Embodied Heart

Going There: Addressing Bias within Goddess Spirituality

Who’s your audience? In many contexts, knowing one’s audience allows the presenter, the spiritual leader, the writer, whomever to tailor their message and to allow those who are invited into the conversation to feel included, respected and witnessed. As a trauma survivor, I’ve been in plenty of settings where my needs and life experiences placed me “outside” of what it appeared the speaker or writer had conceptualized in presenting their material. For instance, statements such as “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason” don’t meld well with the lived reality of the violence of childhood sexual abuse.

I’ve been repeatedly confronted with social media posts within Goddess Spirituality contexts that have irked me and caused me doubts about the extent to which my faith community is equally receptive of all people. When I first became interested in Goddess Spirituality, I unconsciously assumed it was inclusive and welcoming of everyone, no matter their personal identities. As I’ve dug deeper, I’ve learned there are factions and biases I hadn’t anticipated.

One of the most apparent controversies is in relation to the “embodied” aspect of the spiritual practice. For some, embodied Goddess Spirituality and the physicality of being in a female body from birth through death are inseparable. Specifically, menstruation and childbirth are viewed as core aspects not only of one’s womenhood, but also of one’s feminine spirituality. I accept and appreciate this viewpoint and I long for it to be extended into a more inclusive model to which anyone can relate, regardless of body composition and gender expression. My Goddess is more than a uterus.

I frequently encounter the presentation of those who seek Goddess/the Divine Feminine as being white, wealthy, educated, young, attractive, straight and capable of child-bearing, adorned with the trinkets of borrowed culture without a deeper appreciation of their context or the potential exploitation that undergirds their use. Even if the expression of Goddess that people chose to pursue is within their own culture, they may accept the historical accounts of a particular Goddess without a dissection of the misogynistic or racist roots in which Her story was likely planted. I’ve attempted to circumvent these issues by conceptualizing Goddess primarily within the context of Nature. She has spoken to me in this presentation; I also question if I am self-limiting in order to stay “safe.” My Goddess transcends human characteristics, can I also connect to Her in a way that stands in solidarity with those who are oppressed, respects the unique forms cultures have made of Her, and evolves my understanding of Her as social norms change?

Those who are indifferent to others being excluded and devalued bear a mark of responsibility for those who suffer. I balk too at people who normalize their own inaction by dehumanizing the oppressors; no human is worthless. I have struggled to even dip my toes in this topic for fear of offending people and fear of being harassed. At the same time, if we are not in a particular group who is being marginalized, I think it is our responsibility to educate ourselves as to the situation and its effects, and to “call in” at least the indifferent to a place of self-examination where we wrestle with the difficult questions. Based on where I am at right now with my healing and mental health, I do not see myself seeking out direct engagement with those who discriminate within my faith community on a frequent basis, however, I think this is needed and I anticipate it as a potential area of self-evolution.

I wish to deepen my spirituality beyond blaming and shaming to an authentic and compassionate ability to co-create spaces that do not equivocate on certain norms of inclusivity and that enable each participant to meet the Divine in all Her forms.* There are situations in which not every person will be welcome—I would not knowingly allow abuse perpetrators into a trauma survivor group, for instance. The three specific areas that I count as priorities personally are welcoming people of all gender expressions (as they self-define!), balancing a wish to present material that is accessible to people of many identities with a desire to avoid co-opting and diluting individual cultural expressions, and drawing into fuller connection with my own shadow biases and hidden prejudices within a supportive community. I toggled for hours earlier this summer as to whether to restrict my Summer Self-Compassion Camp to women; I chose the “safer” option, in part because I was unwilling to express my internal conflict to others. I want my audience, as well as all who are drawn to Goddess Spirituality–whomever they may be–to know that they are seen, heard, worthy and welcome.

If your spiritual practice takes the form of Goddess Spirituality, to what extent have you grappled with the issues I shared? Where have you felt included or excluded in your spiritual walk? To what extent do you challenge yourself to confront your own biases and to call into conversation those who are indifferent to the suffering of the marginalized? Do you directly confront those who are oppressive, and, if so, what strategies have been effective?

