Imagine a culture that collectively recognizes equality for all people, demonstrates a sustainable engagement with the Earth’s resources, and honors the human body as sacred. Human survival may hinge on the realization of this vision. Recent events, however, ensure us: we are not yet there.
What is required is a new level of consciousness
—one that embodies the recovery of the feminine principle.
—one that embraces the individual and cultural wounding from her suppression.
—one that celebrates a sacred marriage of opposites.
I’m skipping to the punch line here, right up front, because my focus on the recovery of the feminine principle is for the sake of sacred marriage: a vision of unified duality for the realization of psycho-spiritual wholeness.
And there can be no wedding without the bride.
So, my work seeks to find her, to unpack centuries of suppression and reclaim her power for the world today.
…a task I was frankly terrified to undertake.
Listen to my complete doctoral dissertation defense, entitled "The Other:"
(You can also find the meditation practice further down the page).
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MY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FEMININE
Allow me to share a little about myself:
I never claimed to be a “feminist” and when I said the word “feminist” or even “feminine,” I often used “air-quotes” as if to separate myself from any conviction in those words.
It felt too divisive: the whole masculine/feminine distinction.
…and too socio-politically loaded—embedded with confused questions of gender and sex identity—beyond my direct experience—or so I argued. The truth is, it was just too vexing, so I tried to keep things very simple:
I identify as a woman, yes. …and I love being a woman, and gentlemen, thank you for holding the door for me, now please don’t rape me. And if you get paid more than I do, well ok. Then you can pay for my dinner too. I promise not to be overly sentimental as long as you’re not overtly aggressive. It was like a resignation compromise that I had begun drafting in my youth.
But then, something changed.
When I started this work, five years ago, I was still raw, open-wounded, and teary from the most complicated year of my adult life—the most celebrated and the most heart-breaking.
My mother’s sudden terminal illness, unexpected physical separation from my beloved husband…fire, loss, and homelessness encircled me with a sense of absolute groundlessness. Parts of my identity died. Meanwhile a tiny, new life grew inside. As I literally carried my seedling daughter through the fire, the Mother in me was born.
I felt the primal Nature of Her unconditional connection to all things. Her deep wounds and fragmented pieces shook my bones, but the fierce power of her courage and determination strengthened my entire being.
I befriended my body in brand new ways, and started really listening to the beat of my own heart. I found attunement with the rhythms of Nature. A new-found reverence for emotionality dignified my profound sadness and fears. I began to confront shadows of shadows, to hear the wisdom in my guts, and to awaken to the clarity of my dream visions.
And there she was—in my body, in my dream images, my heartbeat…in my guts. Despite myself I came face to face with the Feminine Principle.
Surprised that she had become “other” to me.
Because she has been “other” to my culture.
THE PLATFORM OF OTHER-NESS
And this is the foundation of my PhD dissertation: it lies in the concept of “Other-ness.”
Because the experience of “other” becomes the source of all projection.
And yet nothing can be known without the presence of an “other.”
I know my Self because I see you.
I was recently reminded of a quote from Sociologist Charles Cooley who very poignantly put it this way: "I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am."
(and this he wrote long before Facebook).
In his work, Creation of Consciousness, Jungian Psychologist, Edward Edinger explains how consciousness is “born out of the experience of the opposites” (17). He writes: “the experience of consciousness is made up of two factors, ‘knowing’ and witness or ‘with-ness,’ That is to say, knowing in the presence of an ‘other.’”
Knowing requires a “primordial division of original oneness” (37) so that ‘withness’ is possible. This has been called
"the great cosmic split."
Jungian psychology might explain the cosmic split this way: the one autonomous Self, desiring to come into conscious realization—in order to express itself—must flow into a finite ego. Each ego awakens and, with creative enjoyment, progressively distinguishes its personality.
As the ego becomes more powerful and independent, it begins to claim sovereignty over the Self. The contents of the unconscious are forced deeper into the background of the psyche to be rendered as repressed shadow (CW 5 457).
This cosmic split becomes problematic when the ego tries to preserve itself. Repression, denial, and projection of the shadow is exhibited throughout the human experience. The shadow gets projected onto an outside “other." Paranoia turns those we perceive as enemies into devils or witches that deserve extermination. What results is both an outward conflict (as in ethnic wars and gender bias), and an internal Self-division.
For psychological wholeness, we each must become conscious of and responsible for the shadow. When the ego ceases it's one-sided claims toward virtue, the shadow is drained of its terrifying powers of projection.
Remembering the whole and balanced Self requires uniting inner opposites. Individuation occurs through a confrontation and then reconciliation of the conscious and unconscious material of the psyche. Dominating values, bias, and gender identification must be counterbalanced with the contents of the unconscious—archetypes of anima, animus, and shadow.
For those who identify as male, therefore, realization of Self requires integration of the suppressed anima, or the feminine “other,” and all the shadow projections she has accumulated.
