Two things are asked of us as we move through the journey that is motherhood – that we open our hearts ever wider, and that we let go, let go, let go. Motherhood is a journey of loving and letting go. The same can be said of the journey of awakening, of enlightenment. Historically this wasn’t recognized by most of the world’s major spiritual traditions, which honored monasticism and retreat from the world as the greatest pathways to spiritual realization. But now that is changing, and we are finding ways for our lives to be our paths, as mothers, as career women, as everything that we are.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to explore the spiritual journey of motherhood, through goddesses, symbols, and my own thoughts. Whether you are a mother yourself or not, I hope that this speaks to you, as we all – mother or not, man or woman – have these energies within us, and we all have this opportunity to move from our personal loves to universal love to knowing ourselves as love.
Many a woman has said ‘I never knew I could love someone so much’ upon becoming a mother. There is an intensity to maternal love that can catch us off guard. Our whole body – and our subtle body – is ready to sacrifice on our child’s behalf. We may be torn by this, exhausted, even resentful, as we long for sleep and solitude, while at the same time we want nothing more than to hold our child. A torrent of emotions is released. And in the best moments there is this tender love, captured in Klimt’s beautiful portrait, this closeness and bond that we feel can never be sundered. There is a vulnerability too – as Elizabeth Stone puts it in her oft-quoted statement, “Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
There is a fullness too, that comes with motherhood, and a fierce protectiveness. Early Hindu mother goddesses hold a child in one hand and sword in the other. We quickly learn that there is a part of us that would do anything to protect our child. Working with this intense tribal feeling – tribal in that it is focused on our child, our world, even at the expense of others – is perhaps one of the greatest spiritual challenges of motherhood. It is easy to be consumed by wanting only what is best for our own children, with little thought as to how it impacts others. Unchecked this can drive us to push our children, or push others away in judgement or from fear (think ‘mommy wars’.) This is the spiritual calling of motherhood then – how to allow the opening of our heart to expand, rather than contract, our world view and understanding.
Part of our pathway towards this understanding is the acceptance that motherhood brings out in us – the acceptance born of gentleness. Several Hindu female deities are associated with motherhood, but Parvati is the one most closely aligned with the nurturing, gentle, yin side of us. This is the part of us that comforts our toddler when she’s sick, or our 10-year old son when he strikes out at bat, or our high school senior when she doesn’t get into her first choice of college. In these moments, we know how to accept our children’s pain, without judgement, without fixing – just being there with them, with their pain. This is acceptance, this is presence. For all the talk of ‘being in the now’, there are few moments in our life when we are more fully present then when we are comforting our child in pain.
Through our children we experience the passage of time so acutely. ‘It seems like just yesterday she was [fill in the blank].” Any parent of grown children will tell you, ‘it passes in the blink of an eye.’ Through this we have the opportunity to feel ourselves connected to an ancient cycle – THE ancient cycle – of birth, maturation, and death. We are not the first to raise children, and we won’t be the last. In Ancient Egypt, Mut was the original ‘world mother’ or ‘mother of the gods’ (although many goddesses, especially Isis, took on her qualities as time passed.) Mut represented the ancient, primordial aspects of birth and mothering – the endless cycle of which we are, in our own point in time and space, just one reflection. When we recognize ourselves as part of this larger cycle, this larger expanse, we are humbled and connected to the universe.
Just as we connect to time in a new way, so we often connect to nature in a new way too. Motherhood has always been connected with the earth – Gaia, goddess of the earth, is the original ‘earth mother’. Through motherhood we come to know our own bodies as part of nature in a pronounced way – they create, nurture and sustain physical life. Our cycles are not just our own, but part of the larger cycles of nature, linked to the moon, fertility, and food. Motherhood grounds us, psychologically, energetically, and spiritually, and this grounding offers us a foundation from which to grow on all of these levels too.
This new level of grounding, this foundation, can help us see ourselves differently in relationship to humanity and the earth – as guardians, and protectors of more than just our own children. The turtle is associated with Maka, the immortal earth mother, in many Native American traditions. In legends the turtle saves humanity from the great flood that threatens its destruction. It is our guardian mother energy – whether we mother physical children or not – that urges us to work on behalf of earth and others.
