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The Dalai Lama caused quite a stir at the 2009 Peace Summit in Vancouver. He said that “the world would be saved by Western women.” His statement received a range of responses, but many women found it empowering, and it catalyzed women-focused initiatives.
The Dalai Lama specifically said that Western women are the ones to do the saving. From my perspective, the changes humans need to make will happen through everyone’s conscious effort. Perhaps he singled Western women out because less of us are living in survival mode; we have our basic needs for clean air, water, food, and housing met.
Unlike women in other parts of the world, women who live in developed countries hold a tremendous amount of privilege and power, and using this, we can have a huge positive impact. The privilege and power we possess stems from our education, economic stability, and increasing political voice. If we wield this power wisely, we could individually and collectively have an impact that brings back the planet and all life on Earth from the brink of extinction.
Changing How Human Needs Are Met
We have reasons to change the current story of how human needs are met. A well-considered plan of how we collectively thrive into the future is needed, and to do that we need legislation that is created through a diversity of experience and perspectives.
While women are becoming increasingly visible in politics across the world, it is still the exception. Until recently, the majority of these politicians participated in upholding the old and limited vision for the world: that wealth is only based on financial and material capital.
Women have increased economic spending power today, and companies are very much aware of this and direct a considerable amount of their marketing budgets toward getting us to part with our money. One way this is done is to play on our sense of self-worth. To be good enough, we have to look a certain way, have a particular body size, wear specific clothes, have an extensive shoe collection, and use up a lot of our time getting waxed or tucked to attain this ideal image.
My own attention was captured when I was in my early teens. I was an avid reader of women’s fashion magazines; it was the next natural step from reading girls’ comics. I thought it was the epitome of being a grown-up and looked forward to the beginning of the month when I could collect my copy of Vogue from the newsagent at the end of the street and then spend the rest of the day leafing through the pages, gazing at the images. It was part of my education of how to be a woman, what was expected of me, how I needed to show up.
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One day I was reading Elle magazine, when all of a sudden I noticed that there was no substance to it, just page after page of advertising, and while there was usually one in-depth article, the rest was a regurgitation of the same themes that perpetuated a sense of inadequacy and lack of worth in me.
To set aside those magazines and stop wasting my time and money with them was a moment of liberation. The occasional engaging and informative articles were not worth wading through everything else that perpetuated this myth of beauty—that I had to wear this dress or that particular makeup to be valued.
Setting aside those magazines closed off a significant marketing channel for companies that wanted me to acquire their stuff and with it an onslaught of messaging that told me how to be as a woman. Now I tend to live a reasonably minimalist life, and looking after what I do have is enough for me. I don’t want to be part of an economic growth worldview that requires me to consume a huge and unnecessary number of items just to prove that I’m worth loving, worth caring about. I stopped consuming in that way, and I am still loved.
Building and Creating Trust With Each Other
In another talk, the Dalai Lama spoke of the need for us to build trust with each other. Trust in one another makes it possible for us to cooperate and collaborate in response to the collective problems we face.
A component of creating trust is the ability to empathize with another’s circumstances genuinely. As we know from the work of Gina Rippon in The Gendered Brain, the ability to empathize, be compassionate, and to care is not exclusive to women; however, we do tend to be socialized for this behavior and have more access to these qualities, as well as being the ones who birth children and do what we can to ensure their well-being.
Honing our ability for empathy, to walk in another’s shoes and genuinely gain a sense of what life is like for them, could be another clue for the new worldview and culture we need to create.
When I was in my twenties, I had the good fortune to discover and train in the Japanese healing form of shiatsu, which is based on traditional Chinese medicine. Through my teacher Marianne Fuenmayor, I learned an empathetic approach to healing. She taught us that as practitioners we were not to try to fix the person, we were to connect with them, with the imbalance they experienced in their body, and to simply be with it, observe, and be present. Through this training, I learned to listen to people, hear their pain, and gently support them in their healing journey.
I learned to work with qi (chi), our life force, as it moved in channels, or meridians, throughout the body, and I experienced first hand the healing benefits of consciously working with qi—not only on my physical body but also on my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
I was required to take up a meditation practice, in order to develop my ability to be present with my own energy field and with the energy in a client’s body and “listen” for what was needed in the healing session. It was also during this training that I learned the importance of being conscious of what I eat and that appropriate food choices could prevent future health problems.
