Gratitude to Jerry Katz for this overview of emerging and established wideawake women.
A vanguard of self-schooled female mystics is doing an end-run around the mainstream self-help and New Age movements — and is advancing a radical, 21st century spirituality. Call it the ‘Anti-Me Generation.’
Across the centuries, spiritual seekers have invariably been women and the teachers men; from Jesus to Gurdjieff and Rumi to Ramana Maharshi, enlightenment has been a male-dominated business. But figures like Byron Katie are in the vanguard of an astonishing advent in the mystical tradition: she is a leading light in a scattered coterie of women who have propounded a radical, new esoteric spirituality and seem to have leap-frogged ahead of male counterparts in the pursuit of the sacred.
Their work, if you want to call it that, isn’t wholly cribbed from Indian gurus or apprenticeships in Asian monasteries, but forged in a homegrown fashion in the crucible of contemporary America – sometimes as a result of frustration with oriental traditions. Alongside Katie, these self-schooled spiritual masters include . . . Oregon-based Catherine Ingram, Santa Fe’s Pamela Wilson, and Calgary, Alberta-based Karen McPhee.
These wise-women represent an implicit indictment of the legion of vendors from the human potential movement who appear on Oprah’s show, or who fill the pages of Common Ground. Those services are New Age brands that explicitly pitch self-improvement, and promise to fill in the ego’s deficits.
But Byron Katie, Catherine Ingram and the Australian-born mystic, Isha, undermine the very notion of self-enhancement through spiritual seeking. In fact, they take direct aim at the personality’s hegemony over reality, and advance a counter-intuitive proposition that the act of thinking itself is an inherently contaminating phenomenon.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste, the famous TV ad slogan from the ’70’s goes. To the new female mystics, the mind is simply a terrible thing.
This ‘Anti-Me’ generation of teachers also resists branding particular counter-measures for the likes of anxiety, addictions, adultery and affairs.
“I’m reluctant to specify a goal or repetitive motion using some technique,” says Ingram. “I see people identifying as the doer — ‘I sat for two hours without moving,’ ‘I’ve completed forty-five retreats,’ — proudly waving the banner of spiritual achievement as if that had anything to do with freedom. These thoughts and concepts all cluster around one central belief—the belief in ‘me.’ This is the ridgepole for their entire illusory house of pain.”
That’s the difference between the new female mystics and, say, Deepak Chopra. He goes on Oprah and tells people to meditate each morning. Instead, these women would say: “First thing we do — let’s get rid of that word.”
A notable exception to the rule is Byron Katie, who calls her work, well, The Work. But she’s the best example of a self-schooled female mystic. For two years, Katie was so maniacally depressed she rarely got out of bed. A mother of two boys and a teenaged girl in Bakersfield, CA and an alcoholic, she ended up in a local halfway house.
When Katie awoke one morning to find a cockroach crawling up her foot, she had an out-of-nowhere epiphany. “All my rage, all the thoughts that had been troubling me, my whole world, was gone,” she recalls. “The only thing that existed was awareness. I was seeing without concepts, without thoughts or a story. There was no me. The foot and the cockroach weren’t outside me. There was no outside or inside.”
During the two decades since that halfway-house psychic makeover, Katie … has drawn audiences in the thousands to lectures and workshops, offering others the same experience. To both experts and lay people alike she appears to live in an elevated psychological state utterly free of internal conflict, akin to a yogi or a lama. Katie herself claims that she does not even see herself as a spiritual person.
“I don’t know anything about that,” says Katie. “I’m just someone who knows the difference between what hurts and what doesn’t.”
While Byron Katie has tried to codify her Work, her approach is still very much a common touchstone for the teachings of the new, self-styled prophets. She uses thought to disarm itself through a sequence of deceptively simple questions. Other approaches tend to elude language.
Pamela Wilson un-plugs people from the stories they tell about themselves by walking them through a series of shifts in somatic awareness. She asks them to identify recurring situations or feelings where they feel stuck, and then focus on the bodily sensations they trigger. When they are allowed to arise, and understood as tactile echoes of past events, they can be metabolized.
The process works kind of like a primordial mind-body algorithm. “There’s no lack of brilliance in the design of either the body or the way it lets go,” says Wilson. “The system of release is strange, almost reptilian.” “What you’re doing is helping the body let go of the past,” continues Wilson. “One of the ways the body creates release is by recreating something from the past in order to pull it out of the earth of the body. Otherwise, it stays deep.”
One reason it is hard to codify some of the practices of post-modern mystics in words is because they’re more like signposts that point you toward a mental state that lies precisely beyond words. How-to tips are superseded by a stronger path of transmission at the disposal of Pamela Wilson, Byron Katie and the others: the simple power of their personal presence.
The international followings of these women aren’t built on much else. A Mother Theresa, by comparison, had an honorific in a powerful multi-national organization; these women have no organizations per se. Neither do they bank on an MD’s shingle, like self-help gurus Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra (Katie worked as a real estate broker in her previous life, Ingram as a journalist). Mystics by their nature don’t actively seek fame or fortune.
How, exactly, did these remarkable women emerge as “realized” beings in our data-infused, image-obsessed society? Like Katie, most of them have reported a fundamental dissolution of a social or personal identity. For Smadar de Lange, a rising star who represents the next generation of female mystics, it came after a traumatic motorcycle accident.
For Ingram, her meltdown came after the break-up of an engagement. “I had had romantic obsessions since I was ten years old,” she says, “which I now see as a yearning for divinity because that is the realm in which I had most tasted divinity — that intoxicating dissolution of separation. So this last painful ending was a grand culmination of that whole fantasy, and in that pain there was no place that I could be in peace except free and clear of a lot of thinking and ruminating about the story, the past, or the future . . .”
“It forced awareness into a kind of luminosity that had not been there.”
– Jerry Katz
Source: The Nonduality Highlights, with some editing by yours truly.