Why We Need to Build an Interconnected Community of Women
The feminine mystic is a different creature than the manly prophet. She is not a lone wolf, raising her voice in the wilderness. She is not a strident preacher, warning of doom. She is only as powerful as her community. Alone she is nothing, and she knows it. The very concept of an individual messiah makes no sense to her. When she hears the cries of the world, she reaches out and grasps the hands of her sisters, gathers up her children and asks the blessings of her elders, kisses her lover and turns the kettle to simmer, and rides straight into the arms of the Mystery, where she will wait until it is clear what needs to be done. Then, together with her companions, she will do it.
The way of the feminine is the way of connecting. And the path of the mystic leads from the illusion of separation to the reality of divine union, manifested as interdependence with all that is. To walk as a feminine mystic in this world is to recognize that our lives are interpenetrated with the lives of all sentient beings and that the One we love shines from every nexus in that web of inter-being. Whenever we tend to a single strand, we are participating in the care of the whole. When we turn our face from the suffering of any being and walk away, we are exiling ourselves from our Beloved.
Women build community. Not as a mason fabricates a fireplace or a developer plans a shopping mall to maximize consumerism. We create community the way we create a family or a symphony or a good meal: without a lot of grandiosity or demand for accolades. We empower one another. We ask questions, and then we listen, and then we respond. When I lead grief retreats or teach writing workshops — which are largely populated by women — it takes about five minutes before community begins to magically coalesce before my eyes. Without my doing a thing, the people in the room gravitate toward one another and take the risk to trust. They notice one another’s wounds and tend them, detect one another’s vulnerabilities and protect them, read the stories of one another’s souls and affirm them. How did that happen? I used to wonder. But I’ve begun to rely on the invisible force that transmutes a cluster of strangers into a circle of safety. It is the Shekinah (a Hebrew word for the feminine attributes of the presence of God) in our midst. She comes when we get out of our own way.
I am not, of course, proclaiming that all women are compassionate and relational. I am bewildered about the significant number of my American sisters who vote against their own interests, or claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder at the expense of the most vulnerable, or adopt the very attitudes and strategies of the masculine paradigm that has been used historically to oppress them. And I bow at the feet of my brothers everywhere who willingly abdicate or share their power and join us in getting on with the work of repairing the torn fabric of the world.
Sometimes we drift into despair when we perceive the entrenched power imbalances that devalue life. We cannot imagine how we could possibly rectify anything on our own. The song I am singing — and millions of my sisters and brothers are everywhere echoing the refrain — is one of interdependence and mutual empowerment, of collaboration rooted in love. These are feminine values: cooperation and emotional connection. Championing one another’s efforts to build a better society and supporting one another’s projects to sustain the earth.
Recognizing the truth of inter-being, community effortlessly unfolds. This unitive awareness is not reserved for the spiritually adept. We all catch glimpses. Remember those moments of mystical melding, whether in the quietude of contemplative practice or in the rush of awe when we encounter something unspeakably beautiful, when our individual identity melts into the Oneness and sets us free? That’s when we recall that there is no separation between ourselves and Ultimate Reality. What we have been seeking has found us and absorbed us into itself. These are fleeting experiences, but they change everything.
Once we have tasted the glory of our unity with all of creation, we can never again fall for the illusion of our independence from the global community. The ego self, the personality we carry around and thrust ahead of us to convince the world of our relevance, becomes irrelevant. And so does the idea of the “other” as an object to be reviled or desired. Donald Trump and the Dalai Lama are both waves on the boundless ocean of being.
This does not mean that the world is a mirage and that our perceptions of pain and injustice are delusional. It means that we have momentarily touched the core of Reality, which is Love, and so it is now incumbent upon us to treat all phenomena as manifestations of that love.
In fact, many of us are already feeling more than ready for horizontal, inclusive leadership. In this more egalitarian and relational dynamic, the insights of particular teachers from various religious traditions are welcomed as worthy contributions offered to and arising from an interconnected community of women. It is accepted that each member of the community, formally trained or not, officially sanctioned by a religious organization or stepping up as a rogue sage, has something of value to offer the whole.
A more feminine flavor of leadership is not something that only women crave. It is nourishment for men as well. Feminine wisdom feeds the human spirit. There are countless women hearing the call, extending their hands, blessing and strengthening us to step up. We cannot and should not transmute the toxins of the prevailing paradigm inside the cells of our own individual bodies. The alchemy happens in a circle. We need to weave together our threads of care and transfigure this tapestry. It is only together that we can reimagine the territorial treaty we’ve inherited as a generous invitation to a communal feast. Look around. Your allies are everywhere. And they love you.
MIRABAI STARR is an international speaker and teacher of the mystics and contemplative practice, as well as author of several books, including Caravan of No Despair (Sounds True, 2015) and the forthcoming Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True, April 2019). Mirabai lives in New Mexico. For more, visit mirabaistarr.com.
This essay was featured in the May 28th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.