Category: Jack Kornfield
— Chinese character for "Forgiveness"
Buddhist psychology offers specific teachings and practices for the development of forgiveness. Like the practice of compassion, forgiveness does not ignore the truth of our suffering. Forgiveness is not weak. It demands courage and integrity. Yet only forgiveness and love can bring about the peace we long for. As the Indian sage Meher Baba explains, “True love is not for the faint-hearted.”
We have all betrayed and hurt others, just as we have knowingly or unknowingly been harmed by them. It is inevitable in this human realm. Sometimes our betrayals are small, sometimes terrible. Extending and receiving forgiveness is essential for redemption from our past. To forgive does not mean we condone the misdeeds of another. We can dedicate ourselves to make sure they never happen again. But without forgiveness the world can never be released from the sorrows of the past. Someone quipped, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” Forgiveness is a way to move on.
In Buddhist psychology, forgiveness is not presented as a moral commandment; thou shalt forgive. It is understood as a way to end suffering, to bring dignity and harmony to our life. Forgiveness is fundamentally for our own sake, for our own mental health. It is a way to let go of the pain we carry. This is illustrated by the story of two ex-prisoners of war who meet after many years. When the first one asks, “Have you forgiven your captors yet?” the second man answers, “No, never.” “Well then,” the first man replies, “they still have you in prison.” For most people, the work of forgiveness is a process. Practicing forgiveness, we may go through stages of grief, rage, sorrow, fear and confusion. As we let ourself feel the pain we still hold, forgiveness comes as a relief, a release for our heart in the end. Forgiveness acknowledges that no matter how much we may have suffered, we will not put another human being out of our heart.
The practice of forgiveness grows through generosity and repetition. One of my teachers instructed me to practice five minutes of forgiveness for myself and others, twice a day for six months, which meant 360 times. Practicing with small misdeeds, such as my uncaring treatment of a friend, I repeatedly asked her forgiveness and gradually forgave myself. That experience encouraged me, but when I turned to my father, the process was much more difficult. Forgiveness took many years. It was only when he lay dying that I could look back and reflect on what had released me from our family suffering. When, at age 75, ten years after his first heart attack, my father was near death from congestive heart failure, frightened and in pain. I sat with him over long days and late nights. He kept asking me to stay. Because I had sat with my own pain and fear in meditation, I was not afraid. Because I had sat in the charnel grounds and with others as they died, I was able to offer the steady presence he needed. By now I also knew enough not to blurt out that I loved him, but I also knew that he could feel that I did.
Years of meditation, therapy and forgiveness practices had come with me into that room. I’d worked with my rage at my father and my sorrow and frustration as a frightened, impotent child. One day I pictured the yellow linoleum floor in the backroom where my father was beating my mother. I wanted to beat him and to rescue her. I felt sorry for and angry at my mother for her weakness, and for her collusion with his brutal arrogance. I struggled to release my father and all his rigid, paranoid violence. I relived the nighttime scenes where his eyes would become glazed and crazed looking, and the old bastard would curse and hit and hurt us, his family.
As I meditated and wept, I felt the pain of my own closed heart and wondered how I could forgive him. I breathed and practiced forgiveness and got inside his own wretched history, and my mother’s paralyzing fear. I saw him as a young teen when his father died. My father and his father were both caught between two women who hated each other. His coldly polished and controlling mother and his tight-fisted and iron-willed grandmother who lived just across the street and ran the family business. I saw his paranoia and fear and how hard his uncontrollable rage must have been for him. I saw his inexcusable acts and his unmanageable pain. . It helped when I discovered that my own rage was not so different from his. I learned to respect the anger, depression, cynicism and humor that my brothers and I had used to survive. I saw that we were not alone. I felt connected to a million fathers and estranged sons, to generations of family wounds, many greater than my own. Then I gradually saw, too, his creative and loving side, along with his capacity to hurt those he loved, and finally his humanity, all our humanity. And in the last days in the hospital, I could sit with him in all his complexity and forgive.
When students come to Buddhist practice, they learn the blessings of the path of forgiveness. Josh’s half brothers had legally cheated him out of part of his inheritance. He knew that through his own inattention he was complicit as well. Over five years he had tried to straighten things out with them, with only a little success. Still he carried the suffering and betrayal like a weight in his body. He had not been a regular meditator but to release his suffering, he undertook a systematic forgiveness practice. He knew that finding compassion and forgiveness were crucial for his well being. At first he struggled, and whenever his bitterness arose, I suggested he pay attention to his body. He could feel a familiar block of rigid tension in his shoulders and upper arms and a constricted pain in his chest. The clenched hurt and anger were a painful sign. He didn’t want to live this way. Even though he didn’t get the money, he did not want to live hating his brothers. Josh knew he had to release them. Over several months of repeated practice, the spirit of forgiveness came in, and little by little he learned to let go.
Forgiveness was also important for Julie, a college biosciences professor who worked as an ecological activist in Brazil and Guatemala. On retreat she told me how she had recently seduced a graduate student, and two young women in the field. She had mixed her love needs with the good work she was doing and her activism became a kind of self justification for these relationships. It all came up in her meditation. Julie was not sorry for her attempts at love and connection, but she deeply regretted the pain and betrayal she had caused.
I suggested that Julie write the whole set of stories down. They poured out of her. Then I asked her permission to read them. She gave them to me, and when I had done so we met together. I asked her what she felt we should do next. Her eyes watered and she said she wanted to ask forgiveness. I offered her my own, and told her that she had to consciously understand and feel the impact of her actions to commit to not harming. She thought she would write to these women. Then she had to find a way to forgive herself so she could be released from the past and let it go.
Even in extreme cases, the Buddhist teachings counsel forgiveness. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha gives an instruction that is both fierce and compassionate. “If someone has abused you, beat you, robbed you, abandon your thoughts of anger. Soon you will die. Life is too short to live with hatred.” With forgiveness we become unwilling to wish harm to another. Whenever we forgive, in small ways at home, or in great ways between nations, we free ourselves from the past. This is necessary for the Bosnians and Serbs, the Irish Catholics and Protestants, the Hutus and Tutsis. It is necessary to us all to find ways to forgive.
Laura grew up with a lot of shame about being poor. Outwardly she tied to overcome this by hard work. Laura was the first in her extended family to go to college, struggling with feeling insecure, like an outcast. After she graduated, she worked in the city for the Department of Public Safety. Sixteen years later she transferred to a farming community just in from the coast near Oxnard. She said, “Now that I’ve lived in the city, when I go into the coffee shop and see the old clothes, the uneducated farmers, it’s so easy to judge them and feel myself as different. We may be different in education and politics, but these are false ways we separate ourselves. Then when I really look, I just want to drop my judgments and be with them, with us.”
“My father was like them. He drank too much. He berated us, his daughters. He was terrible to his sons. I was desperate to get free of him, of our family. But my shame, anger and resentment stayed with me. When I began Buddhist practice, it was hard to sit still. After awhile I realized how sad I was, how much hurt was in my body. I was just trying to cope. I was grateful to be taught the loving-kindness and forgiveness practices. I did them twice a day for two years. I needed to forgive myself for being so angry and ashamed, as much as to forgive my father. Practicing forgiveness was like learning to stand and walk and feel good about myself. Then I was able to go home, to see my family, even my father, without hurting so much. Seven years later when my father got sick, it wasn’t hard to go back. I saw his slow decline until finally he was a weak old man on his bed. I knew that I loved him. I had forgiven us all.” With virtue and forgiveness we repair the world.
This excerpt is taken from the book, “The Wise Heart“
Then creation recognized its Creator
in its own forms and appearances.
For in the beginning, when God said, "Let it be!"
and it came to pass, the means and the Matrix of creation was Love,
because all creation was formed through Her as in the twinkling of an eye.
—The Holy Spirit as Sapientia St. Hildegard von Bingen
THE MATRIX OF CREATION
The feminine is the matrix of creation. This truth is something profound and elemental, and every woman knows it in the cells of her body, in her instinctual depths. Out of the substance of her very being life comes forth. She can conceive and give birth, participate in the greatest mystery of bringing a soul into life. And yet we have forgotten, or been denied, the depths of this mystery, of how the divine light of the soul creates a body in the womb of a woman, and how the mother shares in this wonder, giving her own blood, her own body, to what will be born. Our culture’s focus on a disembodied, transcendent God has left women bereft, denying them the sacredness of this simple mystery of divine love.
What we do not realize is that this patriarchal denial affects not only every woman, but also life itself. When we deny the divine mystery of the feminine we also deny something fundamental to life. We separate life from its sacred core, from the matrix that nourishes all of creation. We cut our world off from the source that alone can heal, nourish and transform it. The same sacred source that gave birth to each of us is needed to give meaning to our life, to nourish it with what is real, and to reveal to us the mystery, the divine purpose to being alive.
Because humanity has a central function in the whole of creation, what we deny to ourself we deny to all of life. In denying the feminine her sacred power and purpose we have impoverished life in ways we do not understand. We have denied life its sacred source of meaning and divine purpose, which was understood by the ancient priestesses. We may think that their fertility rites and other ceremonies belonged only to the need for procreation or a successful harvest. In our contemporary culture we cannot understand how a deeper mystery was enacted, one that consciously connected life to its source in the inner worlds, a source that held the wholeness of life as an embodiment of the divine, allowing the wonder of the divine to be present in every moment.
The days of the priestesses, their temples and ceremonies are over, and because the wisdom of the feminine was not written down but transmitted orally (logos is a masculine principle), this sacred knowledge is lost. We cannot reclaim the past, but we can witness a world without her presence, a world which we exploit for greed and power, which we rape and pollute without real concern. And then we can begin the work of welcoming her back, of reconnecting with the divine that is at the core of creation, and learning once again how to work with the sacred principles of life. Without the intercession of the divine feminine we will remain in this physical and spiritual wasteland we have created, passing on to our children a diseased and desecrated world.
The choice is simple. Can we remember the wholeness that is within us, the wholeness that unites spirit and matter? Or will we continue walking down this road that has abandoned the divine feminine, that has cut women off from their sacred power and knowledge? If we choose the former we can begin to reclaim the world, not with masculine plans, but with the wisdom of the feminine, the wisdom that belongs to life itself. If we choose the latter we may attempt some surface solutions with new technology. We may combat global warming and pollution with scientific plans. But there will be no real change. A world that is not connected to its soul cannot heal. Without the participation of the divine feminine nothing new can be born.
RECLAIMING HER SACRED WISDOM
If the knowledge of the sacred feminine has been lost how can we know what to do? Part of the wisdom of the feminine is to wait, to listen, to be receptive. A woman does not consciously know how to bring the light of a soul into her womb and help it to form a body. And yet this mystery takes place within her. Nor does she consciously know how to nourish this light with her own light, in the same way that she gives her blood to help the body to grow. She is the mystery of light being born into matter, and her pregnancy is a time of receptivity, waiting, listening and feeling what is happening within her. She and the Great Mother are one being, and if she listens within she is given the knowledge she needs.
We may have forsaken this simple feminine wisdom of listening, and in this information age awash with so many words it is easy to undervalue an instinctual knowledge that comes from within. But the sacred principles of life have never been written down: they belong to the heartbeat, to the rhythm of the breath and the flow of blood. They are alive like the rain and the rivers, the waxing and waning of the moon. If we learn to listen we will discover that life, the Great Mother, is speaking to us, telling us what we need to know. We are present at a time when the world is dying and waiting to be reborn, and all the words in our libraries and on the internet will not tell us what to do. But the sacred feminine can share with us her secrets, tell us how to be, how to midwife her rebirth. And because we are her children she can speak to each of us, if we have the humility to listen.
How can we listen to what we do not know? How can we reclaim what we have lost so long ago? Every moment is new. The present moment is not just a progression of past moments, but is alive in its own way, complete and perfect. And it is the moment that demands our attention. Only in the moment can we be fully awake and respond to the real need. Only in the present moment can we be fully attentive. Only in the present moment can the divine come into existence. Men may make plans, but a mother attentive to her children knows the real need of the moment. She feels in her being the interconnectedness of all of life in a way that is veiled from the masculine. She knows one cannot make plans when there are so many variables, but one can respond with the wisdom that includes the whole and all of its connections. The divine feminine is asking us to be present in life in all of its wholeness, without judgment or plans. Then she can speak to us, reveal the mystery of her rebirth.
And because this is a birth, the feminine has to be present, not just as an idea but as a living presence within us, within both men and women; because although woman most fully embodies the divine feminine, part of her secret is also shared with men, just as a son carries part of his mother in a way hidden from her daughters. Yet to live the feminine is something we have almost forgotten: our patriarchal culture has denied her power and real wisdom, has sanitized her as much as it has divorced her from her magic that belongs to the rhythms of creation. But we need her, more than we dare realize.
However, to fully encounter the divine feminine, the creative principle of life, we must be prepared for her anger, for the pain that has come from her abuse. For centuries our masculine culture has repressed her natural power, has burnt her temples, killed her priestesses. Through his drive for mastery, and his fear of the feminine, of what he cannot understand or control, the patriarchy has not just neglected her, but deliberately tortured and destroyed. He has not just raped her, but torn the very fabric of life, the primal wholeness of which she is always the guardian. And the feminine is angry, even if her anger has been repressed along with her magic.
To welcome the feminine is to acknowledge and accept her pain and anger, and the part we have played in this desecration. Women too have often colluded with the masculine, denied their own power and natural magic, instead accepted masculine values, ways of thinking. They have betrayed their own deepest self. But we must also be careful not to become caught in this darkness, in the dynamics of abuse, the anger and betrayal.
It is especially easy for women to become identified with the suffering of the feminine, her treatment by the masculine, to project one’s own pain and anger onto men. Then we are caught even more securely in this web that denies us any transformation. If we identify with the pain of the feminine we easily become an agent of her anger, rather than going deeper into the mystery of suffering, into the light that is always hidden in the darkness. Because in the depths of the feminine there is a deep knowledge that the abuse is also part of the cycle of creation. The Great Mother embodies a wholeness that contains even the denial of herself, and we need her wholeness if we are to survive and be reborn.
Real transformation, like any birth, needs the darkness as much as the light. We know that the feminine has been abused, just as the planet continues to be polluted. But the woman who has experienced the pain of childbirth, who knows the blood that belongs to birth, is always initiated in the darkness; she knows the cycles of creation in ways that are hidden to the masculine. She needs to give herself and her knowing to this present cycle of death and rebirth, and in so doing honor the pain she has suffered. Then she will discover that her magic and power is also being reborn in a new way, is being returned to her in ways that can no longer be contaminated by the masculine and its power drive. But without her full participation there is the danger of a still birth; then this present cycle of creation will not realize its potential.
First we need to acknowledge the suffering of the feminine, of the earth itself, or the light within the feminine will be hidden from us. We have to pay the price of our desires to dominate nature, of our acts of hubris. We are not separate from life, from the winds and the weather. We are a part of creation and we have to ask her forgiveness, to take responsibility for our attitudes and actions. We need to go consciously into the next era, recognizing our mistakes. Only then can we fully honor and hear her. But there is always the possibility that we will not take this step. That like defiant children we will not acknowledge the pain we have done to our mother, and will not reclaim the wholeness that she embodies. Then we will remain within the darkness that is beginning to devour our souls: the empty promises of materialism, the fractured world of fanaticism. To take a step into maturity is always to acknowledge our mistakes, the wrongs we have done.
GIVING BIRTH TO OUR OWN WHOLENESS
It is a real challenge to step into this matrix of the feminine, to honor something so sacred and simple as the real wisdom of life. But as we stand at the edge of our present global abyss we need this wisdom more than we realize. How many times has this world been brought to the edge of extinction, how many times in its millions of years has it faced disaster? Now we have created our own disaster with our ignorance and greed, and the first step is to ask for the help of our mother and to listen to her wisdom. Then we will find ourselves in a very different environment than that which we presently imagine. We will discover that there are changes happening in the depths of creation of which we are a part, and that the pollution and pain we have caused are part of a cycle of life that involves its own apparent destruction. We are not isolated, even in our mistakes. We are part of the whole of creation even as we have denied the whole. In our hubris we have separated ourselves from life, and yet we can never be separate. That is just an illusion of masculine thinking. There is no such thing as separation. It is just a myth created by the ego.
Everything is part of the whole, even in its mistakes and disasters. Once we return to this simple awareness we will discover that there are changes taking place that demand our participation, that need us to be present. We will see that the axis of creation is shifting and something is coming alive in a new way. We are being reborn, not in any separate sense but as a complete whole. We do not have images in our masculine consciousness to think what this could be like, but this does not mean it is not happening. Something within us knows that the present era is over, that our time of separation is coming to an end. At present we sense it most apparently in the negative, knowing that the images of life no longer sustain us, that consumerism is killing our soul as well as the planet. And yet there is also something just beyond the horizon, like a dawn that we can sense even if we cannot see.
And this dawn carries a light, and this light is calling to us, calling to our souls if not yet to our minds. And it is asking for us to welcome it, to bring it into being. And if we dare to do this, to say “yes” to this dawn, we will discover that this light is within us, and that something within each of us is being brought into being. We are part of a shared mystery: we are the light hidden within matter that is being awakened.
For too many centuries we have been caught in the myth of separation, until we have become isolated from each other and from the energies of creation that sustain us. But now there is a growing light that carries the knowing of oneness, the oneness that is alive with the imprint of the divine. This is what is being given back to us. This is the light that is awakening. The light of oneness is a reflection of the divine oneness of life, and we are each a direct expression of this oneness. And this oneness is not a metaphysical idea but something so simple and ordinary. It is in every breath, in the wing beat of every butterfly, in every piece of garbage left on city streets. This oneness is life, life no longer experienced solely through the fragmented vision of the ego, but known within the heart, felt in the soul. This oneness is the heartbeat of life. It is creation’s recognition of its Creator. In this oneness life celebrates itself and its divine origin.
The feminine knows this oneness. She feels it in her body, in her instinctual wisdom. She knows its interconnectedness just as she knows how to nourish her own children. And yet until now this knowing has not carried the bright light of masculine consciousness. It has remained hidden within her, in the darkness of her instinctual self. And part of her pain has been that she has not known how to use her knowing in the rational and scientific world we inhabit. Instead of valuing her own knowledge she has played the games of the masculine, imitating his thinking, putting aside her knowledge of relationships and her sense of the patterns that belong to creation.
Now it is time for this wisdom of the feminine to be combined with masculine consciousness, so that a new understanding of the wholeness of life can be used to help us to heal our world. Our present scientific solutions come from the masculine tools of analysis, the very mind set of separation that has caused the problems. We cannot afford to isolate ourself from the whole any more, and the fact that our problems are global illustrate this. Global warming is not just a scientific image but a dramatic reality. Combining masculine and feminine wisdom we can come to understand the relationships between the parts and the whole, and if we listen we can hear life telling us how to redress this imbalance.
There is a light within life, known to the alchemists as the lumen naturae, that can speak to us, speak to the light of our own awareness. There is a primal dialogue of light to light, which is known to every healer as she listens to the body of her patient and allows it to communicate with her, allows its light to speak to the light within her. Through this dialogue of light she comes to know where to place her hands, the herbs that are needed, the pressure points to be touched. This direct communication is combined with the knowledge of healing she has learned, allowing an alchemy to take place that can reawaken energy within the patient, realign the body and soul. This is how real healing happens, and what is true for the individual is also true for the world, except that we are both the patient and the healer. The world’s wounds and imbalance are our wounds and imbalance, and we have within us the knowledge and understanding to realign ourselves and the world. This is part of the mystery of life’s wholeness.
The feminine can give us an understanding of how all the diverse parts of life relate together, their patterns of relationship, the interconnections that nourish life. She can help us to see consciously what she knows instinctively, that all is part of a living, organic whole, in which all the parts of creation communicate together, and how each cell of creation expresses the whole in a unique way. An understanding of the organic wholeness of life belongs to the instinctual knowing of the feminine, but combined with masculine consciousness this can be communicated in words, not just feelings. We can combine the science of the mind and the senses with inner knowing. We can be given a blueprint of the planet that will enable us to live in creative harmony with all of life.
A NEW MAGIC IS PRESENT
What does it mean to reclaim the feminine? It means to honor our sacred connection to life that is present in every moment. It means to realize that life is one whole and begin to recognize the interconnections that form the web of life. It means to realize that everything, every act, even every thought, affects the whole. And it also means to allow life to speak to us. We are constantly bombarded by so many impressions, by so much media and advertising, that it is not easy to hear the simple voice of life itself. But it is present, even within the mirage of our fears and desires, our anxieties and expectations. And life is waiting for us to listen: it just needs us to be present and attentive. It is trying to communicate to us the secrets of creation so that we can participate in the wonder that is being born.
We have been exiled from our own home, sold a barren landscape full of soulless fantasies. It is time to return home, to claim what belongs to us, the sacred life of which we are a part. This is what is waiting for us, and its signs are appearing around us. They are not just in our discontent, in our sense that we have been exploited and lied to. They are in a quality of magic that is beginning to appear, like the wing beats of angels we cannot see but can feel. We are being reminded of what we really are, of the divine presence that is within ourself and within life. We long for this magic, for a life that unites the inner and outer worlds. And this other is already with us in ways we would not expect. We just have to be open and receptive, to say yes to what we cannot see or touch, but can feel and respond to. And for each of us this meeting of the worlds will be different, unique, because we are each different, unique. It is the sacred within life speaking to us in our own language. Maybe for the gardener it speaks in the magic of plants, for the mother in something unexpected in the ways of her children—always it is something glimpsed but not yet known—a promise we know we have been waiting for. Children themselves feel it first, but for them it is not so unusual; it is part of the air they breathe, the light they live in. They have not yet been completely banished, and maybe they will grow into a world in which this magic remains.
The mystery of the divine feminine speaks to us from within her creation. She is not a distant god in heaven, but a presence that is here with us, needing our response. She is the divine returning to claim her creation, the real wonder of what it means to be alive. We have forgotten her, just as we have forgotten so much of what is sacred, and yet she is always part of us. But now she needs to be known again, not just as a myth, as a spiritual image, but as something that belongs to the blood and the breath. She can awaken us to an expectancy in the air, to an ancient memory coming alive in a new way. She can help us to give birth to the divine that is within us, to the oneness that is all around us. She can help us to remember our real nature.
© 2007 The Golden Sufi Center
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a Sufi teacher and author. In recent years the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, and the emerging global consciousness of oneness (see www.workingwithoneness.org). He has also specialized in the area of dreamwork, integrating the ancient Sufi approach to dreams with the insights of modern psychology. Llewellyn is the founder of The Golden Sufi Center (http://www.goldensufi.org/). His most recent books are Alchemy of Light, Working with the Primal Energies of Life, and Spiritual Power, How It Works.
For further writings about the divine feminine by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee please visit:
Teachings on the Feminine and the World Soul
Art by Adolphe Bouguereau “L’Aurore”
The Divine Feminine is experiencing a re-emergence—a rebirth into the collective consciousness. For centuries she has been downplayed, demeaned, removed from her place of honor and reverence by the dominant patriarchal culture. We are now in a time when the Divine Feminine is the subject of intense interest and many conversations and she is beginning to receive the veneration and devotion she deserves. The Divine Feminine represents the supreme level of feminine expression and manifestation in the universe. She comprises the best of the feminine in all its measure.
Women subjugated to male thinking and ideals can lack examples and models to nurture their inherent connection to the divine. By considering the stellar qualities of positive, “divine,” archetypes women will find models of thinking and behavior that nurtures spiritual and psychological advancement.
As multifaceted, spirit-embodied beings, we each have a complex psychological and emotional constitution that produces one’s inner health and outer reality. Each one of us, male and female, carries within our psyche both Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine archetype energies. From these archetypes come our conscious thoughts, plans, desires, goals and agendas.
These archetype energies intertwine and cooperate to produce a uniquely personal expression and experience of life. Sexuality is just one expression in which this confluence of energies distinctly manifests. A female gendered person does not mean that only feminine energy is present. Also, a person’s sex (chromosomes) and the archetypal energies present in the psyche are not dependent on each other.
Developing a harmonious relationship of “inner” masculine and feminine is humanity’s evolutionary challenge and a process of spiritual advancement. It is through the integration and harmonization of one’s inner masculine and feminine that we reach higher, integrated, holistic consciousness. For Men: it is advantageous to contemplate and integrate the “feminine” archetype qualities listed here into their inner feminine —or “anima.”
By developing healthy, integrated aspects of the divine masculine and feminine within the psyche real progress can be made in gender reconciliation and establishing an egalitarian society.
Goddess, Queen, Priestess, Warrioress, Lover, Wise Woman
The Divine Feminine comprises a group of archetypal energies that drive and inspire one’s consciousness and felt sense of being. SHE is “anima,” the spark of inspiration, catalyst of change, siren of desire. There are many “feminine” archetypes present in the psyche—six have been chosen to represent those with the strongest influence on conducive psychological functioning and one’s psycho-spiritual evolution. By regular conscious feeding of these archetypal energies—weaker aspects are nurtured to fullness.
A Suggested Practice
Those seeking to discover and nurture their expression of the Divine Feminine will want to:
1 Contemplate what the “fullness” of each archetype expression means to you.
2 How do these archetypes currently show up in your life. Look for areas and ways you are already embodying #1. Don’t look for the places you are deficient or lack in the fullness of the archetype. Only look for what you ARE doing.
As you acknowledge and accept what you are already doing, you will notice more places where you already are, or are beginning to, embody the fullness of the archetype. Its like seeing in a dark room, after some time your sight “adjusts,” or expands, and you see more of what was already there. As you contemplate each archetype, you will notice more and more areas where it already exists in your awareness and behavior. This is due to radiation of the archetype energy spreading out in a “blossoming” or unfolding effect within the psyche and happens whenever archetype energy is accessed and stimulated.
Contemplation also strengthens the awareness. Two things are accomplished—you see what is already there, reinforcing what is presently integrated, and you strengthen what is beginning to emerge in your awareness, behavior, and ability.
Any aspects of the archetype that seem “new” can be integrated by imagining: “what it would feel like?” —to think or behave in this new way and see what shifts of thinking and behaving that produces. As you do, look for circumstances or opportunities that could be positively affected by adopting these higher concepts, principles and motivations and seek to enable their presence.
Artist: Zeng Hao “Kuan Yin”
The Goddess is the archetype that provides transcendent experience, a re-connecting with source, and nurturing of divine essence. Here is a mystery, an incalculable delving into the void—out of which all things come—the unknowable deep abyss that is Love.
The Goddess is the spark of life, the inspirational, dynamic, flowing energy of creation and evolution. She is the primordial first cause, originator, progenitor -Creatrix. Her wisdom is unfathomable, intuitive, untraceable and ever-evolving. Representing the mystery of the unknown and unknowable she ignites Eros, desire and vital force seeking new experience, new associations, new possibilities, new connection out of stagnating, old, technologies and processes.
The Goddess connects one to a constantly elevating transcendent flow of possibility and newness. She inspires one’s soul to new heights of expression and connection with life in its magnitude and fullness. SHE resonates transpersonal, harmonious love for everyone and all beings. The Goddess archetype is the domain of spirituality, mystical experience and intuition.
A woman in the fullness of her Goddess archetype feels like this: She emanates dynamic energy, flowing, ever changing with boundless intuitive wisdom and creativity. Her presence is inspiring and causes one to feel renewed—stimulated and revitalized. She is “immanence” (divine presence) personified, spiritually balanced, transcendentally driven, and emanates love to all without distinction or prejudice. While she is the originator of ideas and solutions she seeks collaboration and consensus in their outworking and manifestation.
Perhaps the strongest archetype, yet most overwhelmed with expectation and duty is the Queen (Mother). It is she who is the authority and stewardess of the “living space” and primary care-giver of progeny. To give birth is the most profound accomplishment one may experience, life giving life, nurturing and guiding this life into self-sufficiency and fullness of being is the selfless goal of the mother. The most significant relationship one has is with the mother of one’s birth. No other bond experiences such connection, attachment, and enmeshment.
It is the Queen who brings order and blessing, benevolence, fertility, balance, compassion, fairness and unconditional love. While the Goddess archetype is the Creatrix -inspiring vision and imagination, the Queen births these into being and actively looks to their growth and prospering. The Queen archetype is the domain of material manifestation, family, “kingdom” (sphere of life influence), also material wealth and abundance.
A woman expressing the fullness of the Queen archetype feels like this: She is concerned with the well-being and happiness of her “household,” and all in her domain of benevolent loving care.
She is a nurturing, stabilizing and calming influence in all circumstances and supports the highest good and soul aligned fulfillment of those in her “household.”
Her demeanor is “seasoned” and carries wisdom with it, not adolescent, fickle impulsiveness. She is compassionate, benevolent, deeply caring, expansively loving, evenhanded, calm, persistent, caring, present, and rejoices in the success and happiness of those who enjoy her care and selfless loving.
The Priestess archetype is possibly the least known and understood, especially in the present patriarchal culture which dominates and subjugates women‘s spirituality. The Priestess archetype is the domain of intuitive awareness and insight, of secret or “occult” (that which is hidden) knowledge of the unknown, spirit realm.
The Priestess has a magical connection to the great mystery, the pregnant void, mother of all creation, source energy. She is a connector, a facilitator between the material and the spiritual, a mediator of powerful spiritual, psychological and emotional energies that make up who we are. The Priestess calls forth and directs energies between unconscious and conscious awareness, affecting our material and spiritual sense of well being.
A woman in the fullness of the Priestess archetype feels like this: She is the master of her spiritual and material realities showing a confidence of bearing that knows how to call forth from spiritual storehouses what is needed to transmute, transduce, and transform energies that would overtake or topple other women not in this fullness.
She is thoughtful and reflective having depth to her presence and intellect. She knows how to detach from inner and outer storms and how to connect deep inner truths and resources with her grounded experience of life. She sees a higher possibility and attunes to its resonance. She is not easily influenced by faddish impulses and brings power and confidence to difficult situations requiring change or shifting - with grace and insight.
Pallas Athene by Klimt
The Warrioress archetype is the least represented and understood archetype for women—distorted and misunderstood by the dominant patriarchal culture. Any expression of warrioress is met with condemnation and judgment—belittled by immature males.
Warrioress qualities are: decisiveness and clarity of thought, selfless service, genuine humility, strength of experiential “knowing,” courage to do what is “right” even when it is a personal challenge to do so, maintaining and supporting established systems and forms without rigidity, loyal to a greater good beyond personal gain.
She is selfless and maintains a warm, compassionate, appreciative and generous connection to whom she serves. She fights “the good fight” in favor of benefiting the greater good and making life more fulfilling for everyone.
A woman in the fullness of her Warrioress feels like this:
Her grounded confidence, calm demeanor, and strength of stature is evident and unheralded. She contributes without fanfare or directing—or requiring attention. She promptly responds to requests of service showing respect to all, especially to those “elder” to her, as well as other men, women, and children, animals and the earth.
She “knows herself” and finds her place in collaborative projects, finding fulfillment and contentment participating without ambition and competition. The woman in the fullness of the Warrioress makes you feel “safe” while not being oppressed by her support. She is decisive, easily responding from the heart without Ego-personality selfishness.
© Art by Richard Stodart
The Divine Feminine Lover archetype is perhaps the most polarized and distorted by modern society. There is a “Madonna/Whore” dyadic opposition associated with the feminine expression of Eros Love. She is either idealized and set beyond the reach of men in worshipful ignorance or is debased and exploited as wanton in her lust and salaciousness. And yet, the fullness of the Divine Feminine Lover archetype can encompass and surmount both of these immature distinctions.
The Lover archetype has been contorted into a selfish and dense expression that lacks breadth or spirit. Yet the Lover is the meeting and combining of sex and spirit, Eros, the universal urge to bond and unite.
Woman naturally, organically, comprise the alchemy that infuses spirit into flesh with desire—prompting sensual engagement and erotic expression. While most commonly expressed in romantic and sexual form, the Lover archetype also contains a much fuller, divine, expression.
The Lover archetype in its fullness is the primal energy of passion, exquisite engagement with life and ecstatic being: an alive and vivid world view. The domain of the Lover archetype are the primal urges of being: sex, food, well-being, procreation—and is manifested in creative adaptation and initiatory experience.
The Lover is the epitome of Sensual. She exudes sensuality in her mood, look, walk, bearing, and engagement. She is intimately interested in all forms of sensory contact, experiencing the world in all its splendor. She is the archetype of play and healthy erotic embodiment without shame.
A woman in the fullness of the Lover archetype feels like this:
She is sensual. She is open and invites you to touch—her mind, body and soul. She relishes connection with others, specifically the connecting aspect—beyond Ego’s fulfillment needs. She appreciates beauty in all its forms, seeing and feeling beauty in herself, realizing her intrinsic connection and possession of such. She is “in her body” animating it with vital energy through dance, or yoga, or movement. She brings, eros and sensuality and a “joy of life” to any engagement or conversation.
The Wise Woman elicits visions of the Shaman, one who not only accesses the spiritual realms but brings practical “technology” to those in her “household.” She mines her fathomless intuitive wisdom and miraculously produces solutions and applications that forward advancement and resolution of opposites, challenges, and disparate circumstances. The Wise Woman has been an essential archetype for the survival of her “clan,” community, family and our human species.
The Wise Woman brings an aspect of advocating “right action,” dharma. She is the expression of the Ego in service to, and “right-relationship” with, the higher Self’s power. The Wise Woman observes, tracks, scans, monitors data from all sources (within and without) and channels wisdom leading to “right action.”
The Wise Woman archetype in her fullness feels like this:
She quietly and deftly orchestrates and imparts wise counsel and intuitive direction that shifts the receiver into new possibilities and pathways that reflect “right action” for their life path. She unobtrusively supports the wisdom of others, not seeking acclaim or notice for her contribution. She is thoughtful and reflective and rests in her felt connection with spirit and grounded connection with the earth, Gaia, the source of her wisdom and intuition.
The Wise Woman’s importance of contribution comes to the fore during crisis and intense need. Through the uniquely formed conduit that the Wise Woman embodies, wisdom and “right action” become clear. With the Wise Woman’s contribution we feel confident and assured that our path is the “right” one for us, we respond to life with a calm easefulness that transitions crisis and change with grace and wisdom.
We all have a thought that can slip in and become our one worst enemy. Sometimes it’s “I can’t,” and other times it’s “I tried.” Either way, these simple thoughts can sabotage our best intentions. I see the “I can’t” and “I tried” people in my office often. They start a diet, and fail; begin an exercise program, then quit; make a vow to do something positive for themselves, but get deterred in one way or another and get off course. We all have a little bit of this in us, but the truth is that there is nothing more powerful than knowing exactly who you are, and that includes getting to know those dark little voices in your head.
And where do they come from? Your overactive brain, that’s where. And guess where they don’t stand a chance? Your under-utilized heart.
Is it time to demote your brain as CEO of your life?
As women, multi-tasking and doing it all, we have allowed our brains to take over and run the show. In many ways, this has been necessary to get us where we are today, but at some point, our brains got a little bit power-happy. We’ve got checklists for our checklists. Our phones and other devices are constantly beeping and dinging and vibrating to remind us that we are continuously consumed with obligations and many of us have the idea that we need to take care of everyone and do everything perfectly.
It’s simply not true. It’s also not worth the price.
I see women in their 30s, 40s, 50s — women in the prime of their lives — in my office with symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations and dizziness all stemming from the stress hormones released in the body due to overactive perseverating brains that so often can sabotage success and happiness.
After seeing these patterns repeatedly, I decided it was time to share what I’ve learned about how to help women stop living entirely from their heads and remember how to live from their hearts. I want to help women understand their hearts, prioritize their hearts, and know exactly what it means to care for their hearts on every level, from the obvious to the not-so-obvious, from direct physical heart health to managing the emotional repercussions of life in the 21st century. I want you know how your heart works, and how your heart can work for you.
Coming out January 24, 2013, is Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Women’s Guide to a Heart Healthy Life. With this book, every woman can come into my office and let herself be transformed. Learn what it really means to live from the heart. Here’s an excerpt:
Living from the heart feels much different than living from the head. When you live from your heart, you feel at peace, at ease, and in control of yourself because of a deep inner knowing. You lead with love. You learn how to care for yourself and love yourself. You relax because you know that everything is going to be okay. Living from the heart coaxes your body back into balance. When the heart is in control, your body finds optimum health and starts acting like a well-oiled machine instead of a broken-down car.
We are so used to letting our heads be in charge of our lives that when we start reacting with our hearts instead, it feels like a miracle, like a whole new existence. And it is! The heart is the center of our body’s universe and the center of our feelings. This is as it should be. Your head is way off at the edge of your body. You can’t balance when you are living from there. Your head isn’t grounded in the reality of your body. Let your heart be the center and watch your whole life transform.
When we compartmentalize our lives and forget what matters most to us, we tend to listen to those critical voices in our heads — those nefarious “I can’ts” and “I trieds,” and suddenly we are less than we could be. Every aspect of your life can and will influence your heart, and it is simply a matter of meticulously figuring out exactly who you are.
For example, is “I can’t exercise” true? Or is the truth actually, “I can’t exercise in the morning because I’m not a morning person.” If that’s you, then that’s you — and that’s okay. But there is a way exercise can work in your life. Is “I tried to be an artist but I’ll have to settle for a job I don’t like” the truth? Or is the real truth, “My previous attempts at making a living as an artist didn’t work, but I can still find a way to channel that part of me and call myself an artist”? Both “I can’t” and “I tried” statements are actually indicators of behavior patterns that you can observe and change. When you see them this way, then you can make different choices. When you empower yourself with your own personal handbook for your heart, your own personal Heart Book, then suddenly you have taken over the wheel of your life. You will be the one in the driver’s seat.
Living from the heart means really knowing who you are, knowing what makes you happy, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, knowing what makes you tick, and understanding that while you are not perfect, you can be as perfect as possible. That is my wish and challenge for you: Live truthfully, authentically, and honestly, drawing strength and consolation from work, family, love, and health. Cultivate and nurture those things, not from your head, where logic always rules, but from your heart, where you can feel what is right and real for you. Live that way, and chances are things are going to be just fine.
—Artwork: Shiloh Sophia McCloud, visionary artist,
Published online on The Huffington Post
Today there is a resurgence of interest in the sacred feminine. The immense popularity a few years ago of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code spoke not just to our enjoyment of a good thriller but also to the mystery of the divine feminine in Western culture, which is the real thread of the book’s chase, from the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa to the search for the grail and the heritage of Mary Magdalene. We know now how the feminine mysteries were present in Greek culture and myth, as imaged in the story of Persephone, and enacted for more than 2,000 years in the initiations at Eleusis. In the early Christianity women had spiritual equality, and the significance of Mary Magdalene, the disciple whom Jesus loved more than others, being the first to see the risen Christ, points to the esoteric significance of the feminine. We have also learned how the power of the sacred feminine was repressed by the Church fathers, and Mary Magdalene purposely misidentified as a prostitute.
As we awaken from the repressions of the patriarchy we need to reclaim the sacred feminine both for our individual spirituality and for the well being of the planet. Our ecological devastation points to a culture that has forgotten the sacredness of the earth and the divine mother, as well as denied the feminine’s deep understanding of the wholeness and interconnectedness of all of life. And our individual life, so often caught in addictions and starved of real meaning, has a hunger to reconnect with the soul, which has always had a feminine quality. And linking our own journey and that of the world is the ancient feminine figure of the World Soul, the Anima Mundi, the spiritual presence within creation.
So what does it mean to reclaim the sacred feminine? How can we feel it in our bodies and in our daily life? Every woman knows this mystery in the cycles of her body, which are linked to the greater rhythms of life, the cycles of the moon. And she feels it in a calling to reconnect with the power and wisdom she carries within her, a deep knowing that is not found in books but belongs to her very nature.
The feminine carries a natural understanding of the interconnectedness of life, how all the parts belong together. She instinctively knows how to respond to the needs of her children, how she feels for their well being even when they are not physically present. And in her body she carries the greatest mystery, the potential to give birth: to bring the light of a soul into this world.
The feminine is the matrix of creation. And yet we have forgotten, or been denied, the depths of this mystery, of how the divine light of the soul creates a body in the womb of a woman, and how the mother shares in this wonder, giving her own blood, her own body, to what will be born. Regardless of whether an individual woman has the physical experience of giving birth, she shares in this primal mystery and is empowered by it. Yet our culture’s focus on a disembodied, transcendent God has left women bereft, denying them the sacredness of this simple mystery of divine love.
What we do not realize is that this patriarchal denial affects not only every woman, but also life itself. When we deny the divine mystery of the feminine we also deny something fundamental to life.
We separate life from its sacred core, from the matrix that nourishes all of creation. We cut our world off from the source that alone can heal, nourish, and transform it. The same sacred source that gave birth to each of us is needed to give meaning to our life, to nourish it with what is real, and return us to a relationship with the wholeness of life.
Of course men also have a need to relate to the sacred feminine, to be nourished by her inner and outer presence. Without the sacred feminine nothing new can be born, and we see around us the sad plight of a masculine culture destroying its own ecosystem, unable to even agree on the steps needed to limit global warming. We all need to reclaim the living power and transformative potential of the sacred feminine, to feel her connection to the soul and the earth. And we desperately need the ancient wisdom of the soul of the world to help us at this time of global crisis. Many times before the world has been through an ecological crisis, and the world soul carries within her the memories and wisdom we need. But if we remain cut off in a mindset that sees this a problem that we need to fix with the same masculine attitude that has caused the problem, we will just compound the crisis. Only through working together with the sacred feminine can we heal and transform the world. And this means to honor her presence within our bodies and our soul, in the ground we walk on and the air we breathe.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee has written about the feminine and the role of women in our present time in The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee has written about the feminine and the role of women in our present time in “The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul.”