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What Will I Give Back? Discerning My Gifts and Spiritual Possibilities in Caring for the World
December 8, 2016
Conscious Aging organizations encourage elders to contribute their time, energy, wisdom and experience in "giving back" to the world in countless ways. You can volunteer at food banks, mentor youth, meditate for world peace, start discussion groups. You can also pursue political action on causes like climate change, income equality, homelessness, racism, ageism, sexism, sustainable living, education, and world peace. There is virtually no limit to your volunteer opportunities or the world's needs. It's a veritable banquet of choices!
So when I retired, I was surprised by how much resistance I felt to getting involved in these ways.
• First of all, it felt like going back to work and I was done with the work grind. I didn't want a schedule or obligations.
• Second, the world's problems seemed so great, the obstacles so big, the answers so elusive, the possibilities so many, I just threw up my hands. Where do I start? What do I do?
• And finally there was the problem of finding something that really spoke to me which was more difficult than I imagined, but which may be the most important element of all.
I have heard this same struggle from many of my older friends and the elders I've met at the seven or eight conscious aging conferences I've spoken at in the past couple years, so I think there is something really important here.
This question of how to "give back" did not resolve for me until I finally accepted who I really was and what I really wanted to do. Why is such a personal search important and how do you do that? Here's the answer eloquently expressed by theologian Howard Thurman. He said, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Let me say that again…My plan for the rest of this workshop is to help you answer Howard Thurman's question for yourself. What makes you come alive?
All my work in conscious aging over the past ten years - books, articles, blogs, and workshops - has convinced me that we have entered an extraordinary period in human history. We elders are experiencing a new developmental stage in the human life cycle. We've never lived this long! It's amazing. Our unprecedented longevity now offers us incredible opportunities for personal growth and transformation. And, the more we can express this growth and transformation in our "giving back" activities, the more productive we will be in making the world a better place for our children, grandchildren and future generations. So the meta-message in this talk is: Work on yourself! Keep growing. Wake up to who you really are - and then you'll find your path to giving back. So let's jumpstart this growing process by asking some questions.
• Do you already "give back" in some way? What you do. How does it feel?
• Have you, like me, had any difficulty identifying a meaningful way of "giving back"? What you really want to do? What's right for you?
• For those of you who are engaged in giving back, have you ever experienced moments of doubt or burnout, where you lost the fire inside, including
-loss of motivation or commitment
-discouragement or dissatisfaction,
-questions about the real effectiveness of what you're doing, or
-a sense that your talents are being wasted or underutilized?
If you're experienced any of these difficulties in "giving back," continue on. If you haven't, read on anyway because you might discover new ways to awaken even more energy, passion and aliveness for what you're doing.
This is really a workshop about discernment, so let's talk about discernment. What is discernment?
As a psychologist, minister, and mystic, I view discernment from a spiritual and depth-oriented perspective where it implies a prolonged and heart-felt search for one's truest vocation or calling. Why am I really here? What did I come here to do? These are the questions we'll try to answer today.
Now for most of us, vocation or calling isn't going to involve some huge, lofty or grand enterprise, like ending cancer, war or world hunger. It's different than that. Listen to how Parker Palmer puts it: "Vocation…is something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling." It's what you are made by your very nature to do so that you can't not do it. And theologian Frederick Buechner adds this critically important ingredient, stating that vocation is "the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." What is your deep gladness? Discernment is how you find out what these conundrums really mean for you.
Interestingly, this sort of sacred self-engagement is a particularly good focus for this time of life that we are now in, which so often involves a soulful search for meaning and purpose. Indeed, the New Aging - this new developmental stage in the human life cycle - is perfectly suited to finding and expressing this work of the soul. From a spiritual perspective, I believe it's one of the reasons we're living so long in the first place. And the challenge for all of us is this: Don't just do what you're told, find out who you really are and what makes you come alive. Because when we don't know who we really are or what unique and precious gifts we bring into the world, it is too easy to join any good sounding cause only later to grow frustrated or burned out. So the key questions really are, "Do you come alive in your work or not?" Is it something you can't not do? Does it bring out your deep gladness?
We are each puzzle pieces looking for where we fit in the huge puzzle that is humanity's struggle to heal its wounds and achieve its real potential. Your piece is precious and unique. Find out where your piece fits. In fact, discover your piece, express it, and the puzzle will adjust to you. Wherever you really want to fit will be your place.
The Five Factors of Discernment
So I want to talk about the Five Discernment Factors that will help us find our truest calling.
