Posts Tagged ‘Elderhood’

Mysteries of male elderhood: testosterone, presence and purpose.

Oct 15 2014

 When I turned sixty in 2008, I set a clear intent of moving into elderhood, growing beyond my prevailing warrior-hero approach to life. Six years on, I can report good progress but further mysteries.

 For most of my adult life, I have been a happy workaholic: drawn to situations where I had lots of challenge and responsibility, working in a state of high adrenalin which gave purpose and structure to my life, and paved over the murky depths beneath.

Not the best answer to falling testosterone

Not the best answer to falling testosterone

 All this has been dissolving and under scrutiny since I turned 50. I have made numerous descents into the murky depths, sometimes just falling in, sometimes an orderly visit properly equipped with a therapist. I aim to be friends with the early wounds and neurotic habits which still thrash around in those depths: I don’t believe they ever disappear, but an elder has their measure.

 A major part of moving into elderhood for me is at work: instead of being a manic prime mover, I am really trying to change my habits, working collaboratively, enabling others, offering a wise presence and holding the space, instead of rushing in. I’m achieving this quite a lot of the time, but… it’s not very exciting.

 I recently found an excellent medical herbalist, Nick Hudis, who specialises in the health issues of older men. In a recent consultation, I described myself as having low energy, moral and libido. Nick gently observed, “Sounds like low testosterone: nothing’s exciting any more?”

 Nick went on to say “This is why it’s so important for older men to have a sense of purpose. Otherwise they become couch potatoes.” Absolutely, and plumbing the murky depths, and other great stuff eloquently laid out in my book, Out of the Woods: A Guide to Life for Men Beyond 50. What my book covers less well is this issue about the lack of excitement. Part of this is biological fact: men’s testosterone levels do decline with age. But the chat with Nick got me thinking positively about better ways to handle all this.

 So here are four tips I’m finding helpful:

  • Mindfulness: focus on the breath and sensations of the body, to reduce the power of negative thoughts and feelings.
  • Ration your media: limit your intake of mainstream news and ads to what you can happily cope with. Too much of this can shred your attention span, raise your craving for distractions, and sap your ability to be present.
  • Be tremendously present: whether you’re making love or making sandwiches, this helps. Imagine this is your first moment in life, in a body: every moment is potentially exciting.
  • Reconnect with purpose often: if you don’t feel a sense of purpose, seek it or ask to be shown it. Bathe in you sense of purpose often: enjoy it, value it. For each of us to believe that our purpose and presence makes a difference is crucial in these times.

 I feel very blessed with worthwhile work projects, a superb marriage and family : enjoying all this as an elder may have less adrenalin, but it has huge potential richness.

by Alan Heeks

Together and Apart: how can men and women best explore midlife?

Mar 26 2014

In recent years I have been fortunate to co-lead several groups on creative maturity, some mixed, some for men only. All this experience will feed into a week-long mixed group I am co-leading in May 2014: Creative Maturity: Ripening to Wisdom.

My conclusion from all these groups is that there are parts of this journey where men and women can learn from and with each other, and parts best explored in separate gender groups. For both these parts, groups have a very valuable role to play: they can offer support, shared insights, and a renewed sense of OK-ness which is hard to find in other ways. The ideal, which the week-long group in May will provide, is to have enough time to interweave the group journey with space for solo rest and reflection.

Both research and my own experience suggest that most men and women will face a process of falling apart and reinvention, somewhere in their forties to sixties. What provokes this crisis may differ for women and men, but they face many similar questions and blessings in looking forward to the years ahead. These can include: renewing life purpose, how to relate to ageing parents and grown-up kids; and making new choices about work, money and home, which will suit our sixties, seventies and beyond.

For both men and women, midlife and beyond is a time to reinvent their relationship to the other gender, and a fresher easier connection is on offer. What I’ve seen in mixed groups is women and men relating more with than to each other, with fellowship in exploring what it might mean to be an elder in our society, which has so much need but so little understanding of this role.

The venue for the May group will be the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, and builds on a wonderful group on this theme which I co-led there last year: click here to read more about the 2013 group.

