Gods and Goddesses Within
Excerpted with permission
Seeker's Guide (previously
published as The New American Spirituality
by Elizabeth Lesser (Villard, October 3,
Gender and Self: Gods and Goddesses Within
"The motif of the return of the
Great Goddess and her consort is encountered
over and over again in the dreams and unconscious
fantasies of people who seek psychological
help to overcome the deadness of their lives.
Arts, films, literature, and political upheavals
also reflect increasingly the same dynamics.
The changes they demand entail new understanding
of masculinity and femininity in both men
and women and the relations between the
sexes as well as new views of reality."
--Edward C. Whitmont
When psychology and spirituality are used
in tandem on the spiritual path, sooner
or later we are called into the puzzling
and productive territory of gender. As we
use psychological wisdom to peel away the
myths and illusions that have misinformed
us, we inevitably confront our place in
the world as a man or a woman. So many of
our misconstrued notions about our selves
are rooted in gender. It helps to explore
this territory if we want to uncover our
essential, spiritual nature.
It wasn't clear to me when I first set out
on the spiritual path how my natural affinity
for feminism could be compatible with my
interest in spirituality. In fact it seemed
that the basic foundations of most traditional
spiritual paths were in direct conflict
with the women's movement that I had been
a part of in college. When I became a formal
student of my spiritual teacher, Pir Vilayat
Khan, in the 1970s, I moved down a few rungs
on the evolutionary ladder, as far as I
was concerned as a woman. The leadership
of his organization was mostly male, the
gender of the prayers was masculine, some
of the traditional Islamic practices were
segregated, and the subtle and not-so-subtle
messages about daily life elevated the male
perspective and negated women's ways of
seeing the world. Even though the type of
spiritual organization I joined was influenced
by the "liberated" sixties, the
experience remained for me vastly similar
to the experiences women have always had
within the patriarchal systems of religious
I use the word patriarchal with
hesitancy. Its common usage implies a black
and white situation where brutal men rule
the world and innocent women suffer the
consequences. I am more comfortable with
another kind of definition: "By patriarchy,"
writes the Jungian scholar Marion Woodman,
"I mean a culture whose driving force
is power. Individuals within that culture
are driven to seek control over others and
themselves in an inhuman desire for perfection."
I often turn to Jungian psychology to better
understand issues of gender. Jung separated
personalities not so much into male and
female, but into unique blends of masculine
and feminine qualities, which he believed
were found in all human psyches in varying
degrees of potency. The masculine principle,
or archetype, as Jung called it, celebrates
rational thinking, heroic power, goal-oriented
achievement, and independence. It is transcendent,
visionary, mindful. The feminine principle
loves to feel; it compels us to nurture;
it links sexuality with relationship; and
it reveres life and death as natural cycles
of nature. It is embodied, intuitive, heartful.
The feminine is that part of the self that
is vulnerable, receptive, open; the part
that values connection and communication.
It likes to put all the cards on the table
and doesn't want to hold back or keep secrets.
It the part that is comfortable right here
on earth with all of its pain and messiness;
the part that does not want to run away
from life or try to change nature's rules.
This is the feminine archetype. The masculine
archetype sees beyond this life, looks outside
of itself, identifies with the eternal,
and wants to move ever forward. It plans
and negotiates, is reasonable and rational.
It is on a mission to achieve, invent, build,
make a mark. It is the part of the self
that is determined, loyal, judicious, and
A great pair, the feminine and the masculine.
A person who cultivates his or her masculine
and feminine qualities is able to
balance power with love, inventiveness with
sustainability, brilliance with wisdom.
Of course, most of us are not naturally
balanced within ourselves. We usually have
more of one archetype than the other and
it usually is true that women are much more
heavily endowed with the feminine principle
and men with the masculine principle. The
point of working to balance our masculine
and feminine energies is not to move toward
androgyny. It is to become aware of the
inner forces at play within each one of
us and within the culture. Even as we strive
for inner and outer balance, we still can
depend on each other to fill in the missing
pieces. In fact, the more we value both
archetypes, the less pulled each one of
us will feel to be "perfect,"
and the less likely we will be to misunderstand
the basic nature of our counterparts. We
will be able to stand in for each other
as we all grow toward wholeness.
Most of recorded human history is the story
of one archetype -- the masculine -- not
merely dominating, but also discounting
the values of, the other -- the feminine.
