Spring Buds in a Time of Crisis

By Angela Fischer

Every morning, these days, we wake up to an unfolding spring, even more birds singing, new buds in the trees, more flowers blooming. And every morning we wake up to the news about the current pandemic in the world. Infection rates rising, death toll rising. More countries closing their borders, more individual restrictions in order to slow the infection rate.How do we respond? How do we respond to the birdsong, the gifts from the Earth, the beauty of life? And how do we respond to the news about the pandemic crisis? Is there something that connects both? How does this crisis affect our attitude and our spiritual practice, as it certainly affects our lives? I recently noticed that over the last few weeks I had changed my personal view every single day and realized there is and maybe must be a process, for each of us. A little ashamed about my different reactions – rather than responses, like counter-reaction to collective panic – a certain attitude emerged from a growing awareness that stayed with me: Listening, listening deeper. What are the “signs on the horizon”? What is asked from us, from me individually? Is there a deeper meaning, deeper than fear and anxiety and the attitude of “war against the virus” that we hear and sense in the world? I tried to listen to something deeper, an inner light – which is always there, whether we are aware of it or not. And others are listening too, of course, and we find out that there is a chance for us, an opportunity.

Oneness and Interconnectedness

We know, when the astronauts were seeing the planet from space for the first time, this was a shift in consciousness. There is one Earth, one planet, utterly precious. We are all interconnected on this beautiful blue marble. One destiny, one soul.But decades later we as humanity find ourselves being caught even more in a mindset of separation and domination toward the Earth, all species and each other. We would not have thought that it is, of all things, a contagious virus that becomes the space shuttle for all of us. From which we watch the planet as one organism. That teaches us that we are interconnected in ways we do not realize and have completely forgotten. Interconnected, of course, over the whole planet. Not as consumers or as global corporations, but as vulnerable human beings on a vulnerable Earth. There are two different ways to respond: We have the opportunity to decide, if we respond with love and compassion or with desires of the ego and instinctual drives, that is, with separation and division. The virus brings sickness and even death, and suffering. If we allow for the pain reaching us, instead of anxiety and despair, we will feel it in our hearts. And we are asked to respond with compassion and love. To respond with love and care requires us to witness what is happening, to face it consciously and not to ignore it. We are asked to grow up which means to be able to witness suffering and darkness without falling in collective despair and anxiety.

Awareness of the Inner World. Intuition and Inner relationship

The physical retreat and isolation which is, from a medical point of view, required from us and necessary, does not mean we are really separated.One reason of our present state of the world is that we have focused on the material world in a way that we have forgotten the immaterial, the inner worlds, and how they both, matter and spirit, belong together In other words: We as humanity have forgotten the sacred within life, within creation, within our bodies, within the body of the Earth. The light, the soul.Materialism and consumerism have eaten up and choked the sense of a nourishment for our souls and the soul of the world. It is no more part of humanities’s consciousness that we have the power and capacity to relate to the inner, invisible world and to each other, invisibly and beyond the physical plane and physical connection. As mystics we know and do experience that we can “meet in the night”. Which means, not in our physical bodies. We are not separated through space, nor through time.This inner knowing, and to live this knowing, can be awakened and affirmed in these times of quarantine. When outer borders are being closed we can begin again to open up our inner borders. And the borders we have built between the inner and outer world. We can devote ourselves again to the feminine wisdom inside of all of us that shows us how to communicate, to be in relationship to each other and to the inner worlds. Yes, we have internet (and hope it remains like this), so we luckily have non-physical possibilities to connect. So it is easy to believe that we do not need to activate intuition and our relationship to the inner worlds. Yet this does not nourish our souls in the long run, as it cannot replace meaning and light that is shared in a personal touch or smile. Also, of course, an inner connection does not “replace” a physical hug, but like a physical touch it carries love and light and gives us meaning and nourishes the soul.

For the Earth, With the Earth

You might have seen the satellite views, the before and after pictures. Clear skies over China after weeks of dealing with the Corona crisis. We have been choking the Earth with our CO2 emissions as a result of our way of life, our consumerism and materialism. The greater awareness of a “climate crisis” (which is an understatement, because it is more than a crisis) did not lead to the acceptance of the need to fundamentally change our way of life. To step back from our consumerism and ever growing economy, the so-called “freedom” to take an airplane whenever we want, and to live more simply. Green economy yes, green technology, yes, but please no change of life, no renunciation. No politician dares to speak about this, even a green one, it is just completely unpopular. But suddenly, humans are prepared to renounce this life- style. We can witness, it is possible! Even if the main cause of our willingness to step back from superficial pleasures that distract us, as bars and clubs in cities close down, and to refrain from holidays flying all over the planet, even if the cause might be fear of being contaminated and getting sick, we see and watch, for the first time, it is possible. The chance is: If we are able to transform that fear into a deeper feeling of care and love for the Earth and each other, we could be able to transition to another way of life.We have the chance to listen to the birds again, to be thankful for what the Earth is giving us. There is more space in our lives to do so, as the usual noise slows down. And if more of us can return to experiences like this, pathways could open to relate to the inner light, to the soul. We can again listen to the Earth herself.If at this moment we do not cover the Earth with a dense veil of collective fear and despair and even more growing egoism (nationalism), we can be able to listen to her voice, the voice of the Earth that at the moment is being carried by some air to breathe. It is only a very small gap, a small opportunity, a door that is open for a very short moment.