Motherhood opens us to new dimensions of purity in our love too, both in terms of selflessness and intent. This purity came to its most famous expression through the exaltation of Mother Mary, or Virgin mother. ‘Virgin’ means pure, but unfortunately in historical Christian teachings purity became associated with celibacy and virginity, and feminine sexual energy with impurity. We are moving beyond this prudish view now (at least those of you reading this I hope!) – purity of mind, of heart, and of intent is the purity motherhood opens us to. Then we begin to experience the opening of our heart as connection to pure Source – or rather, ourselves as an expression of its Light.
When we begin to experience this, we open to ourselves as expressions of the ‘Divine Mother’ – mother of existence itself. Many saints and mystics have encountered the Divine Mother, in embodied or abstract form. Sufi mystic Sidi Isa Nur encountered the Divine Mother in the form of Mary and was transformed. He spent much of the rest of his life devoted to painting her in many different forms, outside of any cultural representation, ‘beyond theology’ as he put it.
But how do we remain true to these experiences? How do we transform them into more than isolated insights? Integration of this sort is traditionally forged through formal spiritual practice, but one of the greatest challenges of motherhood is lack of time. How do we meditate, pray, retreat, journal or perform other ritual practices and fulfill the 24/7 responsibilities of motherhood? Most of us can’t, at least not to the degree we could before our children were born or after they leave home, but we can embrace our lives as practice. In Vajrayana Buddhism there are teaching stories of 84 Mahasiddhas, or ‘great practitioners’, each of whom transformed their lives into pathways to enlightenment, without living as monks. Manibhadra, one of only 4 women mahasiddhas in this group, transformed her life as loyal wife and mother into practice, achieving full liberation. Our lives are but the outer form – enlightenment doesn’t ‘look’ only one way from the outside, and neither do the paths to it.
As mothers we are also the matriarchs of society. Motherhood is the middle stage in the traditional ‘maiden-mother-crone’ feminine phases model – ideally through motherhood we are transformed from maiden to wise woman. Motherhood forges us really, through love and pain, into a maturity and wisdom we could never have imagined. We can come to own our power, and our grandeur. It is this kind of maternity represented by the Greek goddess Rhea, mother-queen of the Olympian gods and goddesses, accompanied always by her regal lions.
That power in its fullest expression, at its fiercest, comes through in a pronounced way in the stories of Durga, another Hindu deity associated with motherhood, in its protector aspect. Interestingly Durga is also accompanied by a big cat – she is almost always depicted riding a tiger. Durga is our inner strength, unstoppable when fighting for what is right, and most particularly on behalf of justice for others. Durga will fight, but if she is fully developed in us she doesn’t fight for our petty or ego needs. She fights for goodness, and for the preservation of light in the world.
For the fierceness in us to be directed to the good, it must be balanced with discernment, with understanding. In the Kabbalah Tree of Life, the highest feminine principle is Binah – the uppermost lefthand sephirot. While in some traditions, the feminine is associated with the irrational, with unfettered emotion, and often depicted as unstable and even dangerous, Binah is actually associated with ‘processed wisdom’, with reasoning and the rational process. It is its male counterpart Chockmah that is considered the raw force. For any true idea to take shape through us, it must be processed through the ‘womb’ of Binah. The Bahir, a foundation Kabbalah text, states, “And you shall call Understanding Mother.” All the intense emotions of motherhood, when processed through true understanding, through Binah, have the opportunity to grow into wisdom.
The Tibetan Buddhist principles of prajna and upaya mirror those of the Kabbalah model to some extent. Prajna, knowledge or wisdom, is the receptive feminine principle, while upaya, love or compassion, is the active male aspect. Prajnaparamita, ‘the perfection of Transcendent Wisdom’, is personified as female. This wisdom sees beyond duality, beyond subject and object, male and female, mother and child. It is where the ‘letting go’ side of motherhood takes its highest expression, if we allow it. We catch a glimpse of this when we are able to see that our children are never truly ours, that they are reflections of something much bigger, as are we. Surrendering to this insight might at first feel like a loss, as all letting go does, but ultimately it can open us to infinite love – love that does not need an attachment. This wisdom is a union of heart and mind, in which clarity and passion are not opposites but united.
May you discover your transcendent wisdom, mother or no! And as always, I welcome your sharing, particularly on how motherhood, or your internal maternal/feminine energies (if you are not a mother) has been/is part of your spiritual journey.