It's particularly ironic to note the suppression
of the feminine in religious history, given
that the basis for most religions is God's
all-embracing inclusion and love of all
creation. As the poet Jane Hirshfield says
about God's egalitarian spirit, "the
numinous does not discriminate...infinitude
and oneness do not exclude anyone."
But indeed, the feminine voice has been
excluded in most religious traditions to
the point where spiritual myths, images,
and structures are primarily masculine.
Even more harmful than their mere exclusion,
feminine values have also been deemed inferior,
even dangerous, in patriarchal cultures.
Backed up by our earliest religious myths,
from Adam and Eve, to Prometheus and Pandora,
the message has been insidiously clear:
feminine values are manipulative and untrustworthy,
bound by the suffering of the earth, controlled
by the dark side of the moon, and more related
to the animals than to the angels.
It is the masculine principle within humans
that is attracted to transcendent spirituality
-- always moving forward, intent on self-improvement,
compelled by the light of truth beyond the
horizon. The feminine principle is more
at home with the way things already are.
Feminine energy moves in a circle, longing
to know all by embracing all. In valuing
one archetype and rejecting the other, as
opposed to enjoying the fruits of the marriage
of both, we have denied many people, not
just women, their natural way of finding
Religions have perpetrated the myth of masculine
superiority as much as any social system
has; in fact, I think that until we rewrite
our spiritual mythology, societal structures
will continue to empower men and mistrust
women. The first step of the women's movement
has been the demanding of equal status for
women within the patriarchy. This has been
a critically important step. But it has
also masked other, equally important steps:
the celebration of feminine values in the
world; the granting of respect, money, and
power to the kind of work that nurtures
families, teaches the young, connects communities,
and cares for the earth; and the acceptance
that while men's and women's wisdom may
be different, each is real, precious, and
It's not enough to say that spirituality
transcends gender, even if it ultimately
does. Spirituality is the human search for
eternal wisdom. It is not the wisdom itself.
To humanize spirituality, we must not only
look outside of ourselves to the limitless
universe, but also inside of our own personhood
-- the sum total of our gender, our conditioning,
our genes, and our unique challenges and
gifts. Obviously then, different people
will respond better to different spiritual
concepts and techniques. Some people will
use their minds most effectively. Others
will find it easier to search for God using
the physical body or the emotions. Some
people, when they think of the ultimate
truth, use language and images of light
and glory. Others relate to the stark aloofness
of the ascetic's search. Still others discover
truth right here on earth, inspired by the
interconnection of all life and through
service to others.
Both genders are capable of tapping into
the masculine and feminine wisdom streams.
But first we must question the patriarchal
obsession with power and control in the
culture, and widen the definition of reality
to include the feminine principle. To some
extent, this has been the role of feminism
in our times. When feminism and spirituality
combine forces, the feminine face of God
will illuminate the path for all of us.
Motherhood, Midwifery, and My Own Awakening
It took a long time and an intensive training
for me to begin to understand, trust, and
embolden my own feminine wisdom. I consider
this training as important in my spiritual
work as learning to meditate and pray, and
as educational as studying the great religious
traditions. Men and women raised in a culture
that disempowers the feminine archetype
are denied wholeness. And spirituality is
about becoming whole. To become whole we
don't get rid of one thing and replace it
with another; we don't now negate masculine
values and elevate feminine values. The
path to human wholeness is the inner marriage
of masculine and feminine values. When each
value system is held in equal esteem, when
we love and respect both, harmony within
the individual, health in the culture, and
peace on the planet become attainable.
The feminine is awakened in different people
in different ways. The story of my awakening
traverses two distinct territories. First
I visited childbirth, motherhood, and midwifery
-- outposts in the territory of the Great
Mother. Then I apprenticed with the Wild
Woman and learned about power, voice, and
leadership. I share my story for what it
is -- one person's blunders and victories
as she sought wholeness.
I became a mother at the ripe old age of
23. I think that part of the brain must
go dormant during full-fledged mothering.
When you're in the mother-zone, the rest
of the world becomes fuzzy, while the most
mundane priorities become very clear and
all-consuming. And if you give an unqualified
"yes" to the task, just as a great
athlete or a devoted artist or a skilled
worker must, then you chose to develop some
parts of yourself at the expense of others.
