What bars women from giving inwardly? How can this trend be reversed?
Women are constantly called upon to act courageously and lion-hearted. We have little trouble giving soulfully to our kids, our partners, our friends, our jobs, and humanity. But when it comes to taking the risk of loving ourselves profoundly, we get stuck. What’s fascinating is that this blocked generosity is such a universal theme, blind to age, orientation, and life experience. I am not talking here about failing to treat ourselves to material stuff, but about failing to treat ourselves with non-material stuff, namely mindful care and subterranean respect.
Of course we spend a lot of time coming up with excuses for why we are shoddy at exploring our inner lives, the most common being that we feel we are acting selfishly when we do, or at least that the world seems to think so. Yet I believe these blanket theories root down far deeper, to flawed primordial belief systems of inadequacy, which have been etched into us by our families and by culture at large. These afflictions of low self-value serve as piercing incentives to turn us away from ourselves.
However convoluted, women have been trained to shun and even fear our own attentive affections, lest once softened by our inward gazes, we grow disarmed to our collective pain. What pernicious thinking, and wow does it hurt!
A wonderfully courageous way of beginning to build back our self worth and to give inwardly is through the cultivation of gentle spirit practice. Spirit practice is nothing short of opening up a benevolent conversation with our rich internal landscapes. Through getting quiet and taking interest in the lighting up of our interiors, we can restructure our faulty programming, and learn to deeply love.
In Buddhism, there are two expressions of this type of devotion, loving-kindness and compassion. In order to practice these elements wholly, we must enact them with equanimity. In other words, we must offer to ourselves, as proportionately as we do to others, both authentic friendliness and genuine openness to our suffering. We start with our bodies and with our breath.
Sit quietly and think of the thing that as a young girl was most soothing to you. For me, it was my grandmother’s hands rubbing the low of my back. One of the first exercises recommended to me by a lovely female priest at the Zen center where I lived almost twenty years ago was to imagine my own warm nurturing hands on my spine and to feel them providing that safe solid feedback, that glowing steadiness. Can you do this for yourself, in your own intuited way?
Our foremost job as amicable and sincere women is to learn to give inwardly in addition to giving outwardly. Once our newly directed focus is allowed for, an essential relaxation, an expansive letting down occurs. The self-dialogue swings in and out, rhythmic and equal, like the most balanced of inhales and exhales. We cannot deny our inner worlds. Our intimate, inflowing journeys start right now; all women at a time, with bravery, sensitivity, and aplomb.
Maggie Lyon Varadhan is a writer on wellness and spirituality, and a holistic lifestyle consultant. Hailing from Northern California, Maggie first studied Feminist Studies with Bettina Aptheker at UC Santa Cruz before transferring to Mills College where she graduated with a BA in Creative Writing. In 2002, she earned her Masters Degree in Education from Teachers College, Columbia. A practicing Zen Buddhist and Iyengar yoga practitioner since the age of 16, Maggie also drew on her training in nutrition, intuitive healing, energy medicine, and natural health to found Lyon Lifestyle in 2009. She is devoted to supporting women in connecting inwardly, empowering themselves, and thereby transforming their lives. Along with her monthly blogs, Maggie also writes regularly for Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation. A mother of two young children, Maggie lives and practices quietly in New York City.