We issued a call for papers on a topic suggested by one of our readers: "Male/female spirituality: Is there a different path to spiritual contentment dependent on one's gender?" This month's essays are responses to that topic.
This month's contents:
Gender & The Spiritual Search by Anna at The Zoo Fence | Gender & The Spiritual Search by Francis at The Zoo Fence | Lightening the Load by Francis Dorff | Spiritual Contentment by Anima Pundeer | Uncovering the Hidden Shadow Aspects of You by Eddie Traversa | The "C" Word by Heidi Munn | Fighting & Feeling by Shawn Nevins | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Milk from Thorns by Willa Holmes | Gender & the Denial of Death by Art Ticknor | Humor
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It seems to me that there may indeed be a difference in the spiritual search based on gender. Being a woman, I can only speak from experience and observation. I think that the devotee path is extremely easy for a woman, while still under the influence of estrogen (pre-menopausal), because of the estrogen imperative which encourages devotion and self-sacrifice, for the sake of the "other," because survival of the species depends upon this. It is the female that tends the nest in the human species, and thus is programmed hormonally to devote herself to others, usually the family, but in the case of the spiritual search, the guru or ultimately God, is substituted for the family. Thus, there is an ease that is implicit in the path of the devotee for a female, as opposed to the path of intellectual understanding, or knowledge, which is more frequently found in the case of the male. The path of understanding and knowledge requires a certain amount of courage, the willingness to question authority, to be a "warrior," and that comes more easily to a male testosterone-dominated individual, than to a female. And yet, in the end, both must, and usually do, come to both paths simultaneously, if the seeker is successful and the individual therefore transcends his or her biological human destiny.
After menopause (or before, should a woman have the good fortune of a more balanced hormonal influence), the path of renunciation and more knowledge-oriented influences becomes more predominant, and thus, more closely mimics that of the male orientation. Just so, the male, should he be fortunate to be more balanced, or should he wait until he reaches a similar passage in his own life as he ages, may become more inclined to devotion and less inclined toward courageous or heroic approaches. This of course is a generalized opinion; there are always individuals who are the exception to the rule, and thus, you find men and women who follow the path which is opposite to that of gender influence.
I think that we humans tend to underestimate the enormous influence that gender has upon our feelings, intellectual approaches, understanding, and priorities. It is obvious to me, in all my encounters with human beings through the years, that we are, despite our wishes to the contrary, subject to our biological mechanisms, and thus, until such time as we transcend those mechanisms, if indeed we ever fully do while incarnated, we are driven and in many ways obstructed or enabled by our gender influences. Indeed, in my observation, those who follow the opposite path to what our gender might incline us toward, seem most often to be more motivated by rebellion than inclination.
Surely, the answer to the question "Is there a different path to spiritual contentment dependent on one's gender?" is itself dependent on the answer to the question, "Do I perceive a difference among us, a difference between men and women?" If the answer to the latter question is yes, then so will be the answer to the former question.
The first thing that came to mind when I read this month's call for papers is an exchange between Jesus and the apostle Simon Peter recorded in the Gospel of Thomas. At verse 114:1-3, Peter demands of Jesus, "Make Mary (Magdalene) leave us, for females don't deserve life," to which the Teacher replies, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the domain of Heaven."
I suppose dozens of scholarly treatises have been written about that exchange, but I should think that, at the very least, if we want to understand what Jesus is reported to have said there, we need to understand the cultural context in which he is supposed to have said it. In his book The Hidden Jesus, Donald Spoto writes that in Judean society a woman was a second class citizen in every sense of the term: "a certificate (of divorce) could be handed to a wife if her husband grew annoyed or bored with her, or if she committed so trivial an offense as the preparation of a disappointing meal.... Girls stayed shut up at home before marriage, and never disclosed their identities in public afterward ... in synagogue, women were segregated from men and were forbidden to teach ... they had no right to bear witness, could not initiate any legal proceeding, and the birth of girls was often greeted with indifference or even sorrow; the arrival of boys, of course, was cause for celebration."