In exploring any path of service, social action, or sacred activism, I believe conscious elders need to explore five important discernment factors - factors that will either intensify or smother our passion and aliveness in giving back. If we ignore these factors, we may act in ways that appear helpful but instead cause more problems, betray our true work in the world, and lead to emotional exhaustion. I love what David Nicol (who writes on subtle activism) said about this: "I participated in numerous rallies for peace and environmental issues and helped out with a progressive political campaign. Yet amid these efforts, I sometimes wondered how much our activism was truly effective in bringing about the world we desired. Many of the legal and political actions I was involved in, although well intended, seemed only to add to the cycle of reactivity and suffering we were attempting to resolve." This is what I'm talking about - good ideas that are not really working out. Our work is to understand this kind of dilemma through the process of discernment.
Here are the five discernment factors. First I'll describe them so you'll understand their nature and purpose. Then you'll have a chance to apply each factor to your own search for meaningful ways to give back. Keep in mind that these factors are not absolute or mutually exclusive categories, but rather differing points of reference. Also, some factors may have more personal significance to you than others, so pay attention to the moment when something I say sends a jolt of recognition through you, like "Wow that 's me!" and make a note for yourself.
So let's review the five factors:
1. True Self. I know this term is bandied around a lot these days, and sometimes trivialized or ridiculed, but it's really important. The True Self is who you really are inside, your inborn "given" nature - it's hard wired, you don't get a choice on this!. You may be a high-energy action-oriented person, a quiet reflective one, a hard-headed or soft-hearted person, a fixer or healer, an artist or intellectual, a mystic or a skeptic, a gardener or academic. You already know a lot about who you really are by how you act naturally and what you love to do. But an old saying adds deeper significance to this realization. It says, "Who you are is God's gift to you, what you do with it is your gift to God" (you can replace the word God with the universe or humanity, it doesn't change the meaning). So it's not about what you should do, it's about who you really are and what you've been given to do by your very nature.
Whether you use the diagnostic instruments like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Enneagram, seek feedback from your therapist, spiritual director, family or friends, or even just notice when and where you feel happiest, get in touch with your True Self. Protect and cultivate it. Coming home to your essential nature is a profoundly centering act, one that can become an invaluable compass for the rest of your life. And never compare yourself with anyone else. As Krishnamurti said, personal comparisons are always a form of violence. Instead, in the experience of your True Self, you will discover the passion and interests that will lead to the right place to share your gifts.
There is two more facets to the True Self we need to honor. The first is this: Tragedies often reveal who we really are, stripping away our social masks and compromises. It's one of the fundamental truths of psychological development. Writing in her 80's, Jungian analyst Florida Scott-Maxwell said, "I often want to say to people, 'You have neat, tight expectations of what life ought to give you, but you won't get it. That isn't what life does. Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you. It is meant to, and it couldn’t do it better. Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition." We grow by shattering old forms, the plant breaks it pot, and the True Self is revealed in our crises.
And that leads to the second facet of the True Self that we must honor: the wounded self. When life cuts us, when we are broken by people, events or circumstances, whether it's through violence, loss, illness, addiction or crushing defeat, we are asked by the psyche (or the divine) to become a wounded healer. Why? Because our wound gifts us with incredible insight, compassion, desire, and energy to help others heal similar wounds. If you are an alcoholic, a rape survivor, an abandoned child, or a victim of gun violence, you may be the perfect choice for giving back the wisdom of your wound - assuming (and this is a huge caveat) that you've worked on it psychologically. The wounded healer archetype takes form only as we work through our brokenness.
So that's the True Self. The next factor is the…
2. The Ego-Soul Relationship. Soul refers to the spiritual essence your True Self. True Self and Soul are two sides of a single coin - one from the psychological realm and the other from the spiritual realm. I use the word Soul in order to emphasize its deep and abiding importance in your life. Remember the Bob Dylan song where he breaking up with his girlfriend and explains, "I gave you my heart but you wanted my soul, don't think twice, it's alright." It's one thing to give your heart, but don't ever give up your soul! And yet we do that all the time, at work, in relationships, and sometimes even in volunteer activities. And much of real psychotherapy involves the search and recovery of the lost or abandoned soul expressed as the True Self so you live your life and not somebody else's.
Now let's define Ego. The Ego is the "me" that's in charge. I am talking from the Ego's point of view. In the long run, the Ego's most important job in discernment is to understand and support the Soul so that we can share our inborn gifts with the world. When the Soul is taken over by someone else's Ego and its agenda, or when the Ego becomes too attached to own importance or beliefs and becomes inflated, we lose touch with the Soul's vision and purpose. Then we can run busily in endless activities and not really achieve anything truly life changing.
