Emersion Session

Wisdom Walk: Harvesting and Sharing Life Experiences

When: Thursday, 13 October | 13:00 – 16:00
Where: Various locations in Washington, DC
Facilitators: Ann M. Berghout Austin, Utah State University; Kathleen S. Grove, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Carolyn Morales, University of Texas; Cheryl A Perkins, Overflowing Life Family Worship Center; Denise Thomson, DeWitt-Thomson, LLC
Maximum Number of Registrants: 30

TICKET PRICES: $40 ILA Member | $54 Non-Member

This session addresses the questions posed by the conference theme by asking participants to reflect on life experiences, embrace nature as a container and teacher, build community while harvesting personal and collective wisdom, and commit to creating ways to share wisdom. Join members of an ILA Mastermind cohort in this innovative, half-day emersion session to investigate a framework for accessing and sharing your unique wisdom-intelligence. Participants will gather at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and will together explore seven historic sites, one for each wisdom-building topic. To culminate, the components of circle practice will be demonstrated with a nature-mandala created for its center. Participants will draft a collective Call to Action and co-create community-based activities to advance individual roles of wisdom-seeker and wisdom-keeper, contributing to systemic change.

Full Description

In The Inner Work of Eldering, Rosalie Muschal-Reinhardt suggests: “Wisdom does not come from having experiences. Wisdom comes from reflecting on one’s life experiences.” (Anthony, et al, 2011). Utilizing seven wisdom-building practices, (Pevny, 2011 in Anthony et al., 2011), as a framework, this half-day, interactive and experiential emersion session will ask participants to reflect on life experiences, embrace nature as a container and teacher, build community while harvesting personal and collective wisdom, and commit to creating ways to share wisdom.

As we gather on the National Mall, we acknowledge that Washington D.C. sits on the ancestral lands of the Anacostans (also documented as Nacotchtank), and the neighboring Piscataway and Pamunkey peoples. The District of Columbia shares borders with Maryland and Virginia and connects with lands along the Anacostia and Potomac River (NAFSA, n.d.). We seek to gain more competence on age-ing and sage-ing by listening to our indigenous ancestors.

Suzuki and Knudtson (1993) write of interconnectedness of modern science and the age-old wisdom of indigenous people. Wisdom in many first nation cultures seeks to preserve and sustain the environment through keeping elders at the “center”. In Australian aboriginal culture, a “holistic view of being” meant that elders were “the applied repositories of the applied cultural knowledge and wisdom keepers…in them rests the trust, hope, and continuance of present and future generations (Eliade, 1991, p. 179, cited in do Rozario, 1998).

While some western cultural paradigms suggest elderhood is “the postscript to a legacy” (Pevny, 2014, p. 144-145), reframing societal expectations of aging is a first step toward aging well. Conscious eldering accepts elderhood as a life stage in the journey to wholeness and wisdom. Conscious eldering allows us to accept and become a wisdom keeper for our people. 

Although the role of elder is not often supported by society, it is archetypal and “remains as necessary as ever for the collective human race and for the individual’s wholeness and fulfillment” (Pevny, 2014, p. 4). Living, then, can become “a ‘transcendent unity’ that is infused with ‘coherence, orderliness and meaningfulness’” (Lawlor, 1991 in do Rozario, 1998).

Meaning-making, wisdom-building, and paradigm-shattering constructs will be the focus of this half-day event. Emersion sessions will weave didactic, small group, large group mindfulness and circle practices – facilitated in nature-based, historic settings at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. – into a storied tapestry that characterizes wisdom-based intelligence.

An opportunity to take part in a Wisdom Circle will be incorporated into the emersion session, providing a demonstration of one technique useful for shifting the conversation, questioning cultural paradigms, and embracing a traditional role as wisdom-keeper. Margaret Wheatley reminds us “we don’t ‘discover’ circle practice so much as remember it” and continues, “circle welcomes us back into a shape where we can listen, be heard, and be respected, where we can think and create together” (Baldwin & Linnea, 2010, ix). This invitation also comes with acknowledging the paradox and complexity that Casdon (2004, p. 248, in Palmer, 2004) says we can “welcome … as a liminal space, a place where we can break through illusion and eventually gain more clarity.” Circle practice, as described by Wheatley, is a heritage rather than technique, serves democracy, creates co-equal participants, and is an archetype that invites one into the conversation.

Participants will gather at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and be invited to explore seven sites. Each location corresponds to one of the seven wisdom-building topics: Life Review, Healing the Past, Recontextualizing, Deepening Spiritual Connection, Accepting Mortality, Creating Legacy, and Letting Go. As participants traverse the approximately 1-mile circuit, the following objectives and outcomes will be realized:


  • Honoring the container of ancestral lands, reflect and engage with nature as a source of wisdom and healing
  • Using the lessons of water and the wisdom of our indigenous sisters and brothers, collectively embody individual session learnings
  • Tapping into inner wisdom, compassionately examine life experiences, explore core strengths and values, and discover significance as the inner work of harvesting wisdom


  • Examine and reshape the stories of our lives and reclaim the narrative going forward with a broader perspective and new vision and understanding of life experiences
  • Harvest the wisdom of life experiences and intentionally create legacy-building activities that embody emersion session learnings
  • Understand how healing leads to change, let go of disempowering beliefs, and embrace a Call to Action

At each location, a twenty-minute presentation, reflection, and interaction will take place around one  theme. After the final presentation, time will be taken to experience a Wisdom Circle and draft a Call to Action with participants and facilitators.