The Gospels are replete with instances in which the disciples fail to understand what Jesus was teaching. My favorite example is their suggestion that fire be brought down upon a village which chose not to hear him speak (Luke 9:54). The exchange in Thomas is just such a case. Here, Peter insists that Mary Magdalene be excluded from their number because he perceives himself and Mary Magdalene not as two aspiring spiritual seekers sitting at the feet of an Enlightened Teacher, but as a first century Judean male and a first century Judean woman bound by all the strictures of the period. Never mind that Jesus had taught by repeated example that he did not perceive differences in religion, regional identity, nationality, profession, medical condition, or gender. His consistent lesson to them and to us is that in the holy company of a True Teacher, all are one and the same, manifestations of the Divine One.
But as long as we define ourselves by the separative, egoic notion that "I am male, and you are female, that I am me, and you aren't me," as Peter does in Thomas, then everything that each of us perceives as "mine, not yours" including our path to spiritual contentment, is going to be perceived as separate, distinct, and different.
~ Visit the The Zoo Fence: A Commentary on Life & Living
The first thing we have to do
Then we can begin to dump
There's no telling what will happen then.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the author. Read an autobiographical sketch of Norbertine priest and teacher Francis Dorff, O. Praem. (Order of the Canons Regular of Premontre). The Norbertine Community of New Mexico offers facilities for private retreats, or view our worldwide listing of retreat centers.
Is there a different path to spiritual contentment dependent on one's gender?
Man and woman are built differently. In my opinion, not taking into account your physical body when you are on a path of self-inquiry is a big mistake. Especially in the initial stages, studying your physical body and how it affects your state of mind is really important. Woman has to take into account her monthly cycle and how it affects her daily perspective of the world depending on what day she is on. Moods affect our world view, and moods are triggered by the hormones in our body. With changing hormones daily, it is difficult for a woman to realize that her perspective may be changing so frequently. It is easier for a man to follow a discipline and carry it on for a longer period of time than for a woman.
Apart from the physical body, nature has programmed men and women differently. Woman is programmed to ensure that the species doesn't dwindle off. Woman gets more attached and identified with the role she is playing in life. She is the nurturer and has to think of something other than herself first. This is an advantage which makes giving up of ego easier for a woman. Acceptance and surrender come much more easily to a woman than a man. Woman feels much more contentment being of service to others. The path of love and devotion appeals to a woman's psychology much more than the path of Zen. Man is programmed to be a hunter, so he has to fight for everything. Even for Truth.
Nature has made women more intuitive. Woman can use this to her advantage in her search for Self. Whatever aspect you start paying attention to, the inner teacher helps us through that. Be it dream study, insights, writing journals, free association, meditation or intuition, etc.
In today's world, there is a lot of outside pressure as well as inner pressure for women and men to compete against each other. When we are young, we really start to buy into this "you are equal" concept. Especially for women, it creates a lot of pressure to be like men. Any sort of inner peace is not possible in this state of mind. When we get in touch with our true nature, we tend to shed a lot of pretenses and become a more complete woman or man. Working with whatever gender you are resolves a lot of inner as well as outer conflicts. You tend to become more at peace with nature as well as yourself.
Having said that, in the final mile, it really doesn't matter if you have a man's body or a woman's, mind turns completely away from the story. Even the desire for finding the Self burns off. You continue your search for the sake of search. Ego is pretty much shriveled by this time and any desire for self-enhancement is gone completely. Absolute spiritual contentment is no more dependent on your gender.
The gem of you is the unknowable, the unbelievable, the mystery beyond mystery. It is the living truth of you, the thing seekers are searching for whether they consciously know it or not. That they are searching is a relatively good thing, but often how they are going about the search tends to lead them away from truth. This is often because we attempt to answer the questions we pose in a philosophical or fact based manner.
Facts or beliefs are not truth however. They are just descriptions of something, where the description is not the truth of whatever is being described. An example of this may be when a female asks a male if the dress makes her look fat and the male replies "no it is the fat, that makes you look fat." The female then gets very upset.
