March is Women’s History Month, and so each year at this time I like to add to my Historical Women’s Mystics series. After reading an article about the U.S. Presidency being the final political glass ceiling, I found myself thinking about the religious glass ceiling – all five major world religions, and most smaller ones too, still deny women top level leadership roles. Of course the mystic’s journey is a personal one, and we can bypass religious hierarchy to commune directly with spirit/Source/awakening/God. All of the women I’ve featured in this series did so, and many emerged as prominent teachers and spiritual leaders within their time. But how many more might have followed their lead had more women leaders been present? What message is sent today to the vast majority of women who seek within Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism by the fact that top organizational positions are still not available to them? How many women seekers internalize the message that their relationship to spirit must be mediated by men?
Of course there have always been women’s spiritual communities, with their own leadership structures, many of which existed simultaneously with, or even within, patriarchal traditions. So I decided this month to highlight just a few. May you draw inspiration and guidance from them (and perhaps glimpse a past life!)
The guild associated with the Oracle of Delphi is one of the few Greek priestess guilds we have credible historical information on. The Oracle functioned in some form for well over a thousand years, from approximately the 8th century BC to 4th AD. While we think of the Pythia (the Oracle at any given time) as one woman, in fact three women were usually rotating between the position. A guild of priestesses cared for them, while others cared for the associated Apollo temple and trained the novices. The position was an exhausting one, with the trances required to function as Pythia for hours on end wearing on the body. The training was rigorous and esoteric, and only passed from woman to woman.
At its heyday, to be a member of the guild offered a freedom and status not accorded to other women, such as the right to income and property, freedom from taxation, and the freedom to live untethered to any man. This is in fact the original meaning of the word ‘virgin’ – living a life unattached to a man, although it later was extended to sexual virginity. While in its declining years the temple was run by priests, there’s a lot of evidence that for many hundreds of years prior to this the guild was an all-female mystery school focused on divine vision and prophecy. Other such guilds likely existed throughout early Ancient Greek society, particularly in Athens.
Another pre-Christian women’s priestess community was that of the ‘keepers of the flame of Brigid’ in Kildare, Ireland. Possibly part of a Druid tradition, or possibly their own independent tradition, the shrine at Kildare served as a training center for priestesses studying the healing and occult arts. A deep connection to nature was at the heart of this tradition, and many of the graduating priestesses seem to have traveled to other parts of the country to tend sacred groves, caves, or hills, or to serve as healers and priestesses in service to the goddess Brigid. Some believe a 30 year commitment was typical, with ten years of receiving training, ten years of fulfilling duties, and ten years of teaching others, followed by the freedom to continue on with the temple or marry and leave.
A sacred flame was tended day and night by the priestesses in Kildare, one that was adopted centuries later by nuns when a convent dedicated to St. Brigid (a Christianization of the goddess) was built. The nuns still tend this flame today, which means it has burned (mostly) continuously for thousands of years.
Christian convents, particularly in the medieval ages, formed their own unique women’s spiritual communities, and many appear to have functioned autonomously from the male-dominated church hierarchy. However, there were other interesting spiritual options for women during this time as well, most notably the Beguines. Inspired by two late twelfth century Belgium women, Ivetta of Huy and Mary of Oignies, the Beguines were groups of women within Northern European cities who belonged to a cloister but lived alone and dedicated their lives to good works without taking lifelong vows. At the movement’s height, a noviate would typically train with a ‘Grand Mistress’ along with other women, and make vows of chastity. After training she would live alone but travel out in the city to help the sick and poor. She might continue this way throughout her life, or eventually decide to marry and return to lay life.
Beguines were one of the few Christian communal structures entirely founded and run by women. The largest beguinage, in Ghent, had over a thousand members at one point. Some were later incorporated into the Third Order of St. Francis, while others eventually developed a more mystic bent, emphasizing mystic experience more than good works as the foundation for the religious path.
