Thursday, November 30, 2006

What is the feminine?

“To redeem the father meant finding the feminine spirit in myself!
Linda S. Leonard, The Wounded Woman, Healing the Father Daughter Relationship

Talking with a close friend recently about her lack of fathering, and how this lead to difficulties in her relationships, I suggested she read The Wounded Woman by Linda Schierse Leonard. That made me open up the book again, and dive into the quandary of what feminine means. I don’t know what it means except what has been conditioned in me. In my case I felt a rejection of anything that smacked of the brainless, hysterical stereotype of the feminine that I had absorbed. In the 60’s, this involved make-up, pointy heels, sexy skirts and hair do’s every Friday, or for mothers, having a perfectly kept house, and cooking with an apron on. I was not going to be one of those women.

If I patterned my idea of the feminine and masculine on my parents, and most psychologists would say this was true, then whatever my mom did was feminine, and whatever my dad did was masculine. She was not a perfect sample of femininity by the time I was conscious of this however. My mother was married to the house as a house-wife. My father left the house with his briefcase and suit every morning, and returned exhausted every evening in time for supper and a nap in his big armchair. When he was home, that chair was strictly reserved for the king of the household. (Mom had a chair too, a gold swivel rocker, but she preferred one end of the couch near a good reading lamp).

She hated housework, yet cooked meals that were practical and economical, due to eight children and a tight budget. She preferred her books to doing volunteer work at church. My dad worked in the larger corporate world of electronics and engineering, and later in a government trade department. He dressed like a business man, brought the newspaper home, cut out articles he wanted me to learn about, urged me to excel academically, and saved for me to go to university. He seemed successful. He got angry when things at home were not running smoothly, and that made my mother weep in her room. My dad was the disciplinarian, the authority figure, my mother was the emoter.

Rejecting the role of housewife was a part of the 60’s women’s liberation; we were moving into the masculine world of university and work, moving up, or so we thought. But what had we left behind? What was never taught us about being a woman because our mother’s wishes and desires and dreams were subordinated to her husband’s and father’s? What about her stories, her life beyond the house-wife role? I knew little of that side of her.

If, traditionally, the feminine side also represents feelings, sentiments, sensitivity, spontaneity, and the masculine, authority, rigidity, discipline, and obedience, and these were aligned with female and male behaviours respectively, we can understand why there is difficulty in human relations. No man or woman is all feminine or all masculine.

So back to the million-dollar question: how does a woman find the balance of feminine and masculine in herself? And if we don’t even know what the feminine is, because it’s only been seen through masculine eyes and ideals, how to even begin to imagine it?

Wearing men’s clothing, adopting masculine emotional habits, may have been a necessary part of the liberation of women, but Leonard feels that “now the time has come for women to wear their own clothing and to speak out of their feminine wisdom and strength. The feminine – what is it? I don’t think we can define it. But we can experience it and out of that experience try to express it via symbols and images, art forms through which we can be in the mystery of that experience and yet somehow articulate it too. ...One of the challenges women have today is not only to be open to the experience of the feminine but also to try to express it in their own way.”

Often, Leonard adds, we don’t feel we can use our mother as a model… “men have been defining femininity through their conscious expectations of what women can and cannot do and through their unconscious projections on women. …Ultimately women have to tell their own stories out of their own personal experience and feeling...”

…“If a woman really values herself and acts out of the unique realm of her needs, feelings, and intuitions, creates in a way that is hers, and experiences her own authority, she is then able really to dialogue with the masculine. Neither is she subservient to the masculine, nor does she imitate it.”

What would happen if one woman told
the truth about her life? The world
would split open..

from poem Kathe Kollwitz by Muriel Rukeyser

When you find out, let me know.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

women's wisdom quotes

Gloria Steinem:
If women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn't it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long?

Virginia Woolf:
When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet. . . indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

found on wisdomquotes website

Have a good day!


Monday, November 27, 2006

Talkiing in Circles

Whew, what a weekend! Our women's circle held a retreat at my chalet up north, where eight of us feasted, talked, walked in nature, shared and cared and raised our serotonin levels. We also told each other our life stories, in a nutshell, because each one of us has had a life full of challenges and blessings.