Solitude as a Vast Space for Light

For centuries solitude was reserved for monks and hermits, and a few people in contemporary spiritual environments. Solitude does not have a place in modern life,except for her shadow brother called loneliness. But solitude is different from loneliness. In a noisy and too busy world, we have unlearned to be in solitude, we are even afraid of it and tend to run away from it. Now countless people in the world, on the entire planet, are forced to retreat to their homes and to stay there in more or less solitude. After the first shock in the wake of something completely unusual, we can realize there is a space that opens up. There is air to breathe. Whereas the outer space is constricted, the inner space expands and widens. The heart has a chance to be listened to. The body has a chance to be listened to. So do our dreams in the night, our reflections on our lives.And if we have children and they need to stay at home, due to shut downs of schools, they too have the chance that we really listen to them. Yes, it is not easy to change our daily routine, and it is a big challenge for families, single parents especially, for people who still need to work in service to public health and services of general interest, and also a challenge for many people who are artists or self-employed to maintain their living. Those difficulties cannot just be removed. Nor can we avoid the worries about loved ones who might be sick or the grief of losing those who might die. And yet we can live our daily life now from another place inside, from that vast, spacious place that offers a certain light, a meaning of life. In solitude we have space to pray, to meditate, to sing and play, to cook our meals with love. To care for others. We can get a taste of a new (and ancient) way of life, sustainable inwardly and outwardly. We can breathe as well as the Earth can breathe. From this space that is given to us at the moment, from love and care, healing can be born. There is always an individual choice.


Angela Fischer

The Sacred Feminine for Life

Sacred Soil

by Shephali Patel

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Photo: Aya Okawa

The Birth of Soil

Soil is born from the cycle of life and death. Soil is about 50% air and water, 45% minerals, and 5% organic matter. Soil mineral is formed from the wearing of bedrock that is birthed from core of the earth. This weathering takes thousands of years and much of our present day agricultural soils are more than 10,000 years old. But before there was an Earth, there was just universe.

The universe was originally composed primarily of the lighter atomic elements hydrogen and helium. The rest of the heavier elements, including carbon and oxygen, were fused in the hearts of the giant floating nuclear reactors we call stars. When a massive star is dying, it becomes hotter and hotter; its pressure-fueled expansion culminating in a violent explosion, a supernova. These massive explosions blow the heavier elements in the star’s core out into space, where they are incorporated into the formation of other planets, moons, and stars. The minerals within and on the earth come from stars that died when the universe was young. All living matter on Earth is composed of this ancient debris. And stars are still dying and exploding. Every year, 40,000 tons of cosmic dust rains down upon us, erasing all validity of human-conceived borders. This cosmic dust settles everywhere, particularly in our soil. The chemical elements in the cosmic dust are taken up by plants, which are then eaten by us. Our bodies are constantly being rebuilt and nourished by dying stars.

The Life of Soil

Soil is a living entity. It is composed of a thin skin over the surface of the earth called the pedosphere. The pedosphere exists as the interface of:

  • lithosphere (Earth crust and upper mantle)
  • atmosphere (air in and above soil)
  • hydrosphere (water below, in, and above soil)
  • biosphere (living organisms)

The pedosphere can exist only when there is dynamic interconnection among all forms of life and its supporting mediums. Soil, the pedosphere, is a revolving sphere at the heart of interlaced cycles of life.

Soil is not just a living body, but also a place. Soil is a physical meeting place for the key processes that support life. It is a physical place where we can experience living interconnection. Within the 50% of air and water and 45% of mineral that comprises soil, lives the 5% of organic matter in various stages of death–living, dead, and very dead. All three are inextricably linked in a biogeochemical process of nutrient and element cycling across land, sea, and air; where everything is transformed, consumed, and shared all at once. The consumption and excretion of the dead frees up nutrients and molecules needed to fuel life. Communication and sharing among plant, microbes, and fungi manages and moves these elements. This is the foundation for all ecosystem health. The process requires such a diversity and density of life that there can be over a billion living organisms in just one teaspoon of soil–only a small fraction of which we have identified. These billion organisms and plant parts are part of the only 20% of organic matter that is alive.

To be able to understand the existence of soil is to understand that so much precision, symbiosis, and harmony goes into supporting just 1% of the solid living earth. That understanding is a call to remembrance– that we are loved like that.

