Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Woman Mystics by Mirabai Starr (Sounds True, 2019). Throughout this wonderful telling of Starr’s own life and that of many women mystics, she claims “The tender attributes of the feminine do not render her weak and ineffectual. They glorify her.” And, as in the title of this article, “Our vulnerability is our strength” along with “Our capacity to forgive is our superpower.” Starr’s words are powerful and often need little explanation. She speaks for all of us.
“Women do not always feel comfy inside traditional religious institutions…We would rather be undefined than ordained in traditions that don’t fit our curves.” Starr
Starr grew up amongst many spiritual traditions and religions. Her extensive knowledge is evident in her discussions of women mystics from Hinduism, Buddhism. Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and indigenous wisdom ways.
“Perhaps you, like I, have associated spirituality with rising above the human condition, rather than consciously embodying it.” Starr
But “spiritual awakening does not leave us immune to the human condition. Quite the opposite. It brings us into the heart of reality, where we mourn, rage, bow and give thanks, ache and surrender.” You might want to read that last sentence again. Starr opens us to being human with all aspects of what that means, not just a sanitized version. As women, we need to honor our full range of emotions.
“A more feminine flavor of leadership…feminine wisdom feeds the human spirit.” Starr
“…we are beings out of balance when we deny the value of the emotions, the dark, the hidden.” This is one of Starr’s most significant statements. “Beings out of balance” probably defines so many of us because we have not been encouraged or allowed to “value the emotions, the dark, the hidden.” In our feelings, we find who we are, not thoughts to be feared but ones to be honored and accepted. The way of the feminine is to be guided by the heart, not the mind. Her claim that “the way of the feminine is neither repressing or indulging” releases us from any confining beliefs.
“And that’s the path of the feminine: the path of connection.” Starr
“Connection is liberation. Cultivate it.” She cautions against waiting for anyone to save us. Instead, look to other women for guidance. “Our way, the way of the feminine, is to find what everyone is good at and praise them for it and get them to teach it to one another.”
“…the balance of the masculine and feminine has been so terribly out of whack in human history.” Starr
She mentions Ram Dass (see my two previous posts on Ram Dass “Love was His Real Teaching” and “With Joy and Suffering”), her lifelong friend and mentor, as “a feminine mystic in the body of a man.” It is not just women who embody the feminine, some men do also.
“Contemplative life is not for the timid. It’s scary to be quiet, and it takes courage to be still.” Starr
“For the feminine, however, the line between contemplative life and social and environmental action is blurry to the point of insignificance. She turns inward, where she recognizes herself in all beings, which moves her to turn outward and act on behalf of the whole.” Starr
Starr believes that we have an environmental crisis and “must break the habit of overconsumption and engage in voluntary simplicity,” echoing the thoughts of most mystics. She shares the mystical Jewish wisdom, which teaches that everyone has a particular task to heal the world. This task is most likely something a person is already good at and is definitely something the person loves to do. Sit quietly, think of our strengths and imagine how to harness them, she suggests, and in doing that “Be wildly creative.”
“Child-rearing is arguably the most difficult path possible, a hero’s journey that leads us on harrowing adventures but for which we receive no credit.” Starr
This statement needs no comment, except to remind women of their endurance and importance in providing for the next generation in hopes of a better world. “Family is the most powerful spiritual teacher I have known.” Similar to the statement on raising children, I think most women intuitively understand this, especially as we age and find challenges and empathy with family and/or close friends.
“It wouldn’t hurt if we didn’t love and that love is worth the pain.” Starr
An important part of her book is the section on grief, an overriding emotion for Starr who lost her 14 year old daughter suddenly in a car accident. With no chance to say good-bye, even years later and after writing a book describing her grief, Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation, her pain remains strong. In her darkness, she reminds us of our role in helping others. Women often carry the burden of comforting their sisters, both biological and close friends, in a time of crisis. If you have lost a loved one, are close to someone who did, or want to be reminded of the solace of other women, I encourage you to read this book.
“Acceptance does not mean not caring…of course we care. We must care. Acceptance means being with things as they are, not turning away and not trying to shape them to our will.” Starr
After her own tragedy, Starr became a death counselor. “Once we have made our way to the bedside of one dying beloved, however, it gets easier to gain access to the next.”
“…but the most important part is to sit quietly and bear witness. Bear loving witness.” Starr
She helps us understand loving, living and dying. “I did not turn away from their suffering. I bore witness. This is our task as women on the path of transformational love. We guard one another’s hearts with our lives.”
“I believe in the healing energy of the feminine as a fire that can melt the frozen heart of the world.” Starr