In my weakness, do not forsake me,
And do not be afraid of my power…
I am she who exists in all fears
And strength in trembling.
- The Thunder: Perfect Mind
What is feminine wisdom? What is feminine power? What role can they play in this time of such significant global change?
Feminine wisdom is mysterious and multi-dimensional. By its very nature it is hidden in the depths of our being, on the outreaches of our conceptual minds. Like rivers of moonlight in the darkness of the earth, this strange power glows far beneath the daylight of ordinary consciousness. And because our culture has been so shaped by masculine and patriarchal ways of knowing and being, we have largely lost the tools and the senses that would recognize its potential. Even after decades of feminism and women’s empowerment, we can look, but easily miss the subtlety and total “otherness” of this wisdom.
In recent times our culture has been offered some guidance in understanding feminine gifts, as psychologists and spiritual teachers have helped us value the traditionally feminine experience of relatedness, expressed so often through women’s instinct to nurture and women’s capacity to feel – and become a voice for – the sacredness of creation.
But other spiritual qualities need our acknowledgment. They are harder to see, and have yet to be valued in our patriarchal culture. These qualities have to do with our awareness of interconnection and our experience of earth’s sacredness, yet they live deep in the heart of things. They help us to nourish each other and life, but they have as much to do with the source of love as with love itself. They have to do with giving birth, but giving birth to what?
If these qualities are so hidden, how do we see them? If they are so far from our conscious awareness, how can we live them?
The first step is to understand that what we seek to know and become is not separate from us; it is alive within us.
We intuitively know we must treat what is living differently than what is not. We do not grasp after the beauty of a flower; we watch for what it reveals. We cannot order another person to give us love; rather we join with him or her in love. We do not want to learn about peace, we want to feel peace within. So it is with all that is alive. We can’t control life, but we can come to be in communion with it.
Feminine wisdom and feminine power have an important role to play as our world goes through significant changes. But it will not manifest through our warrior nature, through our drive to succeed or a quest for knowledge. Rather, it needs a fertile space of receptivity and vulnerability. It needs our weakness and our longing. It needs an attitude of awe, marvel, and gratitude, and our desire for true communion. It needs Itself within us to awaken and play its part.
Weakness and Power
Who among us really wants to acknowledge the power of weakness and vulnerability? After all, weakness – physical, psychological and economic – has left so many open to terrible violation. And still does.
But there is a hidden potential in vulnerability. If we are mature enough we will be able to acknowledge, value, and protect one of the divine feminine’s most veiled gifts. And the more conscious we are of this gift, the less likely it will be abused or violated by ourselves or by the culture we live in.
Weakness and need play their part in creation and in creativity at every level of life. To survive, we follow our hunger and thirst. To reproduce, we need the receptivity of a womb. To grow emotionally and psychologically, we must acknowledge our personal vulnerability. To transform spiritually, we need spiritual hunger, what the Saints called longing, which magnetically draws us toward union with the Divine.
And feminine power has a role to play collectively. Our world is facing many serious challenges, from climate change and resource depletion to global poverty, disease, and violence. Feminine power rooted and realized in our weakness can help us move through these difficult times.
How can weakness be of use collectively? The first step is to acknowledge and value its place in our individual lives.
Consider a simple situation most of us have been in: a woman sits in the passenger seat of a car while a husband or male friend is driving. But they are lost. The man keeps driving on, challenging himself to find the right way, while the woman sitting next to him, tells him to stop so they can ask for directions.
This situation takes place somewhere, every day, in many forms, but we generally do not appreciate the woman’s willingness to admit she is lost and ask for help as strengths. But they are strengths, and they are sorely needed in our current times.
Admitting We Are Lost
It may seem unlikely that not knowing or not having answers can be a strength. But scriptural literature has long referred to this potential. The ancient Taoist text, The Tao Te Ching points to this:
Can you love the people and govern the state
Without resorting to action?
When the gates of heaven open and shut,
Are you capable of keeping to the role of the female?
When your discernment penetrates the four quarters
Are you capable of not knowing anything? 1
How mysterious this passage is! How can we govern without action? How can we discern what is needed without knowing anything? There is a clue in the middle line, which asks, “Are you capable of keeping to the role of the female?”
