TrueHeartWork | Jane Fonda
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Jane Fonda Tag

Old Ideas

There’s a fresh wind shaking the branches of the old oak trees of humanity. A whole generation of baby boomers at the golden zenith of their potential are growing new careers, committing to new relationships, scattering their creative offerings across a world on the brink of great social and cultural change. “Retirement” has become an anachronism in a new zeitgeist that sets fire to the taboo on old age and death. “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again,” said C.S. Lewis. In our communities, our families, our friendship circles, there are remarkable men and women who defy the stereotypes, say a quiet “yes” to the soft flutter in their belly to embrace all the possibilities that allow them to start reading fairy tales once more.

Leonard Cohen, at 77, has just released his latest album, “Old Ideas”, Engelbert Humperdinck at 75, has been nominated to represent the UK at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The British film industry, mirroring the collective lake of consciousness, has released two films dealing with ageing from very different perspectives; The Iron Lady”  and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.  Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman, Barbarba Streisland, Louise Hay, Dame “Judi” Dench, Oprah Winfrey… teachers, entrepreneurs, celebrities, and ordinary men and women living extra-ordinary lives – powerfully, positively, productively. As Pluto, god of the Underworld moves silently through the sign of Capricorn, the archetypes of the senex, and the crone are being embodied in these feisty elders, suggesting a gradual rebalancing of our collective cult of youth worship. Jane Fonda, now in her 70s is tackling Act III of her life with the same trailblazing revolutionary spirit that she brought to political causes, and the go for the burn”  fitness videos that plugged aerobics into the living rooms of millions of women. In her book, Prime Time” , she cites studies that show that on average, (in the well-fed, medicated, war-free West, I assume) an average of 34 years have been added to human life expectancy. She describes how at 46, she began to envision the old woman she wanted to be, and quotes gerontologists who believe that threshold events like widowhood, loss of work, moving home, even a terminal illness, are not experienced as traumas “if they were anticipated and, in effect, rehearsed as part of the life cycle.” Although much of her book has a disease model approach to sexuality and health, it is a starting point for a more soulful approach to living a richly meaningful life. The longevity revolution will require a compass and a new course.

By the year 2020, eighty million Americans will be above the age of sixty. Senior citizens will outnumber young people under the age of 18. In America the Wise” , Theodore Roszak writes of the implications of “the longevity revolution” on culture and social values. Roszak feels that we are demographically illiterate”  as a society and have not yet begun to grasp the implications of mass longevity. Never before have elders possessed the social weight to make their values count in matters of policy and the distribution of wealth… The growing numbers of old people in America could bring about an unprecedented cultural shift toward a more nurturant caregiving ethos, an appreciation for social interdependence and cultivated leisure, a transcendence of competitive striving and status anxiety, and a greater appreciation of the wisdom that comes with age.” There are, of course, millions of older men and woman who feel alienated, invisible, and impotent. Millions who suffer physical and mental degeneration that shrinks their lives and darkens their purpose and meaning. “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for,” said Viktor Frankl. When roles of Parent, Partner, Executive, Homemaker, or Club affiliate are shed, shadowy stretches of depleted time merge soundlessly into months, years that slide into a dark pit of despondency and negativity. The weather becomes either too hot or too cold. A  powerless refrain of lack of money, work, love, health, or support … buries us in the rubble of our concrete thoughts. Albert Camus said darkly, “alas, after a certain age, every man is responsible for his face,” and the truth of that stark statement is revealed in the mirror each morning.

So I guess it falls upon each one of us, no matter what the circumstances of our lives, to cultivate genuine gratitude for the little things: Waking each morning with the ability to get ourselves out of bed. The miracle of seeing the glistening dew on the grass, a coral sunrise, spring flowers. The enchanted chorus of birdsong. The stillness of our kitchen. A cup of hot tea. Our lungs that draw in lifegiving air, our brave hearts that faithfully beat, despite the heartache and disappointments we have endured. Only we can take the blindfold off our eyes. Only we can feel our hearts blossom open petal by fragrant petal. Only we can wear the crown of age, and embody wisdom and our authentic selves. Albert Camus says “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” Only we can stand tall in the  zenith of our lives, and delight in the reading of fairy tales.

Going Home – Leonard Cohen

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And I love her

After spending three weeks in Mountjoy women’s prison Teresa Treacy, of Clonmore, is home. Her crime, her refusal to comply with High Court orders to allow power lines on her property which would, and did, ruin the beauty of the landscape, destroying tall trees. This act of courage and defiance has made this 65 year old woman a cause celebre in Ireland.

