Back in 1990 when I started to play around with the techniques that later evolved into the women’s awakening and empowerment process that we use at Awakening Women Institute, I did not really know how to be a woman in the world.
All the role models I saw around me seemed to be constricted in one way or another. The women in Norway, where I grew up, had thoroughly proven that they could “do it as good as men,” but on the other hand it seemed like “doing it as good as men” only made women tense, unhappy and stressed.
In my early twenties I fell in love with meditation and a reality outside my own little boring mind. Through this passionate love affair, a place inside me revealed itself, a dimension of being that was peaceful, limitless and always present. From there my life changed dramatically, but there was still a deep underlying confusion around living in a woman’s body: a body so alive, so deeply yearning and so ready to love. I struggled with how to be with my rich emotional world, when and how to set boundaries, and my relationships were basically a mess.
Eventually I realized that many of the techniques I had been studying were created for monastic circumstances where life is quite even and easygoing. And, more important, most of the practices were created by men, for men.
Life as I knew it was always full of change and movement, ups and downs. I realized that as long as I lived my life as a woman in the modern world, there would never be a time when I would have meditated enough, done enough therapy, tried enough techniques, simply been enough. There would never be a time when everything would be harmonious ever after.
How would I meet the ever changing swirling appearance of life? Would I close down in fear, armoring against the world, or relax and open to giving my gifts?
For this exploration a whole new approach would be needed, and this gave birth to what we today call the Feminine Leadership.
There is immense power and creativity unleashed when women not only prove that they can do it on mans’ terms, but that they instead actively participate in defining the terms in a way that feels true and balanced.
In the Awakening Women Institute global programs we are defining and cultivating feminine leadership skills as powerful qualities and skill-sets that we as women bring into our world. Feminine Leadership is a sincere and deeply caring disposition to life, that is in no way defined or limited by a job description.
Leadership implies qualities of influence, qualities that effect how you relate to people around you, how you relate to you own creativity and vision, and how you relate, moment to moment, to you own emotions and thoughts.
Let us look a bit closer at four core principles of feminine leadership.
In the Awakening Women programs we encourage experiential exploration, rather than mere theoretical memorizing. In this way our understanding becomes integrated and embodied.
You will find powerful tools and practices along with each Feminine Principle so that you can begin implementing them into your life today.
The Feminine Base camp
The number one principle of feminine leadership, is to create your own Feminine Base Camp. This is where you nurture and replenish body and soul, before soaring up to the glorious peaks.
Remember the instruction from the stewardess on an airplane before taking off; “in case of emergency put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on your child.”
It is logical isn’t?
If you don’t have oxygen you will die, and you cannot take care of any body else. Nevertheless most of us women are deeply stuck in a collective habit of running around taking care of everybody else, until we stumble to bed wondering what happened to our visions and dreams, what happened to the thrill of just being alive?
Everything feels overwhelming, the hairdresser-wanna-be-shrink tells you that you are probably burned out, your husband calls you bitter and frigid, your kids wonders why you never smile, and you? You simply want to go to bed and never get up again.
As we cultivate this feminine leadership skill we realize that we cannot take care of anyone, or anything, unless our own inner well is filled up. In the same way we know, deep in our bones, that when our well is filled to the brim, we can indeed make miracles happen in the world.
We need to work through the old mental programming telling us that it is selfish to prioritize our own well-being. We make it our number one priority to take care of our selves.
In fact this is the most profound way you can serve the world. Rejuvenated, glowing and brimming with inspiration and strength we can give our gifts to the world, and keep giving, in a sustainable way.
For me the Women’s Temple group is my feminine base camp. Here I connect with the wisdom of my body, the vibrant aliveness of my feeling world, and with the strength and support from my women’s friends. Do you have some woman friends you can gather with?
Tools for living it
This practice we call The Goddess Rinse and it is especially perfect if you work in a very mental and masculine environment: it will remind you that you are indeed a woman and that you have a vibrantly alive body. During your day take a 3 minute Goddess bathroom break: sit or stand, put your hands on the top of your head, and slowly begin to stroke down your head and face and neck and down your body, all the way to the feet. Hang here for a few breaths with your upper body and head loose and heavy. Then move up the body again all the way to the head. Take a moment to feel the sensations in your body. Now you can move on with your day.
Connect with Higher Purpose
Why are you alive? What is truly important to you? What motivates you in the deepest sense?
The answers to these questions will guide you through the ups and downs of the creative process. When you connect with a purpose of service to something or someone outside yourself, you will no longer be a slave to your emotional roller-coaster: one day feeling utterly worthless, not wanting to get out of bed, another the ego getting so inflated that you are flying three feet off the ground. All this get less important when you are connected with a higher purpose, your “why.” Your purpose will fill you with a burning urgency and it become impossible to keep postponing giving your gifts, waiting for that one magic day when you will no longer feel fear. Your passion to serve is so strong that you can’t help but show up, ready or not.