And I learned again the power of women's talk: the power of listening to one another tell our story. It's the power to see yourself in someone else's tale, or marvel at how they have transformed adversity and tragedy into wisdom and generosity, giving back to their families and communities in spite of what was not given to them, or perhaps because of that lack.

Telling my story, in my own words, and seeing heads nodding in affirmation. A confirmation that I exist, that in my short time on the stage of life I have learned many lessons; telling my soul's journey.

I count my blessings, and am grateful to have found such enlightened women - such ordinary women with huge hearts. Women who have suffered and celebrated. Women who have birthed, and grieved deaths and loss.

Our circle is a small drop of water in the ocean, but it may be that millionth circle that will make the difference. We come together to learn, to share our resources, to grow in understanding. Perhaps our consciousness will raise - and make a ripple effect into our homes, families, communities.

In the circle, one more women becomes aware of her need for self-awareness, self-knowledge, inner peace and healing. One more woman embraces her gifts. "A safe place to tell the truth is a healing space," says Jean Shinoda Bolen. "Every time that a woman musters the courage to speak and it proves to be safe, trust grows and the psyche gradually heals. When others listen with compassion, invisible wounds and scars gradually heal."

"Women's circles become a womb space, where dreams and plans are incubated, and a place to voice them and be supported to take our first steps. ...When fierce compassion and concern for justice is the focal point of a circle, that circle will energize the women in it and is a circle with a centre." (from Urgent Messae from Mother, Gather the Wmen, Save the world, Jean Shinoda Bolen).

These are just some of the benefits of a circle. We learn to balance the feminine and masculine energies, to encourage a more egalitarian society.

What richness, what abundance we all can share!

in love,


Monday, November 20, 2006

Wisdom for Dummies

Tools for Gaining Essential Wisdom:
how to tune into body guidance.

The following is my anti-dote to all the Self-help books and gurus out there telling us what to do, what to eat, how to exercise. I believe our wisdom is close at hand, right within us, and very doable. If we can listen to our need for rest, food, inner peace, we can give ourselves the healing we need.

In my experience, this involves trust too, and knowing that I am enough. I have enough. I do enough - stop the worrying and the rushing and let the Universe take care of things. This is my challenge, right now, and I share it with you because it is simple, if not easy, to start following your body's guidance right now. The motto is, keep it simple.

(For example, the first rule is so simple, you'll laugh. But it has been trained out of us since childhood.)

l. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Practice feeling satisfied. Eat sitting down. Enjoy your food. Let yourself be served once a week.

2. Sleep when you are tired. Take naps whenever possible. Set your body clock by going to bed at a reasonable hour. Find your own need, or minimum hours of rest.

3. Strike two items off your to-do list every day and be happy with that. Do not be a slave to ‘getting it all done’.

4. Take time to light a candle and sit in silence once a day, to center yourself. Make inner peace a priority.

5. Stretch, shake your body, dance, do yoga, walk, or move a new muscle. Wake up your body every day.

6. Go pee when you have to – respond to the first call. This is harder than it sounds.

7. When you have your monthly period, give yourself what you need – either rest or exercise. PMS is the result of not listening to your body guidance. Sit with your center and find time to relax. Hot water bottle or pilates? Your gut will guide you. This is your time to be alone; your intuition is stronger now. Pay attention.

I have found, that when I learn to take care of myself, and treat my body less harshly, more lovingly, I naturally become less harsh and more loving to others.

Balance effort with relaxation. Learn compassion for yourself. Be kind.
This is essential feminine wisdom.

ps I am trying to put these into practice, one day at a time. As a confirmed 'woman who does too much' and chronic worrier, this is also my antidote to stress.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Motherhood as a heroic journey

Joseph Campbell calls motherhood a heroic task. What do heroes do? They confront dragons, you say, and look like Hercules or Jason and the Argonauts. They travel afar, bring back treasure, or save the country from ruin. Mothers don't do any of that.... but:

Giving birth is definitely a heroic deed, in that it is the giving over of oneself to the life of another. …It’s a journey – you have to move out of the known, conventional safety of your life to undertake this. You have to be transformed from a maiden to a mother…a big change, involving many dangers.” Joseph Campbell, Power of Myth.

