Being

 

Someone recently asked me, “When you say that femininity is about being, it really bothers me. What do you mean by that, because it feels like you’re saying femininity is passive…and that is definitely not me.”

I get this. I don’t think passivity is ever a quality that is helpful, as it leads to stagnation, disconnection from self, and lying to others. It’s been a trait I have seen in many women as I have grown up and it infuriated me when my father tried to deny my powerful nature in order to get me to only be sweet and gentle, and ultimately, passive. To be fair, my father, and many other men like him, buy into the traditional religious stance that supports this idea…that a virtuous woman is not a powerful woman who roars or is passionate or defies social order or structure. A virtuous woman is one who acquiesces in order to maintain peace no matter what.

But, in experiencing the Sacred Feminine, I have found Her to be anything but passive. As a result, the first thing I must do is to unlink the word “passive” from the word “being.” Being has an active state too…it just looks a little bit different than what I’ve been taught through religion. As I explore the Sacred Feminine, I realize just how masculine Western Culture is…how it permeates everything to the point where feminine is not only distasteful, it has become almost eliminated altogether. This isn’t balance either. But how do we learn how to be feminine or choose with awareness a feminine trait if we don’t even know what femininity is?

Ironically, there do exist some religious environs where the concept of masculine and feminine are clearly embodied. As much as I feel constrained and restricted in the Orthodox Jewish communities, they do have a very clear concept of what a woman’s role is and what a man’s role is. While I still find those definitions confining as gender roles, they’re not so offensive to me when the principles are applied in terms of feminine and masculine traits/behaviors.

As I move through my daily life, I realize that I flip back and forth between feminine and masculine tasks, thoughts, and behaviors…and perhaps that is what can make this whole idea so confusing…I am not purely or exclusively feminine or masculine. I am both. And, as I become more consciously aware of the different ways I am masculine or feminine, I find that I am melding myself into wholeness…honoring both sides of myself…leading me to a deep self-love.

So for my friend who’s concerned with the passivity of being, here’s what I’m discovering:

Feminine Masculine
BE DO
potential energy kinetic energy
receiving energy sending energy
expansiveness holding space with boundaries
inward work outward work
heart centered head centered
creator protector
flow/surrender fight/resistance

                                  

The easiest ways to illustrate these differences are through the very essences of male vs. female…reproduction and sex. As women, we have more obvious cycles and rhythms than men due to our menstruation cycles. And, I’m learning that by honoring these cycles, I am honoring both masculine and feminine…I’m also connecting to a deep and ancient wisdom that is often lost when the cycles are ignored by powering through with the aid of drugs. This single practice of honoring my rhythm and flow of my body has required me to slow down…to pay attention to my heart, and to create a different life for myself…one in which I can honor these same rhythms without putting my income at risk.

During a normal menstruation cycle, a woman experiences three weeks of building and one week of flow. Those three weeks of building are feminine…the cultivation of and preservation of life-blood. This flowing inward is feminine…as is the action a woman experiences in orgasm…the contractions that propel inwards. We don’t necessarily DO anything except allow ourselves to BE who we are…women. We don’t consciously tell our bodies what to do…it just does it and we just are…in the flow of being feminine, in the cycle.

But that fourth week, the bleeding portion of our menstrual cycles, is masculine…the flowing outward…the sending energy, as in the action a man experiences in orgasm…contractions that propel outwards. A woman’s hormones change to a more masculine concoction. The skin tone is less feminine; her voice is lower. And yet, she’s still woman…allowing the natural flow of life to cycle through while still being…flushing to make room for something new.

Similarly, the process of procreation holds both masculine and feminine elements. A woman receiving the sperm is feminine in two ways…she’s created as a woman to have room to receive, and the act of receiving is also feminine. The man in providing the sperm is also masculine in two ways…he’s created as a man to send sperm, and the act of sending is also masculine. The cultivation and creation of new life is feminine, and in this heightened state of femininity, the flowing out of blood stops. For 40 weeks, a woman is purely woman in her body…fully aware of life throbbing all around her. Her instincts become much more focused on the home and creating a home for the new life.

Interestingly enough, men also feel more masculine throughout this process. Most men feel particularly protective a pregnant women…there is an instinct to protect the vulnerable without diminishing those who are vulnerable. This vulnerability is honored as something beautiful rather than something to be ashamed of or to hide from. Men often feel inspired to increase their ability to provide for their families and will seek promotions or raises, a bigger home, a different car, and will often be seen running errands for the mother of their unborn child…he’s going outward, and she’s staying put and receiving.

