Regularly, as part of my ceremony and group work and also in my own personal life, when I speak acknowledgement to country, I pay respect to the traditional custodians of this unceded land, the Gumbaynggirr nation, where I live, work and play and pay my respect to the elders past, present and those emerging. When I say that I bring to mind, in particular, Gumbaynggirr elder, Aunty Bea Ballangarry and other leaders in the indigenous community.

As part of my program, Celebrating This Precious Life, we spend time acknowledging our ancestors, our elders . Leaning into the wisdom of those gone before us and those elders around us.

What makes an elder? When does a person ‘become’ an elder and how is this encouraged? Celebrated? Honoured?

The Eldering Institute writes, “Eldering is a vision for growing older. It is an opportunity to have the rest of life be richer and more rewarding than we can imagine.  They go on to say,

“Eldering is:

    • transforming our experience of growing older
    • relating to people of all ages with respect and dignity
    • is living life as a contribution
    • is creating our collective future
    • is learning and growing throughout our lives”

Ceremony for an Elder

When creating a ritual or ceremony for an elder – it is our time and privilege, as ceremony writers and holders, to connect, respect and listen. The ceremony may be to honour an elder or possibly, to welcome a person into ‘elder hood’. A ceremony may include an acknowledgement of the elder – their stories, gems of wisdom, their contributions to life – to themselves, family and community.

Family and friends may speak of how this person has touched their life, supporting them to grow and learn life’s lessons.

The elder ceremony can be an opportunity for the elder to speak to what they wish to bring to their elder hood, honouring both the responsibilities and the challenges.

Lastly, the ceremony can welcome and honour them as an elder. This may be spoken by another elder or by a member of the family or community or the celebrant.

The ceremony can include music, movement, meditation, musings and magic that embodies playfulness. contemplation, connection and support. While you might follow a structure, each ceremony will be unique according to what is needed by the ‘elder’ and their community.

Circles of Elders

Coming together in a crones circle, a circle of elders, a group of oldies, the wise ones – whatever the term – gathering wise old souls together (and sometimes this has nothing to do with age) can be a great comfort, support and offer a sense of nourishment, belonging and connection.

Circles can incorporate reflections upon all or any of the following questions:

  • What’s most alive in you in this moment?
  • What has been most important to you? And, in this moment, what is important?
  • What challenge and/or joy has encouraged you to grow the most? What did you learn?
  • What do you value most? About life? About love?
  • What qualities or values do you wish to live into as you age? Who are you becoming?
  • Where do you find solace? Where do you find peace?
  • What are your reflections upon the question, ‘Who I am?’
  • If you could speak to your younger self, what would you say?
  • If you could speak to yourself on your death bed, what would you say?
  • What does birth, death and life in-between mean for you? What is your metaphor for life? For death?
  • What are you being invited to do? And be?
  • What do you mourn? What do you celebrate?
  • If you could speak with your ancestors what would you say? What wisdom would you most want to hear from them?
  • If you were to speak with your descendants what would you say? What wisdom would you offer?

As for the elder ceremony, a circle of elders, can include music, movement, meditation, musings and magic that embodies playfulness. contemplation, connection and support.

It can be a one time ‘circle of elders’ or become a regular meeting space.

Circle of Elders – an ongoing gathering

One person can lead the group or everyone can share the role of guide and bring their own theme or practice to the circle. It can take any shape or form, from simply being a book club of elders, a craft group of elders or a more, intimate talking circle with a specific focus on ‘sharing from the heart’.

Whatever your circle of elders initiates it can be important to have a regular sense of rhythm. For example, a familiar opening ritual that defines the space. Whether it is an ‘acknowledgement of country’ or a short presence meditation, the sharing of a quote or an intention of the group. And the same for the close of the ceremony, which might be a short sharing (one or two words) of what people will take away from the gathering.

There might be times when younger people or other people from the community are invited into the circle of elders, creating a welcoming space for all.

An elder would lead the gathering, yet everyone might speak. There might be a theme such as, ‘A Mourning and Celebration’ Circle¹, a ‘Despair Circle’² or ‘What’s Alive in You in the Moment’ empathy circle which can mean anything can be brought to the space.

From experience, it is important to get some agreements from the group about confidentiality, care and commitment.

  • What is the intention of the circle/group?
  • One person speaking at a time? Or, have a more conversational group?
  • What process will you use for sharing? Deep listening? Possibly using the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) Empathy circle practice of giving people a choice of what they would like in response to their sharing which could be:
    • Just being heard was enough
    • A short empathic reflection (free from advice giving, analysing, commiserating, judgement etc)
    • A ‘shower of needs’ where a few members reflect back the needs they heard the person speak to.
    • The person speaking could share what needs they connected with as they spoke.
    • And then, take a collective breath together.
  • Just a group sharing or include some buddy or dyad/triad work?
  • How many members in the circle you would like?
  • How do people get invited to join this ‘circle of elders’?
  • How is conflict resolved?

Most of all, have fun, celebrate connection and honour the wisdom of being an elder.

Celebrate being an elder.

“Healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.”  

Erik Erikson

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