On Winter Solstice, I hosted a Return of the Sun event at the local healing arts center where I do my Circles. We had offerings and presentations all night long. It was the first time I have ever done anything that large or public, so it was a stretch for me.
At the end of the night, a friend said, ‘Oh my, I needed this. Let’s do it once a month.’
And I thought, ‘yea, right.’
And then I thought, ‘Yea. Right.’
I’ve already started thinking about ways we could do it better and things we could change.
I feel a bit like when I first started hosting Circles nine years ago. I’m tired and judging whether or not it was worth the stress and effort.
But this time around I know it’s worth the stress and effort.
Yet another of my great spiritual teachers has died. Buddhist monk, peace activist, author, and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh died on January 22nd at Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, Vietnam. I have found wisdom in so many of his books, but it is his The Miracle of Mindfulness that has become almost a daily guide. I discovered it sometime in my four-year wait for a new heart after being put on the transplant list following my second cardiac arrest in my 30s. In that time of living with the ever-present fear of sudden cardiac death, it probably saved my life, and certainly my sanity and spiritual well-being.
Last Friday my oncologist gave me the best birthday present I could have imagined. (My birthday was 7:30 pm last night December 20, California time.) Without going into details, my latest CT scan was so much more positive than the last one that it feels like a miracle. I have reason to hope.
Today I am full of gratitude. I am grateful to my doctor Dimitrios Mavroudis who is the head of Oncology at the University of Crete and at the Pagni Hospital in Heraklion. I am grateful to medical science for the chemotherapy that is healing my body.
I am grateful for the national health system of Greece that is covering the cost of my treatment because I am a Greek citizen even though I never contributed to the national health insurance.
I am grateful to the nurses at the Pagni hospital who are unfailingly kind as they take my blood and regulate my chemotherapy.
On Friday, Nov. 6th, the day before the Biden/Harris race was called I spent a day in a deeply meditative state. I live in the NY City metropolitan area and it was a beautiful day. I mostly sat in my backyard in a patch of sunshine musing on the world and seeking a personal sense of balance. I didn’t do anything that day. Well not entirely true, I did a few things, for example I shifted positions a few times to stay in the sun. I grew up in the Puritan based school system which frowned on “doing nothing” as if spending a day not actively achieving anything was somehow wrong, perhaps sinful. For my kids, 30 years after me, it was far worse, codified in hours of homework following a complete school day. And today it’s even harder with afterschool activities (although I must say, to my great pleasure, I have never seen so many children playing on the street in my neighborhood than since this pandemic began.) No wonder Mama Nature is not generally honored. We don’t raise our children to have the time nor space for Her. Continue reading “Election Musings by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”
The ideas that here follow are an effort to organize insights from meditation practice over the past several months. I submit them to FAR not because they are particularly profound or even well-developed but because I am, as everyone is, navigating meaning in unchartered ways during this epoch. I find my old truths not only no longer fit; they were imposed, inherited, mind-binding patterns that have caused me damage from which I am ready to heal. I have discovered that rigorous meditation practice is transforming my experience and understanding in ways that very closely align with the outcomes of feminist deconstruction of patriarchal value norms. Renewed and serious application of this work, in my opinion, has never been more timely, more universally needed, or more psychically therapeutic.
The teaching of impermanence discloses itself in what might be described imperfectly as both the foreground as well as the deep background of human experience. It is imperfect to use the terms “foreground” and “background” because these words suggest a stacked-dimensional and binary experience in human life, which is, to say the least, inadequate. I defer to these terms only for the purposes of suggesting different value experiences that the teaching of impermanence meets along the range of aspects of cognition and self-awareness. Continue reading “Navigating Meaning in Unchartered Ways by Natalie Weaver”
The moment we live right now is one of its kind in the history of humanity. There´s an expansive wave of uncertainty, fear of death, panic and, at the same time, an expansive wave of creativity, hope, compassion and unity. We´ve never been so isolated from each other and yet so close…
I believe that there´s a great opportunity in what is happening right now. The opportunity that the fear of death will awake us in realizing that we’ve already been living our lives “infected” by all sorts of habits that were taking life away from us.
