The changes a woman’s body undergoes through her lifetime create natural rites of passage; each one offers an opportunity for spiritual growth.
What does a woman’s biology have to teach about her spiritual path? What might a woman’s spirit be trying to teach her through her biology?
There are many ways to understand the relationship between biology and spirit. In understanding the self, biology can be defined as the engagement with the material world. Spirit can be defined as that part of the self that is engaged in a larger field of participation beyond the material.
On one level, it is not really possible to break down spiritual experience according to gender. Every person’s experience of spirit is unique. Ultimately, everyone passes through similar types of initiations on the path to spiritual wholeness.
There is something to be learned about one’s relationship to spirit from either set of biological structures – male or female. Response to spirit is not determined solely because a woman is a woman or because a man is man.
A person’s experience of spirit, especially at the beginning of the initiatory path, is very much dependent on the kinds of patterns he or she is using to cycle energy. Those patterns may be solely determined by biology and/or by the individual’s response to biology – or they may not.
There is, however, a set of patterns that are determined solely by a woman’s biology. These patterns are determined by the part of her biology that brings her into participation with the mystery of birth.
A woman’s biology is designed to thrust her into the process of expanding the boundaries she tries to set for herself. A woman’s body challenges her in her effort to define herself as an individual identity from puberty onward.
A male may choose to undergo the kinds of initiations into which a woman’s biology thrusts her. That is, he may seek an initiatory path that provides him with an education regarding the expansion of self-identity. That path, like the path provided by a woman’s biology, may take him from understanding himself as a discreet personal entity into intimate participation with the Other. And he may have very similar experiences that a woman has in following an initiatory path that is determined by the expansion of the definition of self to include the Other.
But, and this is a big But, he is not required to engage in this particular initiatory path. And indeed, even if he wanted to, a male may not be able to attain the level of engagement with the Other that the process of something like birth provides.
It is possible that some male initiatory sequences in traditional cultures actually do try to mimic this engagement. The ritual wounding which the Lakota Sun Dance provides is one such example. The wounding involved gives the male the opportunity to put his biological survival on the line in much the same way a woman is required to do in giving birth. All of the issues regarding confrontation with the realities beyond personal biological form are brought forth in this process.
But again, the man chooses this. A woman does not always have a choice over whether she gives birth or not.
As a system, a woman’s body requires her to go through changes that are beyond the control of what she might choose for herself. Men also go through transformations on a biological level. Ultimately both men and women face the demise of their biology. And both must confront the implications this demise implies on a spiritual level.
The path of initiation that the movement through biological form provides is something all people can choose to participate in. And, of course, it must be noted that most people do not always choose to engage in understanding their lives in these terms.
But a woman must be more engaged in understanding the dance in which her biology engages her on a moment-to-moment basis. Her body is constantly expanding to meet the Other or moving away from a missed date with the Other through the processes of menstruation.
Due to her biology, a woman is forced to go beyond the identification with the personal self. She may resist this task. But the demands of her biology are always pushing her toward a confrontation with the Other. Most women do not always participate in this confrontation, even though their biology is demanding it. This is generally true because most women are not receiving the education they need regarding the spiritual implications to which their biology points.
From the time she enters puberty until she enters menopause, a woman’s body is constantly engaged in a process that asks her to prepare for the expansion of how she defines herself. This expansion requires her to examine how she understands herself as a function of the Other. If she chooses to follow the demands of her biology into motherhood, she must then examine what her relationship to service of the Other is. Even if she does not become a mother, the issue of who she is as a function of the changes her body thrusts upon her is fundamental to her understanding of herself.
This is the primary focus in understanding how a woman’s biology affects her spirituality. And it is also why the requirements of women’s spirituality are, to some extent, different from those of a man’s. That is, of course, different from a man who does not choose the path of expansion of the self that a woman is required to walk.
Women need to understand better what the demands of women’s biology have on their spirit. To understand themselves better, they need to consider how their bodies can be viewed as an initiatory portal into a larger field of consciousness. It is in this larger field of understanding that women can begin to understand that, by virtue of their biology, they have the opportunity to engage with the mystery of spirit in new ways.
In most cultures today, there is very little focus or understanding on how a woman’s body exposes her to this larger field of consciousness. The mystery of the expansion of self to include another, and the care and relationship to Other have been almost entirely co-opted by concerns that have nothing to do with this mystery.
All confrontation with the processes of mystery requires vulnerability. This vulnerability is vital to the spiritual initiation process. Cultures dominated by more male concerns regarding territory and control seize upon the vulnerability created by the demands of a woman’s biology. In the process, the understanding of what a woman’s spirit might need in order for her to be able to comfortably stretch beyond her way of defining herself is completely lost.
There is very little education offered to women who are trying to understand where their bodies are taking them. Most women wind up in some form of resistance, misunderstanding, rejection, or confusion in relation to the emotional and mental spaces their biology brings them. They often wind up in a dance of rejection and resistance with their bodies themselves. They miss the opportunity for spiritual growth their biology affords them because there is no support or education in this regard available to them.
Education is needed to help remedy this situation. Women need help in understanding the mystery of the self and Other in which their bodies require them to participate. Women need help in seeing how their bodies are providing them with invaluable opportunities to move beyond the definitions of the personal self. Without this movement beyond the confines of personal self-identity, the individual cannot mature into a more expansive definition of the sense of self. This expansion is required of all of us if we are to participate in understanding the mystery of our relationship with the Other in a truly conscious way.