His statement is not truth. That is only a subjective opinion and indeed if the male were to look deeper into his psyche, he might begin to see that there is another layer of relative truth there. For example, he might see that perhaps he knowingly had hurt another person in his attempt at being truthful, and as such there is another relative truth there. He might begin to investigate why he had knowingly engaged in a hurtful manner to another human being, and in doing so he may discover something much more intimate about himself than a trite remark that he passes off as truth.
The spiritual path is much like that. It is a grand uncovering of self by digging further and further into self, with the kicker being that if enlightenment ensues then there isn't an individual self. But let us not put the cart before the horse and get into no self, etc., and instead focus on discovering by uncovering as many layers of self as we can. Since the topic is about gender and spirituality, this is what I would like to discuss today, with a view to allowing yourself to become more conscious of what is hidden.
Most people have very fixed ideas about gender and spirituality. That is not a criticism of people, it is just a statement that relatively speaking is generally true. If you're seeking truth you must first discover your fixed ideas and then remove what is untrue about them. As such I am not particularly interested in entering into a philosophical debate about gender differences and spirituality. Rather it seems to me that it may be more beneficial to give some experiential exercises that may help you pursue this topic on your own accord.
Before I do that though, I would like to be very clear that what is presented below should not be viewed as the be all and end all of a path to enlightenment. There are many ways to plunge on into self and this is just one way to uncover some of the hidden aspects of who you take yourself to be. Add it to your bag of tricks in the act of uncovering true self by all means, but be aware that no technique in itself leads to enlightenment.
Given that, here is a technique that I have found useful over the years to break up rigid patterns of operating in the world. I learned this technique many years ago when working as counsellor. It spawned from an associative dream technique, which conceptually could be thought of as projective word association technique. Since then I have adapted the technique to apply to many areas of life, and quite a number of people have found it a valuable tool in their own journey. That may not be the case for everyone, but some people may find it helpful.
Often a seeker is drawn to the mystical, which is OK as an investigation, but all too often it is an excuse for not dealing with the problems of life. Most if not all problems are brought about by some form of conditioning that has become ingrained in psyche and frequently becomes unconscious. Our journey is to undo the conditioning by any and all means necessary. Meditating on a candle in the hopes of a better life isn't going to cut it in this regard. We actually have to deal with the problems as honestly as we can and not avoid them, even though often this is a very hard thing to deal with. Something that is perhaps worth remembering is that to know yourself isn't to distract yourself with techniques that avoid the problems of life. Rather you want to delve more deeply into the nature of the problem, and the best way to do is to uncover what is originally hidden.
As such the best we can do is to start by unravelling the psychological, emotional and physical processes and how these have led to a conditioned life. We often find that when these blockages are cleared surprising things can happen, which can lead us further on the path until hopefully one day there is no path left.
A word of advice before beginning: what is presented here is psychological technique by nature, so perhaps a good place to start is to check out if you have biases or attitudes towards this? In my experience western psychology has much to offer on the spiritual path, as much as eastern disciplines, but we all too often overlook the western because the eastern sounds a little more mystical or profound. What I would say about both though is they often shore up the illusion of the individual self as opposed to allowing oneself to undo as much of you as possible.
The first part of the technique is to look at the question itself. Is there a different path to spiritual contentment dependent on one's gender?
In using this technique, what we need to do is take the key concepts from the question. I would particularly look at the terms "spirituality" or "spiritual contentment," "gender" and "dependency" from that question. In the following I am going to use the term gender by way of example, but in reality you would repeat the exercise with each term in that question. In this technique the "term" or "word" is employed as a symbolic representation of something deeper that is often unconscious to us. Part of what we are trying to do is dig a little deeper than the surface level we normal operate on.
Here is an initial exercise that may start to help you question your beliefs about gender, etc.
What may be good to note at this point is that often different words or images are aroused from different bodily states. If that is the case we can then begin to question our beliefs about gender, maleness or femaleness. We can do the same with the terms spiritual contentment, spirituality, dependency or anything that strikes you as important about that question.
