Embracing the age of the Crone – a view from a distance

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.

Blue Crone

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’[1].

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.

[1] Quoted from “Warning” by Jenny Joseph, voted Britain’s best-loved poem by viewers of BBC TV’s Bookworm

Gina Bearne, 2002




Compassionate parenting

A friend asked me whether, in the context of his adult children, I thought that compassionate ‘being with’ was contradicted by acting to make things better or right for them.

I think it is important to understand what is behind any such action.

I remember as a young mother becoming aware of how often a caregiver will gather a distressed child to them and say ‘don’t cry’. It seemed to me that at some levels this ministered more to their own distress than the child’s. I tried, therefore, to cultivate an ability to transmit a message more along the lines ‘ I am here with you,  I acknowledge your pain; if you need to deal with that pain by crying, I will provide the safe space in which you can do so’.

I wonder whether an important element of compassion is the ability to put aside our own response (pain or fear) so as to allow space for that of the other?

Therefore, if an action is driven by the need to alleviate our own distress, it is not truly fuelled by compassion.

As our children get older, their explorations take them further from us, the risks they take and the pains they experience become more complex. As parents, we increasingly have to learn how to let them go, to allow and enable them manage their own lives and experiences and to learn from these.

Therefore, when we see them in pain or difficulty, whilst our impulse may be to wade in an ‘make it right’, this has to be balanced against their need to develop confidence in their own resilience and capability.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is simply to let them know ‘I am here, I witness your pain or difficulty, I am confident that you can deal with this yourself, but will support you if you need me.’ It is important that our actions, however well intentioned, do not simply reinforce a pattern of neediness and dependency.

I truly believe that the greatest joy for a parent is to see their child fly strong and free!

Brokenness and Compassion

Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. (EUGENE O’NEILL, The Great God Brown)


When someone quoted this to me during a phone conversation, it resonated.  On reflection, my own perception is that it is that very brokenness that graces us with humanity.

It is our brokenness that both requires and makes possible compassion, one of the most beautiful aspects of the human soul.

Only in acknowledging and accepting our own brokenness, whilst always engaging in that process of ‘mending’, can we develop compassion for ourselves.

Only in finding compassion towards ourselves can we truly stop blaming and become fully compassionate towards others.

To engage in that process of ‘mending’, I think there needs to be at the very least some awareness of and sense of connection to a life force, a cohesive energy within the universe, ‘God’.

Compassion and non-attachment (2)

Compassion implies ‘being with’ someone else in their experience of pain or misfortune, of standing alongside them in suffering. It seems to me it is a quality of being rather than of doing.

I question whether charitable giving can really be classed as compassion. I don’t wish to detract from the response to give alms in the context of natural or human disaster. But I am not sure that this is a situation where we truly ‘suffer with’ those affected. More we respond to the tragedy in a general way.

I rather like the following:

Compassion therefore is a quality that brings people together. It is in effect “divine respect”. There is no greater emotion than to feel and absorb the pain of someone else to help ease their burden  . . . compassion is helping other humans in the present moment . . . (UCADIA article on compassion)

However, there is something missing for me here. Surely the truest tests of compassion come when faced with people or situations that run contrary to one’s own values or when faced with behaviours that may be difficult of even dangerous? Again, the generalised response to victims of disaster or war is very different from the personal ability to stand beside an addict in their pain, with the hope but no expectation that they will find a better way forward. That presence without expectation, accepting someone as they are, is a true gift.

Interestingly, the UCADIA article places compassion very firmly in the present moment, alongside respect, honesty, consistency, enthusiasm and cheerfulness, describing these as the six key present moment emotions. The point is well-made that most negative emotions are rooted in the past or future.

Compassion and non-attachment

Compassion – an interesting word; its structure seems to imply ‘with passion’.

It seems to me that the truest compassion cares deeply for another being, yet without being wedded to or judging that being’s actions or their outcomes.

Yet again, there is a sense that depth and passion are intensified and strengthened by the capacity for non-attachment. And the distinction between non-attachment and detachment becomes even clearer.

As a footnote, perhaps our children are our greatest challenge in aspiring to non-attachment and thus our teachers at a profound level. It seems particularly difficult not to be attached to outcomes in the context of those we love – I guess this is the point of connection between non-attachment and unconditional love.