Medlar Press, 2011 (Revised Edn)

ISBN: 978-1-907110-28-3

Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain

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Sheila is a long-time member of GreenSpirit. She and her colleague Rosemary Ward (no relation) run workshops for midlife women at The Grange, in Shropshire, England.

Sheila’s book, Towards Wisdom, is in part autobiographical, exploring the author’s own journey of personal and spiritual growth through the membership of various groups and circles in which she has taken part over the years. It details the techniques and practices used in each of these and how they might be used by other groups or individuals, particularly groups of women entering — or already in — the second half of their lives.

In doing so, it provides a wealth of useful material for any woman who is either seeking new ways to pursue her own inner journey or who is in some way facilitating the journeys of others, particularly by means of circles. For as we all know, sitting in circle and telling our stories is the time-honoured way in which women of all cultures transmit their wisdom to each other and to younger generations. We need to acknowledge this important tradition and reinstate it as a vital part of our own culture, and elderwomen may often be the ones best suited to take the lead in this.

Another interesting component of Sheila’s book is her exploration into the many meanings of the word ‘love’. It has become such a catch-all term that most of us do not even stop to think about its many layers and shades of meaning. We may dimly remember that the Greek philosophers classified love into several forms but most of us would be hard pressed to explain the classifications. Sheila’s classifications feel intuitively right to me, particularly her discovery and exploration of something she calls ‘Inspirational Love.’ This, she explains, is “a love which inspires and energises but has no physical component.”

This type of love is non-erotic, in the sense that no sexual feelings are involved. Neither is it the same as the kind of love one has for a child, a parent, a friend, a companion animal etc. It is not to be confused with what the Greeks called agape – the impersonal, selfless love that the Christian is urged to foster for his or her fellow-human. Inspirational love is, according to Sheila, in a class apart.
I am sure that many people experience this,” she says, “but I have never found it identified and if others can confirm my experience (which some have already done) then it seems to me vital that it should be more generally recognised. What is needed now is the affirmation of countless other women who can, in circles, explore their experience of different varieties of love and what it means. It is only in the confidentiality and trust of such circles that women can speak openly of such experience…it may bring to light many other sorts of love which will enable a much greater understanding and maturity The process of self-revelation with a deep level vulnerability creates a special kind of love between the circle members which in itself may be worth exploring, (and may also give strength to some of the more lonely women in our society). But more importantly if such Circles were manifest on a large enough scale it could begin to change the emotional and spiritual climate of our culture as well as having a deeply evolutionary significance.”