What is “the role of the female?” It is indescribable, but we know it in our hearts and in our blood. We live it when effort, and even perseverance, can no longer carry us through a challenge. When our own efforts have weakened, when the darkness of failure looms, when exhaustion demands surrender – this is so often the moment when something truly new takes place. Through vulnerability and non-action another force continues the creative process.
We know this dynamic when we struggle in love. Often it is when we give up trying to control someone or force affection that love is finally possible. And it is when we recognize the inadequacy of our efforts at some seemingly impossible task that we find a hidden doorway we never accessed before.
Kathleen Carlin, founding Director of Men Stopping Violence, an organization committed to breaking the cycles of domestic violence, writes of the practical potentials of not-knowing in stopping men from battering. She describes what happens when a man refrains from violence and rests in the existential powerlessness of not acting out:
To sit in the midst of that not-knowing bespeaks fundamental uncertainty, an untenable position for men for whom a sense of control is essential. But the batterer who transverses that time of not-knowing begins the journey toward a new life. His own personal house of cards has fallen, but he now has access to the tools to build a new house, one founded on love instead of power, freedom instead of control, liberation instead of oppression. 2
We live in a patriarchal culture – we have all learned to be batterers, to force what we want through will and effort. Not-knowing is the frightening underbelly of these control dynamics. The uncertainty – in any situation – of personal helplessness usually evokes fear, panic, and compensating aggression. But if one endures and surrenders to the uncertainty of not-knowing, cycles and habits can be broken, and the new might finally shine forth.
We naturally want to act to improve our own lives and our world. We might want to buy a hybrid car, protest the war, vote a more balanced government into place. We want to go into therapy, meditate, heal ourselves, become more compassionate and generous. These are all important intentions. But so much of our drive towards self-improvement or problem solving is fueled by collective habit, or worse - anxiety, panic, and a fear of losing control. There is something more important than solving problems, and it has to do with the deep feminine quality of being, not doing. The Tao Te Ching asks:
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises itself? 3
The instinctual nature of women and the feminine wisdom in us all knows that maintaining an inner vulnerability and openness is crucial at times of great change. Action is not always the best solution. We don’t just do. Sometimes we wait, attentive yet unmoving until the right moment when action is needed and – as the Tao Te Ching indicates – happens by its own accord.
When women give birth, they wait till just the right moment to push. They wait nine months to push! But when the time comes, they do what is needed and new life emerges. This is not easy. Waiting, watching, being attentive while being relaxed is often more difficult than following our compulsion to make determinations and take action. Any mother will tell you that the kind of “not-doing” required in carrying a child to term can be extremely challenging, requiring intense focus and endurance. But have we learned to listen to the mothers?
Asking for Help
There is a flip-side to not-knowing and not-doing, a subtle twin to our willingness to admit our own powerlessness. It has to do with what has not yet been revealed. It has to do with the presence within possibility, the consciousness within not-knowing, the power within weakness. How does this power and potential come to be known and lived?
Weakness is not death. Vulnerability is not an end. It gives rise to the need to turn away from ourselves and seek help.
Being willing to ask for help is a subtle but profound instinct. The shadow side of this gift is that it can lead us to believe that we lack sufficient skills, to become too dependent, to give away all our power – psychological dynamics that plague many women particularly. But once we experience the strength within asking for help, we undermine that shadow dynamic with one stroke. We know that something exists beyond our dynamics of control. We know we are not alone.
A woman finds the strength to endure a difficult pregnancy through the promise of her unborn child. Ask a great male artist and he will tell you that the muse is real; and that he needs her invisible hand to create something truly inspired. A Jungian therapist knows that in order for a man to grow he needs a relationship with the anima - his contra-sexual feminine side. Our patriarchal world is like a young man, not yet aware of his need for feminine power. Each of us plays a part in this collective limitation.
Spiritually, we need feminine power to evolve. The soul is described as feminine by so many traditions – Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has her womb. 4 We need a connection to our soul’s need, to its longing, which turns to the Divine in prayer, drawing Its presence into life. In this way we expand beyond our limitations, as an artist creates something new.