He also adds that in the heroic journeys of mythology, there is a place everyone wishes to find - like Siddhartha on his journey - and that the ultimate place to find is within yourself. "There's a center of quietness within, which has to be known and held. If you lose that center, you are in tension and begin to fall apart." (The Power of Myth). Ultimately, the adventure of the hero is the adventure of being alive. We are all heroes in our own story.

How are mothers heroes specifically? I've been thinking about this for a while now. First there is the body cycle we have to deal with and learn about - monthly periods, hormonal ups and downs, PMS. Then trying to get pregnant is an adventure - not always easy. For myself, one ectopic, and two miscarriages later, I finally had two pregnancies that held strong. Having your body transform and look as if you have swallowed the moon, not to mention all the hormonal changes, loss/gain of appetite, strange alien movements inside your body, fears of losing your old 'self'....all lead up to the big moment of Birth.

The ultimate transformation - when one becomes two. Talk about transmutation of substances (bread and wine into body and blood....)! A human being struggles through labour, contractions, and a huge force stronger than herself pushes the baby out through an impossibly narrow birth canal. Voila! Delivered! Separation. A hero is born on her journey, whilst another sleeps, exhausted from the battle.

But that is just the beginning. The new mother will be called upon to give unstintingly her own body as food to the new one, on demand 24-7; she'll be called upon to respond unselfishly to its constant needs, and go beyond what is humanly possible - in spite of lack of sleep, long days of seeming drudgery (domestic tasks), which may be blissful or may appear boring, on the outside. To nurture a human life, totally dependent on your own for its care, to ensure its survival.

And where then, is the quiet space in the centre? From where all athletes and heroes move, when they find it? That is the source of her heroism - to find her own Self in spite of giving it away on one level, day after day.

I think mothering challenges a human being to find that quiet space or risk being torn apart by conflicting emotions. Old patterns are like dragons that attack us. It's hard to give what you didn't get - we feel assailed by modern books and experts' guidance, by our parents' patterns - how to find our own 'best' way? our own wisdom?

Right now, I'm in a bit of a mourning phase - my teens are growing independent, aware, alert to their own path, their own desires, and seem to need me less. There are no more long, leisurely hugs or reading sessions on my knee. There is less 'mothering' to do. Letting go is required, so they can fly on the strength of their own wings (and strong opinions!) while I watch and listen. My own mother went through this eight times! I was not always kind during my detaching years...

My mothering journey has brought me to a realization that I have more healing to do and more forgiveness of myself and my mother. Suffering my own sense of loss of closeness with my daughter, I remember what my mother said, how I switched from being her best friend to her enemy at age 13. How to heal the past, and therefore be wholly in the present... with compassionate love.

Wish me luck on my journey towards wholeness, as I wish you luck on yours.



Monday, November 13, 2006

Saying Yes to Change

Weekend with Joan Borysenko, Kripalu Centre

I have one door on the doorknob of the future,
one hand on the doorknob of the past,
I am standing in the hallway of the present moment.

I came to the edge of the Unknown again.
I came empty-handed.
I came needing to let go of impatience, anxiety,
and wanting to know!

I let myself be in uncertainty,
and learned how to calm myself with my breathing.
There is no paint in rushing forward.
In the now there is only peaceful acceptance, curiosity.

When I focus on the future, anxiety and fear are my companions.
When I tell the story of my ego's past, I miss the deep wonder and curiosity about spirit.
I stay stuck in old patterns of doubt.

When I come back to centre, peace and a deep trust
begin to develop.
I let go of pessimistic thinking - of 'never' and 'always'.
I relax into knowing that I am taken care of by a force
larger than me.

I belong to the Beloved, I melt into the field of being.
I want that deep Intimacy.

Let me be an instrument of thy Peace.

blessings to all of us who want to know,


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Harmony and balance in the mist

November mists and rain today. Tree trunks black and green with moss furring their trunks, bronze leaves of the oak still on the tree, and a calmness pervades my neighbourhood.


She who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn't know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master's power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed,
thus his spirit never grows old.

