Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Sanctuary of Emptiness

We tend to think of a sanctuary as being a place. Even when we talk of our own inner sanctuary, it is still thought of as being a place inside ourselves. But what if we as women find ourselves with no other refuge than emptiness? What if we feel that emptiness is all which we have left? But there is nowhere that is not in some way a sanctuary – even emptiness. And finding the courage to take refuge in this emptiness can become the greatest bond of solidarity between women.

The very fabric of our physical being – our DNA – is passed predominantly through the female mitochondrial DNA from one generation to the next. And yet in so-called developed societies it is the male side which is the recognised lineage. Australian Aboriginal society recognises its lineage from mother to daughter. Did these wise people instinctively know something which Western culture has suppressed for the sake of preserving male dominance?

So much of Western thinking has been deeply influenced by religious standards found in the so-called ‘religions of the Book’, taken to be Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All three of these religions are male-dominant, even to the extent of erasing any traces of female deities from their scriptures. Judaism grew out of beliefs which had both male and female creative deities, with female deities such as Ashtoreth sharing creative powers. But a reading of the Old Testament will now only reveal vague glimpses of this goddess. All direct references to her have been deleted by subsequent male hands. And in spite of a contemporary shift to explain the deity as being gender-neutral, God is still very much ‘God the Father’.

Where is Ashtoreth? Where is Sophia? Where is Shekinah? The shift to monotheism has only succeeded in deifying a supreme being who is unmistakably male. But Jesus himself sought to break the mould of his day by including women among his disciples. Salome and Martha were among his circle – and Mary Magdalene occupied a principal place at his side.

But the spirit endures, and the Spirit is female. It was Eve in her wisdom who caused Adam to fall. For how can the soul progress without knowing life and death? How can the soul gain ground without experiencing a human life, with all its joys and its pain? A blissful existence in Eden had little to offer the soul, and Eve knew it, even if Adam did not. And yet for millennia it is Eve who has shouldered the blame for the expulsion from Eden. In the eyes of male thinking, it is the woman who prompted the fall into sin. But it is the spirit – Eve – who showed the soul – Adam – the way to progress. 

And it is that progress which now needs to be heeded. All things serve their purpose, and the suppression of millennia is one side of the coin which is now beginning to show its other face. “Look” says the Spirit, “the new world has arrived. The landscape is changing around you.” And it is changing because women took refuge in their emptiness: in the last place which had been left to them.  Because in the end soul needs spirit, and spirit needs soul, and this is the true marriage, the sacred union.   


  1. It's a great tragedy for spirituality that God the Mother has been suppressed and neglected.
    Jesus said "Behold the Mother". But we refuse to see Her.

  2. Thank you Jeronimus for your comment. Keep on believing, for the landscape is changing around us, and the Spirit will endure. Although it might be necessary for things to first go through a stage of positive bias back towards the feminine before the happy medium is restored again.

  3. Someone said spirituality has very little to do with religion - I don't remember who. There is another saying that religious people want to avoid hell, while spiritual people have already been there! One can find deep spiritual elements buried in most religions usually the sayings uttered by original awakened teachers. But most of this has also been misinterpreted. Believing something to be true because our church, family, culture, and society in general says it is so not true inner faith but a reflection of conditioned thoughts. I love the title, Sanctuary of Emptiness.""Emptiness is form, form is emptiness..." goes the Buddhist Heart Sutra, pointing to the non-substantiality of all forms. The essence of form is emptiness. This also points to the emptiness of who we are. Who we truly are is not any form, or any thing that can be measured or defined. We are beyond form. Emptiness is not to be confused with a nihilism. Emptiness is the place where the manifested ends and the formless begins. The mind is quick to cling to any thought or defining label that is presented, so Buddha wisely kept silent on what is. Anything that changes is not real - this is the world of form. Emptiness is my sanctuary.

  4. Dear Joseph, I so enjoy your quote that 'religious people want to avoid hell, while spiritual people have already been there.'! It is such a tragedy that so much of religious belief seems to be more fear-based than it is faith-based. We all have a space inside us, and how we perceive that space is everything: if we experience it as a hollow void then it will say to us 'fill me, please fill me', and so we attempt to - with material possessions, or with company, or with love that we might crave for. And so that space can never be filled. But if we accept that the space is there of itself, that it is something beyond all of these things, then the craving for satisfaction which cannot be fulfilled evaporates. We need to embrace the emptiness, as I know you so deeply understand and appreciate.

  5. Dear Emma, yes that is so. What you wrote - "... how we perceive that space is everything: if we experience it as a hollow void then it will say to us 'fill me, please fill me'...." is so true! By accepting our inner emptiness (space) we let go of any definition we may have of who we are or what we should be, and we can begin to be conscious of pure being and rest in that. "Embrace the emptiness" is a wonderful phrase!

  6. Joseph, you express it so well by making the point about 'letting go of any definition'. 'Definitions' can also include 'preconceptions', 'desires', expectations'. It is a struggle to do so, because we cling to the idea that emptiness is a lack of these things, and they sure are hard to let go of! But emptiness is beyond these things, beyond these forms. It can also be thought of as the creative void from which all forms well. And whether we think of this void as the no-mind of zen or as Tiamat - the creative ocean - of the Mesopotamians, it expresses the same thing.