The May edition of Meditate Like a Girl is now posted, and I’m especially excited about this one because it features a podcast of my interview with Michaela Haas, author of the recently released Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. I absolutely love this book, and think there is a very powerful transmission behind it, in addition to wonderful teachings and sharings from an amazing group of women spiritual leaders and teachers. It features profiles and interviews with 12 contemporary women teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, including author/teachers Pema Chodron (When Things Fall Apart, Taking the Leap) , Tsultrim Allione (Women of Wisdom, Feeding Your Demons), Tenzin Palmo (of Cave in the Snow fame) and many others. These women’s teachings and life stories have all been a major inspiration in my own path, and I ‘met’ many more in this book. You do not need to be Buddhist or even interested in Buddhism to appreciate the wisdom shared here (although if you are, this is a goldmine.)
It was such a pleasure interviewing Michaela, and she shares many wonderful stories from her time with these women in the podcast. In addition, if you comment on the interview post, you will be entered to win a copy of this book! So head on over.
This issue also features the next article in my chakra series – an in-depth look at the second chakra, and a corresponding free mp3 guided meditation. Of course if you have been reading here for any length of time you know I am very focused on second chakra work, so I am very happy to share this! There are many other wonderful articles and sharings this month too, including another free teleseminar and meditation, this time with editor Jan Lundy.
As final inspiration, I thought I would share some quotes from the introduction of Dakini Power in which some of the women featured in the book share their thoughts on what a dakini, and dakini power, is:
“A female embodiment of enlightenment is called a dakini in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. But what exactly is a dakini? Dakinis are elusive and playful by nature; trying to nail them down with a neat definition means missing them, since defying narrow intellectual concepts is at the core of their wise game.” - Michaela Haas
“To me the special quality (which of course many men have as well) is first of all a sharpness, a clarity…It cuts through – especially intellectual ossification. It…gets to the point. To me the dakini principle stands for the intuitive force.” – Tenzin Palmo
[the dakini manifests]“…as very sharp, brilliant wisdom mind that is uncompromising, honest, with a little bit of wrath.” - Khandro Rinpoche
“They are the luminous, subtle, spiritual energy, the key, the gatekeeper, the guardian of the unconditioned state. If we are not willing to invite the dakini into our life, then we cannot enter these subtle states of mind. Sometimes the dakinis appear as messengers, sometimes as guides, and sometimes as protectors.” - Tsultrim Allione
So own your own Dakini Power. See you there.
I’m so happy to share with you the launch of a new site I will be writing for, Meditate Like a Girl. This site is an evolution of Buddha Chick Life, which I had been writing for over the last year, and is a collaboration of many wonderful women. It is led by Jan Lundy, whom I have mentioned often here, and am fortunate enough to call friend. Meditate Like a Girl is dedicated to ‘exploring and celebrating meditation, in all its forms, with Feminine style and verve’. You will find guidance on meditation practices of all types here, as well as poetry and soulful sharings. In addition to new articles each month, donation-based teleseminars will be offered by contributors sharing new practices and teachings. As if that’s not enough, each month will feature a guest mentor, and this month’s guest mentor is none other than Sally Kempton, author of Awakening Shakti, a book I mentioned in a post earlier this year and absolutely love.
For the first 7 months of my own column there, I will be focused on offering more detailed information and a guided meditations for each of the seven core chakras. This month I have begun with the Root Chakra, which ties in perfectly to the overall theme of ‘Honoring Our First and Forever Mother, the Earth.’ I have included a free root chakra guided meditation that will help you to really open, heal, and empower this foundation center in a deep way.
In addition, I will be offering Meditate Like a Girl‘s first meditation teleseminar on ‘Your Chakras and Life Lessons’, Monday April 22nd, from 6-7 PM PST (although you can listen to the recording later if you can’t attend live). In this teleseminar you will learn a chakra framework for understanding repeating themes in your life, and energy practices you can work with to enhance your understanding and insight around these ‘life lessons’.
So I hope you will join me, and share this wonderful site with your friends. And if you are a blogger, writer or teacher yourself, perhaps you’d like to consider submitting a guest article – we’d love to have you.
Continuing with my theme of honoring March as Women’s History Month, I wanted to add to the Women Mystics section of this blog. There are so many mystics I would love to share with you, but with all the interest in the new Pope, and his choosing of the name ‘Francis’ in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, I decided to focus on St. Clare, St. Francis’ devoted student, helper, nurse, and founder/abbess of her own order.
Before doing so however, I wanted to clarify that I try to select women mystics from all different spiritual backgrounds for this intermittent series, and doing so doesn’t necessarily represent support for the traditions within which they believed. I am personally interested in the universality of mystic experience. When I read about individuals’ mystic experiences across time and cultures, the similarities of them never ceases to amaze me. Truly, seeking and experiencing the light (by whatever name) is intrinsic to being human. The experiences may then get interpreted within the framework of whatever belief system the individual is familiar with (as do our own) but that’s of less interest to me. So when researching mystics, and presenting their stories here, I focus on their journey and experiences, rather than on their theologies.
Now on to Clare: First, the biographical basics – like so many of the women mystics from all of the religious traditions that I have researched over the years, Clare’s journey to mystic-hood began when she ran away from home to escape an arranged marriage at the age of 18, in the year 1212. It is amazing how many biographies of women mystics begin this way. It speaks volumes about the limited choices available to women for so long, and the lengths women seekers went to pursue their spiritual yearnings.
In Clare’s case, her spiritual proclivities had been prominent throughout her childhood, and after hearing a new wandering preacher in town – Francis of Assisi – were awakened full force. According to later testimonies by her, she felt a warmth in her heart upon hearing his words, and felt called to the Church. She was from a wealthy family however, and her father had already planned a socially advantageous marriage. He would not support her desire to join the Church.
Soon after, she attended mass on Palm Sunday. The presiding Bishop was handing out palms to select individuals within the parish. Many pushed forward, attempting to gain his attention. Clare sat quietly in the back, and seeing her humility, the Bishop pushed through the crowd and handed her a palm. She took this as a final sign that she should follow her heart and join Francis. She ran away from home that night, and upon arriving at Francis’ order, asked him to accept her into his fold. He cut off her hair, and gave her a simple brown robe to replace her expensive clothes and jewelry (a few locks of her hair were supposedly preserved, and are on display as relics in the Basilica at Assisi.)
Her father did not take this well. St. Francis’ vows of poverty, and those of his order, were extremely controversial at the time, and his preachings in Assisi had caused more than a little consternation among the noble families there. The Church and these families enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, essentially trading money for Church favoritism. Francis was famous for his insistence that the simple life was the path to spiritual awakening. He encouraged his followers – ‘friars’ – to renounce all worldly possessions and focus their efforts solely on prayer, direct spiritual experience, and good works. Clare’s father came after her, and for a time St. Francis hid her by transferring her to a Benedictine nunnery, until her father accepted her decision.
Clare viewed Francis as her spiritual mentor, and embraced his teachings wholeheartedly. In time, she became the leader of the female order associated with the friars, eventually known as the ‘Poor Clares’. She was known for her humility, kindness, and purity of devotion. Her faith gave her great courage, and according to legend twice the order was saved from invading mercenaries because she refused to leave, kneeling calmly in prayer as they approached the enclosure. It’s said that both times the mercenaries miraculously turned back instead of attacking.
Her relationship with Francis is often held up as a model of pure spiritual friendship. She was devoted to him, and served as his private nurse during the illness leading up to his death. After his death, her order grew even more, and many future female saints studied with her. Like many Catholic abbesses of female orders, she was essentially a spiritual teacher who operated her own relatively independent spiritual community of women seekers.
The order’s vows of poverty were often questioned by authorities, including the Pope himself at one point. This is because the vow was not only for the members of the order themselves, but also for the order as an organizational entity. Clare insisted (as Francis had insisted for the friar order) that the organization not be allowed to accrue assets, believing doing so inevitably led to corruption and favoritism. She stood her ground on this, and the Pope eventually relented, and became a fan.
Many miracles are attributed to Clare. Like Francis, she is said to have had a profound connection to nature, enjoying gardening and often praying in the outdoors. Also like Francis, she is credited with having a unique connection to animals, and it is said that wild animals would become tame in her presence.
A more unusual miracle attributed to her occurred on a day she was not able to attend mass due to illness. According to legend, while lying in her bed she suddenly ‘saw’ the service before her, as if projected on the wall. The next day she was able to name all who had attended and even where they had sat. For this reason, she was eventually named the Patron Saint of Television (yes, there is a Patron Saint of Television. And Clare is it.)
Clare’s most famous writings are letters she wrote to Agnes of Prague, daughter of the Bohemian king there. In most of these letters, Clare is urging Agnes to renounce the material life and devote herself to her spiritual path, often in very poetic language. Here she is telling Agnes that devotion to Christ and spirituality will yield her greater riches than any human suitor:
Whose power is stronger,
Whose generosity is more abundant,
Whose appearance more beautiful,
Whose love more tender,
Whose courtesy more gracious.
