Finding Purpose: 3 Great Mysteries of Becoming a True Elder

Finding Purpose: 3 Great Mysteries of Becoming a True Elder


Elderhood is not relegated to those who are over a certain age—the elder lives within us all. Dive into these three mysteries that teach us how to become true elders at any age.

In my 20s, I searched tenaciously for the Teaching, the One Healing, the ultimate panacea for my problems and questions. I’d met and studied with the supposed best teachers, gurus, spiritual healers, psychics, and experts in the human experience. I expected them to be masters, compassionately sharing what they knew. But what I found instead were emotionally volatile, narcissistic, shadowy grown-up children.

Looking back now, I realize that in all my searching, I wasn’t seeking knowledge. I was seeking to be witnessed. What I really craved and needed (but didn’t have the language for at the time) was the profound gaze of an elder.

As I started doing client sessions, the question of purpose always came up and continues to do so today. As it should! However, much to my clients’ (and even my own) disappointment, purpose never shows up like a well laid-out map. Purpose reveals itself a little at a time through the activity of a person’s life.

After all this time with my own seeking and with my clients, I now know of only one surefire way to create the environment for true purpose to show up. And that is to cultivate an attitude of elderhood.

Symptoms of a World Lacking in True Elders

We are living in a world lacking in elders. We have a lot of “adults,” but very few elders. An elder is not someone who is older in age. Nor are they a young person who is an “old soul.” What marks an elder is their mastery of the love mindset. Elders have a refined, idiosyncratic way with which they give love. And love leads to purpose.

A world lacking in elders produces human beings who are conditioned, not nurtured. There’s a lot of “obey this” and “follow that” and not enough exploration of the individual soul. For true purpose to come forth, there must be a nourishment of the individual psyche. The paradox is when an individual psyche is truly nourished, it almost always moves into service for the whole (which is one’s true purpose). Unfortunately, in societies that lack elders, there is more focus on judging, criticizing, and correcting—all the things that destroy purpose.

And so we end up with entire cities of highly intellectual people who crave depth that they don’t know how to reach. Intelligence nowadays is purely mental. This has created a mass disconnection from soul, spirit, heart, and body—all aspects of the human psyche that are perceived as the least controllable and the most unknowable. And, you guessed it, these are the very elements of our being that we need in order to travel to the realm of purpose.

Finally, in societies that lack elders, the most vulnerable populations are easily harmed. This is especially seen with the treatment of women, children, and animals.

So, how do all of us start inhabiting the domain of eldership and therefore our purpose? This is a question that pushes us into the realm of the mysteries. Because, in simply contemplating these three facets of eldership, we open to levels upon levels of our own truth.

Elder Mystery #1: Offering True, Loving Feedback

The most important quality of an elder is their capacity to offer their words in service to love.

This is the most important quality because our words are easily accessible to us. Therefore, they can either be treated with a kind of casual callousness or treated with a deep reverence. Too often it’s the former.

Regularly I see people give “feedback” that is actually just an opinionated, biased, and conditioned response. The true nature of feedback is revealed in the word “feedback”: to offer food back to someone.

An elder offers feedback to someone as though they were a guest at their table. They no longer ask themselves, “What is wrong with this person?” or “How can I cut this person down to size?” or “How can I show off my intelligent opinion?” Instead, they ask themselves, “What would help this person become even more alive?” They see the world with softer and clearer eyes and explain this world with soulful words.

I still hear the words of my friend, Jheel. I had trusted a jewelry manufacturer to produce my jewelry designs, and I sent my first finished pair of earrings to Jheel. This design was inspired by her and to date remains one of my favorite designs.

She knew how excited I was for her to see it. She knew how long and arduous my journey had been to produce these designs. I saw the expression on her face when she video-called me to talk about the earrings. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. She said that my jewelry was too thin and easily breakable—it wasn’t good quality and I had to find a different way to produce it.

All of this was true. But it wasn’t the criticism that impacted me the most. Instead, she looked deeply at my designs and offered the most inspiring words to fuel me with courage for the battle I had to fight with my manufacturer. This is true feedback.

Elder Mystery #2: Lovingly Sharing a Tangible Skill

It doesn’t really matter what form an elder’s skill takes. It could be a hobby, a mechanical skill, a specific technique, or an art form; anything from bird-watching to changing a tire. What matters is the offering of their skills.

The skill in question becomes a foundation stone for someone else’s life—often in ways no one can predict. We often underestimate the quiet, accumulative benefits of skills. This is an elder’s true legacy: the skills they leave behind.

I never drank chai when I lived in India—I did not like the taste. When I established myself in the US, I met a woman named Melba, who dreamed of opening a chai pop-up. On one sunny afternoon, she made me a cup of chai while simultaneously teaching me how to prepare it.

To my surprise, I loved the chai she made. I began to make chai regularly after that. I experimented with my own blends—burned many a pan in the learning process—and settled nicely into the simple world of chai. Chai became my personal medicine, comfort food, and nervous system relaxer.

Almost a decade later, I began to host in-person rituals. Guess what is the one drink that I always offer to my ritual attendees?

Elder Mystery #3: Fierce, Loving Stewardship

Elders often stand for something and they actively (and joyfully) work in service to it. They are caretakers or stewards of this thing that they hold dearly. They are so devoted to it in speech, action, and thought, such that their cause becomes a matter of fact for the next generation and the people closest to them.

An elder plants trees whose shade they will likely never sit under. They plant it anyway, for the love of being able to see some version of this tree in the world.

Elders could be stewards of humans—their family, friends, co-workers. They could be stewards of beings without a human voice—animals, birds, bees, the land. They could be stewards of the intangible—events, high ideals, ethics, authenticity, honesty.

My mother is a steward of our religion. She loves our religion and devotes an enormous amount of her time and energy to it. In my childhood, I rebelled against my religion, for good reasons. I argued with my mother over it, made my teenage anger and righteousness apparent, and attacked her for what I thought was her small-mindedness. Yet my mother held on to her devotion. In my late 20s, I began to have a renewed understanding and respect for what my religion preaches. While I still abhor certain aspects of it, my mother has now become a source for the information I need on my religion. I deeply enjoy connecting with her and my birth religion in this new way.

The Impact of True Elderhood

As people learn to observe soulfully and respond with nourishing feedback, share whatever gifts they have, big or small, and stand for something close to their heart, the world begins to respond to them. This response becomes the true inspiration for and an authentic connection to their purpose. They sort of stumble into it.

May you live from your inner elder.

May you flower into your purpose.

Learn how dignity can lead to stronger intuition.

3 Great Mysteries of Becoming a True Elder

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