The Death of Soil


With one spray of noxious pesticide, one extra pound of synthetic fertilizer, and another round of unrelenting tillage, we can unintentionally wipe out all future hopes for joy, health, and the tiny friends we have co-evolved with for millennia.

We are loved like that. And there we go, 93% stardust and magic, walking around both alien and native at once, in constant calculation of what belongs. Building walls and guns against what doesn’t. And many times what doesn’t belong are the living beings we don’t understand and can’t see. The grace that moves invisibly through our lives. When we breathe in the soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae, serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain increase. The bacteria makes us feel calm and happy. That pleasing sweet, metallic scent of the earth after it rains is released by soil actinobacteria. Seventy-eight percent of the top 150 prescription drugs in the U.S. and 70% of all new drugs are derived from plants and soil-dwelling microfauna. With one spray of noxious pesticide, one extra pound of synthetic fertilizer, and another round of unrelenting tillage, we can unintentionally wipe out all future hopes for joy, health, and the tiny friends we have co-evolved with for millennia.

Most of the times, what doesn’t belong are living beings we can see and don’t want to understand. Our soil is soaked through with the blood of the wolves that scared us but kept rivers and forests healthy. The soil is glutted with the murdered bodies of entire civilizations of people who knew it first and best. Only to have its insides then persistently gutted to resurrect the dead in their ghostly forms of coal and oil. Scientists say that more carbon resides in the soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined. Soil is all skin, thin and naked, absorbing our sins. Yet, despite the abuse, she is still holding her breath for us while we are stuck in this deranged wetiko dream. But you can’t hold your breath for long, when the air is being stamped out of you. Under that dark skin I can hear a muffled “I can’t breathe” that pushes through the sidewalks and reverberates in the streets.

The Soul of Soil

The soil teaches that we are loved. And also where we fail in loving back. When I first learned to read the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, I learned to read it in two weeks and by the third week the pages in the brand-new book began to inexplicably disintegrate without being touched, and the book immediately looked like it was over one-hundred years old. The tiny pieces of pages would fall into the ground whenever I picked it up or carried it in my bag. Even tightly wrapped in its cloth covering. Pieces so tiny and thin that they would disappear into the ground and become part of it so that I couldn’t find them again. This is how I first realized that the Word lives in the soil.

Every day I go to the farm and take my familiar position. Kneeling down on one knee, head bowed down to work, I run my fingers through the dirt, combing through its pages. The wisdom of the soil starts with what I can see and then speaks to me about the Mystery that I can’t see with my eyes. Transplanting young plants, I follow their roots as they are embraced and gently clothed in soil. I know that though I cannot see it there is an orbit of bacteria and fungi protecting and communing with the plant. There are thin strands of mycorrhizae with fingers gently wrapped around plant roots, radiating out into all directions to forage for nutrients and relay messages that these roots cannot quite stretch far enough to reach. The unfolding drama of the living attracts more life –nematodes and protozoa, which then attract other nematodes and arthropods, which call out larger invertebrates, etc. Orbits expanding out like ripples in the water. The echo of the infinite taking shape. Beyond the field, the trees sport roots wrapped in mycelium connecting and communicating with the entire forest through an organic internet far more effective, intricate, and complex than our own–making all things whole and together even as they stand separate. I am again reminded that our salvation and spirituality lies in our interconnection. And that I am both whole already and at the same time always in a state of becoming whole by learning how to revere what is holy. The soil is calling for me to reimagine how I pray and love back–together, connected, sharing.

Next to the row of new transplants, an uncovered row of planted seeds looks like a mala unhooked and laid down on the ground. The cultivation of my devotion and awareness has always belonged inside the soil. So does my redemption. When I pull my hands from the dirt, they are stained in life, death, sacrifice, happiness, and healing. The compost is where I begin to take real responsibility for my existence and actions on this planet. I mark my penance with the work of my hands, turning and spinning that garbage until I help make medicine. Help, because it’s not me making anything. I am just learning from the masters; from that 1% of living, moving soil. It is their living and dying and love-making that produces a heat that transforms garbage into black gold. These tiny, unseen, unloved beings possess the power of alchemy. To make it truly medicine for all, the decomposing organic matter has to rest at a continuous temperature of at least 131º F for a minimum of three days at the core of the pile. So, even in this pile of trash and cast-offs, it is deep in the heart that the transformation and healing takes place. I have to make sure every square centimeter gets to spend some time resting in the cocoon of its own heart. Only then can it be applied to the open wounds of the earth and taken in through the open wounds of mouth, eyes, nose, ears, and skin. Composting works hand-in-hand with time. The time it takes to hopefully learn that in order to heal my insides, I have to be able to heal what is outside of me too. And to heal what is outside of me, I need to learn how to heal myself.


Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

The Word follows me inside, embedded into the creases of my fingers. Writing organic matter on the board, scribbling it into my notes, seeing it in books–the words organic matter inevitably morph into OM. All of existence conspired to culminate and begin in OM. In a world where the OM is stripped away what do we have left?

