authenticity.” Jane sees age not as pathology, but as potential. Now that longevity affords us another second adult life, we have time to evolve even more before we die.

I’ve held her perspective close over the last seven years. The challenges and opportunities of aging have become fodder for a new stage of personal growth that has given me some of the toughest challenges I’ve ever faced and some of the best years of my life.

If you’ve followed this blog you know the climb has not been predictable. The unexpected loss of loved ones, the sudden need to care for elderly parents, and the ongoing tangle with an ego hell-bent on returning to the comfort of familiar roles, have made it more like traveling on a spiral staircase with twists and turns that require new skills.

I’ve always been a gal who likes a roadmap – a linear, practical way of achieving goals. I see this as a more traditional, masculine way of navigating life. But the post-midlife journey calls for something different. When I rise above and look down at the last several years since dramatically cutting back my traveling and teaching schedule, I see a more feminine path, a way of navigating the journey toward elderhood with a new kind of artistry.

There are capabilities to be developed if you want to become the kind of elder who is full of life, steeped in gratitude, eager and excited for new adventures, and able to respond to anything placed before you with wisdom and grace. The capabilities include:

The ability to let go of responsibilities that are no longer yours.
The ability to make space and sit with it.
The ability to be with yourself without distractions.
The ability to know when enough is enough.
The ability to stand firm against the ego’s demands.
The ability to return to the present moment.
The ability to set firm, loving boundaries.
The ability to be vulnerable, authentic, and intimate.
The ability to speak the truth with grace and kindness.
The ability to take risks that foster aliveness.
The ability to befriend death.

These are the skills I’ve been working on over the last seven years, sometimes with great joy, sometimes kicking and screaming every step of the way. Here’s what I know: Cultivating these capabilities will not only help us to make the most out of our remaining years, they’ll mold us into the kind of wise elders so many of us wish we had when we were growing up (and maybe even now).

I plan to write more about these abilities. As you look over the list, I’d love to know the one you’re currently working on, the one you feel more proficient in already, and the one with your name written all over it because it’s your next new frontier?



P.S. – Check out the audiobook/workshop called Self Care for the Wisdom Years available through Audible. You can learn more here.