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THERE IS A MEDIEVAL SOUND to the word "crone" and a mischievous note to the suggestion that a woman would aspire to be one. It's not what any of us aspired to be in our youth, but that was when an older woman never told her true age, and before women came into their own as people in their own right or lived as long as we now do. We of the Women's Movement generation or its subsequent beneficiaries continue to have opportunities that never existed for all the generations (as far back as the ancient Greeks) that preceded us. We have been reinventing ourselves at each stage of life. I am proposing that it is time to reclaim and redefine "crone" from the word pile of disparaging names to call older women, and to make becoming a "crone" a crowning inner achievement of the third phase of life.
To be a crone is about inner development, not outer appearance. A crone is a woman who has wisdom, compassion, humor, courage, and vitality. She has a sense of truly being herself, can express what she knows and feels, and take action when need be. She does not avert her eyes or numb her mind from reality. She can see the flaws and imperfections in herself and others, but the light in which she sees is not harsh and judgmental. She has learned to trust herself to know what she knows.
These crone qualifies are not acquired overnight. One does not become a full-fledged crone automatically following menopause, any more than growing older and wiser go hand in hand. There are decades that follow menopause in which to grow psychologically and spiritually.
Crones don't whine is a fundamental characterization. It's a basic "rule" that describes conduct unbecoming of a crone. Whining is an attitude that blocks spiritual and psychological development. Whining makes genuine communication impossible and extorts what then cannot be freely given. To catch oneself whining is an "aha!" moment. This insight can be the beginning of wisdom for a whiner who has the ability to observe herself and wants to change.
While an ordinary mirror reflects surface appearances, descriptive words can be mirrors in which we see intangible qualities having to do with soul. Each of the thirteen chapters that follow in the next section focuses on such qualities, specifically those that are characteristic of juicy, wise women. It is in cultivating these qualities that the third phase of life becomes a culmination time for inner beauty and wisdom. It is the perspective that makes the prime years of this phase of life an especially rich time to enjoy who we are, what we have, and what we are doing. It is a time when wisdom calls upon us to use our time, energy, and vitality well. It is an opportunity to have more chances, experience shifts in roles, and develop talents and interests. This may be a time to play and express affection, or a time for creativity or sensuality, or a time for meditation or therapy, or a time for family or a time when family recedes, or a time to make a difference in the world.
Crones can make a difference. What you say and do can change a dysfunctional family pattern. Your mentoring can support and make it possible for another to grow and blossom. You can be a healing influence for good. You can have a ripple effect throughout generations to come or through institutions and communities. With vision and intention, and in numbers and influence, crones together can change the world.
While this was written with women in the prime post menopausal years of life in mind, if you glean something from reading this earlier in life, so much the better! So listen up, precrones! Also, while men are handicapped by socialization and physiology, exceptional men can be crones.
It's a wise woman who reads the thirteen qualities and is amused to realize that she can see herself and the idea of being a crone, or becoming one, in a positive light. It is an evolving woman who sees in any of one or more of these qualities what she wants to develop in herself and finds in these words support to do so.
A lifetime is the material that each of us has to work with. Until this span is over, we are all still in process, in the midst of an unfinished story. What we do with our lives is our magnum opus, or great work of personal creativity. If we acquire a crone's-eye view, then we will see ourselves and others from the perspective of soul rather than ego. Aging well is a goal worth wanting.
In the following pages, I often describe women as crones, or speak of an inner crone or a crone archetype. Sometimes I use crone and wisewoman interchangeably. In women's psyches and in my words, you will find ambiguity, a blurring of distinctions. Sometimes, in some situations, a woman is a wise crone, and a moment later, she is not.
Sometimes, archetype and woman are one in the same. Sometimes, crone wisdom fleetingly comes to mind and is ignored. This is so because the inner or archetypal crone is a latent presence in everyone's psyche, in men and even in children. The crone does not shout over a din of competing parts of the personality. The crone is a potential, much like an inherent talent, that needs to be recognized and practiced in order to develop. This wise presence in your psyche will grow, once you trust that there is a crone within and begin to listen. Then in the quiet of your own mind, pay attention to her perceptions and intuitions and act upon them.
Crone qualities are the distinguishing features by which a crone (as a woman or an archetype) can be known.
TO BE A CRONE, you need to let go of what should have been, could have been, might have been. You need to silence the whining in your head that will come out of your mouth next. Whining makes you unable to live in the present, or be good company for anyone-even yourself. Whiners assume they were and are entitled to a different life from the one they have. Whiners do not see that everyone has had a share of the bad things that happen to people. Ungrateful for what they do have, whiners cannot enjoy the present.
