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Feminine meditation
May 31st, 2013 (June 3rd, 2013)

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Feminine meditation
A (long) post for women.

Consider the "two truths" ( In relation to gender, this means seeing the emptiness of gender-based mental fabrications ("ultimate truth") but also seeing that conditions and circumstances for both genders are indeed different as long as people make it so ("conventional truth").

The "ultimate truth" avoids projecting the "hunter/gatherer" narratives on role models onto the 21st-century post-industrial societies, i.e. avoids projecting permanency… The "conventional truth" avoids negating that "social conditioning" does affect anyone until they're Liberated, i.e. avoids nihilism and its denial of common sense!

The "ultimate truth" avoids the delusions that women should only seek guidance from other women, that women-only "safe spaces" will ever allow to learn how to engage with the other half of humanity, and that women have an inferior karma… The "conventional truth" does not ignore female-specific questions, or strengths (as if they were irrelevant, just because "gender is empty"?).

Feminine meditation

When you slow down and enjoy your senses, you (re)claim your sensuality. Culturally, physically, historically, sensuality is manifested as a surrender to voluptuous experience.

This has an interesting consequence: forms of insight meditation (e.g. listening meditation), i.e. forms of meditation which surrender to "things as they are", may more easily manifest as 'pleasure' to women than to men.

Insight, or wisdom, (prajñā) is represented by the female in a yab-yum (, this is not so surprising once this specific manifestation of femininity is understood!

Limited meditation?

The most sexist (men… or women having internalised culturally-biased views) might be reminded that insight or wisdom (prajñā) is considered a required trait of Awakening. Because nirvāṇa is unconditioned, wisdom co-dependently arise with the awakening itself, it doesn't 'precede' it; you could say Awakening is the manifestation of wisdom, and vice versa. In such condition, to consider women as having inherently less potential for Liberation than men is sexist ignorance! 

Concentration meditation (with its 'masculine' focus on a prey, if we have fun with the hunter/gatherer myth for a moment) is useful to prevent insights from scattering the mind in too many directions, spreading its potency too thin, due to the sheer diversity of reality and infinite opportunities for insight at any place any time. But it is explicitly considered that even the highest  jhāna practice will not lead one to nirvāṇa: after studying with his initial two teachers, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, the Buddha could reach the highest abode of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (i.e. deep into non-duality) but he was clear this was not constitutive of Liberation…

So, feminine karma offers great opportunities for Awakening. The views on female-specific sufferings (such as giving birth or simply having periods), as justifications for the 'inferiority' of female birth, are not only forgetting that suffering is required before getting free from suffering, but also denying the associated qualities (such as manifested in motherhood, or simply that anxiety about what others think makes one better at… socialising and seeing inter-dependence!).

Sensual meditation

But what if meditation leads to pleasure? Does sensuality in such a context sound outrageous, scandalous, or wrong? Does it seem counter-intuitive to what you’ve heard (in particular from male teachers)?

One of my key teachings is to remind people that the purpose of our practice is not to become stone-cold. Attachment is the enemy of love, detachment is not: love is precisely found in our ability to respond appropriately, freely, i.e. without neuroses getting in the way, without prejudices, without certainties, without refusing who someone becomes by fixating on who they were, i.e. without clinging ( (!

Mindfullness is not "being brain-dead" ( It is in the ability to sustain the attention to what is here and now. It is not nothingness, but awareness focused on "what is" (instead of "what was", "what will be" or, worse, "what should be"… all thoughts preventing a sentient being to respond here and now to what is)!

When you meditate, you sort-of enter a state of relaxation. Scientific research showed that, in some ways, this may be a state of rest even deeper than sleep, although you’re awake…
Most importantly, you may never have been so at peace before, but also so present, so relaxed, so immersed in the flow of life. For all we know, this may reach similarities with enjoying the warm caress of sun-bathing (without worrying about what others think) or of a nice bath!
Meditation precisely opens you up to a space where worries and the stupid mental fabrications we call 'expectations' and patterns of stress are let go, a space where you stop 'defining' yourself by these, where you stop 'identifying' with these!
Meditation requires tonic presence ("right effort"), without clinging, without tension (tonus is not tension): it explicitly dispenses of the belief that pain and "paying for one's sins" are how to get free. Meditation is the cultivation of de-grasping, of letting go, of dropping 'suffering' and letting it smash on the floor… The "cessation of suffering", anyone?

As women, unless you give yourself permission to let meditation be sensuous and voluptuous, you might limit your experience and the associated insights… Any feeling that you're smashing a taboo is likely to be a sign of progress, a sign of no longer identifying with femininity as a 'painful' condition. "Casting off body and mind" was Dōgen's awakening, so the feeling of 'melting' is not to be fought off! Surrender to the experience and the needs of "here and now", even if it's still coloured by femininity at this stage! Do not appropriate abstract 'male' presentations or techniques: you're working on letting go, not on appropriating a male perspective! Do not cling to 'female' presentations either, you're working on letting go! Just pay attention and respond, not "as a woman", not even "as a human being", simply respond (without 'identification')! And no, the appropriate response to pleasure (including physical pleasure, by conditioning and by the fact that pleasure arises in one's head anyway!) is not in forcefully suppressing it as if it was 'dirty' or negative.

Meditation is about learning to pay attention, instead of planning, or replaying films in our minds over and over. As a tool (not a goal, but still…), there is nothing stupid in paying attention to something which is pleasurable. So don't make meditation a 'male' bore, without sensuality. If your conditioning or karma led you to enjoy the sounds of birds singing or the smells of flowers, why not use these as your object of attention? Learn to be mindful of these, i.e. to not let thoughts about work, looks, fashion, kids, partner, family, friends, expectations, etc, distract you from these sounds and smells! If your conditioning or karma led you to have nice sensations in your body when you relax this way, pay attention to these sensations, notice their arising, enduring, ceasing… Pay attention and that's 'it': you are meditating! 

Let go of prejudices

Find peace with the skin you’re in. Don't cover, don't hide, don't be ashamed of any moment of 'earthiness' (the Buddha took the Earth as witness when Māra challenged him in an attempt to prevent his awakening…), don't appropriate the 'male' mistake of separating body and mind and, worse, of 'ranking' them! Let go of any obsession with perfection, of the need to always be in control!

Use your karmically superior ability to surrender; use your karmically superior ability to embrace many insights at once; and if this means 'sensually' for now (because of identification), simply embrace sensuality! This is not who you are, but freedom is freedom from lust and aversion; freedom is neither in lusting for the other gender, nor in demeaning yours. What I suggest is that you pay attention to any sensuality that manifests, instead of rejecting it, denying it or being ashamed of it due to cultural conditioning! No need to seek a sensual experience of meditation, but no need to reject it either…

Study causality, study your conditions and circumstances, your body, your mind… Study how feelings arise and cease, how perceptions arise and cease, how mental fabrications proliferate…
Start by getting free from any sense of 'shame', 'inferiority' or 'inappropriateness' in relation to being a woman. If you meditate alone on a regular basis, maybe meditate in the nude for some time (typically a piece of advice which does not work so well for most men —different education, different conditioning, different needs in order to get free) —a blanket might be useful against the cold, in practical terms, but take off all clothes, and the blanket is not to hide… It will feel awkward at first and that's okay: freedom is not a state we're familiar with, it always feel awkward the first times! Love yourself! Trust yourself!

#Buddhism   #Dharma   #femininity   #meditation  
Image: oil on gesso panel, "Meditation" © David Hardy