Act III: A visit with Elliott Dacher

The doctor is still in, helping others find truth, goodness, and the beauty of life.

Ellliot Dascher. Photo by Sam Moore

The Island’s first baby boomers turn 70 this year. Our 65-plus population is growing far faster here on the Island than in the rest of the U.S., and by 2030, they will represent nearly a third of our population. So who are these folks, and what do they mean to the Vineyard? Over the coming year we’ll be taking a closer look at people who are in “Act Three” of their lives, and as you’ll see, they’re far from a monolithic group.

“We brush our teeth and shower each morning, but we rarely give thought to cleaning our mind. Symptomatic of our physically oriented culture, we’d rather focus more on being odor-free than having a calm, centered demeanor, one that is able to engage others in an open, even loving, manner.”

That wisdom-filled take on our culture’s priorities comes from Elliott Dacher, 71, a resident of Aquinnah. Elliott greeted me at the door of his house — his hair tousled (but enviously all there), a warm smile, and relaxed clothes. Just inside, I couldn’t miss the half-dozen or so running shoes, all neatly stacked. We moved into the living room; there was no clutter at all for me to stumble over, or, more to the point, to distract my mind. During the roughly hour-long conversation that followed, I learned that with Elliott there would be no tripping over anything — shoes, language, or especially ideas. Everything felt intentional.

Matching his casual, yet carefully well-groomed appearance, Elliott’s demeanor whispered calm focus. Even when the tech guy on a house call had a question, Elliott handled the interruption without a hiccup.

Elliott first came to the Vineyard in 1970 as Doctor Dacher, MD. As part of his medical residency in Boston, he staffed our hospital’s emergency room. Now, some 45 years later, he has moved from seeing life through the lens of Western allopathic medicine — with its focus on treating physical disease and dysfunction — to concentrating on holistic health and healing, where body, mind, and spirit are understood as an integrated whole.

“There were many times when I would look into the eyes of my patients and feel their longing for something more,” Elliott said. “I often felt helpless when faced with the day-to-day complexities of life that unquestionably had a powerful impact on my patients’ well-being, such as stressful lifestyles, painful relationships, subtle discontent, and not-so-subtle unhappiness. That’s how I began to hear the insistent, and often painful, longings of my own soul.”

So, after 20 or so years in practice as an internist, Elliott ventured out into his “second medical education.” Except one doesn’t move from treating disease in the body to working with the total human gestalt without a major personal stretch. He also encountered a few bumps transitioning from a settled life with job, house, and family to an untethered life of self-exploration; personal transformation is by nature painful and messy. “And yet I knew there was a deeper and more enduring happiness than I had experienced,” Elliott said.

With that as a vision, in 1996 Elliott sold his house and his practice, packed his bags, and drove to the Vineyard. Over the next 12 years he would take annual trips to India and Nepal for three to six months at a time for a full immersion into Eastern healing and wellness. And while he fell in love with the East, especially its beauty and sacred nature, by 2008, he knew it was time to “come home to my own culture and do what I could to help others see the truth, goodness, and beauty of life.”

Since 2008, Elliott has conducted an eight-week program, twice yearly, at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. It is grounded in meditation and provides the basic understandings and practices to develop a healthy and peaceful life. Over 400 students have benefited from this experience and they include Island folks from all walks of life. Testimonials from former students point to life-enhancement gains such as decreased reactivity, improved relationships, better sleep, and a diminishing of afflictive emotions such as anger and jealousy. Not bad for eight weeks!

But as Elliott points out, this is not a quick fix — it’s an ongoing process.

“Like everyone else,” he says, “I experience the usual adversities of life: an overactive mind, disturbing emotions like loneliness, loss, and concerns about my aging. But, unlike decades ago, I now have the inner resources that allow me to surrender and integrate the inevitable trials of life over which I have no control.”

And then he adds with a smile, “Well, most of the time.”

Growing old

Elliott Dacher on aging gracefully

For me, aging gracefully is going inward to better understand the spiritual aspects of life.

On attaining happiness

I increasingly recognize that turning toward others is also about my own happiness. It’s how I try to live my life every day.

On loss and gain

I’ve learned to take life with greater fluidity and not resist the impermanence of all things as they come and go.

On loneliness

Loss, loneliness, fear, and other disturbing emotions naturally arise. I’ve learned to accept them, let them be, not be influenced by them, and then let them pass on their own.

On staying physically healthy

For me, mind and body are one. I try to exercise, eat right, engage in loving relationships, and sustain concern for others.

On simplicity and downsizing

As I’ve aged, I have come to know the difference between want and need.

On the Vineyard as a place to age

It is here that I experience a natural harmony that supports the inner life and allows for the gift of simplicity.

On feeling more alive

Our body ages. We cannot change that. I work on my heart, mind, and spirit in order to become increasingly vital with age. That’s my way of sustaining youth while I age chronologically.

Upcoming events run by Elliott and open to all

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Meditation Course: Wednesdays starting March 30 for eight weeks. Contact: Toriene Scarpa  508-957-9476 or email

Guest speaker at The Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard: April 3, 11 am.

Meditation, Wellness and Human Flourishing program at The West Tisbury Congregational Church: April 16, 9 am to 12.

Ed Merck, 69, author of “Sailing the Mystery,” is a former software entrepreneur and chief financial officer who retired at 63, then embarked on a solo sailing trip from TK to Martha’s Vineyard. He lives in West Tisbury.