Forgiveness and yoga require consistent practice. As we engage in each, healing unfolds in the body, mind, and soul. Forgiveness and yoga exist in a symbiotic relationship: forgiveness allows us to release emotional blockages that affect the body/mind, and yoga delivers us to more empowered and peaceful states within the body/mind that encourage the release. Yoga and forgiveness illuminate the body-mind connection.
All world religions and spiritual traditions emphasize the practice of forgiveness. Sages, prophets, rishis, shamans, medicine women—figures who have helped shape religion and spirituality—understood that resentment and anger depress the body and mind, which hinders our connection to the soul and Divine.
Being angry diminishes the quality of life and can incite violence against our self and others. Forgiveness helps us function at fuller capacity from a healthy internal state.
Just as forgiveness promotes healing in the body/mind, yoga accomplishes the same effect. Scientific studies from Harvard show that yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, improves mood and behavior, and calms and centers the nervous system. Since yoga decreases the stress response in the body, it creates space in the psyche to journey into the practice of forgiveness.
The past few weeks, I’ve been sitting with the many layers held by the concept, and the manifest reality, of mother, mothering, and motherhood. Mother is seen in the divine feminine, in the cosmos, and in the sea and the glow of the moon. She is held in our genes and our histories and the eyes of our children. She is found in archetypes of healing, nurturing, and comfort, as well as in stories of criticism, coldness, and abuse. She is the soft one who tends grief and holds hands and braids hair, and she is the unbreakable one whose labor and caregiving is taken for granted in most areas of her life. We carry our mothers with us in our DNA, in our stories, and in the way we navigate the impacts of intergenerational trauma.
She doesn’t always appear in our stories in simple or easy ways. Some of us mother children we did not or could not grow in our bodies; some of us birth babies who are now mothered by others. Some of us are not mothers at all. Some of us had mothers who could not love us unconditionally, or did not have mothers in our lives, or had mothers who brought us more pain and humiliation than comfort, from whose effects we are still recovering, are still healing. Others have mother wounds, mother blessings, that escape delineation in a single blog post restrained both by its word count and the sometimes-limited imagination of its author.
Mother is a tough concept for me. My own relationship with my biological mother was a source of confusion and heartache for years; the resolution of that internal conflict left me feeling cut off from my maternal grandparents, whose influence on my early life was wholly positive, loving, and stabilizing. Connecting with my ancestors is a part of my spiritual practice, so this loss was present with me, in my heart and waking meditations as well as in my rich dream life, which included frequent visits to my grandparents’ home. Each morning I’d awaken from a dream spent in that space to the stifling realization that their home – my childhood home for my earliest memories – had been torn down years ago. Continue reading “Carrying Our Mothers by Chris Ash”
Last week, I had the incredible privilege of sitting vigil with a friend in hospice in her final hours on this earth. She slept for most of the time I was there, but her waking moments were lucid, if brief. She whispered how good the fresh juice tasted (it had been made for her by a friend), and she seemed to prefer having my hands on her back to pain medication. In the last hour I was with her before leaving, a mutual friend joined us and played gentle, lullaby-style music for her on the kalimba and guitar. As he sang softly to her, I could barely make out his words; the intention was pure, the moment was intimate, and I felt honored to be present for such a profoundly sacred moment.
Speaking with another mutual friend who had held space for Maria in her final days, I mentioned that as I was at hospice I had felt an awareness of priestessing the priestess. Our friend agreed, and said she’d had a similar sensation. “That’s who Maria has been for many of us, whether she claimed that title or not.”
Maria and I were not part of a shared formal congregation or spiritual community in the traditional sense. We were both part of an informal network of friends in a variety of communities whose membership and interests overlap – sacred movement, ecstatic dance, ancestral healing, sound healing, and alternative spiritualities. It’s a network that is both leaderless and full of leaders, as its inherent diversity of beliefs and practices lends itself to members who are specialists in one tradition, students in another, and generalists in deep compassion, holy presence, and unconditional love. Continue reading “Priestessing the Priestesses by Chris Ash”
How do you start to put the pieces together? For me, it was imperative to keep a space to express emotions without self-censorship or self-prejudice, to identify exactly what was hurting me. It was not the What, but the How. A split is always sad, but part of life. I could have been the “ungrateful” partner.
