Welcome to Part II in the 4 part series on Divine Flow, the Loving, Creative Spirit-Energy of Existence. Find Part I on Adaptability here.
Part II: The Divine Feminine & Divine Flow
“Gather your burdens in a basket in your heart. Set them at the feet of the Mother. Say, ‘Take this, Great Mama, because I cannot carry all this shit for another minute.’ And then crawl into her broad lap and nestle against her ample bosom and take a nap. When you wake, the basket will still be there, but half its contents will be gone, and the other half will have resumed their ordinary shapes and sizes, no longer masquerading as catastrophic, epic, chronic, and toxic. The Mother will clear things out and tidy up. She will take your compulsions and transmute them. But only if you freely offer them to her.”– Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy
What heavy load are you carrying these days? What heavy loads have you been carrying all your life?
Get ready: I’m going to talk about the patriarchy, hierarchy, authority, & some perfectionism. Yes, burdens that weigh all of us down – some of us more than others.
Being born and raised in a patriarchal society, even with feminist movements in their fourth wave and the work of intersectionality on the rise, it is impossible not to absorb the hierarchical authority structures and perfectionism inherent in the systems. After thousands of years of linear thinking, evaluative language, and moralistic reckonings at every turn, the patriarchy is in the air, the water, and the soil. And this is how its essence seeps into our pores, whether we know it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not.
As an antidote to this, in February of 2020, I attended The Divine Feminine contemplation & writing workshop lead by Mirabai Starr as part of the philosophy component for my 500 hour yoga teacher training. Mirabai’s offering that weekend was a focused and aspirational practice of laying down one’s burdens and crawling into the bosom of the Divine Mother. After a beautiful introduction to the feminine nature of wisdom, rest, and the Holy Indwelling, filled with song, chant, and poetry, she invited us to write a letter to the Divine Feminine, emptying the contents of our hearts. This seemed unusual, lovely, scary, exciting, rebellious, and right. What was most unexpected, for me, was her next invitation: “Write a love letter to yourself from the Divine Feminine.” Here is the love letter I received:
My dear one, rest your head now. You have done great work. All is well, all is well, and all will continue to be well. When next you wake, you will continue your work, but instead of beleaguering you, you will be filled with ease. And the ease will carry you, and the easy will overtake you. And the ease is me. There is nothing more you need to do, say, think, or be. Just keep being here now, with me, for this long while; and when you are ready, I will rise with you. We will go together in the night, all the nights to come, and all the nights that ever were. For you are not alone. You never were; and you never will be. Breathe deep – Breathe shallow; Breathe me, and I will Breathe you.
Typically, we are taught (told?) to bear our burdens, take up our crosses (and everyone else’s), keep calm and carry on. Often it appears that the calls to rest are buried beneath authoritarian commandments. Yes, we can rationally prove that the invitations to rest are in all the books, teachings, and scriptures we encounter growing up, but it would be a hard sell to show that they are taught, prescribed, highlighted or practiced. For instance, “Keep holy the Sabbath” doesn’t feel particularly restful for me, but I would argue this is because I am a woman, and it is expected that women do all the things that make rest possible – for all the other people. So, even if rest is taught and encouraged and commanded, the actual step by step how to make rest possible for one’s own dear self doesn’t seem to come readily into play when you are a householder. (Oh, also? Be a perfect householder!)
The insatiable nature of capitalism also plays its part and pushes us to produce at all hours of the day and night now that we live in a post-modern world. If we are resting, we are losing money. Now that feminism is in its current stage, it seems that women are double-burdened, if not triple-burdened with the work of bearing and raising children, producing goods and services throughout the economy, and creating (perfect) emotional and/or spiritual spaces of growth and connection. Because we “can.”
I’ve learned that simply because we can do something, doesn’t mean it is a wise thing to do. What Mirabai’s workshop revealed to me is that laying down one’s burdens and offering them to “the Lord, the Great Mystery, the Indwelling, the Imminent, the Mother” at the altar of our own heart allows the power of Divinity to transmute them. These burdens can be the nourishing soil of freedom, lightness, and happiness. Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on the transformation of suffering resonate with this. When we come home to our suffering and take care of it with the soft light of our attention, it can be transformed into happiness. Resting from worry and rumination, from (impossible) multitasking, perfectionism, and the drive to “be all things at all times to all people” is a radical act of subversion and a way to crush the patriarchy, work that is incumbent on all of us regardless of whether we identify as female, male, or nonbinary, regardless of where we are on the gender spectrum because the patriarchy has no gender.