*I acknowledge the paradox of my discussion in that I also conceptualize Goddess using female pronouns. This, to me, is a thealogical issue that is beyond the scope of this particular post.

Inspiration Fanatic

Art Celebration and Critique

One blessing of the digital age is a world of creativity at our fingertips. Some famous museums allow you to peruse their collections without having to leave your armchair. I am fascinated by creative work, but I haven’t developed the framework needed to contextualize much of what I see. I wanted to spend time on this #InspirationFanatic Friday to discuss ways we can connect with artistic inspiration in order to meet some of our spiritual needs. We can also challenge our perceptions and complacency by critically evaluating the meaning of various forms of artwork. My ideas here are those of a novice in the art world, so I welcome your input and insights. My focus is limited to the visual arts such as pottery, paintings, drawings, sculpture, mixed media and photography.

Studied Reflection

In the museums to which I’ve been, there are at least a few kinds of art lovers. There are those who stare at a piece in silent contemplation, those who speak in hushed whispers to those with them, and those who walk into the room loudly proclaiming “now which one are we looking at?” As a meditative practice, spending time alone taking in a piece of art can be a powerful way to connect with the inherent meaning in the work as well to glimpse the soul of its creator.

You can study artwork in a multitude of ways. One option is to center in yourself and attend to the thoughts and feelings that the work evokes in you. I don’t think there is any right or wrong here; art can serve as a medium to access our innermost desires and fears. Perhaps you can journal or sketch your own response to what you are seeing. Pay attention to any pattern in the type of art that you find most evocative; there is actually at least one study linking our preferences to our personality types.

An entirely different approach is to concentrate on the creative process. Study the piece in terms of the physical labor and mental effort it took to produce it. Focus on the technique, such as the layers and edges of the artist’s method. See what they reveal to you about the creative process. From which distance and perspective did the creator work? How much of the content is a produce of the inner world of the mind, and how much of it springs from the outer world around us? How are light and shadow, texture and form used? What shapes and shades of color are most apparent?

Background Research

Contextualization helps to center a work of art in time, place and circumstance. When we take the time to investigate, we often find there is “more to the story.” This research can be done ahead of time, but I like to let creative work speak to me on its own, tracing the lines it leaves as in impression on me, before contextualizing it. The contrast is sometimes a bit of a let-down; I think that this alone is a useful experience. We may construct a narrative of why the piece was made and for whom it was intended, only to find out the truth is entirely different.

You’ll need to record the name, artist, date and other information available at the time you are viewing the artwork if it’s in a public space, and you can then examine its place in history. In which culture was it made? Was it a representation of the culture, or a pushback against the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of the time? What is known of the artist? What did the artist wish to convey? Depending on the provenance of the work, you may discover wildly different explanations as to how it came to be and why it was created.

In light of the debate regarding statues of the Confederacy in the Southern U.S., another layer to consider is the social effect of the creation, if it is known. What was the social position of the individual or group who created it? To which audience(s) was it directed, and what message was it intended to broadcast? Has its impact changed with time? Could an act of allegiance to the piece lead to an inference of complicity in oppression? Art is not necessarily neutral; it can be used as a tool for propaganda, intimidation, subservience, rebellion and to many other ends. There is a reason that many authoritarian leaders have targeted artists in their purges. The artifacts that remain often speak to the prevailing force.

Proper Patronage

After responding with both intuition and information to a piece of artwork, we can then ascertain its meaning for our own lives. Some pieces may sum up in one creative moment what it feels it would take days or weeks to convey in words, and should likely make their way in some form into our daily physical surroundings. Other pieces may push against our sensibilities and reshape our viewpoint on a particular issue or topic. There may be some we refuse to support or protect because of our moral and social beliefs. Art is powerful!

If the artist who created an item that spoke to us is still alive, it can be very meaningful to be able to tour their exhibition and learn more about their process. Financial support in the form of respecting copyrights and buying directly from an artist demonstrates that we are more than mere consumers; we are keeping alive the creative process. Attending fine art fairs, craft shows and the like are a great way to lend a hand to new artists.