Then comes the birth. A man often feels helpless in these situations and they often experience an incredible amount of angst that they can’t do anything. What they don’t realize is that they can do something…they can hold space and witness the process. This is masculine energy. But a woman may not only need masculine energy in this process…she may also need feminine energy because the birthing of a baby is masculine…sending a fully formed creation outward. A man can also hold a feminine energy of being while holding space. He can tap into the nurturing feminine space within himself in order to allow the woman to fully express all the masculinity she needs to express in order to send out this child from within. Ironically, it is also in the height of birthing that a woman confronts the essence of herself as being. As labor progresses, she becomes increasingly aware and consumed by everything that is taking place. And as she realizes that she cannot change this process, she surrenders to it, and then participates with it.

These are extreme examples, my friend would say…and she’s right. Aside from these huge moments in life that not everyone will experience, how can a powerful and passionate woman express femininity in daily life?

I’ve started by learning what nurtures me, creating space to receive it, receiving it when given, then expressing gratitude. For example, when a man holds a door open for me, I receive it and express gratitude. He is embodying masculinity by holding space for me and honoring me as I flow through the space he has created.

When a man offers to carry my groceries to my car, I accept, again with gratitude. His offer is a sending energy, which is masculine, which also identifies the feminine capacity in me to receive his offer. The simple act of accepting is receiving, which is feminine, also honoring his gift that he sent to me.

Receiving compliments is a particular challenge for me. I’ve always felt compelled to return the compliment or even deny the truth of the compliment altogether. However, when practicing femininity, I choose to receive them with gratitude because they are a gift to me and in doing so, I’m embodying feminine energy. This action of being a receptacle creates a place to receive additional compliments, which then another masculine energy can recognize and will seek to fill. This is why the more you have, the more you receive…or, when it rains, it pours…or any of the other adages or practices prove true so frequently.

By practicing feminine behaviors and experiencing the resulting powerful experience of being, I increasingly connect with the essence of me by going within. As I do this, I become more confident in who I am and less afraid of expressing myself in the world. By being me and being true to my soul’s essence, I am learning that I exhibit the activity of the Sacred Feminine…the activity within me…contained within…nurturing within…reflecting out.

Sculpture by Chris Navarro. Book titles: The Power of Belief.

 

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What Is More Sacred Than Woman?

As I journeyed through the process of converting to Judaism, I kept smacking up against sexism…particularly in the Orthodox practices. I hated all the dark, restricting, fashionless, entire body-covering clothes…as though a woman’s body is shameful and must be covered up because men aren’t disciplined enough to control their urges. The mechitza rankled me…particularly when it meant that women weren’t allowed to touch the Torah or participate in the service at all. The minyan, a requirement of ten people present in order for a sacred service to occur, was the last straw to my silence. I, as a woman, would not count toward a minyan…either in the Orthodox or Modern Orthodox communities…only men.

I was frustrated. I was angry. I was indignant.

Why is my value as a woman limited to keeping house, having children, and pleasing my husband? Why is my value as a woman not even noticed if I’m single or childless? Why is my value as a single and childless woman only noticed in terms of getting me married so that I can get on with having children and pleasing my husband? Why is there no value of me for me? Why is my intellect not valued? Why are my other skills as a business woman, musician, writer, teacher, philosopher, scholar, and wild adventurer not valued? Although I ultimately chose to convert Conservative so that all these things that I value in myself would also be valued by my community, this philosophy still irritated me…and still does to some degree. Particularly because if I were ever to go to Israel, Orthodoxy rules…which also means even though I converted Conservative, I will not be considered to be a Jew in Israel. Only those who convert Orthodox are fully accepted as being Jewish and given rights to Israeli citizenship. But, as long as these prevailing practices and attitudes toward women remain, I will never embrace Orthodoxy.

One Shabbas, I was ranting on this topic to my spiritual “Jewish father,” and, true to form, he listened to me with his full attention and interest.

When my words were exhausted, he asked, his eyes twinkling in delight with my thoughts, “Are you finished?”

I flopped back into my chair, indignantly sulking, and stated, “YES!”

“May I suggest an alternative view?” he offered.

I snorted. “I don’t see how that’s possible.”

“Weeellll,” he mused, “it’s debatable by some, and it’s simply a suggestion, but…it might help a little.”

“Ok.” I finally agreed. “I’d love to change my mind and attitude around this issue because it’s using up a lot of energy. I’m listening.”

He nodded and began. “You know my wife?”

I chuckled reluctantly and nod.

“You know that she doesn’t observe many Jewish practices.”

I nodded.

