Reclaiming the divine feminine

This paper is so wonderful and deeply insightful, and it seems few have noticed it, so I’m posting it again with better tags!


A Reclamation of the Divine Feminine:

Developing an International Spiritual Ecology Center for Women

Written by Nicole S. Barrett for a graduate degree from Portland State University, the paper lays out Nicole’s vision for an educational center to help women discover their connection with their own powerful intuition and with the natural world – which are essentially the same thing – and provides a beautifully presented case for the recovery in our society of a central leadership role for women — and men –who are strongly grounded in the feminine and bring to their leadership the deep intuitive wisdom, the “ability to trust one’s internal voice,” that includes. (Most of our women leaders today are  simply women who have learned to ‘get along’ in the patriarchy.)

Nicole was also a student and a teacher at the Buddhist Education for Social Transformation training, and was killed in an accident in Thailand. My friend Maia Duerr, who conducts the BEST school, has started a scholarship fund in honor of Nicole to help other women carry on her work. The Indiegogo link above gives more details on Nicole and the fund.The paper is a wonderful statement of the connections among ecological awareness, spirituality, feminism, social activism, and peace building. It also articulates very well several critical points about what’s going on in our world today. It is well worth reading. Following are a few excerpts from Nicole’s paper, which I hope will inspire you to read the whole thing:

“…all life has value, and not only is all life valuable, but it is also interconnected and interdependent. Western culture is relentless in its pursuit to colonize our minds, convincing us that we should bow down to the holy idea that “independence” equals freedom and “dependence” equals weakness. These oppressive social constructs, which our capitalist society depend on, violate all principles of social sustainability.

Attitudinal norms imposed by colonialism and modern industrialization not only encourage human behaviors which are unsustainable and devoid of spiritual concern, but they also compel us to create great suffering for ourselves and other beings of the world.

To generate ecological and spiritual healing, it is imperative that all people, not just women, bring the feminine and the masculine back into balance both personally and collectively. Although there are drawbacks to using the seemingly dichotomous terms of “masculine” and “feminine,” for the sake of clarity in this paper it is useful to do so (see Appendix A for a chart describing these terms). Rather than view them as opposing forces, they can be understood as complementary aspects of a whole.

Ecofeminism unites ecology and feminism, exploring the interconnections between male domination over women and domination of nature

Women’s intuition is linked to nature, and because women have been taught that intimacy with nature is morally suspect, they are often suspicious of themselves (Reeves, 1999; Starhawk, 2004; Gomes & Kanner, 1995). This ability to trust one’s internal voice is, (Baxter Magolda,2008) arguably, the single most important factor in being an authentic leader.

As Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (2013) plainly states, “A spiritual revolution is needed if we’re going to confront the environmental challenges that face us” (p. 28). The burgeoning field of spiritual ecology “acknowledges the critical need to recognize and address the spiritual dynamics at the root of environmental degradation,” (“About Spiritual Ecology,” 2013) and promotes the idea that creation is sacred and should be honored (Macy, 2007). Martinez (2008) agrees, arguing that, “The greatest healing that needs to be done is the healing of the European idea of the separation of people from nature” (p. 107). Sustainability leadership models (Burns, 2011; Wheatley, 2006; Ferdig, 2007) counter mainstream pedagogies by offering collaborative, reflective strategies for those interested in sharing spiritual ecology values. Non-formal learning organizations can offer conducive spaces for workshops or other experiential learning activities aimed at women who want to begin or deepen their practice as eco-spiritual leaders.

In the Portland, Oregon metro area, there are numerous businesses and nonprofits that offer yoga or other spiritual practice, but they tend to focus solely on inner healing while disregarding social activism or engagement with their community. Conversely, the city is also home to many activist organizations who may dedicate themselves to social justice or sustainability causes, but whom lack spiritual practice or tools for self-care. In order to empower women to rise up as global eco-spiritual leaders, there must be non-formal educational opportunities for them to experience personal transformation and healing while developing practical skills they can use as active change agents in their communities. I propose the creation of an International Spiritual Ecology Center for Women in the Portland area. The center will incorporate a transformative and holistic educational “model in which participants use head, heart, hands, and —this will be a space where women (and their allies) from across the globe can gather to reconnect with their body’s intuitive wisdom, deepen their spiritual practice, and collaboratively cultivate tools for non-violent activism.