It is important to understand that even though we ask for help, asking does not necessarily make us feel better. Sometimes it even makes us feel worse, exposing even greater depths of vulnerability. Asking for help is not a solution. It is a state of being.
How strange is this Sufi statement, pointing to the potential when longing is not fulfilled:
Oh Lord, nourish me not with love but with the desire for love. 5
Our weakness is a treasure, a mysterious and energetic space of vast potential. Like a womb, like our emotional hunger, or the longing of our hearts, our vulnerability has a magnetic receptivity that draws toward it….
That is for each of us to find out, for it will be different for everyone.
Help Will Be Given
It might take a very long time, and what comes might be quite different from what one expects or even wants, but it is a spiritual law that if the need is great enough help will be given. The Gospel of Matthew declares, “Ask and it shall be given you.”
Sobonfu Some, a West African spiritual teacher describes an invisible network of energy that will provide us what we need if we turn toward it:
There is a web of connection, light and life, a web of feminine energy that goes from the earth to the moon to the other dimensions. The web of light and life contains wisdom, knowledge, and a healing energy for the whole world. 6
How do we connect to this web of healing energy and light? It runs through all life, so we are connected already. We need only become conscious of this connection through turning toward it with need, and as Sobonfu continues, recognizing that it needs us.
“We acknowledge that we are all part of this great web of life that gives us what we need. Then we offer ourselves to it with gratitude… we have to be grateful and give something of ourselves.” 7
We need, and we are given to. In turn, we give ourselves. This mysterious convergence of need and receiving, of vulnerability and communion is illustrated in the Biblical passage describing Jesus’s visit to Lazarus’s house. There, Jesus is welcomed by Lazarus’s sisters Mary and Martha. Martha busily prepares a meal for Jesus. But Mary rests at Jesus’s feet.
Martha complains that she is working while Mary does nothing, and asks Jesus to tell her sister to help, but Jesus will not. Instead, he declares, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42).
What could Jesus mean? What is this “better part?” What is this “one thing” Mary does or does not do at Jesus’s feet? Could allowing oneself to need sometimes be the one thing that’s needed? It is so radical, and so mysterious - can our modern minds even consider it?
Something is happening in the very heart of our world. In our hubris we have assumed that it is only human beings who evolve. But this is a limited view. All life evolves. How could it be otherwise if we acknowledge the thread of light that weaves together all life? And in this evolution, just as in our own evolution, weakness has its part to play. As Romans says:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time…
But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. 8
And just as mysterious, in Corinthians, Christ explains to Paul, that our unease has a part in how a greater power manifests: “My power is made perfect in weakness.” (12:9).
The great Saints perfect God’s power by drawing it into His world through longing, transforming life itself into revelation. Thus, the Saints offer a way for the Divine to know Itself through Its creation, as expressed by the hadith “I was a Hidden Treasure and I wanted to be known, so I created creatures in order to be known by them.”
The greatest spiritual teachers understand this role of human consciousness in the way God is manifests through life, and their imagery often reflects the feminine dimension of this process. St. Angela of Foligno declared:
And my soul in an excess of wonder cried out: "This world is pregnant with God!" 9
Life can be “just life” desolate, impoverished and on the threat of destruction, or life can be impregnated and infused with the power of God. It is up to us individually and collectively to allow our weakness and our need for help to draw into this world something beyond our limitations. We can allow an unseen power to play its part as artists, in relationships, as we give birth physically, and in the continual birth process that is our life. And we can invite an unseen power to play its part in our hopes for the future. And the future is here!
The drum of the realization of the promise is beating,
we are sweeping the road to the sky.
Your joy is here today, what remains for tomorrow? 10
How do we find this joy? We admit we are lost – individually and collectively. We turn for help with a need we trust and are willing to endure. We protect our feminine qualities of vulnerability with our masculine focus and discipline, and in doing so, we allow our weakness and our longing to draw the power and love of the Creator into creation, transforming it beyond anything we could ever have accomplished on our own.