Sixteenth century Safed, Israel was site of one of the most important periods in the development of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. Isaac Luria, sometimes called the father of modern Kabbalah, lived and taught there during this time, along with many fellow rabbis and students. But as Tirzah Firestone covers in her book The Receiving, a group of female visionaries also lived within Safed at this time, studying and receiving prophetic visions. Francesca Sarah was the most prominent of these women, and several surviving stories document the tremendous respect accorded her seeing. Other stories indicate that a group of such women existed and that they may have developed their own mystic practices together. In any case, they were definitely central to the development of Kabbalah, which is particularly notable in light of the fact that at the same time throughout Europe women were being burned at the stake for similar mystic visions.
I’ve saved my favorite historical women’s spiritual community for last – the Tantrikas of the Pala Period in India (8th-13th century.) As Miranda Shaw outlines in her excellent Passionate Enlightenment, during this time Tantric yoginis lived independently and in small communities of their own engaged in spiritual practice based on principles of embodiment, and the sacredness of the senses and all experience. This of course famously included Tantric practices of sacred sexuality, and some historians have tended to see these women as merely sexual partners for yogi counterparts. But in fact the women were often the teachers, and the union (on all levels!) of male Buddhist scholars and female Tantrikas birthed Tantric Buddhism at this time. Women were able to activate the kundalini more readily, and to become a conduit for divine energies. They studied these on their own, living independent lives devoted to spiritual practice, and emphasizing the divinity of daily life and experience, as opposed to considering monastic life the pinnacle of spiritual living. Their teachings and practices heavily influenced both the development of Buddhism and yoga in India at the time.
There are so, so many more fascinating women’s spiritual communities to explore – Ancient Egyptian priestesses, Druidess orders, female Sufi dervishes, Native American female shamans, the female-dominated Japanese religion of Oomoto, among many others. As we continue to surface and retell religious history with an eye to the women involved, may we all draw inspiration from their stories and questing. May it bring us closer to realizing the light within each of us, which exists beyond gender, beyond culture, beyond religion.
Namaste, and feel free to share any information about your own favorite historical women’s spiritual communities in the comments.
For my first post of 2016, I thought it apropos to go back to the beginning – the beginning of our lives, and of all life. I had the pleasure of interviewing Luisa Magarian, author of Enlightened Pregnancy: Connecting with Your Baby Spiritually. This book offers expecting mothers and their family members a way to connect and guide the spirit of their baby during pregnancy. It is based on teachings presented within the Tibetan Book of the Dead on how a spirit transits from life to life. Even if you are not pregnant or planning to be so, you will find this interview fascinating, especially if these teachings are new to you.
Luisa has studied meditation and mindfulness since 2002 and taught since 2008. Although American, she spent many summers in a highland Mayan town in Guatamala, and was recognized there as an iyoom, or sacred Mayan midwife. She also has degrees in Human Biology and Latin American Studies from Stanford.
Here is an excerpted version of my interview with her; the full interview is available as an mp3 at the end of the post.
So first Luisa, I was wondering if you could describe Enlightened Pregnancy in your own words?
Sure. Enlightened Pregnancy is a little book for expecting parents to help them connect with their baby, even before their baby is born, at a spiritual level. It contains poems, meditation exercises, and visualizations, among other things, to tap into your own deeply spiritual essence, and use that to guide your baby through his/her experience in the womb.
Thank you, I love it. I got interested in the energetics of pregnancy when I was pregnant, and how it impacts us energetically and spiritually as women, but this really focuses on the mother’s state of mind and through that on helping the baby through this transit, which I find really fascinating. How did you get the idea for this book?
The idea started with a conversation between myself and my co-author Samvara a number of years ago. At the point that this idea came up, we were both using meditation and mindfulness in support of people facing serious illness and end of life, and found that these were really helpful tools. We started thinking about other times in life when people are going through big transitions, and how these same tools could be really beneficial. Pregnancy came to mind as the next obvious transition to focus on. We started exploring what is out there in terms of pregnancy and meditation and mindfulness, and specifically what was available in Tibetan Buddhism, and bringing these together.
And what led you to focus on the Tibetan Book of the Dead? Could you explain that book a bit for people that are not familiar with it?
