Welcome to the first installment of Before the Bookshelf. In this series I will share wisdom and words from a book recently read before shelving it. My hope is that this series will (a) help synthesize the reading for me and (b) pass on some pearls of wisdom gleaned from some amazing writers to all of you.
The first book I will be highlighting is Women Who Run With the Wolves (WWRWW) by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Toward the end of 2018, I felt lead to reread this gem after reading it for the first time in 2015. WWRWW uses traditional tales metaphorically to guide the reader through various rites of passage and journeys into the female psyche.
This book is rather lengthy, so I will be devoting two separate posts to it. Full disclosure, if you choose to read WWRWW, it may feel a bit cumbersome at times. In my opinion, the effort is well worth the rewards. Each chapter focuses on a different learning or task that women face during their lifetimes and can stand alone to be used on an as needed basis. Therefore, I will be including a “Read this when…” statement after each chapter’s wisdom for your reference. Enjoy!
INTRODUCTION: “Singing Over the Bones”
“Singing Over the Bones” establishes the titular kinship between wolves and women by citing the similarities between the marginalization and resiliency of both species. Using archetypal psychology as a foundation, Dr. Estés establishes the concept of story as medicine for the plight of women today, many of whom have tragically lost connection to the Wild Woman archetype. She proposes that through the dissection of folk and fairy tales we can reclaim this relationship and recover life lessons to aid us in healing ourselves, our loved ones and our world.
Read this when you’re looking for
a way to “get back to good.”
“I once dreamt I was telling stories and felt someone patting my foot in encouragement. I looked down and saw that I was standing on the shoulders of an old woman who was steadying my ankles and smiling up at me.
I said to her, ‘No, no, come stand on MY shoulders for you are old and I am young.’
‘No, no,’ she insisted, ‘this is the way it is supposed to be.’
I saw that she stood on the shoulders of a woman far older than she, who stood on the shoulders of a woman even older, who stood on the shoulders of a woman in robes, who stood on the shoulders of another soul, who stood on the shoulders…”
P 19 “Singing Over the Bones”
CH 1: “The Howl: Resurrection of the Wild Woman”
In this chapter Dr. Estés introduces the Life/Death/Life cycle, a theme that is repeated again and again throughout WWRWW. It is Wild Woman herself who embodies the nature of this cycle in all her many forms. This Wild Woman lives in all of us, and bit by bit, piece by piece we can know her, reclaim her and BE her.
Read this when you need
some hard truth and tough love.
“This is our meditation practice as women, calling back the dead and dismembered aspects of ourselves, calling back the dead and dismembered aspects of life itself. The one who re-creates from that which has died is always a double-sided archetype. The Creation Mother is always also the Death Mother and vice versa. Because of this dual nature, or double-tasking, the great work before us is to learn to understand what around and about us and what within us must live, and what must die. Our work is to apprehend the timing of both; to allow what must die to die, and what must live to live.”
P 32 “The Howl: Resurrection of the Wild Woman”
CH 2: “Stalking the Intruder: The Beginning Initiation”
“Stalking the Intruder…” is about identifying the inner saboteur and predator of the psyche. Dr. Estés postulates that women may be especially susceptible to developing an inner destructive force, because we are socially conditioned to be nice and naïve from a very young age. The good news is that we can learn to call BS on ourselves and society by relying on our own intuition and being willing to question anything that doesn’t feel right to us.
Read this when you suspect that
you are getting in your own way.
“Instead of reviling the predator of the psyche, or running from it, we dismember it…We dismantle the assaults of the natural predator by taking to heart and working with what is truthful in what the predator says and then discarding the rest…We dismantle the predator by maintaining our intuitions and instincts and by resisting the predator’s seductions…When we refuse to entertain the predator, its strength is extracted and it is unable to act without us.”
P 65 “Stalking the Intruder: The Beginning Initiation”
CH 3: “Nosing Out the Facts: The Retrieval of Intuition as Initiation”
This chapter outlines the process for reclaiming, strengthening and embracing our intuition. We are reminded that our intuition (wild nature) is Wild Woman (the Life/Death/Life cycle). Therefore, we are in an ongoing process of checking in with our deepest knowing and acting on it, despite outside expectations. Sometimes the action is creation and sometimes it is simply letting go.