Participants will be expected to navigate the approximately 1-mile terrain between historic sites on foot or with the aid of mobility assistance devices that they bring themselves. An alternative site will be identified in the event adverse weather prevents the group from convening at the National Mall. Some pre-work will be forwarded electronically to registrants the week prior to the conference; additional materials and resources will be provided throughout the session. An opportunity to participate in supportive, post-conference mentoring and contribute to a future autoethnographic article will be offered by session facilitators. We plan to walk to the following locations on the National Mall:

  • MLK Memorial
  • Japanese Lantern
  • WW II Memorial
  • Reflecting pool
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • 23rd St NW (overlooking US Institute of Peace)

Each location corresponds to one of the seven wisdom-building topics; presentations will correspond to the location and topic.

Life Review – MLK Memorial

  • To remember life experiences and discover their significance as the inner work for harvesting wisdom. In view of the Martin Luther King (MLK) Memorial, which reflects a shift in much of the collective consciousness of America, participants will be invited to reflect on wisdom acquired during their lifespan.

Healing the Past – Japanese Lantern

  • To reflect how nature serves as a source of wisdom and healing at the Japanese Lantern – a stone sculpture surrounded by the Tidal Basin, and cherry trees.

Recontextualizing – WWII Memorial

  • To take a long view of our lives reviewing those experiences that may have been difficult or stressful and opening to the emotions contained therein so that we may understand what they mean and how these experiences have contributed to our growth.

Deepening Spiritual Connection – Reflecting pool

  • To use the lessons of water and the wisdom of our indigenous sisters and brothers to support our process of spiritual individuation.

Accepting Mortality – Silent walk

  • To compassionately examine the perspectives, biases, and assumptions we have about our mortality at a site dedicated to women of the United States who served during the Vietnam War.

Creating Legacy – Lincoln Memorial

  • To explore core strengths, passions, beliefs, and values within the context of legacy-building at the site of a 100-year-old memorial honoring the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

Letting Go – 23rd St NW overlooking US Institute of Peace

  • To create a nature mandala that serves as the center of a participatory Wisdom Circle, harvest personal and collective wisdom, and find ways to contribute to systemic change.

Who is the specific target audience for this session?
This session invites wisdom-seekers of any age who desire to age consciously, be intentional as they build a legacy, and facilitate growth of wisdom through aging.


Ann M. Berghout Austin

Ann M. Berghout Austin, Utah State University

Dr. Ann Austin, Ph.D. is Professor Emerita at Utah State University where she served as Vice Provost, Associate Dean, and Associate Director of the Agriculture Experiment Station and brought more than $30,000,000 in external grants to USU. She has been recognized as “Trailblazer for Women and Girls” by the National Council for Research on Women and in 2015 was named one of the 10 most influential people at Utah State University.

Kathleen S. Grove

Kathleen S. Grove, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Kathleen S. Grove, J. D., M. A. is the Director of the Office for Women at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Her career has encompassed the fields of law, business, mental health counseling, and higher education. Her efforts culminated with IUPUI being named to the 2021 Forbes magazine list of Best Employers for Women. Director Grove won a 2021 award from the International Leadership Association’s Women and Leadership Group for “Outstanding Practice with Local Impact”.

Carolyn Morales

Carolyn J. Morales, University of Texas Health Science Center, Tyler

Dr. Carolyn Morales, Ph.D., currently serves as associate dean of diversity, inclusion, culture, community, and equity and assistant professor in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center, Tyler.  She has decades of leadership experience operationalizing diversity visions into strategic plans and solutions that advance organizational missions and foster inclusive and equitable cultures within higher education, nonprofit, and business sectors. She is a graduate of the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leadership Academy at Furman University and a recipient of the Toni Morrison Society Founders Award.

Cheryl A Perkins

Cheryl A Perkins, Overflowing Life Family Worship Center

Dr. Cheryl A. Perkins BS, MSM, Ph.D., is an educator, speaker, consultant, coach, and author. Listed in Who’s Who of American Women, Finance and Industry, and Emerging Leaders, she spent decades as an analyst in Information Technology. With experience in the performing arts, she develops workshops that inform and inspire. She is Founder/Pastor of Overflowing Life Family Worship Center and Founder/CEO of WIN Incorporated, including Women Interconnecting Network (WIN) and IWIN Connections.

Denise Thomson, DeWitt-Thomson, LLC

Denise Thomson, EdD, specializes in coaching executive-level teams and creating innovative programs that support lifelong learning. She is a Certified Coach/Consultant in Appreciative Inquiry and Whole Systems Intelligence, and a Circle Practitioner with over 35-years of experience facilitating participatory leadership and collaborative conversation circles. Denise is Chair-Emerita of the Executive Leadership Team of the ILA Women and Leadership Member Community and received an award from the group for “Outstanding Practice with Broad Impact” in 2021.