From the Editor: On Wise Elders and Workshops

From the Editor: On Wise Elders and Workshops

Getty/Tom Merton

Our editor-in-chief shares thoughts on the wisdom of aging, and explores what's in store for May/June 2023 and beyond.

Fifteen years ago, when this magazine was turning 10 and I was turning 50, I set up a test of S+H “Total Aliveness!” as well as my own promise of immortality. What happened is that an unlikely series of events allowed my rowing partner and me to qualify for the 2008 Olympic trials, so we rowed our two-person shell to the starting line to race against current Olympians. My goal that day was to compare my middle-aged self to my much younger Olympic self. And for the first 30 strokes, I was 21 again—heading for Beijing!

Over the next couple hundred strokes, however, I pretty much lost my vision, my hearing, and my ability to think beyond a veil of humiliation. Parts of me I didn’t know I had shrieked in protest. The rowing movements are so deeply engrained that I’m fairly sure I could row for some distance even after I’m dead, so I didn’t stop. But all I wanted was the finish line, so I could. Looking back over those eight minutes, I immediately dropped from age 49 to age 21 and then aged exponentially to 101. Meanwhile, I learned something about aging: It sucks!

Looking back, however, I am also reminded of the wisest words I’ve ever read: Gandhi’s “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it because you never know…” That soul-sucking defeat put our picture on the front page of the NY Times Sports Section, which got me into Mary’s apartment, and the day became our anniversary, and (for me anyway) launched The Time of our Lives!

That’s what much of this issue is about, and I hope you enjoy the journey—as uncomfortable, intense, and beautiful as it is. The theme begins with Cori Howard’s experience of “The Missing Middle,” her lovely account of dropping off her daughter at college in Paris and returning to her beautiful-but-now-empty-nest in Victoria, BC—where she discovers—albeit with more artful language—that it sucks! Something is missing.

Perhaps what’s missing is an invitation from my new friend Chip Conley to a weeklong workshop at the Modern Elder Academy he cofounded in Baja. I went there in January with only a vague idea of what I was getting into, but it proved to be the most inspiring workshop of my career. My 30-member MEA cohort included different nationalities and sexes, the far left and far right, the super-rich and those on scholarship, yoga types and non-yoga types. By design, everyone got to know everyone else very fast “from the inside out,” and I’m sure each of us heard deeply held beliefs that elicited a cringe.

Yet nothing about the experience sucked. Quite the opposite. The week was profoundly challenging, empowering, moving, and often really good fun. To show up at the Modern Elder Academy is to “come out” as an elder—and to realize we’re not alone. Far from it. The curriculum is designed to mint elders who are “curious, wise, playful, audacious, and generous” as well as to help you find or reinvigorate your own unique mission. Conley’s dream is a worldwide network of passionately inspired elders on the scale of Airbnb—which he also helped launch.

On the subject of wise elders and workshops, I received a wonderful reminder of a S+H writer’s workshop we held in the Yucatan in 2007. Suzanne Marriott aspired to write a book about caregiving for her husband, who she had just lost. From the way she told the story, it sounded like a great book—and now it is. Read the first chapter of Watching for Dragonflies: A Caregiver’s Transformative Journey.

Another beautiful story is digital editor Brenna Lilly’s account of a weeklong apprenticeship—“Delightfully Deep in the Weeds”—with another remarkable elder, Larch Hanson, of the Maine Seaweed Company. Who knew such slimy hard work could be so rewarding?

I think you’ll find this issue full of great stories. And if you do, I hope you’ll use the QR code to subscribe or give a gift subscription. We need you! I also hope you’ll accept an invitation from Chip Conley and me for “Spirituality+Health in Midlife & Beyond” at the new MEA campus in Santa Fe from March 24–31, 2024. I think we can at least guarantee a fine time will be had, and maybe the start of a great new chapter. Maybe even a book! Join us!


Stephen Kiesling
[email protected]

25 Years: From the Archives

Age proves more than a number—but also a grand adventure at the 2008 Olympic Trials. “Racing Time,” November/December 2008

Not yet part of the Spirituality+Health community? Celebrate 25 years of S+H by subscribing here.

From the Editor On Wise Elders and Workshops

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