Empowering Women Part 2: Journey into the feminine aspects of the world

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A good friend of mine, a hetro-man, read part 1 of this and wrote to me some thoughts. He wondered whether the word ‘want’, or the sentence ‘what we want’ is not a masculine concept. And that Eastern traditions which speak of being ‘free from what’ is a fundamental quality that the western/modern world has lost.

This is a great point and raises a number of deeper issues. For a start we must discern from where it is want arises. Want of the ego mind is different to want of the soul. Freedom from want of the ego mind is the only way to access want of the soul, which can only arise from being in deep relationship with the soul of the earth. Wantings, yearnings, longings of the soul are what bring us to our true nature and into a role of service to the greater good of humans and the earth. But shifting from an ego-centric life to a soul-centric one, generally requires an initiation. For to bring the ego into the service of the soul in a ego-centric culture is not something that comes easily!

This is where the lack of true elders guiding young folk at the right time on journeys of initiation seriously hinders the maturation of modern humans, who in the words of depth psychologist Bill Plotkin celebrate the Forever 21 fantasy. We seem to have reached the pinnacle of this with the types of leaders we currently have in political roles. 

Eastern philosophies speak of being free of want but a common problem with western interpretations of these philosophies, and indeed with Christianity, is that they only focus on half of our spiritual reality, namely the masculine aspect of being. If we look back through the majority of ancient traditions it tends to be a case of mother earth, father sky, indeed it is upon such a basis that the Christian story arises. 

The Western appetite for Eastern philosophy is one of seeking a sense of oneness, transcendence from the mind and body. This too is the case in Christianity, in fact you will be hard pressed to find a mainstream religious tradition that does not have this outlook towards the sky, unity, spirit, oneness. This is being helped no less by science, with quantum physics demonstrating how matter is just energy – its all the same thing ultimately. 

While I too think this is all wonderful and worthy of exploration, it generally tends ignores the feminine aspect, the earthy aspect, the bodily beingness of life, the uniqueness of each being – the expression of soul. 

This feminine aspect of reality is earthy, dark, the ‘unknown’, it encompasses the underworld, the sexual energies, the world experienced through the body. All this has been desecrated by the Christian doctrine, being labelled the source of evil, and so we desecrate the earth itself. 

This loss of the feminine from our consciousness has left us deeply confused about what we are supposed to do with sexual energies other than expel them. The underworld and its role as initiator to soul is a totally alien concept to us culturally. The language of the world that only the body can understand has been rendered a fraudulent imposter next to the might of the human mind. 

This is life turned on its head! For it is the mind who is the fraudulent imposter, while the language of the body has become lost and confused; male sexuality is seen as more potent than female, despite the greater pleasure being hers; and the underworld label as hell, a place one doesn’t want to go. But it is only by journeying through the dark that we find the holy grail of who we really are, the wanting of our soul. 

I like the analogy of a volcano when talking about soul. A volcano is part of the earth, it is impossible in fact to say where the volcano ends and the earth carries on, but it is has a beingness, is unique, has a role in the world. And so it is with humans, we are of the earth, each a unique expression of her, each with a longing, a wanting to take our true place in the order of things.

Empower Women! But what does that actually mean?

What do we (and in particular men), need to bear-in-mind

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As a woman, I’m all for the empowerment of women, but what does that actually mean? In my experience men who want to help empower women might just be peddling an insidious form of patriarchy if their own identity is tied up in this role. A man who wants to help empower women might just be dependent on disempowered women for his sense of self worth. Therefore when the  woman in question really does find her power he has no idea how to deal with it, is threatened by it and might use shame and rejection as a result of this unconscious bias. In my experience of this has been from older men, who seem to hold the Christian fantasy of Eve, the meek and mild mannered woman, who’s behaviour is ‘pleasant’ and predictable, but above all deferent to men! Hardly an empowered archetype. 

I sometimes think, that rather than men being concerned with empowering women, they should get together and look at their fear of what an empowered woman might mean in their world. No less because any woman on the road to finding her power will, more often than not, have to navigate the territory of her own anger. Terrifying for her and others! Culturally we are called to reject and shame her and while I’m no more a fan of an angry woman, or man come to that matter than the next person, we have to face the fact that women hold a deep-seated anger about the patriarchy and there is no way around that anger, the only way – is through. 

Emotions are not there to be held onto, but to help us navigate through the swamp-forest of our psyche’s awakening. But in order to journey through an emotion, we have to allow ourselves to enter it entirely. This can be terrifying and dangerous and with anger it’s a good idea to be supported through it, in case what comes out is violent towards ourselves or others. But journey through it we must, in order to find who we are and what we want?

If your idea of empowering a woman is to ask what she wants and give it to her, you don’t understand a damn thing! Women, if brought up in a patriarchal system, have no idea what they want. Indeed, nor do many men. For a woman of patriarchal heritage, ‘wanting’ is an alien concept. Keeping safe is primary, keeping the men around you happy so that you are safe, is primary. Therefore what men want is primary. What we want as women does not simply materialise in our minds on being asked. So first we must find our ability to want.  

This all brings to mind the story of the Loathly Lady. King Arthur is challenged by a dark knight to solve the riddle of discovering what above all else it is that women want. He asks many women but the answers he gets are all different. Chocolates, flowers, a husband, a fairytale wedding, food for my child, healing for my mother. Then Arthur meets Sir Gawaine who joins the quest to solve the riddle and they ride out throughout the land together, but to no avail. Then one day they meet a hideous old hag in the forest, she claims to have the answer, but will only bestow it upon them in return for the hand of Sir Gawaine in marriage. The valiant Gawaine agrees, so committed is he to Arthur. So they are married, and that night when he enters the wedding chamber he finds, not the old hag, but a beautiful young woman. The Lady Ragnell. Gawaine is confused, but she explains she is the very same bride, but that she had a cursed spell put upon her by a sorcerer many years ago. Now that Gawaine has married her, half the spell is broken. “Half?” said Gwaine. “Yes, I will be like this half the time, and you my husband must choose, would you have me beautiful by day or by night?” Gawaine after some careful consideration refused the choice, handing it back to the Lady to choose. In so doing the rest of the spell is broken, for he has given her what she wants above all else, sovereignty over her choices. 

The only trouble with this story, is that we need to be in touch with what we really want, in order to use our sovereignty to make those choices. As I write this I am very aware that I am in the territory of privilege, a person free from fear and hunger, and therefore able to explore the philosophical depths of ‘wanting’, but hopefully there is something of use here for all women. 

How do we find our want? To me this is akin to the holy grail. We quest across the world looking for an object when all along what we seek is within. The mind wants to find some-thing, but only through the body can we come to know, and here in lies the problem not just of the patriarchy but of science and rationality as well. 

In our western cultures mind is king. But, while the mind is an excellent analytical tool, it is not who we are. Ultimately the question for all of us, men and women, is how do we come home to ourselves so that we might know who we are and therefore what we want? When it comes to empowering women, to my mind this is a very important question. 

Women bleed every month with the cycle of the moon. This body has it’s own intelligence, it is the piece of the earth we inhabit and because we are more connected to it due to our luna cycle, we are also inherently more connected with this – the consciousness of matter. The intelligence of the mind is secondary to this primary force, which as many women know is not passive but active. It is akin to a language that the rational mind of the modern era has been hell-bent on usurping, unlearning, belittling, denying the existence of. Which is quite an extraordinary thing when you stop to think about it, for the mind is formed of this primary force of material intelligence.

Women more than men are still connected to this intelligence, which speaks a truth through feelings that we know is far more reliable than any mind. With practice we come to understand this language of the felt sense and live guided by its subtle nudges and impulses. It is through this we come to know who we are and what we want. 

The beauty of this way of being is that it is ‘plugged in’ to the earth network. What we want becomes congruent once more with the interests of all earthly matter. We move into a role of ‘service to’ rather than ‘consumer of’ and with this shift, purpose and happiness are found. 

So, perhaps if we really want to empower women, one of the most important things we can do is to stop the obsessive rubbishing of these other windows of knowing that are not rational or scientific. Because this earthly knowledge, experienced through the felt senses of the body, lies beyond the jurisdiction of our current scientific and rational capabilities. 

Women want to create change in the world, but you have to let them do it their way, with their language, listen to them, try not to judge things that fall outside of your own understanding and experience, and ultimately cultivate the humility to learn from their way of being and doing in the world.

the river god

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I am the waters 
of the rivers flow
I am the earth 
beneath the leaves 
of the woodland floor

I am the rocks 
worn smooth
by the river god 
as he makes sensuous love 
to the depths of my soul

I am the roots of the oak
that plunge deep in the earth
and protect the river bank 
from this god’s wildest passions

My soul sits looking at me

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My soul sits 
looking at me 
through the eyes 
of my dog 

What are we doing here
inside these 4 walls,
when we could be out there
being our wilder selves?

The pull is all consuming,
letting no other thought
rest in my mind,
making all actions
awkward and tortured

But where is that 
wild place 
that can fulfil 
this longing,

where wolf 
still hunts deer,
beaver 
still build dams,
and eagle 
soars in the sky,

They are the
ghosts
who’s presence
I crave

I die a thousand 
of their deaths
every time, 
these fur bound eyes 
gaze up at mine.

The Wellspring Source

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by Georgia Wingfield-Hayes

This poem was a piece of writing that came as a stream of consciousness while sitting by a mountain river. I didn’t really understand it until a year later, when in the drought of 2018, here in the lake district, I cleared out an ancient wellspring. Once the sole source of water to the house where I was gardening (the new water source from the stream having dried up), the “Boggin Well” was brought back to life. People knew it was there but no-one in living memory had seen it cleaned out, alive. It was full of stinking anaerobic leaves that had collected there over decades, if you didn’t know it was there, you would be none the wiser. The clearing of the Boggin Well turned out to be quite an extraordinary experience, one that words can’t articulate. It was as if something in me cleared as this wellspring was brought back into being, able to breathe once more. It brought to my mind this piece of writing which at once made sense, and with a few adjustment took the form of this poem.

The reflected light that shows on the log
tells a story of the waters
that flow beneath

but to see into those watery depths
and what they may contain
you must go closer still

You must venture across the fallen trees
to the wellspring source
there where the dipper goes

The reflected light that shows on the log
is so alluring,
yet beautiful enough from here

you could stay here and admire it
from this place
for all eternity

From that place the dipper now comes
the parent
and the noisy, hungry baby

it spends most of its time screaming for food
but then occasionally will just get on
and find some for itself

that tussle of life
dependent
independent

And then the light that shows on the log fades
as the sun continues its course
and you are in danger of forgetting
that wellspring source

Go, drink from your source
everyday
so you don’t forget

Not just so you don’t forget
but so in that drinking
the very waters of your being
are slowly transformed

to be of that source
and that source
alone

The tree that grows its roots
around the rock at the edge of the river
drinks when it pleases him

but he also runs the risk
of flood waters
undermining his feet

So he wraps his root
like tentacles
around those rocks and along the shore
making homes for all those creatures
that inhabit that edge

Go dwell there amongst his roots
Be a creature of the edge
so you may take shelter from him
and drink from her

the wellspring of your life
your source
your soul

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The Boggin Well

The No5 to Blackbird Leys

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by Georgia Wingfield-Hayes

The No5 to Blackbird Leys
sounds like a place from a different time
where thick hedgerows ramble
with berries and thorns
and blackbirds rule the roost.

I think I’d like to visit there
and be the stranger in their world,
but I fear their thicket thorny home
will be long gone
the name a ghost
a memory of a wilder time,
where man was not sole master of our world
and other beings had a say
in how it was the land might lay.

Blackbirds in blackberry leys
laid waste by paved modernity.
That divine untidiness
wild and ripe in possibility
of hedgehog, stoat, thrust and wren,
alas I fear they are long gone.

I don’t want to live
in a world of wild ghosts
for in that world I feel half dead
I want that wild chaos instead.
For it brings forth my soul in song
and I am alive and new again.

Day Break

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by Georgia Wingfield-Hayes

The world was made
to love
and be loved in.

The song thrush
exquisite,
calls in
the first light of day.

I lay in bed
of feathers
warmed against the cool
morning air.

Enchantment all around
a robin
now joins
this chorused dawn.

To think
I’d learned
to dread
the day.

A sense now,
a silver thread
from childhood
recalled
of wonder,
curiosity,
excitement,

I am here!
To sing
my song back
into this world.

How Wilderness Can Inspire Us to Lead

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by Georgia Wingfield-Hayes

Originally published on Huffington Post (July 2016)

We humans live between two cultural imperatives. Eco-culture: our being part of the natural world, dependent on living soil, plants and animals for our sustenance; on forests and oceans for a stable climate; on biodiversity for medicines and our sense of wellbeing. Then our human-culture in which we can buy whatever we want, live in cities and lose sight of our eco-cultural connection. As human-culture destroys much of our eco-culture and we threaten our very existence, we must continue to ask: how will we lead change to reconcile these two imperatives?

I stayed once on the island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand. The expats there would often say “aren’t we lucky living in paradise…?” I wanted to reply, “but this isn’t paradise, this is paradise lost,” but I never quite had the courage. Koh Phangan is on the same latitude as Costa Rica, where I spent four years as a wildlife guide. Costa Rica is vibrant with life, with wild life. It is famous for ecotourism. Its bird species run into the hundreds, sloths and monkeys are common to see. In Koh Phangan, on the other hand, the bird species I saw regularly could be counted on just one hand. Wild mammals on the island amounted to little more than a few bats, some squirrels and a troop of monkeys that lived in a fragment of forest high on the mountain. The beaches were beautiful but I was left with a sense of unease – the feeling that something was missing. A sense of loss, a vulnerability.

What gives us a sense of wellbeing? I know that for me the more wildness there is around me, the better I feel. Hearing the call and song of animals and birds is part of everything being ok. I was walking one evening recently with a friend, when we stopped to listen to a song thrush calling in the top of a nearby tree. A sound so evocative of England, of home. “Can you imagine?” I said, “if the song thrush became extinct, it would feel like a part of me was missing.” After some thought, he replied. “Generations past might have said that about the nightingale, but now it is so rare that we don’t even know what it sounds like.”

And there it was, a perfect example of shifting baseline syndrome. How can we know that something is missing if it was never in our experience? The unease I felt in Koh Phangan is now omnipresent in my life back in England. I wonder if it was always there, unidentified, or if living in the wilds of Costa Rica woke in me a more primal sense of my being in relation to nature. This feeling increasingly becomes part of what motivates and guides me in my work and in the way I live. It has helped me recognise and deconstruct the drive within me for what human-culture defines as success and find a different narrative to guide my life gained from my eco-cultural self. This brings to light another question about leadership. How can we be sure that we are not inadvertently dragging the imagery of the natural world deeper into the machinery of efficiency and profit that drives our human-culture? How can we be sure that we are not merely adding the wild to the stock of tradable commodities?

Corcovado national park is the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s park system, located on the remote Osa peninsula. It was described by National Geographic as ‘the most biologically intense place on earth,” with 140 species of mammal and an astonishing 367 species of birds. Can spending time in the wildness of such a place help reset our shifted baseline and discover our eco-cultural connections? I believe so. Such experiences, taken with the right mindset, are a window into what life is within an intact ecosystem characterised by fantastic biodiversity. As we become steeped in the wilderness, we sink into being rather than doing and, if we allow it, something happens – we start to break down the perception of our being as separate from the rest of existence, and a broader perspective arises.

This broader perspective is our eco-cultural perspective. It is not an intellectual paradigm, it is an embodied experience. I can’t put it better than Peter Reason who wrote “We need to honour again the wisdom of the body, locating knowing in the experience of sensation instead of intellectually elaborated paradigms of thought…. our body is that piece of wilderness that we carry around with us all the time…”

If we could experience ourselves as part of a greater whole it would be natural for us to see protection of our wider environment as part of protection of the self, because they are one and the same thing. This would liberate us from the sense of guilt and self-sacrifice which often comes with environmental and sustainability agendas. I believe right action toward our environment would be the natural consequence of such an ecological consciousness. Inspiration for new leadership narratives would be derived from such a perspective. But this inspiration can only be gained through a deep personal journey into our eco-cultural being.

Falling again

by Georgia Wingfield-Hayes

cropped-dsc04410.jpgI am falling
deeply
in love once more
Once more you say,
what happened
to that love the time before?

I’m not sure
but I know it was long ago
in childhood I think…
when I learned science
learned to pick at it all

We took the world to bits
like a child might a toy
But what we took apart
was our love and our joy
our sensing and feeling
of being part of it all

My love turned to pain,
guilt, grief and shame,
pure helplessness
what can just one person do
to reverse what is
lost, damaged, destroyed

So I studied and studied
and studied some more
to learn to find ways
in this life to sustain
this consumption
this privilege
this story which tells
that we are more special.

But where is the love
that deep embodied knowing
we lobotomised that
through all of that learning
yet we search and search
for love, happiness, satisfaction
not knowing that what we seek
is right here under our feet

She is alive, she is breathing
and speaking your name
go and greet her and meet her
know that you are one and the same

I am falling and falling
in love once again
but to do so I had to allow
myself one little thing

To say I miss you
so deeply
to those beings now gone
to the forests
and places
those creatures
that my,
species destroyed
in the blink of an eye

I miss you, I miss you
I’ll say it once more
I miss you, for saying it
helps me to fall
down from my grief
guilt, pain and shame
back deeply in love
with her once again