If you could embody the qualities of someone you respect and admire, what would they be? Maybe it’s the Dalai Lama’s peaceful presence, sense of humor, and that he doesn’t pretend to know everything. Answering this question would be easier if we could cherry-pick from several people, mother’s work habits, Betty’s kindness, and Aunt Molly’s unique wardrobe.
Jean Shinoda Bolen is an author and a psychiatrist, identified common traits in what she considered wise women, those who embraced the aging process. I wrote of this a few years back. In her book, Crones Don’t Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women, she offers mature American women thirteen qualities to cultivate personal growth in their crone years. I write American women, as women in different cultures have different experiences, thus see life through different lenses. As a psychiatrist and student of women in history and mythology, Jean is an exceptional authority on women’s psyche and behavior traits.
Bolen uses the term crone, inner-crone, and crone archetype interchangeably with a wise woman. A crone is a potential that resides within all of us, men and women. It’s more of a potential, an inherent talent we can stimulate and encourage.
She writes, “The third phase of a woman’s life is after menopause.” Women’s lives, like the phases of the moon (waxing, full, and waning) are divided into maiden, mother, and crone. Crone-hood takes place in Act 3, where we either shrink mentally or reinvent ourselves. If we choose to reinvent ourselves, we endorse a new perspective of what it means to be a wise woman. Instead of dreading it, we come to desire it.
To be a wise woman is about inner development, not outer appearance. There is no diploma or trophy to be gained, but something far more substantial, self-acceptance and self-awareness. The closer we get to full crone-hood, the more we are standing in our true authenticity.
“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.” As I said, it’s a tall order but one worth striving for.
The prerequisite for earning our crone title begins by letting go of should have, could have, I wish, and might have been. These are whiners’ phrases unbecoming of a wise woman. Some characteristics are already a part of us; the rest is for us to learn and adopt. Each trait stands like a signpost signaling which direction. When we veer off course, we catch ourselves and redirect. As always, the keys to success are persistence and a deep personal honesty that comes from asking ourself the hard questions.
Thirteen Characteristic Defining a Wise Woman, aka a Crone:
1. Crones don’t whine. They silence the slightest complaint. Whiners live in yesterday and tomorrow, instead of the only place we can ever inhabit, the present. Past – If only he hadn’t left me. Future – I have a feeling he is going to leave me. Why does this always happen to me? You gripe. Bad things happen to everybody. Subjecting others to your complaints, makes you poor company.
2. Crones are full of life, discovering new interests, pursuing new adventures, and knowing when they need solitude. It’s a good sign when your grown children think you are inappropriate or eccentric. It means you no longer conform to stereotypes.
3. Crones have green thumbs to dig their hands into the soil, plant seeds while enjoying the feel of the sun and breeze on their face. Sinking their teeth into a Brandywine Heirloom tomato or breaking open, a pea-pod brings pure pleasure. Gardening can also be a metaphor describing what we do intuitively— protect and nurture what’s vulnerable.
4. Crones trust what they know in their bones. After all the painful lessons, they trust their instincts, no longer gullible to sweet words and empty promises. We know advertisers and predators prey on older women with phone scams and misleading mailings. We don’t go for it. Just as new mothers are maternally wise, in this phase of life, crones possess the wisdom of forewarning and act on it.
5. Crones meditate in their own way. They know that taking care of themselves means time to get out of their head and into their heart. They walk in nature, listen to music, and see the past in a light of higher consciousness.
6. Crones are fierce about what matters to them. “A crone is a woman who has found her voice. She knows that silence is consent. This is a quality that makes older women feared.” Bolen continues, “Her fierceness springs from her heart, gives her courage, and makes her a force to be reckoned with.”
7. Crones choose a path with the heart. The years of taking risks heedless of the harm it could cause themselves and others are over. A crone is not a follower, doesn’t respond to dares, and weighs her decisions and chooses wisely.
8. Crones speak the truth with compassion and listen deeply to what’s said. She knows when something is wrong that needs to be faced. “If you listen to the inner crone, a principle to remember is that Doing is Becoming.”
9. Crones listen to their body, the only vehicle they have on this earthly journey. Taking care of it determines everything. Just like the vibrations of your car engine, you pay attention to the sensations of your body and act when needed.
10. Crones improvise. Women are extraordinarily adapt at reinventing themselves at different stages in their lives. When dad passes, children may be surprised at how independent mom becomes, traveling, taking up archery, or enjoying breweries for the first time. A wise woman accepts life’s downturns, grieves for what she’s lost then goes on to live the rest of her life.
11. Crones don’t grovel. Bolen writes that “women entering their crone years often revisit feelings they had in high school because menopause has similarities with adolescence.” Am I pretty enough? Pleasing enough? Wise women stop singing this song. They refuse to walk around like a beaten puppy with his tail tucked. Instead, they are more like a duck crossing the street, taking her time with head held high.
12. Crones laugh together. In the absence of men, you’ll hear the belly laugh of women telling stories of embarrassing or triumphant past moments. Life is what it is. We laugh ourselves into euphoric highs.
13. Crones savor the good in their lives. “If you are a woman who has enjoyed life and not become soured by your personal share of human suffering, you are likely to become a crone who is a connoisseur of experience—meaning that you are able to savor the good that comes your way.” You greet the sunrise and move on with your day in openness and eagerness. You demand little and offer much.
As long as our mind, body, and heart function, we have a membership to an elite body of wise women. It takes a while to be a wise woman. But when we get there, we find our flock, and never look back.