“‘Un-genderizing’ God”and moving toward the nondual or non-separate nature of God was also part of our practices during the workshop. And while still allowing and encouraging practices of devotion (of Lover praising, worshiping, and moving toward the Beloved) we played with simply Being With the ineffability of the Divine and even with “God as dove with wings of compassion and wisdom.” Part of the play comes from understanding how balance occurs. Mirabai offered us this question: How can a pendulum finally come to rest at center if it’s not allowed to swing back & forth? We see this kind of swinging in society all the time: from conservative to liberal, from ultra-orthodox to ultra-progressive, from a black president to a white-supremacist president. Many of us, of course, exhausted from the extremes, are wondering when these pendulums of our communal systems will come to rest at an equal, equitable, and equanimous center. The answer seems to be long in coming.
Permissions & Blessings
The extremes of our communal systems appear inevitable and uncontrollable, but the swinging of our own devoted heart is within our control. We can choose how we practice our spirituality, how we direct our devotions, and the ways in which we walk the paths of our own choosing. Of course, this kind of choice-work can only happen when we accept that we are our own authority.
Permissions, authority, obligations, duty, allowing and blessing are all wrapped up in our experience of the masculine and feminine natures of divine experience in our Westernized (read: Patriarchal or Abrahamic) world. During the workshop there were extended discussions of giving permission and giving blessing. Permission can be given, of course, without agreement, love, or well wishes. Inherent in the meaning of the word blessing is favor, agreement, and support. We can feel in our body the difference between receiving permission and receiving blessing, especially from the people we cherish the most, like our parents, grandparents, partner, spouse, or dear friends. Mirabai’s offering was for us to consider that not only does the Divine Mother permit you to lay down your burdens and rest, she gives you her blessing to do so..
Spending time with the Divine Mother can be an antidote to the toxic masculinity most of us have been experiencing for the majority of our lives. This swing to what some might consider another extreme can be a great comfort. However, many Christianized people can feel uneasy about entering into this feminine space for fear of idolatry; so Mirabai offers orthodox explanations and examples of divine femininity: the Shekinah (or Sabbath), the holiest of holy days is feminine; the matron saint Julian of Norwich’s direct experience of God as mother (allowing Christ to be mother, as well) are two the stand out in my memory as being especially impactful.
These illustrations bring with them permission to explore the Divine Feminine in our own lived experience. When we accept it, we shift the authority from hierarchical masculine leadership (Sts. Peter, Paul, and the long line of popes, archbishops, bishops, priests, ministers, and pastors) to the collective wisdom of fellow Spirit-seeking women, men, adults, children, and all humans. When we can acknowledge the gift of seeing “Wisdom as Woman” in the Judeo-Christian teachings, and “God as Friend” in the Sufi tradition, we can move from a vertical model of top down mountain top lectures in which knowledge and permissions are handed out from one to many, toward a more equitable, horizontal structure of communal harvest in which wisdom is collected from many and shared with all.
I spoke to Mirabai only twice during the three day event, once in the whole group setting, and once after the closing worship practice. I waited to speak to her before heading home, and I asked her why we feel compelled to seek external permissions; why are we even asking for permission to explore, to rest, to follow our heart in the first place? She smiled and laughed and said, “That is a good question. I’m not sure!” We then talked for just a brief moment about the hierarchy, the authoritarian patriarchy, and I left contemplating where true authority lies, where it lives, and where I go from here.
Since the workshop I have been exploring and experiencing what I’ve come to call Divine Flow. It is the Creative Spirit Energy of the Universe. For me, Divine Flow is non-gendered and beyond gender. It is simply the Loving, Creative, Spirit-Energy of Existence, not only the Ground of Being, but also the Sky of Being, the Atmosphere, the Magnetosphere, the Energy-Sphere of Being.