The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a fascinating book, it’s actually one of the most famous and well regarded books in Tibetan Buddhism. What it has in it is a really detailed study of what the spirit goes through at the end of life and afterwards. In the Tibetan worldview, life is cyclical, it is not linear in the way we often think of it, with a beginning, middle, and end. Each life flows into another life through reincarnation. In between lives there is a period of time when the spirit is not in a body, but in a dreamlike existence in between. Tibetan Buddhists have made a very detailed study of this in between time.
What we noticed is that that time – after one life and before the next – we often talk about it when thinking about a loved one who has recently passed away, but it’s also the exact same period of time a being is going through before entering a new life. It’s where, in the Tibetan worldview, the spirits of new babies are coming from. So we decided to look at that text and see what parts of it would be pertinent to pregnancy.
Yes, and you utilize that Tibetan knowledge as a framework to help a woman and her family to guide their baby towards birth. Since you also have a background as a Mayan iyoom [sacred midwife], how did that influence, or did it influence, the work and how you approached it?
It influenced the work more from a background perspective. It has deeply influenced me throughout my life. The content of the book closely follows the Tibetan Book of the Dead in terms of the period of time that corresponds to pregnancy. But having spent this time as a child in this Mayan town, and having close relationships with several of the iyooms in town, what I learned from them is that pregnancy and birth is inherently a sacred time. It is a time when women tap into deeper parts of themselves. So that understanding really cleaved into this book, if not in its words, then in its undertone.
Yes, and we don’t really get that perspective in this culture during pregnancy. Books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting are all about preparing for when the baby is here already, or for the physical birth. There isn’t a sense of bringing a spirit into incarnation, which is part of what’s going on, as part of the pregnancy process.
Yes, and what I’m hearing from women who have read this book is that they are having these experiences already during pregnancy, it’s just not something that we really talk about or focus on, but it’s still part of our experience of pregnancy and taking care of small children. So part of the goal of this book is bringing it more into the forefront of our consciousness.
Yes, and giving us a framework. So in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and Enlightened Pregnancy the idea of a bardo is really central. How would you explain the idea of a bardo to someone not familiar with it?
A bardo is a state of existence. In the Tibetan worldview there’s this state of existence in between lives, called an intermediate state or bardo. There’s a particular one that a spirit lives in between conception and birth called the sidpa bardo, and that’s what Enlightened Pregnancy is really focusing on – that time period.
You can think of a bardo like a dream, that’s really the most similar thing we can compare it to in our own experience. So you can imagine that when you are dreaming, part of your mind and your spirit are in your body and your bed, but part of your mind and spirit are off having wild adventures. Sometimes they are fun, sometimes they are beautiful, sometimes they are confusing or scary. A bardo can be very similar for a baby in the womb – the body is there, the mind and spirit are kind of there, but the mind and spirit are also having these experiences in the bardo.
So how is the mother – or any family member reading this book to the baby – helping the spirit?
So each poem in the book is describing an aspect of the bardo that a being would typically experience. Through the imagery of the poem the person reading it, as well as the baby they are reading it for, gets a clearer picture. You know how sometimes a dream can be kind of confusing and overwhelming? You’re running around really fast, and things like that – imagine if you suddenly had a map, and you could choose where to go because you can see more clearly. That’s what the poems are designed to provide – guideposts for the spirit of the baby as it goes through these experiences.
What’s so fascinating with the guided meditations , and the various methods of centering that you include, is that it really requires the reader to shift into a more awakened or clear place in order to help guide the baby, so it really is this spiritual process for the mother or reader too.
I thought it was interesting that you say in the book that any family member could participate in the reading and exercises. How does that work?
I imagine most of the time it will be the mother reading the book, but I know fathers will be interested in it too. I’ve actually read it for four of my nieces and nephews. Each time I’ve done that, even if they were across the country, I could feel a connection with that spirit from far away. It was a beautiful experience for me, and I trust that it’s provided some benefit for them as well.
That’s beautiful! Do you think adoptive parents waiting for a child could potentially use this same process?