The gift of our lives comes up through the core of the earth and, bursting forth from the core of stars, right into the blazing core of our souls, if we let it. Which means all ground is sacred ground no matter what or where. It is we humans who decide when it is not sacred when we choose to desecrate it. When something is sacred we don’t want to or need to trade it in for a Plan B on Mars or carbon credits. We will protect and sacrifice for this home that is living body, place, teacher, and sanctuary. A temple to pour our love, suffering, gratitude, and remorse into. A place where we learn to breathe together again and slowly open our eyes to all of our gifts and their fundamental nature. That they are grace and miracle and love in a more-than-human world. That they cannot be possessed and that their value increases with how much we cherish them and offer them to others. That our greatest contribution as a species is to humbly know everything as Gift and, with dignity, surrender, and awe to practice upholding “sacredness” so that we are not complicit in stripping away the OM of the world.

It is somehow easier to see that the Mystery lives in everything when you are nose to ground. So I go back outside. I kneel once more, putting hand to ground so that it is soil pressed against soil in prayer. We live in holy times.

This essay was originally printed in Parabola Magazine, Fall 2017

Re-Discovering Mata Sita and Her Relevance Today

Sita Image 1

By Dena Merriam

Sita is a beloved figure for Hindus around the world, as well as for non-Hindus throughout Southeast Asia. But the message of her life extends beyond these audiences and bears universal import, particularly relevant for the modern age when a new understanding of feminine wisdom and leadership is needed, and when we are facing an unprecedented ecological crisis. Mata Sita and Sri Ram were instrumental in setting the foundation for a new civilization during a time of transition from one era, or yuga, to another. We stand at a similar time in history, where we are experiencing the passing of one era and intuitively feel the birthing of another, as yet unknown. One thing seems certain, however, that the new society we are striving for must be ecologically-based. There is great value in looking to lessons of the past in order to move forward.

During Sita’s time on earth, humanity was beginning to shift from a nature-based way of life toward greater material development. Many concepts were implanted in the collective mind at that time that guided the subsequent development of human civilization. We have now reached the pinnacle of this development and are reaping the results of our abuse of earth’s resources—its land, water, and air. To survive as a human community, we will need to incorporate into our lives a new-found appreciation, respect, and love for the natural world, a love that was exemplified in the life of Mata Sita.

Looking back to the time when humanity was beginning to divorce itself from nature and to cultivate more of a separate, individual identity will help us understand the pitfalls of this separateness in consciousness. Seeing ourselves as disconnected from nature has given mankind the false impression that we can control nature and recklessly deplete it, discounting the rights of other life forms and ignoring our interdependent relationship.

One cannot go backward in time, nor would one want to. The goal is to incorporate the wisdom and knowledge of the past into the developments and scientific advances of today. We can learn again how to care for and love the earth and all her communities of life.  There is much that Mata Sita can teach us if we invoke her. She and Sri Ram are living presences, not just historical figures, still very much engaged with the lives of those who turn to them. During the life journey of Mata Sita and Sri Ram, each assumed roles that were different but equal in importance. Neither could achieve their life’s mission without the other. Their lives exemplify a balance of the masculine and feminine qualities and energies, despite how patriarchal forces have tried to shape the Ramayana narrative to suit later social norms.  If we recapture something of life during the higher ages we can see the story with new eyes and perceive the inner dynamic that drove the outer narrative. Remembering the harmony that existed during the higher ages will help us re-calibrate our society so that it honors the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine, both of which are needed to help restore balance to our society and to the earth.

 

A Prayer for the Children of the World

Protect the children, new born pups, the young shoots –  every form of budding life!
Baby's Hands

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral, please help the children, new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral from whose womb we all are born, whose fragrant silver hair falls long and thick.  When I reach to touch it I feel Your timeless hands caressing me as well, here, where I am, always between Your big warm arms … where I know You listen to me and so I speak to You. I have none of Your powers but, like anyone else, I can be the one to call on You and ask for help:

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral, please help the children, new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

I feel within me their birth and the joy of life that they bring I also feel the pain of those many who suffer … because of us, human beings. Upon this generous mother planet we have to be guardians in service to Life but it is not so yet; alone, even if I see the tears of others and mine, I am not yet able to do so much.

For this I ask You:

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral, please help the children, new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

On this beautiful mother planet are too many children, pups, seedlings, who have no protection or food or pure water — don’t have what they need to grow healthy; but even if it were only one who suffered, it would still be too many.  All life deserves protection; and even if it were only one, I pray that they can have the comfort of love, nourishment and protection from all visible or invisible dangers:

Beloved Grand and Ancestral Grandmother, please help all children, all new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

We humans have lost our common sense and have moved away from wisdom but with your help, oldest Grandma, we may come to remember what our every cell knows about love.

