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An Audacious Aging Salon

COLUMN: Aging in Enlightened Society
by David Whitehorn

Audacious: intrepidly daring; adventurous. Aging: the process of growing old. Salon: a gathering to entertain and inform through conversation.

Five years ago, twelve friends, all in their 60s, began meeting to share the experience Water ice and snowof growing older. We have come to call these gatherings an Audacious Aging Salon. This article, created in consultation with the group members, is written in the hope that others might find our experience useful.

The idea for the group originated when two couples, long-time friends, were having dinner together. As they bantered about how age was impacting their lives, it occurred to them it would be helpful to form an ongoing group. Twelve people seemed like the right size, so four other couples were invited to one couple’s home on a Sunday morning for brunch and conversation. Ever since that first gathering, the group has met consistently about every six weeks, with a gap in the summer. The meeting locations rotate among the members homes, always on a Sunday morning (from 10:30am until about 1:30pm), and always beginning with a leisurely pot-luck brunch before the formal meeting begins.

From the start we have used a meeting structure, developed by two members in their professional work, called, “The Halifax Meeting Model”. It involves four roles: a convenor, a facilitator, a recorder and a timekeeper. These roles rotate from meeting to meeting on a volunteer basis. The convenor makes sure everyone knows when and where the next meeting is happening and, at the start of the meeting, oversees setting the agenda. Once the agenda is determined, the facilitator takes over and guides the group through the agenda items. The timer keeps track of the time allotted to each agenda item and the recorder takes brief notes.

Wood Stove FireThe meeting always begins with a “check-in,” during which each member of the group is given three minutes to say whatever they wish regarding what is happening in their life. There is no cross-talk during the check-ins, no questions and no comments. These brief glimpses into each person’s life not only enrich the sense of connection and compassion among the group members, but also provide encouragement and opportunity for each of us to deeply reflect on how our life is unfolding. What is said during the check in is considered confidential, is not shared outside the group and does not appear in the notes taken by the recorder.

After the check-in is complete, agenda items are suggested, along with how much time will be allotted to the item (most items are given 5-10 minutes, and more time can be added as needed). Agenda items are topics that one or more of the members would like to discuss. The item might involve the member providing information or, on the other hand, they may be seeking information or opinions. Agenda items have included financial and health related issues, local and international current events and innovative ideas on a wide range of subjects. The final agenda item is usually “books, movies and TV shows.” At the end, the time and location for the next meeting is established.

Given the structured nature of the meetings, one might get the idea that the atmosphere is business-like and goal-oriented. Nothing could be further from the truth. Members of the group describe it as relaxed, genuine, humorous and touching. Even the idea that we are audacious is taken with a bit of tongue in cheek and a twinkle in the eye.

It is also worth mentioning that all of the group members have had a close personal connection with the Shambhala community, and all but one were students of the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Currently there is a good deal of diversity among the group members in terms of what Buddhist teachers they are studying with, the nature of their own personal contemplative practice, and their involvement in Buddhis-inspired secular activities. Nonetheless, the common interest in contemplative practice and Buddhist understandings provides a binding context for the group.

In the early meetings there was considerable discussion about the purpose of the Ice and snow on Dragon Lakegroup. Some members were interested in considering group projects, including the possibility of creating a co-housing development. Others were more inclined to keep the meetings social and informative, without taking on actual projects. It soon became evident that the latter view was the most workable. It was at that point that the name for the group emerged and the image of a salon was offered as best representing what we were doing.

A sense of being audacious in the way we approached aging also seemed to fit. Perhaps most audacious is the fact that very little of what we discuss at the gatherings is overtly related to aging. Instead, we are simply sharing the unfolding of our lives on a personal level, and exploring major issues in the current culture and world affairs. It is not that we ignore aging, it certainly makes itself evident in a variety of ways, but aging is not the primary context for our gatherings. We are, simply a group of friends sharing what is going on in our lives, and what is happening in the world around us.

A lot has happened over the five years that the group has been active — including, obviously, that we are all five years older. Well, almost all of us. Painfully, one member of the group is no longer aging, having died quite suddenly and unexpectedly two years ago. The meeting that followed his death was, no doubt, the most poignant of all our gatherings. He was an outspoken and gregarious person who thoroughly enjoyed the exchange of information and opinions. We often feel his presence in the group and someone will articulate what he might have said about the topic at hand. With the passing of time, we are able to laugh and appreciate how much we learned from him, and how deeply we love him.

To balance the group, we invited another man, who happens to be single, to join. He has been a delightful addition. From time to time we have considered adding other members, but somehow the size seems just right. On a practical level we can all fit comfortably in our living rooms for the meetings. On a more profound level, the common history and continuity we now have together, from sharing food, conversation and the details of our lives over these past five years, is becoming all the more precious.

We certainly encourage anyone interested in this kind of group support to take the simple, and perhaps audacious, step of simply gathering friends and beginning the process.

The members of the salon are: Gwen and Jim D’Ambrogi, Karen and Steve Ritchie, Deborah and Joe Szostak, Ruth Burton and Mark Koenig, Sarah and Dave Whitehorn, Conner Loomis and Larry Loomis (deceased) and John Sell.

~~

David Whitehorn

David Whitehorn

David Whitehorn (age 73) was the first chairperson of the Shambhala Working Group on Aging. He is a member of the Desung Council and Director of the Atlantic Contemplative Centre. Dave lives with his wife in Halifax.

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2 responses to “ An Audacious Aging Salon ”
  1. Thanks David for sharing your group’s approach to mutual support and community in aging. I see some parallels to our Conversations on Aging group in NYC, and also some delightfully unique aspects.

    Hope others may find inspiration in this, and perhaps adventure and audaciousness as well!

  2. I like this so much! It is a dot. It is golden. My heart beats with longing. And possibilities. Thanks for laying down the path as you go.


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