Oh absolutely. I think that could be a really beautiful experience for adoptive parents, especially because it would be a structured way of connecting with the baby before they get to meet it….Adoptive parents often have less ability to support the baby in utero than if they were carrying it themselves. They can’t choose what to eat for example. But they could support their baby’s spirit in this way.
What other advice do you have for expecting parents from a spiritual perspective?
I think noticing what you are feeling at the level of your spirit. Connecting into your heart on a day to day basis, and really honoring whatever you are noticing.
I’m hoping for people who read this book, that since it contains so many different flavors of meditation practices, that they will find at least one in there that really resonates, really feels wonderful to them. And since each of the practices tend to be pretty brief – you can do them in 1-5 minutes – that they will continue to practice even after reading the book, and maintain a practice after birth. That they will continue to connect to spirit, connect to the divine, in whatever way that manifests for them.
Thank you Luisa, for both this beautiful offering, and for speaking with me.
You can listen to the entire interview streaming here:
Or download here (allow the file to open and begin playing, and then ‘Save As’:
P.S. Thank you to everyone who participated in my Winter Solstice telemeditation and donation drive for The Breathe Network, and in the New Years book giveaway. I will be back in 2 weeks with my annual symbology reading of the Chinese/Tibetan New Year – we head into the Year of the Monkey February 8th! Also, don’t forget that soon after I will be starting my Chakra Levels teleseminar, based on the series I ran here last year. We will focus on a personal pattern you are striving to change. I hope many of you will join me!
Please join me for a free (donation optional) Winter Solstice energy work teleseminar on Sunday December 20th at 5pm PST. A recording will be available for those not able to participate live. Register at my website or by commenting on this post (include your email address, although that will not display), and I will send call-in details next week. Proceeds will benefit The Breathe Network.
Some posts come easily and others do not. I began working on this one soon after my last post – almost 2 months ago – but it never felt quite right. After the world events of this Fall, many other topics rose to the top of my attention, and I felt a deep need to write something relevant, something that would speak to and about the forces at work around and within all of us at this time. I was never quite able to do so.
Finally, as Winter Solstice neared, I realized this original post – on two of the main challenges women face to owning our power – was exactly what I wanted to write about right now. Energetically, Winter Solstice is a time of moving inward, contemplating and surfacing blocks and next steps, so that we may emerge on the other side newly empowered and inspired. There are so many variations on the abuse of power in the news these days that it’s especially important to really explore what power is, and what it means to manifest it positively.
Power is often an uncomfortable topic for spiritual seekers, especially women. We are much more comfortable talking about compassion, lovingkindness, and even wisdom. But power is central to the spiritual path; in fact, one could even say power is what it’s all about – allowing the ultimate power of the universe, the essence of which we are all composed, to flow through us naturally, unhindered, so that our unique expression of it may be known and felt in the world.
If we look at all of recorded human history, it’s clear that the rise of feminine power in all forms (and this includes the breakdown of gender stereotypes that limit anyone’s self-expression or gender identity) is one of the hallmarks of our current age. It’s a gestalt, a theme of our times. Never has it been more important that the old ways of thinking about male and female power, and about gender overall, fall away. Never has it been more important for individuals of both genders to break through cultural conditioning, religious and social limitations, and own their full power. On some level, the struggles related to this are part of every conflict going on in the world today (think about each one, and see if you agree.)
So owning your power is not a small thing. It’s also not an egotistical thing, because it’s about much more than just you. What then, are the ways we as women block our own power?
If we look at both history and the current cultural portrayals of women, it’s easy to see we have a real ‘bitch or witch’ problem. Women with communication styles or opinions that are deemed too aggressive or angry are often labeled bitchy. Women who explore religious beliefs or healing modalities deemed outside of the mainstream are often labeled witchy. Women in this day and age with spiritual proclivities, or who are drawn to energy or intuitive studies (you! I’m talking about you reading a blog called Mommy Mystic!) are prone to fear both.