For me, Teresa symbolises the uncompromising Crone energy we must draw from our bellies if we are to live authentic lives in challenging times. I believe that in order to cross the threshold into the realm of the Crone, we as women, (and those men who have integrated the Feminine energy,) must experience a rite of passage, so that we may enter the sacred centre of the web of our lives, to learn what real Love is. Illness, divorce, death of a child or a partner, retrenchment, prison – tsunami times of intense physical or emotional suffering when the loss of our old identity becomes a psychic death. Times when we feel like utterly alone, floating in a fathomless ocean… no direction home.

How does it feel ?
Aw, how does it feel ?
To be on your own ?
With no direction home ?
Like a complete unknown ?
Like a rolling stone ? sang Dylan.

I saw an interview with 74 year old activist and feminist Jane Fonda. Breasts like Barbie’s, face taut, impossibly white, perfect teeth. She seemed brittle, very fragile, unmothered. Still hungry, unable to embrace the energy and quiet assurance of the mature feminine or the fierce wisdom of The Crone. The initiation into the wise woman archetype or Crone (which means “corona” meaning “crown”,)   lacks ritual and celebration in a world where we worship at the altar of  youth. Change is never easy. Most of us lack the support of community, or the mentorship of mature women to guide us over the crossroads through the dark forests and dangerous pathways. Mature Women to shake us firmly from our torpor, when we prick our fingers on the spindles and fall “asleep”. Our conversations are a timorous lament of our loss of youth. We sprinkle conversations with self-depreciating remarks – saggy breasts, stretch marks, flabby arms. We self-harm in our desperate attempts to stay sweet sixteen foolishly falling for the folly of Botox, HRT, face lifts.

Hollow-eyed beggars, starving for the crumbs of love. We’ve been fighting our bodies all our lives.  Marion Woodman describes the Crone cycle as a time of Crossroad, where we come eventually, to a place of deep surrender. “After a lifetime of trying to improve herself in order to become a “perfect” daughter, wife and mother, a woman’s “surrender” to herself just as she is, becomes like bathing in the refreshing water in the pool of her soul. Grounded in her connection with her inner wisdom, she now lives from her own authority.”

And so, through illness, loss, the inevitability of our own death, we stumble or are pulled with ferocity into the liminal landscape of the Crone. She is uncompromising. The giver and taker of life. She demands as payment for crossing the threshold, precious gifts hidden in the challenges that crucify. These are times when we may also glimpse the white butterfly of new possibility. As we integrate our aloneness and despair into new learning, we plant it back into a world that looks the same outwardly, though we have changed irrevocably. Says Marion Woodman, “periods of renunciation are the initiations in life when we realise God is not running a day care centre.”

Goddess is a word that has lost its currency. This powerful archetype has been prostituted to sell perfume, bath oil, and deodorant. It’s bandied about as a term of endearment.  Goddess, like Woman, has been made infantile, pretty-in-pink, static, always smiling, naively youthful.  But, there is not only one goddess. She has, for eons, appeared in three: Maiden, Mother, and Crone; and she takes many forms. In a civilization as flatlined as ours, she lives still as the Fairy Godmother, the Woman of the Mist, Baba Yaga, the Cailleach. She is the dark moon, the cruel winter, the fierce, wise Mother of All. The Crone courageously embraces her values, her truth, and her beauty. She caresses the silver riverbeds that lattice her belly and her thighs, sees the eyes that stare back at her in the mirror, and says, yes!  She works through those who have not pricked their fingers on the spindle and fallen asleep.

There is an old story, told by Lame Deer, a Lakota Elder. It speaks of the importance of injury. When we die, we meet an old hag in the Underworld. She will eat our scars, and then allow us to continue on our journey. If you have none, she will eat your eyes instead. This suggests to me, the value of inner sight, as we die in various ways on our journeys. It is in our scars, the fractures in our hearts, our wrinkles, our stretch marks, as Leonard Cohen says, There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

So there will come a time when we must stand in the fire, like Teresa Treacy of Clonmore. We must speak our truth quietly, with assurance. We must persistently mine the metaphors in our lives. Dig deep, chew the cud of our dreams and savour the delicious sweetness. Stir the cauldron of our darkest emotions. And when we have prepared, and are ready, the Crone will appear. She will take our hand, and lead us back to the Garden.

Well, then can I roam beside you? I have come to lose the smog.
And I feel myself a cog in something turning.
And maybe it’s the time of year, yes, said maybe it’s the time of man.
And I don’t know who I am but life is for learning.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
Joni Mitchell, Woodstock.

Love the Crone, and listen to the original sounds of the Beatles:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaJIQmIei14  And I love her, the Beatles http://www.offalyexpress.ie/news/local/teresa_treacy_to_meet_with_esb_1_3143058

 

 

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