May we soon mature to the time when we are able, like You, to care for all forms of life, care for one another, to protect and honor the Earth with dignity and human respect for every being of Nature and for the Water, and for the Air and Fire and Space. May our thoughts, words and acts be peaceful and loving towards everyone and everything…

 EMAHO !

(Prayer by Doju Freire at the request of M. Marstrand)

 

 

 

Honoring The Lineage of The Ancestral Feminine

A prayer composed by Rev. Doju Dinajara Freire

Honoring The Lineage of The Ancestral Feminine

Oh Great Ancestral Mother,
Of my Grandmothers, and of all Mothers,
That with love have nursed their own,
That have taken care of my mother, daughter, and all my children,
As well as my sisters, aunts, cousins, and friends,

Women both known and unknown,
The kindhearted and the malicious alike,
That have taken care of those who know how to pacify
To be serene and happy and rejoice sincerely for others and themselves,
And those who are unable to do so, prisoners of their own suffering – mental and otherwise – that blurs the light of their hearts,

That have likewise taken care of my grandparents,
My father, brothers, uncles, cousins, friends,
Men both known and unknown,
The kindhearted and the malicious alike,
Those who know how to offer protection,
To be serene and happy and to sincerely rejoice for others and themselves,
And those who are unable to do so as prisoners of their own suffering – mental and otherwise – that blurs the light of their hearts,

Great Ancestral Mother who always cares equally
For all animals and plants, forests, mountains and caves,
Rocks and crystals, water, air, fire,
All beauty and all food,
For the body and for the spirit of all of us,
Your daughters and children,

I invoke you, and I invoke all mothers,
My mothers and relatives,
Please show me yourselves, luminous, here and now!
May You be blessed and honored by me and all beings
At every moment and everywhere in life!

I bow and touch the Earth, as a witness to my heart and my love for beings,
Learned from You and from the ancestors of my mothers, and fathers,
As you taught me to pay respect to Life!
Speak to me about You,
About you all,
Please tell me what you want me to know,
Now my listening has grown deeper,
I can feel your warmth in the eloquent silence of the Earth.
I am here.

 

Can Women Lead a Transformation in Global Consciousness?

Part One & Two

By Dena Merriam

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Dena Merriam & Ven. Mae Chee Sansanee of Thailand & young Kashmiri women, Srinagar 2015

There is perhaps no more critical undertaking now than to bring together women who have the
commitment, knowledge and vision to make a difference in bringing about the needed global transformations.  It is increasingly clear that we have arrived at a pivotal moment in the history of the world.  There are forces  pulling us forward toward the next stage in human evolution, and there are forces resisting this advance, seeking to pull us backward or at least to keep us from progressing.  In almost every region of the world, we feel this tension between a movement forward and the resistance. Even for those of us who feel the forces of advancement, it is not clear where we are going, what is the next stage in our social evolution. We know that the current systems are not working but we don’t know the new formations that are quietly arising.  This inability to put our current situation into larger context is creating anxiety.  How do we ease this tension?
I would describe the new mindset that is emerging as one based on a sense of unity –human unity and unity with the natural world – and I would describe the old mindset as one based on a sense of separateness and division. We see these forces playing out around the world.   Globalization and communications technology brought us together in the physical sense.  Now something akin to this is happening on a spiritual level.  The interfaith movement played a role in that, bringing people into much deeper spiritual exchange.  But now we have moved beyond interfaith into a new experience of spiritual unity.  In response to this new reality, retraction is also occurring – people retreating into their separateness, into known and comfortable identities.  But this retreat can only be temporary because the movement of evolution is a forward one.   
 In addition to the tension between unity and separateness, we are feeling the tension of shifting from a paradigm of domination, which has lasted for millennia and is deeply imbedded in our psyches, to one of collaboration.  The urge to dominate is based on fear and for a period in human evolution this fear was a necessity – it was self-preservation.  But it has outlived its usefulness and has now become destructive.  This shift is not a cosmetic or minor change in thinking but entails a significant growth in consciousness and involves deep systemic changes that will affect all aspects of our economic, political, social and religious life.  This shift in consciousness away from a domination mentality applies to how we interact as a human community and to how we interact with the rest of the created world.  So much of human history has been about one ethnic, national, religious or racial group seeking to dominate another, one gender seeking to dominate the other, and one species, the human species, seeking to dominate all that resides on Earth for our sole benefit.  These old mental patterns no longer serve us.  In fact, they threaten our survival.  
What we are experiencing now as a global community is the breaking down of old patterns and the beginning of the formation of new ones.  This is a painful process.  As women know, it is only by passing through the agony of labor that we give birth to new life.   This is not an easy or quick task. For an individual it takes a long time to change habits.   For a global collective, the formation of new modes of behavior could take decades,  but at least we can lay the foundations, and we do this essentially through our understanding of what is taking place and by changing our own consciousness.
If you look at what is happening in the world today, on the surface, it can seem dismal.  It almost feels like we are moving backward.  Every region is experiencing tension – conflict, human barbarity, climate changes, environmental degradation, increasing economic disparity, the list goes on and on.  In the US, on a political level we are in a state of deep polarization and paralysis. But spiritually something else is happening and a deeply unifying spiritual movement is emerging.   The spiritual landscape of the country is changing quite rapidly, and in a positive direction, because it is based on unity rather than division.  How long will it take for this to affect the political and economic life of the country – that is an unknown.