What aches …
Well, just to mention some, it was not the obstacles of a relationship between two people used to singleness, with different cultural backgrounds and family styles, but the neglecting, insults, and public belittling, leading to my progressive invisibility and objectification in the daily life. It was not his one night stand a few years ago with an Islamic feminist I know. Every adult has a sexual past, that is not a problem, but discovering that past was quite current (thanks Whatssap) is the problem. Someone decided I was not smart enough to understand it, so triangulation and lies were employed, with the consequent mind games, an emotional roller coaster that included gaslighting and violation of trust.
Some of the most brutal weapons ever used against me were crafted and wielded by my own hands, forged in grief and self-loathing out of the words of others. In my better moments, I recognize that while another’s frustration with me frequently may be justified, any cruel words towards me never are, and are more a reflection of their speakers’ relationship with themselves than of any facts about me.
The parent who criticized me for being a “crybaby” saw in me a freedom of emotion that challenged the stoic denial of their own pain. The friend who criticized my optimism as “naïveté” and ignorance resented their own lack of hope about their future. The loved one who lashed out against my precious family deeply wished to experience that profound sense of belonging and acceptance that they’d not yet allowed themselves to feel.
In my heavier moments, when I’m questioning my choices and feeling the weight of responsibility that comes with adulthood, parenthood, and awareness, those words slither back into my brain, taking hold of my memory and trying to convince me of my own inadequacy and brokenness. Hopeful Me looks at my traits – my sensitivity, optimism, and devotion to loved ones – as strengths to be honed into tools I can use for my good and that of the world. Overwhelmed Me looks as these same traits as evidence of my damage – artifacts left behind by childhood trauma and occasional adulthood bouts of depression and anxiety. Continue reading “Forgiveness and Faith by Chris Ash”
Despite having thought that I had resolved my issues with my father, shortly after his death I fell into a lethargy accompanied by stomach flu and a cold. After about two weeks, the only symptom was a lingering cough. But I had no energy. I knew there were a number of essays to write or edit in the pending file on my computer, but didn’t have the will to do anything.
During this time, I came across the Greek Orthodox prayer rope (komboskini) that had been spontaneously removed from her person and given to me by the Mother Superior of the Paliani Convent in Crete a few years previously. Made of black wool yarn with one hundred intricately woven knots and a cross, it was not something I could easily wear in my everyday life. But as I was still lounging around in a black jersey nightgown, I put it on. I felt it on my skin and cradled between my breasts. Continue reading “Healing from beyond the Grave by Carol P. Christ”
Last month, I attended a series of workshops on self-care, family dynamics, and recovery from complex trauma. In one session, someone asked the facilitator, a counselor with over 30 years of experience in mental health fields, how to balance faith, confidence, and belief in recovery with the reality that sometimes healing can be a rocky road, with missteps, false starts, and restarts. The counselor noted that one of the key concepts he’s reinforced in working with people on their recoveries is that to keep moving forward – to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes, to not give up on ourselves when old patterns resurface, to sustain the energy needed to continue The Work in the face of obstacles, doubt, and fear – we need to be able to hold two truths at once. We need to expand ourselves such that we can hold two realities – that our hope in ourselves is not misplaced, that we are strong and can overcome adversity, and that we can move through our lives with grace and skill; and also that we may slip up and fall short of our ideals, that we sometimes may feel fragile and overwhelmed, and that recovery (from trauma, grief, substance abuse, or illness) may include steps backward intermixed with the forward movement.
This concept was especially powerful for me. As someone who spent my childhood and young adult years mired in black-or-white thinking, my personal healing and much of my spiritual practice has been built around reconciling seeming opposites, not by blurring difference such that the unlike becomes like, but by digging into the ways in which the tension between opposites is itself fertile soil for the activity of creation and growth, art and brilliance. Since creation is, for me, the sacred in action, and understanding of self in the context of the cosmos is sacred practice, this gives the tension of two truths a spiritual meaning and the fluid give-and-take that holds them in balance a spiritual wisdom. Continue reading “Holding Two Truths by Chris Ash”
As I was writing this story, my Word program froze several times, and I lost what I had written. This has never happened before. The fifth time, it occurred to me that Artemis was not happy with the way I was telling the story of her life and death. I lit a candle and prayed for her spirit to fly free like the gulls over the sea that I could see out my window and began again. The words in italic are the ones she added.
