Heart of the Matter by Oxana Poberejnaia


oxanaMy friend whom I teach frame drumming teaches us shamanic journeying. There was an episode in one of my journeys, when, unable to see the way forward, I put the palm of my hand on the ground and went down a hole I was creating to the core of the earth. Since then, this scene came into my mind several times when I was talking to friends about inner truth. Also, the posture itself bears uncanny resemblance to the iconic Buddha posture of touching earth with his right hand.

Touch the Earth Mudra

Touch the Earth Mudra

According to a Buddhist legend, on the night of Enlightenment Prince Siddhartha encountered Mara, the Lord of Death, who threw various hindrances the Buddha’s way to prevent him from attaining Supreme Enlightenment.  The final challenge was Mara’s claim that the Buddha had no right to be in the seat of Enlightenment. The Buddha then touched the earth with his right hand to call Her as a witness of his past spiritual achievements and his right to gain Enlightenment.

BuddhaAndNagaThis episode is one from Buddhist mythology that most easily connects with the Goddess imagery. In some versions of the story, the Earth Goddess rises from the ground as a Naga serpent and covers the Buddha with her hood. In the Zen tradition it is also said that the gesture is an equals sign between the Buddha and the earth as his Mother, Father, container of his spiritual progress and the body of his liberation.

For me, from my journeying experience, this gesture, modified with the palm flat on the ground, also means going to the very core of earth, to the roots of the problem and to the heart of the mater. I take this lesson in two ways. The first one is that we as feminists need to dig to the roots of every way of oppression and every stereotype about women. We cannot take anything said about women for granted, even from the lips of supporters of the feminist cause, even if the statement seems on the surface favourable to women.

For instance, a Goddess advocate might say: “Women are more supportive and better at building relationships than men”. However, if we look into social history of this attitude, will it not be revealed that emotional support and relationship building are chores that patriarchal society lands on women without asking them if they want these tasks, to free men from this energy-consuming activities?

This type of dissecting each statement is in line with the Buddhist principle of dependent co-arising: nothing is separate from anything else. Everything arises dependent on conditions, which, in the case of social beliefs and opinions are: language, social conditions and culture – each with their own history.

Second of all, the body of Mother earth is our body. Going to the core of earth is going to the core of our being and encountering the truth there. Whatever is said about us, whatever we might momentarily feel, we must go to the heart of the matter and see if that is true for us. Then we can let that truth shine from within.

TouchEarthPosture1My female friends often find themselves in situations where they have to act happy for the sake of other people. At my frame drumming group, we encourage free expression of emotional states. If a woman is tearful, we let her know that we are absolutely fine with her crying. We will not be disturbed, our world will not shatter and we will certainly not think less of her. One of my female friends told me recently: “I will try to focus of the positive”. Contrary to what motivational speakers or self-help books might say, I expressed my humble opinion that she should instead focus on what’s true for her at that moment.

We do not owe happy appearances to the world. So far, the world has given us too little to ask for any favours, too. Perhaps if we had felt justified in expressing our sorrow, our anger, our horror at what patriarchy and capitalism is doing to the world, and if we had made these expressions of sorrow public – well, at least, the world would have known how we feel. Instead, we put on a brave face, we smile t the face of adversity and we get on with it.

Yet, if I ask myself: Am I really OK with the fact that girls are mutilated, killed for going to schools, sold into slavery? No, I am not. Should I not cry then? Perhaps publicly? What do you think of lamentation processions through the streets of our towns?

–       What are you crying about, women?
–       We are crying for the polar bears who are drowning in the melting ice.
–       Oh! Must be important then.

Just after giving birth I watched a news item about Tibet on TV. I did not have a chance to do anything about it before I felt that a tear was running down my cheek. Now, you can call that hormonal misbalance caused by giving birth, or you could call that temporary returning to one’s natural state of being connected to everyone in the world and feeling their pain.

I am not advocating mass hysteria (as sadly, terrible things happen every second in the world). Moreover, to be able to discuss and solve these wrong we need a clear head. However, we need to know our true standing in relation to any matter we apply our minds to.

It may sound exhausting: relating to everything and everyone. However, I argue and Buddhism teaches us that resisting and pushing away everything that we do not want takes as much energy if not more, and certainly, leads to emotional dis-ease and spiritual regress. Mindfulness is about encountering everything that comes into our awareness with equanimity, without trying to hold on to it or push it away.

Touch base, touch the earth, go to your core and learn the heart of the matter.