In Whose embrace You are already caught up;
Who has adorned Your breast with precious stones
And has placed priceless pearls in Your ears
and has surrounded You with sparkling gems
as though blossoms of springtime
and placed on Your head a golden crown
as a sign [to all] of Your holiness.
Of more interest to me are descriptions of ‘light’ that sometimes creep into Clare’s writings. She writes of sitting in contemplation and experiencing eternity, rapturous love, and visions of light. These descriptions from mystics are always what interest me most, as they are so similar to those described by yogis and seekers sitting in meditation the world over. The following passage could have been written by a Hindu yogini, Taoist immortal sister, or Tantric dakini:
“Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! And transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation.”
So that is Saint Clare. May you be inspired:-) Namaste-
This was uttered by the Dalai Lama at the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit, and it’s inspired much discussion since. This statement was also the inspiration for the book I wanted to share in honor of International Women’s Day, entitled Women Will Save the World. The author, Caroline Shearer, was struck by this statement, and it led her to research women from the past and present who worked or are working to save their own corner of the world in some way. The result is an inspiring collection of historical biographies and contemporary essays grouped by theme into chapters on collaboration, creativity, intuition, nurturing, strength, trailblazing, and wisdom.
I think the best way to share this book, and to honor the spirit of International Women’s Day (and Women’s history month) is to share stories and excerpts from the biographies and essays I personally found the most fascinating or inspirational. Part of the value of reading about the lives of women past and present is to see ourselves as part of a continuum and momentum – to see our own actions as part of a larger wave of change. We can draw strength from this, and from the challenges others have fought to overcome.
I always find historical bios interesting, and many in here, though brief, were intriguing. Although most were of women I was familiar with – such as Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, mystics Hildegard Bingen and Teresa of Avila, or pilot Amelia Earhart – many offered new information. Here’s some that captured my attention:
- Edna St. Vincent Millay was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1923, and also wrote plays and opera scores. “Soar, eat, ether, see what has never been seen; depart, be lost, but climb” are her beautiful words.
- I had heard of Florence Nightingale, but didn’t really realize the extent of her accomplishments. Through daring to publicize the horrendous conditions she found as a nurse in warfront hospitals during the Crimean War, she led an overhaul of the medical system there that saved thousands of lives. She then went on to do the same as a consultant during both the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian war.
- Harriet Tubman was another historical figure I was familiar with from school but enjoyed revisiting. After escaping slavery herself in 1849, she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, saving many others from slavery. Her inspiring words: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
- Nelly Bly was the first female investigative reporter and went undercover in many dangerous and deplorable situations to expose the awful conditions of the poor and incarcerated in the late 1800s. She went undercover as a sweatshop worker and exposed the unsafe children’s working conditions of the time. She committed herself to Bellevue mental hospital and then exposed the asylum’s horrendous practices. She also circled the world, and became the first female war correspondent.
Most of the essays by contemporary women shared very personal stories, and many brought me to tears. The first to do so was by Terry Grahl, founder of the non-profit Enchanted Makeovers, which transforms women’s shelters through renovation, design, and art. Terry had started her own interior design business when she was approached through a friend to create a mural for a local women’s shelter. However, when she toured the shelter, and saw the cracked walls, chipped paint, and dim colors, she decided to do much more. She set about transforming the shelter into a place where women and their children could truly heal, with vibrant colors, nature-inspired visuals, and inspirational phrases. Anyone who has been to such a place knows the dim environment that limited budgets usually results in – and anyone who pays attention to energy (as you probably do if you read this blog!) knows the importance of the colors and vibrations of our surroundings when we are attempting to heal or change our lives. This is the focus of Terry’s work.
I was also moved by the essay by Donna Visocky, founder of BellaSpark Productions and Media, an organization dedicated to providing access to consciousness-raising ideas, people, and information. As a mother, I found Donna’s story of losing her daughter Kristi in an automobile accident heart-wrenching, but the spiritual journey it led her on was beautiful and sincere. As she slowly climbed up from the depths of her grief, the idea for BellaSpark was born, and her life, and the lives of others touched by it, transformed.
As in Donna’s case, many of the organizations founded by the women in this book grew out of their own dark nights of the soul. Another that unexpectedly touched me was the essay by Shannon Miller, the most decorated American gymnast in history. As a gymnastics fan, I was aware of Shannon’s gymnastics legacy, but hadn’t known she battled ovarian cancer. The resulting shift in priorities and life-clarifying insights led her to become an advocate for women’s health and wellness.
