A Reclamation of the Divine Feminine – Nicole Barrett

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…”‘

 

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…”‘

 

Authentic living: Does it matter?

If there were a madman standing somewhere – perhaps on some hidden island in the middle of some unknown ocean (thinking of Dr. No…) – with his finger on the Destruct button, sending live video out to all the world saying that everyone must accede to a set of demands else he will push the button, what would we do? What would be authentic life in that moment?

What if this fictional madman had a series of buttons, each labeled with one of the world’s major cities, and began pressing them one at a time, with subsequent video of the total destruction of each city following upon his press of each button, laying out for the world a timetable of sure destruction and a list of demands including such things as ‘no more plastic’, or ‘eschewing all non-renewable energy,’ or ‘destroying all weapons of war’ … you get the idea.

What would be the reasonable and prudent course of action in such a scenario?

The world we live in is in fact in just such a predicament, though the madman is not a Dr. No on some remote island, the madman is us.

The timetable is yet to be agreed on, and the means of our destruction is still a bit up in the air, but make no mistake, unless we make some drastic changes at some very deep levels, it will come.

“Sustainability” is a cruel hoax.

Even if we make all the changes currently on the table and considered “reasonable” by those in high positions, we will not be able to sustain anything close to how we are now living for more than a few decades… perhaps, if some technological breakthrough materializes, we might sustain our way of life for a century. Which would allow my grandchildren to have children, yes – but how long would those children survive?

What is usually presented as sustainability is more like “stretch-ability”.

A description of the kind of life that is truly sustainable indefinitely on this earth would be so radically different from our present lifestyle as to be unacceptable to most, perhaps even unrecognizable. Somewhere between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, we left a truly sustainable paradigm behind. By the time agriculture made “civilization” possible, we were firmly set on the course to the economic polarization, authoritarian regimes, and environmental consumption of today’s world.

So yes, we face sure destruction, yet we temporize and hem and haw and argue about the prudent course, and we stroll about on the deck smoking Cuban cigars and enjoying the evening breeze even as the iceberg looms.

So yes, I am asking, what constitutes an authentic life when faced with the mass destruction, maybe even the extinction, of our progeny, perhaps even of life on earth.

Perhaps I am too audacious. Perhaps I am arrogant as well, to think I have anything to say about authentic living. But I persist.

I offer these words in a spirit of humility and gratitude, realizing that I could be very off the mark with all or any of it, and acknowledging my great debt to the thousands of teachers, writers, thinkers, friends, enemies, and lovers who have helped me along the path to this point.

I also offer these words out of serious, ongoing love and concern for the well-being of the people and all the life-forms on this imperiled planet.

This concern is the real motivation for writing, for sharing, for perhaps at times sounding insistent. The situation is dire everywhere you look. Things are ‘going to hell in an egg basket’ as the old folks I grew up with said. The economic, social and environmental crises threaten to collapse the world our children and grandchildren depend on for their very lives. Is this not sufficient motivation for speaking out, for risking a strident tone?

Indeed, I believe we all need to begin to speak up on behalf of life on the earth, to speak up and to step out of our comfort zones, to change our ways of thinking and living, and to demand – as non-stridently as possible perhaps – that others take note of the impending disasters we face and to behave appropriately.

The changes we can make in our own lifestyles, while significant in many ways, are not enough. Even if all the “environmentally conscious” people of the world made all the changes they could “reasonably” be expected to make in their lifestyles – indeed, even if we, this tiny minority, really radically simplified our lives and reduced our consumption and all those things, it would not be enough to avert the environmental crises. Even if all of the progressives really got active in the political and social systems and took to the streets with the Occupy movements (Which I love!) around the world, it wouldn’t be enough.

There are just not enough of us.

So the strategy must be broader and stronger and more radical if we hope to make a difference in how things proceed.

The most important thing for us to do is to help others – our families, our friends and neighbors, our enemies in the culture wars, the great unwashed, the roiling masses, everyone! – come to see the true nature of the situation. This won’t be easy, because everything else is stacked against that seeing. Intense creativity will be required if we are to reach enough people.

So how do we help others to see this critical truth? Yes, speaking out and being strong examples is important. But again, it’s not enough. People generally change deeply set beliefs and ways of life only after powerful emotional experiences, not from being convinced by rational arguments, persuasive Power Points notwithstanding. It’s difficult to construct powerful emotional experiences for others, but the closest we can come to it is through the power of Story.

We must all begin to dig deep within ourselves to find the most powerful stories we can create, stories that will communicate at a real, undeniable emotional level the truths that we are coming to know. Truths that will help others to access the new understandings that power our lives, the new visions that give us hope, the new freedom from conventional living and thinking that offer the possibility for a new world, a beautiful world where humans recover the true ways of life that once were as natural as breathing.

The first step in the process is to see where we went wrong: separation.