Three Phases of a Woman’s Spiritual Life
Yoga is a lifelong process. To be engaged in this process is to observe the many phases of one’s life. There is a model from the ancient wisdom traditions of our ancestors that I have found invaluable to help navigate and understand personal growth. I would like to share this gem with you.
It has been taught for thousands of years that there are three phases of a woman’s spiritual life. There are actually four, but the fourth is understood silently. The fourth phase is death.
These three phases are Maidenhood, Motherhood, and the Crone / Sage phase. I find this model extremely valuable as it teaches us to accept the cyclical nature of our lives and points towards the different objectives of each phase. We are not the same in our understanding of ourselves or our bodies at 25 than we are at 65. I also feel this has large implications for our yoga practices.
Maidenhood is fresh like Spring. Everything is on the verge of blossoming; potential is full yet unfulfilled, throbbing with life about to burst open. For me, this phase of my life was imaginative and full of possibility. I felt as free as the wind and raw. It is depicted by the image of the virgin or the woman before marriage. Here we are gathering our abilities and skills, learning about ourselves, and preparing for what is to come. I feel there is or can be a bit of seclusion from the world here, especially in childhood where our newly found skills are being tested under the protection of our guardians.
Motherhood is the full expression of life like Summer. Total engagement in life is upon you. Perhaps it means Motherhood literally, but maybe not. Motherhood is not only parenting, it may come in the form of any creation you may be nurturing. This is when the expression of your being comes into full blossom in the world; it is the peak of your existence in this life. The image of a Mother full bellied in the late stages of pregnancy depicts this well. This is womanhood realized, fullness expressed.
For me, this phase of my life is just beginning, but I feel a vast difference in myself and what my energies are striving to create. I have found myself missing the lofty dreaminess of maidenhood, but I realize that it is time to embrace fully what is before me and trust the rest will fill in.
The Crone / Sage phase is like Fall when the Earth has reached the climax of ripeness and begins to turn. There is a vast richness in the soil as the leaves fall. The colors are brilliant and the intelligence is fresh in its own way. This is the wisdom phase of life; the truly spiritual time of one’s life. Hopefully, one has achieved what they have desired in their life, the children are born and possibly raised, grandchildren may be coming, and retirement. We can retreat again from the external world to focus on our inner world. In truth, it is preparation for death, which means deep reflection on one’s life.
The years bring experience; experience breeds wisdom. Wisdom is the gem of this life and a goal in yoga. By this time, you may know yourself much better and have learned from the mistakes made. This process of marinating brings great gifts to everyone. I wish our society placed more value on this phase of life for there is an invaluable resource here. The image of an old woman with a weathered face and a hood or cloak often depicts this phase.
I only know this phase through the elders in my life whose presence I place great value on. I have learned so much from these guides and mentors, and it is with the greatest respect I choose to sit and listen.
My observations have led me to believe this may be the greatest phase yet! There is a freedom in living a long time. You let go of stuff that in youth you could not. There seems to be a greater acceptance and love of oneself and a pathway if you keep your body healthy to live the way you desire.
The women I know in this phase know what they want. They don’t question themselves as much. There is clarity, less self doubt. I always look at this with admiration. I would like to be that free and certain about what I want. The time is available to focus fully on one’s spiritual path. This is the most desirable aspect of all to me.
Death is like Winter. Everything retracts into itself and recuperates. It is cold and still and motionless. This is where we gather ourselves deep within the Void to get ready for new life to emerge.
And, the cycle moves on…
We are like everything else in this vast Universe, a part of this endless cycle of existence…
We can also liken these phases to that of the Moon, and in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, the moon cycles hold great precedence. The Maiden is the New Moon waxing, the Mother is the Full Moon, and the Crone is the Full Moon waning.
In most of the ancient wisdom traditions different Goddesses are used to depict these phases. I will use the Hindu Mythology to illustrate. Saraswati is the Creator Goddess. She creates through sound via music and has chosen maidenhood as she lives without her partner Bramha in her own artistic community. Lakshmi, the female counterpart of Vishnu, is ripe in creation Her energy like water sustains the Universe. She is known as the worldly Goddess and many of us place her image or statue by the cash box to help support abundance. Parvati, Shakti, or Durga, the female counterpart to Shiva the Destroyer, also known as the Lord of Yoga, is like fire. It brings change and transformation. This is the pursuit of wisdom, to go beyond the world’s illusion, a beautiful representation of the most spiritual phase of a woman’s life. Death would take the most intense form of this Goddess in Kali Durga who steps up the death image to another level. Black in skin, naked, and wild, we hopefully destroy our demons and return to our own essential nature.
I apologize to the men. Student and teacher, Chip Hedenburg and I are working on mapping out the three phases of a man’s spiritual life…upcoming blog to look forward to in the future.
Owner, Director, Teacher – Ashtanga Yoga Center, Outer Banks, NC