We can expand this exercise further by including different emotional states. For example, remember a time when you were particularly sad or depressed, and feel that as much as possible in the present moment. What happens to the list on gender now? Are different words or imagery conjured? Try it with a time when you were happy, even blissful. Does it change again? Try it with the other words and see what happens.
If there is something consistent in the lists regardless of your state of your being, then that is indicative of a very deeply held belief. Which is OK. But typically not everything is what it appears to be, so let us delve deeper.
If you are a female, go back to your original list for males and look at the ten words you have listed. If you're male, look at the original female list you created.
Repeat each word in mind and note which words seem to affect you the most at an emotional or physical level (bodily sensations). Usually you can get two or three such words from this exercise. If not, repeat the words again slowly in mind until you notice an emotional or physical reaction. The reaction does not necessarily have to be a negative response. It is more important to recognize a reaction, be it positive or negative, rather than trying to deliberately look for negative responses. In terms of physical sensations you could look at your breathing rate, any fidgeting, any shift in posture, any sensations felt in the body that were not there before you said the words in mind. It may even be useful to get a friend to observe you or video tape yourself in order to look for subtle cues of these sort when working on the physical aspects of this aspect. Little shifts in the body or posture can often be a rich source of investigation.
You should arrive at having two or three words in your list. You could continue this exercise may layers deep, by listing out ten words from the two or three words that affect you at some level and repeating the process. Usually thought one or two layers deep is sufficient enough to grab a hold of some underlying issues.
The next step is that for each remaining word in your list write down its opposite connotation. For example, we may attribute the word soft or softness to female. We would then look for associations that denote its opposite. Perhaps the word hard may come to mind as its opposite association. Then think upon the important females that have appeared in your life, particularly your mother, important lovers or sisters, and ask yourself how have they been hard on you? Also ask how have you been hard on them?
The next step is to get a very good definition of what hard may mean as it pertains to you. Not a dictionary meaning, but an experiential meaning. For example, does the word hard mean critical? Exactly and precisely what does this word mean for you? If it is a criticism, then journal as much as you can about how you relate to that criticism. How did it make you feel back then? How does it make you feel now? Is the feeling the same, is the intensity the same. Can you see a connection between the past and the way you are interacting in the world in the present day?
Other questions you could ask are as follows. If you could change things about them or you in relation to them, what would you change? What regrets are there? Is there any guilt or shame or anger involved there? Please feel free to expand and add questions as you feel fit in this exercise. What is presented here is more of a guideline rather than something written in granite.
If you find that there is something unresolved there, then congratulations. You have uncovered an unconscious attachment. That is a step on the path, where there are likely to be many steps of this nature while seeking. If so then it is likely that there is a deep seated attachment there that needs to be dissolved. If not then it is likely that the question itself or the symbols of the question are not particularly relevant to you. You can ask yourself what would it take for those emotions or physical sensations to dissolve? In this respect never make it to involve the other person. For example, if you feel betrayed do not make it that you need to hear an apology from the other person to let that emotional pull go. Make it up to yourself.
I tend to find that active deep breathing techniques, combined with some acupressure, work well in releasing energetic blocks of this type. I would also use writing in conjunction with those techniques. Writing tends to get things out in the open where you can more readily see some of the issues that are involved without being too caught in the emotion of them. What is worth remembering here is that what works well with one person may not work well with another. So part of the challenge of the seeker is to find something that works for them in terms of bringing awareness into the issue and then discovering something that works well for them in releasing the issue. In general though, the above mentioned things tend to work reasonably well for many, even if it is just a starting point for them.
Meditation as inquiry is also excellent in this regard. I tend to find that meditation works more effectively once something is bought to consciousness. So try not to disregard meditation. As I said earlier, you want to bring as much weight to bear on the issue at hand as you can.
So far I have mainly discussed the negative associations, but what happens if you discover that you have some positive associations as well?
The answer is to let go of them as well. For example, let us assume you have a deep association with love as is normally conveyed by society. That is an attachment just as much as guilt or anger or any other negatively perceived emotion is. In fact you may discover some interesting things about yourself when it is stated that something as noble as love has to be released as well.