There´s a symbolic frequency in the word Corona, like in Corona virus, that holds the key to transformation through this experience. Corona means crown. It also refers to the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun and other stars. When a baby is born, we call that “crowning”, since its head comes out first, if all goes well. This pandemia is a radical wake up call to recuperate our sovereignty, to shine, to be reborn into our authenticity. The seventh chakra, that is the vortex of our energy system, situated at the top of our head, is called Crown Chakra. When that vortex is balanced, we experience unity, the knowledge that there´s an intrinsic law underlying all of existence, serenity, joy, and deep peace about life, beyond intellectual knowledge. Continue reading “Corona: Reclaiming Sovereignty in a Culture of Addiction by Eirini Delaki”
Although Goddess traditions invite us to embrace a world of immanence and change, rather than to seek to escape into transcendence—which some yoga teachings seem to point toward—I have come to believe that the “still point,” is, as Eliot writes, where “the dance is.” In other words, daily practice might grant us the capacity to always move through the world with grace and joy. The mind will be steady as it encounters and embraces the turning world. We will be whole.
When I was growing up, I was fascinated to see my father each day recite the morning blessings mandated for Jewish men. While the rest of the household bustled sleepily—my mother in the kitchen, my brother and I taking turns in the bathroom, my grandmother slowly getting dressed—my father, still in his pajamas, would stand in the center of our small living room, yarmulke on his head, tefillin wrapped around his arm and forehead, tallitdraped over his shoulders. Using a tattered old siddurhe had brought with him from Cairo, he would face the east and begin the ancient Hebrew prayers: “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe . . .”
I never knew then the content of what my father intoned, but I knew how committed he was to his practice: he prayed every morning without fail, from the day of his bar mitvahat the age of eleven (the rabbi in Cairo had decided to initiate him early because he had lost his father as a young child) until he a few years before his death at 84, when he became debilitated by Parkinson’s Disease. Ours was not a traditionally Orthodox Jewish family—we did not observe the Sabbath or keep kosher—but my father’s faithful performance grounded him and all the rest of us, bringing us us to what T.S. Eliot called “the still point of the turning world.”
“It’s like feminist summer camp, except it’s in February,” said Shaina, the director, “I’m not sure how to re-enter the world.”
I agreed. How to re-enter the world where vaginas have little voice? Where asking a woman what her vagina would wear does not make sense. Or what would it say? It’s not just what would it say, it’s not having a voice at all. My vagina.
I have performed in West Hollywood, California’s production of the Vagina Monologues (to benefit Planned Parenthood, check it out here and here) for the past three years. This year we raised over $5,000.
Mantras are not just the prescribed sound formulas or sentences found in Eastern religions, but they can also be thought of as the words or phrases that we continually repeat to ourselves. The word mantra comes from Sanskrit and its roots are manas-, meaning “mind,” and -tras, which can be translated as “tool.” Thus, mantra is a tool to protect the mind.
How often do we engage in negative self-talk like “It’s my fault” or “I’m to blame for what’s happened to me” or “No one loves me”? These expressions can become mantras, as we believe their messages from constant repetition. In hospice and hospital settings, one often finds patients who have convinced themselves that “This is God’s punishment” or “Everyone has forgotten me” or “I’m so scared.” These phrases, rather than protect the mind, become what is believed by the mind and may lead to increased anxiety, stress, and depression, and consequently the need for spiritual and emotional support.
Chaplains, as members of the care team in hospice and hospitals, provide spiritual and emotional support to patients and their families. Most often, chaplains attentively listen to patients and their caregivers (often family members) about the patients’ life story, their relationships, their dreams unfulfilled, and their wishes for those whom they are leaving behind. Chaplains take part in family meetings where decisions are made about patients’ care, sometimes interjecting to ask for clarification of medical terms and to ensure that the family understands. Sometimes, the chaplain will lead prayer with the patients and their families, and at other times, the chaplain will pull other tools from her toolbox such as mantra meditation.
I’m sitting on my meditation pillow for the thousandth time searching for clarity. Initially, going within feels like traversing a jungle; swinging from one thought branch to another. I’m itching for some peace and I’m almost certain this isn’t the way to it. But, I’ve been here before and I won’t quit breathing through the discomfort. I know I will greet the inner goddess soon enough. Getting past the noise is part of accessing her wisdom. The noise teaches me discernment (if I allow it to).
