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A Letter to Our Readers

by Elizabeth Debold

In asking the central question that framed our last issue, “What is liberation for women today?”, we thought we were opening a door and discovered that it was a floodgate! Never in WIE’s history have we had such a response to an issue. Not just in the number of letters we received, but in the diversity of views expressed. The passion evoked by our thirty-seventh issue, Woman: A cultural, philosophical, and spiritual exploration, reflects just how important women’s next leap forward is. Women, and men (because we did get responses from men too), care deeply because the future depends on it. At this point in history, without women and men in equal, conscious partnership, real change won’t happen.

The aim of the issue was to explore women’s evolutionary edge, and how a transformation in women’s consciousness could catalyze cultural change at the core—our relationships with each other. If women at the leading edge transcend our culture’s foundational dynamics and patterns of relationship in order to create something new, what could happen? While we came at this question from a variety of ways, two features drew the strongest responses from our readers. The first was the Guru and Pandit dialogue between WIE’s editor in chief, spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, and integral philosopher Ken Wilber, which flew in the face of political correctness by having two men speak about the challenges women face on the evolutionary spiritual path. Specifically, Cohen spoke about his work with his women students—the women from EnlightenNext, WIE’s parent organization. The second feature was a pair of profiles, one on women from Integral Institute and the other on the EnlightenNext women.

It was the strength of the responses—both extremely enthusiastic and extremely critical—that has led to our expanding the “Letters” section and to my writing this letter back to you, our readers, to keep the dialogue going. We are serious about doing all we can to catalyze a new women’s liberation. Putting forward what we are engaged in here at EnlightenNext, as women with our teacher, was as one reader exclaimed, “getting down to the nuts and bolts of this self transcending . . . conscious evolution business!” This was just a first step. And it stirred up important questions that reveal the varied assumptions that we each hold about women’s nature and potential, men’s relationship to women, and the purpose of spiritual development. Lifting all of this up to shed light on our deepest beliefs is exactly what we want to do. Our mission here at WIE is to create cultural spaces where we can challenge ourselves and each other to think more deeply, make distinctions, and strive for higher integration. This ongoing inquiry is essential for building a foundation for a new movement in women’s consciousness at the leading edge of culture.

While the letters speak for themselves, I’ll briefly summarize some of the key questions they raise. To a great extent, they point to how fraught gender dynamics are in our culture. Some writers commented on the persistence of structural inequalities in our society that favor men. “Power continues to be accumulated and hoarded by male social structures which are pervasive,” writes Caroline Hurley of Dublin, Ireland. A few questioned whether men could have anything of value to say about women’s spiritual development or if a male spiritual teacher is appropriate for women. One woman, for example, writes: “I find it offensive for any man to think he has the knowledge and ability to say anything intelligent or relevant on women’s issues.” And despite the fact that the issue was on women, several responses reminded us that “men are not removed from this journey.” Forty years after the women’s liberation movement started in the 1960s, women remain very aware of the power differences between men and women, and are sensitive to comparisons between the sexes. While this is more than understandable, it begs the question of how we are going to move toward a culture where women and men respect and trust each other wholeheartedly.

Perhaps the way that many think we will get to this new culture is implied by another line of responses about women and spirituality. Several readers, surprised by Cohen’s and his students’ descriptions of how difficult it was for women to meet beyond ego, asserted that women easily reach, as Judy O’Brien says in her letter, “the level of unitive consciousness”—especially when they are safely separate from men. A couple of responses mentioned that men need to awaken to the feminine, and this will transform gender dynamics. “As we unite as the divine feminine, we will coexist in deep companionship,” remarks Sarah McIntyre of Sydney, Australia. Several responses to the Guru and Pandit dialogue argued that women’s spiritual path is very different from male spirituality. In that dialogue, Cohen spoke about women going beyond, or transcending, core biological and social conditioning. Women’s path is about embodiment, some readers say, not transcendence. As Michiel Doorn and Wendy Burkland write, “The compulsion to become free at an existential level is a one-sided, masculine affair!” This position—shared by quite a few who wrote to us—raises important questions about what we see is possible for us as women and men. Is the impulse toward transcendence—the urge of evolution itself—unnatural to women? If so, then what does that mean about women and men cocreating the future together?

We each may have different answers to our central question “What is liberation for women today?” Everyone senses that women’s transformation will unleash enormous potential. From the responses, it also seems that there is a consensus that the next women’s movement must be distinctly spiritual—an inner liberation. How we go about doing that work, and how it will have an impact on culture, is where the rubber hits the road and the sparks begin to fly. My colleagues here at WIE, my sisters at EnlightenNext, and I are eager to engage this question. We’re looking for new ways to do that—through teleconferences, salon discussions, online, or face-to-face, and are open to your suggestions. Two of my EnlightenNext sisters and I met with five women, friends and allies of our evolutionary mission, who took issue with what we were saying in the magazine. We’ve had one spirited discussion so far—creative friction in action!—and all want to go further. I just returned from a quick trip to Chicago where I engaged in a passionate dialogue with women and men about where we are and where we need to go. There is a tremendous hunger, a real desire for more—engagement, contact, and liberation. And there is so much further to go, for every one of us. We’re just beginning; at WIE we are thinking about next steps. For those of you who asked, “What about the men?” we’re talking about an issue on men’s evolution. And in an upcoming issue, I’m going to explore the Feminine. As one woman said, we’ve “hit a nerve” with this issue on women. Let’s follow that nerve, allowing our own reactions to lead us right to the heart of what is most important, what needs to be transformed, and who we have the potential to be. Thank you all for your powerful responses—and let’s keep this inquiry alive.


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This article is from
Ecology, Politics, and Consciousness


October–December 2007