So here's the point: An Ego disconnected from soul either wants to be told what to do or run the whole show; and the Soul apart of Ego just wants to love the world and share its gifts but lacks the tools. In reality, they need to work together. This is what Buddists imply by the phrase "skillful means:" It's the Ego knowing how to take conscious, intentional, and soulful action to serve the world.
Now here's one more really important point: When we choose the Ego over Soul in our work or relationships, a self-inflicted emotional wound occurs. Feeling rejected and unwanted, the True Self - who we really are - reacts with anger, sadness, depression or resignation, producing a shadow realm of angry feelings affecting our motivation. Jesus put it this way: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." In other words, if you bring forth what is within you - the True Self - what you bring forth will save you, helping you create a rich and vibrant life of love and service. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you - that is, gradually undermine what you, the ego, are trying to accomplish. In fact, when Ego moves too far from True Self and Soul, some form of psychological breakdown or hubris-related catastrophe usually follows, forcing us to acknowledge the terrible mistake we have made. Ironically, our emotional symptoms and great failures are the way home. This, too, is discernment.
Let's go onto the third Discernment Factor, which is…
3. The Introversion/Extraversion Continuum. This is a pretty obvious but no less important dimension. Some people thrive as Extroverts, acting forcefully in the world in leadership roles, social organizing, campaigns, protests, and rallies; they get energy from social connection that feeds them; while others flourish as Introverts, working best from their inner life in more solitary roles, one-to-one relationships, small groups, or contemplative forms of activism, such as prayer and visualization; they get energy and inspiration from solitude and deep self-connection.
Of course no one is purely extrovert or introvert, it's a continuum, but strong preferences are critical to recognize. So we need to know whether we are an "out there" or "inside" person, for the spheres and means of our "giving back" will vary accordingly. And more importantly, you will be unhappy and ineffective if you're in the wrong place for too long. You can waste a lot of energy being in the wrong place.
Ultimately Introverts and Extroverts can and should complement each other. Introverts can help Extroverts temporarily postpone action to integrate images and intuitions from the deep collective Self. The result of this inner focus is a more centered and mature course of action. Similarly, Extroverts can help Introverts express their deep images or intuitions effectively in the world and not getting lost in navel gazing. This mutually supportive relationship combats the impulsivity of Extroverts and the passivity of Introverts, and respects their proper spheres of influence.
At the practical level, this factor addresses the social structure we are drawn to. Do you prefer to work in large organizations, small work groups, one-to-one relationships, or alone. A healthy organization will make space for both types.
Let's move on. The next two factors are ways in which the New Aging affects our experience of the True Self, stirring new energies that may completely surprise us.
4. The Changing Experience of Age. This is really important. Aging will change you, change your life. It's a profound experience. You don't really get to choose whether age or what bad things might happen. So let's look more closely at how this factor affects our giving back.
In general, the young and middle-aged need to be active and goal-oriented. They're busy in the doing mode. They grow through experience and risk-taking, and seek the Hero's Journey so beautifully described by Joseph Campbell. This orientation is obvious in the busy lives of our kids.
Conscious Elders, those of us who have spent a lifetime on this journey of awakening, are full to the brim with wisdom, experience, heart and Soul - that's you! - and, as a result, have more access to the being mode. In the being mode, we increasingly act from the richness and depth of their own deeply seasoned nature, trusting the mulch of experience, no longer relying on externally defined goals, strategies, priorities and authorities. This is not our first rodeo! We've been around the block many times! We're like growth rings in a tree.
This doing-being shift grows ever more important as we continue to age. Aging can be roughly divided into three periods: the young old, the middle old and the old old. The young old (c60-70 or so) don't feel much different than middle-aged folks and often stay more action and goal-oriented. The middle old (c70 to 80), however, begin to experience some real limitations of energy, health and physical function that limit their doing activities (For example, I've had a hip replacement, a shoulder repair, a left knee tendon snaps if I don’t do enough exercise, and I now live in permanent atrial fibrillation that can be tiring). How many of your have limitations like these? Facing these kinds of limitations, we are naturally and increasingly drawn to the being mode, like spending quality time with other people and the Earth, opening the heart and being lovingly present to other sentient beings. Finally, the old old (defined less by age and more by more our degree of frailty and decline), live far more in the being mode, and the depth of love they share from this mode is like the light from a Chinese lantern - warm, loving, patient, kind, wise - it goes everywhere and touches everyone (remember Tuesdays with Maury? He could do almost nothing but his way of being touched everyone). As we move in our aging from doing to being, we begin serve right where we are and simply by being who we are, and never underestimate how important this is! As you age, give yourself permission to move from doing to being - it will change your life. (One of my good friends describes time with his two-year-old granddaughter and how they snuggle in the sun after she's played in the wading pool. He wraps the towel around her and they sit silently in the afternoon sunshine. He says that he's has never felt so happy and complete in his whole life).
