the Splendid Earth

I am choosing to write about motherhood and the unique power of women to bring life into this world. I am placing significant value and importance to this power that many women have, but the emphasis I am placing on it is for the purposes of the argument I am making in this article: one of the fundamental tenets of patriarchal societies is that women are subordinates because childbearing renders them weak and vulnerable.

Childbearing, however, is NOT definitive of Womanhood. I absolutely believe that beyond social constructs, and beyond even biology and medicine, Womanhood has a mystical existence…fluid and yet distinct, beautiful, multifaceted and Whole. I hope  that those of us who may not be able to experience motherhood will not feel offended or disheartened.  My focus here is narrow and merely conceptual. I invite you to explore my thoughts and share your own.

With great love and respect for each of us, Whatever powers we possess are, in truth, vital and great, and I celebrate them with you.


Isn’t it incredible? A cluster of cells become implanted in a woman‘s  body. She is then able to nourish, protected and transform this cluster of cells, giving it the time and space to grow and ultimately enter this world an entire human being! What a magnificent power! Women certainly feel what a feat this is…their bodies change and redirect resources to support the life (lives) she is carrying…we see this phenomenon all around us. But unless we are directly witnessing it, do we stop and appreciate for a moment the profundity of what is happening? In ancient pagan religions there were many deities that represented the earth, fertility, abundance, and fruitfulness. All of these deities were depicted in the form of women :)

Mother earth, right? Think of planting a seed. The seed cannot grow into its full potential without being ROOTED in soil. In Kabbalah (though certainly not exclusively in Kabbalah), the energy of females is referred to as “malchut”, which can be translated literally as “kingdom”, but also can be defined symbolically as the ground, the earth. And this makes sense given the different attributes of women.

But there is another aspect to being the “earth” or the “soil”: an element of passivity. Earth and soil are naturally “grounded”, (note the pun). Earth is essentially stationary and, (except in the case when it has been angered and rises in defiance causing destruction and chaos in the form of earthquakes – an idea I’d like to explore a little later), earth is passive and receptive. Passivity suggests vulnerability, and perhaps, even a sense of powerlessness; interestingly, women are the “weaker” and “vulnerable” sex.

I’d like to reconcile this dichotomy that lies within the physical existence of a woman. What great power she actually holds! Sterility in males tends to be a more devastating issue. Compared to the options available for a woman who is facing sterility, many men who are sterile will face the reality that their genetic material will simply not be passed on to a future generation. While this can happen to a woman, even a woman who does not have eggs could technically carry and nourish an embryo to birth. And yet, note, how this very ability, the ability to contribute to and then carry a child to term, is also the very attribute of women that has been used as a shackle to tie them down and declare them the inferior citizens of the world. Wouldn’t you say it’s ironic? People in patriarchal societies have taken this unique ability and with it labeled women as passive, vulnerable, weak…and ultimately subordinate to men, who don’t bear this “affliction”.

The earth can appear submissive. If we litter it, if we saturate it with toxins, if we neglect it, it seems like it will just absorb all that we do. One of the greatest, if not The Greatest ecological disaster, the BP oil spill…people are “working” to find a solution, but meanwhile the damage is being done, the earth is taking the beating. Women can seem weak in much the same way. Rape, abuse, sex trafficing, female genital mutilation, honor killings, virginity tests…these are all signs of a general belief in our world that women are passive and will be recepients of whatever is given.

What people forget is that there are consequences to this abuse. Soils will not be fruitful if they are eroded, crops will not be healthy if the roots are being fed toxins…the earth may seem passive but it has memory and what you give it is what you get. Earthquakes, tsunamis, all kinds of natural disasters, pandemics, mutations, defects…and lately most of these types of occurences can be traced to abuse of the planet…a lack of respect for the planet.

Two recent articles sparked my thoughts on women and childbearing. The first was a Sunday Times article on three women who weighed the option of in-vitro fertilization and subsequent single motherhood, to the extent that they acquired sperm for that purpose (from donor 8282). But just as they were about to take the plunge, each of these women “magically” met and had children with men (marriage is in there somewhere).

