Putting heart and soul front and center
-Melina Gerosa Bellows
The Divine Feminine. The idea fills me with the same awesome longing that I experienced facing the loss of my high-dive virginity. Excited to take the plunge, yet terrified of the deep end.
Lucky for me that I’m at the Sacred Circles event at Washington National Cathedral, where the soul sisters are in the pool waiting for me. This two-day celebration of women’s spirituality is a grand gathering of 1,200 women from all over the world, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, Native Americans, Hindus, Spiritual Cowgirls and self-described Witches and Bitches.
We are gathered together to discover personal and community renewal, spiritual empowerment and healing for the planet. Fifty presenters, including British scholar Karen Armstrong, Afghanistan activist Sakena Yacoobi, and Omega Institute co-founder Elizabeth Lesser, will lecture and lead workshops to help each one of us step into our authentic selves.
The richness of the conference is overwhelming, both in the depth of perspective and wisdom, as well as warmth of the women attending. No one lets another eat her boxed lunch alone, everyone reaches for a tissue for a new friend in tears, and each one of us gets the privilege to question the point of our very being.
Some of my personal highlights:
Afghanistan activist Sakena Yacoobi, who has served more than 350,000 women with health care and education in her war-torn homeland, tells a harrowing tale of facing fate head on. No stranger to death threats, Yacoobi was terrified when the gun-toting Taliban surrounded her car, demanding that she get out. Her bodyguards tried to protect her, but the armed men were relentless. They wanted her.
“I thought they would kill me,” she admits.
At a loss for what to do, she checked in with her heart, which told her to speak with the men, despite the obvious danger. She trusted her intuition.
“So you are changing all these villages and helping all of these people?” they said, confronting her menacingly.
“Yeah,” she admitted.
“Well, how can you help us?” they asked.
“What do you want me to do?” she replied.
“We don’t know, you decide,” they said. “Go away and think about it.”
Keeping to her word, she later went back and told them that she would educate them, but they had show up on time, do their homework, and behave themselves. They did, and she did, and now these former life-taking thugs help her carry out her mission of serving women and children, even to this day.
Elizabeth Lesser, author of Broken Open and co-founder of the Omega Institute, gives us the Cliff Notes on spiritual emotional intelligence. She recounts how she’s had the privilege of meeting all of the spiritual luminaries of our time, from the Dalai Lama to Oprah. The one commonality that all of these compassion specialists have is this, “It’s much harder to walk the walk than talk the talk of love,” says Lesser. “What they say is far from what they do.”
Lesser considers herself just as challenged. She admits that she recently wanted to throttle her husband for either chewing his cereal too loudly, or not shaving, she couldn’t remember which. “The real work of love is mundane, simple, tedious, hard, and important,” she says. “Do not betray the inner goddess who asks you to act on her behalf to love one another.”
Former nun Karen Armstrong tells of how her failure in life (both in the convent and later in television) has led her to spirituality. “I was in the convent and I opened myself up to God and he was silent,” she recounts. Since then, Armstrong has become a student of the world’s religions, writing over 20 books. She gives us a lesson on practical compassion, which is the core value in all the world’s religions. “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor,” she says. “Sometimes following the Golden Rule takes a lot of imagination.”
Harvard-trained scholar and author of The Red Book, Sera Beak, invites us all to get jiggy with our Divine Spark, which she also refers to as our “Inner chili pepper,” “Inner bad ass,” and “Spiritual superpower.”
“Knowing yourself means knowing the divine. You cannot know the divine if don’t know yourself,” Beak says, adding the battle cry, “Sex toys, red wine, and gold body glitter for all!”
Despite the differences in speakers, common themes emerged; trusting intuition, authenticity, and the hard work of following The Golden Rule, and how women united in love can heal the world. As Rabbi Phyllis Berman says, “When you get to know someone’s uniqueness, you realize how we are all the same.”
The event ends as majestically as it began. Rose Khalsa, a Lakota Kite Carrier, and Celtic Spirituality Scholar, Esther de Waal, opens and closes the circle with a ritual invoking the presence of the divine and calling in the sacred directions of the living planet, with all of us chanting the refrain.
We are free to go back to the reality of our busy, lost-keys, kid-and-commute-filled, dog-barking lives. As I leave the Cathedral, I realize that I have changed, and that there is a cost. The cost is loss. Certain beliefs, and even relationships, don’t serve me as I thought they had.
As bittersweet and daunting as this realization is, I know I must follow my heart. The Divine Feminine is beckoning me, asking me to step into my true self. A tingle of anticipation and excitement zings through me. Taking a deep breath, I grab my faith and jump!
For more information on Sacred Circles, click here.
Melina Gerosa Bellows is a best-selling author and a leading magazine editor. She is a columnist-blogger for BettyConfidential.com