In the monotheistic, androcentric, and patriarchal culture of modernity, the repressed psycho-dynamic feminine became the voice of suppressed emotion, eroticism, natural instincts, and creative urges. Jung called the feminine principle the “matrix of a mythopoetic imagination” which, as he reports in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (188), had vanished under the cultural values of rationality, reason, and science. The repercussions of that suppression carry over in our collective experience today.
Meaning the feminine principle is still “other,” in this culture where, in the words of ex-NFL quarterback Don McPherson, men are taught not to be effeminate or care or love or be sensitive…”
Boys keep each other in check with slurs of “fag” or “pussy” if they demonstrate behavior deemed in any way un-masculine.
For women too, the feminine hides in the shadow as suppressed emotions and bound desires.
The archetypal feminine has become “other”—to anyone from any gender identity—who rejects their emotional wisdom, natural urges, interdependence, and sacred human-ness.
Mother is “other,” where breast-feeding in public is considered inappropriate and absurd.
Nature is “other,” where there is a desperate attempt to subdue the Earth’s mysteries and exploit its resources—where fear and hostility has resulted in environmental crisis, violent aggression, over-consumption, and greed.
Death and decay is viewed as “other” where, rather than an inevitable phase within an on-going creative cycle, death is viewed as a terrifying finality; opposite to life.
And Goddess (who has been associated with Mother, Nature, and Death) is “other” in the Western consciousness, where much of the religious wonder and mystery of life has vanished—either drained of significance or calcified into dogma; where divinity is regarded as a remote, impersonal spirit—an ethical abstraction not found anywhere on earth; and where patriarchal religion appeals to a sovereign and transcendent King for redemption from sinful nature. That God-image projected onto an outside “other” is no match for the reigning supremacy of the human ego.
I refer to the work of Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess, in which they review the stages in history that trace the demise of the goddess myths. They expose a deep wound that accompanies our current culture, where there remains no feminine dimension in our collective image of divinity.
FINDING THE GODDESS IN INDIA
So, I turn to the mythology of the East for a vision of the Great Goddess. Particularly I look to the thriving, dynamic power of the Hindu Goddess, who despite a history of subjugation and subservience, emerges as a triumphant and supreme Divinity, still worshiped by millions of people in India today.
I trace her story as a subordinated feminine in the ancient Vedas to an empowered vision of the Supreme Goddess growing out of the myths of the Purānik texts. What begins in the Indus valley as a primitive vision of the earth as Mother remains in the soil throughout India’s mythological history, providing the rich and fertile ground for her re-awakening.
I examine translations of the Devī Māhātmya of the Gupta period (surrounding the 5th century of the common era) which is a poem devoted to the worship of the many forms of the Goddess as the supreme and universal Shakti—the power of all the gods.
My work lands on the Tantrik traditions of the medieval period, where visions of the Goddess—in both nurturing and devouring forms—are all aspects of the manifesting power (the ongoing creative cycles) of Shakti who is united in sacred marriage with Shiva, the transcendental Reality.
According to the non-dual doctrine of Kashmir Shaivism, there is no duality in Shiva/Shakti. The organizational intelligence of the universe is both masculine and feminine in blissful union (Feuerstein, Tantra 78). God/dess is a continuity of consciousness and power within one Reality (79).
Kashmir Tantra presents a cosmology of emanation, whereby all things proceed from the one Reality in a dynamic pulsation of universal unfolding. Each individual creature is essentially unique, but also unified by the indivisibility of the one. It is the cosmic split, only colored as a divine LOVE story. Shiva/Shakti (Consciousness) assumes material form (‘the other’) to have an experience of its own Reality.
Once phenomenal nature is birthed, according to Tantrik lore, there is a psycho-spiritual twist to the story. With her power embedded in the manifest world, Shakti forgets that she is one with her divine beloved, the source of all.
In the Tantrik text: Vijnana Bhairava, Shakti beseeches Shiva, “Lord,” she asks, “How can I know you more?” Shiva lovingly replies, “You are me” (Saraswati 23).
To Tantrik traditions, creation is an expression of divine love—a cosmic game of concealment and revelation (63). The concealment is a necessary part of the process in the creation of consciousness. On the one hand, it is Self-forgetting. On the other, it is self-expression, just as the ego differentiates itself to develop a stable identity. Shiva and Shakti maintain a sweet sense of separation in order to enjoy the blissful play of recognition, the with-ness, between them.
This Tantrik perspective celebrates the with-ness of ‘the other’ as absolutely vital for the realization of the Self. The mythologies of Hindu Tantra celebrate the tension of the opposites and, in so doing, progress the idea of what it means to be whole.
I often joke with my husband that life is simply a series of making messes and cleaning them up…in these ongoing cycles where the ego forgets the Self…then remembers, then forgets. We have good days and bad days—little deaths and rebirths. We fall in and out of love.
The practice of non-dual Tantrik yoga allows us to become awakened within these cycles, so that we are not attached or averse to the feeling of “mess” or the feeling of “clean” but can enjoy the complete human experience without suffering.
