Today we are blessed with a plethora of contemporary women spiritual teachers: Marianne Williamson, Pema Chodron, Gangaji, Gurumayi, Ammachi, Sylvia Boorstein and her many Buddhist colleagues. Accredited graduate programs in Women’s Spirituality have opened, and everywhere women are being ordained as ministers and rabbis.
Such abundance wasn’t available when I started on my spiritual path. All the persons of spiritual attainment offered for study or emulation were men. In fact, many teachers declared that women cannot become enlightened, that we will have to wait to be reborn as men. The so-called “perennial philosophy” and Ken Wilbur’s interpretations privileged male ways of being and worshipping, while placing non-rational, emotional and intuitive spiritual paths at the bottom of their hierarchies.
Over the years, I’ve researched women for whom spirituality was the central core of their lives. Here are a few you might find inspiring:
- Alexandra David-Neal — The first Westerner to be allowed to enter Tibet, she travelled for years in search of spiritual knowledge and experience, had a great tantric love affair with the king of Sikkim, and was still writing books about her adventures at the age of 100.
- Hildegard von Bingen — A nun and mystic whose music is still selling well on Amazon. A great scholar, writer, composer, scientist, and founder of monasteries. Although she lived in medieval times, she could truly be considered a “Renaissance woman” for the breadth of her knowledge and talents.
- Irina Tweedie –- A Sufi teacher and author of Daughter of Fire, a journal of her intense spiritual journey. (Inadvertently surprising to read because she wrote it in her 50s — considered “elderly” only a few decades ago.)
- Mary — In Sunday school I was taught to see Mary as a passive vessel merely impregnated by the Holy Spirit. According to esoteric literature, however, she was a scholar and temple priestess. Mary had been identified early as the future mother of the Messiah and was thus initiated as a young child and prepared and educated for the great task ahead.
- St Theresa of Avila — 16th century ecstatic mystic, theologian, and reformer of the Carmelite order of nuns. Her autobiography is one of the great classics of spiritual literature.
- Lady Tsogyal –- 8th Century Tibetan Buddhist saint, Queen, and consort of the great tantric teacher Padmasambhava. Her enlightenment was stated to be as high as that of any Buddha.
I encourage you to find out more about these wonderful ladies’ lives. It’s exciting and inspirational to learn about our foremothers of spiritual power and attainment.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth