Facing the Earth

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“Loving something with your whole body….bending yourself to the earth…The work of our bodies is beautiful when it brings us to a position of receptivity and readiness to pray and commune. Releasing into the earth is beautiful. Bellies to the ground, forehead to the floor, resting in sacred surrender to that which we love.

We can use our movements to hold conversation with the Divine. That is part of the personal medicine of the body.” ~Gayle Woodul

 

When I saw this photo today, and read Ms. Woodul’s words, a deep part within me opened up. Simply looking at the picture reminded me of the first time I ever bowed…and the joy I feel every time I have bowed since.

As a child in a Christian home, I was taught that bowing to anything except God was a sin. I vividly remember watching other “primitive” people bowing to various things…statues, trees, fire, stars, a witchdoctor…and hearing a variety of teachings flow through my mind: It’s foolishness…It’s an act of futility…Those things are not God…God won’t hear them so long as they practice such abominations…Those people won’t be in Heaven…Don’t go near those people in case you are tempted to join them…and on and on. I was so conflicted as a child because as much as I wanted to please my parents and my parents’ community, I really was quite interested and fascinated by the culture around me. I wanted to understand why these “primitive” people did what they did…for, to be honest, many of their practices seemed to be more true and real than my parents’…because we never bowed to anything…not even to God.

My first season of the Jewish High Holy days was filled with awe and wonder…which is, of course the whole point. Ancient practices from the time of Sinai were followed…ancient melodies, tropes, and blessings were sung, sending chills throughout my entire body. At one point, when the Kohanim gathered up front to bless the people, I traveled back in time…or opened to all time. As they chanted, I heard all the priests from all generations chanting with them…blessing us…as I knew I had been blessed before. Then there was the moment of prostration before G-d. The entire ten days were so filled with sacredness that I didn’t think twice. I gratefully bent to the earth and prostrated myself to the earth…facing Jerusalem…and surrendered in the awe of Divinity.

In that moment, time stood still for me. I connected with everything before me and everything after me. I was suspended…both physically and in time…between the earth and sky…part of nothing, yet part of everything. I felt the flow of All that Is and realized that when I bow this way, I embody the truth of the word humility…from the Latin meaning “on the ground.” In humility, I honored the Divine Spark  that exists in all of creation. I honored the wisdom of surrendering to something greater than my ego self. In return, I received a blessing, which I accepted with gratitude.

That blessing was the realization that I had never fully given myself to anything or anyone. I always held a tiny bit of myself back. And that holding back was an expression of arrogance…because I thought those things or people were never quite good enough for me. I realized that the practice of never bowing, of never prostrating myself even to God, contributed to this attitude of arrogance…of entitlement. As I lay in prostration, I realized I had broken this cycle. By converting to Judaism, I had committed to something wholeheartedly…for the first time in my life. Even though questions and doubts had popped up, the heart conviction that this was the path for me won…the commitment in the face of doubts and fears allowed me to let go…to surrender…to live from a place of my heart’s intuition.

Everything in my life turned a corner in that moment. It wasn’t that life got easier…it wasn’t at all easier. I still struggled to pay my bills and put food on my table. Yet, I was more joy-filled…more love-filled…and it kept increasing…all because my arrogance started to fall away. I let humility in, allowing me to fully see another without judgement…without criticism. I didn’t experience it all the time, but there were definitely moments. And those moments grew longer and longer, and with them I received other blessings.

My faith increased.

My trust grew stronger.

My belief shifted.

All because I bowed.

I surrendered.

And then the love began to flow.

 

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Facing the Grief

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I am great in emergencies. I keep a cool head, find solutions quickly, and implement them instantly. I rarely think about how I’m feeling in those moments…I simply focus on keeping everyone alive, balanced, protected, and tended to. Only after I have seen for myself that everyone is OK and their needs are being addressed do I stop to pay attention to me. And then I completely crumple and fall apart.

I tend to do the same thing in challenging situations…particularly chronic ones. Somehow, I’ve created a pattern of “just getting through” with the ever-present hope that it will get better. Because I see and believe in potentials, my chronic optimism often blinds me to the inevitable that I so desperately want to ignore. I have such hope that people will “see the light” and change that it’s hard for me to walk away, because if I do, I feel like I’m giving up on someone…and what if I do give up just before the miracle?

Some people call this loyalty.

I used to be proud of this quality of mine…my steadfast loyalty…my stick-to-it-tive-ness…my persistence in relationships and never giving up on someone. But there was always a catch…I have yet to have another person or institution be as loyal to me as I have been to him/her/it/them. And that hurts. A lot.

On my last day at my job, I was asked not to come to my class to say good bye to my students. I was told that they wouldn’t even notice that the teacher had changed and that it didn’t matter. I told myself that she was just mad and that this was the last day she could treat me this way, but it still hurt…and it bothered me that I allowed her to succeed in her intention to hurt me. At assembly, where announcements are made to the entire school (including saying goodbye to people), not one word was mentioned that I was leaving or that it was my last day. Nobody acknowledged my years of service or expressed gratitude for all the things I had done for the school. I was devastated.  After everyone was dismissed, I sat in my seat fighting tears, waves of disappointment flooding me. One colleague came over to me and asked me if I was OK  I sighed and shared my disappointment. He nodded understandingly and replied that he was too…which was why he came over to check on me. I took my time going back to my office, and there on my desk were some flowers and a card from another colleague…also letting me know that she was sad that I was leaving and that she appreciated me.

I was deeply grateful for these kind gestures, but it didn’t undo the hurt of being ignored and unappreciated or not seen. I stuffed the emotions down so that I could “just get through,” and I suddenly stopped. I realized that I had been doing this for a really long time. I had been ignoring my unhappiness for so long, that I didn’t realize just how unhappy I had been…because I was so completely disconnected from my heart and my emotions. I had applied emergency coping mechanisms to a non-emergency situation, and in that moment I experienced a wee enlightenment. This combination of intense loyalty and disconnection had created a pattern of pain and disillusionment for me over and over and over again…and for the first time I now understood why.

One of my spiritual teachers teaches that one should only trust another to the same degree as that other trusts him/herself. Likewise, one should only be as loyal to another as that other is loyal to him/herself. Additionally, she teaches that our external world is a reflection of what is happening internally. So, if I’m feeling betrayed, somewhere I’m betraying myself. So, how did these teachings apply to this particular situation?

Firstly, I betrayed myself by disconnecting from myself. By ignoring my unhappiness and my reactions to situations, I was denying that there was any reason, validity, purpose, lesson, or value in those emotions. By ignoring them under the guise of optimism or “just getting through,” I gradually became so unaware of myself that I couldn’t see the inevitable. Rather, I kept clinging to the dying situation…trying to change it to what I wanted it to be…completely attached to the outcome I wanted…unable and unwilling to see that a different outcome was going to happen no matter what. I had judgments on that different outcome…that I would be a failure, that I would be abandoning all that I had worked so hard to achieve…that I would be an idiot and loser. Because of those judgments, I couldn’t see the possibility that I had learned all that I could learn in that situation and that it was time for me to move on…I was ready for something bigger, something more challenging…something more. By holding on to my judgments and disconnecting from my heart, I couldn’t see that the inevitability of leaving my job was actually the direction my heart really wanted to take…that it was a blessing…that it was the right and good thing to do. As long as I held on to the situation, desperately wanting it to be other than it was, I continued to betray myself.

Secondly, I realized that my loyalty was extremely out of balance. I have a lot of loyalty to share. But I realized that just because it’s there doesn’t mean I have to share it. I can be loyal to me…and in fact, that’s really where the loyalty belongs…to me. I had put my loyalty on so many people, situations, institutions, events, and processes, that I had very little left for me. Energetically, this was confusing me because I couldn’t determine anyone else’s loyalty so long as mine was outside myself. I realized that I could pull all my loyalty back to myself, and only share a matched amount with another…person, event, situation, institution, or process. As I adjusted my loyalty levels and came into balance, I noticed that I wasn’t depriving another of anything…rather, I was sharing from a place of abundance rather than getting the leftovers. I was honoring another more by matching him/her rather than giving more than he/she was able to receive. Then, as I began pulling all my loyalty back to myself, I realized that my attachment also came back to me…no longer on another or the situation or its outcome. With all that energy back on myself, decisions were easy and simple. It was so obvious! Why should I work so hard to stay in a situation where I am unappreciated and treated so horribly? How is that beneficial to me? How is that nurturing to me? How is that honoring me and my gifts and my magnificence to allow myself to continue in that situation? All of sudden, the hurt subsided…significantly. All of a sudden, my grief was internal…about me. I was mourning my betrayal and disloyalty to myself. I still desperately wanted the situation to be other than it was, and I still wanted justice and recognition and appreciation…but not at the expense of me…and not in place of me. I realized that I had the power to provide that for myself…it just was going to take some practice to change those patterns of co-dependence…those patterns of relying on something outside myself to meet my needs.

As I drove away for the last time as an employee, I realized how grateful I was to have learned this valuable lesson…one that had haunted me my entire life. I finally learned that lesson, and had flipped my practice from doing the opposite of that which I intended to master to practicing that which I intended to master.

I deeply love and appreciate myself.

I am loyal only to myself.

My heart is trustworthy.

The grief eased.

I breathed in gratitude.

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.