Read this when you’re struggling with self-doubt.
“To possess good intuition, goodly power causes work. It causes work firstly in the watching and comprehending of negative forces and imbalances both inward and outward. Secondly, it causes striving in the gathering up of will in order to do something about what one sees, be it for good, or balance, or to allow something to live or die.”
P 113 “Nosing Out the Facts: The Retrieval of Intuition as Initiation”
CH 4: “The Mate: Union With the Other”
“…Union With the Other” reminds us of our dual nature: the persona we present to the world v. our true, deepest desires. First and foremost, it is important that we recognize these two aspects within ourselves and dig deeper to uncover our own authentic truth. Just as important, is allowing this deeper self to be seen and honored in relationship by introducing her to your mate.
Read this when you feel like
your partner just doesn’t get you.
“If a woman wants a mate who is responsive…she will tell him about the interior woman…by teaching… (him) to ask her two deceptively simple questions that will cause her to feel seen, heard, and known…’What do you want?’…’What does your deeper self desire?’…To securely weave a relationship, a woman will also ask the same two questions of her mate.”
PG 135 “The Mate: Union With the Other”
CH 5: “Hunting: When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter”
This chapter explores the concept of intimacy within before intimacy without. Devoted relationship with the self requires us to do the work of listening to and acting upon our intuition, deciding continually what to honor with more energy and what to let go of (the Life/Death/Life cycle). Many times we attempt to escape this task by looking for satisfaction from the outside in the form of lover, career, materialism, etc. Once we are able to find self-fulfillment and balance, this will begin to reflect in our relationships. As within, so without.
Read this when you feel empty or unsatisfied.
“We all have made the mistake of thinking someone else can be our healer, our thriller, our filling. It takes a long time to find it is not so, mostly because we project the wound outside ourselves instead of ministering to it within.”
PG 165 “Hunting: When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter”
CH 6: “Finding One’s Pack: Belonging as Blessing”
“…Belonging as Blessing” discusses the way in which women are domesticated and taught to ignore Wild Woman from a very young age. It is in this way that many of us develop what Dr. Estés calls a “collapsing mother construct” that causes us to surrender to societal pressures and norms rather than follow our wild, creative nature. A we learn to hear Wild Woman’s call teaching us how live our truth, we come to identify others just like us and finally find where we belong.
Read this when you feel alone.
”If you have attempted to fit whatever mold and failed to do so, you are probably lucky. You may be an exile of some sort, but you have sheltered your soul.”
PG 198 “Finding One’s Pack: Belonging as Blessing”
CH 7: “Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh”
This chapter focuses on a particular area in which society attempts to mold women – our outward appearance. The resulting scrutinization and judgment of women is in direct offense to our various cultural and familial heritages and legacies. This takes much away from our joy and speaks to an injury in the culture at large.
Read this when you are tempted
to body shame yourself or another.
“When women are relegated to moods, mannerisms, and contours that conform to single ideal of beauty and behavior, they are captured in both body and soul, and are no longer free.”
PG 213 “Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh”
CH 8: “Self-Preservation: Identifying Leg Traps, Cages, and Poisoned Bait”
This chapter outlines the various ways by which we become separated from Wild Women. Here is a list of the eight traps in my own terms based on how I interpreted the reading:
1. Settling (taking the easy road)
2. Conforming (surrendering to the collective)
3. Deprivation (denying our soul-needs)
4. Incapacitation (losing our instincts and giving up)
5. Dissimilation (hiding our true selves away)
6. Rebellion (reclaiming freedom in unhealthy ways)
7. Assimilation (embodying the conventional)
8. Self-Destruction (succumbing to harmful behaviors and habits)
Read this when you’re at a crossroads.
“Let us understand that the issues that entrap women’s joy will always shift and shape-change, but in our own essential natures we find the absolute stamina, the necessary libido for all necessary acts of heart.”
PG 263 “Self-Preservation: Identifying Leg Traps, Cages, and Poisoned Bait”