Despite historical efforts at suppression, Goddess figurines have been found in many cultures. My house has started to have a trace of Her in nearly every room. The prohibition of my religion of birth against “graven images” has been thwarted; I now understand the power of an image of She. I intend to concentrate some of my artistic interests in finding local artists who celebrate Her form and working to understand their intention and purpose in the images they create. I hope you’ll share the types of art that speak to you, and how you connect with artistic creativity.

Sacred Spiritual Growth

“Am I There Yet?” 5 Signposts That Indicate You’ve Arrived at Your Spiritual Home

Millennials have been on the receiving end of many forms of ridicule, including the idea that they are spiritually “flaky”—permanent seekers dabbling in a multitude of religions and spiritual practices, with no real awareness and understanding. As an “Xennial,” I disagree with these viewpoints for several reasons. First, I think spending time in the wilderness is an authentic part of the developmental process of forging a spiritual identity. Second, while there may be an exploratory period that appears shallow and superficial, for many people, this is followed by a rooting into a particular framework by which they view the world. Lastly, at least for some of us, the only way to find our spiritual home is to look for it, as the one in which we were born is ill-suited and unfit for us.

As we continue on our spiritual journeys, I think at least some of us arrive at a place of feeling like the trek has arrived at its destination. Or at least a destination for the time being. Some signals I’ve found that have let me know that Goddess Spirituality is my home are the alignment that’s happened to my beliefs and behavior, the desire I have to share what I’ve learned with others (more on how to handle this below), an ability to see outside my own situation, a passion to better the world, and an understanding that, although I may have found my place, I’m now at the station of creating hearth and sustenance from the dwelling in which I find myself. I’ll be examining each of these signs on today’s #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday.

1. Coalescence of Beliefs and Behaviors

When we are in harmony with our beliefs, our behaviors naturally start to align with how we see the world. We may find ourselves making lifestyle changes or decisions that simply didn’t occur to us or seemed out of reach previously. As I’ve settled myself into Earth-based Goddess Spirituality, I’ve begun to reconsider my relationship with the natural world, including the foods I chose to eat such as red meat. I’m also paying significantly more attention to the seasons, moon phases and the outdoors. I’ve wasted less money and spent less time binging on TV and movies. All our vices do not magically dry up the moment we find ourselves spiritually, but I do think they are less reinforcing because our energy is devoted to things that flow from our heart-center.

When we’re at our spiritual home, we may feel like we are being true to ourselves and authentic in our stance. My previous religious path forced me to condemn many people who I really didn’t see as evil, which felt unnatural and judgmental. I felt sheepish at times as I tried to “pretzel” myself into explanations that lessened the harshness of what I was taught. Now I feel no shame in holding up my viewpoint to the light. The spiritual framework by which I live aligns with my philosophical and moral views of the world, which has led to inner tranquility.

2. Evangelizing Tendencies

Much to the chagrin of those around us, we may be so excited by our new outlook on the world that we decide they also need to come along for the ride. Even though I know how annoying this is, I still find myself engaging in it at times. Please note that I see this as totally different from trying to tell people they need to believe something or their mortal souls are at risk. What I’m referencing here can even apply to things like lifestyle improvements such as what we eat, how we exercise and where we travel.

We find something that seems a bit off the beaten path but so “us” and so satisfying that we wish everyone could feel as good as we do. If we play it out long enough, this is typically followed by realizing that whatever we discovered still has some rough spots and scratches and maybe doesn’t look brilliant from every angle. To me, a genuine spiritual home lends itself to at least an initial burst of thrill and joy, with regular boosts of excitement from time to time.

3. Moving Beyond Self

One phrase that’s always brought a twinge of guilt to me is “navel-gazing,” mostly because I’m pretty sure I’m great at doing it. When we find our center, I don’t think this inward focus stops, nor do I think it should. Most things that get labeled as “navel-gazing” could also be conceptualized as the labeler’s failure to empathize. Knowing our own wounds, needs and desires is healthy and life-giving. From our home base of self-care where we acknowledge these things and seek to address them, I think the natural sequence is then to look up and out, to take in what others’ experiences also are, and to respond with kindness and compassion.

