Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

A Call to Dialogue About Gender February 8, 2013

UntitledAfter my last post, Lorrie B said that gender is a huge elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. It’s true. But talking is essential if we’re to heal our gender-related wounds, so in this post I’ll offer topics for conversations.

Tribalism: Our species is between 100 and 150 thousand years old. In that time we’ve made more progress taming the instincts of carnivorous canine and feline pack animals than our own. Why are we still so territorial? So hostile toward members of our own species whose only differences from us are physical appearances and culturally- and geographically-conditioned adaptations? Episcopal priest Matthew Fox says that as a species we are extremely dangerous and our tribalism is eating us alive. What roles do gender issues play in tribalism? What changes can men and women take to eliminate it?

Violence: Lorrie B also noted that men, onto whom we’ve traditionally projected our masculine drive (self-preservation) and values, are accountable for over 90 % of the world’s violence. Why are women (onto whom we’ve projected our feminine drive of species-preservation with its values of caring, connecting and relating) and spiritually enlightened people of both genders still so ineffective in reducing violent conflicts? Is testosterone the only culprit? How can the genders cooperate in healing our violent tendencies?

Male-Dominated Spirituality: Our “primitive” forebears appreciated and worshiped the sacredness of all life in its masculine and feminine aspects. Why do so many “advanced” Westerners believe that a one-sided masculine-oriented spirituality is preferable? Why has organized religion failed to solve the problems of male violence and female oppression? Why do both genders submit to external religious authorities instead of acting on the truth of these words from the Dalai Lama? “We can do without religion, but not compassion.” Didn’t Jesus and Mohammed teach the same thing? Why is Mother Teresa the female spirit person who most readily comes to mind? What can we learn from her?

Gender Stereotypes: Why do gender stereotypes still abound? Why are some people still rigidly obsessed with defending them, especially ones related to sexuality and fundamental personal rights? Why do some of us privately project logic and rationality onto males and sensitivity and emotionality onto females even though both genders contain the psychological potential for both? We’ve had three generations of world-wide immersion in technologically produced visual images, beginning with photography, and moving into film, television, and computers. Why are we still so visually illiterate and vulnerable to subtle manipulation by the media? When and how does advertising take advantage of gender stereotypes and perpetuate unhealthy ones? Who wins from this practice? Who loses? Is it true that men are more out of touch with their feelings than women? Why? Why do women seem to find it easier to integrate their masculine sides than men, their feminine sides? What factors account for the high divorce rate in North America? Why do the genders still have difficulty understanding each other and communicating?

Exploitation of Women, Children and Nature: What can I say about human trafficking, child labor, and sexual exploitation? About the rape of Nature, our Mother? These things are unspeakably appalling and both genders are complicit. God help us. With all the freely given bounty and beauty of life we certainly haven’t excelled at preserving it or helping ourselves and each other enjoy it! Why?

I know most of us would rather imagine figures of light than face dark realities, so if these questions have aroused uncomfortable emotions or offended sensibilities I hope you’ll understand and forgive. May we all advance toward Buddhism’s goal of joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.

My newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at this Amazon link or at Larson Publications, Inc.


Disney Princesses August 30, 2011

In the 1970’s Westerners experienced a huge surge of awareness about gender stereotypes and we began a concerted effort to free ourselves from them. One issue receiving a lot of attention was how the depictions of female characters in traditional literature unconsciously influenced little girls’ beliefs about themselves and their place in the world. This led many women, myself included, to revisit our personal stories to see how we had limited ourselves.

Huge changes occurred in our cultural stories too. Television shows like Charlie’s Angels  featured women in roles that had been traditionally reserved for men.  Scholars like Marija Gimbutas (The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe) and Merlin Stone (When God Was A Woman) wrote books that examined feminine aspects of spirituality. New volumes of fairy tales were re-written to give the female characters more power and control over their lives. Since then, our growing awareness has fostered greater gender balance in many sectors of society.

How then do we account for the phenomenon of the Disney Princesses? Some see them as positive role models for their daughters, but many see them as stereotypes which are bound to scar our daughters’ minds.  Why do they think this?  Because the rule for female leads in such tales as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast is that they must be young, beautiful, sweetly shy, innocently seductive, charmingly vulnerable, and, for the most part, deferential to males. Moreover, although there are occasional deviations, the plots almost always follow the  masculine-hero-rescues-feminine-victim-and-conquers-villain formula for heroic behavior.

If we take these stories as literal models for gender behavior in the outer world  they are, indeed, limiting. But what if we see them as symbolic of the inner life of the soul which has a masculine and a feminine drive? What if we realize that each of us contains a sweet and vulnerable Cinderella/Snow White/Aurora/Belle Orphan who needs to be rescued from its child-like dreaminess so we can become conscious, mature, and responsible? What if we recognize the cruel Stepmothers, Stepsisters, and untamed Beasts within us who can influence us adversely if we do not become more aware of them?  What if we see that helpful Fairy Godmothers, noble Kings and Queens, and heroic savior Princes are also part of our potential and we can choose to empower them if we wish?

The characters and plots of our cultural stories are projections of our psyches that show us who we are and who we have the potential to become. If we view them as opportunities for self-reflection they can be portals to growth and self-discovery. The Disney Princesses represent a youthful stage of development of our feminine sides. As such, they will appeal to most children for a little while. A few might even stay in that stage throughout their lives — perhaps because the archetype is simply a powerful part of their true personality, or perhaps because they’re afraid to risk changing — but most will grow beyond it. And when they do, there are plenty of other role models out there to pick from.