RECOVERING THE GODDESS IN ALCHEMY
And this awakening is a moment by moment practice applied to all of life…because ultimately, yoga—like Jung’s quest for wholeness expands beyond the individual psyche (ego and unconscious) as we recognize that the experience of the individual influences one’s experience of the universal.
Engaging unconscious content of the psyche is a hero’s quest—a mother’s quest—not for the faint of heart. It is establishing an intimate connection with your deep wounds and fragmented pieces. It is befriending your body in brand new ways, listening to the beat of your own heart, revering your emotions and hearing the wisdom in your guts. It is awakening to your dream visions and finding attunement with the rhythms of Nature. It is establishing an unconditional connection, a deep reverence, and interdependence with all things.
Remembering Self means expanding beyond ego consciousness to rescue soul—your own soul and the soul of the world. Like Tantrik yoga, which unifies the finite with the infinite, a bi-product of individuation is the recovery of sacredness to the human experience.
Jung was fond of using alchemical symbolism to express this recovery of soul. The alchemical sacred marriage (the hierosgamos) is a body/soul/spirit reunion that includes a recovery of the anima mundi (the soul of the world). Like the Tantrik myth images of a unified Shiva and Shakti, the sacred marriage is symbolized by the embrace of the primordial divine couple, the alchemical coniunctio oppositorum.
Edinger’s lectures on the Mysterium Coniunctionis guided my journey through Jung’s major works on alchemy. And I found myself particularly drawn to the Medieval work of Jewish alchemist, Abraham Eleazar. Eleazar’s text, among other alchemical writings, uses the imagery of the Hebrew “Song of Songs,” which tells the story of a Shulamite bride whose bridegroom has been lost from her.
The Shulamite begins as the prima materia of the alchemical process. In Jungian terms, she personifies the psyche in its confused unconscious darkness, in a state of turmoil. The bride is lost to her bridegroom just as Shakti experiences separation from her beloved, Shiva. On a psychological level, this delusion symbolizes the ego’s forgetting of the Self.
The bride must undergo intense wounding which brings about the alchemical transformation. She is washed in the deepest sea, made to lay in the desert surrounded by serpents, and then fixed to a black cross. Through this process, she is cleansed and prepares to give birth to the philosopher’s stone which, for Jung, is the symbol of the Self.
Edinger describes the mythic symbolism found in Eleazar’s text as an illustration of the individuation process with each of the afflictions a step along that journey.
The alchemical solutio, or baptism, represents a dying and rebirth, a sink or swim situation for the psyche as it confronts the unconscious (269). The calcinatio, drying in the desert, is an encounter with the heat and poison of one’s shadow, which must be made conscious (255). The Shulamite then hangs in the center of the black cross, where all duality merges— feminine/masculine, spirit/body, heaven/earth, ego and “other.” All brought together in sacred union like a bridegroom and a bride. (CW 14, 9).
ATTENDING THE WOUND/A FUTURE VISION OF THE FEMININE
Tantrik mythology, which reclaims the divine feminine, together with Jung’s investigations of alchemy provide a new perspective—one that embraces the “other” as an aspect of the Self, bridges the body and spirit, and brings the masculine and feminine to balance within all things.
But one question remains—can the mythic images of the Indian Goddess support the balance of masculine and feminine principles for the postmodern world?
After this full investigation, I am brought to the conclusion: no!
NOT as long as the God/dess (or any God image) is viewed as an object or power that remains outside the human psyche.
With psycho-spiritual introspection, however, one may claim the feminine power of the Goddess as a transformational energy—one that brings the opposites into union, heals fragmentation, repairs social inequity, and supports psychological wholeness.
Reclamation of the divine feminine signals a movement toward integration of the “other” It calls for a true encounter with one another--RELATIONSHIP that honors each person as an expression of one universal consciousness desiring to experience itself—to witness itself. In this way two people may become for each “other” effective mirrors for awakening. Together we can celebrate (rather than fear) the illusion of “otherness.”
Edinger writes: “When enough individuals carry the consciousness of wholeness, the world itself will become whole” (25).
This is the dawning of a new yoga, beyond the confines of East or West.
The new focal center of consciousness will be found in relationship—the awareness of universal sacredness that vibrates within each of us as individuals and throughout the material world. Instead of outwardly projecting the principle of Love as a dogmatically expressed God (or Goddess)-Image, it must be realized within the natural human experience. We must become conscious that cosmic unity, the philosopher’s stone, the Reality of divine Love is dynamically alive—living as each of us.
My work concludes with practices that facilitate the recovery of the sacred feminine, through the development of mythic consciousness, sacred relationship, and embodied ritual. These practices conjoin Jungian concepts with Tantra Yoga.
I want to share a practice of embodied ritual with you now. This meditation is done in partnership so grab a friend, a loved one, or even a complete stranger and press play:
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Feminine consciousness invites us to really see each other; to contemplate the shadows within our own psyches, to attend our wounds, gather our scattered projections and realize Self as whole—ego and soul, dark/light, masculine/feminine, Shiva/Shakti…
And when we finally believe we are worthy of love, even in our totality; then we can fully see and Love another.
We become essentially connected with the entire universe.