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Carol Lee Flinders

To review: these books are ones I'm eager to get, or on my shelf waiting to be read, or that I've read and am trying to get time to write about.

At the Root of this Longing; Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst
San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1999.

Flinders' spiritual practice is largely grounded in Hinduism, but she also understands Buddhism and Christian mysticism.
Focusing on four basic issues in spiritual practice, she analyzes how common attitudes towards them contribute to the oppression of women, and how more careful interpretation of the spiritual principles behind them in fact supports liberation from that oppression:
  • Silence
  • Self-naughting
  • Restraint of desire
  • Enclosure

Self-naughting is the one that has troubled me the most. I feel beaten down by all the diatribes against ego I read in traditional Buddhist teachings. Standing up for myself, resisting my cultural training to introject the needs and desires of others and not even know my own -- these are nowhere addressed by traditional thinking. Flinders cuts through the confusion, acknowledging the problem of codependence, and examining methods that foster for women "clarity on who they really are."

She cites a project in which women researchers discovered this kind of clarity through using research methods that set aside conventional ego-trips:

In other words, what you see on the part of the Laurel School researchers is a willing adoption of silence and a concerted effort to set aside personal assumptions, projections, and desires for control so that the voice and full selfhood of others—the girls they were studying—could be heard and seen. Their motive appears to have been a mix of intellectual curiosity and the passion for empowering women-in-the-making that most of us would call feminism. How very interesting, then, that these exceedingly grounded and this-worldly researchers should have experienced what they did as a result: a powerfully enhanced sense of their own selfhood and fresh clarity on who they really are. Because, of course, this is exactly what mystics have always told us would happen-told us through whatever metaphor they could lay hands on—when we "get ourselves out of the way. "(p. 294)

... goes on to focus on the basic agenda of feminism:

It's one thing to protest various forms of injustice— wage inequities, glass ceilings, classroom bias—as slights against our humanity, and it's quite another to recognize that they all emanate from a particular set of assumptions about what actually constitutes humanity. (p. 294)

... and then locates the root illusion of all oppression in a style of defining "self" that hinges on power over others:

Sexism comes from exactly the same place in consciousness that racism does, and that is the belief that a sense of self is something you build and consolidate over time by defeating or disempowering other selves. I use the word belief intentionally, because something very like religious faith is involved here—the faith that I will be confident and secure, and, by extension, more fully a subject and "human," in proportion to the number of individuals I have defeated and disempowered—or know I could if I wanted to. (p. 294)

"Power-over", an addiction (tanha), thus contributes to identification with a reified, limited, defended "self." Because if I can't lord it over others, then I'm not safe, not real. But if I do wield that kind of power, then I cut myself off from the fundamental joy of compassion in community, feel needy, and try to satisfy that craving with re-entry into the vicious cycle of power-over, which is violence (whether physical or verbal, political, economic or intellectual...).

Hindu myth's living tradition of female Goddesses, feminist thinkers' work — especially Gerda Lerner's analysis of the development of patriarchy — and of fiction, film,

Flinders writes with such a personal style, that I found myself on the edge of my chair, gripped by her story because it evoked all my own most burning questions.

© copyright Catherine Holmes Clark, 2001; last updated 15 March 2004