Mirabai Starr shares her process of turning to the Divine Mother to navigate the emerging landscape that is life.
“How I Met My Mother” was written for The Catalyst, the biweekly e-letter published by The Shift Network.
As this weird world grows weirder, I find myself turning more and more to the Divine Feminine for a clue about how to navigate the emerging landscape. Few of the familiar signposts feel reliable, and the spaces where I once took refuge — some semblance of sane leadership in my government, for instance, and a kind of baseline respect for the voice of the feminine in society — have vanished. In their place, a crop of isms and phobias have sprung up: sexism, racism, over-consumerism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia. The isms create chasms that too many of us have fallen into. The walls erected by phobias were meant to keep the Other out, but instead have imprisoned those who built them.
To my great relief, I find that a gorgeous array of goddesses reliably comes to the rescue whenever I call on them. When I grow weary of attempting to control the universe, for instance, the Shekinah — the indwelling feminine face of the Divine in the Jewish tradition — infuses me with the spirit of the Sabbath, permitting me to lay down my burden and rest. When my outrage rises in response to pervasive injustice, I call on Kali, the Divine Mother in the Hindu tradition, to wield her sword of unconditional love, dispelling illusion and setting Truth free. When my heart breaks for the pain of the world, I connect with the mercy of Kwan Yin, the courage of Mother Mary, and Tara’s Bodhisattva Vow to help me bear the unbearable. When I feel disconnected from the wisdom and pleasure of my own body, I walk upon the body of Gaia, Mother Earth, and this contact restores me to wholeness.
Perhaps ironically, it was a man who made me fall in love with the Goddess: the iconic spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, known for his groundbreaking book, Be Here Now, through which he managed to translate 5,000 years of Vedic wisdom into an accessible American vernacular that woke up an entire culture. My parents were among that first wave of awakening, which ultimately led us from suburban Long Island to the Lama Foundation, an inter-spiritual community near Taos in the mountains of Northern New Mexico, where Be Here Now had been called into existence. I first met Ram Dass at Lama in 1975 when I was 14 years old and thirsty for God, famished for meaning, and suspicious of the theological constructs of the prevailing Judeo-Christian religions.
Through Ram Dass I learned that the heart of Hinduism beats with the radiant power of the Divine Mother. In India, Kali and Durga are more ardently venerated than the pantheon of masculine deities. Devotion to the Mother is a fire that ignites the heart of the devotee who yearns to be liberated from the illusion of separation from the Divine Source. Hindu wisdom recognizes that we are already one with the Supreme — always have been and ever shall be — but the delusion of maya tricks us into believing we are separate. The radiant sunlight of Divine Mother’s all-encompassing love burns off the fog of illusion and reminds us of who we truly are: one with the One.
When I met Ram Dass, he spoke so often and so lovingly of the Mother that I fell in love with her too. This Mother was not a meek and mild virgin or a placid martyr. She was neither detached nor transcendent. This was — and is — the ferociously protective and wildly seductive Sacred Feminine. She is firmly enmeshed in the human condition and a powerful resource for navigating its most treacherous passages. Anchored in the depths of teenage angst, I cried out for Her, and She answered my soul call with a love so deep and all-embracing that I leapt without hesitation into Her gathering arms.
As the decades passed, I found myself succumbing to the lure of nondual teachings, which stated that Ultimate Reality transcends all distinctions. Not wishing to limit God by assigning a gender, I extricated myself from the Goddess’ loving embrace. In recent years, however, I’ve found my way back to Her. With the masculine and feminine energies of this world so radically out of balance, I longed for Her stabilizing influence. The poison of the patriarchy has brought us perilously close to the edge of global annihilation. We all need Her now more than ever.
As it turns out, turning to the Divine Mother has not in any way put my God in a box. She is the embodiment of Divine Love, beyond gender, melting the boundaries between self and other, between individual soul and Great Spirit, between my body and the Body of the World. Devotion to the Goddess has broken open my heart and rendered me available to the rest of creation.
Ram Dass recently invited me to step up as a dharma teacher in his lineage. In 1997, he suffered a stroke, and now, at 86, after 20 years in a wheelchair, he is turning his attention to coalescing a body of teachings he can pass on to a new generation. At 55, I am halfway in age between Ram Dass and the multitude of twenty-somethings who are drawn to his living example of unconditional love. Having spent much of my life drinking in his particular wisdom, combined with making my own way as a translator of the mystics of all spiritual traditions, I was, I suppose, as good a choice as any for carrying his transmission. Like Ram Dass, I rejoice in a deeply embodied love of the Divine Feminine, and am committed to weaving Her into the center of the entire enterprise of waking up. I trace this inspiration back to Ram Dass. My life, and my spiritual journey, have come full circle.
Thank you, old friend, for opening my heart to the heart of the Goddess, and for leading me back home.
Check out more wisdom from Mirabai Starr on the Be Here Now Network Guest Podcast series.