We are fortunate to still have these living practices, in particular those from Asia, which focus on nurturing, cultivating, and strengthening our life force, which in China is known as qi and in India, prana. This life force appears to be connected to our breath. If you practice qigong or yoga postures, you can develop your awareness of your life force as it moves in and through you and permeates everything in nature.
Embracing the Feminine & Masculine; Yin & Yang; Day & Night
In ancient times, people who cultivated their life force through the practice of these movement forms perceived and documented two fundamental qualities of energy: energy that is in motion—outward, forward in direction, and focused—and another that, while moving, has a stillness to it—inward and down, expansive and soft. These two qualities of our life force are often described as “feminine” and “masculine” energies, or as they are known in China, yin and yang, respectively.
Both yin and yang exist within all of us—women and men—and can be observed in nature. They are day and night, the side of the mountain that faces the sun and is bathed in light and the side that is always in the shade. It is the seed that grows to full flower and then brings its energy inward to create new seeds. In nature, these qualities set up a dynamic polarity that makes the cycles of life possible.
The tendency has been to conflate these energetic qualities with gender; that is, men have “masculine” energy and women have “feminine” energy. While it might be the case that women tend toward demonstrating the qualities of feminine energy more than men, this could in large part be due to the dominant culture being set up to prevent us from fully embracing our masculine energy.
We need to aim for a holistic approach in practice, so that we can activate either or both qualities appropriately in any given situation. It is through this balanced flow—moving outward and active, then moving inward to stillness and reflection, the actions of giving and receiving—that we settle into our sovereignty.
Being Sovereign Of Our Life
Being sovereign of our life means we can bring an appropriate response to whatever we encounter, whether it is something that comes through our own creativity or that of another. Our sovereign selves live from a place of agency, able to tap into an innate knowing whether now is the moment to activate our outgoing, direct, and focused energy, or is the moment to embrace the part of our life force in which we become still, inward listening, and reflective.
The process of becoming sovereign of our lives requires a strategic approach in which we examine all aspects of our lives; identify areas where our life force is oppressed, suppressed, or depressed; and take appropriate action to free it and allow it to flow again.
Being Authentically Engaged With Life
When our energy is flowing, we are authentically engaged with life. We are then free of the fear of not doing something right, or in a way that others think we should do it, or how it’s always been done. We then live with nothing to lose, because we are involved in the most ecstatic experience of feeling the natural flow of our energy, and moving with it as it moves with the larger energy fields of nature.
When our life force is trapped, stuck, or stagnant, our behavior is out of alignment with our natural self, and we can become depressed or suffer life-threatening illness.
When you are sovereign, you are directly living your life, with nothing in between. Your experience is not mediated through someone else—your spouse or partner, your boss or colleague.
When you are sovereign, you collaborate and cooperate, but you participate fully in that, rather than going along with someone else’s plan. When you are tuned into your sovereignty, life will start to collaborate and co-create with you.
Dancing With Life
Have you ever had the experience of thinking something and then, in a physical form, you encounter what you were thinking about? You think about a loved one and seconds later the phone rings, and there they are, talking to you. Or you remember you wanted to contact a friend about doing something together and then they appear at your door. This is life dancing with you.
When we step into the full power of our sovereignty, we pick up the responsibility to care for and engage with the domains of our life. Becoming sovereign of your life goes hand in hand with becoming a steward and protector of all life on Earth.
©2020 by Ariane Burgess. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted from the book: Life Design for Women
Publisher: Findhorn Press, a divn. of Inner Traditions Intl..
Life Design for Women: Conscious Living as a Force for Positive Change
by Ariane Burgess
Life Design for Women engages you in a simple, reflective visioning process to help you redesign your life to be more satisfying, meaningful, and aligned with your goals. Step by step, you will examine your life as it is, the influences of your past, and the future you envision for yourself. You will survey the domains of your life--from how you create “home” to your relationships with loved ones, food, your body, the Earth, and even Death. Applying the regenerative principles of sustainability to life design, author Ariane Burgess provides reflective exercises and practical tools to help you examine each of these domains, engage with natural systems, honor the feminine life force, and design your future. (Also available as a Kindle edition.)
About the Author
Ariane Burgess is a regenerative designer. She is constantly designing and implementing regenerative projects, which include the Labyrinth for Contemplation in Battery Park, New York, and the Findhorn Food Forest in Scotland. She is passionate about facilitating transformative learning spaces for people who want to embrace regenerative design as a response to the crisis points currently converging on Earth. She lives in the Findhorn community, Scotland.