Oxana Poberejnaia was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and has been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention, now in its 9th year. Oxana is now exploring the Sacred Feminine through marking seasonal festivals, working with her menstrual cycle, frame drumming and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Oxana is an artist and an author. She teaches frame drumming and meditation. Her works can be found on her blog.

http://poeticoxana.wordpress.com   



Categories: Buddhism, Ecofeminism, Embodiment, Feminism, Goddess Movement, Identity Construction, Interdependence of Life, Interreligious dialogue, Mother Earth, Myth, Patriarchy, sustainability, Women's Suffering

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19 replies

  1. Thank you Oxana. I agree that it’s so important to own and express our feelings, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. Yesterday, during a church meeting to discuss the future of a successful soup cafe, one woman expressed her disdain for people on welfare benefits. We were sitting in her large, comfortable kitchen. I’ve done a lot of research in this area, and passionately fought the corner of those with so little. It left them all speechless. It felt life-affirming and one woman agreed with my views. (Many British find it difficult or impossible to express their honest feelings, so this was counter-cultural.)

    Religion, family, community, business: all need to be safe havens for expressing life-affirming feelings, Owning our feelings enables men to own theirs too. Too much is hidden or repressed. We need to learn to express it constructively, for the sake of our world. <3

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    • Annette —

      I’m so glad that you stood up for folks on welfare. But I bet that the woman who expressed disdain for them probably didn’t know anyone who was poor, since you were in her large, comfortable kitchen. I recently saw a powerful presentation that gave me more compassion for people like her. Susan Fiske, a social psychologist from Princeton, gave a talk at the “Being Human” conference in the fall of 2013 that you can see here (http://www.beinghuman.org/conference/being-human-2013?p=6), that showed that we are all HARD-WIRED to have certain feelings about certain types of people UNLESS we know some of them personally. Then those people become individualis and their individual characteristics overshadow the hard wiring in our brains that places them in stereotypical categories. So your acquaintance should probably go help in the soup cafe, and her opinions might shift.

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      • Nancy – thanks for your reply. Interestingly, most interestingly, the lady I wrote about is the founder of the soup cafe, and has worked in quite a few charity shops where she’s had regular contact with people with little/no income. So, it makes her comment even more bizarre. As we Brits say: ‘nowt so queer as folk.’!!

        Thanks for the link. Looks really interesting – think I’ll try and get along there later this year!

        I guess my own views about the poor come from the love and friendship poor Ethiopians showed me when I was a kid in Addis Ababa, far from home, and very lonely. My younger brother had lifelong mental health problems, and then became a drug addict, so I helped him whenever I could. No point condemning, even though all this can shake our constructs of life – just got to get out there and help where we can…. Perfection is the perfect delusion.

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      • I know. How do I know? Because I am the same. I notice a wall rising between me and certain people as soon as I see them and they display certain mannerisms, with some people – as soon as they open their mouths and I hear their accent and vocabulary. I made a friend recently, a male, from a social background with which I would normally have nothing to do. Since then, my physical response to people who are not like me has not been altered completely, but at least I now have a friend where I did not expect to find one.

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    • Thank you, Annette! And a great story too. Absolutely. So much is repressed. I am a firm believer in that if men were encouraged to own their life-affirming feelings, they would be so much happier, would not buy into patriarchy and consequently patriarchy would have had fewer recruits prepared to hurt the world.

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  2. Oxana, thank you for this beautiful post. I have just recently completed a series of drawings of Mary Magdalene in her legendary grotto with her hand of both hands touching the ground with her palms, the earth, our Mother. And the question coming up for me was whether she was repenting for sins assigned her by patriarchy’s mythographers, or was she performing a far older rite? Was there a sub-text to Voragine’s Golden Legend that placed the naked hermit in a cave?

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    • Thank you, Majak, for your beautiful words. Can we see the drawings anywhere? Would be cool! I think there are certain yearnings we humans have, like last resort things, like women screaming “mama” in labour, or soldiers calling on their mothers on a battlefield. Touching the earth I feel is the same. We do it almost unconsciously, but knowing in the depth of our hearts that our Mother Earth is always there for us and is supporting us all the time. We just acknowledge that and ask for extra help when we touch her consciously. I am reading Wind is my Mother by Bear Heart http://www.thewindismymother.com/ at the moment, and this Native American shaman talks about lying on earth with head to the north and asking for healing from the earth. One of the most popular cult Soviet TV series about a Soviet spy in Nazi Germany both starts and ends with him out of Berlin, in a grove, and the very last shot is of him sitting on the ground before going back to Berlin to continue his work. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventeen_Moments_of_Spring

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  3. On the mudra, one hand touches the earth, the other hand is open. All of us are like angels incarnate. Enlightenment opens or realizes that miracle.

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  4. Lovely post.
    Do you view Buddhism as an earth-based spirituality? In other words is the goal of Buddhism to help us to live in the body in this world with equanimity or is the ultimate goal to escape the body and this world? I am sure both views can be found within Buddhism, I am not sure in what ratio… And what do you think?

