The Resurgence of the Feminine in Spiritual and Social Transformation
In its early days the feminist movement focused on redressing the sufferings of women due to the denigration of the feminine. Now the focus has shifted to addressing not only the specific concerns of women but the impact of the masculine-feminine imbalance on men, society and the planet as a whole. In recent years this has evolved into a far-reaching, positive vision of the enormous healing potential implicit in the re-integration of the feminine, both in the individual psyche and the collective consciousness and structures of society.
Though this evolution occurred over a number of years and almost imperceptibly, it actually marks a radical shift in attitude, virtually a 180-degree turn. The attitude is no longer one of antagonism or even competition, but of interconnection, reconciliation and sharing, coming from a place of peace and unity within to bring peace and unity to all and society as a whole. It comes from a recognition that we are all already one, and the natural movement to express that – the mutually-enriching harmony of our true being -- through our cultural forms and the actual structures of our society.
This is the full flowering of the spirit of the feminine, combining the spirit of compassion and interconnection for which the feminine is traditionally known, with the courage and boldness of vision and action traditionally associated with the masculine. “Women’s empowerment” has evolved into the empowerment of the whole, expanding the scope of expression of much-needed feminine values – compassion, interconnection, conciliation and communion -- into a wider collective sphere of influence and action in our global society.
The values of the feminine can no longer be confined to the private sphere, to the home and family; nor are women interested any longer in trading in these values even as they enter the public sphere dominated by the masculine. It is clear that the highest feminine values need to be re-infused in all sectors not only of inner but our public life: in social governance, political and economic, in the cultural and psychological domains, in religion and spirituality. What is called for now is a balancing of the masculine with the feminine, into wholeness; not just for women but for the benefit of the whole, even its very survival.
In fact, a quiet revolution is taking place as the values of the feminine are being increasingly recognized, honoured and articulated, and brought into a widening sphere of influence and action.
A new cultural paradigm incorporating the wisdom of the feminine at all levels is breaking through in the collective consciousness, as an imperative not only to the next step in our evolution as a race but our continued existence on this planet.
It may be that more than anything else, it is men’s disdain for and fear of the feminine that are at the root of the violence and near self-destruction of our world today. Many men fear the feminine, and being ridiculed by other men for any feminine values they hold, even if they naturally feel them. Yet these values are exactly the ones needed to save the planet from the brink of self-annihilation on which it is so precariously poised today. Ironically, for most men, they are also exactly the values it takes the most courage to stand up for.
What the world needs at this stage of its evolution perhaps sounds revolutionary but in fact is self-evident: in a world so heavily imbalanced with aggressively masculine values, both men and women need to embrace and re-integrate the higher qualities of the feminine into the collective consciousness and into our social structures as a whole. It would not be going too far to say that it is upon these qualities – love, compassion, connectedness, conciliation and communion -- that the future of the human race now critically depends.
For many men, the strongest and last bastion of the ego is its condescension to women and the feminine. This may be overt or subconscious, the default setting of the programming of a strongly male-biased culture. Unrecognized but entrenched, the masculine-feminine opposition may be the last battlefield – or certainly a central one – on which the illusion of duality plays itself out. A sense of superiority and power over the feminine is the last resort for the most downtrodden labourer who comes home and beats his wife; and it is, at the other end of the spectrum, the last though often unrecognized vestige of the ego’s power play in famous male teachers and spiritual leaders claiming to have gone beyond duality but habitually exploiting female students.
It is now commonly recognized that religions and traditional spiritual structures and scriptures are often the social stronghold of prejudices against women and the feminine. While much has been done in recent years to challenge such patterns, inherited stereotypical concepts of masculine and feminine continue to be echoed today even in “alternative” psychological and spiritual circles.
Women are still almost always associated with the earth, nature, biological imperatives, immanence and emotion, while men are associated with the sky, spiritual transcendence and superior intellect. Though it is now politically correct to positively affirm women’s association with nature rather than denigrate it, the reductionism implicit in it persists. Earth, immanence and emotion are all metaphorically “lower”: the sky, transcendence and intellect “higher”. Even if the necessity for a new balance is recognized, it is implicitly a balance between lower (feminine) and higher (masculine) -- not the higher qualities of the feminine, which are in the greatest sense integrative and transcend the split between matter and spirit itself.
