My Experience at MEA : A Reflection

April 2019, I still can’t quite believe that me, a 72-year-old, 50-year CPA, was sitting on the edge of a remote cliff near Baja Mexico talking to a (to me at least) young shaman, admiring Alfredo the ancient cactus taking pride of place in the centre of a fantastic view of the late afternoon sunset over the calm sea stretching as far as the eye could see.

This young shaman (Saul) shared with me that he had also studied as an accountant in Mexico City before becoming aware that he had the spiritual powers to foresee events and to assist people in their quests for meaning in their lives. We had a deep discussion over several hours, during which he made some predictions on what the future could hold for me.

This wonderful experience was but only one of the life challenging and changing activities I participated in during my week at the Modern Elder Academy.

I had chosen to take the trip to Baja after a colleague returned and raved about the experience. After some investigation I decided that this opportunity to travel halfway around the world to an unknown experience was for me. I was struggling with some of the common issues of people (perhaps mainly men) who have had a challenging and successful working life but are facing “retirement” and the sense of becoming irrelevant, losing their identity, which is associated with their career and not having any clear future purpose in their life. This is compounded by the outdated community expectations of “retirement” as a time to travel, play golf and generally fill your days in until it is time to die.

My notes (made early in the week) on my reasons for seeking a new way for my life included my feelings of:

  • Frustration
  • Creativity being something for others, not for me.
  • Becoming irrelevant
  • Wanting to change, but not knowing what to change to, or how.

My cohort of 20 strangers (compadres) aged from early 30s, to late 70s, mainly from USA, quickly became a cohesive group, sharing life stories and experiences at a deep level. It was clear that everyone was there seeking a way to transition from some personal issue to a new reality. All were curious, all were open to trying new things, to explore different ways of looking at life, all were willing to learn about themselves and be vulnerable within the group.

Everyone brought their own wisdom and Baja provided the freedom to allow real expressions of personal anguish, doubts, joys, dreams and passion. Emotions fluctuated from great joy and happiness, to tears of doubt, regret, sadness and anger at different times over the week. We got to know each other emotionally intimately in a short time. This kind of experience is rare and valuable.

My first personal challenge came at one of our early group meetings in which the “I love you man”, Joshua (one of the compadres), unexpectedly challenged us to front a person we had met only hours previously in the group and to seriously say the words “I love you” to them while looking into their eyes, and for them to reciprocate, and then to repeat around the group. Certainly, a guaranteed way of breaking down barriers but also a sure-fire way of bonding the group.

The week was a marvellous mixture of structured individual & group learning and some experiential rituals to assist each of us to address the transition we were in and learning to develop our ability to address life’s transitions by learning “TQ”, or Transitional Quotient skills, different from IQ & EQ, which are more traditionally addressed in our learning.

I learned about balancing life through the experience of learning to balance randomly selected rocks on a beach. I learned how good it can feel to document some of your current concerns & to dispose of these concerns ritually into a fire. In small groups we “made bread” together, using the dough prepared the day before by another group as our prime ingredient & then applying our creativity to design “our loaf” to share for morning tea, before preparing the dough base for the next day’s group. I learned the joy of working in a group & the responsibility of doing my best to pass on the usable ingredients to future and unknown users. I learned that life should also be fun, especially if experiences are shared.

We spent time meditating and being introduced to yoga with experienced and supportive encouragers, as well as taking time out to “just be’, or wander along the expanse of unspoiled beach. We were introduced to the skills and joy of journaling. No pressure, just being introduced to some possibly useful tools for me to choose to use.

Sometime during this week, I became aware that wisdom is not age related. I was learning things from 30 year olds, as well as some close to 80 year olds, and surprise, others were learning things from me. Wisdom is not the province of those who have just lived on this planet a long time. We can all learn from each other, provided we are curious to learn.

My Baja Aha moment occurred when I realised that I had at least 20 years left in my life & that it was up to me to determine how I spent this time, what legacy I left to this world, regardless of what I had, or hadn’t done in the past. My existing knowledge, experience, beliefs were useful, but I often found them restricting my future choices. I realised that these constraints are no longer relevant, or useful in my future.

One of the things which was apparent to me in the week at Baja was the power of community. The ability to share with likeminded people, to receive their encouragement, to ask and be asked the catalytic questions, to really listen and to collaborate.  Since this experience, I have undertaken the online MEA course and joined a small cohort of MEA graduates from Australia and New Zealand in working towards a MEA presence in the region. For me this community has developed with the work of MEAx, the Asia, Pacific cohort of MEA over the past few months. We are now close friends, albeit for most of us meeting via Zoom.

Yes, I’ve become a Modern Elder, but I’m not “old” and I’m learning how to apply this learning to my life, as well as sharing through the Australian Chapter of MEA. I know that I am still in transition, but I no longer am concerned at what I “should” be transitioning to. This is unbelievably liberating.

Thank you MEA for the incredible journey and the wonderful community of which I’m privileged to be a member and the opportunity to share my learning with others in my other communities.


Bruce Trebilcock is a member of the MEAx Australia Team