Eventually, the monkey mind gathers up all the branches and turns them into a prodigious figure that blocks the sun inside. Hello darkness my old friend. Inner garbage (fear) makes her entrance. I’m still breathing. Eyes closed. Determined through slow, rhythmic breaths, to move past her. I know I cannot run from her. She’s faster and outwits me every time. Continue reading “Inner Garbage (Fear) vs. Inner Goddess (Love) by Vanessa Soriano”
Machig Lapdron, female Tantric Buddhist mystic and lineage founder
I’ve just returned from an illuminating trip to Bhutan, high in the Himalayas. Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom and the world’s youngest democracy.
On our last full day in this enchanting land, my husband and I drove with our guide over the nearly 4000 meter pass of Chelela and into the Haa Valley which doesn’t see that many tourists. Our goal was the Hermitage of Juneydrak, where Machig Lapdron (1055-1145 CE), the famous female Tantric mystic, master, and lineage founder, once meditated.
We may ask: why should we be patient and kind while we are the ones who are being oppressed and wronged? I don’t have an answer for that, only that through history positive change has ever been affected only by people who made more effort than the ones who wanted to keep the status quo.
I’m sitting in my parents’ balcony in Pune, India, on a quiet morning. Well, this being a bustling Indian city of six million, it can’t really be quiet. As I sit with cup of tea in hand, I try and meditate – I’ve been practicing mindful meditation of late, and so, rather than block out the noises, I embrace the various sounds that make up this Monday morning.
I count the variety – sparrows gently chirping away while a noisy crow tries to outdo them in a contest he easily wins, a street hawker starting his day (and ours) on a rather cacophonous note, the sweeper from the neighbouring complex pouring his heart and soul into cleaning the grounds that will need re-sweeping in an hour or two, the put-putting rickshaw carrying squawking kids to the school down the alley, chirping chipmonks that temporarily develop wings as they fly from branch to branch in a cheerful chase, the honking car warning of its over-the-limit speed (reaffirming the fact there are two things we Indians especially love: honking for no reason, and breaking traffic rules), my mother’s footsteps as she peers out to see what I’m doing by myself…nine in all.
In the past I would have tried hard to block these out, straining to keep my mind on my breathing, worrying I’ll never find a quiet enough spot to help me master (hah!) the art of meditation. But today, I am grateful. Grateful that I am a part of a larger picture. And as I scan my body from head to toe, feeling the tension most in my shoulders while the cold mosaic tiles below keep me momentarily grounded to the fullness of living, I remind myself that I am just a speck in this montage called life. Continue reading “Mindful of the Bond We Share in these Trying Times by Vibha Shetiya”
I decided to run a little experiment and to explore the notion “woman” from inside meditation. I practice Anapanasati Meditation, or mindfulness of breath. I learnt it from Theravada teachers. However, through my Buddhist career I have studied in various Buddhist centres and from various schools. The latest one with which I went on retreats is the Western Chan Fellowship (Chan is one of the Chinese schools of Buddhism, from which Japanese Zen developed).
Anapanasati meditation involves mindfully staying with your breath and following it as it goes in and out of your body. It is supposed to both quieten the mind and to lead to more clear vision, or insight. In Chan tradition there is also a practice of asking one simple question in meditation, for instance: “What is this?” or “Who am I?” Sometimes exploration of other topics from within the mind which has been quietened and made clearer by meditation is also practiced.
At the age of fourteen, I began to question the Mormon faith of my family. I embarked on a life long personal and scholarly quest for truth. While teaching comparative religion and philosophy, I was drawn to the work of supporting women through labor and holding compassionate space for the dying.
In my book, “Birth, Breath, and Death,” I share moving tales of birth and death while drawing on my work as a doula, hospital chaplain, and mother. I weave together these stories with philosophical reflections on truth, meaning, and Spirit.
This is an excerpt taken from the first chapter entitled “Search.”
I spent much of my early twenties traveling throughout The Middle East and India. I lost track of time gazing at an ancient copy of Homer’s Iliad at a museum in Cairo. I remember sleeping through a freezing cold night on Mt. Sinai and awakening to a brilliant sunrise over the Arabian Peninsula. I climbed the pyramids in Egypt and protested the Israeli occupation of the West Bank with Arab and Jewish women peace activists. For a year, I studied in Jerusalem. Later, I dedicated myself to the practice of meditation at an ashram in the Himalayas.
