by Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei
Enlightenment knows no differences – no man, no woman, no gender, no sex, no self and no other. In this context, a question like, “What Is the Integral Feminine?” evokes immediately the sound of Zen master shouting “Mu!” and the image of a female adept dropping suddenly to her knees in a gesture of spontaneous realization and gratitude. Enlightenment knows no gender, and yet, manifests in the body and mind of this woman practitioner. Enlightenment is empty of all particularity, and at the same time, is the full unfolding of distinctions in the manifest realm, including feminine sensibilities. Enlightenment is not bound by time and space, but paradoxically, is realized through consciousness occurring in our time and place, in this culture, and under these conditions in which the question, “What is the Integral Feminine?” comes up.
“What exactly is the Integral Feminine?” For those of us involved at Integral Institute and with the work of Ken Wilber, this question is frequently asked. Just as the Integral Framework provides a useful map for navigating the territory of our awareness, we can use the same framework to explore with a light touch who the Integral Feminine is, and how she might be cultivated and practiced in our time.
The Integral Feminine is awareness at the edge of evolution in the body and mind of a woman. You could say that she is a manifestation of evolutionary consciousness – embodying development with a particularly feminine flavor. To the extent that that she is aware, to the extent that she learns and unfolds, she has the innate capacity to expand and open into greater and greater identification with all things. This unfolding requires her intention, devotion, and will, and she is ultimately an Integral spiritual practitioner. Integral Life Practice includes four areas of attention: spiritual discipline, psychological work, body practice, and study of Integral theory.
As an Integral Practitioner, her most outstanding feature is the ability to take different perspectives on who and what she is – without being limited or constrained by them. In other words, the Integral Feminine is aware of herself arising in four quadrants of experience – the individual interior, individual exterior, collective interior, and collective exterior. She also is aware of levels and lines of development, states and types of consciousness that are her awareness. While these are ultimately conceptual categories, they are extremely useful in helping her clarify her experience and act more skillfully in the world. Using the Integral map, she is able to take perspectives easily and fluidly, without becoming fixed, dogmatic, or demanding in her viewpoint, realizing that all perspectives are inextricably related and partial.
In her own private interior (Upper Left), she is aware of sensations, thoughts, and feelings, as they arise within her. She sees deeply into the source of these and into her identification with her sense of self. She understands how her memories, beliefs, and conditioning shape the experience of who and what she is, including her experience of gender, and while she may identify with them, she does so lightly and fluidly, surrendering the grasping complications of ego and relaxing into the unconditioned space, the bliss and openness that is her fundamental nature. She is deeply at home within herself, with Spirit, and she naturally meditates.
The Integral Feminine is fearless in exploring the psychological shadow side of her interior experience. Shadow work is extremely important in Integral Life Practice because spiritual disciplines like meditation don’t directly address the aspects of the personality that are blocked from awareness and are projected out into the external world. Shadow work requires her to look directly at her projections and what is behind them – what is unacceptable, humiliating, or disowned in herself. Sometimes, the shadow is directly related to the experience of gender and needs to be integrated into identification with being female. An example of this might be a certain compulsion to need to feel special, making excessive emotional demands of others, or feeling powerless in relationship to males. Nobody determines whether these are gender specific tendencies except the practitioner herself.
If we shift focus to her individual exterior experience (Upper Right), the reality of the body – physical, subtle and causal are included. The Integral Feminine is highly connected to her feminine form and engages a body practice – dance, yoga, or chi gong, and attends to the factual impacts of diet, substances, and medications on her body, brain, and nervous system. She is a student of energy, learning to cultivate and circulate it, and relates with her own sexuality, whether straight or gay, without shame or confusion. She is very conscious of her behavior generally, receiving feedback easily and adapting gracefully to situations and conditions. She is never separate from her body or her behavior, and is particularly adept in experiencing the subtle and causal realms.
In the interior of the collective (Lower Left), she is a sophisticated participant in relationship and of culture. She is a good listener, a willing communicator, and understands that good relationships require an ability to openly receive others, in their similarities and in their differences. She also experiences herself within the context of her place and time, takes an interest in human history, the development of culture, and the place of women. She has a sophisticated relationship to feminism, to post-modern thought, and to social justice issues, but she isn’t held hostage by dogmatic views about gender relations. She is interested in the relative truth of all views of gender, but her loyalty is to both sexes, and to supporting men and women in manifesting more beautifully who they are. And sometimes she has the distinct experience that she what she offers to others is uniquely feminine.
Finally, in exterior of the collective (Lower Right), she is a keen observer of nature and of science. She is in awe of the natural world, amazed by the insights of science, and interested in their applications to the practicalities of modern life. She sees how human systems support the unfolding of the human beings, and whether it is in her own local community and or on a global scale, she advocates for laws, structures, and processes that are fair and just, treating women and men as equal players in the unfolding of human evolution and culture.
Enlightenment knows no gender, and yet, manifests in the body and minds of the Integral Feminine. Enlightenment is empty of all particularity, except that it includes masculine and feminine sensibilities. Enlightenment is not bound by time and space, but is realized through feminine consciousness in all of her beauty and shadow qualities, in her simplicity and complexity, and in the perspectives that only awareness reflected through the body, speech, and mind of a woman can reveal.