Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Buddhhism, Feminism, and the Space-Time Continuum

Yesterday, I received a set of Beverly's Lojong Cards (2014) - beautiful!  Several jumped out at me flicking through, but I decided to do a random draw for my first reading.  I pulled slogan 14: The ultimate protection is emptiness.  Beverly explains this as being about opening our minds, rather than getting stuck in particular thoughts.

To illustrate this, we have a pine cone, a pine stump, and a little sapling - the cycle of life.  As I see it, we are all of those: if we get stuck in thinking we're a pine cone, we cannot enjoy becoming the sapling.  And some would argue that all of those are inherent in us at all times.  We have already been all of them, and focusing on where we are "now" is a position of stuckness and confusion, rather than the openness and emptiness that is recommended by the Lojong slogan.

On the one hand, I can see this.  For example, when we pathwork or alter our state of consciousness with hypnotherapy, we can access previous states, and some would also say future states.  There is still something of accessing the previous me from the current me in that.  I doubt that I truly return to being that previous incarnation, even for an instant, though I may connect with it more than I can in an everyday state.  Yet, it does show that those other parts are still there in some form, so I am not rigidly stuck in the current me.

On the other hand, there is also a bit of me that thinks about Jean Shinoda Bolen's work on archetypes: Goddesses in Everywoman.  I don't think our getting stuck in holding onto particular thoughts is just about our mind.  I think it is connected to our life situations, and more than that, it is influenced by our very hormones.  Now, this may be something that is more relevant to women, and perhaps this is part of the reason why women were long seen as less appropriate for these kinds of spiritual practices (according to ancient Eastern philosophies, both of Buddhism and Yogic thought).

For instance, Shinoda Bolen says that when we become mothers, the Demeter archetype within us is strengthened.  Hormonally, I know that my libido, for example (an aspect of my Aphrodite archetype, you could say) drops, while my desire to breastfeed my baby (pure Demeter) increases.  This is hormonal, not just situational.

Now, I'm definitely not saying that women are less spiritual!  Rather, that some of these principles from traditionally very male spiritual practices do not chime with me so much.  There is something in me that says we can find spirit right here within our everyday life, without having to let go of all attachments.  I cannot be unattached to my children, it's just not in me, even though I am not a particularly maternal woman, tending more to Artemis and Athena overall.

And while I might like the idea of not jumping to assumptions based on my perceptions, of being empty and open to possibility, I also recognise that this is, to an extent, a survival-based response.  Having to do everything as if for the first time is not effective or practical in real life.  Interestingly, one of the main aims of hypnotherapy is to deprogramme negative patterns that have been established and become stuckHyp.  So, for me, it is not about absolute emptiness, but perhaps about being able to pause before jumping into that set way of thinking, to have it available without being trapped by it.  It is about balance and awareness, rather than about emptiness.


  1. Letting go of attachments is a hard idea to grasp. At first glance, it does seem like we're supposed to be completely detached emotionally from people, places and things. But non-attachment isn't about not loving or caring, it's about realizing those precious babies, those exciting moments, will eventually change. Of course we should appreciate and love them; what we are not attaching to is the solidity and stability of a particular place in time. Our joy can move from moment to moment, it doesn't have to stay in one place. Babies grow up and hormones move into menopause. Take it all in, love it all, just don't try to pour concrete around it. :)
    I studied Bolen's book with a group of women years ago and got a lot of wisdom from it. I think her ideas parallel this slogan in a way. :)

    1. I like your interpretation of non-attachment, Bev: it feels do-able and meaningful. However, I think the other is also a common interpretation, and part of the reason why buddhism, too, has monastic orders. Which leaves this disconnect between what Patabhi Jois called the "householders" take on spirituality and that of the "mystic".
      Hmm, I can see the parallel, now you say it - that we have to flow with the archetype of the moment, rather than narrowly defining ourselves by just one or two :D

  2. Really thoughtful post Kerry. Lots to reflect on here.

    I can definitely relate to detachment in the way of letting go, but complete detachment isn't an affirmation of life, but rather a withdrawal and negating force, which I don't think our western thought relates to. I must do some looking for Jean Shinoda Bolen's book.

    1. Shinoda Bolen has written quite a few, but that one is a personal favourite. Like Bev, some women friends and I worked through it at one point, which was very interesting :)

  3. The Buddhist idea of emptiness is not a void or withdrawal from life - in fact it's completely the opposite! This article explains it better than I ever could. :)