Elderwoman: book by Marian van Eyk McCain

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Jan 012017

Is elderhood different for men and women? Yes and no!

The question of gender differences in elderhood was a big one for me as I approached leading a mixed workshop on this theme for the first time, at Findhorn.

I’ve discussed the gender question with women and men elders I know, and by reading Elderwoman, and comparing it with my very different book on elderhood for men, Out of the Woods: A guide to live for men beyond 50.

This blog will inevitably offer generalisations, and your comments or corrections are welcome.

It intrigued me, as it may you, to unpick the differences due to the writers, and those due to the subject matter.  I really enjoyed reading Marian’s book, and believe it would be helpful to women: the style and approach are inclusive, conversational, fluid, full of personal anecdote.  All of this could, I believe, make most men impatient: by contrast, my book is more structured, objective, with lots of practical solution-focussed advice.

I’m also struck by frequent references to Marian’s grandmother and daughters, and the sense of female wisdom shared down the generations, in a way I’ve almost never heard among men.  There’s been a lot of poor fathering over the years!

From Elderwoman, I conclude that one of the big gender differences in elderhood is that women face it more collectively.  Men often face the challenges of ageing alone, and need new skills to find the collective support and wisdom they also need.  Marian uses phrases like “the stages of our female lives”, which it’s hard to imagine mirrored in a book for men.

An encouraging parallel, based on these two books, is the potential of elders to be activists, whether by presence or more actively, around the big issues like sustainability.  Another is the opportunity to “start again from scratch” as she puts it.

Elderwoman is a book which faces the losses of ageing, but within an affirming and practically positive context.  It encourages people to become elders in their own way, and finally loosen the pressures of other people’s expectations, and the consumer society.  I support Marian’s view that the elders are best placed to break Western society’s addiction to its consumptive, materialist way of life.

Marian sees the most important elderwoman principle as “radical aliveness…the art of saying ‘yes’ to life, remaining fully open to all experience, whether pleasant or painful.”  I’d regard this quality as vital for male elders too.

Mar 032014

As we look forward to our upcoming Creative Maturity event: Inner Peace in a Changing World, I was thinking about a similar one, Exploring Elderhood, Ineke and I led a week in 2013, which proved to be a powerful experience for all of us on the group, and for others in the Findhorn community.  I wanted to share some of this experience with you.

Findhorn groupWe hoped to explore elderhood on the inner and outer, individual and collective levels, and amply fulfilled this hope.  We dug below the fear and denial so common about ageing and dying, and recognised the gifts and joys of elderhood, as well as the losses.  As one participant said, “When time and energy are limited, and health is variable, it’s an invitation to live wisely, focus on what really matters, enjoy every moment.”

One of the most powerful experiences of the week was when our group joined the weekly Elders Meditation in the main Sanctuary.  There was such power and character in the silent presence of nearly thirty elders, with a combined age around 2000 years.  For me it highlighted a sense that the beauty of elderhood is about the emergence of full, authentic, eccentric  individuality, and its miraculous interweaving with others.

My own interest in elderhood began a few years ago when I turned 60, and has grown since 2011, when I co-founded the Men Beyond 50 Network and started writing a book for men of this ager, No Shed Required, to be published in September 2013.The inspiration for the workshop came when I was visiting Findhorn in March 2012.  I felt impressed by what this community is already doing to support its elders, and had the vision of briefing a group to learn from this.

The breadth and wisdom in the inputs our group received has left me very touched, and I wanted to express my thanks via this piece in Rainbow Bridge.  I can’t list all those who engaged with us, but especially want to thank Cornelia, Fay, Judith and Marilyn of the Community Care Circle who spent several hours in dialogue with us about their work.

Our group spent time not only learning how elders are already supported and recognised at Findhorn, but also exploring how this could be built on.  This is especially important as the number and  support needs of elders at Findhorn are likely to grow considerably in the next few years.

I am hopeful that our group has both raised awareness of the good work already been done, and has been a catalyst to initiate research on the services and facilities needed in future involving some of the participants in our group, such as Marcus Lindner and David Mead.  I am continuing to support this at a distance and by occasional visits.

The biggest surprise of my work on elderhood has been how most people are in denial about ageing.  I’ve even found a few of these at Findhorn!  One of the best ways to bring people out of denial is to show them positive role models, and I believe this could be one of the new missions for Findhorn in the next 50 years.

There’s plenty of evidence that elders who are active and valued in their community have better health and wellbeing.  It would also be great if the loving and personal quality of care already provided on a small scale via the Community Care Circle could be expanded, and made available more widely across Moray.  It’s an exciting possibility to explore.

Alan Heeks