Pendulum of love and vulnerability

Jean Shinoda Bolen, Professor of Psychiatry, University of California

Looked at simply, every single relationship we are in follows one of two models. In a dominating situation, one person’s opinions, wishes and needs are more important than the other; this is the model of narcissism and co-dependency. Or you are in a circle of two, in which one person might be in a leadership position as regards one thing or another, but the needs, the concerns, the dreams of each are equally important; you listen and each person in the circle matters.

So then we have this beautiful image of Mother Earth and it is a circle, a mandala, an image of self or wholeness. The idea that one country should dominate the rest is also a model of narcissism and co-dependency. This image, which is out of balance–the dominator, conqueror, warrior model–is the model we have been proceeding under.

I was also thinking about the metaphor of birth because, in getting my MD, I loved delivering babies as an intern. There is a magic in being present when you have been through all that labor and all that mess and then new life comes in and you are privileged to witness it. I see it as holy or sacred work.

When I was pregnant, in labor and delivering, I found that it was very different from being the doctor! I knew all the stages of delivery from the doctor’s perspective, as I had delivered more than a hundred babies. But now I was the pregnant woman on the table and this baby was coming out of me. In that transition time the fear cannot be resisted–you can try, but it is happening to you and this is when the baby and the mother are in danger. The baby has to go under the pubic bone into the world, and there are times when there is danger as to whether the baby and mother will survive.

One of the things that I experienced in that moment was trans-personal. Up until that point I had been spiritually oriented towards divinity as transcendent. It had affected me and brought me into medicine as a healer, but now I was experiencing something that was in-the-body, and it did not matter that I was a doctor or that I was important or anything else. I was having the experience that every woman through time who has given birth to a baby has had. And that is what recruited me into the women’s movement. I had never felt discriminated against as a woman and I was already somebody in the world when I was doing this, and my first impression was, “This is hard, this is painful, this is what women have been doing for ever without acknowledgment.” That sense of in-the-body sisterhood grew out from that and was what recruited me into the women’s movement.

It was also something I reflected back on when I went on a pilgrimage for the first time. I went into Chartres Cathedral, and felt the energy of the place in my body. I had always experienced spirituality as being of the spirit and I now discovered that it is an in-the-body experience as well. To say that it is in-the-body is also to say that it is of the feminine. It is the feminine aspect of divinity just as transcendence of the spirit is the masculine aspect of divinity. This is how the feminine sacred dimension is brought into the world. It comes from one’s personal experience, not one’s writing or meditation or anything else. You live it out.

When I went on pilgrimage I realised there was a sacred dimension that was of the Goddess and that it had been cut out of culture–this dimension of physicality, of sexuality, of sensuality. This was what was missing in the culture and it was holy and sacred, while the religions just had hierarchy and said that grace came through the sacraments. But grace is all around in the physical world, and that is the feminine aspect of divinity.

The Goddess, in her many aspects, was suppressed and put into the underworld of the collective unconscious. The dominant, hierarchical, warrior ethic is based upon the warrior God. It is based upon war gods and transcendent gods and, without Goddess femininity and spirituality coming up and in balance, women, and the feminine principle in men and women, will not be held in equal balance. I see that emerging in the culture and I see a grassroots women’s spirituality movement. So much of what women do is not seen. I also see a movement of circles of women emerging. Something is coming up and it is green and vulnerable.