These stories are typical of the stories shared here. Not all of the work described is non-profit – many of the women featured have founded their own successful businesses. But in each case, they are striving to conduct their business in a way true to their own values and goals, and to integrate inn0vative business structures and management. Many are involved in women’s empowerment or causes. All are unique and true expressions of each woman’s individual gifts. And that is perhaps the most empowering takeaway from this book – the sheer variety of ways we can work in the world, and the importance of valuing what we as individuals have to offer, on whatever scale.
This book awakened in me a new appreciation for the amazing changes that have occurred, particularly for and by western women, in the last 150 years or so. Perhaps never in history has so much social change occurred in so short a time. And that change has emanated outward into every area of life, transforming family structures, economic models, government, religious leadership, spirituality, and more. It is the way that the energetic shifts that I am personally more interested in manifest in the physical. It isn’t always easy, and it isn’t just about (or accomplished by) women, but in many ways that’s where it’s centered for the forseeable future, and we’re all a part of it, consciously or not.
Happy International Women’s Day. May you know love, peace, and your own feminine power this day and always.
P.S. Friend Joy over at Facets of Joy is offering a 30-day love dare (I am joining as both a contributor and participant) March 15-April 13th. A beautiful way to challenge yourself to open your heart even more during this Equinox season.
March is Women’s History month, March 8th is International Women’s Day, and I am planning to honor both by posting weekly here this month with posts that add to each section of this blog, and hopefully inspire you to embrace, heal, or empower your feminine in some new way (and for those of you who follow astrology, I think all the extra Piscean energy this March makes this an extra special time for this too.)
To kick this off I have a wonderful interview with Deonesea La Fey, a sensuality coach, priestess, healer, and sacred and belly dancer who works with women through movement and feminine archetypes. In our interview together, she shares the powerful role that movement and opening to our sensuality can play in healing from abuse and trauma, as well as in opening to our full feminine power. Enjoy!
Hi Deonesea, thanks so much for talking with me. I wanted to talk with you because I work so much with healing second/sacral chakra wounds, and you do as well but in a different way that I wanted to learn more about. Let’s start with you describing your main work with women.
A lot of the work that I do is based in movement. When I work with people, whether privately or in a workshop, I encourage them to drop into their bodies. I find that an important part of my work is helping women feel their bodies in a way that maybe they aren’t yet aware they haven’t been doing, or that perhaps they are but that is scary for them.
What parts of the body do women often not feel, or find scary?
I work with a lot of women who cannot move their pelvises at all. A lot of the work that I do is focused on finding our womb space as a source of creative power. I help women explore movement based in the pelvis, in a way that allows the pelvis to find its own authentic flow. I guide movement vocabulary with specific moves, some drawn from sacred and belly dancing for example, but then also encourage them to allow their womb to speak through movement in a natural way. The movement will often then undulate up the spine, or we’ll encourage it to do so. This brings the power source from our womb up into our heart space.
For women who have experienced some kind of sexual abuse or trauma, the wounds are often locked physically and energetically into the pelvic area. So beginning to move this area starts to unlock this, and allows things that have been held in the body to release. This can be very emotional.
Yes I’m sure, and very powerful. What typically draws women to this kind of movement work? Do most come in knowing that there is also emotional work to be done, or are they initially drawn to the movement?
Both. I do have women come in who have already worked through trauma in other ways, perhaps through therapy, and now want to explore movement of this type because they still feel disconnected from their bodies. Others come in exploring the movement for its own sake, and discover that things come up that they hadn’t realized they were holding in. They might have been drawn to explore this because they felt something was missing, but weren’t sure what it was. They just want to connect more sensually to their world. This is a big piece to exploring our sensuality – if our bodies are still holding trauma, or sadness, or rage from our past experiences, then that is a blockage to really, truly embodying our sensuality. It’s a blockage, and we have to release that blockage to really be able to go there.
So how does the work usually unfold?
I combine movements from sacred, belly, ecstatic and Tantric dance traditions. Always I am working with the breath though – I find that working with our breath is the fastest way to get into our bodies, and feel what is really going on there, whether it’s ecstasy or pain. So I always begin with breath work, and how to incorporate breathing into movement.