 This unifying spiritual movement, which is emerging around the world,  is drawing upon our many faith traditions.  It is not negating our difference but rather it is using this diversity as a unifying force. Instead of dividing people,  the world’s incredible religious diversity can and should unify people of all faiths.   The premise for this is to embrace the “other” rather than to feel threatened by it. The old competitive pattern of judging which religion is right or superior is discarded, replaced by a new thought pattern of appreciating the special gifts of the “other.”    The old pattern of seeking to convert others to our way of thinking is replaced by a celebration of the “other.”  This shift will occur when we move away from the fear-based domination way of thinking.
Just as we must evolve beyond our need to dominate other groups of people,  we must evolve beyond the need to dominate the natural world.   This will give rise to a newborn sense of love for the Earth and Her vast communities of life, and the feeling that we must do all we can to protect Earth’s precious life forms.  The climate crisis presents a great challenge to the human community but also a great opportunity to change the way we view the Earth and to come together as a global society.  We can choose which direction we will take, greater unity, or greater division.  I believe the forces of unity are stronger and will eventually pull us forward.  
 
I travel continually and I see these feelings shared by people around the world, regardless of culture or region.   It is an undercurrent but one that is growing and will soon have enough momentum to trigger change – a sudden change in a positive direction.  There is no denying that we are up against formidable structures that resist change.  I believe women have a great role to play in guiding the human community through this transition, in building this momentum, but to do this we must fully come into our feminine awareness.  Before going into what this feminine awareness is, I want to share a bit of my history and how I founded the Global Peace Initiative of Women to provide a global platform for the spiritual contributions of women.

I began working in the interfaith world nearly 20 years ago when I was invited to help organize a large religious summit at the United Nations headquarters in NY for the millennial year, the year 2000.  The then Secretary- General of the United Nations, His Excellency Kofi Annan, consented to the organization of the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, to be held in

A few incidents occurred during the process of organizing the summit that deeply affected me. The Secretary General’s office had put together an advisory council from the United Nations, and we kept them informed and updated on how things were progressing.  One woman on the council, an under-secretary general of the UN, was particularly concerned about having women religious leaders participate in the Summit.  I was unaware of any problem in this regard, and so began to seek out women religious leaders.
I was seated at a dinner at Oxford, England with a group of religious leaders when I happened to mention to the man seated next to me that we were having trouble finding women religious leaders for the Summit at the UN.  I was only trying to make dinner conversation, but he reacted strongly to my remark and asked in a rather stern voice,   “Why do you need women religious leaders?”  When he saw the surprise on my face, he added, “take my advice and stay away from that issue or you might find that nobody will come to your summit.”  That was in 1999.
 
We had difficulty finding women religious leaders and so we compensated by finding women public figures.  I was not happy with this solution, but I was still in a learning phase.  Much of our time during the organization of the Summit was involved in dealing with political issues – like the fact that the Dalai Lama could not be invited to the United Nations because China would object, and the response from some prominent religious leaders who said they would not come if the Dalai Lama was not invited.  So the gender issue got lost amid the political negotiations.
On the opening day, as we were waiting for the religious leaders to enter the General Assembly Hall to begin their prayers, we encountered another gender crisis.  A prominent monk was to open the prayers, but he wasn’t permitted by his particular order to come in close contact with any woman, and there was a Buddhist nun, the only woman in a delegation of about a dozen Thai Buddhist monks, who was seated near the entrance where he was to enter.  I was told she had to be moved, and when I asked why, the response came, “because she is a woman.”  A number of people on our staff had tried to get her to move, but she didn’t understand English and refused to be separated from the monks of her delegation.  The clock was ticking and we had to begin, and so I was told that I had to move her.  It was a difficult moment for me.  But when I went up to her and took her hand, she smiled and followed me. The crisis was solved but it left a deep imprint in my mind.  Later when the Thai delegation came to greet me, I apologized to her, and we became fast friends.  Ven. Mae Chee Sansanee became  one of the founding co-chairs of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.
There were very few women religious leaders at the Summit, and they were not happy.  They requested a follow-up Summit specifically for women religious leaders.  We went back to the Secretary-General’s office and he agreed, suggesting that we hold it at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.  Work began with the religious communities in Geneva, and the first response that I received was, “we don’t want your American feminism here.  We don’t have women religious leaders.”  I was again taken aback, because I never thought of this work as a feminist matter, and I began to wonder why this issue was threatening to so many.  In order to get around the subject of women religious leaders, the Geneva community suggested we change the title of our event from “The Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders” to “The Role of Women in the Faith Communities.”  I refused to give up on the idea of women religious leaders, and so began the difficult process of bringing this vision to fruition.   
 
