Affirming Mind-Body-Spirit Writer Project, Sacred Spiritual Growth

Spiritual Disillusionment

For a time, I naively though I’d settled the question of finding my spiritual home in Goddess Spirituality. However, as I’ve really started setting the place up, opening locked doors and peering behind cabinets, I’ve stumbled upon a messy and foul-smelling cellar which I will start to examine for today’s #SacredSpiritualGrowth Saturday. The incense and sage of newness and excitement is now permeated with the stench of unprocessed bias in my house. And the longer I sit in disappointment, the more I see the tunnels of racism, classism and other worms of decay in myself.

I view what I’m undergoing as a developmental progression. I had a “honeymoon” period of learning new concepts and meeting new people, during which everything seemed polished and crisp. Over time, as with any human endeavor, the cracks and dampness started to show. In my particular case, the largest fissure, running straight through the center, is the belief that people should not be allowed to self-identify as womxn and should be excluded if they do not fit certain characteristics. There are also issues such as a lack of appreciation for intersectionality, and, in some corners, a heavy emphasis on either following the Goddesses of Northern Europe or on mixing and matching elements of various cultures without deep attention to their contextual meaning. In the wider Mind-Body-Spirit world, a large portion of the classes, courses and resources, aimed mostly at womxn, are allocated only to those with hundreds or thousands of dollars of disposable income. All is not “love and light” indeed.

My personal reflections on my experience thus far include:

Consider Renovation Rather Than Relocation

As I described above, finding the cellar crammed with ugliness caused me to want to escape. I care too much and feel too connected to Goddess to do that, though. I know this is my spiritual home. I’ve determined it’s time to contribute, on an individual and collective level, to sorting the mess and remaking the areas that aren’t life-giving.

If you’ve read my blog for any time, you’ve known me to be very concrete in my way of being. So, I am simultaneously digging more into minimalism and slow living in order to make my physical existence a reflection of my inner world (or is it the other way around)? Goddess Spirituality can be made more inclusive, affirming and those of us who practice it can go a lot further in our stance of solidarity; the same is true of the greater feminist and mind-body-spirit worlds. I am but one of many who are doing the work.

Go Deeper

I have been aware for some time of my specific spiritual calling, which is to help myself and others fully embrace all aspects of ourselves in a way that moves beyond shaming and blaming. One of the most helpful framings of bigotry in all its faces that I’ve encountered is to see it as Shadow. I absolutely experience this in myself; I’ve given surface recognition to my areas of bias but encounter a wall of shame when I try to go further. There is an internal voice inviting me toward this impasse, to sit with it and, together, from what is hidden and what I know, to dismantle it brick by brick. I’ve written previously of my inability to see my own hidden potential and mystery; I think it is likely across the way from these unexplored badlands. The light-bulb moment of recognition that my calling aligns directly with my disillusionment roots me in my purpose.

Take It In

As a trauma survivor, my bias is toward perceiving the world as a threat and to believing the only solution to be a dead sprint. In this shadow work in which I’m now engaging, though, I am learning very quickly that healing and change must be from my innermost cells first. I need to read and listen, to seek mentors and teachers, and to ponder and reflect much more than I cajole and demand change from others. Every time I believe I’ve slowed my walk sufficiently, I look around me and see how much ground I’ve covered without integration. Breathing in stillness and awareness is the concept on which I’m meditating.

Expect No Point of Arrival

I can never assume that I’ve dug in sufficiently to my areas of privilege or checked off enough boxes on my “standing in solidarity” card. Rather, as society’s norms change, I will do well to keep advancing along with them. I’ve been especially irate in witnessing, in an online forum, woman after woman proclaiming that her advanced age meant everyone else had to shut up and listen to her bigoted viewpoint in relation to transwomen. I can absolutely discount my elders far too easily and often and I can refuse to acquiesce to anyone, no matter their age, who refuses to see and respond to the harm they are causing. My anger belies my fear of calcifying into rigidity and inflexibility as I grow older.

In the service of self-examination and adjustment, I do think it is perfectly appropriate to pause and disengage from time to time for reflection. I may need to reassess the connection between my spirituality and my inclusivity. I may find that my own areas of struggle leave me drained to the point where I need to recharge before further engagement. My shadow-selves might need to process their shame and transform it into rededicated action.