The Field©Findhorn Foundation/Eva Ward

Findhorn is a fantastic place to explore creative maturity: it is a magical catalytic place, and also full of practical role models. These include inspiring women and men who are deeply fulfilled in their later years, and also groups like the weekly Elders Meditation, and the Community Care Circle, which provides a unique level of love and support for anyone at Findhorn who needs it. findhorn2

Our week will be scheduled so that we can take part in and be nourished by this rich community life, and get plenty of practical learning both as individuals and for the communities we live in. In addition, Findhorn is a true eco-village, so it’s a great place to explore the big issues of our times, and how we as elders can help with them. At its best, creative maturity can combine rich peace and happiness personally, with a new shared journey as elders of the tribe, and we’ll explore both of these in our week at Findhorn.

Alan Heeks

A conversation with the elders – (Where are the Elders in Iron John)

Mar 10 2014

For me and many other men the story of Iron John has become that rarest of things a myth and more than that it is an allegory that I use to stir myself when things aren’t going well and I need inspiring.

At times it can also be a metaphor for my life. Never more so than now, when I’m dealing with what eldership is and what it means to me. As part of this journey I found myself listening to a version of the Iron John story that was presented at the Minnesota Men’s conference in 2013. It was a wonderful way of getting to know the story again. However as I listened to the first two parts I realised that there was something missing.

At first I couldn’t ‘put my finger on it’. However after some reflection I realised that what was missing for me was an elder presence, or at least what I imagined an elder presence to be. The more I thought about it the more I wondered how different the story of Iron John would be with the elders there; Would a wise elder have told the king not to send someone to look for Iron John but the prince, if they had caught him would that same elder have told the king and the hunters not to put Iron John under lock and key but to respect him for the power and wisdom that he had and finally would the wise elder have recognised the prince in disguise  telling the King and the Princess who he was.

It boiled down to one question what deeds and words am I looking for from the elders in this eternal tale.

In hindsight if the elders had done any of the above things it would have been a very different tale, possibly a shorter one.

However I’ve begun to realise that like life elders for whatever reasons don’t do things the way I expect or want them to and perhaps part of that is the realisation that sometimes an elder has to let things take their path because they don’t know how they will end or elders let things happen because they don’t trust their own wisdom and experience or maybe it’s because sometimes that’s how the story is supposed to end.

It was only listening to the whole piece that I got my answer as to where the elders were and what they were doing and it all made sense. Martin Shaw and Daniel Deardorff tell of a ‘Baronial King’ appearing at the young man’s wedding to the princess. He tells those gathered that he is Iron John and how many years ago a spell had been put on him.

Of course it all made sense, the story of Iron John like any other myth is not only the story of a boy becoming a young man and that young man recognising his own value and becoming a lover and a king. It is also the story of how we have been distancing ourselves from our elders and our past.

It’s a story of how those elders trying to find a form that is acceptable call to us from the primordial forest longing for a connection that the present (in the form of the first king, the boy’s father) tries to block with hunters and dogs.

It is also a story of how once the connection has been made between the elders and the youth (the boy setting Iron John free and fleeing with him into the forest) can the boy begin to learn who he is free from the demands of the king and the expectations of the queen.

The moments where; first the boy’s finger, then a hair and finally all the hair on his head turn to gold are for me moments when being in the primordial forest I/he/we become connected to another time.

Surrounded by the ancestors and their blessings we are shown the beauty of who we are and what we can be; not a lawyer, an accountant or a manager but a king of our domain. With that knowledge we know that we must return to honour, encourage and bless those who will follow us as we have been by those who came before us. The elders in the form of Iron John recognise that one part of our growth is complete and we must continue our journey in this world.

The remainder of the story, poignant as it is I won’t discuss further. However I will say that by me the elders are missed. Away from the requirements and wishes of our parents a hug or pat on the head from a kind grandfather or the encouragement and blessing from a wise uncle would have spurred many a young man into action.

Perhaps that is the one of the lessons for these times. If the elders don’t bless or inspire the young men then they’ll have to trust a lot more to things ‘turning all right in the end’.  Perhaps this is letting go but it feels more like never having taken hold in the first place.

