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The L-Word is a monthly publication based out of Humboldt County, CA written by and for local queers highlighting local and international events and hot topics.

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Women's Spirituality

Rainbow Flower

Montanna is in a Women's Spirituality graduate program at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, and she's been sharing some of what she's learning with our readers since Janaury 2010. Here are a few of her recent articles.

Women's Spirituality on the Move

It was bound to happen. You can only get so much from a power-over structure. You know the one where your voice gets lost in the argument about who is in control. Relationship is where shared power resides. As we interact with each other we create our community, our lives. The way we live our daily lives indicates our spirituality. Look deep into any organized religion and at its foundation you will find women doing the work that holds the congregation together, that brings together and nourishes the church family. This relation-oriented structure can be found in most families, spiritual communities, and around kitchen tables. Pot-lucks and picnics, baby showers and play dates, festivals and celebrations are all surrounded by activities that involve relating to each other. And usually there are women there who provide the glue, the cheer, the container that holds the action. This is women's spirituality and it is on the move.

I have completed the first quarter of a two year program in Women's Spirituality. Each class (we meet about one weekend a month) provides a safe place where the 13 women in our cohort (we call it a coheart) explore our spirituality and learn about other spiritual expressions through reading, lectures, our own presentations, and discussions. Have you ever written down your own spiritual autobiography? That act alone will bring insights about your own beliefs. Then share it with your partner or a friend. You will know each other better. If you are interested in Islam, I recommend that you read The Trouble with Islam by Irshad Manji. She cleared up many of my misconceptions and with humor too.

I learned about the term synchronicity. Jung used this term to describe the curious way in which ordinary, external reality can suddenly click into alignment with one's inner world. These events or recognitions have to do with something mystics have always tried to convey: that the knowledge and the truth and clarity we are seeking isn't "out there" at all, but deep inside. Carol Flinders describes it well in her book At the Root of This Longing, "Certain insights want to break out into daylight, but we hold them down, fearing the kind of change that might take place if we knew them experientially and all at once. Down through time, we've evolved different methods by which they can emerge, in small, manageable doses. We throw the I Ching, we deal our tarot cards, we analyze our dreams, and through these fissures in ordinary logic we can in effect nudge ourselves along - Self talking to self in a heavily coded language." There is evidence that this phenomenon is picking up speed and becoming more widespread as women leave behind the power-over situations that try to control them. We are developing new ways to relate to each other and the world. So next time you are part of a small gathering, be aware that this is the foundation of the world and you are a major participant in its quality and effectiveness. This is how we bring love into the world and manifest a better life for all. Blessings for all you do. Have a wonderful New Year!

Montanna Jones, January 2010

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Festival and Ritual

The headline on the BBC News website reads, "India's southern state of Kerala may have hosted the largest gathering of women ever seen on the planet." Actually I heard one reporter say it could be as many as three million women. Kerala is one of the states in India. It has always had a matriarchal structure and there are many goddesses worshiped there. This particular festival is called the Pongala Festival and is celebrated each year in spring. The article tells us that "Clad in traditional Kerala saris and bearing offerings of food, more than two million women thronged the state capital Trivandrum on Sunday. The women braved searing heat to offer a special meal at the Attukal temple to Hindu goddess Bhagavathy--one incarnation of the potent goddesses Kali and Saraswati. They were seeking her blessing for the health and prosperity of their families--and the special meal, known as the pongala, was later distributed back at home."

I first heard about this festival from one of my professors, Dianne Jennet, who has been attending the festival since 1997. Women bring a pot, some wood, rice and jaggery. They set up on both sides of the city's streets, beginning at the temple and spreading out from there. At a precise time, a signal is given and everyone lights their fires at the same time. The pot must be boiled until it boils over. The article says, "The legend goes that Bhagavathy once visited the spot where the temple stands today on the banks of the Killiyar river. The goddess, in the guise of a girl, sought the help of the head of a local family to cross the river. He helped her--but she vanished soon after. In the ancient religious texts, Bhagavathy is said to annihilate evil and protects the good in this world--she grants every wish of her devotees. This is also the fervent hope of the women who come year on year." When she first attended the festival, Professor Jennet took pictures and participated in the festival. When she asked her hosts what she could do to repay their wonderful hospitality, they asked her to get them into the Guinness World Records. So she took the documentation that she had collected and formally requested that the festival be entered into the record. The news article states, "Guinness World Records certified the crowd strength was 1.5 million when it was assessed for the first time in 1997. Attukal Bhagavathy Temple Trust secretary KP Ramachandran Nair says that from next year an agency associated with the National Geographic channel will conduct aerial surveys for a more scientific headcount."