More often than not a deep seated fear is revealed. For example, what is frightening to you about letting go of love? You may find that it is a fear of uncertainty at the core and if pushed further you may find that love is often used as a vehicle to gain a subtle form of control over self and others. What seems noble at the outset can often be a disguise for something else. It is also important to note that it may not be a fear of uncertainty, it may be something else, for example a fear of non-approval by others and so on. Try to not get locked into thinking it has to be one thing and one thing only. It could just as well be a whole cluster of issues involved there.
I would also like to make it clear that it is not the task of the seeker to become emotionless or loveless. Rather it is to see the true nature of emotions by uncovering what is at the core of them. That is the gist of this technique, to try and get a deeper understanding of what is occurring for you unconsciously. When you begin to do that then you experientially start to appreciate how your mind works and how others peoples' minds work.
Which bring us back to the original question. It isn't that important to answer that question unless that question is of particular relevance to you. It may well be for you as a female or male that there are gender differences, but these are only relevant if they affect your life at an intimate level. In other words don't let the question be at that general level of intellectualism but rather make it something about you. Then perhaps you may start to see that you may well have to do things differently from the next seeker and the next or perhaps you may have to follow the leads of seekers before you. It doesn't really matter which as long as that, in some way, it ultimately becomes about you and only you, which is not meant in the selfish sense of that phrase. It only means that you have to figure out what the question means for you personally and what you can discover from it about you in the most intimate way possible. Then you can start to remove the untruths in your life. You cannot remove untruths if they are buried deep in psyche. Know thyself.
On a final note, use this technique in other areas of your life, particularly emotionally charged areas and also when you have dreams. If you have a dream, then take the first sentence of your dream. That is always what the dream is about, and then just use the same format presented here, which should culminate in a deeper and more intimate understanding of you. Which of course will also have to be undone ultimately until nothing of you as an individual self remains.
~ See Eddie Traversa's Truth Realization blog.
I attend philosophical self-inquiry meetings weekly in Pittsburgh, where I am usually outnumbered by the men. I have also participated in a variety of women's "self-discovery" groups. So, I feel somewhat qualified to make observations about the differences between men's and women's spirituality. However, I am hardly qualified to determine if a man's approach to self-knowledge is better or worse than a woman's (and vice-versa). I am not awake, so who am I to say? What follows are the musings of a female sleepwalker.... :-)
The biggest difference I see—and this cannot POSSIBLY be a surprise—is that the men don't seem able to access their deepest feelings. Nearly all of them complain about their lack of intuition. Personal experience has shown that intuition goes hand-in-glove with access to feelings and fully inhabiting the body. But I watch as the men struggle to keep a logical thought from sinking below their neck, where it might hit the rest of their body. I like having access to my feelings and intuition, and constantly use it to guide me. But does this really matter on the road to Self-Realization? What is the difference if we cannot access our feelings, if they are simply just "thoughts on steroids"? A good run of luck—or grace—would be of far greater value than boatloads of intuition.
The other "totally not surprising" stereotype is that the gentlemen seem very fearful about committing to the search. Here is the way their thinking appears to go: "If I choose this path and totally commit to it with all my heart, something better may come along and I will miss out. So I won't commit to anything." Since my current belief is that our intentions are what truly propel us in our search for Truth, I do feel that this lack of commitment could possibly be a hindrance.
I'm not convinced that men and women are all that different when it comes to spirituality. The obstacles have no gender biases. Men and women are equally adept at projection, and just as equally adept at ignoring the fact that they are projecting at all. Distractions are another equal-opportunity phenomenon. Men are sidetracked by women, work, power, success, sex, money, sports, cars, yard work, tools, gear and all that "stuff." Women are distracted by men, work, power, wedding dresses, success, sex, money, baby showers, wedding dresses, shopping, pedicures, wedding dresses, and all that "stuff." So where does that leave us? Our favorite distractions keep all of us wandering aimlessly through life with giant stones in our eyes. Exceedingly few of us know what we really are at our core; so aren't we all just zombies wearing different gender-flavored-outfits?
