It seems to me that ‘joy’ is a word that has become unfashionable and, perhaps, lost meaning for the modern age. My aim is to explore the meaning of joy, the ways in which we can develop a capacity to tap into joy, and the qualities of being that contribute to this capacity.
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I have just launched a small book, Poetry in Nature, which includes musings, poetry and images on the themes of transformation, connection and more in both inner and outer worlds.
In the first half of 2018, it was a delight to explore the rich territory of nature and poetry with Mary Lou van Schaik and my fellow wanderers during the course Nature’s Poetry
This was a lovely opportunity to connect with nature in a very focussed way. It also reconnected me with reading poetry and with my own poetic impulse. This in turn became something of a deep meditation on the transition between winter and spring.
After the course, a dear friend who had enjoyed some of my writing that emerged from it, asked ‘where’s the book?’
So I honoured what had felt to be a truly special experience for me by drawing together and slightly re-editing many of the posts and poems that I have already added to my Passage to Joy blog. These now form a slim volume, available from Blurb.
The book brings together poetry, musings and images around the themes of nature, connection, transformation, stewardship and more.
Murphy’s Point; an overcast, eerily still autumn day. Our woodland walk, unbidden, becomes a meditation on the interconnectedness of all things.
Living rock, underpinning, defining, evolving so slowly that we perceive only inertia and stasis. Each metamorphic striation has a distinctive character, encourages colonization by different trees and plants. These, in turn, support specific populations of insects, birds, reptiles and mammals.
To walk through these micro-zones mindfully is to experience the web of life, woven in wonder!
Flakes of mica dust glitter along the path to the old mine . . .
Human habitation was defined first and foremost by the bounty of the earth. Whether in the fecundity of fertile loam in which to harvest wild plants or cultivate crops or in veins rich with mineral wealth, our lives too are shaped by rock; by what lies within and by that to which it gives life.
I am awed by this deep knowing of my own rootedness in the very fabric of the earth!
In our increasingly urbanized world, we set great store by ‘independence’. Surely it is no coincidence that depression and anxiety are so pervasive when so many of us live so distanced from the pulse of life; our disconnection leaches colour from our internal worlds, rendering us so very alone.
Trees at Thanksgiving
Here stand beech and maple arms outstretched to cradle the embers of summer that fall to the forest floor, blanketing it in red and gold against the winter cold.
Here groves of hemlock, limbs hung low to cherish the memories of darkness that cling to swampen ground, sheltering it from light and chill, comforting, peaceful, still.
This is the witching time of year, the season of the Crone!
In ancient times, the Goddess as Crone or ‘Queen of Witches’ ruled the autumn harvest festivals. Hekat in Egypt, Hecate in Greece, Latin Proserpina, Semitic Lilith with her sacred totem the owl, Celtic Cailleach, Welsh Cerridwen – these are just a few of the many manifestations of the Crone Goddess.
The words we use
It is interesting that many of the words we apply to Crones have been twisted from their original meanings to represent something vile, ugly or evil. Hag derives from the Greek ‘hagia’, meaning ‘holy one’. There is little agreement as to the derivation of witch, but suggestions include the ancient Indo-European word ‘weik’, which connects to religion and magic; the Anglo-Saxon witega, a prophet or seer; a relationship to wit, or wisdom; a root meaning ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’. Some people believe that the word Crone is rooted in the meaning ‘crowned one’, though standard etymology still has it as a Middle English term of abuse.
Halloween and Samhain
Halloween has its roots in these ancient traditions, particularly Samhain (pronounced SOW-en) Samhain is the most important of the Celtic festivals, the end of one year and start of the next.
It is a day on which to remember, to commune with and honour the dead. At the same time it was a celebration of the eternal cycle of rebirth.
It is a time of endings, of coming to terms with the many small deaths, the losses that are part of every life. But it is also a time of beginning, of transition and change. It is a time to go within, a time to come to know yourself, to celebrate the growth you have realized over this last cycle and release all that was in preparation for what will be.
Samhain night exists outside time and between worlds, deeply rooted in mystery and enchantment.
As an archetype, the Crone assists us in transition from one life to the next, leaving one level of our existence and entering the next, hence her association with Samhain.
I find this illuminating as to the nature of the Crone. For me it creates a sense of her as a midwife of the soul. She teaches us that sometimes we must let go if we are to move on.
Looking back at the my visual exploration of the crone in 2010, I love the idea of the season of the Crone as a time to harvest experience and to become a way-shower.
an older woman who has learned to walk in her own truth, in her own way, having gained her strength by acknowledging the power and wisdom of the totality of her experience. She is “a wise old woman’.
A Crone is a woman burnished bright by an inner fire that sharpens both her wit and her intensity, her passion and her power.
Jean Shinoda Bolen, in her wonderful book Crones Don’t Whine, notes that ‘to be a crone is about inner development, not outer appearance’. She writes of the Crone as 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.
