Elizabeth Lesser

"Understanding Gender" (excerpt) The Seekers — E. Lesser

I often turn to Jungian psychology to better understand issues of gender. Jung separated personalities not so much into male and female, but into unique blends of masculine and feminine qualities, which he believed were found in all human psyches in varying degrees of potency. The masculine principle, or archetype, as Jung called it, celebrates rational thinking, heroic power, goal-oriented achievement, and independence. It is transcendent, visionary, mindful. The feminine principle loves to feel; it compels us to nurture; it links sexuality with relationship; and it reveres life and death as natural cycles of nature. It is embodied, intuitive, heartful.

The feminine is that part of the self that is vulnerable, receptive, open; the part that values connection and communication. It likes to put all the cards on the table and doesn't want to hold back or keep secrets. It is the part that is comfortable right here on earth with all of its pain and messiness, the part that does not want to run away from life or try to change nature's rules. This is the feminine archetype. The masculine archetype sees beyond this life, looks outside of itself, identifies with the eternal, and wants to move ever forward. It plans and negotiates, is reasonable and rational. It is on a mission to achieve, invent, build, make a mark. It is the part of the self that is determined, loyal, judicious, and steady.

A great pair, the feminine and the masculine. A person who cultivates his or her masculine and feminine qualities is able to balance power with love, inventiveness with sustainability brilliance with wisdom. Of course, most of us are not naturally balanced within ourselves. We usually have more of one archetype than the other, and it usually is true that women are much more heavily endowed with the feminine principle and men with the masculine principle. The point of working to balance our masculine and feminine energies is not to move toward androgyny. It is to become aware of the inner forces at play within each one of us and within the culture. Even as we strive for inner and outer balance, we still can depend on each other to fill in the missing pieces. In fact, the more we value both archetypes, the less pulled each one of us will feel to be "perfect," and the less likely we will be to misunderstand the basic nature of our counterparts. We will be able to stand in for each other as we all grow toward wholeness.

Most of recorded human history is the story of one archetype—the masculine—not merely dominating, but also discounting the values of the other—the feminine. It's particularly ironic to note the suppression of the feminine in religious history, given that the basis for most religions is God's all-embracing inclusion and love of all creation. As the poet Jane Hirshfield says about God's egalitarian spirit, "The numinous does not discriminate . . . infinitude and oneness do not exclude anyone." But indeed, the feminine voice has been excluded in most religious traditions to the point where spiritual myths, images, and structures are primarily masculine. Even more harmful than their mere exclusion, feminine values have also been deemed inferior, even dangerous, in patriarchal cultures. Backed up by our earliest religious myths, from Adam and Eve to Prometheus and Pandora, the message has been insidiously clear: feminine values are manipulative and untrustworthy, bound by the suffering of the earth, controlled by the dark side of the moon, and more related to the animals than to the angels.

It is the masculine principle within humans that is attracted to transcendent spirituality—always moving forward, intent on self-improvement, compelled by the light of truth beyond the horizon. The feminine principle is more at home with the way things already are. Feminine energy moves in a circle, longing to know all by embracing all. In valuing one archetype and rejecting the other, as opposed to enjoying the fruits of the marriage of both, we have denied many people, not just women, their natural way of finding God.

Religions have perpetrated the myth of masculine superiority as much as any social system has; in fact, I think that until we rewrite our spiritual mythology, societal structures will continue to empower men and mistrust women. The first step of the women's movement has been the demanding of equal status for women within the patriarchy. This has been a critically important step. But it has also masked other, equally important steps: the celebration of feminine values in the world; the granting of respect, money, and power to the kind of work that nurtures families, teaches the young, connects communities, and cares for the earth; and the acceptance that while men's and women's wisdom may be different, each is real, precious, and necessary.

It's not enough to say that spirituality transcends gender, even if it ultimately does. Spirituality is the human search for eternal wisdom. It is not the wisdom itself To humanize spirituality, we must look not only outside of ourselves to the limitless universe, but also inside of our own person-hood—the sum total of our gender, our conditioning, our genes, and our unique challenges and gifts. Obviously, then, different people will respond better to different spiritual concepts and techniques. Some people will use their minds most effectively. Others will find it easier to search for God using the physical body or the emotions. Some people, when they think of the ultimate truth, use language and images of light and glory. Others relate to the stark aloofness of the ascetic's search. Still others discover truth right here on earth, inspired by the interconnection of all life and through service to others.