Of course there is one major caveat: You don't get wise and loving just by getting old. You have to do the inner work of aging, which is what the conscious aging movement is all about. Work on yourself! You'll have so much more to give back if you do.
5. The Status of Archetypal Gender Energies. How we express this new depth of being that I've been describing can also differ depending on how we use our inborn masculine and feminine energies or potentials, in other words, the archetypal masculine and feminine modes of being we all share.
We have each been given fixed allotments of masculine and feminine energies but we often express them in different ways or orders.
People express archetypal masculine energies in competition, quest and conquest. They venture out into the world of ambitions to make their fortune, provide for their families, or take on great causes. People express archetypal feminine energies in nurturing, caretaking and nesting, devoting themselves to nourishing children, family, hearth and home. Of course, we all have and do both but not always as deeply as we wish because of compromises we had to make along the way, particularly balancing work and family.
Then comes aging. Some of us, having depleted our masculine aggressive energies, now need to express our feminine energies through caretaking and deep being,
and others, having spent their feminine side now need to express more aggressive and action-oriented doing energies. But here's the underlying point. It's always about finding balance and completing our self. If we've ignored or betrayed one side or the other, in aging we may feel the need to develop that side more. So like my friend who just wants hold his granddaughter, he longs to express his feminine mode of being. And my friend Carol Orsborn calls her website Fierce with Age, expressing the more intense and action-oriented side many now feel called to embody.
So if you find yourself experiencing weird new feelings in this new stage of life, it may be the natural effect of aging - the doing-to-being shift - or changing archetypal gender energies. In either case, it's important to embrace these new feelings in your new life and "giving back" activities. Don't deny yourself the opportunity to complete your destiny.
The Path of Spiritual Practice
I want to touch briefly on one more topic before we shift gears - the topic of spirituality and how it relates to "giving back."
Show of hands: How many of you consider yourself spiritual and have some kind of spiritual practice?
We can integrate spirituality to our "giving back" in three ways. The first is Sacred Activism, in which the depth of our spirituality moves us to care for the world as spiritual commitment, deepening the personal meaning of our work. Andrew Harvey talks a lot about this in his book, The Hope. The second way we can express our spirituality is through what David Nicol has called Subtle Activism, where a gathering of like-minded people creates a subtle force field to bring healing energies to traumatized places or groups in the world. A third form of spiritual expression arises as we awaken divine consciousness within, transforming ourselves and our perception of the world. I talk a lot about this in my book, The Divine Human. In this third form, the experience of our own divine being leads spontaneously to sacred action. As theologian Matthew Fox points out, the mystic now becomes the prophet, called by the experience of unity to interfere with injustice and suffering wherever it is encountered. In other words, whatever is happening to you is happening to me too because I am you!
So I believe spirituality can have a profound effect in our "giving back" activities, protecting and sustaining us in times of hardship, awakening deeper motives and perspectives in what we do, and bringing healing divine energies into the world wherever we are. This is not "woo woo" stuff, it's a state of consciousness associated with the divine power of love.
I want to wrap up this lecture part of the workshop so you can have some time for personal discernment.
Here's my summary: I believe that assessing these five factors can help us find our most natural and meaningful way of "giving back." To review, we need to ask ourselves questions like,
• "What are the natural gifts of my True Self?"
• "How well do I, as Ego, support my Soul in the expression of these gifts?"
• "Am I acting in alignment with my natural Introversion or Extroversion?"
• "Have I appreciated the changing experience of age and archetypal gender energies in this new time?" And…
• "Does my spirituality add a sixth dimension to my "giving back?"
As you can see, one size does not fit all - we are not meant to be cookie cutter social activists! - and imposing the wrong expectations on your self or another will only generate motivational and interpersonal problems. No one can tell you what kind of work or life you should seek, that job of discernment is yours. But in any healthy organization there will be room for all our differing styles - that's the power of diversity. So honor these factors and let them guide and enrich your path to love and service.
