No, it’s not a pretty phrase. But it’s a fitting name for a set of institutions and ideas that steal away women’s pro-creative power through physical violence, social shaming, and economic exploitation.
In The Woman’s Belly Book, I say pro-creative power is our body-centered power to promote creation — through childbirth, yes, and through life-affirming ways of being in every dimension.
Creating a cultural paradigm beyond rape is what Kim Duckett’s about. How does she do it?
“I take women to Hel and back,” she says.
Her vehicle for visiting goddess Hel is reviewing — and rewriting — the ancient Greek myth of Persephone’s descent.
“Stories lead to the heart of healing,” my recent article in the Mountain Xpress, Asheville’s weekly newspaper, features Kim and her work.
For whatever reason, the newspaper has shied away from relating the horrific aspects of the conventional myth to current events in the culture at large. I invite you to read the article here and add your comments online. Tell us: How is revising the myth of Persephone important for you, your family?
Here’s some background:
Kim Duckett, a.k.a. Woman Who Follows Her Heart, is an ordained Priestess and a shamanic ritualist rooted in the mountains of western North Carolina.
Holding a doctorate in Transpersonal and Spiritual Psychology with a focus on Feminist Theory, she’s taught women’s studies in college and university settings for thirty years. She also co-founded the rape crisis center, now known as Our Voice, that’s been serving the region’s women and men for more than forty years.
The Wheel of the Year as an Earth-Based Spiritual Psychology for Women names Kim’s forthcoming book. Those words also name the teaching she offers to women as she travels throughout the nation.
Kim describes her teaching this way in the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies:
The Wheel of the Year as an earth-based psychology for women is inherently feminist and also based in transpersonal psychologies. Women explore the turning points, or holydays of the Wheel, on both spiritual and psychological levels through a wide range of modalities that engage body, mind, emotion, and spirit.
The Wheel of the Year focuses the first year of Kim’s Sacred Mystery School, a three-year curriculum in women’s spirituality. With the arrival of the autumn equinox, she invites women taking part in Mystery School to update and personalize the myth of Persephone.
Kim knows, as famed mythologist Joseph Campbell did, that myths validate and preserve a culture’s social and moral order. She knows, as Campbell did, that myths must change to keep pace with changing times. “Myths are teaching stories,” she says. “So it’s important to ask: What are they teaching?”
She begins by presenting women with the conventional version of the myth: Hades snatches maiden Persephone, rapes her, and imprisons her in his underworld realm.
Does this scenario sound familiar? So many of us have similar stories.
Finally breaking through to national awareness with New York magazine’s July cover story, scores of women have alleged that comedian Bill Cosby did Hades over decades, holding young women captive in an “underworld realm” of drug-induced loss of consciousness. They’ve alleged that agents of various cultural institutions aided and protected Cosby, keeping his actions secret, allowing him to continue.
Drawing on Charlene Spretnak’s research, reported in Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, Kim inspires women to recognize alternatives to the Greek myth as it’s usually told, including versions pre-dating the ones validating rape culture.
In a circle of mutual support, expressing themselves through dance, poetry, and drama, women create their own versions of the myth. In these, Persephone chooses to descend.
Each woman acknowledges, as Persephone does, her need to deepen. She chooses to move inward, to re-member and re-collect herself, to be with her inner wisdom. In the deep, dark, womb-like realm of goddess Hel she finds a place for rest and replenishment. She meets not Hades but Hecate, the wise woman within.
And then she emerges, refreshed. She embodies greater clarity, more vitality, and a renewed sense of purpose. She returns with a mythic guide to her own well-being.
What’s more: Women rewriting the myth of Persephone as woman-affirming stories of descent and return build the foundations for a generative, peaceable culture of life.
How do you rewrite the myth of Persephone? I invite you to add your own story, your own comments, here.
A Year and A Day Sacred Mystery School for Women
Lost Goddesses of Early Greece
Your body’s center, sheltered within your belly, is the one-point through which you address your body as a whole. It’s a principle of physics: A motive force applied to your body’s center moves your entire form.
As I write in The Woman’s Belly Book:
What happens to the center happens to the whole…. When your belly center leads you into action, your whole body moves easily, gracefully, almost effortlessly. The whole of you moves as one.
Your body’s center is also your center of being, the one-point where the matter and energy of who you are converge. It’s the one-point from which your physical and emotional expressions emerge.
The best actors enact this truth. They entirely embody a character, bringing the physicality and emotionality of a particular — however fictional — person to life. They deepen into their body’s center and bring forth an individual. They don’t give us an impression; they give us a genuine experience of another human being.
Tom Hanks is not my favorite actor, although I think he did a splendid job as Chuck Noland, the stranded FedEx exec in “Cast Away.”
Whatever my opinion, he does know acting.
In fact, he revealed acting to be a body-centered practice when he said this (at 1 minute, 2 seconds) after receiving the Kennedy Center honors in 2014:
“I hope the look on my face was reflecting the honor and pleasure I had inside my belly.”