Both genders are capable of tapping into the masculine and feminine wisdom streams. But first we must question the patriarchal obsession with power and control in the culture, and widen the definition of reality to include the feminine principle. To some extent, this has been the role of feminism in our times. When feminism and spirituality combine forces, the feminine face of God will illuminate the path for all of us.

From - The Seekers Guide

To understand femininity men must see the essential Yin nature for what it is: the magnificence of feelings, the yearning to nurture others, and sexuality as an “all-encompassing intimacy." Sexual penetration to a woman is far more than vaginal—it's experiencing an intellectual, emotional and spiritual oneness with her partner. Men for too long have clung to the notion that these qualities are exclusively female and therefore a sign of human weakness. In a women’s eye, a man opening his heart to the gifts and wonders of Yin is the quintessential man!

—Bei Kuan-tu


"Longing" (excerpt) The Seekers by E. Lesser

---Solitaire Miles

Longing is my fuel of choice on the spiritual journey. Spiritual longing is a sort of loneliness for an unknown yet deeply perceived presence. Some call the presence God; some call it peace; some call it consciousness; some call it love. Its source rests in the well of our own hearts. When we slow down, quiet the mind, and allow ourselves to feel hungry for something that we do not understand, we are dipping into the abundant well of spiritual longing. We have grown accustomed to shutting down or blotting out feelings of longing, loneliness, hunger. It's less challenging to feed the hunger with explanations, concepts, or rules (or drugs, food, or drink) than to rest for a while in the depths of the heart's longing. But if we want to open the doors to life's joy and God's peace, we have to learn how to fearlessly explore the full terrain of our human longing…

To give voice to our spiritual longing is to reveal a side of ourselves that we have become skilled at hiding. We may be ashamed to admit that we feel a kind of helplessness—a need for something that we cannot even describe. We may have grown up thinking that we should always be smart or happy or strong, consistently able to deal with the vagaries of life. Therefore, revealing our mysterious longings is unsettling. We don’t want to be seen stumbling around in the wilderness of our own ignorance and meagerness. Nor do we want to come across as innocent or eager in a world that has elevated cynicism to an art form. Instead we pretend to be fine, strong, smart, hip, amused, or disinterested even when we are not. Most of us have become habituated to hiding our weakness and wonder from each other. We construct brilliant masks to wear over our humanness, until we forget the authentic nature of our true face.

The twelfth-century poet Rumi, called this phenomenon the “Open Secret.” In his poetry and prose Rumi writes of the secrets we keep and the veils we wear so others won’t see our foolishness, our pain, our tenderness. Because the big secret we keep is “none over than the condition of our humanness—the ‘full catastrophe’,” as Nikos Kazantzakis’s fictional character Zorba the Greek called it—it is really no secret at all, it is an Open Secret. Visitors from a another planet would be baffled by the way humans behave. Our daily interactions would look to them as a Halloween party does to us: people hiding their true faces in order to look like someone else.

From - The Seekers Guide


Commentary: Lesser’s intuitive assertions are spot-on. To deny what she's stating is to deny breathing! Granted, there are some who are well aware of an occasional journey away from, and denial of reality. Sadly, there are many more who are “clueless in Seattle” when it comes to personal authenticity.

Do think about what she’s pointing to. Over time, wearing masks gets burdensome on the face and the heart. To be free of them is key to our “liberty of thought” and capacity to “live freely.”

—Bei Kuan-tu



"Landscape fo the Heart" (excerpt) The Seekers by Elizabeth Lesser

---Study of the Heart Tree by Palmarin Merges

In the Landscape of the Heart we meet up with parts of the self that we both desire and fear. The heart longs to feel fully alive; it craves connection and happiness. If allowed to follow its cravings, the heart feels everything: love and loneliness, contentment and gloom, passion and apathy. Like waves on the shore, our hearts normally rush toward joy, then pull back, afraid of pain and loss. Heartfulness is the willingness and the ability not to pull back. If we want to "feel the rapture of being alive," as Joseph Campbell describes the object of the spiritual search, we have to experience the whole ocean of emotions.