I'd like to end this lecture on a personal note. How did these discernment factors apply to me? I am an introverted, feeling-centered individual. Growing up in a narcissistic, ambition-oriented family, I often betrayed my deeply mystical nature in favor of extroverted achievement in the world. Now, in these twilight years, I find myself drawn to silence, stillness, the feminine mode of feeling, and the call of the divine as my truest self. All I do now comes from this deep center. As a result, my gifts involve a deep understanding of the inner life and the transformational possibilities of the New Aging. My "giving back" is what I am doing right now, sharing this understanding in talks, books, blogs and articles, because I believe that we are experiencing a new kind of aging and perhaps even the evolution of a new kind of human, a divine human, and that our collective spiritual evolution can change the world. I understood that my gift was a vision of a new humanity. Once I got clear about my truest path, my passion ignited.
Questions, Comments, Reflections?
Let's take a few minutes for any questions, comments or reflections you might have. Anyone?
Now it's your turn. Would you be willing to explore these discernment factors in your own life and work? Let's do it.
• I'll be asking you some discernment questions. Your job is just to answer these questions for yourself.
• The questions apply to whatever "giving back" activity you're already engaged in or one you might be considering. If you can't think of a giving back activity, pick one arbitrarily from what you've heard so far and apply these questions - later you can use these questions for any other activity you're considering.
• There are three questions for each discernment factor. The questions are listed in a handout I'll give you. We'll do the questions one at a time so you don't read the whole thing right now. You can also take it home and keep working on these questions later.
• You'll have one minute per question, so be succinct.
• You might want to write down your answers on the back or a separate sheet of paper to have a record of them but you don't have to.
• Most importantly, be as truthful with yourself as you can because you'll gain the most real personal knowledge that way.
• And by the way, you won't be asked to share any of this unless you want to.
• Also, even if you are relatively happy in your current activity, answer the questions anyway - you might discover a new dimension to your work.
• Finally, there are no right or wrong answers, only your answers, so don't censor or judge yourself!
Ready? Again, you'll have about a minute for each question. When we're done, you'll have a chance to reflect on all you've learned.
1. Describe your True Self with five adjectives. (e.g., I wrote down: sensitive, deeply feeling, mystical, loving, gentle). Who are you most deeply? Remember you're describing your real self, not the social role or mask you wear.
2. List the gifts contained in these qualities. (I wrote down: I see deeply into my inner life; I love easily; I experience the world as a sacred place; I understand transformation). This is not necessarily your education or experience, it's your essential nature. Also you may overlook some of these gifts because take them for granted - so think back on qualities people praise even when you don't know why.
3. Are your gifts being meaningfully expressed in the "giving back" work you're now doing or thinking of doing? Explain.
1. How do you (as Ego) support or betray True Self and Soul in the "giving back" activity you're doing or thinking of doing? Is your Ego too powerful or do you surrender your Soul too easily?
2. In your work or everyday life, how do you need to express your True Self more?
3. What does your soul want most from you in this time of your life?
1. Are you mostly an introvert or extrovert? Explain.
2. Are you drawn to large organizations, small working groups, one-to-one work, or no organization preferring to work alone? Explain
3. Is your style a good fit with the "giving back" work you're now doing or thinking of doing?
The Changing Experience of Age
1. Have you begin to notice age-related changes in energy, values, or longings? What are you noticing?
2. How do these changes affect the "giving back" activity you're doing or thinking of doing?
3. Where are you in the transition from doing to being?
Archetypal Gender Energies
1. Overall, have you lived your life more from masculine or feminine energies?
2. Which energies call to you most powerfully in your life and giving back activities?
3. Does the work you're doing or thinking of doing support or discourage these new emerging energies?
1. Do your spiritual feelings and beliefs contribute to the "giving back" activity you're doing or thinking of doing? How?
2. Do you wish your spirituality were more deeply connected to the "giving back" activity you're doing or thinking of doing? How?
3. Can you imagine the "giving back" activity you're doing or thinking of doing becoming a spiritual practice itself? How?
Now Go back over your answers and see what you've discovered. Write down any insights that seem important. What themes keep recurring in you responses.
Now I want you to pick a partner, introduce yourselves, briefly describe some of what you've discovered today from the questions you answered. Share only what you feel comfortable sharing. If you don't want to share, just listen and discuss these questions or the discernment factors in generalities. You'll have 15 minutes to complete the sharing
Group Feedback and Discussion:
What did you learn from this experience? Anything? Who's willing to share?