The Chinese character for crisis also means opportunity. If men can only realize that the false pride with which they’ve suppressed or trivialized the feminine is killing them, along with the planet -- then a huge transformation in consciousness and society is possible, bringing a new freedom and fulfillment to both men and women that few would have dreamt possible.
The highest essence of the Divine Mother lies in her non-divisiveness. She is the Mother who never gives birth, who never expels you from Her Being. She is never separate from you, nor you from Her; the whole world lives within Her womb, which unlike the human womb can never eject you, because it itself is boundless. (Perhaps the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, commanded by a masculine God, was in fact the expulsion from our own deepest knowledge that we are already inherently one with the Divinity that creates us. The true Mother, unlike the Father —at least as He is depicted -- can never expel or reject us.)
Men cannot emulate the Divine Mother at the level of matter, through physically giving birth, which is in any case a necessarily limited expression of her true nature; but they can, along with women, embody the highest, eternal and infinite aspect of the Mother, her true non-divisiveness, her all-embracing Oneness with all that exists. I believe they long for this as deeply as we do: both genders have been living in painful exile for millennia, women in social disempowerment and stifled outer expression, and men in exile from their own inner feminine, the missing key to the boundlessness and fullness of their own true nature.
Men are both attracted to the Feminine, and frightened – frightened by dint of that very attraction – and that’s why they try to put women down, control and contain them. Yet, ironically, it is only by letting go of that suppression of women, along with the suppression of their own inner feminine, that they can they find their true wholeness and freedom.
And women must recognize that the battle they do with outer men is just a reflection of the battle they are doing with their own inner male ego. But here the surrender needed is not to the outer man, nor the structures of the patriarchy, but to her own inner feminine, the Divine Feminine within, merging more deeply into Her and bringing Her reflection more and more powerfully out into the world.
All males start off as female embryos in the womb, all males start off in a “female body” – their mother’s as well as their own – and they always carry this memory, always long for home…
At a certain point in gestation, a hormonal blast in the mother’s womb shunts the foetus destined to be male onto another developmental trajectory; from then on the force of testosterone will drive him out of his original unity with the feminine, eventually converting the natural urge for reunion into the urgency of sexual desire. The testosterone blast in the mother’s womb, shattering the male-child’s oneness with her, echoes in physical form the greater spiritual loss of his Oneness with his own Source…Its strength is such that in many men the spiritual longing for reunion with the Divine Source will be confounded with, and overpowered by the physical force of sexual desire…
The more compulsive and forceful this drive, the more objectified and de-humanized women become in their eyes by projection – completely obscuring the depths of their search for their own lost inner feminine, and their longing for the sacred re-embrace of the Divine Mother, in their sexual hunger for women.
Many men spend their lives searching for the feminine outside them, chasing it physically, in women, but failing to embrace it in their own being. And yet, until they are able to do so, their lives remain impoverished, both psychologically and spiritually.
As important as is the relationship of women to the Divine Feminine, so is the relationship of men to the Divine Feminine, in all its aspects: their relationship to the feminine within them, to the feminine as Divinity, and to the Divine Feminine in actual women. Can each of these relationships become non-divisive? In other words, are men doomed by their biology to oppress the feminine – stunting women’s lives as well as their own – or can we work together to change, de-conditioning ourselves from our limiting and self-limiting programs into wholeness and freedom?
I believe that men’s deep and inherent connectedness with the Divine Feminine, no less than women’s, cannot be indefinitely suppressed. She will break through the cracks in the armour; she has always been shining through, guiding us with her light…
I realize increasingly that I have to give more attention to the place of the Divine Feminine in the lives of men. How connecting with the Divine Feminine and feminine qualities within themselves can serve them rather than threaten them, can bring joy, psychological fulfillment and spiritual wholeness. By realizing their Oneness with the feminine, they open the door to realizing their Oneness with all Being, their true spiritual freedom.
Men stand to gain as much from the re-instatement of the feminine values in spirituality and society as women do; to recognize and bring this point forward is perhaps the key to breaking the impasse or “backlash” of male resistance to feminism’s recent inroads. It is certainly true that women have suffered more overtly from the oppression of the feminine, and men have had more overt privileges. Yet men have suffered covertly, and often much more than they themselves or women have consciously recognized, by the suppression of feminine values in their own psyches and in society.
Because women’s suffering is more overt, the oppression of the feminine has been made to seem a woman’s cause, often evoked with anger and resentment on their part for the injustices against them, which in turn evokes fear and resistance (understandably) in men. Taken from a superficial perspective, it has often been seen as an us-and-them issue, women against men, in the eyes of many women themselves, and in the eyes of men. The mutual resentment escalates and everything comes to an impasse.
But if we look more closely, an entirely different perspective emerges. Both men and women suffer from the suppression of the feminine, in equally critical ways. And we need to work together to bring about our mutual healing, and the healing of our society.
It is mostly men who are maimed and killed in wars created by other men; it is mostly men who die of heart-attacks from the stress of exhausting competition and driving ambition; it is mostly men who go to bars and drink because they are lost and empty inside; men who commit violence to themselves and others because they lack inner love and compassion, and because they have been taught that violence is “manly”. Most men are not happy, despite their seeming privileges.
And how could it be otherwise? A society that teaches violence, aggression and ruthless competition over co-operation, mutual support and caring, is not, and cannot be, a happy society. Love and caring are not “sissy” stuff, only for women, confined to the family; the world is being destroyed for lack of them, particularly in the places of power.
No one is exempt from this: neither men, nor women, nor children, nor the earth, nor the sky that surrounds us. It is not just a women’s issue: we are all in this together.
It is crucial to approach the revalorization of the Feminine from the deepest spiritual level of non-duality, openness, and all-inclusiveness; not – as has often been the case -- from a place of surface conflict, antagonism and divisiveness. To come from a place of duality and conflict is to further opposition and conflict; to come from a place of unity is to further unity. It’s that simple, but so often overlooked, under the sway of long pent-up emotions and frustration.
The problem we are addressing is admittedly huge, perhaps the most central one of the entire human condition. It is not only that of gender conflict but the very illusion of duality itself which gender conflict so vividly embodies. It is the compelling nature of the pain of divisiveness that calls our attention to the problem -- and for fulfilling that crucial function both the pain and divisiveness have to be profoundly acknowledged and honoured. But to cling to them and act out of them then becomes patently counterproductive.
We must trade in the compelling image of the divisiveness we don’t want for the image of what we do want, the unity that is our birthright. And bring it from its natural source, at the central core of our consciousness, into outer manifestation in our lives and society.
It is from within, from our deepest vision outwards, that reality flows. If that vision is not very deep, if it is of division, then more division will follow. If it is a vision that begins to reconcile opposites, a vision that emanates from their one Source, then only can it truly bring a higher integration into reality.
Reality manifests from inwards out: only by coming from the deepest unity of spirit can we bring unity into our social reality.
It is counterproductive to attack the question of gender imbalance at the level of its surface manifestations, at the social level of seemingly conflicted interests and opposition. It is not only self-defeating, it goes counter to the very principles of integration and unity that the Feminine represents. It is rather by coming from the deepest place of the Feminine – openness, non-dual acceptance, all-embracing love – and approaching the psychological and social levels from there, that we can help reconcile antagonisms and seeming conflicts of interest from their root, that could never be resolved by approaching them from the surface alone.
To resist or oppress the Feminine is to resist surrender to the highest, all-uniting Consciousness.
The truly courageous man (and the highest masculine aspect of the psyche, even in women) is totally unafraid of the Feminine; that is the apex of the hero’s journey, the masculine hero’s trajectory. When the force of individuation plunges into the infinite space of the Indivisible, there is an enormous tension and release, out of which a new union is conceived and born. This is not a reversion to the Primal feminine, chaos or the unconscious; but a union of the highest principles of the masculine and the feminine, of the masculine principle of individuation with the feminine principle of integration, which may be called the Divine Feminine.
I believe that much male ambiguity towards women and the feminine stems from the confusion between the Primal feminine (pre-individuation) and the Divine Feminine (trans- individuation). It is the inability to distinguish between the two that freezes many men in their fear of, and condescension to, the feminine.
Men are often afraid that in approaching the feminine (in actual women or in their own psyches) they are moving backwards, to a less conscious state. In fact, it is only by embracing the higher qualities of the feminine that they can move forward, transcending the limits of ego-bound consciousness, the phase of individuation, into a higher integration: the all-inclusive Consciousness that embraces and reconciles both individuation and unity, that gives rise to both differentiation and re-integration of opposites. This is the Divine Feminine, midwife to the Nondual.