The work of The International Spiritual Ecology Center for Women is grounded in four core values: spiritual ecology, feminism, social activism, and spiritual practice. … We embody our guiding principles and values through the use of methodologies that reflect power sharing, respect for diversity, non-violent conflict resolution, unlearning internalized patriarchy, holistic, experiential learning, simplicity, and the combination of personal practice with social transformation

In most pre-industrial communities, female spiritual leaders in the forms of herbalists, midwives, and traditional healers were commonplace, and through embodied learning, these women seamlessly knew how to weave the sacredness of nature into their practices of medicine and magic (Reeves; Starhawk, 1999). Reeves notes that these leaders were, “out of necessity, steeped in an intimate knowledge of the Earth, of herbs, the mysteries of childbirth, and the ecological cycles of renewal” (p. 7). Nature, spirituality, and intuition were deeply intertwined. You could say that women were fully connected to the powerful Divine Feminine. spirit (intellectual, emotional, kinesthetic, and spiritual modalities) in the learning process” (IWP, 2013)

“[Its] Gaia consciousness.”

Many eco-spiritual leaders believe we are on the brink of a spiritual paradigm shift, sometimes called “The Great Turning,” (Macy,1998) which will lead our world back into a state of equilibrium. A collective surrender to the elements found in the archetype of the Divine Feminine is what may lead us on this healing path. These elements include silence, mercy, empathy, collaboration, creativity, diversity, and receptivity, “the set of qualities that are systematically devalued in patriarchy” (Gomes & Kanner, p. 119).

In essence, the Divine Feminine is our intuition. “Intuition has been described as the capacity to sense messages from our internal store of emotional memory – our own reservoir of wisdom and judgment” Despite the many claims emphasizing the importance of intuition in effective leadership … there is very little to no help on how to nurture this way of knowing.

…the Witch Persecutions, their essential body-held wisdom and animate worldview now held under contempt — Black midwives and healers used their knowledge of plant medicine and magic to treat ailments in their communities, sometimes as a form of resistance against slave owners (Fett, 2002). Many white male doctors were threatened by the midwives’ high rates of success,…

Mainstream educational environments are largely unfit for this kind of healing work as it requires flexible time for emotional reconciliation, deep spiritual reflection, and practice.

Kumar (2004): “Pure rationalism is in itself violence of the mind. Rationalism by its nature cuts through, separates, divides, isolates. This is not to say that rationality has no place in our lives. It has. But it should be kept in its place, and not given an exaggerated status in our society. Rationality tempered with feelings and intuitions of the heart, in yin-yang balance, can create a culture of non-violence, wholeness and compassion…”‘


White people problems

Ferguson has brought racism off the back burner in the US. A recent article on Killing the Buddha (an online magazine presenting various irreverent religious perspectives on social issues) is probably the best thing I’ve read on the subject lately. Maybe ever. It blows right by the tired old discussions of “let’s just all get along,” sifts through recent lists of “what can we do” and finds them wanting.

White people are going to have to suffer if we’re going to get this issue solved, and most of us are not too eager to step up take our share of the suffering. We want, like the Village Voice columnist of a few weeks ago, to think that we can all just rest in our well-meaning liberalism, avoid confrontation at all costs, and let good will work through the system and everything will be fine.

Briallen Hopper, a professor at Yale University, put things in perspective early on: “… as a white American I do know this: It is a privilege to experience political differences as differences of opinion rather than differences of power. It is a privilege to be able to view all political issues in indistinguishable shades of gray.”