At 6 and 9 my granddaughters have already outgrown the Disney Princesses. I wonder how long it will be before they discover Barbie and Ken…


The Meaning of Success May 14, 2011

The other day a friend and I were talking about why so many people lead unfulfilling lives. As is my habit, I immediately went for the psychological explanation and pursued it with my usual fervor. I said it’s because of a lack of consciousness: we don’t consider or pursue all our options because we’re locked into our culturally-conditioned assumptions about how we’re supposed to live our lives.

He thought economic injustice was a more decisive factor. Then he told me about someone he knows who has pursued his passion for art for twenty years without success. He doesn’t have enough time or money to devote to it because he works exhausting hours at a low-paying job he hates just to stay afloat.

This, of course, is an excellent point! My argument was far too simplistic. I’m reminded of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory about the hierarchy of needs. Only when the basic needs at the two lowest levels — the needs for physical survival, personal and financial security, health, and safety — are met can a person be motivated to seek and value love and belonging at the third level. And only when enough of these needs are met does s/he acquire enough fourth-level self-esteem and self-respect to pursue the fifth-level needs for meaning, self-actualization, self-realization, and self-transcendence.

There are critics of this theory, but I hear the ring of truth in it. I’ve been taking for granted the fact that despite my humble beginnings, enough of my basic needs have been met to give me the luxury of pursuing the “higher” needs which have brought so much meaning and joy to my life. My argument must be painful and offensive to those who don’t have that luxury, and I’m deeply ashamed for not being more sensitive to this reality. My friend is way ahead of me in that regard.

As we batted our thoughts back and forth like a tennis ball, we found ourselves at a dividing line in the fourth “court” of self-esteem and self-respect. According to Wikipedia, “Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one. The lower one is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. The higher one is the need for self-respect, the need for strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence and freedom. The latter one ranks higher because it rests more on inner competence won through experience. Deprivation of these needs can lead to an inferiority complex, weakness and helplessness.”

Yes, there are deeply troubling educational, governmental and economic inequities, and correcting them must be our first priority. Moreover, as my friend rightly pointed out, some people who achieve status and prestige — often along with a lot of money — only got them through dumb luck while the majority of virtuous, hard-working, well-meaning, law-abiding people never gets them no matter how hard they try.  What I was trying to express is equally true: exploiting the common assumption that gaining the high opinion of others is more important than working to develop self-esteem and inner competence is also misguided and unjust.

Alone, fame and glory rarely lead to fulfillment. True and lasting success is acquiring self-knowledge, self-respect and self-acceptance, and until we start spreading and acting on this “higher” message, we will continue to seek the wrong things and feel like failures when we don’t get them.

You can find “Healing the Sacred Divide” at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.


No More Toxic Air Waves, Please October 30, 2010

It’s a glorious autumn day in Central Florida. The air is coolish (for Florida) and refreshingly dry. The sky is a soft pale blue, unlike the dense, sun-baked, heavy blue of summer which seems to hold in humidity like a bell jar. Today you can breathe easily and feel pleasure in it. I like to imagine that the beards of Spanish moss waving gently from the still-green bald cypress trees are enjoying the air as much as I am.

Summers here can be harsh, which is why I escape to the mountains. I’m so lucky to be able to do this. I have been, and continue to be, the most fortunate of women. I did not grow up with materialistic goals or consumer values. We lived comfortably in mid-century America with few luxuries and no sense of being deprived. We listened to light-hearted radio shows on weekend mornings and had no television set until I was eleven; and then there were only three channels. What I heard and saw from advertising, news programs, and politicians in those days may have been impossibly innocent, idealistic and unrealistic, but most of it gave me hope that the grown-ups in charge were noble, wise, honest, kind-hearted and well-intentioned. I had faith that they had everyone’s best interest at heart, and I trusted them to tell me the truth.

I married a strong, intelligent man of good character and together we bought our first home, raised two extraordinary children, and created a comfortable life. With the help of scholarships, loans, careful investments, a pay-as-you-go mentality, love, good health, and good jobs we are now living the American dream. Our children are doing the same thing. And our grandchildren….. aaaah…..I smile with joy and pleasure when I think of them. We’ve been kind to each other and America has been kind to us. And we are very, very grateful.

But one thing, one seemingly subtle and ordinary — but to me very ominous — thing is spoiling my pleasure in my daily life and clouding my vision of my grandchildren’s future here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is a very unkind poison new to our generation that is as toxic to human life as the carbon monoxide from cars, sulfur oxides in acid rain, or nitrogen oxides blanketing cities in hazy brown domes of smog.

The poison I am referring to threatens the health and welfare of our minds, spirits and souls. It is the hateful, hostile, divisive, deliberately deceitful, greed- and power-motivated name-calling, finger-pointing messages spewing out of the air waves into homes, cars and businesses in every town and state of our country.

The scariest thing of all is that this gleeful, blatant, conscienceless lying and fear-mongering is beginning to seem normal. And our children and grandchildren are exposed to this toxic unkindness every day. I can tell you from long experience that the massive, invasive, unrelenting presence of irresponsible journalism, advertising, and political campaigning is neither normal nor healthy. This is very bad news for our souls, for America, and for the world.

That’s why I don’t listen to Fox News and have joined Must the American dream of a kind world and better future die with my generation? Dear God, I hope not.


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