OK. So, there MUST be something that differentiates the sexes in our search?
Back to commitment. I was watching a wonderful, heart-felt movie called Secondhand Lions. The sub-theme of "man meets woman and they fall madly in love" struck a metaphorical chord in me. The hero was unconditionally devoted to his true love, and fought imprisonment, evil forces, and adversity ["ego"] with full-on zeal and commitment, in order to obtain his True Love ["Truth"]. Perhaps this unwavering dedication to one's deepest desire is one of the secrets on the path to success? But, it would be experienced differently, depending on if you are a man or a woman.
For a man, who is typically hard-wired to be the chaser, the pursuit of Truth should come quite easily. He would be motivated to become a clear and perfect "vector" in his single-minded pursuit of the only thing that matters to him. Anything that got in his way would be sliced to pieces with his hero's sword, and he would direct this innate energy toward the quest to win the "heart" of his One True Love. Truth or Die.
But notice! This requires taking that nearly impossible Commitment step.
What about a woman? If our animal nature is hard-wired to be the chase-ee, how could this metaphor possibly be of any use to us? As seekers, we still have to chase Truth. Are women being cheated, simply because of our DNA?
No. Women could view this from a totally different angle. We have a different type of dragon to slay. Our genetic wiring causes us to have deep yearnings to be desired, cherished, and pursued with the passion and love of a Knight on a White Horse. We want to be The Only One, no matter what. We KNOW why we like the drama of a chick-flick. We know WHY—in our bones—we want the undying commitment and adoration of the chaser, and this could possibly give us a slight advantage. We know why commitment is important, and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it. We know what the chase-ee wants, so we should easily be able to drum up the chaser-energy and turn it around on ourselves, using it as a propellant on our path. Instead of waiting for our significant other to gallop into our fairy-tale and save us, we could "own" this projection and easily glide into the role of Chaser of Truth. We could direct this vector of energy inward and toward our search, rather than out into the world and onto a man. Commitment to Truth should come easy, because we know what we are committing to, how it feels, and how it works. We have a knowing-feeling-insight into why Truth wants to be chased.
The whole drama of "boy meets girl" is—by mundane standards—pretty gooey. But it is an undeniable archetype in our society that cannot be ignored. Perhaps we'll see that these silly stories are guideposts for us to follow on the road to Truth, teaching us about the value of devotion and commitment. Both sexes could use the drives already hard-wired in our animalistic cells to our advantage, to add this level of commitment to our search.
Is there a different path to spiritual answers by virtue of gender? In other words, can we envision two broad, generalized paths within which lie individualized paths? Before an answer, two disclaimers: one, I'm a guy. Two, my spiritual "upbringing" was highly influenced by Richard Rose—who felt the paths of men and women were definitely different.
As Rose said in his Boston College lecture:
Rose: …The female is able to pick this up very quickly, much more quickly than the man. It's like an intuition. A girl or a woman can come and hear me talk and they will know. They will know me.
Questioner: But the man will have to work at it?
This view distilled in my mind as: men must fight (think) their way to the Truth, while women feel their way. So I read a lot, pondered, debated, meditated, tried to control my mind, fasted, prayed, denied myself various pleasures, and dozens of other practices short and long-lived. The few women who passed through my world of spiritual interests… well, they did something else. Yes, they read, but not as much. They meditated, but not as consistently. They debated, but not as hotly. Yet many of the women seemed closer to an answer to their search.
I think men are designed by nature to conquer and protect. In a spiritual search, that manifests as deep discontent and intensity of action. Women are designed to keep themselves and their children alive. Women have a greater faith (based in intuition) in Life. In fact, the most remarkable difference I've noticed between men and women is that men are disturbed by the thought of death/non-existence, while women pay little mind to it. A major motivator on my path was seemingly of little use for women.
It seemed our paths were different. It seemed men were rather dense, but often determined, while women were more aware of something greater than themselves, but not taking action to pursue it or to definitely determine if their feeling was the final truth.