Throughout much of history, either label could have gotten you killed (and in parts of the world, this is still true today.) Not just disliked or ostracized, but killed – hung, burned at the stake, stoned, drowned, thrown to the lions. We are all impacted by the cultural residue of that history, by ancestral memory, and, if you believe in past lives, by those as well. As I explored in my post on neuroplasticity and epigenetics, traumatic historical events may even impact genetic expression. Is it any wonder then that exploring your power in this day and age – particularly spiritual or occult power – can feel dangerous? That it feels safer to toe the line, do what’s expected of you, stick to mainstream beliefs, blend in, cover your light?
Really coming to own your power, and to feel comfortable expressing and manifesting it in the world, is a part of most contemporary women’s personal growth trajectory. It is an underlying theme of almost all my private session women energetic’s work. And through that work I have also come to believe that in particular there is a karmic return occurring amongst women interested in spiritual and healing themes (again, I’m talking about you, reading this blog!) – a mass surfacing and clearing of energies and patterns directly linked to witch hunts in Europe and the colonies during the 12th through 18th centuries (and actually in many other lesser known cultures and countries as well, throughout history – it’s a recurring theme.) I don’t mean that every women who is working through power issues was persecuted as a witch in a past life (although sometimes this is the case.) But I do feel that the karmas, in the form of fears, that were generated energetically at that time and that became a part of our cultural psyche, are now rising to the surface to be seen, healed, released, and transformed. This clearing is an important part of the rise of feminine power, and the rebalancing of masculine and feminine energies, that is occurring right now, and that is so central to the positive evolution of our world.
To begin to work with these energies yourself, first think about your own childhood conditioning around power. What were girls allowed to express or not express as compared to boys? How were you expected to voice your opinions (if you were encouraged to?) What messages did you receive about anger? Did you develop habits of people-pleasing and not rocking the boat in order to calm things around you? What role did women play (or not) in the religion you were raised in? What value was intuition or the unseen given?
Of course a lot of your answers at this level have nothing to do with past life, or even present day, persecution. But they do help surface the underlying beliefs about feminine and spiritual power that may be influencing your own ability to own your power.
One emotional pattern that can be linked to this fear is engaging in people-pleasing to such an extent that you alter your personality to fit what you think others’ want you to be. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get along with people, and we all adapt our personas according to roles and relationships, and to make people comfortable. But when it crosses the line, energetically it becomes something else – we aren’t drawing any power from the core of our being, the seat of our authenticity, and emanating it out. All our energy is being directed into our surface persona, in trying to fit in and thus ‘be safe’, so our power cannot flow naturally and unimpeded. Instead we are left drained from the effort of interacting. Ultimately, it is actually more draining to stay small in this way than to let our power flow, because when our power flows naturally it is just energy coming forth from our inner being. From an energetics perspective, we become a conduit for this power, as it flows from the inner doorway of our chakras.
Another emotional pattern that can arise from fears of being labeled ‘bitch or witch’ is a debilitating fear of conflict and our own anger – shying away from them to the point where we cannot stick up for ourselves or others in the face of injustice. Keeping things calm and unthreatening becomes our first priority, to our own detriment. Often this backfires, as we repress anger to such an extent that it erupts erratically and destructively.
Here are some other ways that these fears may manifest as blocks to owning your own (spiritual) power:
- Keeping your spiritual/alternative interests hidden to such a degree that you divide your life, making yourself into 2 people.
- Feeling as if there is no one in your life to which you express your authentic self, or can be yourself.
- Not being able to take your healing or intuitive abilities to another level, or to speak about them in front of people.
- Special fears around speaking in front of others about any topic, or about being in front of people, the center of their focus, for any reason.
- Paranoia or hyper-sensitivity about being betrayed, to the point that you see betrayal even in every day disagreements with friends or partners.
- A deep sense of being ‘bad’ – a sense that you have done something ‘wrong’ – an ‘original sin’ feeling.
- Deep-seated isolation and/or inability to trust anyone.
Of course many other experiences or conditioning factors can contribute to these kinds of emotional patterns. I am not trying to say that feeling any of these is a sign you were burnt at the stake as a witch in a past life. I mentioned the possibility of karmic roots only as a way of indicating how deep-seated many of these patterns are in our energy beings and psyches. Knowing your karmic history is not that important to your healing and empowerment, and in fact sometimes can even serve as a distraction. What is relevant is contemplating how these patterns might be present and functioning within you, and how they might be preventing you from owning your power.