When I first read it Iron John was about a boy’s journey into manhood and claiming his place. I’ve now seen another thread in the story which is about the need for the generations to connect and support each other as I believe that independence is not the end of the journey but a stop along the way to interdependence.

By Shaky Shergill

A conversation with the elders – (What I want) – Part 2

Feb 10 2014

Feeling a lack of male elder energy in my life I’ve started this series of articles to start a conversation with the elders. In the hope that they are as ready to share as I am to listen and bless as I am ready to honour.

Firstly who are my elders? I believe that any man who is older than me and would father or grandfather me; teaching, sharing, blessing and honouring me is in my eyes an elder. However unlike my predecessors from that village in Punjab (North West India) where all the men would have been born in the same land, spoke the same mother tongue where I was born I want to acknowledge the rainbow of men; from different lands, who will have different birth languages, wearing different clothes, loving in diverse ways but still sons of the same mother.

Secondly, what do I want from these elders; whose paths will cross mine in this reality, online or by reference?–

Honoured elders, fathers and grandfathers,

I want you to share your stories and hear mine.

I want to hear about your successes and I want to learn from your failures.

I want to be proud of your humility and humbled by your dignity.

I want to learn of your youth and teach from my life.

I want to see you strong in adversity and tender in love.

I want to be sanctified by your tears and healed by your laughter.

I want to see my children open their arms at the sight of you and you to gather them in yours.

I want to see my love shine in your eyes and yours reflected in mine.

I want to know that you’ll give me space to grow and hold me if I wither.

I want to see you value your brothers and teach me to honour my adversaries

I want to know that you acknowledge regrets and show me how to admit shame.

I want to see you respect life and teach me to accept death.

And if all else fails

I want to know that you’ll hold me and listen to me. 

The above is a list of wants which although I’ve penned I’m hoping aren’t specific to me and maybe one day I’ll be in a position where I can respond to them from an elder perspective.

 Courtesy of Shaky Shergill 

(click here for part one of his series)



A conversation with the elders – (A personal one) Part 3

Feb 03 2014

There is a part of me that has felt that my experience of manhood has been lacking without having a significant elder presence in my life. My father is present and our relationship is growing, but there are times I feel that something is missing. Something that ties me to more closely to humanity, those who have gone before me and the earth than a link that is based on my spending habits or other demographics a grandfather presence.

If I close my eyes I can almost see what I want/ need…

On a clear evening there is a roaring fire which separates my paternal grandfather (I called him Baba) and me. He smiles to show that he has been waiting for me and to welcome me.  There is a companionable silence before we begin. “So how are you?” he asks. That question throws me, there’s so much to tell and even more to ask. However I don’t know how to begin or where to begin. In that magical place I know that he knows all that I know and also that he will wait for me to broach a topic.

So, where do I begin, at the most obvious place, I suppose “I miss you baba”, it’s only recently, perhaps as I approach the elder stage in my life that I realise how true this is. I miss the fact that I’ll never hear you tell stories of your life. What worked, what didn’t and what you would have done differently.

I miss that we’ll never be able to have a relationship that isn’t built on your anger and I judge the sadness that was associated with that anger. I miss and am sad that we’ll never be able to heal each other with our sharing.

I miss your smile and laughter and that we’ll never be able to laugh and share as men, maybe even as equals.

At times it feels like we are similar and not just physically, I miss that you’ll never be able to share your experiences which would help me to see mine in a new light and learn from you.

I miss that you’ll never see your first great grandson and laugh at his anecdotes and japes.

I miss that you’ll never be able to tell me how proud you are of me and seeing the light in your eyes as you do.

I miss that I’ll never be able to share with you how some of the things you did made me feel so loved and accepted and to be able to thank you for them.

I realise that as I’ve been talking, I’ve been looking more at the fire than I have at him but as I look up I see him smiling and know that it’s OK, he’s heard what I needed and wanted to say and perhaps in that magical place we will be able to meet and share again. As I open my eyes I’m aware that the smile that I’d seen on his face is echoed on mine.

Courtesy of Shaky Shergill 

(click here to find earlier parts of this mini series)