I reasoned that if you combined the strengths of men and women, you would be in a better position to find an answer.
Men start with thinking being their strongest tool and women have feeling/intuition as their strongest. I saw that women who applied some discrimination to their feeling, improved their feeling and consistency of efforts. I saw myself work to improve intuition and eventually discover that thinking and feeling originate from the same source.
Men must learn to fight with wisdom – in the direction their feeling leads them. Women must learn to learn—to discriminate between the feeling of Life and the feeling of the Absolute. In this way, the paths of men and women intersect and amplify each other.
Too many faces,
All these young souls are
Your presence is a scar,
I am becalmed again.
One man comes home
There are those who say the earth is hollow.
I do think there is a difference in the paths to spiritual contentment dependent on one's gender. However, I also think there are variations within that continuum based on individual differences.
I've heard that Mr. Rose often told women to have children rather than to remain childless. However, he always told me: "Live the spiritual life. Don't get married. Don't have children. The spiritual life is a beautiful life." I think I heard that once every six weeks. Up to this point I have only half listened, and it has worked very well for me.
I got married to someone who was already pretty far along on a spiritual path, so there is a certain spiritual compatibility. It is not what Mr. Rose prescribed, yet after a month-long isolation, I determined that the marriage thing wasn't going to let me go until I answered to it. It has worked out wonderfully and has never been anything but a help to my path.
As an intuitive versus a logical woman, I have found that not having children has been the most helpful thing to my path that I could ever have done. I find that a work environment versus a home-child environment helped me build the parts of my mind that were not as developed as the emotional-intuitive aspects. It allowed me to better become a process observer and to isolate the watcher.
However, I know from many logical women that having children helped them develop their more emotional-intuitive (the right side of Jacob's ladder) side in ways that they otherwise wouldn't have. Mr. Rose used to say that one had to become both man and woman to get there. I don't have a large enough sample size though to conduct a scientifically sound study on this.
Next to the big question of whether to have children or not, there are other parts of a woman's path that differ from a man's. For one, women have a cycle each month that men do not. That means that the hormones and therefore the thought patterns are shifting all month long for women. I have found this to be a tremendous advantage. However, initially, it was the only reason that I didn't know if I would make it as a seeker. It was horrible to overcome. Maybe it is the same trouble that men have with celibacy. For women, the desire to have children is built in by nature through a monthly cycle. It can be debilitating for a spiritual path in the beginning, and each month I found that I went from seeking to wanting to have children back to seeking.
Days 1-5 I was sad that I didn't have children, and days 12-14 I was interested in finding a mate to have children. I found Day 15 to be somewhat depressing, when the hormone levels drop after ovulation, since pregnancy was not in sight. Days 21-28 I was only interested in seeking an answer. Each month I went round and round.
Mr. Rose suggested keeping a journal to see how my thinking tracked the hormone cycle, and I distinctly remember eight months after starting it that, when I read back over the previous eight months, I saw that I had the same thoughts the same time of the month for eight months. I remember crying and writing in my journal that I was just a big ol' hormone cycle and nothing more.
However, after six years of watching the cycle and trying not to get sucked in, the clock finally stopped ticking. I had a profound experience in which I realized that all I had to do was follow God's will and nothing more in life and that all wouldn't just be okay, it would be miraculous. At that moment, my clock stopped ticking, and I just worked on listening and following. No more clock causing me a problem. This was a major step forward on my path as it was the end of my wanting to have children.
The advantage to the cycle is that if used strategically, it can be a boon in terms of spiritual insight and experience that makes the cycle more valuable than not having it. For example, days 1-5 provide the optimal times for intuition to occur naturally. Since they appear to be the days where intuition meets logic in perfect balance, I find that days 16-19 are optimal for thinking over difficult concepts. Days 21-27 are the most logical days when I can view any issue in terms of cold hard logic with little emotion, which can be helpful for different parts of the path.