Because being powerful is a good thing! It is not bad – power is not inherently good or bad. How you choose to use your power is what determines your impact on the world. This is true of all kinds of power – personal, social, political, occult (all of which are reflections of your personal power, your energetic power.) Holding back on owning yours, and on using it, hurts yourself and everyone who might otherwise benefit from what you have to offer the world. The world needs you now more than ever at your most powerful, radiant, loving, and wise.
So this Solstice may your power – the power of light, of love, of peace – flow through you unhindered. May you own and express it fearlessly in 2016, becoming the light in the world you are meant to be!
And I do hope you’ll join me for the Solstice teleseminar, and after that for my annual New Year’s book giveaway here in my final post of the year.
I haven’t been able to focus as much recently on sharing books here as I have in the past, but I wanted to share Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs from Dr. Michaela Haas, because I feel it is such an empowering book – for everyone, but particularly for trauma survivors, and that includes sexual trauma survivors, of which I know I have many who read this blog. Bouncing Forward is focused on the idea of post-traumatic growth – the ways in which it is actually possible for individuals to grow and develop in positive ways in the aftermath of trauma, not just ‘survive.’ A growing body of research is focused on what conditions help to make this possible, and how we might support ourselves and others in doing so.
The book takes its title from Maya Angelou, who when asked how she rose above the many hardships of her life – including being raped at the age of 8 – described her journey as “bouncing forward, going beyond what the naysayers said.” Ms. Angelou is one of many inspiring and fascinating individuals interviewed in the book, which also features jazz legend and Auschwitz survivor Coco Schumann, Brigadier General and first Iraq war prisoner Rhonda Cornum, animal behaviorist and autistic author Temple Grandin, co-founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Cindi Lamb, and several more.
These interviews are organized in such a way as to each highlight a particular trait or practice which has been shown in studies to contribute to post-traumatic growth. According to Dr. Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist focused on this field, many trauma survivors report growth in one or more of five key areas – personal strength, deeper relationships with others, new perspectives on life, appreciation for life, and spirituality. In addition to highlighting Dr. Tedeschi’s research and the interviews with survivors, Dr. Haas covers the work of other researchers focused on trauma, shares her own personal story of trauma and growth, and includes tools for building resilience within one’s own life. This makes the book a unique blend of social research, biography, memoir, and personal development guide, and for this reason I think it will be helpful and interesting to almost anyone – especially since almost all of us will experience trauma at some point in our lives, or will know someone who does.
When I first heard of the concept of post-traumatic growth I worried it was yet another way to make trauma survivors feel guilty for their pain, or to push them to ‘move on already.’ This is a message that sexual trauma survivors in particular often receive, in addition to the messages of “it’s your fault” and “stay silent.” Often survivors will stay silent for years, sharing their trauma with no one, while it eats away inside them contributing to emotional and physical problems. But Dr. Haas makes it clear that repression or forced positivity is not at all what post-traumatic growth is about, saying “Before we can overcome suffering, we need to go through it” and:
“When someone is drowning, they need a lifeline, not a swimming lesson. There are traumatic events where the mere suggestion that growth can result from it may seem naive or insulting. Often, time needs to pass before a survivor is open to the idea…But at some point, the survivor might feel the urge to learn to swim through the grief, and then these strategies become very helpful.”
She points out that in the West we compartmentalize suffering, designating it to hospitals, hospices and homeless shelters. This creates an environment in which we are so uncomfortable with both our own and others’ suffering that we do not know how to meet it when it arises. But it is of course always around us, “already here”, as she puts it. If this view sounds Buddhist that’s because the Buddhist approach to suffering does share many similarities to findings about resilience and post-traumatic growth. As a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, Dr. Haas highlights some of these similarities, and uses examples from her own meditation practice to describe how practices such as meditation can help someone move into a new relationship with suffering.