The second article was the cover story of the May 3rd edition of Time Magazine, The 50th Anniversary of THE PILL. The article outlined the history of contraceptives leading up to the pill and its journey through our society up to its present day status, medically, legally, morally and socially. I loved this article because it was successful at portraying the interplay and co-dependence of “the pill” and the various social progressions in the realm of feminism in this timeframe (1950-today). Many people attribute the women’s liberation movement to this tiny little pill. I don’t know that I can fully embrace that…it rings to me like an oversimplification. And yet, the pill was a tiny sized miracle: Women could finally make choices, act deliberately, and most importantly, act with a greater sense of certainty when it came to their sexuality and its relationship to reproduction.

But with power (the power to make choices) comes responsiblity, and almost immediately, the necessity for accountability and defense for your decision. Before, it had been only The Men and God who had executive rights over a woman’s body. What a revolution, what a shock to the system to overturn that norm…to figuratively slap them on their wrists and say, “no, no…I am the source, I make the decisions.”

My objective today is not to evaluate the Pill, it’s consequences or pros and cons. Rather, I’d like to celebrate a movement and a tool that, to whatever extent it may be, granted many women the power which, in truth was always their’s…was their birthright. We can muse about the different reasons why partiarchal ideologies and societies found it convenient to convince women they were powerless vessels…it’s so easy to buy into flawed thinking and to lose sight of reality. When we look at pregnancy and motherhood as something which defines women as weaker and vulnerable we have subscribed to patriarchal renditions of life and creation. Motherhood is not only a glorious power, but it is part of what makes women powerful, indispensible and splendid beings.

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Response to Is “the clock” ticking?

Thank you, everyone, for your comments and your stories. I love it that you are sharing and I hope that you will want to continue to respond with your stories, thoughts and feelings.

There are some common themes in our thoughts, it seems…strength, trust, faith.

We make the decision to follow a path…yes, that’s the first step. But the hardest part is actually then choosing to follow through. It’s hard to follow through because others will judge, we will face challenges, we will face the chain of decisions that follow the initial decision. We’ll probably face loneliness, if we’re going against the grain. We face doubts and then fears. And THAT’s when we need faith. One would hope to have faith in the path that they’ve chosen…faith that it is the right path and that it will bring fulfillment.

If we don’t have complete faith in the path, maybe we’ll have faith in ourselves, in our sense, to know when to turn back or fight on. If we don’t have faith in that, what is left? For the ones who are spiritually inclined, there is having faith in the universe…that the universe is a place of goodness and that it will conspire to help us on the path (The Alchemist).

The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, has a message that I find helpful when I feel like I’ve lost faith (in almost everything). The key in life is to do your best, fight your hardest, get off the fence and be brave…but relinquish the fruits of the battle. The victory, the prize, even the success should not be the goal. The battle you forge, the Process, is where the growth lies. If you divorce yourself from the hunger for a specific fruit, a specific outcome, you make yourself an open vessel to be filled with endless possibilities.

We cannot control outcomes…this idea solidifies, I think, the older we get. We waste so much time and energy, chasing after castles in the sky.  My good friend Barbara always tells me, “Try, Shiva, for once, to explore living in the unknown.” We can’t imagine all that could be in store for us…if we would just let go and make room for those things to come.

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Is “the clock” ticking?

It’s always been interesting for me that of all the 613 mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah, only 3 (THREE!) are considered chovah, mandatory for a woman. The commandments are split up into to general categories, commandments that time restricted and commandments that are not. The Mishnah (the compilation of Jewish oral laws) explains that women are not required to fulfill laws that are time-restricted, and they may voluntarily choose to do the laws that are not time-restricted. This leniency is granted because of their constant demands, children, the household, etc. Requiring them to do all time-based laws would be unrealistic.

Isn’t it fascinating? For a gender that time is so much of the essence,  Judaism decided to give a break on exactly that issue? Women are not bound by time!

As I grow, as a woman, time is becoming more and more of an issue. What do I want to do with my life, when do I want a family, how will it all figure in, if I do this now how will I become successful, if i wait will I be able to have kids and raise them as I want to…it’s actually quite terrifying. I know people, friends and family who have gone through fertility issues, first and second marriages, first and second careers. Culture and society, obviously, play into this a lot. It’s more acceptable now to put off having kids, to pursue a career and make professional success a priority…but is it? I am sandwiched between modern culture and the modern orthodox (Jewish) culture. I would say that at least 50% of the people I went to high school with are married…and that is a conservative estimate. So am I late? According to a woman in our community I am; she once told me, “Nuu, come on, when I was your age (22 at the time) I had 2 kids!” Ehem…

Yeah, it’s a different generation, but different, in a big way, in that it is confused. Mixed messages are all around. Teen pregnancy, divorce, adoption, motherhood at 65, in-vitro at 25. We know we have options, but how can we hear our own voice over all the bantering, all the suggestions, all the PRESSURE?

It’s about perspective…objectivity to be precise. At the end of the day, time is an illusion. At best it is a social construct. “Norms” don’t entirely exist anymore, as far as I can see. I think as a woman who struggles with expectations, ambitions and guilt, the first and healthiest thing one can do is to just throw that clock away all together. It is a hindrance to creativity and a burden. We/I need to always remember that the world is wide and age is a number. This is not to say that one can just float like a dandelion seed  to wherever the wind blows. My point is that life is not about reaching checkpoints in a timely manner. It’s funny, that game “Life” that we play as kids is just like that. You get a job or go to college, you get married, you buy a house and have kids…but we need to remember, that’s just a game. It’s not the real thing. Forget the checkpoints. The only way to have peace of mind is to be efficient in whatever it is you are doing. Live. Whatever you are doing, do it with purpose, with mindfulness and with love.

Once in college I went to career guidance to talk about and plan graduate school. I came into college as a naive, sheltered (very sweet) observant girl from a religious high school. I asked the career counselor, “so how does all this figure in if I get married? How do people balance?” She gave me this funny look as if to say, “You got plans to get married, hunny?” And she said, “I…wouldn’t PLAN around marriage. You do your thing, and if something comes up like marriage, then you fit it around what you are doing.” It was SO incredibly important that I heard that piece of advice.

I think the moral and my message are first, as I said, throw out that old clock. It’s meaningless, a waste of time and causes the secretion of unnecessary stress hormones (bad for the skin). As a woman I know I need to be mindful that I am living for myself and not for a mold or a norm, imposed by others or even by myself.

Just look for a minute at the mystical aspect of things: The soul is timeless, isn’t it? So what is age? A number…not more. And we all have as much time as we want to have…we are as free as we allow ourselves to be.

Chag Shavuot Sameach :)

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Response for “The Future Stands of the Shoulders of Women”

In response to Rachel’s (my MOM :D) comments on my last post…

Absolutely, women all over the world suffer from being or feeling disempowered. My argument is that the subjugation of women by different entities of patriarchal societies has been the norm for a very long time. But any being, whether male or female, if oppressed, if treated badly or is convinced that he or she is unworthy will internalize these messages and it will become part of his or her self concept, rendering the individual passive or self deprecating and unmotivated. So this response is human, not something that is endemic to women…it is an outcome. And subjugation can occur on many plains. It can start on a very fundamental level, the way your parents and your community treat you and educated you. It can be on a larger plain, on the plain of religion/dogma, politics, law; but these arenas are not divorced from or independent of the familial or communal arenas. They are in fact all symbiotic and help perpetuate one another over generations.
There are some cultures and parts of the world where subjugation seems almost to be bred. In these places it seems like people, women in this case, are living at the source of these unfortunate conditions. Well, the sin is always greater when someone else is doing it, and it’s easier to judge when you are judging someone else…there is no stack of justifications, rationalizations and denials. My point is that just because women there are clad differently and the statistics on economic equality depict a more stark disparity does NOT mean that the root issues that cause those problems preclude the structures in the “West”. Far from it.
In the US, women enjoy freedoms and safeties that many countries cannot offer them. No doubt. Women here are constantly faced with redefining the gender, redefining the expectations. But freedom of speech, expression and laws that promote equal opportunities cannot change, overnight, the prejudices…whispering sinister protests to all this progress. All it takes is a five minute walk down times square, a minute looking through a magazine, 15 seconds of television to see how the contradicting messages bombard all of us every minute.
So girls don’t know how to feel good about themselves if they don’t have a boyfriend, many women don’t know how to ask for a raise, many women don’t know how not to feel guilty when they want to work instead of being a housewife. Maybe some of them end up giving up their dreams and they stay at home, or maybe they don’t speak up when they know their husband is cheating, or as you said…they go after a man who is unavailable because they only feel woman enough when they have “won” a man.
The field of mental health has a history of struggling a lot in the insurance industry. This has mostly to do with the fact that there is usually no concrete time-frame for psychological treatment, and insurance is all about treatment plans that are water-tight and establishing limits. But therapy should naturally take time…reprogramming your thinking, unlearning certain false messages, re-loving you inner child?