I’ve always felt defensive in reaction to religious doctrines that preach a loss of self or that self is evil. When I speak of going beyond self, I see it as an act that encompasses and is actually rooted in our Self—our highest Self that has let go of ego and seeks greater values than human adoration.

4. The Greater Good

Reaching further than our own self-interest naturally begs the question of where our focus gets directed. In small or in large ways, I believe the firm ground underfoot upon which we come to stand when we’ve uncovered our place provides a platform from which we can draw on our resources and respond to the needs we see in the world. Some of us are naturally drawn into community and action-based movement; others may do this work in a more solitary, contemplative manner. In either case, our firmness in who we are spiritually leads directly to our strength in responding out of love. An image that flickers through my mind here is of the counter-protests in Charlottesville recently, where people of various faith traditions linked arms and stood together against hate. Taking time to know who you are and what you represent can only deepen the commitment you’ll have to express your voice in an uplifting way.

5. Tending House

Nothing in what I’ve shared is intended to give you the idea that finding a spiritual home means the work’s done. Instead, I think this is where things get really interesting. I actually see a house in my mind when I think about this concept, and it’s in a bit of disarray as I neglected it for quite some time. When we know what’s right for us, and the spiritual part of our identity feels settled, we get to learn, grow and develop in place. I have no doubt that my viewpoints will evolve and gain significant complexity over time, and that the final version of my dwelling will look almost completely unrecognizable once I’m done crafting and letting it be crafted by Goddess. Allowing ourselves the freedom to continue to explore new nooks and crannies, dust off some unused shelves, and declutter can take our sense of spiritual presence from one of stagnation to a lively, bustling enterprise.

Please feel free to share whether you feel like you’ve reached home yet or not, and what your signposts have looked like along the way!

Goddess Thealogy

Natural Rhythms and Mental Health

I touched on the relationship between seasons and our inner work not long ago. I wanted to take this exploration a step further and delve into how mental health conditions common to trauma survivors, such as depression and PTSD, are also affected by the rhythms of Mother Nature. I do want to take a moment to note that being a trauma survivor and having a mental health condition are by no means synonymous; one can occur without the other. They do co-exist for many people, and the ways in which they manifest can relate to the earth’s patterns.

Moon Cycles

Words like “lunacy” and “lunatic” date back as far as the Greeks and Romans. These words refer to mental health problems thought to be caused by the moon. Although the scientific evidence for this connection is scant, many people still believe that the full moon brings out something wild and untamed. One explanation I’ve found intriguing is that the brightness of the moon, especially to those living exposed, may have caused problems sleeping, which we know does factor into symptoms of mood disorders and anxiety.

For those of us who are women, our monthly menstrual cycle interrelates strongly to our mental health. For many women, the time just before menstruation involves an uptick in emotional distress, even to the point of full-blown depression symptoms. In her book Witch, Lisa Lister describes this time as one where we may be able to more deeply access our intuition and feel ripe for inner work. Some months this holds true for me; others I am too far gone with depression to be able to do this.

If you are curious about your emotions and mental health problems correspond to monthly cycles, consider tracking the course of your rhythms using resources such as a moondala or moon dreams diary. I’ve been using Molly Remer’s book, the Womanrunes Companion Journal, and have been delighted to see how many days I’m actually feeling good at the start of the day. It is helping me track the specifics of how my cycles affect my viewpoint and vice versa.

Wheel of the Year

As a practitioner of Goddess spirituality, I do not follow the Wheel of the Year quite as closely as some Pagan traditions, but I’m fascinated by the richness of each celebration for both community and individual spiritual life. I’m beginning an exploration of how it related to our inner work, using resources like The Great Work. As a strong proponent of self-care, I will be examining more fully how we can resource our needs and respond to the needs of others at each spoke of the wheel. I plan to publish a series with guidance for each of the upcoming celebrations for the next year.