It is important to distinguish between the lower or unevolved feminine and the higher or evolved feminine; and between the lower or unevolved masculine and the higher or evolved masculine. The tendencies of the lower feminine could be characterized as attachment and dependency; the lower masculine as aggression and domination. (Because the lower masculine includes the need to dominate, it may make itself appear to be higher than the feminine, but in fact its need to dominate is no less primate behaviour than the female’s enforced submission, and a good deal more driven.)
The higher feminine could be characterized as interconnectedness and interdependency, the reconciliation of what appears divided. This higher level of integration takes place at the level of energy, an expanded identification with the greater energetic life-field, rather than with matter and form as is characteristic of the lower feminine. The evolution of the masculine likewise moves from a gross identification with matter and form at its lower stages, to a growing identification with more universal energies at its higher levels. In this the higher masculine supports the higher feminine, begins to converge with it, and to realize their unity, rather than opposing or trying to oppress it.
The evolution of both genders moves thus from identification with material form, to the deeper nature of form as an energy-continuum, to the still deeper unity of energy with pure undivided Consciousness. We move from perceiving ourselves as seemingly separate and opposed forms; to interconnected energy fields; to unified and undivided Consciousness.
While the lower feminine lives in dependence, and the lower masculine strives for an illusory independence, both exist in a state of suffering. This suffering is the creative tension that drives us to a higher synthesis, to realize our true interdependence and unity.
It is from the denigration of the Feminine at the spiritual level that the denigration of the feminine at the psychological and social levels follows. (This is particularly true when the spiritual level, which otherwise naturally tends towards balance, comes under the distorting control of androcentric religions.) The oppression of the Feminine at each of these three levels – religious, psychological and social – then reinforce each other in a continuous feedback loop, reverberating at all levels of consciousness and society.
Likewise it is from the spiritual level that the re-integration of the Feminine at the psychological and social levels will follow. It is from the deepest truth of our inherent unity at the level of spirit that the most profound and far-reaching re-balancing of the masculine and feminine at the psychological and social levels will occur. To attempt to approach the problem without going to its roots, from the level of its psychological and social symptoms alone, can only lead to futile backlashes and swings of reactive opposition.
Men can never be at peace or whole until they can develop – in themselves, for themselves, and for others -- the attitudes of unconditional love and acceptance that they expect from women. As long as a man remains dependent on women for these, projecting his own essential lovingness outside him, he will at some level fear, resent, or try to control women out of his own insecurity.
If we think of God as separate or distant, or one whose embrace we have to earn, then we cannot open directly to the qualities of Divine Consciousness, which in fact are already our own. This is where the Divine Feminine comes in, not as something outside us, not as an image or object of worship, not even a Goddess as opposed to God -- but our own openness, receptivity, non-division from our own Divine nature, and the Divinity that connects us all.
We create the Divine in our own image. If we perceive of ourselves as separate, we create a Divine, mirror-like, that holds itself separate from us. In the same way, if we conceive of a Divine that is open, all-embracing, non-separate, we ourselves take on these same qualities, and discover that we are in fact the Divinity that we were seeking.
This is the approach of the Divine Feminine, the openness to all that exists as one unified field of Divine Being, that permeates all one’s expressions.
I am that awareness that sees the struggle of all things as they identify with one-half of a pair of opposites that they are truly both of. I am not a woman but the awareness of the struggle between men and women; I am that awareness I am, prior to having identified itself as a woman, prior to having identified itself as a man.
The Divine Feminine is a quality of consciousness that is clear and all-inclusive, seeing duality for what it is, neither grasping nor rejecting either of a pair of opposites, but reconciling them into their true unity.
That which creates the universe is loving, compassionate, all-embracing, not separate from Her creatures. This is the Divine Feminine, the all-pervading Oneness, free from hierarchy, distance, status and separation.
Let us never create separation in Her name, but heal the rifts that come from false perception.
The spirit of the feminine – of connection, compassion, co-operation and communion – is what is urgently needed to ensure survival, and restore balance and harmony in the world today. This spirit of interconnectedness includes the infusion of true spirituality into social governance: the honouring, in both spirit and action, of our Oneness.
This is not a rebuke, or a threat to the masculine; rather, it is a sacred invocation -- an invitation to a higher integration crucial at this point, both personally and globally, in our spiritual evolution. The highest calling of the masculine is to command the strength, clarity and courage to defend, uphold and re-unite with the highest feminine – realizing our eternal Oneness and its reflection as peace on earth.