Yesterday morning I heard the church bells tolling a plaintive, “dong, dong, dong,” as they do when someone dies. Quite a few people die in our village in winter, and I did not wonder who it might be. You didn’t think of me? A few hours later, I saw the death notice on a telephone pole next to my car. My friend and neighbor Artemis died. The words “Theos voithos,” “with the help of God,” came immediately to my mind. Continue reading “Releasing Artemis by Carol P. Christ”
I wrote this piece in response to an e-mail from a friend that said: “Yes, women’s circles may help you with your headaches that you have every 3 to 7 days (or whatever else ails you.)”
I think women (and men as well, but I think women feel this more deeply in general) are missing a genuine connection to others, a safe place to be heard and accepted, a chance to step outside of their roles and responsibilities in life (if only to see how very similar our challenges are), and a chance to honor beauty whether that be by reading a poem, singing a song or listening to music.
This is the first time I have written openly about my childhood. It isn’t to get back at anyone, it is more to give a voice to the voiceless. I will admit right here, that, of course, I have anger. Yet, I write this not to blame, or to be spiteful, or to seek revenge. Many of us who move through this world with deep resolved and unresolved pain caused by our parents, are told we shouldn’t talk about our abusive past, because it could hurt our parents. To this all I can say is that children grow up. As children we are muted out of fear and ignorance. As adult survivors, we should speak – not to do more harm, but to create change.
I am happy to report that my relationship with my mother is intact. Although she still has an edge to her, she has not hurt me, in any way, shape, or form, for a very long time. I set boundaries, and in those boundaries, she and I have found a way to coexist. My father and I also have a good relationship. Yet as with any relationship that has gone through what he and I went through together, as well as individually, the past affects our interactions, which are, understandably, sometimes heated.
As I write this piece I am thinking of all the other children who are being abused by their parents in unspeakable ways right now. Children who are afraid, feel unloved, and are simply confused. These kids too will grow to be adults – adults who struggle every day to face their past holistically and with love. Or, they will become adults who can’t deal on a non-violent level and end up abusing their family members as well, and the vicious cycle continues. Continue reading “How Do You Honor Your Parents, When They Do Not Always Honor You? (Part 2) by Karen Hernandez”
Whenever the epidemic of rape in Egypt makes the news, I am destined to think of Joyce Carol Oates.
Last summer, the author took to twitter to question whether Islam was responsible for the widespread incidence of sexual assault in Egypt, an argument people continue to make today. As a Muslim woman, I desperately wanted to respond to Ms. Oates’ tweets. I held my cursor over the “reply” button countless times. But I’ve been silent about the things I would have said, about why I follow Dennis Rodman on twitter, and why Pearl Jam is my favorite band, and how my heart shattered for women in Syria who felt like they had to be silent, too.
I was born the year the Supreme Court of the United States of America began to hear Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; a case that ought to be known to all as a matter of US history. Here is a precise, but telling history of how that case came into being. This historical account lacks hyperbole, perhaps because one feature of legal-eeze carries the technical title (and appropriately so) of being a brief.
In case blog readers don’t do background research or follow footnotes, I raise these salient points: The Declaration of Independence states “all men (sic) are created equal.” At the same time as it was written and signed into law, the legal enslavement of Africans was in full practice. This incongruence required further legal action to change that in the form of 13th Amendment to the US Constitution which made slavery illegal.
It should be no surprise that “equality” did not result from this and thus the 14th and 15th Amendments attempted to address inequities in more specific terminology. All of these Amendments were ratified the 19th century.