Mental health concerns do wax and wane with the time of year. The manic side of bipolar disorder is sometimes related to excessive sunlight in summer. There is a specific form of major depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder which relates to experiencing depression in the winter when there is a lack of sunlight. Suicidal behavior is highest in the spring and summer. One explanation I’ve heard for this phenomenon is that people who have struggled with seasonal depression may have lingering depression symptoms coupled with their energy escalating as winter lifts. Anxiety issues and PTSD may increase with certain seasons as well, depending on the specific triggers an individual faces.

It is interesting to me that some of the Pagan traditions reflect, in a healthy way, these flows of energy and mood. The summer festivals are full of energy and light, whereas some of the fall and winter ones are centered on contemplation and loss. Our ancestors appear to have recognized the cycles we go through, some of us in a more serious way than others, as the seasons change.

Sacred Spiritual Growth

Nine Spiritual Cravings to Tempt Your Soul’s Taste Buds

Do you ever experience the feeling that there is a deep knowing within you, right below the surface, struggling to make its way into consciousness? That’s how I’ve felt about this post for the past few days. I realized my mind was attempting to name and expound on my spiritual needs. There’s plenty of room for various opinions on what these needs might be; my list is by no means comprehensive. Rather than viewing these experiences as outcomes of our spiritual journey, I am conceptualizing them to be a hunger within us, one that is best satiated with spiritual encounters rather than left to grow as a gnawing ache within us.

1. Awe and Wonder

What takes your breath away? For me, this is almost always a scene found in nature. Earlier this summer, the edge of a storm system passed directly over my house and met up with another system with a different air temperature. I looked straight up and saw individual clouds swirling around, like improvising dancers, across the sky. It felt like observing a fireworks finale where so much happens at once that it’s difficult to process each element. I was filled with a sense of amazement, as well as a hint of fear when the hail started making its way down.

I think it very hard to manufacture something that gives us this same reaction. I rarely find it when I visit big-ticket locations because I’ve already anticipated what I will discover. Instead, it’s been the faint path in the woods leading to a meadow filled with flowers that tends to pull me in. I don’t need these experiences every day, but I hold onto them when they occur as glimpses into the spiritual realm.

2. Interconnectedness

An outflow of experiences that induce awe and wonder is often a sense of interconnectedness. This could include connecting with a Deity, the universe itself, the earth or humanity. The more I’ve grown to accept myself and let go managing the impression others form of me, the more the concept of interconnectedness has resonated with me. A divine sparkle can happen when, through interaction with another person, we intuit a shared sense of the mystical. Spiritual rituals and practices in groups can also fling us into the wider web of the universe, beyond our individuality and separateness.

3. Inspiration

When is the last time you let yourself wander solely for the sake of generating insights and stimulating creative forces? I tend to draw inspiration by looking at beautiful things, touching items of various textures, and inhaling delicious creations. In fact, I recently caused quite an allergy attack for myself when I spent time strolling through a spice store, where I simply had to smell every single offering. It may be strange to connect behaviors like window-shopping to anything rising above our consumer culture, but for me, when I consider all the imaginative human force it takes to make handcrafted fair-trade items or other such products, I find my creative passions stirred.

Kaldiscopes of color and a symphony of sounds can be found outdoors. Consider indulging your sense of hearing by listening to music. You could also focus on your vestibular senses by experiencing how your body moves over various surfaces and elevations.

4. Empowerment

After reading a book about the dismal conditions in an inner city, I completed a writing assignment in a sociology class many years ago. I was so enthused about how I was going to go out and change the world that the professor read the entire text to the class. I half-cringed in embarrassment and half-swelled with pride. My naiveté was immense in terms of how I analyzed the challenges and potential solutions for the ills of the world.

A seed generated there that continues to grow in me. It forms a basic realization which harkens to note that self-interest and getting more for “me and mine” isn’t what most of us feel we are called to do with our lives. Empowerment can look very different depending on our individual assortment of privileges and disadvantages that we face in society. I believe challenging unfair power structures and advocating for the less fortunate can go beyond a social and economic need and become a spiritual need when we attempt to make more right and more just the society in which we find ourselves.