Another ritual that Professor Jennet told our class about is the making of Kolams. These are used to create domestic sacred space. In front of each home in Kerala, the kolam is made each day by a woman living in the house. If there is no kolam there, then it probably means that the woman of the house is away or ill. It is basically a line drawing done using rice powder. It is put in the front entrance to a home so that as you walk through it the rice powder attaches to your feet and blesses the whole community as you walk around. By looking at the kolam in front of a house you can tell what is going on inside. Perhaps there is a birthday or it signals that the family is doing well. Each morning before sunrise the women go outside, wash the area and sweep it in preparation and then make the design. It is said that the power of a woman's hand is fluid and the Shakti or energy moves from their hands thru the kolam to be picked up by the feet and transported through the day. Dr. Jennet did a kolam every day for three years in front of her house in Palo Alto, CA. People stopped and asked what it was and sometimes people would leave small gifts on the design. Eventually, the women from India who lived in her neighborhood felt brave enough to make a kolam in front of their homes too. Interesting way to build community and bless us all.

Montanna Jones

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Judy Grahn

I met her in the early 1970s. I was feeling very confused after discovering that I am a lesbian. She wrote about things that needed explanation and helped answer some very basic questions about being a woman and what that meant; about being a lesbian and what that meant. The answers provided by those claiming expertise in psychology and religion to such questions only brought shame and self-loathing and certainly didn't describe what I was experiencing.

Judy Grahn will celebrate her 70th birthday at the end of July. A few years ago she came to Humboldt and performed at a concert at HSU. Judy and Anne Carol created a group they call Lunarchy. Their new CD of the same title is extraordinary. As Judy states in the CD notes, "I waited most of my writing life for a composer to come along who could wrap gorgeous music and strong beats around my poems, fearless toward both the lyrical and the gravelly. Anne Carol has done both and more." In 2009, Aunt Lute Press published The Judy Grahn Reader which contains much of her work: poetry, essays, and stories (317 pages worth).

If that wasn't enough, over the last 20 years Judy Grahn has also developed a theory of the development of human consciousness. This theory can be compared in scope to the theory of human physical evolution put forth by Darwin. She described it in her book Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World and provided additional research and development during her Ph.D. dissertation in 1999. Basically Metaformic Theory describes how ancestral women noticed the connections between the lunar cycles and our menstruation cycles. The menstrual-lunar relationship pulled human consciousness outside itself. The theory goes further and describes the development of culture.

After studying the theory for a year, I wanted to share how it changed my way of thinking. Previously I considered that in general cultures were in competition and I had a tendency to rank them in a hierarchical order (good, better, best). Now I believe that our cultural ways have developed over eons and the beginnings of culture were essentially the same across the globe. As time progressed each group developed their own rituals to hold information that was passed down to the next generation. Now we have many ways to explain the world and our place in it. These ways are not in competition. They are just different expressions of human understandings. The theory has changed my view of the possibilities for the future. Our world is getting very small. We now have instant communication with each other around the world. I believe Metaformic Theory will be the underpinning humans need to make the changes in consciousness that we must make in order for us and the planet to survive. For more information visit www.metaformia.org.

Judy Grahn is a professor and a co-director of the Women's Spirituality Master's program at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (www.itp.edu) in Palo Alto. She, along with professors Dianne Jenett and D'vorah Grenn have created a space, a container, which allows women to research using their own intuition, spirituality and other talents. The program is WASC accredited and academically rigorous. They foster the idea that women should be describing their own spiritual experiences and understandings rather than rely on previous definitions. The program they have developed allows women the space to explore ourselves and our own talents, which help us to describe the world through our own eyes. The women in my coheart (our group that stays together in our classes through the 2 years of the program) come from unique and differing perspectives. While we all learned together, I have watched as each in turn has explored her own relationship with her own spirituality. Each used her own talents and creativity in amazing ways. We have added to the rising voice of those who have been voiceless in the past. What a blessing. And Judy hasn't stopped. There is more to come. So for now, in this time and place, I offer my heartfelt gratitude for all you do. May your years be many, many more.

Happy Birthday, Judy! Thank you for all you have given us!

Montanna Jones, August 2010

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Space and Time

I never questioned the way western science defined and structured my view of the world until I read Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples by Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Ngati Awa and Ngati Porou). She is an Associate Professor in Education at the University of Auckland.

She writes from the "vantage point of the colonized" and states that most people who use the terms colonialism and imperialism see colonialism as one expression of imperialism. Smith stated that imperialism is used in basically four ways: 1) as economic expansion, 2) as the subjugation of 'others', 3) as an idea or spirit with many forms of realization; and 4) as a discursive field of knowledge; a philosophical method of going from premises to conclusions in a series of 'logical' steps which covers many apparently unconnected subjects.

Five hundred years ago the term was first used to explain the economic expansion of Europe (1). For Europeans to maintain control over this expansion meant that the indigenous populations had to be subjugated and colonialism facilitated that process (2). The imperial imagination enabled European nations to imagine the possibility that new worlds and new wealth existed that could be discovered and controlled. (3) Naming, defining, and evaluating human activities and peoples (4) are detrimental to the indigenous people but very effective control for the Europeans. So control is kept by determining who is in and who is out, who is human and who is not. For example if one is a lesbian, they are not capable of true love. Or if one did not do things the way Europeans did, they were savage and uncivilized. Smith says it this way; "The reach of imperialism into 'our heads' challenges those who belong to colonized communities to understand how this occurred, partly because we perceive a need to decolonize our minds, to recover ourselves, to claim a space in which to develop a sense of authentic humanity." Yes indeed!

If we consider time and space, then the naming and defining of those two concepts produces a world view that orders our lives. Smith states that Western thought generally defines space as separate from time, fixed, well-defined and without politics. The specific spatial vocabulary that is used she categorized into three groups: the Line, the Center, the Outside. Lines are used in maps, charts, roads, boundaries, and genealogies. Orientation of the Center is toward the system of power: Congress, church, mother country, etc. The Outside defines people and territory in an oppositional position to the Center. Those spaces become defined as empty land, uninhabited, unoccupied, uncharted, etc.

The more I read of Smith's work the clearer it became that all of us in this present society, right here and right now accept these definitions without question. To illustrate this I want to tell you about a time when I lived in the mountains. I took my road (the Line) to my parcel of land (line) that was deeded to me through Humboldt County Assessors Office (the Center) making it 'official'. There was a time in the 1980s when military jets broke the sound barrier in the air above my parcel. The mountains where I lived were very steep and the contours of the land magnified the effects of the boom (energy wave) from the jets. When we complained, we discovered that we were on the Outside because we were living in an uninhabited area, so the military (the Center) was not doing anything wrong. "Uninhabited!" I said to my partner at the time. "What do they think we are? Do we not exist, all of a sudden? What about all the life around me?" So there we were, my partner and I and all our belongings and the birds, foxes, bears, rats, mountain lions, snakes, possum, skunks, raccoons, spiders, trees, flowers, vegetables, brush, grasses, ferns, etc. The space we all occupied was deemed uninhabited by a Center of authority with whom we had no relationship. That naming and defining allowed them to use that space in any way they chose. Years later it was discovered that the jets activity actually broke the eggs of birds nesting in the trees.

I am concerned about this because it affects our spiritual lives. We experience this world through our senses and these definitions box us into prescribed thought patterns which defines nature as Outside. This is contrary to our innate spiritual need to be in relation with nature. D. Abram in the book Spell of the Sensuous describes our relationship to nature this way:

"For our senses disclose to us a wild-flowering proliferation of entities and elements, in which humans are thoroughly immersed. While this diversity of sensuous forms certainly displays some sort of reckless order, we find ourselves in the midst of, rather than on top of, this order."

Decolonizing our mind set might allow us to improve our relationship with nature. How do we bring nature inside? I believe all humans have the capacity to form a sacred relationship with nature. Consider that my hand is able to touch things only because my hand is itself a touchable thing. So to touch the coarse skin of a tree is thus, at the same time, to feel oneself touched by the tree. We just crossed one of those boundary lines. There are many more. Explore and be blessed.

Montanna Jones, September 2010

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Time and Consciousness

Has a tree touched you today? Last month I talked about space as defined by Western Science and considered a different way to perceive it. Western Science has defined Time as an artificial construct, making the distinctions, structuring and naming the precise intervals that we live with today. A study done in the 1990s asked college students to explain daylight savings time. Very few understood it or could explain it. Although we have atomic clocks and precise measurements of time, we occasionally have to adjust all of our instruments to keep up with the cosmos. Ancient cultures had their own relationship with time. Many had large physical structures that allowed humans to mark and predict cosmic events.

Our consciousness registers the passage of time but not in the linear way a clock measures it. Consequently we must continually check our watches to make sure we are "on time". We experience time when we feel like a class or event has gone "quickly"; or when a class drags on and on we experience time as moving slowly. Sometimes we experience time standing still, as when an accident is happening and everything seems to occur in slow motion.

In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Linda Tuhiwai Smith describes the connection between time and work and what happens when those definitions differ between cultures. On page 54 she states,

"The connection between time and 'work' became more important after the arrival of missionaries and the development of more systematic colonization. The belief that 'natives' did not value work or have a sense of time provided ideological justification for exclusionary practices which reached across such areas as education, land development, and employment."

English people brought the low middleclass work ethic or Puritanical New England work practices to the Pacific. They believed that one got to heaven through hard work and 'savages' had to work extra hard. Part of working hard was wearing 'decent' clothing (even if it was clothes meant for cold weather), eating at 'proper' mealtimes (that is before and after work) rather than when the body or family requires it, and as Smith puts it, "reorganizing family patterns to enable men to work at some things and women to support them."

In India now, the 2 week long (sometimes longer) celebration that brings families together to honor the coming of age, the menarche ceremony, for girls has been reduced to, in some places, 3 days. The reason is that international corporations are imposing their money-making standards in terms of time upon a culture. Time to make money has replaced the cultural norms that have been celebrated for thousands of years. Colonization continues. Here at home we see both parents having to work to support the family, requiring that their children see less of them and their education is left to others. The more time you spend working the more money you make.

Another way to live time is to do things when they happen. For instance, if a ceremony begins when all of the participants have arrived then no actual 'time to start' is necessary. When living in the mountains, there were weeks where I did not know or care what day it was much less what time of day it was. The most important time of day became sunset, when light was no longer providing enough illumination to do chores. When we go into the woods, sit by a flowing steam, or listen at the ocean's shore we feel the movement of time in that space. Our consciousness and spirit relate differently to nature. We need to seek out interaction with the natural environment for the sake of our spirit. Even if that is just caring for a house plant or pet, what is important is the intention in your mind. This is where 'surrender' is used to describe the feeling that you do not have control over anything but yourself and that is ok. The Universe, Goddess, or Great Spirit; however you define the sacred is in control. It can bring relief from the turmoil and those daily time restrictions that take over our lives. Nature is our connection to the sacred. We can learn a lot in a shifted state of consciousness. Go talk to a tree and let it touch you.

Here's a wonderful quote from the song Natural Order on the Strange and Wonderful CD by Sarah Nutting and Karisha Longaker from Chico whose group is called MaMuse:

"I see Spirit is to the land as
Is the left to the right hand
All the same body, different sites.

If you ever get an opportunity to see them in person, it is certainly worth it. They have performed in Arcata several times.

Blessings, Montanna

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