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    • Carol, I like your question. Zen Buddhism believes in life as evolutionary with many lives lived until enlightenment is achieved. That process is considered as much a part of nature as all other biological evolution. The essence of existence is an energy form evoving with each incarnation and when separate from the body, it is without gender. The whole evolutionary process in this world and the next is part of Tao = Nature, the Great Mother. Like the planet itself, life on Earth is already in the heavens not separated out from it. Jesus also says that we each have an angelic existence (the true self evolving) and which is “neither male nor female.”

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    • Carol, thank you very much for this question. I am right at this very issue in the book Buddhism after Patriarchy by Rita M. Gross http://www.sunypress.edu/p-1579-buddhism-after-patriarchy.aspx

      And I completely agree with her: Buddhism helps us to live in the body in this world with equanimity. The goal of escaping the body and this world is a historical event, it’s an invention within Western civilisation, to be precise, by Classical Greek philosophers, starting with Socrates, who put Principle over Life (his own life, in his case, but still – this started it all). And his pupil Plato, who taught that nothing in this world is real, but only a reflection of IDEAS ffrom up high, which are really real, and his pupil Aristotle – both of whom formed the basis for Medieval Christian philosophy. In addition to the orthodox Christian theology holding a dualistic view, Europe has also been heavily influenced by an ultra-dualist view, i.e. Gnosticism. And I know that nowadays Gnostics tend to be more in the pagan rather than Christian camp, nonetheless, there is no denying that Gnosticism is the ultimate dualistic religion.

      So when Western or Western-educated people look at Buddhism and say: It teaches escape from this world, all they are doing is projecting their world view on a different religion. The Buddha could not mean anything of the sort, or even refute connection to these ideas, as they emerged after he had lived.

      The Buddha said: Enlightenment happens in this fathom-long body. Word by word. In this body. And every form of Buddhist meditation that is taught is body-centred – be it breathing, be it visualisation, be in dynamic meditation such as walking or martial arts – it is all about the body.

      Without even going into deeper Buddhist philosophy where there is no separation between “world” and the practitioner (and again, not in the sense that Westerners usually understand that), just from the everyday practices one can see that Buddhism is all about working with your own body right now.

      Also Alan Watt describes Zen meditation as an art of being comfortable in whichever circumstances you are presented with. http://alanwatts.com/collections/eastern-wisdom-series/ – or there is a free podcast on i-tunes

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  5. I’m sending you a big applause mudra, or would a drummed applause be more appropriate? Well done you.

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  6. Beautiful! Thank you for going to the heart of the Mater!

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  7. Oxana —

    This was a great post! It’s good to be reminded of our needs as feminists to critique patriarchy wherever we find it and to be real about how it makes us feel, letting the world know that we aren’t going along with its patriarchal programming.

    AND 2 things: 1) I believe that we are all born supportive and able to build healthy, loving relationships, but that patriarchy beats it out of men, who are supposed to be strong and independent and not need to have any support or friendship to make their way in the world. Of course, women in patriarchal society are also affected (infected?) by this understanding as well, but not to the same extent as men. Thankfully, more of our human relationality survives patriarchal conditioning than it does in men.

    2) I’m just beginning James Baraz’s course “Awakening Joy.” In his first lecture, Baraz (a Buddhist who has taught meditation for years) talked about a time in his life as a Buddhist when he became too serious and lost the joy he knew he needed and wanted. He spent time trying to find out what Buddhist teachings could help him regain his joy. One of the things he came up with was the Buddha’s statement. “Whatever the practitioner frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of the mind.” So…When I go visit my mother 6 times a week in her new assisted living home, I could go with my mind inclined toward how I am spending too much time doing this. Or I could go with my mind inclined towards the joy I am creating in her life and in mine by spending time with her. I’m trying to do the latter, and sometimes that means putting on a happy face. I think that’s the right thing for both me and her. Actually, there have been studies that show that when we smile we feel happy, that the physical smile itself can create the feeling of joy.

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    • Dear Nancy, thank you for your kind words and for both comments. I have to agree on both accounts. Yes, inclination definitely works. It is part of a larger Buddhist teaching on habit – like almost everything we do we do out of habit, including being unhappy. It is possible to change our habits. And meditation is a way to change our habits. So yes, definitely.

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  8. This is just lovely. I am particularly moved by the idea of a lamentation procession. You managed to articulate my own feelings about social justice work and the helplessness one can feel in the face of overwhelming odds. I don’t know if I can sustain the anger to protest all of the wrong in the world. But I could lament. I could wear my broken heart on my sleeve and walk with other women whose hearts have been broken. Thank you for giving me a new perspective. Blessed be.

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    • Dear Christine, thank you very much for your kind words and for noticing my wacky idea about lamentation procession. I really do feel this way. You know, the scale of horror, the scale of destruction going on in the world – and yet, for the patriarchal leaders to hear us out, we are expected to wash our hair, put on makeup, clean clothes, and go into their offices with neatly printed sheets of paper with logically arranged arguments typed on them. Huh? Whereas I feel like wailing and wailing and wailing.

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