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Returning to the Great Mother:
Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine

By Gail Straub

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The following is from a speech given by Gail Straub at the Women & Power: Connecting Across the Generations Conference held at Omega Institute, September 11-13, 2009.

Today I want to tell you a story. This is the story of returning to the great mother’s house to take back the wisdom of our feminine. This story reminds us that both men and women, boys and girls, need the wisdom of the conscious feminine, just as we all need the wisdom of the conscious masculine. But just as our brothers are the natural protectors of the masculine lineage cultivating the exterior life of intellect, reason, and the objective universal; we sisters are the natural protectors of the interior life of emotion, intuition, embodiment, and the intimate personal. Today in our fast paced, logical, linear, outer oriented world, it is all too easy for us to forget our female story.

But we forget our story at great peril. Great peril because useless wars continue to ravage the world, our earth’s fragile eco system is in grave danger, and too many members of our human family live without the basic necessities that allow for dignity and empowerment to flourish. So you see my dear sisters it is very, very, important that we remember our story. This morning I am going to remind you of the extraordinarily rich heritage that our wisdom comes from, so that each of you can then remind the women in your life whom you cherish, so that they won’t forget.

This story consists of four parts with each part being introduced by the beauty of Erica’s cello.

Before I begin, I invite you to call in your female lineage. Invite your daughters, your sisters, your mother, your grandmother, and your great grandmothers way, way back in your lineage to be present for you and surround you, as the story of our collective wisdom unfolds. See if you can feel them and call them to you as you listen to Erica’s cello.

Part One: The Imprint of Feminine Wisdom

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, in a mythic land women lived with their female wisdom in tact. They were connected to their deepest instincts and their intuition, their authentic dreams and their heart’s clear voice. Women of every color in every corner of the globe were committed to an ancient agreement where they promised to protect the interior life for themselves, their families, their communities, and their work places. Protecting the interior life was a sacred oath to stand up for the wisdom of heart and the emotions as an equal partner to the wisdom of the head and the intellect; to ensure that the intuitive and the imaginative had their rightful place next to the tangible and the rational; and to cultivate beauty and the creative arts as an integral part of everyday life.

And with this holy agreement women were bound to ensure that the interior life of the spirit was as highly regarded as the outer life of work, politics, or the marketplace. It was up to them to assure that inner reflection and being, balanced action and doing. Without contemplative practices such as prayer, meditation, silence, or solitude, women knew that their sons and daughters could never grow up into balanced, peaceful human beings, and that as a consequence there could be little balance or peace in the world itself.

Along with protecting the interior life, the sisters were the guardians of embodiment. Through the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth women knew that reverence for the physical body meant reverence for life itself. Instinctively, they also knew that this respect included the larger body of the earth herself. Respecting the natural world was the only way to insure that life as they knew it could continue. So women made sure that their children found pleasure in their bodies and sensuality as much as in their minds and ideas, and that they spent plenty time outdoors in communion with the natural world where they learned to respect and care for the earth.

It was a good time in lands far and wide as the imprint of the conscious feminine was strong and true. Both men and women thrived in these times with an equal partnership between masculine and feminine, outer and inner, head and heart, linear and intuitive, doing and being. The earth was in balance, and the world at peace. But then, as in all stories, complicated dark forces came into the land.

Part Two: The Loss of Feminine Wisdom

As dark forces infiltrated their communities, women began to doubt their inherent wisdom. They stopped standing up for the interior life, for the truth of their emotions. In ever so subtle ways women began to close their hearts, betraying all the vital feelings that come with the messy paradoxical nature of life; joy and sadness, love and loss, light and dark. Slowly, inexorably the only wisdom that counted was linear, right and wrong, rational thought. Logic buried the voice of the heart. Living only in their heads people lost the sacred connection with their physical bodies and soon women’s bodies were no longer revered but abused. People everywhere spent most of their days indoors stuck in their minds, forgetting their bond with the natural world and her instinctual wisdom. Without the voice of the heart or the voices of the earth, human beings became blindly arrogant and selfish.