Then we gradually make that movement bigger and bigger, and I relate it to the elements. Essentially we are embodying the elements. We first ground ourselves in earth, as I think this connection is so important for women, in terms of recognizing that our bodies are made up of earth. Then we connect to air through the breath. And then a lot of the movement that I use in the transformative parts of the dance are related to fire and water. What I mean by this is that with fire we set our prayer – whatever it is that we want to transform, and we use the fire of passion to dance this prayer. Then we invite all of this energy down into our womb space and combine it with the element water, and our feminine flow that is rooted there. Then we are naturally moving from our pelvises.
This is taking all of the movements of belly dance, or Tantric dance, and holding it in a very clear container, and using the elements to generate and embody that.
How do you work with the emotions that often come up in this process? How do you approach processing the emotions that surface?
It depends on the women, and the setting. When I’m facilitating a dance circle, once we have worked together with our breath and movement, each woman is invited into the center of the circle, for her own personal journey there. It’s a very powerful experience for a woman to be witnessed in her journey in this way. She is dancing with her eyes closed, and really going inside herself, allowing her own process to unfold, and dancing from there.
During this, we are not really talking. I think that sometimes talk therapy can be very effective, and at other times we need other ways to express and experience. In this dance journey, if a woman does start to have a particularly emotional experience, I may step forward and be a little more present in a more overtly supportive way, although I really work to allow a woman to have her own process. I encourage women to keep moving, to keep processing the experience through the movement, and also to allow sound to happen, whatever that may be. I encourage them to open their throats and let sounds come out – whether it’s singing, or screaming, or even profanities.
Most women are already aware of what their ‘story’ is. In this day and age, most of us know how to talk about our experiences. But we need some other way to touch and express the emotions involved. We need a way to move beyond victim consciousness, beyond the story of being a victim, and this can be a very effective way of empowering that transformation.
This is especially important to me when working with abuse or trauma victims. It’s something I really want to gift women – the knowledge that there is a place beyond the story of being a victim. A place we can come to in our lives where we are fully in our bodies, embodying our power through our bodies, and enjoying our bodies. We can come to a place where our past issues are not popping up all of the time anymore. The triggers can be released, and they can go away.
Is this the role that dance and movement played in your own journey?
Yes. I started dancing very young – ballet, tap, and the usual things that are available to young girls – and it was a lifeline for me. My abuse went on as a child, and it went on for a period of several years. There was a lot of psychological and emotional trauma going on along with that. Dance for me during that time was a lifeline. It was a place I could go and shine and not have to think about those things.
As I got older, I moved on to other forms of dance, including African dance, which I loved. Rhythm for me was something I always really connected with. And then I was introduced to middle eastern dance, and some part of me just knew I had come home to the dance form for me.
At that point in my journey I was really stuck in naming my story – not only to therapists but to anyone I met. It was an important part of my healing at the time. I eventually joined a women’s circle, including one that involved learning yoni massage. This is also when I began to embrace Tantric dance and movement and then belly dance in its more ancient, sacred aspects, as opposed to some of its modern performance aspects. All of this built into the work I am doing now.
At some point along the way I realized I didn’t want or need to identify as a victim any longer. I couldn’t say exactly when that happened, but it was definitely related to what I had been able to release and express through movement and dance and all these related experiences. I just finally got tired of telling that story. Yes it happened, yes it was real, but I didn’t want to identify with it anymore.
It was really the archetypal journey of the ‘wounded healer’ – your healing gifts came to you partly out of your work to heal your own wounds, but now you no longer need to identify with those wounds. You are simply a healer.
Yes, and speaking of archetypes, I really enjoy working with goddess archetypes in my work, and I realized at a certain point that from a very young age I had identified with the goddess Aphrodite [Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation.] So in a way from a young age, these themes of pleasure and sensuality were a big part of my path. And that includes the ‘shadow’ aspect of these, when I went through phases of self-abuse, so the ‘shadow’ aspect is something else I really like to help women work with – the ways we misuse our sensual and sexual energies to attract things we don’t really want in our lives. Through facing this, and any shame we are carrying, we can move it into the light, and transform this energy into positive expression.
Yes, that’s very powerful. I know women who work with yoga in this way, as their main movement healing modality. What do you think each offers, or is it not useful to compare dance and yoga?
In my own personal journey yoga has played a very critical role. I’ve always been a dancer, but I met yoga in my early 20s, and I had many powerful yoga experiences that left me sobbing from the release. It was a profound opening and stretching for me, particularly those postures that focus on opening through the pelvis and hips. It helped me move a lot of things out of my body that needed to move.
