The Gift of Age by Laurel D. Rund
As a gift to myself just before my 70th birthday in October 2015, I attended the Hay House Orlando “I Can Do It” conference. For me, it was a meaningful and inspirational time, which included a poignant memorial service for Dr. Wayne Dyer who had just passed away – he was scheduled to be the opening night keynote speaker.
I have wanted to write about one particular experience I had at the conference for quite some time, but felt stuck, unable to put into words a description of my transformative soul retrieval journey led by Dr. Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D.*
Dr. Villoldo explained to the audience that a soul retrieval journey is a time where one enters into a sacred space to heal the past and chart a new destiny. After conducting some rituals with the audience, it was time for us to quiet down and go into a meditative state.
With my eyes closed and in response to the guided meditation, I was led to a path in the woods, where at the entry of the path, we were told that a power animal would meet us. A large buck greeted me, and as I focused my eyes on this strong, superb animal – it suddenly morphed into a hawk who spread his wings and guided me through the woods to a clearing. I was asked to sit down on a rock in the center of the clearing and wait.
Dr. Villoldo said that a spirit would appear behind me, and to feel its presence. I slowly turned around to greet this entity. When I turned, I saw an elderly Native American woman with braids; her face glowing with kindness, crinkled, caring eyes, and a gentle smile. Her loving energy enveloped me and entered my heart. I reached over and felt compelled to trace my fingers across the wrinkles on her face and around her eyes, which felt like I was following a map of her life.
The shaman asked us to walk away from the clearing with our spirit and to return home through the forest path. But, before leaving the forest, he directed the participants on this soul retrieval journey to transmute and absorb our power animals and spirit into our beings. The hawk, the buck, and the Wise Old Woman morphed into my human form and spirit. I then left the forest and was guided back to the present moment – the soul retrieval was over.
I felt peaceful, calm and wondered what did this all mean? My intuition told me that I had retrieved my “wise old woman” – my WOW as a lesson about recognizing the strength, wisdom, gentleness and grace that lies within me. It was about honoring my age.
“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” Robert Frost
When I returned home from the conference, there was urgency within me to create an image of what I had seen, and then to write about the experience. The soul retrieval journey was emblazoned in my head and heart, and set a tone of acceptance and joy for me as I stepped into my seventh decade with gratitude. Below is My Wise Old Woman (WOW) and Power Animals, as I experienced them.
I felt exhilarated when the recreation of what I saw during the soul retrieval journey came to life. It hangs on a wall in my house and has great meaning to me. But, each time I put pen to paper to write about the experience, I felt blocked. Somehow I knew that there was an unseen purpose for this story and that I needed to be patient until it showed itself to me.
One morning, at least three months after the conference, while driving my car through an area that is populated with lush moss-filled oak trees, I had an epiphany.
I slowed my car down – as I always do when passing under the arch of these glorious trees – and greeted them tenderly with a “hello trees!” There is something about this particular street which has “talked to me” since I first drove through it several years ago. I never fail to purposefully slow my car down and greet the trees, taking time to be present with them and to honor their magnificence. It always leaves me with a sense of peacefulness and gratitude. It makes my heart feel good.
As I drove on, I began to think about the dicotomy between how we see trees and “see” our elders. The purpose for this piece had finally percolated up; it literally showed itself to me and my writing block was lifted!
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.” Hermann Hesse
It’s interesting how many people have come to love and honor trees. I know several devoted tree huggers. People have sat in trees for months to protect them from destruction.
As they get older, trees reach across to each other and their branches touch – intertwine. They share their energy, their power and offer a place for humans to be shaded and rest under their glorious limbs. They build a community. And, there are many stories held within each tree – what it encountered as it grew into maturity.
When we pass a tree that has become glorious in its old age, we look at that tree in awe as we revere its strength and beauty whether or not its bark is missing or cracked, or its branches broken off.
Here’s the epiphany — I believe we humans are very much like trees. We show our age with wrinkles, changes in our bodies and its imperfections. And yet, as we grow older we, too, have a community to build and a story to share.
Our culture, however, has often stated that when people get older they are “past their prime” and become invisible. Maybe it makes some people uncomfortable with their own aging process, or maybe heartlessness has replaced caring.
Here is what Gabriel Garci-a-Marquez, author of “Love in the Time of Cholera” had to say about the essence of aging:
“Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.”
There are many lessons to be shared and taught by our elders. Our society all too often disregards the journeys and stories of the aged, and places its attention on youthfulness. Yes, life is about hope, youth and building a life, but it is also about the wisdom one has gained throughout the years.
Being an elder, a Woman of Wisdom, a WOW, has given me a new perspective about aging. I’ve learned as I’ve moved into my seventies that what you feel like inside your human form has nothing to do with the date of your birth. My spiritual being is ageless.
Just like my gray hair, wrinkles, aches and pains, life is filled with joy, growth, challenges, heartaches and bumps in the road. These are the things that build our character, wisdom and courage. This is how we learn and grow.
Each day, year and decade should be honored. Very much like the rings within the trunk of a tree, they represent and record the events which we have experienced on this journey called life.
“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”
Today, go hug a tree and then talk with and hug an Elder. For all of us – being talked with, touched and hugged is a heartfelt and essential part of life.
My very best, Laurel
*Dr. Villoldo is a renowned psychologist and medical anthropologist, who has studied the healing practices of the Amazon and Andean shamans for more than 25 years. Founder of The Four Winds Society, Dr. Villoldo instructs individuals throughout the world in the practice of energy medicine.