A lively mix of debate and discussion characterized my Hebrew University days. In the evenings, I worked illegally as a waitress in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Adorned in Roman attire, I served fantastic platters of Middle Eastern cuisine and performed folk songs and dance routines for photo-snapping tourists. I was nineteen and living in Jerusalem, a place saturated in religious symbolism. Known as Al-Quds in Arabic and Yerushalim in Hebrew, Jerusalem is a city renewed and ravaged due to contested paradigms of poetry and politics. Continue reading “Meditating on Oneness by Amy Wright Glenn”
I have a problem. Some women push my buttons. Some men anger me, but in the context of feminism it is different. I usually dismiss men’s offensive actions and words as expressions of patriarchy. I take action, when I can – for instance recently I complained about the BBC radio 2 broadcasting misogynist statement when discussing a proposed Paternity bill. Complaining about the BBC to the BBC is like trying to stop a tide single-handedly. However, if no one does anything, nothing changes, as we know. In addition, I hope that statements such as “women of child-bearing age should only be employed by striptease bars” broadcast completely unopposed on the national radio service (for which we the listeners pay annual subscription) will raise more than one objection.
But coming back to women. I have noticed recently that very often I end up in deadlocks with women over silly issues. Once I was engaged in a debate about capitalism with a woman to the point when I completely forgot that I was supposed to be doing something completely different for work. The mysterious aspect of these “quarrels” is that more often than not the women have more in common with me than not: they are intellectual, independent and strong-willed. I suppose it is slight differences that unnerve me.
Prompted by a dear friend of mine during the new moon, last month I set an intention to “clean my house.” This intention does, to a degree, involve the actual “house,” aka, apartment in which I live. Great—fantastic even, and no problem at all! I actually love to clean, particularly cleaning out closets, garages, cupboard or really, any space where junk can be hidden away, brought into the open, sorted and organized. I’m really not joking. I tell people this, and they laugh and say, “oh, I should have you come clean at my house.” Seriously—do. I am still waiting for several invitations.
But meditatively speaking and in dreams, one’s “house,” is often one’s self and one’s physical body in particular. This work has been a bit more challenging to me. As I shared in my January post, I have been working this year to “create a healthier relationship to food in at least one way,” which also involves creating a healthier relationship with my body altogether, physical, spiritual, mental and emotional.
One reason I began to practice yoga and meditation was so that I could learn to better care for my body. Feminism teaches me to reclaim embodiment and value physical bodies more, and yoga teaches me to incorporate what I learn in a highly physical way. In yoga, I also found a safer place to access what I consider sacred and divine by approaching it primarily in my body while my mind and emotions unlearned an abusive relationship to God. I have even searched my “house” once before through active meditation and visualization. It was extremely powerful. I fixed broken locks. I gave people back items I didn’t even know I had been storing for them. I also realized that I was not ready to open some doors. The process was fun and very rewarding, involving almost two hours of seated meditation.
Yet, I have also struggled to maintain this practice. I felt very disconnected from myself before the new moon last month and hadn’t wanted to meditate. I wanted a vacation from embodiment and myself. Embodiment, after all, often demands that we actually hear what our bodies are trying to tell us. Honestly, I don’t always want to listen. When I have too much work to do, I don’t want to know that I am tired. When I am anxious, I would rather feel in control. I knew, however, cognitively, that “cleaning my house,” would be good for me so I made myself set the intention. I pushed myself to carve out moments in passing during the day to focus my mind and tell me what I wanted to do. I then proceeded to have four powerful dreams in the week following this intention-setting, all related to my “house.” In the final dream, I spoke to me, literally. I faced myself and said very assertively, “You need to work with what you have.” Continue reading “Cleaning My “House” by Sara Frykenberg”
Not all, but many women menstruate. The menstrual cycle is a contentious areas for feminists. Even men who aspire to be a feminist tend to find it difficult to deal with it. Inappropriate jokes ensue, and completely ignoring the issue is also a popular option.
The basic question is the same as in a “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” sketch about a sour-faced champion car racer: “Are you happy?” Are we, Buddhist women, happy with Buddhism? Are Buddhist men happy with the position of Buddhist women? Are we happy with the legacy we are leaving for future generations of Buddhist men and women?
This question can be re-phrased as: Are we happy because we should be happy? Because if we are unhappy it is our failure as women? Or as Buddhist practitioners? Are we happy to keep other people happy?
My body is the body of the goddess—witches and shamans and other magical beings (including humans) chant this in spring ritual …and other times of the year as well.
But as we prepare for spring equinox, I thought I would use my blog this March to give the Feminism and Religion community a chakra mediation for spring ritual and renewal. Spring is here. Your body is the body of the goddess. If desired, please say the following aloud or silently, participate in the suggested breathing exercise and allow yourself to sink deeply into the body that is yours and is part of the season– the awakening of spring.
I first became interested in Goddess spirituality because of my love of storytelling. Centuries-old stories yield multiple layers of meaning, and can be told many different ways to get at different truths. In this respect, the written word is both a blessing and a curse. It preserves stories that might otherwise be lost; who knows what tales were told about the Venus of Willendorf, or the giant heads on Easter Island? But it also gives rise to the idea that there is a single “right” version of sacred stories. Adam and Eve can be a meditation on choice and responsibility, but the insistence on taking the story literally can turn it into a command to disbelieve science.
I’ve been working on some meditations about the connection between Goddess spirituality and political activism. Last weekend, with people across the country rising up against Proposition 8, I was reminded of a story from Sri Lanki, about the Goddess Pattini.
Pattini (also called Kannaki or Kannagi) began life as an ordinary woman, in a less-than-perfect marriage. Her husband Kovolan was a philanderer, lured away from her by a beautiful young dancer. After he’d burned through all their money, the dancer left him broke and alone. A wiser Kovolan returned to Pattini and begged her forgiveness. Continue reading “Goddess Meditation: Pattini by Laura Loomis”
Aaadee shaktee, namo, namo: I bow to the primal power (which is female and divine).
My Kundalini yoga teacher training required that each student complete a 30 minute daily meditation for forty days straight at some point during our course. Great! No problem. After all, I signed up for teacher training partially because I believed in the physical-spiritual-mental healing powers of meditation. I chose the Adi Shakti meditation specifically, so I might better understand and embrace myself as a woman and creative being. My own self-definition of womanhood had been very wounded in my past, so I aimed to embrace this fantastic opportunity.
Aadee shaktee, namo namo—I will bow to the primal female power that I have within me! I was excited! I was even eager to do this meditation; but somewhere along the way I discovered that I had underestimated how painful this process would be. I underestimated my scars and I ultimately found this meditative experience somewhat excruciating.
Aadee Shaktee, namo, namo: I am humbled by her power.
Sarab shaktee, namo, namo: I bow to the all Encompassing Power and Energy.
My initial meditations were fun, exciting and led me to contemplate my sister’s pregnancy. I enjoyed the mantra and the physical movements the meditation involved. Very quickly, however, the movement itself became increasingly uncomfortable. I was sore. I joked in my journal, “no wonder the mantra engages female creative power; it really targets the abdomen and hips.” I expected this, as many meditative postures are not exactly “comfortable.” My response was normal. Continue reading “ADI SHAKTI! : A MEDITATION ON A MANTRA BY Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.”
The following is a guest post written by Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D., graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University. Her research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.
Sat-Nam. It means, “My name is truth.” Or if you will, I am who I am. It is an affirmation in the Kundalini Yogic tradition, a greeting and a mantra. According to one of my teachers, saying the phrase “Sat-Nam” even once changes something inside of you and accesses a resonant power attached to the vibration of the mantra. Sat Nam. I am speaking myself. I am authentically me.
Sat-Nam. “I am who I am”… “I am that I am”… I write this interpretation of the mantra twice because it is uncomfortable for me. It sometimes still feels blasphemous to utter this phrase: a phrase that I was taught in my Christian upbringing belonged to God and was the name He gave Himself (sic). But when I feel this way, I am now inclined to ask myself, what is wrong with saying that I am me? Do I really feel like this is a power that god/dess reserves for herself? No. I affirm me. I exist. “I am,” means to me that I am living, breathing, lively and thriving in this space between life now and life later that I like to think of as an event horizon full of gravity and opportunity. Continue reading “A Meditation on a Mantra: Sat-Nam By Sara Frykenberg”