Wise Woman’s Way by Berta Parrish has the subtitle of “A Guide to Growing Older with Purpose and Passion”. As I have often said, understanding my purpose and passion continue to be a challenge for me in my retirement transition. I was also intrigued with the use of the Wise Woman archetype. This blog captures some of the key points from this book (basically my personal notes from Wise Woman’s Way) and is one of 2 blog posts exploring the ideas in this book.
Berta Parrish’s intent in this book was to resurrect the universal archetype of the Wise Woman, a template written over thousands of years in many different cultures. She embraces the terms of elder, elder-hood, Wise Woman, and even Crone.
The Wise Woman is associated with the third stage of a woman’s life. Wise Woman qualities include wisdom, compassion, mirth, creativity and connection. She is flexible, tolerant, patient, generous, unattached to outcome (not controlling), forgiving, grateful (not envious), curious, open to change (not conservative), optimistic, and accepting.
The more we learn about the Wise Woman archetype, the more we can let it emerge within ourselves. What we focus on, we energize. The journey towards becoming a Wise Woman is a lifelong goal. We never become her but we strive to embody her positive traits (forgiving ourselves when we are not perfect!). We can choose to be optimistic and concentrate on gratitude for each small step we take on the journey.
Beyond presenting the Wise Woman archetype, the book provides some guidance to finding a new/different identity and new purpose as you enter this new stage of life, retiring from full-time employment. As you move from who you were (in the workforce) to who you are becoming (an elder, living a life towards becoming a Wise Woman), many things need to change. Your habitual ways of thinking, reacting, living took years to form; replacing them also takes time (and repetition). Combined with the cultural conditioned messages of “be young, be productive, consume” it becomes a challenge to reinvent yourself versus remaining in the same productive/consumption mindset and lifestyle. For Parrish, a retirement transition is about moving from conquest, prestige, beauty, and external approval to a quest for wholeness and new life-ways as an elder.
Upon retirement, you no longer have a clearly defined role with built-in structures and expectations, social support, routines, and prestige. If one’s self-worth was defined by career accomplishments and not other talents or interests, you will need to find new avenues for pleasure and reward. In retirement transition, we need to deal with the loss (grieve/mourn) of the work roles and structures and perhaps also the physical losses of an aging body, unmet expectations, or unsatisfactory choices made. This transition is about ending the emotional attachments to the prior (let it go) before beginning the new (let it begin). We relinquish the former identity and give time (let it be) to discover the new identity… the Wise Woman one you will grow into.
Parrish defines an elder’s work as synthesizing the wisdom of a long life experience and formulating this into a legacy for future generations. The early years of elder-hood (ages 55-ish to 75-ish) is the time for introspection, inward searching, and discovery to release the need for social approval and learn how to validate ourselves from within. Introspection comes via contemplation using writing, drawing, interpreting dreams or reading/listening to inspirational material. We can use meditation, guided imagery, and dream analysis. We need to release critical thinking and allow the mysterious in – to become a seeker.
As you spend time in contemplation (writing, drawing, interpreting dreams, reading inspirational material), you will:
- Learn how to validate yourself instead of seeking approval.
- Deal with fears and reality of decline and loss.
- Reconcile your own polarities and shadows – for example: risk taking versus desire for security, focus on self versus focus on others, feminine versus masculine traits.
- Feel authentic compassion and non-judgment of others.
- Connect with a Higher Spirit – through traditional or non-traditional approaches.
- Create your own symbolic perspective to bring meaning to everyday ordinary events.
- Share your knowledge, wisdom, and skills.
She also reinforces the belief that we do not need to know if everything is “working”, we just need to continue with consistency, using the tools of the practice. And be gentle if there are slips (for example, you return to shoulds or passing judgment), because old habits are hard to break. Just return to the practice of:
- Journal Keeping
- Dream Analysis
- Active Imagination (guided meditation)
- Community Connection
I loved her suggestion to replace obligation terms (should or must or need to) with words of choice (prefer or choose) or passion words (want or intend). Meditate because you want to! Journal with intention! Choose to do dream analysis!
In the part 2 of this personal notes approach to the book, I’ll share some of the approaches Parrish recommends for understanding your belief systems and creating your own life symbolism.
Have you chosen to incorporate contemplation tools into your life?
Picture: my first attempt at Canva!