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Solitude & Silence: forgotten values?

27 Feb

Modern life seems so focused on work and social activities that we often forget the value of taking time for ourselves. It’s considered weird or even sad if you go out on your own, or rather stay home with a book than go to that fabulous party everyone is talking about. The paradox here, however, is that we are more lonely than ever. Superficial contacts are becoming the norm, and there is hardly time for in-depth conversations. Life is so hasty that we even become strangers to ourselves. We rush through the day, working, cooking, cleaning, doing the groceries, taking care of others, … and then when all the tiresome chores are over, we collapse in front of the TV.
We might have gained material comfort, but we are losing our inner lives, and that is a big loss indeed!

The importance of balancing

Humans are social creatures, and there is nothing wrong with that. Most of us feel great when we have our friends around us, with who we can share our life’s tribulations, but also our joy and happiness.
It’s important that we see ourselves as a friend too though, and we need to nourish that friendship. We need to find a balance between spending time with others, and spending time with ourselves. If we don’t nourish our inner lives, we won’t be able to nourish the life of others.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in her book “Women who run with the Wolves” very beautifully about this issue:
A wise woman keeps her psychic environ uncluttered. She accomplishes such by keeping a clear head, keeping a clear place for her work, working at completing her ideas and projects.
For many women, this task requires that they clear a time each day for contemplation, for a space to live in that is clearly their own with paper, pens, paints, tools, conversations, time, freedoms that are for this work only. For many, psychoanalysis, contemplation, mediation, the taking of solitude, and other experiences of descent and transformation provide this special time and place for the work. Each woman has her own preferences, her own way.(…)
To sweep the premises means not only to begin to value the nonsuperficial life but to care for its orderliness. Sometimes women become confused about soulful work, and neglect its architecture till it is taken back by the forest. Gradually the structures of the psyche are overgrown until they finally are but a hidden archeologic ruin in the psyche’s unconscious. A cyclical and critical sweeping will prevent this from occurring. When women have cleared space, the wild nature will better thrive.(1)
An excuse I often use myself too is that I don’t have time for all this. This is simply not true. A better and more honest way to put it would be that we are not in the mood to make time for it, because it’s not very high on our list of priorities. However, the importance of meditation, prayer, journaling, giving attention to our inner life, can hardly be overlooked. If we don’t make time for it, our inner life will be overgrown like a garden that isn’t kept, and we will forget about who we really are. Our inner life is just as important as the steps we take in the outer world, maybe even more important. Our actions start from how we feel inside, and we can only take the right kind of actions if we are in touch with what we really need in life.

The benefits of silence

Silence and solitude go together. When we are alone, we don’t speak. Our mind is rather directed towards deeper issues we need to deal with.
Nowadays we talk a lot, without really saying something. People who are talkative are by far preferred over people who are silent. Of course talking is a great way to strengthen the bonds with others, but it can also be used as a dangerous weapon, to hurt people and to gossip behind their backs.

“If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything” seems a very positive rule to me, although a lot of people have forgotten the value of not talking bad about others. All too often, they see it as a mean of conversation, to have something to talk about, and don’t realise the damage they are doing. If you make friends by talking bad about others, what kind of friends are they in the first place?
My advice is: always speak about someone as if he/she were there too.

Silence was considered a virtue by all the great men and women from the past. Gandhi said: In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.
In Islam, silence is considered even more than gold. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said: Salat (prayer) is the main pillar of Islam, however remaining silent is better.
Sadaqa (charity) will extinguish the anger of Allah, however remaining silent is better.
Sawm (fasting) is a shield against the fire of hell, however remaining silent is better.
Jihad (fighting against temptation&defending Islam) occupies a high position in the deen of Allah, however remaining silent is better.
Excessive talking can be harmful towards someone’s soul, especially if one uses his tongue to lie, hurt others, and gossip. Only constructive talk is allowed in Islam, where one advises the other to do good, where one talks kindly to the other, where one remembers God with his tongue.

To end, I want to stress that silence can also be harmful, when it’s used in the face of injustice. We must not remain silent when we see something bad happening, but speak up for ourselves and others. Everything can be used in a good and bad way, so let’s make sure we use silence only in a positive way!