I want to add one more discernment activity before we stop. It's a short and simple experiential exercise. Are you willing? Here are the steps:
1. Put down pen and pencil, close your eyes, and just relax.
2. Take a couple deep breaths and settle comfortably into your chair, your body, your being. Take your time. Let this be a peaceful, gentle, and loving experience.
3. Let your thoughts slow down and come to rest. Release the questions, distractions and issues of the day and center your attention deep inside, descending into the rich dark inner space of Self or Spirit.
4. Now picture yourself standing by clear pool of water in a quiet place on a lovely day. You might hear birds chirping or a breeze rustling leaves around you. Just be there now - fully present.
5. You have come to this sacred pool to seek guidance in finding your own best way of "giving back." To help you succeed in this quest, silently call out for any friends, spirits, allies, ancestors, wisdom figures, angels or other beings whose support you value. Who do you want to support you in this inner search? Ask them to come and help you understand and find this work of your soul. Picture them coming forward and standing around the water with you. Feel them joining you, aligning their highest energies with yours.
6. Open also to the deep energies of the sacred Earth that hold and embrace you, to the stars and the cosmos that sense your existence, and to the Divine Being, however you conceive it, and feel its loving Presence surround you.
7. Now think of one question this workshop has stirred in you. It can be any question you like. Let that question become clear. Now, in the silence of this deep inner space, standing beside this pool, supported by wise and loving beings, silently ask that question and look deeply into the water. Be still and patient. Wait until some kind of answer rises - an image, metaphor, feeling, figure, place - whatever. Take your time.
8. Keeping your eyes closed, raise you hand if something has come to you.
9. Reflect on what has been revealed. See how it might help you answer your question. Hold it dear. If nothing has come to you, hold the image in our soul and wait for a revelation when the time is right.
10. Now thank the beings who came to help you. Express your love and gratitude for their assistance as they now depart and feel their gratitude as well for the work you're doing on yourself and in the world.
11. Find your way back to this room, this moment, and your normal experience of self and body, and when you're ready, open your eyes and get re-oriented to where we are.
12. Take a moment to reflect on or write about your revelation.
Sharing (If Time Allows)
Find a new partner and share a little of what this experience was like. If you don't wish to share, just listen and then talk about the exercise in general. You have five minutes.
(For the most part, keep this revelation to yourself. Don't dissipate it with too much talking. It is a very personal and private thing. Treasure it and return to it often as you find your way. Over the coming days, it may have more to show you.)
Let's regroup as a community now. Did you discover anything new in this second exercise? Did it focus or clarify your earlier insights from the questions? Who's willing to share a little?
Summary and Conclusions
We need to wrap things up now and I want to put this workshop into a larger context before we close.
In this new time, in our new experience of aging, conscious elders are helping to birth a new world which is why discernment is so important. I believe we are entering a new stage in human spiritual evolution with so many amazing possibilities. Do we just want to repeat the past, do what we've always done, or express something genuinely new - a new blossom of our self? That's what aging is and what we're here in this conference to explore.
Mathew Fox, who has been one of my teachers for years, talks about the Re-Invention of Work. That's what we are doing here! He says, "We are being challenged today - in light of the wounded Earth, the one billion unemployed adults, the billions of despairing young people who see no guarantees of either work or jobs, and the needs of other species - to redefine work." And, "Work" he says, "comes from inside out; work is the expression of our soul, our inner being. It is unique to the individual."
And then he adds, "To work is to become part of the Great Work. Cosmology teaches us that there is only one work going on in the universe, the 'Great Work' of creation itself - the work of creation unfolding." And it unfolds through us! When we wake up to who we really are and express that aliveness, we join this work and become it. There's enough work for everybody and everybody's gift is needed. Then the Great Work will live through us.
I believe our New Aging is part of the Great Work. I have outlined this vision in my books, The Three Secrets of Aging, Bedtime Stories for Elders, What Aging Men Want, and The Divine Human. It's also expressed in my autobiographical novel Breakthrough and an earlier book, Finding Heaven Here. You can order them at any bookstore or online.
One final suggestion before you leave. Bob Atchly, a well-known gerontologist active in Saging International, gives a very useful and practical tip on finding your own work which I'll leave you as a parting gift. He says to imagine yourself as a tuning fork. If you're in the right place for your soul, that fork will hum. If it's not humming, it's not the right place for you. So as you go through the many offerings and experiences of this weekend, see where your turning fork hums - it may reveal your deepest interests, passions and purpose. Thank you for being with me today. I hope this workshop has made a difference in your life and your giving back.