As I embrace my own season of the Crone, I have been exploring and considering what Crone qualities I would wish to make manifest in my life. These include
compassion without the illusion and sentiment of youth
self-knowledge balanced with self-compassion
Jean Shinoda Bolen’s list has an earthy practicality that offers some useful guidance. She says Crones
don’t whine and don’t indulge their whining inner child;
are juicy – and what makes life juicy is being deeply involved in life;
have green thumbs – they nurture growth, weed well, prune and build strong boundaries;
trust what they know in their bones – they transform their bad experiences into wisdom and embrace mystery;
meditate in their fashion, developing heartfulness and nurturing inner life;
are fierce about what matters to them – a crone is a woman who has found her voice;
choose the path with heart, understanding that choosing one path means giving up another;
speak the truth with compassion, increasingly knowing when to speak and what to say;
listen to their bodies, responding to their needs and hearing the underlying messages between the emotional and physical body;
improvise, adapting to change;
don’t grovel – for approval, love, acceptance;
laugh together, the deep belly laughs that come from a well of feeling;
savor the good in their lives, knowing how fortunate they are still to be alive.
It takes a woman with an understanding of two of the most basic of human needs to evolve into a modern Crone. Those needs are connection and community.
She suggests that it is only with an understanding of connection that wisdom can have an impact and goes on to define the role of modern Crone:
. . . This is an amazing time to embrace your inner Crone. More than ever the world needs the comfort and certainty that wisdom and experience from a life well lived can give. The voice of expertise and mastery combined with the sageness of maturity and wisdom assures us that there is hope. We need these enlightened guides to bring us safely into the future. That is the role of the new modern Crone.
What a challenge!
Meditating today, I remembered the sense of metamorphosis as I emerged from the stage of maiden to mother. I had a vivid image of pouring all the learning, the experiences, the insights from my life into a great cauldron set amongst the flames and brewing an elixir of transfiguration. I was aware of the Crone as the most powerful embodiment of the feminine, freed from earlier responsibilities and constraints, connected to mystery and a kind of primal wildness.
I am excited to embrace the season of the Crone, to discover in myself its potential and consciously to recognize and practice those ways of being that manifest it most fully.
At 60, I definitely feel myself entering into the age of the Crone. Some definitions would say you begin to cross the threshold at 50. But it was at 44, writing a journalistic exercise about looking forward to a specific birthday, that I first welcomed the vision of this aspect of later life as a woman.
I am looking forward to delving more into what this means to me over the coming months, but I thought I would start with that early vision.
I’m looking forward to being 70. After that I will consider myself to be on extra time, with nothing owed and naught to loose. I will gleefully claim my freedom to ‘wear purple with a red hat that doesn’t suit me’.
At a mere 44, the milestone of my allotted ‘three score years and ten’ lies well beyond the horizon. But already I feel the first intimations of the influence of the waning crescent moon, symbol of the Goddess in her final incarnation of ‘crone’.
Perhaps bound up with our contemporary obsession with physical appearance, our pursuit of an illusion of eternal youth, the ‘crone’ has had some very bad press. The word invokes an image of an ugly, wizened, witch of an old woman, maybe embittered and very possibly evil. Is it any wonder that so many women run scared of the inexorable accumulation of birthdays?
I am not soaked in the spell of paganism, claim no great knowledge of its lore. But I willingly embrace its vision of the crone as the ultimate, most powerful manifestation of womanhood. She personifies wisdom, compassion and completion. Her closer relationship to death is not one of fear but a potent awareness of renewal.
So, when I reach 70, dressed in crone’s purple, I will cherish my wrinkles and wear them with pride and relief that youth’s vanity is done. I will breathe deep, walk slow and do nothing, joyously! I will undoubtedly ‘misbehave’ outrageously. I’m looking forward to being 70.
We can neither see ourselves as a whole, nor can we truly conceptualize that in ourselves which experiences. The answer to the question ‘Who (or what) am I ?’ is by its nature a koan*. But perhaps it is a profound act of self-love to be able to affirm our emotions, our joys, our pain (emotional or physical) with the simple words ‘I see you’, without latching onto them and giving them power over us.
That loving acknowledgement can release the threads of attachment that so often ensnare us. It can enable us to own our darker thoughts and feelings, our shadow selves. We can experience what is as ‘real’, but within the context of the transience of all things. We can embrace the things we perceive as difficult or challenging and let them pass. We can also accept life’s gifts without clinging to them – these too will pass, yet the fact that we have experienced them will not.
One of the greatest desires of every human being is the longing to be seen . . . this is the miracle of love and friendship. (John O’Donahue in Four Elements)
It seems to me that when ‘I see you’ begins to permeate our way of being, it underpins all interactions. It is the grounding space that anchors each human encounter. We find it easier to enter the powerful place of deep receptive listening.
It is also the loving recognition of each creature, great or small, that crosses our path.
‘I see you’ directs us to the wellspring of love.
Unless you see a thing in the light of love, you don’t see it at all. (Kathleen Raine)
* koan – a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment
Who am I?
‘I am’, cries the wind . . . the song that stitches together
the seams of my life,
a ribbon running through it.
feed the fires of passion,
compel me forward,
agonized and exultant
But it is in the still,
at the heart
of the fire
that wisdom lies.
Feet, firmly planted,
dig into the earth,
skip over fields
and frozen puddle-drums
and hot sand.
Odd that it is in
the dynamic of dance,
as my feet
leave the ground,
that I put down roots.
Held in the flow,
water brings me home
to the self
that is so much water,
as I learn and become
of its calm
that is and was and always will be.
‘I am’, cries the wind . . . and the invisibility of air
and I know ‘am’
as the invisibility of air . . .
“Who am I?”
written during a retreat focused on Awakening Devotion and Heart Wisdom