Ageing with attitude: Cork workshop helps people to age with positivity

OLDER AND WISER: It is important to challenge our own beliefs about ageing in later life.

Margaret Jennings talks to the facilitator of a programme aimed at helping older people to create a positive outlook.

A POSSIBLE opportunity for people to age with positivity and to move away from the limited perceptions we can have of growing old, is being offered in an eight-week series of workshops being held in Cork city.

Called ‘Conscious Ageing’, the programme is being run by 58-year-old Kerry-based blacksmith and artist, Mary Jane Verniere, who participated in the course and then trained as a facilitator, after she herself felt the need to take stock of her own ageing process.

She says it appeals to people who recognise that their ability to create a meaningful and fulfilling life is the result of their own conscious intentions and decisions. 

But as we age, that can be easier said than done. 

We can get isolated and feel fearful about what the future holds and how we can continue to fully participate in society.

One of the benefits of the programme is that people get an opportunity to share their experiences in a confidential manner.

“What happens in the workshop is we have a group, ideally 12 to 30 people, and my role is to facilitate what is essentially a choreographed set of questions, “ says New York-born Verniere.

“In each of the eight sessions we deal with a core issue of ageing and they are organised in a specific sequence so that each — what we call chapter, builds on the previous chapter and lays the foundation for the next.

“So I present the material of the chapter in a variety of ways and that’s followed by a period of self-reflection where each person has time to think about this subject and how it relates to their experience. And then they write about it.

“That’s then followed by a period of small conversation circles where we gather in little groups and each person has an opportunity to share what they have written — if they wish to. 

"The whole process takes place within an environment that is safe, confidential and non-judgmental and I spend some time in the beginning talking about deep listening and being able to hold the space for the other person.”

What emerges from that process of “listening from the heart” is “very touching”, says Verniere. 

“The feedback that I get is that people are very relieved to be able to have these real conversations with their peers about subjects that just don’t come up in the course of daily life — even with people they know very well.”

One of those subjects explored in depth is ageism; participants start a process of identifying their own beliefs — conscious and unconscious — that may be negative. 

“So we begin the process of looking at our own issues and own fears and that’s a big subject — ageism — that we look at for a long time.

“We look at developing tools for self-compassion, which is an essential support we need as we get older so that we don’t hate our bodies, so that we don’t somehow make it harder on ourselves. The idea is to make a habit of kindness.”

The next subject is forgiveness. 

“This is very important in terms of letting go of, maybe emotional blockages that may have been holding us back, towards the future.”

This is followed by the Life Review which together with the next chapter, the Tools of Transformation, form the core of the whole practice.

“The life review helps us to identify those aspects that have given value in our lives that have helped us to grow and that will serve us in the future. 

"And to let go of those aspects that we need to let go of, that we have outgrown — those habits that are no longer useful to us.”

The Tools for Transformation section offers a five-step framework for moving forward with your intentions.

The group also explores mortality; that death is inevitable and unpredictable and that is followed by the theme of surrender – not about giving up, but about trusting; that in order for new life to begin, you have to let go.

The final chapter is about creating a vision of what it means to you individually, to age well, depending on your own particular circumstances in life.

Created by the California-based Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and the feedback so far from participants, mostly aged 50-75, has been very positive, says the facilitator.

However Verniere stresses she is not marketing it as “as some sort of a happy pill — that it’s going to make everybody feel better.”

What it is, is a self-development programme that requires work and a commitment, she points out, with the potential of being very rewarding.

* The Conscious Ageing course is being held at Ennismore Retreat Centre, Montenotte, Cork, every Tuesday night from September 20 to November 8. 

Fee: €300. 


Unlimited youth

Ageing with attitude: Cork workshop helps people to age with positivity

An 86-year-old nun is at the centre of a new short film, part of the Nike Unlimited campaign, which celebrates athletes who push their limits.

Sister Madonna Buder (above) is featured in Unlimited Youth, which shows her enthusiastically participating in a Triathlon.

But Buder hasn’t just taken up sport; she completed her first Ironman World Championship triathlon in Hawaii at the age of 55 and since then has completed 45 Ironman races. 

At 82, the American nun became the oldest woman to ever complete an Ironman triathlon. 

She also broke the record for best finishing time (16 hours and 32 minutes) for the 80 to 84 age group. 

Along the way she’s had some setbacks but, she proclaims, “The only failure is not to try, because your effort in itself is a success.” An inspiration to us all.

Functional health

Ageing with attitude: Cork workshop helps people to age with positivity

Don’t wait until you’re creaking, getting off the couch, to start working on your functional health. 

That’s the advice given by US researchers who confirmed physical decline starts as early as 50 and continues if we don’t get those basic strength and endurance exercises in. 

Loss of mobility is hugely linked to our independence. 

The research participants had to perform simple tasks such as walking, standing on one leg and rising from a chair repeatedly. 

The first to go was the ability to stand on one leg or rise from a chair, seen in people in their 50s whereas dips in aerobic endurance and walking speed were recorded among those in their 60s and 70s. 

The researchers from Duke University in North Carolina, pointed out the importance of regular exercise to preserve that independence.

Ageing quote

“Anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending"

— Theologian Carl Bard

Silver surfer

98-year-old pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson 


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