The Way of the Feminine to Save the World

    —
April 4, 2019

You feel special. Sometimes this feels like a curse. Like no one will understand you. Ever. Like you will always be an alien walking among regular humans, pretending to blend in. You have learned to live with this gulf, but what you really crave is community. You long to belong to the human family. To Mother Earth.

Participating in the human condition can be bewildering. It is just not always cozy and easy—rather, it’s humbling at best, downright humiliating when it is not flowing. It can seem so much simpler to ride solo, slaying your own dragons and singing the ballads you wrote about yourself. Collaboration can be tedious, and the prevailing masculine value system may have conditioned you to feel like you are giving away your power when you share it with others.

So what? Give it away. The time of the singular sage bestowing his unique wisdom is over. That was a method devised by the men in charge who sought to regulate wisdom. They taught us to suffer alone in the desert for forty years, collecting our insights in a secret box called “Esoteric Knowledge.” Then, we were supposed to dispense those insights stingily to those who proved themselves worthy by also suffering alone for the requisite forty years in the desert.

It turns out that the world is filled with special beings, grappling our way through the anxiety of solitary conundrums and tasting the occasional reprieve of connection. When you realize this, your body lets out its breath and relaxes. The curse lifts. You come in from the cold. You hold out your cup, and some other special being fills it with sweet, milky tea spiced with fragrant herbs. You drink.

Our way, the way of the feminine, is to find out what everyone is good at and praise them for it and get them to teach it to one another. Maybe you know something about the hidden meaning of the Hebrew letters, or how to build a sustainable home from recycled tires and rammed soil, or loving-kindness meditation. You, the one who knows the Islamic call to prayer, climb this minaret and call us all to prayer. You, the one who knows how to sit quietly at the bedside of the dying, show us the way to bear witness. You, the one who knows how to get us to wake up to the shadow of privilege, please wake us the #*#@ up. It will be chaotic, all this community building, but your cooperation will save the world.

Besides, it will be fun.

Mirabai Starr

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Mirabai Starr teaches philosophy and world religions at the University of New Mexico, and is the author of new translations of Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross and The Interior Castle and The Book of My Life by Teresa of Avila. She lives in Taos.

Author photo © Daniel Cartamil 2012


Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with Mirabai Starr:
Wild Mercy »
Caravan of No Despair »
Naked with the Beloved »

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3 Ways to Welcome the Sacred Feminine This Holiday Sea...

3 Ways to Welcome the Sacred Feminine This Holiday Season (2)

If you are anything like me (and almost everyone I encounter these days), you are growing bored with the patriarchy and eager to reclaim feminine wisdom across the spectrum of human community: politics, academia, pop culture, and religion and spirituality. It’s not a matter of personal preference. The well-being of our Mother the Earth is inextricably entwined with our choice to either lift up and center the feminine or continue to bury Her. Here are a few ways for you to welcome the sacred feminine this season. 

Reclaim Mother Mary

With so much of the attention of the Western world focused on the legendary birth of a boy baby, we sometimes forget he had a badass mom. Mother Mary was anything but meek and mild. She was a powerful prophet, an unconditionally loving force, a broken-open heart on fire. She offered her divine YES (Hineyni, in Hebrew) and spoke truth to power with love. How can you soften and step up to the resounding call to be the instrument of peace you were born to be? Look to Mary as a guide.

Read Women’s Poetry

There are a host of truth-tellers in the form of contemporary women poets & they are brimming with mystical treasures. Back away from the news for a moment and pick up a poem. Read it three times. The first time, you are knocking on the door of the poem. The second time, the door opens. And the third time, you are invited all the way in. Here are some recommendations: Marie Howe; Ellen Bass; Lyla June; Hashem Beck; Lynn Unger; Naomi Shihab Nye; Jane Hirshfield; Linda Pastan; Mohja Kafh.

Cultivate a Sabbath Practice

The tyranny of tasks that bosses us around most of the year can intensify around the holidays. Even as the mystical traditions invite us to turn inward & rest in stillness during this season, the larger culture demands that we engage in an endless array of duties and expenditures. In the Jewish tradition, a weekly observance of Shabbat, infused with the Feminine Presence (the Shekinah), is not only a requirement of the faith, but the sweetest blessing. Find your way to keep the Sabbath holy.

Mirabai Starr writes creative non-fiction and contemporary translations of sacred literature. She taught Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos for 20 years and now teaches and speaks internationally on contemplative practice and inter-spiritual dialog. A certified bereavement counselor, Mirabai helps mourners harness the transformational power of loss. She has received critical acclaim for her revolutionary new translations of the mystics, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich. She is the award-winning author of GOD OF LOVE: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and CARAVAN OF NO DESPAIR: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation, and Mother of God Similar to Fire, a collaboration with iconographer, William Hart McNichols.  Her latest book is Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics. She lives with her extended family in the mountains of northern New Mexico.

The community here at Sounds True wishes you a lovely holiday season! We are happy to collaborate with some of our Sounds True authors to offer you wisdom and practices as we move into this time together; please enjoy this blog series for your holiday season. 

To help encourage you and your loved ones to explore new possibilities this holiday season, we’re offering 40% off nearly all of our programs, books, and courses sitewide. May you find the wisdom to light your way. Use promo code HOLIDAY10 and receive an additional 10% off your order.

EXPLORE NOW

 

The Way of the Feminine to Save the World

You feel special. Sometimes this feels like a curse. Like no one will understand you. Ever. Like you will always be an alien walking among regular humans, pretending to blend in. You have learned to live with this gulf, but what you really crave is community. You long to belong to the human family. To Mother Earth.

Participating in the human condition can be bewildering. It is just not always cozy and easy—rather, it’s humbling at best, downright humiliating when it is not flowing. It can seem so much simpler to ride solo, slaying your own dragons and singing the ballads you wrote about yourself. Collaboration can be tedious, and the prevailing masculine value system may have conditioned you to feel like you are giving away your power when you share it with others.

So what? Give it away. The time of the singular sage bestowing his unique wisdom is over. That was a method devised by the men in charge who sought to regulate wisdom. They taught us to suffer alone in the desert for forty years, collecting our insights in a secret box called “Esoteric Knowledge.” Then, we were supposed to dispense those insights stingily to those who proved themselves worthy by also suffering alone for the requisite forty years in the desert.

It turns out that the world is filled with special beings, grappling our way through the anxiety of solitary conundrums and tasting the occasional reprieve of connection. When you realize this, your body lets out its breath and relaxes. The curse lifts. You come in from the cold. You hold out your cup, and some other special being fills it with sweet, milky tea spiced with fragrant herbs. You drink.

Our way, the way of the feminine, is to find out what everyone is good at and praise them for it and get them to teach it to one another. Maybe you know something about the hidden meaning of the Hebrew letters, or how to build a sustainable home from recycled tires and rammed soil, or loving-kindness meditation. You, the one who knows the Islamic call to prayer, climb this minaret and call us all to prayer. You, the one who knows how to sit quietly at the bedside of the dying, show us the way to bear witness. You, the one who knows how to get us to wake up to the shadow of privilege, please wake us the #*#@ up. It will be chaotic, all this community building, but your cooperation will save the world.

Besides, it will be fun.

Mirabai Starr: Wild Mercy

Mirabai Starr is a writer and modern mystic whose books include God of Love and Caravan of No Despair. Most recently, she has published Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics with Sounds True. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Mirabai about her approach to feminine mysticism and what brought her to write Wild Mercy. Mirabai explains women mystics’ emphasis on interbeing as well as the innate connection between spiritual seeking and the fate of the earth. Tami and Mirabai talk about the potential forms that spiritual communities may take in the future and how we can navigate the death throes of patriarchal religious structures. Finally, they discuss the reunion of masculine and feminine perspectives, as well as why loss opens us to immense compassion. (60 minutes)

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Plant medicine has always been the people’s medicine, and flower essences create unique opportunities for issues surrounding accessibility, as essences are extremely safe and can be made rather inexpensively. The shift toward holism—complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and integrative medicine—and the proliferation of herbal interventions within our health-care system are proof that we are making progress. In light of this, there are a number of dynamic ways we can promote flower essences to be even more accessible and inclusive for people. Even flower essence therapy itself is a modality historically dominated by white men, but increasingly it is being pushed forward by women-identified, LGBTQIA+, and BIPOC healers.

Currently, the alternative healing community is processing its own biases. Much of alternative medicine was developed in the service of the dominant culture, or the patriarchy. Therefore, it hasn’t been a healing space for many groups, including but not limited to women, people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, economically oppressed people, neurodiverse people, and (in the United States) non-native English speakers. In the words of Cara Page, a founding member of Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, healing justice “identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence, and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts, and minds.”

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One of the main themes of The Bloom Book involves balancing duality, which means challenging the perpetuation of oppressive systems. Unless we are actively engaged in dismantling racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and ableism, we are merely reinforcing the power structures we are claiming to challenge. As models of healing justice are emerging, many organizations and community collectives are generating their own missions and value statements from which to work. Meanwhile, practitioners—especially white practitioners like me—have to ask ourselves:

How is my work a function of my privilege? 

