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Peak Life Experiences: The Beginning of Senior Sage Leadership

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I grew up in England and was given quite a bit of responsibility as a small child during the war. While most everybody else was evacuated, we lived in the country about 15 miles from London. This was a key area for the bombing, but we didn’t leave because of my father’s business. Some of my early memories are of my father saying, “Now be a grown-up girl and take Mommy to the air raid shelter.” So I would be sent out ahead, in the dark, to turn the lights on there. My mother had another child, who later died, who I also took to the shelter while my father was off on “hell and gone duty” patrolling for possible parachutists.

And there are other types of hardship that senior sages say have been peak experiences in their lives:

My decision to leave the East coast and move to the San Francisco Bay Area without a job—to leave friends, connections, and all kinds of relationships I had developed over sixteen years—was devastating. My whole self-concept and persona had evolved around my work life and my role as a national leader in my field. It took the better part of three years to transition from the depths of despair to discover a more wonderful and satisfying life. I learned that if I could do this once, I could do it again if something awful happened in my life. So this experience was the greatest gift to my life. I didn’t realize it fully some 21 years ago, but my having confronted despair and disappointment and learned from it transformed my life. I still wake up many mornings wondering how I could have been so lucky to have had that happen to me.

Religious/spiritual experiences

Many senior sage leaders have had a transforming religious or spiritual experience, including one who became involved with the local Ananda Community. Another had his Christian faith instilled in him by his mother, and a third recalls a moving experience as a child in church summer camp. A fourth went to a retreat at his Episcopal Church group in high school and came away as a dedicated spiritual seeker. And two senior sage leaders had powerful spiritual experiences of a different nature:

I had my first visioning experience many years ago with altered states of consciousness, like meditation. This particular experience was a guided meditation where we went on a spirit walk. I was walking through a forest when a huge stag, this deer with an enormous set of horns, walked out from behind a boulder and looked at me and said, “Without freedom there is nothing.”

Friends of ours got us involved in an organization that sponsored a variety of projects. As our experience in the organization unfolded, we found that it was entirely based on the principles of Jesus as a wisdom teacher. And that started our quest to understand who we were by looking at what Jesus and the Bible say are important guides to living our life. With others in the organization we did things like celebrate Passover, explore the Enneagram, and study the beauty and truths of various religious traditions. We did this for 20 years, and I continue to draw on this experience in musing about such questions as “What would Jesus do in this situation? What are my areas of darkness, and how do I bring them to light?”

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