What I find for myself personally is that to move my pelvis in a very sensual way creates a different feeling than yoga in my body in terms of release, and in terms of empowering creation. Yoga takes me into a place of beautiful stillness, while dance, and in particular ecstatic dance, takes me into bliss, and ecstasy. Even as I’m working through any kind of pain or trauma it’s still opening up my energetic field to feel more, to release more, to really move my sensual energy.
Yes beautiful. As you know I think of everything in terms of chakras, so to me ecstatic dance is like a pure physical expression of the second or sacral chakra – all of those energies of sensuality, creativity, passion, and fluidity.
Yes, and I like to work with the chakras as well. We begin by rooting and bringing our attention to our root and sacral chakra, and then work to move this energy up, into the heart space. We work to open up the chest, and embrace the breath, which in itself stirs up a lot, and then we move up into our throats, and up into our heads and crowns. So we are always working to move the energy up.
Which is the classic kundalini movement – the dance becomes like a moving kundalini yoga.
And in my view this is really the feminine aspect of the path that got pushed aside or forgotten in some traditions. The contemplative yogi-in-meditation model became more well-known.
Yes, and movement and fluidity is such an important part of the path for many women. We need to embrace this again, to make this part of our lives again. This is important for men and women, actually.
Do you do this work with men also?
Yes I have had men in my workshops and it’s a really wonderful dynamic that develops. I find it makes everyone softer. It’s touching a wound that is so present in our society, in terms of the dynamic between men and women, and the masculine and feminine inside ourselves, so that when we step into this place together and witness each other in it, we get really soft, and gentle with each other. There’s a beauty that happens that is very different than when it’s only women.
Of course, for some types of healing, particularly related to sexual abuse or trauma, it’s often important to have an all women setting, so that everyone feels safe to open to their vulnerabilities. It’s important at a certain stage of the healing process. But in other workshops I enjoy helping men connect with their ‘hara’, while women connect to their womb space.
That’s beautiful, and I have witnessed something similar. The imbalances we have on a cultural level lock men into rigid roles as much as they do women. Men are not invited to open to their emotions in this way, so when they are, it is healing for everyone.
I know you also work with all of the senses, can you talk a little bit about that?
One of the things that I really work with women on in sensuality coaching is embracing all of their senses. So depending on where a woman is at in her life, and what she needs, we might be addressing how she adorns herself, for example. I think self-adornment is a really key piece in terms of how we feel as sensual creatures. I also incorporate a lot of sensual eating practices. In retreats, this is part of the retreat – we build an altar together, and I encourage women to bring different offerings for the altar, representing different parts of themselves. Both of these practices often lead naturally to talking about body image issues, and working on those.
Talk to me more about sensual eating, I love that phrase. I think in terms of mindful eating, but not necessarily sensual eating.
For me it’s like opening up the nectar of the gods and goddesses and allowing ourselves to really take it in. The way that this looks is inviting each woman to bring something that she is then going to share with everyone else, and to really think in terms of what would be a sensual eating experience. For example, peaches are a favorite of mine, and I will encourage everyone to really feel and smell the peach, and then to enjoy the juices running down their arms as they eat – the full sensual experience of it. It’s about reveling in all of the sensations of the fruit, and opening to it as a nectar.
Of course chocolate usually makes its way into these rituals too!
Yes that would probably be my offering! I love this as the opposite of food denial that so many women practice in the name of health or weight loss. Often it feels like we are just bombarded with ‘no-nos’ in food. I love the idea of just embracing food as a sensual, pleasurable experience.
Thank you so much Deaonesea, for sharing your journey and your work with us, and for inviting us to explore our bodies, movement, and sensual experience.
Deonesea La Fey has studied and performed various forms of dance since her girlhood. She is deeply trained and experienced in creating and performing Sacred Dance expressions, Goddess initiations, embodiment practices and Ritual Theatre productions. Deonesea is devoted to inspiring and activating the Divine Feminine through performance art and the facilitation of Sacred Dance and women’s wisdom teachings. She leads empowerment workshops and teachers trainings for Sacred Womb Dance at home and abroad. Currently residing in Ashland, OR, she is the Creatress of the International Stage Production “Goddess Alive!,” Temple Dancer, Mother, and Priestess of the Goddess. You can visit her websites at www.DeoneseaLaFey.com or www.SacredDances.com.
As always, comments and questions welcome! Namaste-