One of my favorite parables is the story of the light wolf and the dark wolf. Most of us know the light wolf as those parts in the world and in ourselves that are kind, loving, peaceful and hopeful. At the same time, the dark wolf represents all that is angry, fearful, greedy or hateful. Which one is most prominent in our lives? Simply—the one we feed. In other words, whatever wolf we focus on the most—nourishing it with our attention, time, words and Facebook posts, that’s the one that grows and multiplies. The good news is of course that even if we realize we’ve been feeding the wrong wolf for far too long, it’s never too late to make our light wolf strong, healthy and the biggest part of our lives.
This parable came to my mind after finishing a new book by Mary Pipher called, Women Rowing North—Navigating Life’s Currents & Flourishing As We Age. Some of us may remember Pipher as the author of Reviving Ophelia. That book, written back in the 1990s, shared thoughts on the importance and necessity of nurturing teenage women through that tumultuous life-phase. Now hitting 70, Pipher understands that women in their third phase of life are also in an extremely transitional stage. The book is filled with her reflections, experience and advice from her own life history and those she has met and learned from along the way. I actually requested a review copy of this book instead of having a publicist solicit me, because I knew that it would contain nuggets that I can use to continue to create a happy and meaningful life. It does not disappoint.
But make no mistake, this is not a book that suggests that we all just need to think positively, and everything will be great. Some of the examples she uses throughout the book are of women who must face extremely difficult challenges with their own health or the health of their significant others or children. Some struggle with loneliness, finances, insurance, housing and any one of a number of life-trials that can peak as the years add up. Still, behind it all is a message of hope, possibility and the awareness that we do have the ability within to continue to feed that light wolf for as long as we live. Plus it doesn’t hurt to know that she confirms that research shows that women from the age of 65 to 79 are happiest of any demographic.
Pipher writes in a narrative that is both easy to read and inspirational. Throughout the book she sprinkles in ideas that had me reaching for my pen and underlining passages. With that in mind, here are a handful of those I want to remember.
- “As we age, we tend to improve our gratitude skills. Through trial and error learning, we know that if we focus on the good and positive, we see ourselves as lucky. Whereas, if we focus on grievances, past pains, regrets and disappointments, we make ourselves feel unlucky and miserable.”
- “…happiness depends on how we deal with what we are given. Even though we all suffer, we don’t all grow. Not all older women become elders…We don’t become our wisest selves without effort.”
- “We don’t see the world as it is, but rather as we are. If we are angry and bitter, we find proof of hostility wherever we look. If we are trusting, we look for evidence of kindness. Growth requires us to constantly expand our point of view.”
- “Not everyone experiences bliss as they age, but it is never too late to look for it. And if we look for it, we will find it…. Bliss doesn’t happen because we are perfect or problem-free but rather because over the years we have become wise enough to be occasionally present for the moment. We have acquired the capacity to appreciate what simply is.”
- “If we don’t grow bigger, we can become bitter.”
- Attitude is not everything, but it is almost everything. In fact, in many situations it is all we have. Especially as we age, we can see clearly that we do not always have control, but we do have choices. That is our power.”
- “There is always the possibility of self-rescue. We can choose where to focus our attention and will our way to gratitude.”
- “The more we understand ourselves, the more skilled we will be at distinguishing between acting on impulse and listening to the nurturing voice deep inside us that says, ‘This is important to you.’ The more self-knowledge we have the more likely it is that we will be able to act in accordance with our truest selves.”
- “Some women can be disabled by a hangnail, while others could be hit by a truck and keep smiling. The difference involves attitude and coping capacities.”
- “In life, as in writing, it is as important to know what to delete as it is to know what to add. We don’t want our lives to be one long to-do list filled with musts and shoulds.”
- “Hopelessness and happiness are both self-fulfilling prophecies. We become who we believe we can be.”
There are far, far more jewels of wisdom in this book that I could share with you, but these teasers should be intriguing enough for anyone who is interested in learning more. And why the title? Pipher says, “I chose the word ‘rowing’ rather than sailing or floating because, to stay on course, we need to make an effort, choose a positive attitude, maintain a strong sense of direction as we travel toward winter…”. Perhaps that quote, along with all the others led to her admitting that the core lesson in the book is that “Everything is workable.” That of course is another SMART reminder that while we will always face challenges, everything is workable. And let’s never, ever forget that the wolf we feed is the one most alive in our world.
Okay your turn. What do you think of the idea–everything is workable? Do you think that is possible? Has that proven to be true in your life? Can this kind of awareness help you as you age? Please share your thoughts on these and any other ideas you have in the comments below.