In practice, Divine Flow looks like paying attention to what some call coincidences and others call synchrony. It is stepping into the creative energy of the universe and allowing myself to cede control for however long I can manage, to stop struggling against the current and float a little bit, feel what it’s like to be held, moved, lifted, and set down again; it is tasting the sweetness of the water, breathing in the aroma of salt and sky, and listening to anahata, the unstruck sound of the heart.
Sometimes the practice consists of prayer-like longings to be wrapped up, scooped up, swaddled in Divine Flow. Sometimes it is to call out for answers and wait, like sitting on the shore and allowing the tide to join me. Other times it is allowing myself to be carried along on a divine web or netting that is open to the air and sun and from which I can step out at any time. I am never trapped. It is always my choice to connect or disconnect, to step into or out of the flow.
When I am with Divine Flow there is always a lightness, a balance, a center of stillness inside the movement – never sensations of gripping, of extreme tilt, of struggling against unexpected turns. The experience is one of gentle undulations in which stillness and steadiness are felt deep within, a paradox of movement within the stillness and stillness within the movement – just like the still, quiet pool at the bottom of the breath – just like asana practice – those moments in which I shift my weight from one side to the other, from front to back, from right circles to left circles and then begin to allow settling to happen, my body resting at what feels like center in this present moment, the echoes of movement radiating outward like ripples from a drop of rain on a still pond.
My practice of Divine Flow has revealed itself to be one of co-creation. I have studied, practiced, trained, and worked to move toward an understanding of what it means to love and be loved, and to become skilled at creating a container in which others can explore their own relationship to loving and being loved. In the midst of this work I have encountered opportunities to create these spaces in hospitals, schools, and military bases through my yoga classes of movement and meditation. I know at a core level that had I not stepped into Divine Flow at countless moments along my journey (back when I didn’t have a name for it), I would not have been prepared for these newest adventures, nor would these occasions have even come to “fall in my lap.”
The Femininity of Divine Flow
While I speak of Divine Flow as being beyond gender, it is not lost on me that flow has a feminine quality. “Flow” is the creative force of svadhishthana, the sacral chakra, and water is its element. Flow is resonant of the menstrual cycle and the waters of birth. These “birth waters” can be seen even in the Judeo-Christian teachings: flowing streams in the garden in Genesis; the spring of living water in the Old Testament; Christ as the spring of living water in the New Testament. All of these illustrations point toward the moving energy that sustains life, cultivates new life, and makes possible any amount of rebirth.
In Tantric Hinduism and Buddhism, shakti energy is seen as the dynamic feminine equal of the passive male consciousness and initiates creation and birth, as well as destruction and death. Inherent in dynamism and initiation are action and movement, and in some traditions shakti is understood to be the prana or life force that flows through the nadis, energy channels of traditional Indian medicine.
Divine Flow offers me a sense of sustained and supportive movement while providing stillness, like the way we live on the earth even as it spins and revolves suspended by the invisible cosmic forces of our universe. It also offers me a sense of infinitude – a sense that the energy is unending; it circulates throughout our systems and throughout existence, never dying and always continuing. It is self-existing and does not run out.
“The need for permission is the opposite of trusting your inner voice.”
In my notes, at the bottom of the last page circled in blue ink, I found this gem: “The need for permission is the opposite of trusting your inner voice.”
Throughout all the years I have been seeking external affirmation and validation, sleep-walking through a patriarchal swamp, it has been easy enough to absorb copious amounts of intensity, heat, short-sighted & self-centered power, and unmitigated confidence. Now, taking time to practice contemplation, to turn my focus inward, listen, and connect to my own sweet svadhishthana and anahata chakras, I reconnect to the essence of air and water. I can be with their energy without the unhealthy masculine that has permeated my experience for most of my life. The chakra practice allows me to soak in – and soak in – the watery feminine flow of ongoing creation and the airy, balanced lightness of the uncreated, eternal life force energy. This experience adds wisdom to my power and understanding to my confidence. Through this and other energetic, contemplative, and somatic practices I continue to step into the Divine Flow. I continue to stay awake to the ways I am able to offer wisdom and power to others in the co-creation of individual and communal ease and rest.
The Christ and the Buddha both taught that it is good for us to stay awake. For me and my practice of Divine Flow, I find that it is good to stay awake by stretching my attention to take in the sight, sound, scent, flavor, and sensation of my circumstances. How is my body sensing and responding to the events of my life? What are my emotions telling me about what I value? This way of looking deeply into my lived experience allows me to feel that I am fully alive and connected, not separate – and also that I am not alone. Other humans on the journey are also beautiful vessels and vehicles of the Divine Flow from whom I feel support and strength as one of many strands of the Divine Web. In this community of individuals connecting to their own hearts and wisdom centers, with permissions and blessings flowing freely, my greatest hope is that together we each trust our inner voice, lay down our burdens, and lift each other up, celebrating a life filled with freedom and bliss.
For Practice & Experience
First, take a look at your journal entries from the last inquiry to get a sense of your thoughts, wishes, and hopes:
- What do I already know about Divine Flow?
- What do I wish to learn or experience about Divine Flow?
- What am I ready to know or experience about Divine Flow?
Then, say hello to Divine Flow by calling it by the name of your choosing, which might be, Mother, Lord, Unstruck Sound, Ground of Being, Sky of Being, Great Spirit, Great Mystery, or even “Divine Flow.” Decide if you feel called to pray, worship, wait, listen, speak, be swaddled in or be with Divinity. Then do that thing. And when your sense of calling shifts, go with that. That’s Divine Flow.
Third, offer your burdens to the Divine Flow. You can do this in a variety of ways. Here are some ideas:
- Write a letter to the Divine Mother & then write a response from the Divine Mother to you
- Visualize filling a basket with your burdens and setting them at the feet of the Divine Mother at the altar of your heart
- Draw, sketch, paint, or craft your burdens in creative, tangible ways, then offer them to the Divine Mother or Divine Flow at your personal altar in your home
Rest yourself. And in the morning look on these burdens with fresh eyes.
Last, give yourself a blessing to step into Divine Flow and allow Divine Flow to offer you respite, reprieve, restoration, and renewal in the ways of her choosing. Over the next several days, weeks, or months, stay awake to opportunities, encouragements, situations, and circumstances that speak to your needs and might possibly fulfill them. Pay close attention to your body sensations and emotions and notice what they wish to tell you about what you care for and what you value. Be curious! And be honest about what is true for you. Feel into the sensations of the present moment and allow yourself to rest, floating on the air and water of Divinity.
“The secret is out. The celebration is overflowing its banks. The joy is becoming too great to contain. The pain has grown too urgent to ignore. The earth is cracking open, and the women are rising from our hiding places and spilling onto the streets, lifting the suffering into our arms, demanding justice from the tyrants, pushing on the patriarchy and activating a paradigm shift such as the world has never seen.”
– Mirabai Starr, Introduction to Wild Mercy
Yoga is a practice of liberation. It’s sometimes described as a discipline of freedom in which you learn more and more what it means to be trapped and what it means to be liberated. It is a Wisdom Tradition that draws your own wisdom from the core of your body out through all your limbs, your hands and feet, your eyes, your crown, and covers you with it. Your own goodness, your own wholeness, your own choice to be the way you want to be in the world.
When lying in savasana (resting in corpse pose), I’d hear my dear teacher talk about contentment, our true nature. I thought I knew what she meant. So I began striving for contentment. This is hysterical! I see myself as having chased contentment so much that I literally chased it away the way one keeps driving a puppy farther on by running after it. (You know, you have to get the puppy to wanna chase you, then you run home.)
Hollowness, emptiness, obscurity, lack. That’s what’s left when contentment’s not around. But these non-feeling-feelings are vague and veiled, so sometimes they can seem like contentment. I’d say it to my own students, too, “Rest in contentment, your true nature.”
I had misgivings about this, about not being sure, exactly, what this true-nature-contentment thing was, so sometimes I wouldn’t say it. But I did know about the pause between breaths, that swirling spaciousness into which the exhale dissolves and from which the inhale arises. And so I’d invite my students to “Rest here, for as long as it lasts, and then enjoy the next breath whenever it comes along.”
