Aging Circle Discussions
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…." While these lines were written by Charles Dickens more than 100 years ago about the French Revolution, they could apply equally well to life after retirement. Many people don't give a lot of conscious thought to the years that make up the last chapter of life. Some enjoy productive and meaningful years, while others slip into loneliness and depression.
Good conversation at a Northwest Center for Creative Aging event
The Northwest Center for Creative Aging (NWCCA) believes that planned discussions among elders guided by a facilitator can help people experience positive aging. The concept means a lot more than maintaining good health for as long as possible. Positive aging is way of consciously looking at and taking advantage of available possibilities to make the most of these years.
Ruth Higgins, 71, received training through the NWCCA in how to facilitate a discussion circle to tackle aging issues. Higgins and two partner facilitators recently conducted a successful pilot discussion circle at the Ballard Northwest Senior Center. A group of nine elders met four times over one month. None of the participants knew one another, but that didn't stop them from diving right into issues surrounding aging.
"There was electricity in our small group," said Higgins. The first thing Higgins did was light a candle in the middle of the circle. Then she brought out a bowl of stones from the beach. She asked people to select a stone and then put it by the candle. Then, Higgins had the group do an "extreme listening exercise." The group broke up into pairs and then one person in each pair talked in the present tense for ten minutes about an experience in his or her life in which they had felt fully alive. The role of the partner was to listen. Then the pair switched roles.
After the exercise, they went back to the circle and talked about the kind of aging that they would like to have. One person wanted to stay playful while another wanted to learn new patterns of reacting to things. Others wanted to be more centered and less active, while another person wanted to be more active. Interestingly, despite their different personalities and life experiences, all of the participants expressed the desire to get more in touch with their authentic selves. From the group in the discussion circle, participants said they wanted to be heard, first and foremost.
"It was mostly listening and people having an opportunity to articulate their thoughts in a quiet attentive environment; it wasn't just one person listening," explained Higgins.
In the next session, each person brought in a snapshot of themselves at ages 7, 8, and 9. Then each person talked gently and kindly about another person's picture, describing what they saw. At the end of the discussion group process, Higgins asked each person to write the title of the next chapter of their life or the title of a film or documentary. There were a range of responses from "Peace, Joy and Growth" to "Blast Off into the Unknown."
The discussion circle gave participants a way to explore aging issues with other elders in a meaningful way. Higgins said the group reached their collective goal of wanting to be heard. In fact, the experience was so meaningful to them that they are considering meeting for more circle discussions. For information about facilitating a discussion circle or joining a discussion circle, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.