“She always uses her leather purse…regardless of what day it is,” he continued. “She talks on the phone on Shabbas, she’ll go to the store on Shabbas if she needs to, she drives on Shabbas, she may or may not attend services…you get the picture.”

I nodded.

“I, on the other hand,” he placed his hand on his heart, “go to minyan twice each day, attend all services, attend an Orthodox Torah study on Tuesday nights, keep kosher, walk to shul on Shabbas, don’t turn lights on or off on Shabbas…in other words, I’m observant.”

I nodded again.

“Who do you think is the most spiritual?” he asked with a smile.

I looked at him suspiciously, “Spiritual, or religious?”

He smiled as his head nodded, his index finger waggling. “Spiritual.”

“Well,” I hesitated, “just because she isn’t observant doesn’t necessarily mean she isn’t spiritual.”

“Exactly!” he responded. “Why do you think that is?”

I looked at him. “Please don’t tell me that housework inherently creates spirituality.”

He laughed. “I would never dare to say such a thing. But,” he chuckled, “there is a connection.

My eyes narrowed

“Hear me out.”

“Continue…with caution,” I said.

“Have you ever considered,” he spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully, “that a woman is inherently spiritual? That she doesn’t need all the trappings of the Jewish practices?”

My eyes widened slightly, my head cocked in interest. “Continue,” I said.

“These rituals that are required by men…that I observe…are meant to refine the soul in order to bring the soul into a union with Divinity. A woman doesn’t need them…my wife doesn’t need them…I definitely do.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because Divinity is not Who I think of naturally…or easily. I think of myself. I think of my needs…my wants…my desires…my ego. Women, and of course there are always better examples than others, have an easier and more natural access to Divinity on a regular basis.”

“Really?” I asked skeptically.

“Yes,” he insisted. “My wife doesn’t need a service to bring her close to Divinity…she infuses Divinity into everything she does…including housework.” He grinned at me, “She doesn’t need to be limited by ritual because she’s beyond that. Ritual is for beginners.”

“Huh.” I said. I’m still not sure I wanted to give up my rant…although, this makes for an interesting substitute.

“This is not to say that the accompanying attitudes around ritual are at all welcoming or appreciative of women…but perhaps this perspective can help ease the sting around that failing,” he offered.

I nodded slowly as I sort through my thoughts. “Where did you come up with this idea?” I asked.

“The Torah,” he grinned.

My eyes rolled upwards, my hands facing the sky, “Of course you did.”

“Seriously!” he insisted. “Remember the story of creation in Genesis?”

“Which one?” I countered.

“Any of them. For this purpose, it doesn’t matter.”

“Ok.” I replied. “Yes, I remember.”

“How does it begin? What is created first?”

“Mmmmmm,” I pondered, “that’s a really hard question.”

“Not philosophically,” he encouraged, “just what is stated in the story.”

“Oh,” I laughed, “you want the simple answer of light.”

“Yes!” he laughed in return. “How hard was it to create light? How complicated is light?”

“Weeellll,” I began, “You’re talking about the foundations of existence and potentials, so….”

“Ok,” he conceded, “but we’re going for simple here. For argument’s sake, let’s just say that it was easy.”

“Ok.” I agreed.

“Then what comes next?” he asked.

“Darkness,” I replied.

“Again, easy,” he said.

I nodded, beginning to understand the parameters of the argument.

“Then?”

“Atmosphere and separating water.”

“Good!” he seems pleased. “Harder or easier than light?”

“Ok.” I said, “I’ll play along…not harder or easier, but more complex perhaps.”

He conceded with a simultaneous hand/face gesture. “Continue through creation. Each day, does the creation get more complex or more simple?”

“More complex.”

“Good!” he agreed. “Now, what happens on the sixth day?”

“Humans are created.”

“Ah.” He agreed, “But in what order?”

“Well, if you’re talking about the conjoined human, then they were created at the same time.”

“True,” he shrugged, “but look how that ended.”

I laughed, “They were separated at the rib and Lilith ran away.”

“So then what?”

“Ah!” A light dawned. “Woman is created…separately…not attached to a man…whole and complete on her own.”

He beamed proudly.

He continued, “If you look at Creation from a simple-to-complex continuum, where is woman?”

“Most complex,” I said slowly, in wonderment.

“Almost,” he said blissfully. “If you look at Creation as also being a movement toward sacredness, where is woman?”

“Most sacred,” I said breathlessly.

“Almost,” he said enraptured. He paused, breathing in ecstasy before saying, “The only thing created that is more complex and more sacred than woman, is Shabbas. And yet!” he emphasized with a finger and a chuckle, “Who’s to say they aren’t one, for she was created Erev Shabbas.”