Where can I be doing better? 

Does my practice truly support inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility?

The working definitions of healing and trauma are also evolving. Within a healing justice framework, one can see how, by understanding trauma merely as “an emotional response to a terrible event,” we are ignoring a more inclusive interpretation that includes the cumulative and historical trauma of colonization. In the last decade, science has validated that trauma is intergenerational and historical. Likewise, many traditions include community in what constitutes emotional and spiritual healing, whereas Western models of mental health are focused exclusively on the individual self. 

When you open yourself up to the plant kingdom, new awareness can develop. You can become more empathic, which sounds pleasant in theory, but can be overwhelming because now you’re not just experiencing more of your own feelings, but the feelings of others as well. If you’re committed to applying a healing justice framework in your work, you will likely expose new trauma and have to reckon with your own privilege, which can be painful. You could develop more attunement with nature, which also can feel wonderful and, because of the tragic state of our Earth, completely disorienting. At this time, we are experiencing a heightened polarity between the light and the dark. We are being asked to hold a neutral space for all this duality and to have more compassion for all life. Flower essences enhance the energetic interconnection between all living things and so are especially well suited to support an expansion of consciousness.

Understanding how we function within—and our responsibility to—the collective is important because none of us operates alone. If you forget what you derive from the collective, you assume you don’t owe it anything and exist separately from everyone. Much of the privileged world enjoys the benefits of being part of the collective, whether we are conscious of it or not: rights, amenities, protection, accessible health care, clean drinking water, electricity, and so on. So, those with the material upper hand at this time have a special responsibility to the rest of those sharing the Earth.

Within a healing justice framework, we must not only question our privilege as white people, we must elevate BIPOC leadership within all the transformative justice movements. We are all dependent on one another to collectively wake up and heal.

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In this way, it is an exciting time for the community of herbalists and flower essence practitioners. Modalities that are so helpful in bringing people into balance are themselves coming into greater balance. A sign of hope within an era of great hope. The ancient wisdom explored in The Bloom Book supports that the power of the plants is coming through in dynamic new ways. This text exists, in part, to provide more context around the validity and potency of the flowers. The spectrum of human emotional experience is here for our development and delight.

The Absence of Women-Identified, WOC, and QTBIPOC Healers Throughout History 

Missing from our Western history books are most of the contributions by women-identified healers through the ages. Even more scarce are WOC, and most scarce are queer and trans people of color (QTBIPOC) within the codex of Western medical history. The misogyny of the burgeoning patriarchy from ancient Greece spread throughout Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the rest of the world through colonization by white settlers. The suppression of women healers in Europe and the Americas coincided with the rise of the ruling class, capitalism, and the privatization of medical care, away from folk-healing traditions—traditions that women played a huge role in preserving and advancing. Gender seemed to be less of a construct throughout many parts of the ancient world, as there are significant written reports of intersex and gender-fluid healers. In many cases, those who exhibited androgyny were known as having special healing powers because of their ability to connect with both masculine and feminine energy. 

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As historical contexts are becoming more inclusive and less Eurocentric, there is more room for the theory around matriarchal-centered civilizations being much more prominent than previously thought. Senegalese anthropologist and historian Cheikh Anta Diop felt that, historically, most of Africa was matriarchal in organization. Colonizers were tremendously misogynistic, which holds much information for us to ponder as we consider our connection to the feminine and the history of medicine. 

The lack of representation of women and WOC healers in the historical literature of medicine is decidedly a Western trait. Not only is much history transmitted orally and through practices and traditions, but the written history is also a very biased account, formulated in large part by, and for, white men. While our participation in medicine and healing traditions has been historically restricted in the West, women have long been associated with healing, especially within the domains of life and death—as midwives and compassionate caregivers helping to bring new life and support the soul into the afterlife. Women healers have traditionally addressed the issues and needs of populations that our culture typically shames and would rather ignore. Written accounts are limited, but we do have a record of a talented few. We must honor the oral traditions that are not meant to be shared (by me anyway) with the mainstream. There is a protection in keeping knowledge hidden from the masses. This wisdom is secured within the light lineage of all healers. 

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Conclusion 

The social and healing justice movements have affected me deeply, and it is my sincere hope that we can continue to decolonize and dismantle where dominant systems are limiting the positive proliferation of alternative healing and flower essence therapy to make them more accessible and inclusive. The more we come into balance in this way, the more transformation is available to us all, our communities, and our Earth—and the more we maintain plant medicine as medicine for all people.