In 2002, we managed to bring over 500 women leaders, mostly from the religious communities but also some from business and government, from over 75 countries to the Palais des Nations. Whereas there were many political issues and much competitiveness at the 2000 world peace summit in New York, there were no politics at the Geneva Summit.  It was a far greater success.  We had no thought of forming an organization out of this gathering, but we immediately received requests to come to conflict areas and help organize peace dialogues, and so The Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders was born.   We later shortened the name to The Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW).

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Photo: Jonah Sutherland

We spent our first five years organizing dialogues with those in conflict and post-conflict areas ––  including Israel and Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and between India and Pakistan.   The dialogues were initially with women, and then young leaders, then both male and female religious leaders, and finally a mix of everyone.  What was distinctive about these dialogues is that they were shaped and led by a diverse group of women religious leaders, always balanced between East and West.  So we brought Buddhist nuns and women swamis to meet with the group from Sudan, Iraq and other conflict areas.  This had a tremendously positive impact as it opened the participants to the wider world and they saw the role women can play in other cultures.

When the Global Peace Initiative of Women was established in 2002, it was the only global interfaith organization founded and led by women.  Soon after other interfaith groups began to notice and develop special women’s programs.  But in my mind this missed the whole point.  Separate chapters or programs designed for women would not compensate for the lack of women’s participation in the leadership.  What we wanted to convey was that women must be empowered to shape and lead the interfaith and religious movements, along with men.  Without a true partnership,  only token changes would take place.  I cannot count the number of times when I have been invited to speak on a panel to find myself as the only woman speaker.  It is daunting to have to represent my entire gender!    Not surprisingly, the absence of women’s voice in the religious and interfaith world continues today. Just a few months back there was a major global interfaith gathering.  I was pleased to hear that for the first time they held a pre-conference one-day’s women’s summit.  But at the official opening of the event, during the opening plenary session,  among the array of men on the stage, I am told there was not one woman.  I don’t allow myself to be discouraged, but after 20 years of trying to make this point…..

After many years of advocating for a greater role for women in interfaith work, we began to realize that the gender issue was deeply embedded in our theologies, and without addressing theology, it would be hard to achieve true gender balance. So we organized a larger conference in India in 2008 on the theme of the Divine Feminine – the female aspect of Divinity.  Most people would acknowledge that the Divine has no gender, and yet in institutional religious life the Divine is always referred to as male – the Father – at least among the Abrahamic faiths.  Hinduism is an exception.  In India, it is far more common to refer to the Divine as the Mother, rather than the Father, and in fact this is what drew me to India when I was young.  The Mother relationship seems far more intimate and loving.

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The conference that we organized on the Divine Feminine was revolutionary in many ways. One of our Co-chairs is a prominent and courageous Catholic nun from the US, who is very committed to women’s issues.  She was speaking at our conference in India and even for her, it was a stretch to talk about the Divine as Mother.  She approached me and said, “Dena, I don’t know if I can do this.  I have a theological problem with it.”She was clearly anxious.  I replied, “address the theme as you see fit.”Well, it forced her to do some deep reflection and she spoke beautifully on the Mother aspect of the Divine.   Since that conference, for years after, she spoke on the theme of the Divine Feminine – the Mother qualities of the Ultimate Reality.  Now, of course, there are many books and talks on this subject.

People would ask me why it was important to tackle the gender issue theologically. It has to do with deep subconscious feelings about oneself, feelings of which we may not even be aware.  I remember seeing a study some years ago that determined the one feeling most common among women across the world, regardless of income, education, status in society, etc. is that they don’t feel their voices are heard.  Women don’t feel that they have a voice.  If our concept of the All Knowing, the All Powerful, the All Beneficent Divine is male, than the female is subordinate, of lesser value.  But if this Divine power has both female and male aspects– there is gender balance, and this can serve as an inspiration and model for the rest of us.

Our inability to see the feminine aspects of the Divine has led to great gender imbalance, which affects so much about our world – from our economy to our social, political and religious structures.

What would the world look like if we could truly awaken the feminine wisdom and restore Her to Her rightful place?

For my generation, the challenge for women was to be able to rise to the top of their professions – to be heads of businesses, governments, etc., to break the glass ceiling. There was no talk at that time of what type of leadership would be natural for women.  There was no talk of the need for a transformation in our institutions.  Women were meant to just fit in and follow the mold.