You know how action movies usually include some kind of chase? Usually it’s one car chasing another through tight alleys or the turns of a parking garage. Depending on the period, the chase might launch itself on foot, on horseback, or through interstellar space by starship.
One of my yet-to-be-finished screenplays lays out a skateboard-and-bicycle chase.
Yesterday, my spiritual journey (and my career as Belly Queen) took on the flavor of an action film: Driving my red Honda Element, I chased a white Ford Explorer through the streets of Asheville.
I was on my way home when I noticed, and deciphered, the license plate on this vehicle in front of me. I so wanted to get a picture of it. One hand on the wheel, one hand rummaging in my purse for my smart phone, I more or less kept my eyes on the road. The Explorer kept pulling ahead and out of camera range. I passed the turnoff that would have taken me home and kept going, praying the traffic light at the top of the hill would be red.
The light was red, but the Explorer was turning right on the green arrow. I followed, hoping the next traffic light would be red. It was. I whipped out my camera and clicked just as the light turned green and the Explorer veered left onto the interstate. I followed, not sure that the snapshot I’d taken through my windshield had captured the plate.
Once on the interstate, the Explorer pulled out of sight. I took the next exit and went home.
Thank you, synchronicity. Thank you, bestower of grace. Thank you, personalized alert system that messages me however it can.
Yes, gratitude. Yes, I’m grateful.
I’m currently in love with Barbara Fredrickson‘s book Positivity (Random House, 2009). Gratitude is one of ten positive emotions she champions. Along with joy, hope, interest, pride, serenity, amusement, awe, inspiration and love, the felt sense of gratitude leads to human flourishing — feeling “more alive, creative, and resilient” as she says.
The key to flourishing is embodying these positive emotions three times more frequently than negative emotions, which she identifies as various shades of anger, fear, contempt, and shame.
What do positive and negative emotions have to do with belly wisdom? How do positive emotions such as gratitude relate to deepening breath and awareness into our body’s center and energizing our hara?
My friend and Integral Bodywork originator Everett Ogawa says that, for him, lowering the breath into his body’s center leads him into a bigger circle of understanding. He recognizes how life is so much larger than any human can comprehend. In the presence of such enormity he’s thankful for whatever may be the span of his life, his tiny place in the great scheme of things. And he’s moved by compassion to devote his time to helping others. Deepening his breath, gratitude becomes a whole-being experience, a felt sense of the precious gift that is the body, that is life itself.
Witness Everett’s expression not only of gratitude but also of awe, inspiration, interest, serenity, and hope.
These and the other positive emotions that Fredrickson names are forces of attraction, connection, and bonding, linking us with others and with our essential selves.
In contrast, her roster of negative emotions are forces of separation, distancing us from others and from our essential selves. (James Joyce describes one of his characters: “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”)
My hunch: If we need to get all bioscience about it (and I’m not sure we do), the negative, separating emotions follow from the cranial brain’s capacity for analytical thinking — a.k.a. sequential sorting and ranking and judging. The positive, unifying emotions follow from the gut brain’s capacity for simultaneous synthesizing and encompassing.
With all of psychology’s current fascination with neuroscience, the goings-on between the cranial brain and the rest of the body, I’m waiting for the day when these investigations expand to include the gut brain, the enteric nervous system.
[Be forewarned, this paragraph gets technical.] Cranial brain and gut brain communicate with each other through the tenth cranial nerve, the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve also connects cranial brain and heart. Current fascination with neuroscience includes detailing the vagus nerve’s role in, for example, heart health and social engagement. Fredrickson’s research suggests that positive emotions increase a person’s perception of social connection, which in turn increases vagal tone, an indicator of physical health.
Energetically, emotions such as joy, serenity, and love reflect a state of being in which a person’s life force (prana, chi, ki) is flowing fully and freely. Emotions such as anger and fear reflect a situation in which life energy is stuck and unbalanced — too much in one place, not enough in another.
Deepening awareness into the belly, energizing the body’s center with movement and breath, activates the hara as our central powerhouse. Our body’s center serves us as a dynamo, generously pulsing life energy through our whole body and being.
With our hara-powered life force flowing fully and freely, we’re susceptible to feeling all kinds of positive emotions. Chances are that we and our lives will flourish.
For that, for the dynamo of life energy centered in our bellies, I’m grateful.
Reading the piece, which sports the title “Forgiveness,” I wonder: What does belly wisdom have to do with that?
The Woman’s Belly Book: Finding Your True Center for More Energy, Confidence, and Pleasure includes two poems, but this isn’t one of them.
Searching my computer for a file that might contain the poem, thinking I could copy and paste the words here for you rather than type them out again, I find files labelled Forgiveness.0, Forgiveness.1, and Forgiveness.2.