She brings the insight of a 50-year-old documentary film, “A Time for Burning,” to bear on the current discussion about race in our country. She quotes famous black nationalist barber (and member of the Nebraska legislature) Ernie Chambers from the film:

I can’t solve the problem. You guys pull the strings that close schools. You guys drop the bombs that keep our kids restricted to the ghetto. You guys write up the restricted covenants that keep us out of houses. So it’s up to you to talk to your brothers and your sisters and persuade them that they have a responsibility. We’ve assumed ours for over four hundred years and we’re tired of this kind of stuff now. We’re not going to suffer patiently anymore. No more turning the other cheek. No more blessing our enemies. No more praying for those who despitefully use us. …

You’re treaty-breakers, you’re liars, you’re thieves, you rape entire continents and races of people. Then you wonder why these very people don’t have any confidence and trust in you. Your religion means nothing, your law is a farce and we see it everyday. You demonstrated it in Alabama. And I can say “you” because you’re part of the whole system. You profit from it. In fact you make your living from it. … As far as we’re concerned, your Jesus is contaminated, just like everything else you’ve tried to force upon us is contaminated. So you can have him. … I think the problem is so bad that we can have no understanding at all. … You talk about justice and it means something to you, we talk about it and it means something else to us. And it will always be that way.

In 2014, these problems and the truths Mr. Chambers presents here are magnified beyond all reason, and all our good intentions have not made one whit of difference. The power structure is still every bit as racist as it was in 1960 and the impacts are as unjust and destructive as ever.

“What’s truly necessary is for white people to have hard conversations about injustice with other white people, not gratuitous arguments but challenges that count,” Hopper says.

She goes further. She makes sort of a list of her own:

I want to be willing to bear some of the cost of racism, a cost that is so unevenly distributed and that is visible in rates of incarceration, unemployment, hypertension, diabetes, debt, infant mortality, stop and frisk, and death by guns. I want to bear my share of the cost not just in social discomfort but in tedium and tiredness, in my time and my bank account and my body. I love social media and t-shirts with slogans, and I think marches are energizing and photogenic, but I believe the battle is also being fought in the meetings that no one has time to go to: in school board and city elections, in voter registration drives, in budget debates and hiring decisions and referendums on the minimum wage.

This calls us all to task: there are battles on everyone’s doorstep that need to be fought every day. If we are willing, as she says, to live in the struggle, those opportunities will come to us. Then we have a choice: speak up or keep the peace.


Just finished reading Micahel Ondaatje’s 1982 work Running in the Family… what an experience!

Had not heard of it, discovered it by accident while looking for his new book The Cat’s Table, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time, having read about five of his books and loved them… and am just speechless with wonder at the magic he does. This book, which I read over the weekend, has reached into nearly every part of my own heart and opened it up for better or worse, and now I’m feeling washed over. Burned clean. Nothing I can say can approach what this book opens up.

It really catches up the whole great thing of family… all the beauty and pain of it wrapped into one account. And so much more…

It’s also an intense look into the personal aspects of 20th Century colonial life, all the beauty and pain of that! It was like a vast flood that raised several generations of people up in this fantasy of aspirations and accomplishments and then just smashed them down into the rocks of reality. He has this wonderful, probably mostly allegorical, story of his grandmother’s death that depicts that so beautifully.

I found the book – and another couple of his older books I haven’t read – on Abe Books, the independent bookstore site. Highly recommended!

no words, only beauty

This is one of the ways meditation helps us get through difficult times… it is a nearly-unfailing way to open yourself to the beauty!

born by a river

I got the news– her father passed away.  Cancer.

The news detonates a dam, and the tragedy of another triggers a flood of memories. I remember the quiet that pervaded the house during my mother’s final days, even while streams of thoughtful friends and family trickled by with somber faces.  The flocks of grey geese, a silent V slicing the grey skies above. The terrible disbelief that sets in after the final, jagged breath.

There are no words to comfort.  Maybe I can say that I understand what she is going through. Afterall, I too have lost a parent, but everyone grieves differently.  It is a lonely road, and she is a mother, she must carry on for another. The phrase “I understand” seems a bit inauthentic.

I can tell her that I’m sorry, because I am.

I can tell her everything will be different going forward, but how? I cannot predict. It is for her to discover…

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Daddy – and back to Georgia

[This is Chap. 16 in the continuing narrative on My Way-finding. Previous chapters are Pages on this site, and links can be found in the menu to the left of the main entry.]