One of the main messages that shines through all of the interviews and the research featured in Bouncing Forward is how important it is for a trauma survivor to feel support and hope that happiness is possible again. While our increased understanding of PTSD and its treatments has been vital to helping many survivors through their ordeal, the focus on PTSD as the only possible outcome of trauma provides survivors a limited view of how their lives might unfold in the aftermath. It’s important to look at the whole picture:
“Depending on the circumstances, Dr. Tedeschi estimates that as many as 30 to 70 – in some instances even up to 90 – percent of survivors generally experience at least one aspect of postraumatic growth…Contrary to popular opinion, experiencing growth after trauma is far more common than PTSD. It is vital to look closely: while most people will suffer from posttraumatic stress in the aftermath of trauma, few will develop full-blown PTSD, and even of those, most will heal with therapy and time.”
This information is not meant to diminish the very real suffering of PTSD, but instead to empower individuals with the knowledge that moving beyond it is possible, that the ability to do so can be developed over time through specific methods, and that they may not only survive but thrive – as the individuals featured within this book are a testament too. It’s a message of hope, but of hope grounded in social research, personal stories, and backed up with specific suggestions for how to enable such growth.
In later chapters the book moves into a larger look at resilience, and the importance of focusing not only on suffering and helping people through the worst of it, but also on the human capacity for growth and change. Ann Masten, a researcher at the University of Minnesota focused on childhood abuse and its impact, puts it this way:
“We focused on the gloomy for such a long time. It really bothers me that when people hear about the evidence for trauma, child abuse, and in utero exposure to alcohol, they assume, ‘Oh, I must be totally damaged.’ People pick up on this idea, but there are many opportunities for reprogramming in the course of life. Resilience does not mean you don’t have any scars, but I am continuously amazed by the human ability to reinvent ourselves.”
In the Epilogue to Bouncing Forward, Dr. Haas features “Five Exercises for Cultivating Courage in the Face of Adversity”, which includes meditation. She offers simple instructions and research to back up the claims of each methods’ benefits.
Overall, I found this book both inspiring and informative, and if you are a trauma survivor, I think you will too. You can find it at Amazon here.
P.S. Dr. Haas is also the author of Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, which I also featured here, and which is another favorite of mine. If you are interested in Tibetan Buddhism, and/or women’s spiritual biographies, it’s a must read!
This innermost, core level of the chakras is really what chakra work is all about – this is where the light springs forth from. At the center of every chakra is a direct doorway to Source light, and when these doorways are open, this light flows through us as divine expressions of our highest aspects – pure love, compassion, wisdom, creativity, vision, power, and connectedness. Bringing forth this light is the essence of every spiritual practice aligned with spiritual awakening, whether the chakras are actually utilized or not. This light is our true nature, and as we attune our mind, physical bodies, and subtle bodies to its vibration, we transform from the inside into beings of pure light and awareness.
In most cases, when someone talks about opening or aligning the chakras, they are referring to one or both of the first two levels – the physical or psychological levels. Working at the first level involves aligning our physical vibration with chakra vibrations using our senses – sight, sounds, foods etc. aligned with each chakra. Working at the second level involves clearing and working through our limiting emotional patterns – the subtle body blocks that distort the light as it comes through us.
Working at the core third level is an entirely different approach – we seek to pull the light through us by going directly to each doorway and throwing it open. As the light makes its way through our subtle body, we are changed – our physical and psychological blocks are washed away like debris in a flood. Sometimes this is a beautiful release. Sometimes it is a little more complicated, as we aren’t quite ready to let go of certain parts of ourselves, or encounter other forms of inner resistance. But either way, it’s tremendously powerful!
Work at this inner level is explicitly spiritual. While working at the first chakra level is really a form of energy healing, and working at the second level is about personal/psychological growth, this third level is about enlightenment. Of course, someone might work on all three levels, and in fact, in spiritual traditions in which chakra meditation is integral, they usually are. Working on only this third level can lead to disassociation or escapist tendencies, as the blisses released when this inner doorway of the chakras is open can be very captivating. It’s possible to get addicted to these blisses, and avoid the physical and psychological healing and growth required to truly awaken. Working holistically on all three levels is a way of assuring balanced growth towards true liberation.