I am glad that I gave myself so fully to
mothering in my twenties and early thirties.
I had to develop qualities that I may not
have been able to without the crucible of
parenting. I consider these to be my most
feminine qualities. Being a mother awoke
within me greater compassion, earthiness,
fierceness, and patience.
During my mothering years I was also a midwife.
I had the chance to work with women and
men who wanted to fully participate in the
birth of their children. I taught weekly
childbirth classes that focussed on female
anatomy, cycles, and moods. Surrounded by
my midwife friends and birthing women, I
entered a world that honored the dark womb,
the shifting emotions, and the animal noises,
smells, and urges of physical creation.
I witnessed the courage and power of women
in labor and also the sweetness and vulnerability
of men in a supportive role.
The world passed me by as I lived in the
mother-zone by day and the mid-wife realm
by night. I now know that the time I spent
with my own babies and with pregnant women
and their families was an apprenticeship
with the Great Mother, the ancient archetype
of feminine spirituality. But as far as
the modern world was concerned, I had entered
a back-water, an archaic experience of womanhood.
Many in the women's movement would have
agreed with this. While some women my age
were getting their MBAs and entering corporate
America, I was learning about the wonders
of the female body, and teaching women how
to bear down, birth a baby, and breast feed.
I was saving my entry into the work world
Ten years as a mother and midwife deeply
changed the way I saw the world. It also
eroded my tolerance for our patriarchal
culture. Any culture that recognized only
man to be the strong, able warrior, and
reduced woman to the fickle follower was
perpetuating a lie. Any power base that
silenced the voices of more than 50% of
its constituency was dubious at best, dangerous
at worst. And any individual who, out of
fear, ignorance, or arrogance, could not,
or would not listen to the perspective of
another, was not deserving of power. We
all know this. But it took a total immersion
in the female archetype for me to feel strong
enough to do something about the it. The
greatest gift that I received from my days
and nights away from the work-a-day world,
is a bed-rock belief in my own experience
of what it means to be human.
The next part of my journey -- my apprenticeship
with the Wild Woman -- took me into territories
where the feminine value system was not
appreciated. My apprenticeship with the
Great Mother had taught me that I didn't
need to be like a man to be powerful, courageous,
and intelligent. The Wild Woman taught me
the difficult lesson of speaking for feminine
values in a masculine world. Clarissa Pinkola
Estes, author of Women Who Run With the
Wolves, calls this kind of speaking,
singing. She writes, "'to sing' means
to use one's soul voice. It means to say
on the breath the truth of one's power and
one's need." I learned to sing -- and
am still learning to sing -- from my apprenticeship
with the Wild Woman.
Feminine Spirituality in a Masculine
Carol Gilligan, the author and researcher
who brings one of the most balanced voices
to feminist circles, speaks about how hard
it is to represent the feminine in a culture
that has always denied its legitimacy. "The
gap between what women know through experience
and what for years was socially constructed
as reality explains why so many women have
experienced difficulty in saying what they
wanted to say or being listened to or heard,
or believing that what they know through
experience is true." When your reality
is questioned -- whether you are a woman
or a man whose values differ from patriarchal
values -- it's hard to stand firm in what
you believe. The feminine principle values
emotional wisdom: deep feelings of connectedness,
compassion, and empathy. Our culture was
born out of the minds of the rational men
of the Western world. Emotional wisdom,
not a forte of rational men, has been at
best ignored and mostly disdained as a second-rate,
wimpy way of approaching life.
You won't find the language of deep feelings
in the primer for patriarchal power. Emotions
-- both the wise ones and the not-so-wise
ones -- do not respond well to the patriarchal
urges to predict and control. By their nature,
emotions are unpredictable, sometimes out
of control, and as changeable as the weather.
Patriarchal cultures fear emotion. It is
no coincidence that cultures with contempt
for emotions also treat women and nature
as objects to be contained and controlled.
An interesting book about this phenomenon
is News of the Universe, by the poet,
Robert Bly. He uses poetry written over
hundreds of years and from a variety of
cultures to explore how the Western pride
in human reason was elevated over time to
exclude other human attributes. When the
inclination to be rational and dominating
are untempered by the inclination to be
intuitive and the wild, a serious gap grows
between reason-centered human beings and
the rest of nature. And when human reason
becomes the dominating force, "nature
is to be watched, pitied, and taken care
of if it behaves," writes Bly. Patriarchal
culture then excuses its excesses -- war,
greed, exploitation -- as normal and natural,
as the way it just is. Bly writes: "We
say to ourselves that this is true of the
human world; yet once more by omission the
entire non-human world has been denied consciousness."