This morning I was disappointed that the sink was still clogged. I had expected to be able to do it myself, or that my husband could wind his fish tool down there and clear it. We were stymied. Called the plumber at 7:00 a.m.

In spite of this, sitting in meditation this morning was very very peaceful, scintillant and exquisite. My mind was easily absorbed by the peaceful play of breath and the pool of calm within. There is nothing I love more.

Every day is a new day. I leave the disappointments behind, decide not to live in frustration. Surrender my expectations. One day at a time, one moment at a time, I can do this.

Chi, kundalini, tao, prayer of the heart, wisdom, peace: this experience has no name because it came into being before words. It is the "hu" in human, the "be" in being. Human, being.

Savour this......and the mist. If you find the world too dark, said Maharaji, turn on your own light. If we all turn on our lights, the world will be less dark.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Clogged sinks and Tao

Well, what a day! Waiting for the computer repair guy to show up (Hi Fred!), and doing dishes, making chicken broth... stupidly I poured some chicken fat down the drain, adding soap and hot water (well, luke-warm) and praying it would make it through....guess what?

So I call the plumber - will Drano do it? No, madame, never use that acid stuff, it eats your pipes.

OK - his advice; plunger, then boiling water - but wait - check the internet first. Good idea!

I found lots of good advice, like wear rubber gloves, stuff up the second sink hole with a rag so the junk or boiling water doesn't scald you; and, use baking soda and vinegar followed by boiling water 30 minutes later...

I do all this, plunge valiantly if inefficiently, slipping and sliding in my sink with my rubber gloves brightly on.

Nope. Still clogged. Then I did what any sensible woman does - I turned my attention to bills to be paid, hems needing fixing, phone call to the bank, practicing my songs for the choir, and lo....half an hour later, the sink had drained!

I think it was the mix of vinegar and baking soda - like a little volcano right in your sink, remember those Gr 4 science experiments your kids did? Lotsa fun.

Now that my sink is unclogged, and my second batch of chicken broth is cooling, (saving the inedible boiler chicken I baked the other night from being thrown in the garbage), I guess I'll put the chicken fat into the garbage this time.

The Tao in all this? Well, I was headed off to the dry cleaners, the Mall, the Future Shop and 3 other stores to do all my 'commissions' in one hour - when I suddenly realized I was getting panicky and rushing again. I turned around and headed back home, with only two errands done - and practiced my songs while unplugging the sink.

I got less done, and I am less stressed. My consolation is that the sink is now unplugged, and I am still breathing :)

take it easy,


Monday, November 06, 2006

The Tao makes her radiant

My favourite translation of the Tao Te Ching is by Stephen Mitchell (Harper & Row, 1988). He comes closer to colloquial expression and what I imagine the old Chinese sage must have sounded like - sometimes irreverent. Like in the following entry, #20:

Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
Avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
As though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care.
I alone am expressionless,
Like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
Like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp;
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

Isn't that great?

I love this entry! It makes me feel so relieved, it dissipates the heavy weight that descends on me looking at the pile of books to read beside my bed. I do not need to be ‘smart’ or ‘bright’. I can accept being dull from time to time (grin). Coleman Barks, the translator of Rumi and a great American poet, spoke at a conference in Massachusetts I had the privilege of attending two years ago. On the last day, during questions and answers with the many astute and devoted poetry lovers, he said, “I am often confused and I have no particular aesthetic.” Fantastic! What a relief to not have to belong to a school of thought or a style of poetry. Why not just be aimless as the wind, drifting like a wave on the ocean, breathing in the wisdom that comes from the senses. Why not feel like an idiot sometimes, and give the thinking brain a break?

This summer I remember being so tired from reading and thinking that my brain hurt; even the scalp on top of my head was sore. At the Taos writers’ spa, I mostly took advantage of the great yoga classes, the massage and reiki treatments; I wrote a bit in my journal. And I felt guilty for not writing every day or working on my many project ideas. But my body and brain needed the spa part of the week more than the writer part.

Amen. Here's to drinking from the source.

Another similar Tao Te Ching entry, #21, about what keeps the mind busy:

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives her her radiance.

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were,
the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.

Wow! Bravo for Lao Tsu and his inimitable expression of his own experience.
We can all look inside ourselves and see!