The most well-known spiritual traditions that incorporate this type of work are kundalini-based, and include meditations, exercises, and transmissions specifically designed to awaken the kundalini. What the kundalini essentially does is throw open each chakra’s doorway. While this is usually described as a linear process – one chakra at a time from bottom to top – that’s really just a theoretical model. In fact, any chakra may be opened at any time, and each chakra has different levels of opening too, so we often spiral back and forth throughout our lifetimes between chakras, working intensely on the themes and vibrations of one, and then on another. The kundalini and our daily lives interact in a beautiful dance; the choices we make influence where the kundalini moves to – where we are open and where we need to unblock – and visa versa.
Although not all spiritual traditions explicitly involve chakra or kundalini work, the mystic arms of most include practices that throw open our subtle body doorways in some way. Whether it’s Sufi whirling, Hindu mantra recitations, Buddhist mandala visualizations, Christian chanting or Jewish Hitbodedut meditation, the emphasis is on shifts in awareness and states of being. Practitioners describe whole body experiences of waves of light, love, power and more. The common theme is the feeling of a greater power coming through, not from, oneself. While I would never want to conflate all religions, even the mystic arms, it’s clear that there is a core process of energetic transformation that mystics across all religions have undergone. How experiences are processed and interpreted in the mind may be quite different, but in the subtle body, a lot of the process is the same.
However, different traditions do emphasize distinct energies and divine aspects, seeking to bring forth one or more which they consider the core of the spiritual journey. If we were to look at these aspects from a chakra perspective, we can map them to each of the seven traditional chakras along these lines:
Crown/7th – Union, Surrender
Third Eye/6th – Pure Vision, Imagination
Throat/5th – Divine Expression, Sacred Communication
Heart/4th – Unconditional Love, Compassion
Navel/3rd – Service to Others, Divine Power
Sacral/2nd – Inspiration, Sacred Passion
Root/1st – Connection to Nature, Elemental Energies
Most spiritual practices and rituals are designed to immerse us in one or more of these energies/states, and through that immersion to awaken the felt-sense of them within us. That felt sense is the associated chakra door opening, and releasing this vibration into us directly from Source. This may happen in little releases, or in giant bursts – epiphanies or ecstatic experiences. The pacing is individual, and doesn’t matter all that much. In the eyes of the universe we have all the time in the world to realize who we really are. Or you could also say, it’s already done! So how it unfolds on this relative plane of our life and practice is somewhat mysterious, and part of the beautiful play of existence.
Working at this level is very personal, it is about your personal relationship with spirit/the universe/Source/God/enlightenment/Tao – whatever word you choose to use. As these doorways open within you, you come to know yourself as pure light, love, power and more. While working at the middle, psychological level is also personal, it is on the ego level – our personality, emotional patterns, and mental habits. At this inner level we truly experience ourselves as a conduit for something larger, and as this happens, we realize this is true of everyone else as well. We are all beings of light. Five minutes of truly experiencing this can transform you faster than years of working through your issues.
As for ways of calling forth this level, it is not something that can be described in a blog post, or put into a recorded meditation, although reading or hearing something at the right moment may trigger an opening within you. As I mentioned above, the mystic spiritual practices of every religion that I know of contain some methods for opening these doors. And contact with a teacher or guide who has themselves brought this forth will help you to do so too. But there is also an element of grace, of surprise, and we simply have to make ourselves open to these moments, and not let them pass us by when they arise. Pay attention! When you feel in the presence of the divine, embrace it, and take a moment to truly feel how this arises from within you, how it is your very core, even if it seems as if it has come from outside you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Chakra Series, and that it enriches your own path of healing, empowerment, and awakening in some way. May it contribute to the unfoldment of light within you! Below I’ve included links to the other articles in this series, as well as to the Chakras and Women’s Energetics Resources pages:
All Chakra Articles (including links to Kundalini series)
Women’s Energetics Articles (including articles on Kundalini and phases of life)