It is not only the entire non-human
world that has been omitted from having
its say in our culture. Those humans who
are governed by the feminine heart, women
and men, have also been left out and denied
expression. The keepers of the heart, those
beings who are sensitive to the shades and
textures of feelings, have been so maligned
and misunderstood over centuries of rational
dominance, that we have few examples to
model our own emotional development upon.
Much of the art and literature of the modern
world reflects a point of view that excludes
feminine values. Western culture values
control and a stiff upper lip. Our movies
lionize the soldier. Our literature keeps
its language in check for fear of being
brandished sentimental or a "woman's
novel." What we sometimes dismiss as
the ranting of high-strung women or the
fantasy of foolish lovers is emotional wisdom
leaking out of the patriarchy's seams.
Not all cultures are like ours. I saw a
documentary film about the Brazilian rain
forest and its native peoples that clearly
demonstrates this. A tribe, whose habitat
of ancient trees and rivers was being destroyed,
marched to the capital city to protest.
They had never before been out of the forest.
The men were dressed only in loincloths
and ritual face paint. The women were bare
chested, wearing skirts made of shaggy bark.
The men went up the steps of the enormous
stone capital building with their spears
and their interpreter. They formed a circle
around the Brazilian officials -- men wearing
suits and carrying briefcases. The women
circled the two groups of men As the men
conversed, the women started to cry softly
and then raise their voices, until finally
they were wailing and yelling. Their cries
were fierce. An interpreter yelled to the
men what the women were screaming: "You
are destroying our world and our children!
Stop! You are ignorant! You are evil! Listen
to us! We know something that you don't."
The native men stopped talking and bowed
their heads as the women yelled. The women
were speaking -- or singing, as Clarissa
Pinkola Estes would say -- for the heart
of the community.
The government officials, trapped within
the circle of native men and women, looked
about nervously. They wore frozen smiles
that mocked the native people. They looked
like naughty little boys who had just been
caught. I was amazed at the courage of the
women and the primacy of their voices, and
I was touched by the respect the men showed
their fellow tribeswomen. I had nothing
to compare the scene to in my own life.
I knew what the native women knew, but had
never trusted my heart enough to speak out
with similar passion and conviction.
Certainly I had wanted to. When I left my
ten-year Great Mother apprenticeship and
entered the demanding work world of a large
non-profit organization, my frustration
would reach levels where I wanted to stand
on a desk and beat my chest and wail. The
only woman in power, I would sit in meetings
tongue tied, with no common language for
what I knew to be true. If I did try to
represent my point of view, my colleagues
wouldn't listen. They were more like the
nervous and mocking Brazilian officials
than the respectful tribesmen. I yearned
to speak from the depth of my heart, to
educate, to fill in the missing parts of
the story -- to sing. I held back my songs
and my tears many times.
Slowly I began to learn how to function
in a masculine work environment. I learned
things -- like how to think more clearly,
how to say "no," how to plan,
and compute, and negotiate -- that have
helped me in all areas of my life. I am
grateful for those skills. But the learning
was one-way. I knew that I had a thing or
two to teach my male colleagues as well.
I was scared to do it. I didn't know how.
I didn't even have the words. As I backed
up my budget requests with numbers and graphs,
I left out equally important information
culled from my own experience, intuition,
and feelings. When I tried to express what
these feelings, my lack of confidence and
my colleagues' lack of listening made my
singing sounded like whining. Or, if I used
masculine communication to express feminine
values, what I said rang untrue. I felt
and intuited; they wanted proof.
They thought and calculated;
I wanted depth. They were rational. I was
emotional. I thought we were different and
could learn from each other. They thought
they were right and I should change. They
had the power.
My frustration began to turn to rage. For
a while I let myself be angry, very angry.
I let the Wild Woman have her way. Instead
of secretly imagining myself standing on
the table and pounding my chest, I exploded
in meetings. I yelled and cried and demanded.
I did get heard; it was a necessary step
for me; but I also lost touch with my "soul
voice." I sensed personally how the
dynamic of power and powerlessness had spiraled
down into hateful frustration throughout
history. I understood that my rage would,
in the end, be my downfall. It would be
my final succumbing to the kind of power-brokering
I wanted to avoid.