Heartfulness work is like swimming lessons: it teaches a skill that very few people seem to naturally possess. But unlike swimming lessons, which can be easily obtained at any YMCA pool or local beach, heartfulness skills are not usually taught in our culture. Most of us didn't learn as children that sadness is sister to happiness and that to deny one is to suppress the other. We weren't given specific tools to handle grief, to deal with crisis, to welcome loss as a natural part of being alive. It was not suggested that in order to understand ourselves we should look to the ways in which our parents cared for us and for each other. No one said, "Here is the best way to communicate when you are angry so that your relationships can flourish in honesty and love." Instead, the whole subject of emotions and psychological development was ignored at best and usually was sentimentalized, or ridiculed, or corked.

"Emotional intelligence," as psychologist Daniel Goleman calls the wisdom of the heart, needs to be nurtured and developed, just like any kind of intelligence. We've put more emphasis on math and history and language than on the skills needed to love our lives and to interact well with each other as mates, families, friends, and communities. Elementary schools don't include honest communication or compassionate listening in the curriculum. High schools don't require students to know how to develop healthy emotional boundaries, how to be strong and gentle at the same time, how to make wise decisions based on what we really want—or how to know what we want in the first place.

Society devises laws to keep domestic and public order, but rules for moral behavior are different from tools for heartful living. They may point us in the same direction—toward kindness, compassion, and decency—but heartfulness is not about being told what to do. Heartfulness warns us not to "grin and bear it," not just to settle for what religions talk about, not to follow rules for the sake of obedience—but to find out for ourselves what we love and what we want. If values don't come from what we love, they become doctrine. Heartfulness leads us away from a rote doctrine of love to loving behavior through self-love, to forgiveness of others through self-forgiveness, to understanding human nature through self-understanding.

By the time most of us have reached adulthood we find ourselves in a curious situation: we have an emotional life but we don't really know how to manage it. The luckiest among us have happy marriages and loving families, deal gracefully with loss and pain, and feel deeply into the pleasures of daily life. The most unfortunate are crippled by depression, unable to make lasting bonds with others, and dulled to the ordinary magic of being alive. In the middle are the rest of us, bobbing in our own emotional oceans, sometimes on top of the water, and often under waves of depression or anger or confusion. You may recognize in yourself the most common emotional coping strategy: in order not to feel the darker emotions—sadness, or pain, or hatred—we turn off the heart's capacity to feel at all. And then we are puzzled by why it is so hard to love, to enjoy, and even to know what we feel or want.

It makes sense that if we don't want to feel unhappy, and we don't know how to cultivate happiness, that we would just turn off the part of ourselves that feels. This is something that we learn to do early on. If our childhood pain was great, we learn all too well how to shut down feelings. The heart then becomes the locked repository for childhood wounds and confusion. The lessons of repression and avoidance learned long ago become trusted habits.

If the purpose of life is to "feel the rapture of being alive," and if our capacity to feel is crippled by old wounds and a lack of emotional education, then it follows that an important part of the spiritual path is to heal the heart and to become emotionally intelligent. Then why is it that the territory of the heart is so rarely explored on the classical spiritual journey? One answer is that the heart's contradictory, messy, and passionate nature seems at odds with some religions. Sin-based religions especially have made it their mission to control the world, not to love it for what it is. The less controllable aspects of our humanness—erotic love, rage and anger, beauty and sadness—have been labeled too passionate or irrational to be trusted. Better to leave passion out of a "spiritual" person's life altogether.

To bring the heart along on the spiritual path is to open Pandora's box. Once opened, the heart wants to feel the rapture of being alive. It longs to know love; it remembers pain; it feels rage; it demands change. It wants to knowjoy in the here and now, in the body, with other people, through the senses. No wonder our culture—with its Puritanical roots and its patriarchal power structure—has made sure the box has stayed locked. But the lack of heartfulness in life is a tragedy, because an enlightened heart delivers what we expect from the spiritual search: wisdom, peace, and a life of miracles.


"Open Secret" — Elizabeth Lesser (excerpt) Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow