If you’ve read some of my other blog posts here, you’ll have no doubt guessed that for many years I’ve been a restless seeker. Trying to find answers to something I’m not very clear about. It’s an itch I can’t scratch.
I’ve done a lot of reading and debating, and for a good portion of time, my research and discussion had a distinctly masculine style to it. This is hardly surprising given that a) academia in this field is largely male led, and b) I am, female emancipation aside, a product of my upbringing and education. I am only recently seeing just how caught up in the patriarchy I am, how un-emancipated I am. It has come as a bit of a shock, given that I thought I was up there in the vanguard. So, recently I have shifted across to what is generally viewed as a more feminine approach in my research; more experiential, less ‘scientific’.
For a time I was part of the “Integral” scene, devouring everything written by Ken Wilber that I could find and an active participant of an online forum. I loved it. It opened up a whole new way of seeing things. It introduced me to some truly wonderful people. I thrived, I blossomed, and I clambered out of my narrow perspective.
The quadrants model (scroll down the Ken Wilber Wikipedia page above for a simple explanation) gave me a way to look at the world and see that everything contains ‘a truth’. Not THE Truth, but one aspect of truth as perceived by each individual involved. This allowed me to stop labelling myself as a fraud when I could so easily see everyone’s point of view and, chameleon-like, adapt to suit any given situation. Simply put, I was/am able to operate across the quadrants.
The associated ‘lines and levels’ model of human development proposed that whilst one ability may predominate in any given individual—for example, cognitive ability—each of us is a patchwork of a number of lines of development, each at different levels. Perhaps one is very well developed cognitively, but still child-like emotionally or morally. This then has an impact one’s decisions and actions. In western society it is cognitive ability which is most highly prized.
An additional idea from Wilber’s version of the integral movement, which I found really helpful, was the idea of living life integrally. He proposed that, to make any real progess in personal development, as a minimum one should be actively working on oneself in the four areas of, mind, body, spirit and shadow—shadow being the unconscious aspects of our personality (behind the scenes a bit like Dorothy’s wizard in Oz). These four are like the Holy Trinity (if you’ll accept my slightly off-centre analogy). I was firmly ensconced in ‘mind’. And looking back, the suggested practices for each of these areas were thoroughly masculine; all about structure and discipline, very little flow.
This exploration sufficed for a while. Then I attended an integral workshop for women only. I didn’t choose it by design. Women-only was not my norm, despite having gone to an all-girls school, but it was the only one I could get to. It was a deeply scary week of body, spirit and psychological work. Strange things happened, as I mentioned in my blog Supernatural is Eminently Natural. From that point on, intellectual debate wasn’t enough. I wanted to live the things we were discussing.
So, the purpose of this long pre-amble and where did it come from? I recently started to read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself battling through some very heavy language. I wondered what the purpose was of language so dense that I had to read many sentences three times to capture the meaning. I reflected on my recent pattern of reading mostly books with accessible language; plain English, definitely non-academic, and still covering similar issues and explanations. I felt unease at a sense of my betrayal of the more rigorous approach I was used to through my upbringing and education. There’s a similar thing going on elsewhere in my life, away from more rigid, pre-defined and complex practices, and towards more free-form, self-directed explorations. I’ve shifted from pre-defined yoga and Sufi practices to deeper psychological work via shamanic processes and through to dance, drumming and art as pathways to self and Self. It is suggested, in the book of the same title as this post by Layne Redmond, that in older societies women were the drummers predominantly and that the focus was healing and spiritual practice.
It’s been a long journey since that first women-only workshop, with my experiments winding out in a bigger and bigger spiral. And still I’m battling with doubt. Is this free-for-all approach simply laziness (as my inner critic would have it) or is it a shift from the rigidity of masculine structures towards the flow of the feminine? With it come those things so often devalued in our society; intuition, experiential, feelings-orientated.
I’ll let you know, if I ever find an answer.