Was there some way to express feminine values
with positive strength? Some way to sing
without screaming? Was there a way to take
the feminine values I had learned to trust
during my Great Mother apprenticeship and
combine them with the masculine qualities
I was honing at work? Could the Wild Woman
and the Cowboys sit down at the table? Was
this the "sacred marriage" talked
about in the myths, where the Gods and Goddesses
-- the masculine and feminine archetypes
-- meet and mate?
Often it takes someone who has already
made the journey to show us our own way.
I looked around for models of women and
men who were radical examples of the sacred
marriage -- people who were both powerful
and loving, clear-headed and open-hearted
-- and could find very few. Those people
who were even trying, struck me as
heroic. They were not perfect; their lives
were works in progress; but they were trying
to move against the tide in the world and
within themselves. They knew that as a culture,
we had reached the end of the patriarchal
road, and that for the sake of all human
and non-human beings and the planet itself,
they had to find a new way.
I had the good fortune of meeting and studying
with several such people whose work is devoted
to the sacred marriage: the Jungian analysts
and authors Marion Woodman and Maureen Murdock;
the poet Robert Bly; the feminist Carol
Gilligan; the spiritual teachers Stephen
and Ondrea Levine; and the poet Maya Angelou,
were among the most influential models on
my own journey. Meeting Maya Angelou was
like being on the receiving end of a feminine
thunderbolt of the same magnitude as the
native Brazilian women. It was a turning
point for me in my ability to speak what
I knew to be true.
Maya Angelou's books have been a part
of me since I read I Know Why The Caged
Bird Sings in high school. I heard her
speak at a civil rights gathering when I
was in college, and although she was just
a spec on a faraway platform in front of
the Washington monument, I was overwhelmed
by her voice and her bearing. Even at a
distance, Maya Angelou was larger than life.
Years later, I watched her read her poem,
"On the Pulse of the Morning,"
on television, at President Bill Clinton's
inauguration. Once again, I was struck by
her powerful voice, and her unusual ability
to project that voice from a soft, round
place in her body. Surrounded by the leaders
of the nation, she, a poet and a black woman,
was the authoritative voice of the day.
Her imposing figure and her raw emotions
elevated and dignified the inauguration
Therefore, when she agreed to deliver the
keynote address at a conference I was helping
to organize in New York City, I looked forward
to experiencing her powerful heart at close
range. I was also nervous. On the first
day of the conference -- a cold New York
City spring morning -- I waited on the curb
in Times Square, shivering in my little
suit, for a limousine to deliver her to
the hotel. The Broadway traffic was heavy
and loud in the morning rush. Out of the
stream of cars came a long limousine. It
pulled up to the curb and the back door
opened. I reached in to greet Maya Angelou
and she grabbed my hand and shook it warmly.
"Welcome, Maya," I stammered.
She continued holding my hand and said
in a firm, friendly, and round voice, "Won't
you please call me Miss Angelou?"
I was confused and a little put off. "OK,"
I said, "Welcome, Miss Angelou."
"Do you know why I'd prefer that?"
she asked. "Well, did you ever wonder
why we say, 'Hello Miss Bernice,' 'Hello
sister Ruth,' when we greet our sisters
and aunts in church? We must dignify our
names because in many cases that is all
we had." She went on in this way, grasping
my hand, pulling me closer, into the limousine,
telling me a truth that she felt a responsibility
to proclaim. She sing-sang a list of names,
closing her eyes, calling up the strong
ancestral women of her heritage. Some didn't
have a last name, she said; only the surname
of the slave master. Little white children
called them Annie, called them Betsie. "That
is why we call ourselves, Miss Anne,
Miss Betsie." She was educating
me. It didn't matter that we were on a Broadway
curb or that she had a speech to deliver.
"I get it," I said.
"Good," she laughed, and got out
of the limo. She was very tall, in a flowing
dress and red high heels. Miss Angelou took
my arm and we marched into the hotel lobby.
Inside people walking by stopped in their
tracks and came over to her: an African
woman who had seen her years ago in Ghana
and had never forgotten her; the elevator
operator, familiar with her work; a business
man rushing by with a briefcase, who just
so happened to be carrying one of her books.