20 years later
full, warm, round.
Like a baby’s belly after just enough milk.
When my babes were growing into toddlers there was always a lot of talk about food. Meals, snacks, bites, feasts. Yoga is like this.
When my toddlers were growing into children, we talked about feeling full, stuffed, hungry, ravenous, and famished (never starving). I offered them “content” as a way of describing the sensation just shy of full. Did they feel (sense) they’d had enough to eat? What if we wait twenty minutes before having more? Did they feel content with what they had? Yoga is like this.
Memorial Day weekend of 2020 I was on my first ever silent retreat. My first ever silent retreat was fully online. So, not the experience I had anticipated, but one that was rich and layered with new ways relating and new ways of knowing. It was on that Saturday after listening to poetry, feeling it in my body, and understanding the ways metaphor (which is language itself) translates to sensation (through the motor and somatosensory cortex) that I realized I had been selling myself short. Or (and?) selling contentment short.
I began to understand that I had interpreted contentment as a neutral sensation, neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It seems I didn’t have a sense (a sensation) of contentment that resonated or vibrated in my body. Also, I had used the yogic practice of non-attachment as a way of trying to access contentment, and in so doing had separated it from sensation even further. In this way, contentment felt like nothing – no thing – there was no metaphorical/neural connection for me. When I thought or said the word contentment, neither my motor, nor my somatosensory cortex activated. My brain had nothing (no thing) to offer. There was not an embodied experience (a knowing) from which to draw meaning. No texture or temperature, no vision, aroma, flavor, or action. Basically, contentment was dead.
Enticing the Puppy
Have you ever felt a poem in your bones? Has your flesh ever vibrated with a knowing when your friend describes her experience to you? Has your body ever come alive as you describe your own experience to someone else? This happens because language touches the part of our brain that controls our senses and our movement. The only reason we know anything is because we have a body from which to draw meaning.
Through a series of contemplative inquiries, trauma-informed, resilience focused practices, and iRest yoga nidra meditation, I began to understand that contentment could hold really big things, like Ease, Security, and Safety. It was like a door had been opened, or the roof lifted off, and possibility entered in, lifting me like a cloud toward something even bigger – Joy.
I used to think, Joy? Who am I to feel joy? And then, Wait – why not joy? Why rest in contentment when I can rest in joy? Instead of coupling contentment with neutrality, non-attachment, non-touching, non-aliveness, I started connecting it with happiness, serenity, peace, tranquility, and even Bliss – full aliveness.
I began to turn away from striving, and instead began running home to my body. Contentment would follow me, like a puppy, and bring with her all the sensations of enlivenment like tingling, pulsating, vibrating, shimmering. This is Yoga.
A touching. A coming together. A joining. A yoking. A completeness. A coming home. All of this inside me, coming to life.
The practice of contentment is one of non-grasping. It is deep below the surface where the waves do not disturb it. That’s how this all works. Have the experience of bliss and remain equanimous when bliss passes. Have the experience of spaciousness and remain at ease when spaciousness fades. Have the experience of peace and remain serene when peace dissipates. The depth of the ocean is content to remain in cold darkness, unmoved by the weather so far above.
The Evolution of Practice
Dear one, in the depth of your being be content to rest in joy, your true nature, unmoved by the circumstances of your life. Allow yourself to be breathed by the lifeforce of the universe. Feel the birth of the inhalation and the death of the exhalation. Allow yourself to rest in the spacious joyfulness between breaths where death dissolves and life begins.
Can you feel how big you are? Can you feel light radiating from you? Can you feel it in your blood? Your bones? Your skin? How you are touching Love and Love is touching you? How you are the ocean, how you are Love?
Take small bites. (Three little breaths.)
Nibble. (Have a few cat/cows.)
Just have a snack. (One goooooood sun salute.)
Eat just enough. (Two and a half minutes?)
Sense when you are content. (Relaxation.)
Feel when you are full. (Om.)
Get used to the idea
such an amazing thing
when it is feasting time.
Contentment is big enough
And so are you.