(1) C.P.ESTES, Women Who Run With The Wolves, 2008, Rider, p.92-93

My thoughts on “Women Who Run With The Wolves”

24 Aug
“Women Who Run With The Wolves” is a fabulous work of art about the inner lives of women. Every chapter of the book tells a story that has to do with the psyche of women, their seasons, struggles, temptations,… The author, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, shows us that stories can be a map for us, leading the way, showing us in a gentle way where the traps are, and how to avoid them. They tell us about the seasons of a woman’s life, and how we can use them to the fullest. They warn us, lead us, inform us, nurture us, heal us.
I’m reading this book for the second time now, and I wanted to note down my thoughts after each reading session. I think it will be a great help to myself, and who knows, maybe for others too. That’s why I wanted to post this on my blog, and not keep it to myself. So let’s not waste any time anymore and get started!
Chapter II : Stalking the Intruder: The Beginning Initiation:

This chapter tells the story of Bluebeard. Bluebeard is a failed magician, and has a blue beard. He marries a young woman, who felt fearful of him first, but agrees to marry him because of his charming manners. In the end she discovers that he has killed all his previous wives, and she only escapes a similar fate by calling her brothers for help. Bluebeard represents the archetype of “the Predator”. This force can haunt women from within as well as in the outer world. This force is “filled with hatred and desires to kill the lights of the psyche”(1). Young teenage girls especially, who have not yet learned to recognise, trust or value their inner knowing and intuition, are a vulnerable prey.
This force is a natural part of our psyche, that tries to lead us away from our aspirations and dreams, and tries to trap us in a state of negativity and failure. We cannot deny this presence, but we can learn to recognise it, with experience being the best teacher. It can also be a force that creeps into our lives from outside. A presence, whether a person, a culture, a conviction, … that comes to infiltrate us and steal away our creativity, and makes us feel small and trapped.
I wonder if we can ever learn our lesson without coming into contact with this archetype and without making the mistake of letting it into our lives. I like to believe that as a woman who’s been down that road before, it would be easier for me now to avoid and contain the danger of falling prey again. God knows that I would like to protect my loved ones, like my friends, family and my daughter,if I would have one later, from such a destructive force, but again I wonder if this is possible. We can only ever learn through experience, through plunging through the water ourselves. It’s almost like a phase that every woman has to go through, to a more or lesser extent, to acquire the knowledge and maturity to not fall prey again, and to oppose this force, whether in her own self, or from outside, and to finally listen to what she has known all along.
I recently saw an episode of “Sex and the City”, where Carrie is in a loving, nurturing and “perfect” relationship with a man named Aidan. But at the same time she is being haunted by the man who broke her heart, and couldn’t commit, named “Big” (which is a nickname she gave to him in the beginning, we don’t know his real name). Aidan helped her to stop smoking, while when she was with Big, they smoked together. While she was in bed with Aidan, we hear her say something like (can’t remember the exact quote):” here was a man next to me who wanted to build my home, but out there was a man who wanted to tear it apart”. She knows that Aidan is good for her, but still she can’t resist Big. Big is in my eyes the ultimate predator. He is charming and funny at first sight, but lethal to be in a relationship with. He hurts Carrie over and over again, but can’t leave her alone afterwards. He brings out the worst in her, and makes her fall back into her destructive habits. She doesn’t really seem to recognise him as such, and as a consequence, is not strong enough to say no to him.
The fact that Bluebeard is a failed magician is an important aspect of the story. He has tried to make himself more important, more magnificent than he actually was, and had to pay the price for it. The author also mentions the Christian myth of the fall of Lucifer, who tried to claim equality with God, and was punished by having to dwell in the underworld forever. This struck me, because in Islam, we have a similar story, about Iblis who refused to obey God by bowing for His creation, human kind, and was punished accordingly. The author goes on saying “It is not hard to imagine that in such a malignant formation there is trapped one who once wished for surpassing light and fell from Grace because of it. We can understand why thereafter the exiled one maintains a heartless pursuit of the light of others. We can imagine that it hopes that if it could gather enough soul(s) to itself, it could make a blaze of light that would finally rescind its darkness and repair its loneliness.”(2)
In Islam, Iblis (or “Shaytan”)is seen as a figure who tries to lead us astray. A presence that is always near us, trying to makes us dumb and blind for the guidance of God. So the Torah, the Bible and the Quran all try to warn us for such a destructive force. But they also assure us that the “Predator” cannot get a hold on us if we stay close to God (or the good in us, and around us), for it has already tried and failed miserably to be equal to Him. So there exist a counterforce in and around us that can protect us from this archetype, if we will only listen to its guidance.
(1) Women Who Run With The Wolves, C.P Estés, p 42
(2) Women Who Run With The Wolves, C.P Estés, p 42