She held each ones' hands and talked softy
with the same kind of concentration that
she had given me in the limousine. By the
time we reached the 7th floor ballroom she
had conversed with a string of admirers.
I sat with her backstage waiting for the
cue for her to take the podium. All the
while she was asking me about myself. What
was the favorite thing I had done with my
life, she wanted to know?
I'd never been asked that question, so I
let the first thing that popped into my
mind be the answer. "Being a midwife,
"Did it disturb your soul and call
you to grow?"
"Oh, yes," I answered.
"Tell me about it. Tell me about the
smells and sounds." She closed her
eyes and hunkered down for a story.
Right up to the time of the applause that
called her to the stage, I told Miss Angelou
about the smells and sounds of laboring
women and newborn babies. I recalled the
awful hour when I would inevitably be roused
from sleep and called onto the empty road,
and then into the family's house, hovering
with expectation in the blue-black night.
The sweet concern of the father, the fierce
demands of the mother, the slow descent
of the baby against the bones and muscle
of the woman's insides. The miracle of birth
was repeated once again: the surprising
head, the slippery body, the braided cord,
the first breath. I kept checking to see
if Miss Angelou was really interested in
this, my favorite thing. Her amazing face
stayed fixed on my words. She was catching
them. She was adding them to herself. She
had given me a teaching and now she was
receiving one back. When she finally was
called to speak I was exhilarated and humbled,
as if I had just completed a river trip
through awesome and dangerous territory.
Miss Angelou went on to deliver a rousing
speech. She put her whole body into her
words. She was fierce and gentle, funny
and deadly serious, outrageous and touching.
She moved the crowd like no one else I had
ever seen. But what struck me most was how
she was purposefully moving people away
from her words, into their own experience,
and then out into the world. She was not
using her power to focus on herself. Instead
she was weaving a web of inclusiveness while
at the same time teaching a lesson.
Later I discovered a new word that perfectly
represented what I had seen in the women
of the Amazon Indian tribe, and experienced
in Miss Angelou. The word is womanist, coined
by Alice Walker in her book In Search
of Our Mother's Gardens: "Womanist
1. From womanish (Opp. of 'girlish,' i.e.,
frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.)
A black feminist or feminist of color. From
the black folk expression of mothers to
female children, 'You acting womanish,'
i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to
outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful
behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater
depth than is considered 'good' for one.
Interested in grown-up doings. Acting grown
up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with
another black folk expression: 'You trying
to be grown.' Responsible. In charge. Serious."
Toward a Spirituality of Wholeness
We're going to have to be serious to add
enough of the feminine into the patriarchy
so that what emerges is neither a patriarchy
nor a matriarchy, but a human-archy. And
not even that. What we need is a being-archy,
where all beings are granted mutual respect
and where decisions are made with the whole
circle of life in mind.
In the their book on feminine psychology,
The Goddess Within, Jennifer Barker
Woolger and Roger Woolger speak to the loss
of the feminine in the culture: "Jung
once described a neurotic person as one-sided,
by which he meant someone who overemphasizes
one side of his personality to avoid dealing
with the other.... What is true of individual
neurotics is also true of whole cultures.
This is where archetypal and feminine thinking
converge. They are in agreement that our
whole culture -- with its endless violence,
homeless people on the streets, colossal
nuclear arsenals, and global pollution is
sick. It is sick because it is out of harmony
with itself; it suffers from what the Hopi
Indians call koyaanisqatsi, which
is rendered in English, 'crazy life, life
in turmoil, life out of balance.' What is
missing is the feminine dimension in our
spiritual and psychological lives; that
deep mystical sense of the earth and her
cycles and of the very cosmos as a living
mystery. We have lost our inner connection
to that momentous power that used to be
called the Great Mother of us all."
And so, empowering the feminine dimension
is more than a matter of raising woman's
position within the status quo. It is much
more upsetting than that. It questions some
of the founding myths of the Judaeo/Christian
world view and therefore changes our definition
of what is real. In allowing the feminine
principle to enlarge and change the way
we define reality, our very way of life
Recognition of the harm that patriarchy
has caused to people and the planet does
not mean that men are wrong and women are
right; rather it is a call for new organizational
forms and for relishing gender differences
within a context of equality. We are in
the first stages of this difficult process
and are already making mistakes: sacrificing
the care of children because we haven't
figured out how both men and women can work
and lead and raise healthy children at the
same time; failing to understand that female
leadership styles may look different from
what we habitually assume "real"
leadership looks like; and neglecting to
train boys and girls from the earliest age
to value and trust their emotional instincts.
