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.

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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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A Doctor’s Simple Tips on How to Get Better Sleep

Thanks to groundbreaking research, we have recently learned that every cell has its own timekeeper that can be thought of as a local clock. Deep within the brain, in the hypothalamus, lies a master clock that regulates all the local clocks, making sure that each one is set to the same time. This complex, coordinated process is in sync with the alternating cycles of day and night and with all the degrees of changing light that occur in a 24-hour period as Earth rotates on its axis. Called the “circadian rhythm”—from the Latin words circa, which means “going around,” and diem, meaning “day”—this internal process regulates the human body’s sleep-wake cycle, among many other functions. 

The master clock (think of it as circadian rhythm central) sends hormonal and nerve signals throughout the body, synchronizing the cells’ clocks to the day-night, light-dark cycle of life. On a continuous basis, the master clock can determine what time it is based on messages from photoreceptor cells in the retina that register light conditions outside and report these to the brain via specialized pathways. 

Meanwhile, the cellular clocks keep local time, making sure that various activities locally are timed right and are appropriately coordinated with other cells and organs. This is why, for example, key enzymes are produced at certain times, blood pressure and body temperature are controlled, hormones are secreted, the gut microbiome is populated with the right balance of bacteria, and gut motility is appropriate for the hour. 

Living in harmony with the way we have evolved brings physiological and emotional balance, creating a good fit between our bodies and minds, between what we’re doing and how we’re designed to function. Honoring our body’s natural rhythms helps stabilize our mood, become more resistant to stress, feel less physical pain, and generally feel and function better physically and mentally. It’s an essential step in cooling and calming emotional inflammation. 

The following are some ways you can adjust your habits so that they support your body’s inherent rhythms: 

  • Put yourself on a sleep schedule. Establish a regular sleep-wake schedule so that you go to bed at approximately the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. It’s fine to vary your bedtime by an hour or two occasionally, but don’t sleep in more than an extra hour on the weekends (unless you’re sick); otherwise, you will end up disrupting your sleep pattern for the next night. 
  • Identify your slumber sweet spot. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night to feel and function at their best. Once you figure out how much you need, determine what time you need to get up in the morning and work backward to set an appropriate bedtime; or, you can identify what time of night you typically feel sleepy and then set a wake-up time accordingly. 
  • Brighten your mornings. When you get up in the morning, expose yourself to bright, natural light to stimulate alertness, enhance your mood, and help calibrate your circadian rhythms. Take a brisk walk outside or have breakfast in a sunny spot. If you struggle to reset your internal clock to the “awake” setting in the morning, consider buying a commercial light box that emits 10,000 lux, which mimics a bright, sunny day. Sitting in front of such a light box for 30 minutes in the morning, perhaps while you have breakfast or read the newspaper or newsfeeds, has been found to stimulate alertness and improve mood. Alternatively, you could opt for a desk-lamp-style light box for your desk at work. 
  • Adjust your indoor lighting. Fascinating research has found that office workers who are exposed to greater amounts of light in the morning fall asleep more quickly at night. They also have better sleep quality and better moods, including less depression and stress, than those who are exposed to low light in the morning. 
  • Darken your evenings. There is another good reason to make sure that your bedroom (or wherever you sleep) is dark: When people are exposed to light during the night, their total daily melatonin production is suppressed dramatically, by as much as 50 percent. In other words, that nighttime light exposure throws the body’s 24-hour hormone production schedule off-kilter. It’s also wise to install a dimmer switch on the overhead light in the bathroom—or use a dim night-light—so that bright vanity lights don’t stimulate your senses and alertness while you’re taking care of bathroom business before hitting the sack or if you get up during the night.

Ultimately, honoring your body’s natural rhythms requires taking back control of your nights and days. It’s about putting time on your side and making conscious choices about the way you want to live so that you can restore your internal equilibrium, physiologically and psychologically. 

Yes, changing your behavior requires giving up the patterns you chose, consciously or not, in the past, and making the switch does take some effort and resolve. But if you make it a priority to stop upsetting your body’s internal rhythms and start living in sync with your body’s inherent needs, the payoffs will be well worth the effort. Your mood is likely to end up on a more even keel, and your energy will increase. Your physical health will probably improve and your emotional equilibrium will, too. Think of it this way: By respecting your body’s rhythms and doing whatever you can to maintain their regularity, you’ll be resetting your internal emotional thermostat, which will improve the way you react to and deal with the stresses and strains that are unavoidable in our modern world.

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

A Music Playlist for Better Sleep

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Lise Van Susteren, MD, previously served as a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University. She is a go-to commentator about anxiety and trauma for television (including CNN, Good Morning America, NBC, VOA, and Fox News), radio (NPR, Minnesota Public Radio, and others), print media (including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the Huffington Post, and CQ Magazine), and online outlets (such as Live Science, U.S. News & World Report, Global Health NOW, and many others).

As a thought leader and activist, Dr. Van Susteren addresses issues related to trauma and emotional inflammation through her roles at the Earth Day Network and Physicians for Social Responsibility. She is considered an expert in the psychological effects of climate change.

Stacey Colino is an award-winning writer specializing in health and psychology. In addition to her work as a book collaborator, she is a regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report and AARP.org. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post Health section, Newsweek, Parade, Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, Health, Prevention, Woman’s Day, Harper’s Bazaar, Parents, and Good Housekeeping, among other magazines and newspapers.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!

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