Sometimes our best intentions to get off the couch and “do something!” falters. But if we have planned with other activists, then we are far more likely to continue to show up – to support each other and pursue the changes we wish to see in ourselves, our community, our state, our country, our world. Many older people (“elders”) have the wisdom of life experience, a lifetime of trial-and-error, and a deep concern for the future health and welfare of our children, grandchildren, community, and the planet.
WHAT’S OUR PURPOSE? The purpose of the Southern Arizona Chapter of the Elders Action Network (EAN) is to raise awareness of the engagement opportunities offered by EAN. Please review the work of EAN, its action groups, and events at: https://eldersaction.org/ On the site you can sign up for EAN’s newsletter – there is no cost to join. There are four EAN national Action Groups: Climate Action, Social Justice, Sound Democracy, and Regenerative Living. Each Action Group offers its own community conversations, online workshops, and actions to address issues.
The EAN Southern Arizona Chapter assists to further build local movements by inspiring and supporting local elder activists and those of us who are looking for a clear way to become engaged in social and environmental justice, climate action, regenerative or sustainable living, sound democracy and voting rights, and other issues (e.g., ageism).
WHAT DO WE DO? Our members are involved in a variety of on-going causes as well as those looking for ways to engage locally or create new initiatives. Members gain support, encouragement, and project suggestions through sharing at virtual (Zoom) and in-person meetings. An Elder Action Network Chapter supports “activist” or otherwise engaged elders in several ways. For example, we:
· Provide community. Meeting face to face or virtually via Zoom with other elder activists on a regular basis builds human connection that revitalizes, sustains, and recommits us in our work.
· Provide resources. Chapter members, working on the same or different topics, support each other with knowledge about opportunities for engagement, strategies for effectiveness, fresh sources of substantive information, and more.
· Provide a supportive framework. Knowing that you have a regular meeting to attend, where you can report your actions and progress and hear the same from others, is motivating.
· Generate ideas for joint action. The EAN Chapter provides members an opportunity to plan coordinated actions on specific topics, often in partnership with other local groups, and raising the visibility of elder activists.
WHO SHOULD JOIN? You may wish to join our EAN Chapter if you:
· are a resident of Arizona, would like to be, or otherwise have an interest in our state
· have been contacted by AARP (as an indication of age!) and have felt the effects of older adult ageism – both externally and internally (self-imposed)
· can reconsider moving beyond a self-identification and notion of “retirement” and think more about re-wirement, re-firement, re-engagement, re-newment, or anything but “retirement” as fundamental to your identity, conscious living, and aging
· are interested in leaving a legacy from your life experience, talents, skills, and wisdom and in creating a new vision of aging
· have a passion for – or at least an interest in – engagement with community service, social justice, biodiversity conservation, climate disruption, environmental protection, or other issues as important elements of conscious living and aging.
· have strong, weak, or even no identification with any religious or spiritual belief or dogma, but you do believe in community engagement, seeking truth and connection, and living an ethical life marked by listening, compassion, and kindness
AGING AND AGEISM: Aging is not a problem, handicap, or disease. It is inevitable. It encompasses opportunity, change, and loss. But aging can make us anxious, generating many negative images. Our consciousness affects our reality. Our perspective impacts our health and wellbeing. Our disempowering myths about ageism, and how we have internalized these myths, impede our ability to thrive as we age. The current cultural narrative about aging is that old is bad, that life peaks in middle age, and it’s all downhill after that. This is self-fulfilling prophecy. Along with the effects of institutional ageism, internalized ageism molds our thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Many older people feel ashamed just for being alive, in the way, no longer of much use. Our attitudes impact our self-concept and can prevent us from realizing the potential, meaning, and growth older age offers. Expanding our consciousness is about transformation. Many experiential tools and methods can shift how we view ourselves as older, our continued role in the world, and our place in nature.
What messages do you accept about aging? What negative feelings arise from age discrimination and your own future? Can we move beyond a passive acceptance of what society thinks or says we should do in our later years toward an alternative perspective – conscious aging – and with an understanding of what this means individually, to each of us?
WHAT IS AN ELDER? Groucho Marx said, “Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.” Often “elder” is used as a more palatable term in place of “senior citizen,” “elderly,” or “old person.” But we are reminded by Ram Dass that “just because you are old doesn’t necessarily mean you are an elder.” An “elder,” then, is an older person, an “older,” valued for their extensive life experience and wisdom. Elder is also defined within a cultural (especially indigenous) or religious context, but that is not part of a definition for most older people in our society.
A good definition of an elder for most of us in this society has been provided by Barry Barkan, director of Live Oak Institute in Berkeley, California, and co-founder of the Pioneer Network, a national association of leaders in the field of aging. This definition – to me – best captures this “post-adulthood” stage achieved by some, not all: “An elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential and whose life continues to have within it promise for, and connection to, the future. An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy, and pleasure, and her or his birthright to these remains intact. Moreover, an elder is a person who deserves respect and honor and whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.”
CONSCIOUS AGING is concerned with acceptance of the present moment and the positive aspects of growing older. We age consciously “by facing our fears, uncovering the wisdom of life experiences, healing wounds, forgiving ourselves and others, and charting a path forward that involves passing on a legacy, serving as an elder committed to healing the planet, and facing mortality with dignity and grace.”
“Becoming conscious,” wrote Ron Pevny, “means becoming aware of the emotional baggage and encumbrances we are carrying as we move beyond mid-life adulthood, such as unhealed wounds, unfelt and un-processed grief, grudges, and heart closing attitudes that require forgiveness, and stories of unworthiness, or victimhood we have constructed over decades to define our lives.” Ram Dass has said the purpose of conscious aging is to “open your heart to a life filled with abundance and wisdom and free of the fear of death.” Thus, through the process of conscious aging, becoming more fully aware in the present, we are transformed.