As women trusted their wisdom less and less, they abandoned the vow to protect the interior life of their families, communities, and work places. Soon the only direction that people valued was outward towards activity and accomplishment, work and doing, always doing, doing. The essential inner life of the imagination was now considered unnecessary and in the way of progress. With no interior to balance the exterior things became faster and faster, and more externally driven. With this constant outer speed people could never get enough, and they began to take more and more from each other and from the earth. As the fundamental need for silence, solitude, slowing down, and contemplative practice was lost, men, women, and children all became hungry ghosts; dying of spiritual and emotional starvation.

Finally one of the wisest and eldest grandmothers had an important dream. In her dream she entered an ancient sacred chamber where her entire female lineage was gathered. On the floor there was a giant yin and yang pattern symbolizing the cosmic balance of feminine and masculine wisdom. But the yin and yang were no longer in balance. Now the yang dominated almost the entire symbol and the yin was disappearing before her eyes. The wise grandmother saw that all the women in her lineage were weeping. And then her own mother turned to her and said, ever so tenderly, “ You must return to the house of the great mother and take back the imprint of your conscious feminine. You must go and balance the pattern again.”

Grandmother awoke from her dream state, that realm of the unconscious where the royal feminine reigns supreme. Now she felt strong and clear. She understood that the loss of her wisdom was a complex mixture of both what had been stolen from her, but also what she herself had abandoned and betrayed. She must rally the other women to take back what was theirs.

III. Part Three: Taking Back Our Wisdom

Grandmother put out a call to the women all over the land issuing a challenge, a decree that it was time to reclaim the wisdom of their birthright. Taking back their birthright was not easy when the dominant culture of tidy logic, reasonable intellect, measurable outer accomplishment and bottom lines, was profoundly threatened by the return of messy emotion, mysterious intuition, un-measurable paradox, and god forbid, the pleasure of the body. So the women met secretly underground, helping each other to remember those vows that they had taken so long ago to protect the interior life along with a reverence for the physical body and the earth.

With each other’s solidarity and support the women became bold and unstoppable. Soon underground mystery schools flourished where boys and girls, men and women, were once again encouraged to open their hearts. To welcome their emotions along with all the feelings like love, joy, pain, or death that they couldn’t explain with their rational minds. Understanding that it was often more difficult for men and boys to open their hearts and befriend their emotions, the women took extra care with their fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers.

The grandmothers taught how to embrace the natural paradox of life which cultivated a stance of both/ and, rather than, either/or. Dedicated to reclaiming the wisdom of the interior, these mystery schools again held the inner life of the imagination in the highest regard. People took back their inherent creativity and started to paint, sculpt, dance, play the cello, and write poems and plays and books. Contemplative practices were revived and now periods of silence, solitude, prayer, and meditation provided a safe haven for the interior life amidst the fast paced outer world. And once again the wise women reminded people to cultivate regular practices that engaged their bodies returning them to sensual pleasures as well as enjoyment of the natural world.

Slowly, inexorably the cosmic pattern returned to a proper balance as outer and inner, reason and emotion, mental and physical, universal and personal, once again became respectful partners. But Grandmother now knew that she must take careful measures to protect and pass on the lineage of female wisdom lest it be endangered once again.

IV. Part Four: Protecting and Passing On the Lineage of our Wisdom

Grandmother convened an intergenerational council of older and younger women to discuss the protection and passing on of female wisdom. With each generation the wisdom of the lineage deepened and evolved to new levels. Understanding that this dynamic evolution depended upon a partnership between what the olders had learned and what the youngers were pioneering, they set out to update their ancient vows.

The women renewed their old promise to protect the life of the interior, to stand up for the wisdom of the heart in their families, their workplaces, and in the corridors of power. They agreed to insure that inner life of the spirit and imagination was as fully attended to as the outer life of accomplishment and action; and that the physical body along with the wisdom of natural world had their equal place next to the life of the intellect and the realm of the human mind.