What was, was. What is, is. Plain and simple. You may have gotten the idea that you were supposed to marry and live happily ever after, have had perfect children, and (since the Women's Movement) also have had the perfect career. And here you are. Whatever happened or didn't happen before now is what was. You can't live it over. The past is the past. Menopause marks the end of the childbearing years. This and other realities are what is.
Grief is not whining. Even whimpering is not whining. Maybe some body part is not working well or is painful-and you are doing what can be done, medically and otherwise. You may have financial limitations. Whatever it is that you are struggling with can be told to people who need to know, want to know, or as updates to friends with whom you share the ongoing story of your life. However, crones don't bore others with a litany of their symptoms-organ recitals or tales of woe-that have an air of performance or bragging. A crone knows she and her troubles are not the center of the universe and knows other people have problems, too. A crone doesn't indulge whining children, or whining inner children. Especially her own.
A whining child is a wheedling one: she wants something that is not going to be freely given. What she wants may not be good for her (whatever it is that the whining child in the supermarket wants her tired mother to buy for her, for example). When she gets it, satisfaction is fleeting. It was another small act of extortion and appeasement.
Older women who are not crones might not whine and wheedle outright or tug on you physically like a child in the market. But emotional extortion and appeasement, fleeting satisfactions, and general unhappiness are the same pervasive patterns. The tugs are emotional ones: need, entitlement, suffering, justification, a tone and energy conveyed and felt through the voice. Conversations with a whiner are depleting. Other people feel trapped and respond insincerely, stay away, and feel guilty.
Change begins with insight. If you recognize yourself in this description or are considering the possibility it may fit, you can do so in the privacy of your mind. An honest appraisal is not an accusation; it is a working diagnosis, a starting point to help you with unhappiness. Are you feeling sorry for yourself?. Have you fallen into a state of "poor me" resentment? Have you lost your sense of proportion? If so, what might be your equivalent of, "I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet"?
As we grow older, especially if we are outer-directed, it is not difficult to find more and more to whine about. This poses a risk of a negative transformation into the archetypal martyr-mother (a woman who is one now, was not always so, after all). With perspective, humor, and wisdom, however, the potential to whine that is in us all when we might want other than what we have, doesn't take us over.
My friend Jananne, who heard me say that "crones don't whine," laughingly told me how she resisted the temptation to call me up and whine when confronted with the daunting task of unpacking and beginning a new life. Instead, she play-acted an exaggerated version of her whiner, with just herself as the audience, and then kept on with what had to be done. This is the same friend who caught me complaining and made up a song, "piss and moan and bitch, piss and moan and bitch, piss and moan and bitch and groan" to the tune of the folk dance, "Put your little foot, put your little foot, put your little foot right down ..."
One whining variation is expressed as acerbic wit or sarcasm directed toward a person (often an "ex") or an institution. At first, it seems very different from outright whining and then the similarities begin to show. The past is continually injected into conversations in this way. Friends try to change the subject when they can, preferring not to be a captive audience to the latest insight or outrage. Like the outright whiner, she is not able to let go of what was or accept what is.
Some whiners lie awake at night, going through reruns of past incidents in which they felt poorly treated. This can become a time to wrestle with letting the matter go, if only to get some sleep. If such is the case, there is something you can do until you fall asleep. It will also be a means to hear the crone. Just breathe slowly and pay attention to your breath. Listen to words the crone would say to you (as you say or think them to yourself) and then listen to what she says about herself.
Breathe in. That was then.
Breathe out. This is now.
Breathe in. I am.
Breathe out. Peace.
The inner crone has an observing eye and sensitive ear. Once you know her, she will catch you whining or feeling sorry for yourself. Once caught, the jig is up; whining is conduct unbecoming a crone.
Excerpted from CRONES DON'T WHINE by JEAN SHINODA BOLEN Copyright © 2003 by Jean Shinoda Bolen. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted April 12, 2010
If you want to read a wonderful book that helps you get beyond the cliches about aging in America, this is it! This book provides a very different perspective than the usual junk offered, particularly to women over 50, (or any women who aspire to someday be 50, so hopefully that includes all women.) Some, but not all, men, might appreciate this as well, but male socialization is just different for men than women. Jean Shinoda Bolen explores 13 attributes that are well worth cultivating to lead a life that is satisfying, regardless of the hurdles that aging can throw at a woman. I like her advice to show up, pay attention, say what you think, and not get too attached to the outcome. She modifies this last part for those situations where, yes, we're going to be VERY attached to the outcome, because it involves our loved ones. For these situations, she says, "pray for the best," rather than "don't be attached to the outcome."
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Posted October 8, 2013
Posted October 8, 2013
Posted March 16, 2009
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