My daddy had a powerful influence on my life.

He was one of those larger-than-life characters who made an indelible impression on everyone, and he shaped me in ways that I’ve only recently begun to understand, though I’ve now outlived him by over a year. He was a tall, handsome man with a personal warmth and a charismatic speaking style that made him the best preacher I ever heard, though he wasn’t a preacher, he was a journalist.

His father and grandfather had both been Baptist preachers, active in the Georgia Baptist Convention and Mercer University, the Baptist college, but Daddy chose a different pulpit: a small-town weekly newspaper. He was a solid Baptist his whole life, and could fill any pulpit with a wonderful sermon, and he raised all of us to be dutiful Baptists as well. I was pretty much into that role until sometime in high school, and college broke me completely out of it (as I’ve related in earlier posts), but that never really came between us at the emotional level.

For much of my young life, I wanted to be him, but Vietnam – and all of the Vietnam era radicalism that I embraced – came between us in a big way. He had been a navigator on B-24’s in World War II, flying out of England in the storied raids on Hitler’s ball-bearing factories, and I became a war resister.

Well – first I joined the Air Force and became a pilot because I knew that would make him happy. But then I encountered the reality of the petty little empire-building escapade that we called, in our ignorance and arrogance, “the Vietnam War.” I went, despite my reticence, because I thought I really didn’t know what was going on there, going on in the world, going on in the exalted realms of the U.S. political system… so I should give up my foolish notions of knowing that it was all wrong and just go, like all the other people I knew who had gone and either died or come back.

And then I got there and found out it was every bit as depraved and stupid and immoral and deceptive and wrong as I had thought… and so after about nine months of it, I bailed. At least I tried to. I told them I wasn’t that into the war and wanted to be out of the Air Force.

They said, well, yes, but… no. You haven’t really done anything bad, you’ve played by the rules, been a good boy, so there’s no reason we should let you out before your commitment is up. So then I said, okay, fine, then I won’t do anything for you anymore. By then of course, I was back in the states and supposed to be an instructor, teaching guys to go there and do what I did for a year and ten days. (I was in country an extra ten days waiting for them to decide what to do with me, since I had an “administrative action pending”.)

It’s a long story, one I’ve related in my War Journal, which is on my website, but the upshot is, I finally got out. In the process of this, of course, my father and I had some serious, divisive, but inconclusive, discussions. He never really understood, though my mother supported me, and even after it was all over – my discharge, the war, the social debate – we never really talked about it at the level that we should have.

And then he died.

On his 66th birthday, really in the prime of his life, while I was living in Oregon, he went into heart bypass surgery and never regained consciousness. We rushed back to Georgia when they decided he needed the surgery, but he was still on the machine when we arrived, and his heart would never resume its work on its own, so he died as I stood in the intensive care ward watching him breathe and listening to the machines beep.


I was totally unprepared for the loss, and it flattened me.

I was pretty much lost in grief for some time, but eventually I repressed most of it and went back to my ignorance and denial. But it dug a hole in me that began to fester. All those unsaid things began to eat away my insides, All the regret and guilt of a lifetime eventually ate away my heart and my gut and replaced them with balls of molten metal.

About a year after Daddy’s death, Giana and Luke and I moved back to Georgia to be with my mom. She had been left pretty much alone when Daddy died, and though she was a strong and independent woman in many ways, the solitary life didn’t suit her. She needed family around, so we came.

Moving back to Georgia, I figured any hope of ever finding a Buddhist group to be part of was over. It was Georgia, the heart of Baptist-land. But I brought my Buddha-rupa, my carving, and set up a low-key altar in my house. I continued to think of myself as a Buddhist and read books about Buddhism.

And those balls of hot iron continued to grow inside me. I continued to descend into depression in longer and deeper spirals. I had never figured out that I needed to meditate on a regular basis. It seemed more like an exotic delicacy to be tasted at random, when in fact it’s as necessary as daily bread. So I suffered, and I visited that suffering on all those around me.


And then one day, our friend Claire came home from a weekend in Atlanta and told me about this wonderful thing she had found: a Zen center.