Healing Justice Flower Essence Allies

There are a number of herbalists such as Karen Rose of Sacred Vibes Apothecary, Jennifer Patterson of Corpus Ritual (also a Bloom Book contributor), Lauren Giambrone of Goodfight Herb Co., and Amanda David of Rootwork Herbals, (to name a few), who have been speaking on the subject of healing justice for quite some time, and I am grateful for their leadership and inspiration. Healing justice business models such as that of Third Root, a worker-owned community center that provides collaborative, holistic health care in Brooklyn, offers a standard that everyone in the healing arts should aspire to. 

I offer some essences below that are wonderful to use in process groups or healing circles that center on antiracism and anti-oppression work. Some flower allies to assist you as you dig deeper into this rich and rewarding terrain are:

Delta Gardens lemon balm—a wonderful essence for when you are immersed in deep work, to keep calm and carry on

Delta Gardens valerian—for any resistance to change, to be able to take in and assimilate new information

Flower Essence Society quaking grass—“harmonious community consciousness,” letting go of personal attachments in social groups

Flower Essence Society lupine—seeing beyond the level of self, seeing self as part of the whole

Flower Essence Society or Delta Gardens echinacea—integration of those parts of the self that may have been repressed

Flower Essence Society or Delta Gardens borage—to support the heart and offer courage

Bach Original Flower Remedies water lily—for humility and wisdom in communication, to heal the perceived separation we feel from others based on race, class, or gender

Flower Essence Society pink yarrow—for emotional vulnerability, assists in discerning what is your responsibility to emotionally process

Additional Information on Healing Justice

A Not-So-Brief History of the Healing Justice Movement, 2010-2016

What Is Healing Justice?—Healing by Choice Detroit

Healing Justice: Holistic Self-Care for Change Makers—Transform Network

Healing Justice Toolkit

Corpus Ritual

Railyard Apothecary

Good Fight Herb Co.

Rootwork Herbals 

Sacred Vibes Apothecary

Harriet’s Apothecary

Third Root 

Heidi Smith headshot

Bloom Book

Heidi Smith, MA, RH (AHG), is a psychosomatic therapist, registered herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Within her private practice, Moon & Bloom, Heidi works collaboratively with her clients to empower greater balance, actualization, and soul-level healing within themselves. She is passionate about engaging both the spiritual and scientific dimensions of the plant kingdom, and sees plant medicine and ritual as radical ways to promote individual, collective, and planetary healing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner and two cats. For more, visit moonandbloom.com.

 

 

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  • Rich Featherly says:

    I really liked the Insights on the edge episode with Mirabai Starr. It got me wondering though. Who decided to call the separation based, fear based, power over others based, system that has ravaged our world lately “masculine”. Who decided to call the connection based, compassion based, power with others based alternative “feminine”. Since the average man is slightly physically larger and stronger than the average woman, is that why men get the blame for the power over based system. Can we say that greedy, power hungry men are standing completely independent of the women in their life. It may seem like it is only men who have the power in a power over system, but for most of them there is likely to be at least one woman (wifes, mothers, daughters) who benefits from that power and supports the system. Men are not immune from the suffering caused by the oppression of that system. From what I hear, those at the top are not all that happy.

    • Magdalena says:

      This is the problem with these names and it has its history and archetypal ground, but masculine doesn’t mean men and feminine doesn’t mean women. This is a misinterpretation of the language used. Both genders have both parts, masculine and feminine, within and how strong they are in an individual depends on many factors and conditions. One of them is culture and in patriarchal culture it’s a struggle for women as much as it might be for men to reconnect with and embrace the femininity.

  • I think it’s important to acknowledge a key point that Rich is speaking to, that there are women who also support the dysfunctional system being named as “masculine”. I am hoping Mirabai’s writing addresses this, so that women can learn what they’re doing in this way, and stop. When women in both positions experience the power of this unifying recognition and acceptance, this will be true healing and new action will be able to take place.

  • Cor Dahm says:

    Others may have struggled similarly – Yin and Yang may describe similar aspects – food for thought!

  • Emma J. Lawton says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. My prayer has been answered. Just so timely!
    I am not alone as I thought. Blessings. Emma

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Emma! I’m Terri Lawton, I don’t see the name often and was happy to see it here in the comments! Just saying Hi and Thanks for the Blessings! And many Blessings to you, too

  • GinaMaria Opalescent says:

    YES, may we all please wake the #*#@ up to our priveldge, to our power, to our gifts, to our healing, to our compassion, to our FEARS, to our dreams and hopes and wishes and to the books we have inside of us that they may have the courage to germinate, grow, and bloom in spite of ourselves!!

  • Brenda says:

    Well said Magdalena! Thank you for the insightful articulation!

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