The last decade of the 19th century, Plessy v. Ferguson reached the Supreme Court. Plessy was an unsuccessful challenge, attempting to point out how manifest inequality– the “separate but equal” doctrine in practice across the United States– violated the constitutional notion of equality before the law. Judge Brown sums up the majority opinion which went against Plessy:
The object of the 14th Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to endorse social as distinguished from political, equality..if one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane
It would take more than half a century before Brown v. Board of Education brought out the many subtle ways, over the century since the legal end of slavery, that the racial divide had been enforced. It started very early in life, in the form of separate educational systems that only perpetuated the impossibility of constitutional consistency and equality before the law.
When I was about eight years old, I dreamed one night that I stood inside the workings of an immense instrument, so big it filled the sky. It was crafted of wood and gold, and although there was no obvious source of light, it was brightly illuminated. I could have confused it for the inner workings of a clock except that I could hear the sweet music it produced resonating throughout its cavernous hollows. It was curious to me that there seemed to be no atmosphere there either to breathe or to carry sound. Within it, I did not perceive any movement. And, there was no actual melody that it produced, which could be sung or repeated. There was only an enveloping harmonic thrumming. The sound was multiplicative and voluminous although not piercing. I understood it in the dream to be cosmic, structural, primordial, and generative. When I awoke, I had the feeling that I had seen something divine. It was not heaven. It was not God. It was more like the instrument of the universe, or the universal instrument, created as a first work among creation
It was puzzling to me that I had such a dream because I was not then a musician. I felt that I understood its meaning, but I was surprised by its discontinuity with things in my normal frame of reference. My mother played piano, but she had no music theory in her background. She surely did not have any training in musical cosmologies, such as those produced in antiquity by the philosophers and theologians. I occasionally mentioned the dream over the years when context seemed to warrant it, but, more or less, I filed it away. Continue reading “We Are Music by Natalie Weaver”
I made it. Last month, I actually made it from Australia to Wales and back on an official Sisterhood of Avalon/Mythic Seeker Pilgrimage called The Priestess and the Healer. I also overnighted in Brisbane, passed through the Netherlands for a couple of days to see an old friend, and even managed to squeeze in a day trip to Glastonbury, England, in addition to my itinerary that had me trekking all over Wales. But all of it- every stop- turned out to be an integral part of my Pilgrimage experience. Much more so than I could have predicted when I first set out. And now I’m back. Back home with my children and my partner. Back at work with my writing. Back to chores, bills, & daily rounds where life is bright, loud, and busy– even as it is joyful & beautiful. What now, then? While the life I’ve returned to is virtually unchanged, something has subtly shifted under my feet in the fortnight it took me to tread those distant lands.
Traveling is always a great learning experience for me, but a mindfully undertaken Pilgrimage is a different creature than a casual holiday. In his fantastic work, The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau breaks down the pilgrim’s journey into phases: the Call, the Departure, the Arrival, & the Return. He relates this journey to the walking of a labyrinth, something Dr. Lauren Artress also explores at length in her book, Walking a Sacred Path. My experience resonates strongly with this metaphor. In retrospect, I can indeed pinpoint the moment of Arrival. (I sat down to eat a nourishing meal at a long, wooden table full of fellow Avalonian pilgrims in front of a window looking out on a late summer sunset in Dyffryn Nantlle.) The realization of that moment, small and simple as is was, shifted and opened my experience even deeper. The ritual of a labyrinth within a physical Pilgrimage is a special encounter. Those who manage to carve out the resources to engage in it undergo an intense experience, whatever their spiritual tradition or destination. But what happens when it’s over? What comes next? This is where I am left now. Continue reading “Bringing Back the Boon: Life After Pilgrimage by Kate Brunner”
In my first blog for Feminism and Religion, I discussed the cognitive and embodied dissonance that some Muslims experience as a result of historically (not eternally) gendered ritual forms. I ended with a promise to share with readers the ways in which el-Tawhid Juma Circle mosques try to create space to break free of those forms. Our mosques affirm all human beings as spiritually, socially, and ritually equal and try to break down the social hierarchy of ritual and theological leadership by opening up a space for all bodies, minds, and hearts to lead and follow as equals among each other.
One of the inspirations for the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete was the spiritual power and energy I felt at the monastery of Paliani with its Sacred Myrtle Tree. The Panagia, She Who Is All Holy, is said to live in the tree, and the nuns who tend the tree follow customs far older than Christianity. When I first visited Paliani, I asked Her to heal my broken heart and help me find my true love.