Tools for living it
Don’t worry about what form it will take. The “how to” will be guided by the “why.”
When hearing me talk about finding one’s life purpose, many women feel depleted and lost, thinking that all the other people have had miraculous revelations in form of a baritone voice from above, and that they were somewhere else that day. The truth is that your purpose is not a static destination in time, it is a process that always takes place right here, right now. It is a process similar to falling in love: you fall in love with what is truly important and you marry it. As in any marriage, you allow for evolution and growth; but you are committed for better or for worst. Take the step, today. Marry your deepest values, and begin to live as a true leader.
We Honor the Cyclic Nature of the Creative Process
I remember reading a quote from a giant motivational speaker, saying: “you have to improve yourself every single day!” I get exhausted just by reading those words…
The Feminine knows, in intimate ways, how nature moves in cycles. Even when it looks like nothing is happening, or no obvious improvement is taking place, she knows that important processes are unfolding.
In the fine-tuning of this leadership skill we learn to listen and honor the pauses: the silence. We know that everything has its own time and rhythm and when we learn to dance with this, it saves us a lot of struggle. You cannot force the seed to sprout before it is ready, but even in the winter time, deep underneath the earth, important growth is taking place.
In the same way when the time comes, and the big wave is rolling in, you want to be ready to jump on and surf it! We all know the pain of sitting on the beach procrastinating, watching the wave roll out without us…
Tools for living it
What cyclic phase are you currently in? To clarify this will save you from a whole lot of struggle. There are appropriate actions to take, or not to take, for each phase.
Let’s use the phases of pregnancy and childbirth to understand this:
- If you have a sense of something you are called to do but you don’t know yet what it is, you are in the conception phase and the right thing to do now is simply to wait. Spend time in silence, in nature perhaps, and open yourself for guidance. This phase is full of possibilities, nothing is clear yet, and that is exactly how it should be.
- If you vaguely know what you are called to do, but it has not yet taken form, you are pregnant. You don’t know the gender yet, or how the baby will look, but it is clearly there. Your job now is to nurture yourself and to gather strength. Perhaps you want to prepare the nest before the birth. Patience is needed, remember you cannot push the baby out before it is ready!
- Maybe you already have an infant? You now know the gender, the name and you begin to get a sense of your baby’s personality. Sleepless nights, exhaustion, and the thrill of the new are all parts of this phase, you have to be ready to give everything.
- The toddler needs even more attention as it is beginning to have a sense of will and creativity.
- As the child grows older you have some time now when all is needed from you is gentle steady maintenance and guidance.
- Then you hit the teenage years, which may be a time of obstacles and fierce resistance. Your persistence and guidance is now needed more than ever. Many give up in this phase.
- One day the child has grown up and is ready to live an independent life, this may be the time when you let your project go, and again open yourself to new horizons.
Compassion and Heart
The Dalai Lama says that the future of the world lies in the hands of women, because women are the teachers of compassion. It is true that compassion comes naturally to the feminine, but we have learned to view this quality as ’soft’ and therefore not suitable when it comes to leadership in business or global interactions. The reality is that this quality is one of the most important keys to a new leadership for a new time. Women’s natural concern for everybody’s needs is profoundly valuable and effective in leading and empowering a team. It is obvious that people who feels empowered, seen and cared for will do a better job. Just imagine the possibilities as we bring this skill-set into international diplomacy.
One aspect of this leadership skill is to have enough spaciousness in yourself so that you can be truly present with another. This means that you can receive another without jumping into evaluation and reaction right away. We practice to “sit back in the saddle”, and to really listen with an open heart.
Tools for living it
When you listen to another, really listen. Notice thoughts and feelings that arise in you without acting on them. There is an ancient Buddhist method that is helpful for this, It is called Atisha’s Heart Meditation: Imagine that there is an open window into your heart, breath in and out through this window. When you notice thoughts, feelings or body sensation, imagine that they ride on the in-breath into the open window of the heart, and dissolve back into space. On the out-breath breathe out the quality of the heart (spacious, non judging, neutral, present). When you listen to another you can receive them through the open window of the heart. If you notice reactions in you, breath it all in and let it dissolve. This will help you be truly present with the other, and that is what we all long for; to be fully and utterly received and seen.
I want to end with these words from Clarissa Pinkola-Estes :
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.
Don’t wait for the right job before you rise up and shine, you can live as a Feminine Leader right here, right now. Remember the world is a richer place because of you.