It's going to take a long time to rectify
hundreds of years of masculine domination
within the culture. Some of the work needed
is political; some is social; some is personal.
And a lot of the work is already being undertaken.
At major divinity schools throughout the
country women now outnumber men, and their
presence is transforming both the curriculum
and the culture of American seminaries.
Women are making similar inroads in law
and medicine, as well as in business, education,
psychology, journalism, and the arts. Their
participation in large numbers in the institutions
that define cultural reality will tip the
scales in the direction of wholeness.
But the hardest and the most significant
work is going to be the work each one of
us does on ourselves, mining the psyche
to make conscious our feminine and masculine
natures. In a spiritual democracy it is
an individual's responsibility to move
toward wholeness -- to think clearly, to
feel fully, to cultivate physical health,
and to develop spiritual compassion and
peace. If we are whole within ourselves,
comfortable with both our feminine and our
masculine identities, then we will project
that wholeness onto the world. If we are
blameful and imbalanced, responding to the
world through the lens of an internal split,
then the outer victories will ring hollow
and will only replace one erroneous ethos
The next chapters map a course through a
spirituality of wholeness. Wholeness is
not an easy path. It's always easier to
address the most familiar parts of our nature.
If we are at home in the thinking realm,
then meditation will probably attract us
as a comfortable spiritual practice. If
we are naturally intrigued with our psychological
make-up, then the realm of the heart will
call. If our body already feels like the
soul's home, then we will resonate with
the kind of spiritual work that involves
movement, sensuality, and nature. It is
good to find practices where our soul feels
at home. It is a delight. And it is also
good to push ourselves into new territory;
to take risks and to reach toward wholeness.
When we undertake the journey toward wholeness,
we need to be on the lookout for that neurotic
person that Jung described as one-sided
-- "someone who overemphasizes one
side of his personality to avoid dealing
with the other." That person is us.
While it may not be easy, the path of spiritual
wholeness ultimately leads to deep happiness
and fuller aliveness. Probably the most
difficult part of such a path is knowing
the difference between superficial dabbling
and a well-rounded search. It's important
to stay awake to the seductions of spiritual
materialism as you read the next chapters.
You do not have to do everything. There
is no time-frame. Move slowly and patiently,
with a sense of humor and an attitude of
compassion. You can focus for a while on
meditation, or on therapy, or on body awareness,
and balance things out later with other
kinds of techniques and disciplines. In
doing so, the sum total of your endeavors
will affect each part of the self with the
kind of transformation that an exclusive
fixation on the body, or the mind, or the
emotions, or the soul would never bring.
Excerpted with permission
Seeker's Guide (previously
published as The New American Spirituality
by Elizabeth Lesser (Villard, October 3,
Other excerpts from The
Seeker's Guide by Elizabeth Lesser:
Excerpts from Broken
Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow
by Elizabeth Lesser:
Copyright © 2003 by
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth Lesser is the co-founder and
senior advisor of Omega
Institute, this country's largest adult
education center focusing on health, wellness,
spirituality, and creativity. She is the
author of The
New American Spirituality: A Seeker's Guide
(published in paperback with the title The
Seeker's Guide.) For 30 years she has
studied and worked with leading figures
in the field of healing-healing self and
healing society. She attended Barnard College
and San Francisco State University. Previous
to her work at Omega, she was a midwife
and birth educator. The mother of three
sons, she lives in the Hudson Valley with
ABOUT OMEGA INSTITUTE
is a holistic education center at the forefront
of personal and professional development,
dedicated to "awakening the best in
the human spirit." More that 20,000
participants attend workshops and conferences
each year on its 140-acre campus in Rhinebeck,
New York, as well as at sites throughout
the United States, including it's new center,
The Crossings in Austin, Texas, and through
travel programs in St. John, Virgin Islands,
and Costa Rica. Founded in 1977, Omega is
recognized worldwide for its broad-based
curriculum and its unique community spirit.
Its course work includes holistic
health trainings for medical professionals
and lay people, spiritual retreats, sports
clinics, cross-cultural arts workshops,
and a wide variety of classes in human development.