Deepening Self-Knowledge and Forging Connections with Others

Horizon House residents Helen Bereiter and Bob Fitzgerald discuss their learning from Aging as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond.

People who attend conversations, courses, and events presented by Northwest Center for Creative Aging (NWCCA) span a wide range of backgrounds and interests, but share a common goal—they want to learn more about themselves and about what it means to age well.

The NWCCA develops a quarterly curriculum for retirement communities, libraries, churches, community centers and other venues, bringing conversations and courses to them as adjunct learning for their own programming. NWCCA also presents public lectures and experiential workshops for our members and the general public. Each event is delivered by experts in their fields and designed to engage attendees in enlivening and stimulating learning.

Monthly Conversations

NWCCA's monthly Conversations on Creative Aging appeal to older adults who want to discuss meaningful topics with peers. Roz Barnett, age 69, was drawn to a Conversation on Aging facilitated by Elderwise executive director Sandy Sabersky. "In my late fifties, I started to hanker for an ongoing conversation group with people my own age and older," he says. "Getting older—and one day becoming very old—became very real to me. I wanted to talk about this with others who could relate to my feelings and who might be ahead of me on the path."

Roz Barnett attends the monthly Conversations on Creative Aging at Horizon House and also facilitates conversations for NWCCA.

"I have always been an inquisitive person, so learning new things, developing new skills and disciplines, is my way of navigating through life," says Barnett. "I enjoy getting good at things, so learning feels like an imperative for me at any age. Looking for meaning—whether of words, actions, personal developments, or cultural trends—seems to be my active operating principle.”

Now Barnett facilitates NWCCA conversation groups. "I find the internal work of settling in and becoming a member or facilitator of a group very gratifying," she says. "I love the inclusiveness, respectfulness, and opportunities for insight of deep conversation groups."

Another member of the monthly conversation group, Nelson Dahl, appreciates how it connects him with others. "Sharing ideas with intelligent, sincere people—'going deep,' as Sandy says—on focused topics that relate to real life is valuable," says Dahl. "It helps me consider different views and clarify my own thinking. As I grow older, I maintain connections with others and avoid becoming isolated."

"For the last 40 years, I have pursued my interests—reading, world events, writing, mountaineering, and world travel," says Dahl. "One thing that surprises me is how little my interests and attitudes change as I age. I did not think my outlook on life would be the same at 75 as it was at 40 but, with allowance for some physical limitations, I am still interested in most of the same things and have the same attractions."

Dahl likes to maintain principles but remain flexible and keep an open mind. "New experiences are healthy," he says. "I love having time to explore the crucial problems of our age and to figure out how to make a contribution."

Courses and Workshops

At 80, MollyBee Welkin finds the words "creative aging" intriguing and enticing. Drawn by the possibilities, in July she enrolled in a four-week writing course taught at Council House on Seattle's Capitol Hill. She focuses on weaving a Celtic 4th century Cinderella into her memoir. "The fairy tale resembles my own life story," she says. "And to describe my first event, I need but one word—JOY!"

No stranger to lifelong learning, Welkin enrolled in a creative writing and poetry class 20 years ago. At age 60, as a single parent and home health aide, she was determined to complete her bachelor's degree. "My first poem was published in the college literary journal in the spring of 1990," she says.

Welkin describes "playing at creative aging in a sandbox, joined together in listening and supporting each other." She appreciates that the NWCCA connected her with a writing consultant who has helped her write with greater clarity.

Another participant, 71-year-old David Boaviano, personifies lifetime learning. A retired trainer and facilitator, Boaviano earned college degrees in his 20s and a Ph.D. in his 40s. For 20 years, he served as a diversity training consultant who specialized in sexual and general harassment prevention.

"I am very happy at this age, free and unencumbered," says Boaviano. "Each decade is better than the one before. And I enjoy self-study and challenges that require new knowledge. I feel like I am just really beginning to learn—it takes a lifetime of prep!"

Academic Learning

In June 2012, NWCCA and Seattle University teamed for the second year to offer an exciting opportunity for intergenerational, deep immersion learning in the "3Rs at Seattle University—Renew, Recharge, Refresh." Participants came to the Seattle University campus for courses taught by college professors in intimate, seminar-style learning.

Ann Lawrence, age 73, feels positive about her age but admits to "some pause" when considering the health issues faced by her age mates. "I love experiential learning,” she says. "I love to travel, meet new people, and talk about issues. Continuing to learn about the world around me is very important to my sense of well-being. I like the fact that this educational process meets the needs of extroverts like me and also quieter more contemplative types. It isn't nearly as much fun for me to 'learn' when I'm all alone in front of my computer."

Lawrence says she was on the look-out for an on-going educational process. "When I heard about the 3Rs, I knew it would be a good thing for me to be involved in," she says. "I have great memories of exchanging ideas in a college setting so I was excited about enrolling. The experience was very engaging. I met some fine people and left with an appreciation of the way history is taught these days."

Public Events

In addition, NWCCA presents large events that appeal to a wider audience. In April, NWCCA collaborated with Elliott Bay Books and four other organizations to sponsor Buddhist author Lewis Richmond's talk about his new book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice, at Town Hall. Two hundred people were drawn to learning about the connection between aging and spirituality, including Horizon House residents Bob Fitzgerald and his wife.

"Aging is not an academic subject," says Fitzgerald, now in his 80s. "To make this 'trip' a 'spiritual practice' puts a new, creative spin on weak knees, cataracts, loss of energy and spending time determining what day it is."

As a retired United Church of Christ pastor, Fitzgerald wanted a Buddhist's perspective. "This was such a valuable book reading experience—a meditation practice of saying 'thank you,' easy to use quips and useful tidbits for daily life, and attention to my attitudes toward health, sickness and dying."

Fitzgerald appreciated that Richmond shared some of his own personal struggles with serious health issues. "Fear, pain and despair are real aspects of a spiritual life," he said. "We sent copies of Richmond's book to our five adult children with some obvious parental comments—one, this gives you an idea of what we are going through now, and two, this may give you an idea of what you will go through some day. So hey, kids, listen up!"

He continued, saying, "This book and this experience at a program by Northwest Center for Creative Aging continues to nurture me ... and it continues to provoke conversations with my wife, my kids and my friends."

Learners come in all ages and with many motivations. Northwest Center for Creative Aging provides opportunities for learning that expands possibilities, deepens self-knowledge and forges connection with others. For more information, call 206-382-3789, e-mail info@nwcreativeaging.org, or visit www.nwcreativeaging.org.

—Rebecca Crichton, Northwest Center for Creative Aging


Rebecca Crichton retired from a 21-year career at Boeing as a writer, curriculum designer, and leadership development and diversity facilitator. In addition to serving as executive director of the NWCCA, she volunteers for a variety of organizations and pursues her newest creative passion, fused glass.