5. Gratitude

Gratitude is often impressed upon us as an alternative to complaining. “Just be grateful for what you have,” #blessed and assorted platitudes can be used to silence our sense of injustice in the world. I complain with the best of them, so I don’t bring this judgment into my thinking here. Instead, I long for the ability to see the world through grateful eyes and celebrate the moments where I find myself pressing hand to heart to acknowledge a blessing. When I give myself space to engage in spiritual practice, I find expressing gratitude arises in me as a natural desire that is easily satisfied.

6. Compassion

I recently shared my view on compassion and how it can help us respond to the inequality and violence in the world. I believe it to be spiritual nourishment, one that we can benefit from receiving as well as bestowing to others. Much has been written on the differences between sympathy and empathy. Genuine moments of compassion involve us trading places with another, seeing the world as he or she sees it, and then comporting ourselves toward that person through a newfound appreciation for his or her struggle.

I don’t think it is always an arduous slog to attain compassion, instead, it can be a spontaneous experience which may catch us off guard with its intensity. Trauma survivors, in particular, might yearn for experiences of compassion, as these involvements restore our connection to humanity and our faith in the goodness of the human heart. Empathetic listening and understanding can cast light into the walled-off places in ourselves, which, when exposed, allow us to shine in our spiritual adornments.

7. Release

Many individuals who have suffered trauma fall into a trap of seeking that with which they are already acquainted, even if it causes them additional harm. For instance, one of the ways I cope is by isolating myself, so I have to challenge myself to reach out to others during difficult moments. A sense of freedom and lightness can follow choices we make where we let go of burdens and false beliefs that weigh heavily on our souls. I’m often taken aback at how much something held me back. Only after I liberate myself from an old pattern can I see what it was costing me. I think it is when we are regular communication with our inner selves that we are best able to access the aspects of our lives from which we can unburden ourselves.

The need for release can also occur within the context of a loss as we grieve. In this case, letting go could include setting free our expectations of a certain future or our desires for things to work out a particular way. This kind of loosening can be extremely difficult, as we would rather hold fast our grip onto that which was safe and familiar. Some of the deepest spiritual work we can do as humans involves opening to what actually is instead of what we wish would be.

8. Presence

Sometimes I wonder how much time I’ve actually been “alive.” What I mean here is how much of my day is filled with contemplating the past or stressing about the future, rather than embracing the moment in which I am existing. We have a need for presence—for being present as life presents itself to us. Now that I’ve practiced mindfulness and attuned to my breath with sufficient consistency to attain present-moment experience, my mind feels fuzzy and detached and my soul feels disconnected when I go away from it for too long. My mental and spiritual needs have merged together in this area.

For those of us who have endured traumatic experiences, being in our bodies and aware of our surroundings might not feel like an invitation to which we want to RSVP. I think we may crave it though; it grounds us like nothing else can. Perhaps being present is channeled through presence—the presence of supportive loved ones and Goddess can make the current moment feel safer and more inviting.

9. Rootedness

Since I’ve begun blogging, a phrase I’ve settled on that feels like it is bursting with hope is that of “a spiritual home.” As a result of my childhood experiences as well as my identity as an adult, I’ve declined contact with the place and people who birthed me. For many years, I’ve felt uprooted, unmoored and adrift. Goddess spirituality has established a sense of a secure footing for me for the first time in my life. This is a need I didn’t fully know that I had, as I spent several years considering myself to be Agnostic and not concerning myself very much with spiritual matters. Now I know down to my bones that I need this place, tendrils sunken into the earth, in my life.

I’m eager to see how my list of spiritual needs aligns with yours, as well as the additional needs you see us as having as spiritual beings. This way of looking at spirituality as series of desires, rather than obligations or outcomes, feels much more uplifting and motivating to me than my previous attempts in life to “become more spiritual.” I plan to spend time in my inner work reflecting on what my unconscious has revealed to me before contemplating how we might more fully meet these needs.