Feminine Power

Part of the conversion process into Judaism involves choosing a name. A Jewish name.

I was all over that assignment, because I have never identified with my name, nor have I liked it. At all. To me, it’s ugly. And masculine. I’m often assumed to be a man because of my name. I hate that…especially when I see how differently I’m treated once it’s discovered that I’m a woman.

From a very young age, I’ve tried to find a name that fits me…a name that resonates and fully embodies all that I am. Here was my opportunity to legally do that, in the Jewish sense. But, I was stumped. Where does one begin when everything is possible?

“Start by looking at women in the Tanakh that you admire,” my rabbi suggested. “Figure out why you admire them, then see if any of those names resonate with you.”

Three hours later, I was no better off. I couldn’t believe how few women there were in the stories I’ve known since childhood. Fewer still who resonated with me on any level. So many I saw as being manipulative (Sarah, Hagar, Rachel, Jezebel, Delilah), or manipulated (Leah, Rachel, Hannah), or strictly sexual  (Dinah, Lot’s daughters, Potipher‘s wife), were slaves (Esther, Deborah, or most women), or were masculine in their aggression (Deborah, Jael), or had a victim complex (Naomi, Ruth). Very few were recognized as being leaders…women of power and respect…admired by both men and women.

It was then I realized that I was looking for a woman who is powerful…not because she takes power from others, and not because she emulates men. I was looking for a woman who is powerful in her own right…without trampling on others to get there. A woman who is wise and discerning…able to navigate both the feminine and masculine with equal ease, grace and diplomacy. I didn’t know any women who did this expertly…I certainly had no idea how to do this. But, I realized that is the woman I wanted to become…the woman I wanted my name to reflect…the name to guide and foretell my future.

Again. I realize. I’m here again…concerned with women and power, like I’m some sort of feminist. Am I a feminist? What exactly is a feminist?

I had never thought of myself as a Feminist, and in that moment, I realized that I was ashamed to be considered a Feminist. I was ashamed because I knew so many men who rail against Feminists and all that they stand for…I didn’t want to be automatically dismissed by these men in my social circles simply because I cared about my role as a woman.

Do I agree with these men? Why don’t I like Feminists?

I then realized that I have a hard time with forcefulness…in either men or women. So, when Feminists become forceful and masculine in their approach, I turn away. From that perspective, I could understand why some men push back so hard…a masculine energy is pushing against itself because it’s coming from an unnatural source…a woman.

I realized I was torn…grateful, on the one hand, to those who fought and continue to fight for my rights as a woman, but embarrassed, on the other hand, that the fight is so graceless…masked unnecessarily in masculine power, and so lacking in true feminine power. I realized, I didn’t want to be considered one of Them…but I also realized that my desire for true feminine power would inevitably lump me in. Perhaps I can be a part of a new kind of Feminism…even  though I have absolutely no idea what this looks like.

I sighed.

I shrugged.

My rabbi chuckled…again.

“You really do break all molds. And, it’s so very refreshing.”

“Really?!” I’m genuinely surprised. He, a man, is not put off by my perspectives! Maybe there’s something to this!

Together we explore the Tanakh for examples of these feminine qualities I seek…nebulous qualities because I don’t really know what they are, but are provable by their circumstances and results…a gentler, kinder, collaborative way…without losing or compromising self.

Eventually, we finalize on two names:

Aviva: Meaning “Spring” or “Awakening,” like the picture at the top. I took that picture after the devastating fire season of 2008-2009. The entire hillside was burnt black, with no plants in sight. However, a few months later, wildflowers thrived…awakening the earth after a purge. I wanted to awaken myself to a new way of being…a new way of seeing and blossoming that is feminine in nature. And, not only is the name a palindrome, it has symmetrical lines, lending it to being written beautifully…a feminine name.

Avigail: The Hebrew equivalent to Abigail. I choose it because of Abigail, who became David’s wife after the incident that caused their meeting. She utilized her feminine beauty, intelligence, wisdom, and wealth to gently, but firmly, intervene in a moment of crisis between her husband and David. She didn’t defer to her husband…she acted on her own, with planning and conviction. Neither did she employ aggressive tactics…rather, she employed her intelligence and insight into consequences and helped David choose the path that would take him where he really wanted to go. As a result, she averted a war between them, which could have severely damaged both her community and hindered David’s journey to the throne.

I’m proud, grateful, and satisfied to have found a name that finally reflects me. This isn’t necessarily who I am right now…nor is it who I will be tomorrow…or the next month or year. But, I will become this person…this is a name to grow into…a name to learn to embody. A name that will teach me and inspire me to step into my genuine feminine power.