Turns out, back in 1995 — twenty years ago — I guided people through a Ritual of Forgiveness in a workshop that was (if I remember correctly) part of a Sufi conference on healing.
The ritual involves moving through the Honoring Your Belly sequence of power-centering gestures — twice, in fact, each time with a different narration.
Apparently I wrote the two narrations for this Ritual of Forgiveness sometime after writing the ones that inform the Rite for Reconsecrating Our Womanhood and the Rite for Invoking the Sacred Feminine. The Reconsecrations voice a sequence of affirmations tracing the heroine’s journey; the Invocations present a series of body prayers addressing the Feminine Divine. In each case, the words imbue the 23 gestures they accompany with personal meaning.
Likewise, in the first round of this Ritual of Forgiveness the 23 movement and breathing exercises enact “Decomposing the Old, Conceiving the New.” The same gestures, in the second round, animate “Gestating and Generating the New.”
Both rounds involve drawing out images emerging from the body’s center: first, what we’re willing to release; then, what we welcome to take its place.
Twenty years ago, I discovered that energizing the belly and activating its wisdom with movement and breath could contribute mightily to the process of forgiveness. I believe I’m ripe for exploring that connection again.
How are you with forgiveness — needing to forgive, resisting forgiveness, knowing how to forgive — in your life?
Here’s the poem that sparked a twenty-year retrospective that, for me, is oh-so-timely today. I hope it’s a pleasure for you.
pulls you out of the muck with a pop
sets you on your feet here
where the ground is sturdy
and the footing’s firm
turns you around to face the
brushes you down, proclaims you
good as new
sends you on your way
with a scarlet smudge on your sacrum
and a turkey sandwich on rye
and a note safely pinned to your lapel:
I’ve aways loved the Kiki Dee Band’s song, written by Bias Boshel, “I’ve Got the Music in Me.”
Huh? The music that is in you — where is it? How do you tap into it?
If you’re asking me, belly queen as I am, I’ll say we tap into our music — into every expression of our life force — by deepening into our body’s center, the sourcepoint of our creative energy. We cultivate our relationship with this soul-power as we honor, rather than shame, our bellies. We activate it with movement and breath.
The guidelines for this activity include:
- Sitting comfortably, enter into the Centering Breath. Notice any images and sensations that come into your awareness as you focus your attention within your body’s center.
- Consider your arm to be an extension of your belly, a pipeline ready to carry information from your body’s center through to your hand and out onto paper. Maintaining your awareness in your belly, take the colored markers that appeal to you. Let your arm and hand move across the paper, spilling out colors, shapes, and lines.
- Give yourself all the permission you need to make your marks freely, without judgment or restriction.
These same guidelines apply when I’m at the piano, improvising — letting music arrive without planning, without thinking. Just as with drawing, my arms serve as pipelines, allowing the flow of energy and information from body’s center to keyboard.
The music that emerges in this way is so heart- and soul-satisfying. As one of my mentors, Mark Kelso of Muddy Angel Music, likes to say: The fun isn’t so much in playing music; it’s in being played by the music.
There’s a delicate balance between improvisation and composition. Certainly, each can inspire the other.
By my lights, as improvisation offers sensory experience of the life force concentrated in the body center, it expresses the energy of the Sacred Feminine.
Composition can likewise convey the sense of the Sacred Feminine. In this clip from Ethan Hawke’s magnificent film, “Seymour: An Introduction,” hear what virtuoso pianist Seymour Bernstein says about Beethoven’s expression of — and ambivalent relationship with — the feminine:
How do you tap into and express the music, the art, that’s in you?
Remember, once you register for this free event, you’re on your way to receiving two gifts I’m offering, each complementing The Woman’s Belly Book: a $5 discount on the Honoring Your Belly instructional DVD and a 20% discount on the full-color illustrated paperback, Rite for Invoking the Sacred Feminine.
Now, to the movies:
Early on in my career as Belly Queen — championing women’s bellies as sacred, not shameful — a woman showed me a poem she had written. The piece included the words: “first scar, mother scar.”
David Hewitt’s gem of a 10-minute film, “Belly Button,” offers its own take on that theme. The cast includes Sharon Small and Don Gilet, two of my favorite British actors.
Hewitt describes the story this way: “Six strangers are drawn together at one moment in time, but with different dreams.”
Click on the images above or here to see the film on YouTube.
How do you tap into your center’s ancient wisdom?
How do you nourish the roots of the feminine?
Twelve women share exquisite responses to these questions in a free telesummit hosted by Barbara Hanneloré, author of The Moon and You: A Woman’s Guide to an Easier Monthly Cycle.
You can read about each presenter and their expertise at nourishthefeminine.com
I’m honored to be taking part in this event. My conversation with Barbara, available on April 22, focuses on connecting with the Sacred Feminine.
What’s more: When you register for the telesummit at nourishthefeminine.com, you’re on your way to receiving gifts from each of the twelve presenters.