Over the years, I have offered many other prayers: for my books and tours, for health, for citizenship that would enable me to stay in Greece. I tell other pilgrims that the Panagia of Paliani has performed many miracles and repeat the story of the doctors who desperately wanted to have a child, who had tried everything, and who had a son a year to the day after making a prayer at Paliani. I point to the many “tamas,” including gifts of precious jewelry, crutches and body braces that have been given in honor of the power of the Panagia of Paliani.
In the fall of 2012 one of our members prayed that a heavy flow of menstrual blood that often lasted for more than half of every month be stopped so that she would have the strength to participate fully in the pilgrimage. She had been bleeding for 5 weeks when she came on the tour, and her bleeding stopped the moment she touched the tree. Continue reading “GIVING BACK TO THE MOTHER by Carol P. Christ”
Last year many of my actions, choices and emotions could have been characterized as a part of my ongoing efforts towards what I recognize as survival: I was often ‘trying to make it through,’ live ‘despite,’ exist ‘even though,’ grapple with violence or choose in such a way that I could continue to live in the midst of chaos.
Survival is an extremely important skill, practiced by many people for many different reasons. And before I continue here, I would like to say that in all of my struggles last year, I always had the basic necessities required to live my life. Many people do not; and for many, survival is an everyday practice that may or may not be achievable, requiring access to necessities that may or may not be accessible. No one tried to kill me last year. I had access to food. I did not lose my home or livelihood; though I felt these things threatened. I am privileged to live where and how I do, with many resources available to me. These resources helped me to make it though, where other people survive with far, far less. I choose to share my own feelings of survival because I want to decry the self-dehumanizing shame that tells me I am bad or wrong for feeling my own experience. I identify my survival in an attempt to also, thrive. Continue reading “Surviving and Thriving: For My Defender by Sara Frykenberg”
Child abuse does not have to be physical or sexual. The most widespread forms of child abuse are psychological, and therefore harder to see, acknowledge, and eradicate. As abused children, we unconsciously pass on patterns of abuse visited on us to children, and to others we have power over including students, employees, and even friends and lovers.
The recent visit of a friend who is suffering greatly in a “battle” with her own “demons” reminded me of the important work of Alice Miller. My friend’s “demons” take the form of a persistent self-criticism laced with the feeling that “if only” she did or didn’t do certain things, her world would fall into place. My “demons” generally take a different form, telling me that I am helpless and that there is nothing I can do to ease my suffering.
Such “demons” were not implanted in my friend and me by the devil. They took root in interactions with our own parents, who were not themselves any different from most of the parents of their time and place. Recognizing that our parents were not “bad” people should not blind us to the great harm they did to us. However, when abused children speak of their abuse, the statement that their parents did not intend to harm them usually functions to deflect attention away from child abuse that really did occur. Continue reading “Are Most of Us Abused Children? And is Child Abuse the Root of Evil? by Carol P. Christ”
Art, like religion, is a window into cultures. Women’s stories often find expression in narrative textiles, a medium I have long admired but never quite understood. I encountered the fabric art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz recently. She was a Holocaust survivor who created stunning needlepoint pictures of her and her sister’s escape from Nazis in 1942. They left their Jewish parents behind and pretended to be Catholic girls from the country in order to survive. In 1977, she began to create 36 works of needlepoint in which she stitched the heart-wrenching episode with power and beauty, color and force, the memory of a child now seared in the heart of a woman.
“Are you going to the Vagina Monologues try-outs tonight?” my friend asked me last year after class.
“I hadn’t planned on it,” I replied cautiously. Truth be told, the word ‘vagina’ made me uncomfortable. There were yearly productions of the Vagina Monologues at my undergraduate institution, but I never went. I thought it was a time when women gathered and performed monologues they had written, and I thought it demeaning to have these monologues named metonymically. I did not want to be associated with the Monologues: I was in favor of women’s equality, but I did not want to claim my sexuality in so visceral a manner. In my mind, the ‘Vagina’ of Vagina Monologues just referred to the actresses, not the content.