And then the younger women spoke out with their joyous clear voices. To evolve the lineage of our wisdom we must vow to embrace the other, to go towards whomever or whatever we are different from—culturally, spiritually, sexually, racially, and politically. In the highest celebration of our non-hierarchical feminine wisdom, everyone has a voice in the council of life. And this pledge means we need to help each other to refuse the temptation of taking simplistic, either/or, right or wrong positions. We must all remember that the conscious feminine respects that each woman makes her own authentic choices about lifestyle, partners, bearing children, work, and faith. And, the young women continued, we must include the men in our dialog. We need them to help us learn to cherish our wisdom.

Grandmother was pleased with these updated vows. She felt confident that they would insure that women stepped fully into positions of power and leadership with their authentic female wisdom intact. These agreements would allow for a balanced partnership between the outer life of work where important things got accomplished, and the inner life where spirit and emotions flourished; between compassionate internal self-care and passionate caring for the external world. As the years passed, the wisdom of the feminine grew strong and true.

And then the day came when Grandmother lay on her deathbed, surrounded by her family and loved ones. She shared with her grandchildren that just as the wisdom of the heart and instincts of the body understand the process of birth to be one of the greatest teachers, they also know that the mystery of death is the other great teacher. Encouraging her grandchildren to live with death as close advisor, she reminded them that we die the way we live. As Grandmother took her last breath she had no fear, for she trusted that her granddaughters and her grandsons were ready to protect the voice of the heart, the untamed territory of the imagination, the sensual joy of the body, and the precious interior life of the spirit.


The above is a transcript of the keynote speech delivered by Gail Straub at the Women and Power: Connecting Across the Generations Conference held at Omega Institute, September 11-13, 2009.

To order audio CDs from this event or to purchase recordings from past Women & Power conferences, please order online at www.eomega.org/omega/mediaworks, call 845.266.4444, ext. 317 or email [email protected].

GAIL STRAUB Considered a pioneer in the field of empowerment, Gail Straub cofounded Empowerment Training Programs in 1981. Since then she has offered training to thousands of people throughout America, Europe, Russia, China, and East Asia. She codirects the Empowerment Institute Certification Program, a school for transformative leadership. With her husband David Gershon, she coauthored the best seller, Empowerment: The Art of Creating Your Life As You Want It. The book has been translated into five languages and is used worldwide as the basis for empowerment life coaching and support groups.

A seasoned social activist and citizen diplomat, she has trained Russian activists in the empowerment methodology helping them build a visionary leadership model for social change. She has done similar work in China where the empowerment model was adopted by the Chinese Women's Federation, the largest women's organization in the world. Gail served as the International Director for the historic First Earth Run, a global initiative co-sponsored by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and ABC Television. In 1986 during the height of the cold war, a torch of peace was passed around the world mobilizing the participation of 25 million people, 62 countries and 45 heads of state. The event raised several million dollars for UNICEF which was distributed to the neediest children in the world.

In 1992 Gail created Grace: A Spiritual Growth Training Program designed to integrate spiritual development with social and ecological responsibility. Hundreds of students throughout North America, Europe, and Russia have participated in this program of engaged spirituality. Based on its success she wrote the critically acclaimed,The Rhythm of Compassion: Caring For Self, Connecting With Society, as well as Circle of Compassion: Meditations for Caring for the Self and the World.. Her most recent book is the feminist memoir Returning to My Mother's House: Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine, which has won numerous awards, including the 2009 Nautilus Silver Award and ForeWord Book of Year Award Finalist.

Gail received her bachelor degree with honors in political science from Skidmore College. She has served in the Peace Corps in West Africa and on the Board of Directors of the Omega Institute and the Russian American Humanitarian Initiative. She is a faculty member at The Edge International School for Leadership and Spirituality in the Netherlands.

For more information, visit www.returningtomymothershouse.com.



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