I was born into a secular business family. I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and both became successful business women. I was less interested in business and more interested in literature and religion.   But after my divorce I had to go into the family business to support my sons.  I was told, and have been repeatedly told over the years, to cut my hair so I would look more businesslike.  I was told to stop wearing flowing skirts and to take up suits.  In other words to succeed in business, I had to fit into the male mold. Many women of my generation have had this experience.  If you wanted to succeed in business, politics and even religion, you had to downplay your female attributes.  This was very unfortunate because the very attributes that can bring about creative change were being dismissed and seen as a disadvantage.

So what are the qualities of the feminine? What is feminine wisdom and how can it help us address the challenges we face?

A few months ago we invited a delegation of spiritual teachers, men and women, to the UN Climate Summit in Paris to speak about the spiritual dimensions of the climate crisis. The formal negotiations were on ways to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. We were astounded that there was little mention of the spiritual perspective of climate crisis. We are causing an untold number of species to go extinct, killing how many millions of trees, destroying our soil through chemical inputs, and the list goes on – and we take no responsibility for this destruction?  We have brought spiritual teachers to most of the UN climate summits to speak about the moral dimensions of the issue, and increasingly the women in our gatherings are sharing dreams where the Earth, in a much weakened state, addresses them.  According to them, the soul of the Earth is crying out.  I have also heard this cry.  It is interesting to me that it is mostly the women who are hearing this.  Why is that?

Women are deeply connected to life. We have an intuitive knowing of that which gives and supports life.    Since the beginning of time our bodies and minds have been programmed for this.  We function from a space where we know the interconnections of life, this vast web, one part supporting every other.  That is, if we are tuned in to our feminine wisdom, if we have not repressed that aspect of our being in order to fit in to the prevailing mold.

And if we are more connected to life, we are more connected to Earth and the natural forces, because they are the systems that support life. So, more of us can hear the cry of the Earth now, the cry of the rivers and forests – all of which have been so degraded due to a domination mentality.    Rather that respecting and caring for these living forces of nature, we have abused them to the point that many of our ecosystems are dying.

The violence against the Earth and the suppression of women come from the same source – from a mindset that rationalizes the right to domination.   To restore the Earth, we must restore women.  To restore women to our rightful place, we must restore nature to its rightful place.  We must honor the natural world for its own intrinsic value rather than its monetary benefit.

In the Eastern or Dharma religious traditions, the feminine energy is considered to be the transformative power, the energy that brings change. There is the understanding in the East that the Ultimate Reality, the Divine, has both a masculine and feminine aspect.  One might say that the masculine maintains the universe, keeps everything functioning, but the feminine force drives it forward, providing the transformations that bring about new life.  This would apply both at the macrocosmic as well as the micro level, in the greater scheme of things and also in the movements of everyday life.

It is this evolutionary force, this driving forward that we very much need now to move us into a new global consciousness – which is intuitive, inclusive, non-hierarchical, more compassionate and balanced.

It is not only women who have access to this feminine force. We have found in our work that many men resonate with this energy, more than some women.   Ultimately, just as the Divine can be considered to have both a male and female aspect, so do we all.  What is desperately needed now to move the world out of its conflict, tension, and destructive tendencies, is to allow for the feminine wisdom to come forward.

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Gathering of the Women’s Partnership for Peace in the Middle East, Oslo, 2003 – Photo by Nancy Bundt

 

As long as the female is repressed, the world will be greatly out of balance, and imbalance creates tension and destruction. As long as the Earth is abused, the same will be true.  A similar imbalance would occur if the feminine forces were to overpower the male.  It is balance that is so essential, and this balance will help us move beyond the paradigm of fear, domination and division to one of greater collaboration, trust and unity.  Some of the themes that I have discussed may be obvious, and some are quite subtle.  This is because the issues that we face in our societies and globally reflect deeper shifts that have to do with larger movements of time.  The changes we seek may not manifest for centuries, but the only thing we can be sure of is that change will come.  Yet we must stay focused on the specifics of what we can do now.  What can we do as women in our everyday lives to help foster change?

I think the most important task for us now is to connect to our intuitive nature, and to begin to question what are the life-supporting actions and positions that we can take that will bring balance to our societies – not further polarization, not anger and distrust, but greater unity. Ultimately the greatest change will come about not through any action but through our changed consciousness. That is where true transformation begins.

Can we ourselves outgrow the fear and domination mentality and not see the “other” — be it the religious, ethnic or racial other – as in any way inferior?    Can we know ourselves to be an intrinsic part of the interconnected whole, not apart from it, but one with it?  Can we evoke the feeling of love for the Earth and truly see Her as a Mother?  Can we speak to Her and hear Her response? Can we feel our connection to the plant and animal worlds and know that they have as much right to life as we do?  Can we look beyond our limited time frame and know that we are providing the foundation for changes that may be decades, even centuries ahead, changes that we may never see but that will benefit our grandchildren?  Can we believe that if we ourselves overcome the consciousness of division, separation and domination that perhaps our grandchildren will know a more peaceful, balanced, inclusive and compassionate world?  This belief is what inspires my work.