Balancing the Masculine and Feminine
I had the honor of attending the first ever Wisdom 2.0 Women‘s conference a couple weeks ago. What a night of inspiration!!
The opening speech struck such a chord in me that I wanted to share it with you in this week’s blog post.
In it, speaker Christine Barrington, asks us to take a look at the current imbalance of our (not gender related) masculine and feminine qualities. She suggests that the success of our species depends on understanding and empowering each of the distinct qualities these aspects hold within us.
Sounds big, right? It is.
Big, heartfelt, direct, thought-provoking and inspiring–true Liminal Space style! It is a must read.
By Christine Barrington
This is a transcription of Christine Barrington’s talk at the first Wisdom 2.0 Women event on April 30, 2013.
I am a lover of psyche. Professionally this means I am a Psycho-therapist. Personally, and more importantly, it means that I have a passion for the inner world—for its dynamics and how, from the condition of our inner being, life unfolds out of us and onto the greater stage of our planet.
We are here tonight, because we know something isn’t quite working with this unfolding. And, we are also here tonight because we suspect that women just might have something particular, and special, to contribute to setting things right.
So, what is this special something that women have?
Well, I would suggest that it is not the having, so much as the proportion of having. It is the degree to which women possess this essence that makes them especially qualified to act as leaders and visionaries for the required shift that this planet needs—if we are not only to survive, but flourish.
This something is a force in nature that the ancient Taoists called “Yin.” Westerners translate this as The Feminine. However, I invite in this more ancient and universal term for two reasons. Allowing the feminine to be called Yin gives us a chance to relate with, and understand, the feminine for what it is: A Force of Nature, touching every aspect of existence and present in every human being. It does not mean WOMAN.
I also love this term, because we know that where there is Yin, there must also be Yang. They exist in eternal relatedness, and the deep and fundamental truth that relationship underpins everything is something women understand in their bones. And, it is because of this capacity for relatedness that we are taking the time tonight to explore the masculine and feminine as principles, because many of you in the Wisdom 2.0 community let us know that you did not want this movement to be about gender. You wanted inclusivity, and that is a beautiful—and very feminine—impulse.
To explore this further, I invite you all to imagine the iconic Yin-Yang symbol. It is astonishing what a symbol can immediately convey regarding otherwise complicated material. In this symbol the dark side with a seed of light is Yin. The light side with its seed of black is Yang. These two halves are nestled together in an intimate pairing with each side containing a spark of its own opposite. Notice that these seeming-opposites are contained in a circle and that they are separated by a dividing line. This uniting, containing, unbroken circle is Yin. So, of course, the element that divides and separates is Yang.
Yin, being a preponderance of darkness suggests something that is obscure or unknown—not good or bad—but simply something that is not immediately and easily comprehensible.
Yang is a preponderance of light. The sun is its great symbol, suggesting clarity, that which can be seen and known in an unmistakable and obvious way. Navigating in daylight one can move sure-footed and quickly, because we see where we are going.
Bright light creates incredible contrasts and distinctions, pinpointed clarity, but also deep shadows. Thus, Yang’s brilliant nature creates its own darkness. That is its difficulty. Yang does not easily see its own shadow, and often only becomes of aware of it by being nipped from behind by the problems it creates in its Yin realm.
In the muted realm of Yin, symbolized by night and the moon, conditions are something else all together. In the darkness you must feel your way. Sense it, with almost every capacity but your eyes. It is a richly sensual experience, but it is slow. It is careful, and all objects are bathed in an equal light. Things can be felt, but they are hard to distinguish. The muted nature of Yin is its own difficulty. It needs Yang’s light to know itself.
I invite you now to hold in your attention what we’ve explored symbolically and see how it might relate to our concrete lives.
Most people associate the right-brain with feminine activities and the left-brain with masculine. It is a gross over-simplification, because the brain is exquisitely complicated; however, these generalizations do largely hold true. There are two types of knowing that we rely on to navigate the world, and they are strongly associated with these two hemispheres.
There is explicit or mental knowing, associated with left-brain activities, especially in the left pre-frontal cortex, which favor logical, analytical thinking processes and being able to place events in a linear, time-ordered sequence. The left-brain enables us to know this from that, you from me. It separates and sorts information into discrete categories, and suppresses any incoming information that it deems irrelevant to the rational task at hand, which means it is fundamentally predisposed to limit the bigger picture.
These incredibly potent capacities are relatively new acquisitions, evolutionarily speaking. They are humanity’s bright, shiny new toys, and we know that bright things cast deep shadows.
Opposite to this intellectual capacity, is implicit or felt knowing, which is associated with the right-brain and its intimate connection to the body. It is a much more ancient and instinctual form of knowing that taps into an abundance of peripheral information that cannot completely be sorted rationally. We are fundamentally feeling-beings who evolved the capacity to think. Our ancient feeling capacity is our necessary and invaluable guide, we must remember and reconnect to how to decipher its messages!
Why do we live in such a Yang-Dominated world?
I propose it is because this newest Yang acquisition of ours is fascinating and compelling, because it is POWERFUL. But, because it is also so new on the evolutionary stage, human being are immature in knowing how to integrate it into the whole. We are too dazzled and confused by its power.
If you recall, the left-brain Yang capacity filters and discards any incoming information it deems irrelevant to its task at hand. This is an invaluable tool—if you are trying to isolate the effect of a single compound on an organism. But, it is a very poor tool when you are relating to living beings. I propose that while the power effected by the ability to isolate and separate information into discrete parts—which has given birth to invaluable human advances—has also caused the Yang domain to become inflated with its own importance and by its very nature relegated Yin to sphere of near-irrelevance.
These missteps happen with new things. Misconceptions happen with immaturity. I find it understandable that human beings have been incredibly distracted and confused in some ways by this new capacity. When I look at it this way, I find more compassion for where we have been. Speaking as a woman, this compassion can be challenging to discover, but it is absolutely necessary. Despite the difficulty of where we have been, I see that the glorious integration that lies before us as a great pioneering adventure. We can never go back to what we were; we can only go forward—integrating better our new capacities with our more ancient ones.
The definition of maturity is the ability to be responsible for the effect we have on those around us. It is time for humanity to grow up! That maturity will only be possible through the redemption of the Yang shadow through a strengthening and cultivation of Yin, across the board.
How might we do this? Well, that is to be discovered, and that discovery is why we are here tonight, but here are some suggested fundamentals.
First, I believe this maturation will largely begin in the hands of Yin-predominant creatures, which are mostly women, but certainly not all. Feminine beings have an intimate capacity to perceive, understand, and live Yin values. We are profoundly gifted in this regard. I believe it is our privilege to cultivate and stand for these values.
Of course, because of the Yang’s domination of the relatively recent past, Yin-creatures have been deeply traumatized and absorbed the denigration of their fundamental natures. As a therapist, I can tell you that the first step in healing trauma is safety. To redeem and restore our own respect and love for our Yin natures, we need safe places to explore, experiment, and regain our balance and connection to our core. This creation of safety must happen within ourselves and also be supported within communities of practice. Places that are absolutely dedicated to this task and will create conditions to exquisitely foster its unfolding.
Will these safe places, these temples of Yin, be devoid of the masculine?
The way to bring things back into balance with Yang is to redirect our masculine capacities, so that Yang is in service to Yin, rather than feeding its own sense of power and capability.
In these sacred Yin places of healing, the glorious Yang capacity to focus will be applied differently. Rather than being focused on facts, figures, and things, it will be entirely devoted to
Listening…to the ancient wisdom housed in our bodies: our heart-knowing, our gut-knowing.
Listening… to the whispers, and sometimes shouts of feelings, sensations, and the symbolic images that arise through our dreams and fantasies.
Listening… Kindly, patiently, and with an understanding that the Yin world is full of treasures that lay under an obscuring veil. Her gifts will be yielded to those who have an attitude of respect and devotion, to those who trust and have faith that there is something of value to be discovered—even though it is not immediately obvious or useful. For we, the lovers of Yin, must know this: The feminine demands to be loved for its own sake.
To listen in this way is a skill. And, it takes time and space. Yin requires nurture. Which means if we wish to cultivate our feminine beings, we must have a sacred circle within which we ourselves are sovereign.
This translates into: Ladies, we have to have boundaries!
This sounds deceptively simple, but effective living boundaries are an art form. Women, in particular, have great difficulty conceiving a world that serves their essential natures. They are too accustomed to giving and serving what is outside of themselves at the cost of themselves. I really don’t think I need to go into the why.
I ask you, how can we possibly change the world if we cannot find time to care for and know ourselves intimately? A deep relationship with ourselves is an essential pre-condition for world transformation.
Now, keep in mind that losing ourselves in our feelings and emotions is to get lost in the Yin. This is not what I am talking about. To be balanced, our masculine capacities must be present. Not as a dominator, not as a critiquing judge, but as a partner who asks, “How can I serve you my love.”
It all begins with the Yang qualities of focused-listening and a willingness to act on what we hear. Everything will unfold from there.
It all starts within us. It all starts here, in our bodies. And what is in here is good! It is powerful, sensual, loving, brilliant, and, it is delicious. I tell you, if we nail this, I guarantee it, we are all going to be having a lot more fun!
I want to leave you with a Hindu saying that I feel is apt, and it goes like this:
“If you take care of Shakti, Shakti takes care of everything.”
Shakti is the great feminine itself, and so I repeat:
“If you take care of Shakti, Shakti takes care of everything.”
Think about it. This really means something.
Desmond Tutu says it another way: “If you want to save the world, invest in women.”
Now, in the spirit of the great equalizing circle of Yin, where every voice matters, every person counts, I turn the moment over to you.
What do you think?
What you do feel?
Take a moment.
Drop into yourselves.
What does your inner being say is masculine and feminine?
How do you define it?
And, how will you speak your truth into the world?