If I am honest with myself, I will likely find that my motives need refinement. I need to assess whether my actions are performative, giving lip service to the “right things” for attention or recognition. In recognizing my own biases, I must be wary of then using this awareness to feed my demons of self-loathing and self-hatred. I may find that I long times to have my feeble attempts “count” and to then retreat into silent complicity. When I really dig into it, it is the personal stories of the effects of discrimination that inspire and compel me to go deeper; if my desire as a trauma survivor is to have my experience witnessed, in having been invited to see the inner world of another, I will not turn away. This motivation will hopefully, in time, become more fully grounded in an unshakeable and uncompromising dedication to have all people equally valued as human and worthy.

Anticipate Discomfort

I think it is wise to ask myself the question, “What do I want to get out of my spiritual practice?” If I’m honest, a lot of what I want is for it to help me feel less anxious and depressed. There is nothing wrong with this, but, for me, part of the process of spiritual maturation has been to remember, as I mentioned above, that on which my calling centers. In order for wholeness to be realized, I will go through some unpleasantness. It is necessary to reach the ends of myself and my typical responses, which, in the case of much of the oppression in the world, has been to be a silent but concerned bystander.

I’m trekking a few feet now into the tall grass, without a path, where there might be ticks and snakes and other trolls of threat. I’m tired of toeing the line and expecting someone else to clear the path for me. It takes courage to question my spiritual mentors and holy books; it takes even more courage to stay at it and stay with it after I realize there isn’t a meadow of wildflowers just past the brush. Although I may find myself on rough and uneven footing, I can know that I will emerge matured in my faith. More importantly, in joining with others in rooting out the invasive weeds of bigotry and hatred, the growth of our shared humanity can flourish. Mature spirituality does not shy away from injustice and suffering, instead, it welcomes the inner work and outer action needed to ensure the dignity of every person.

In what ways have you encountered spiritual disillusionment? What strategies and suggestions do you have for responding to it? Of what form are the individual and collective shadows you are meeting made?

Goddess Thealogy

Awakening the Unknown (and Letting It Rest)

Cross-posted on my SageWoman blog.

For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I want to build on my previous post regarding mystery. I’ve known for a long time that spirituality isn’t all about bringing light, but I believed “darkness” represented only aspects of self for which I felt shame. My frame of reference has widened to realize we need areas unseen and unexplored in our lives. Permaculture practice includes leaving a small corner of your land to the wild; we need this space internally as well.

I perceived the residence of shadow to be solely the parts of self which I denied having: trauma-time little selves that I banished out of my awareness. Now I am aware of at least two other entities therein. These include parts of self which do not wish themselves known and parts whose form I have not yet taken.

The parts who do not wish themselves known are aspects of self which feel unsafe with me as Mother. They hold themselves back from me in fear that I will cause them harm as others have caused them harm. Willing them known only deepens their resolve to hide.

The mystery selves are my untapped potentials; Spirit-beings and the stuff of the soul into which I must pour care and attention until, pregnant with their unfolding, they blossom to Self. We have the idea in our culture that we already are everything for which we are looking; I think this is an oversimplification. We contain all the necessary ingredients for the truest version of Self of which we are capable, but diligence and perseverance are needed to realize this way of living.

One uncanny ability I’ve always had is that I can look at someone and see their Shadow. I am very wary when this doesn’t work with another as it usually means there is a heavy air of denial going on in the person’s life. I see now that, although I am gifted in seeing the little selves and the parts that hide from others, I am unable to see the Mystery inside them—who they could become if they were fully awake and fully invested in Self. I have been blind to these hidden seeds in others because I have denied them in myself. I thought everything in me needed to be exposed and conscious, but this is forced growth where incubation is instead required.

I marvel at the idea of holding space for the unknown in myself and others; pregnant with ambiguity and uncertainty, believing all that wishes to be manifested will do so in good time. This only occurs, of course, for those who allow for it. If we believe ourselves light and nothing more, if we submerge in denial of half of who we are, there is little room for this type of wading in the slit seeking shoots.

There is so much in Goddess Spirituality that connects to this concept of Mystery. The representation of the feminine in the moon and darkness, in descent and dreams, as well as birth-death-rebirth speaks to these truths. Goddess is not a fixed, unchanging concept, and neither are we. I feel in this new understanding that it is only after much time that the layers to which I’ve only now become acquainted will fill out, each cell dividing and the body coming into its own. When we come to the end of our understanding, we are in holy space. We needn’t resolve to explore and tame the wilderness in our souls; no, we can sit at the edge, singing lullabies, and welcoming with an open heart whatever unfurls and emerges.

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.