Mr. Rose used to always say "milk from thorns." I think a woman's cycle is the one thing that keeps women from pursuing philosophical truths. However, when used with a little insight, the cycle can provide many different states of mind in which to view one's spiritual path and issues each month. I find that superior to not having a cycle back when I was 12.
The spiritual path is one of losing the self in order to find the Self. Another way of saying this is that we lose our identification with what is not the self in becoming consciously aware of our true identity.
While ultimately leading to the same answer, the paths for any two individuals are going to be unique. But the mentalities of the individuals and the paths they follow can be grouped into broad categories. Gurdjieff described four such groupings: the way of the fakir for instinctive personalities, the way of the monk (emotional), of the yogi (intellectual), and of the fourth-way traveler (philosophical). Douglas Harding splits the paths into two camps: the religious and the psychological. He puts himself in the former, where I would also include Jesus and Bernadette Roberts. In the latter I would include Buddha, Richard Rose and Franklin Merrell-Wolff.
It seems to me that two categories are sufficient to make the distinction between the people on the one hand who are primarily trying to feel their way to Truth and those on the other who are trying to think their way. The first is the bhakti or devotional approach, the aim of which is for the self to be subsumed in some object of worship. That approach would lead to becoming one with one's God as an interim step, then both the self and God would have to disappear for the final Self-realization.
The second grouping is philosophical self-inquiry, which is a progressive elimination of what can be observed—and is not, therefore, the observer or the subject of the inquiry. This is the path which I surmise that Ramana Maharshi followed from start to finish in 45 minutes at the age of 17—if the biographical sketch provided by Arthur Osborne in The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi is accurate—when he had the feeling that he was dying and asked himself, without flinching, what of him would remain. At the other extreme of elapsed time on this path is someone like John Wren-Lewis, who reached the culmination of his search at age 59.
Neither thinking nor feeling takes us all the way. Eventually a direct knowing, or knowing by identity, supersedes the types of knowing that we're familiar with. But to get to that point, a great deal of thinking and feeling may need to occur.
One of the areas that biological science has provided lots of material on in recent years is that thinking and feeling are greatly influenced by the hormones in the individual's bloodstream at any time and by the brain differentiations that may have occurred due to hormonal washes during fetal development. This is where we can tackle the possible impact of gender on one's spiritual path.
From what I understand, the sex of the embryo is determined at conception but the default "wiring" of mammalian embryos is female, with gender differentiation depending on the presence of testosterone washes at critical stages of fetal development. The earliest testosterone wash switches gonad development from ovaries to testes, while two subsequent ones determine psychological patterns and secondary sexual characteristics.
The female or default wiring of the brain regulates hormone levels differently than does the male wiring. In the female, an increase of female hormones opens the flood gates for yet more production, thus leading to the well-studied cycle of hormonal changes over the menstrual cycle. In the male brain, an increase of male hormones leads to lower production, thus maintaining more of a steady state. Since thinking and feeling are closely related to hormonal levels, gender will have an impact on how we go about "spiritual work" or self-definition.
The male mentality is usually associated with thinking and reasoning as predominant, the female gender with feeling and intuition. I've known plenty of guys whose feelings dominated their reasoning, and a few women whose intellect obscured their intuition, but there is a widely-recognized divide that falls along male-female lines.
A more pronounced difference may be the characteristics of how the ego, the individuality-sense, drops away in men and women. The female ego seems designed to drop easier but not fall so far, while the male ego seems designed to put up more of a struggle and to plummet further when it does let go.
The final dropping or letting go of the ego occurs in the death-experience that triggers awakening, the end of the spiritual search. And it appears that males who reach the end of the search far outnumber females. My suspicion is that this has something to do with the way the male and female brains react to the inevitability of death.
Robert Pollack, in The Missing Moment, reiterates Kubler-Ross's stages of dying (i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) and comments that the middle stages are increasing and more fundamental states of denial. I think that the female brain is wired to be more adept at denying the reality of death than the male.
The male is by nature more apt to be motivated by death and to fight that fundamental affliction to the ego. The female is by nature more apt to recognize the link between love and death, and to be drawn to awakening by a path of devotion or love.
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