A certain type of “therapy” does get more coverage for obvious reasons. In psychiatry, you give a drug to help alter the activity in a certain pathway in the brain. It either works or doesn’t, and that becomes clear within a few weeks. Then either you change the dose or try other meds.  God forbid the patient is a non-responder. Both treatment and coverage get complicated then. The fact is that  the meds, for some people, really help them rise above the fog, or maybe give them an oar to start getting somewhere. But for many people suffering from mental health disorders, the roots of the disease are non-biological…they are social and emotional. So essentially the medication is working at on the effect, not at the cause. These people must now use the effects of the medication to face their lives and work on the actual causes of their disease. So for complete healing, a long road is unavoidable.
Healing the condition of women in the world, resetting the status quo is a long process. Some tools (the meds) for doing this could be changes in policy, providing freedom and safety for women. But the underlying pre-programming, the poisonous, backward mentalities…those will all take time to change. Those will take individual as well as global transformation…it’s the next step on our “evolutionary track”.

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Fragments of a Whole

A new generation emerges today; it is the result of a extensive, perhaps global, melting of, let’s call it “identity”…National, Social, and Gender identities. It is as if we have become fragments of lands that we came from, lands that we’ve passed through and lands that we carry in our names, our genes and our stories. But these are fragments, and if one were to gather all these fragments they would find that they don’t  come close to constituting any recognizable, identifiable whole. Who are we? This question and the horrific silence that threatens at the end of it is the Reason we don’t regularly dare to make sense of the fragments we carry.

Are we carrying the fragments or are the fragments carrying us…making us? And if we are to venture saying that we are made of the fragments, then we are fragments. We are fragments. We are fragments? Am I not a whole? Do I not come from a whole? Or have I been so shattered, by what forces let me dwell on later, that while I was once whole, now I am not and can never be again.

There are philosophical, theological and scientific premises that may help quell the rising flames from the paragraph above. Let me entertain some of these…

One premise is that we are all shattered fragments of God, a supremely Whole being. As a pieces of a shattered glass mountain all maintain the molecular properties of the original glass whole, though they may be fragments at present, each piece contains the essence of wholeness at a molecular level.

Another premise is a tenet of physics, the law of conservation of energy. No energy in the universe is ever consumed or created. All energy is perpetuated by flowing from one form to the next.

One more premise to weigh in is that each day, each breath, each moment is a new creation. Nothing remains unchanged. Thus what we know to be a unit, a whole or an identity in one instance will inevitably change in all subsequent instances. If we are to fully embrace this concept of eternal and constant change, we will then also embrace the idea that many fragments bunched together can create a new type of whole, a hybrid, perhaps. If one allows for a fusion to occur, then he or she has allowed for creation to take place. This creation, like all creations, is whole and pure of essence.

And thus we are not fragmented and lost, but rather we are unified and new…found, even. Perhaps we are raw, but never disadvantaged.

Let us then be fearless in examining what we’ve become. The one thing that is absolutely true, and I will paraphrase from what I have learned from Deepak Chopra, is that the state of things at a given point in time is always just as it needs to be…each instant and each state of being is one of balanced perfection in the view of the universe. (I don’t take that idea lightly – I know that it entails both pleasure filled states and states of morbid, senseless suffering, simultaneously. However, I have said that we must be fearless in this mental trip that we are taking…it is meant to be a voluntary trip.)

I would like to think about all the different, seemingly fragmented pieces that make us the whole that we are…let us all open and see the pieces we are made of…examine them. How big are the pieces, how small…what part or parts of us do they constitute and how do they interact and affect one another. Do they all fit together? And if they don’t, is there a way, any conceivable way, we could find that they would fit?

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