At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst

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9780062513144: At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst

"My feminism and my spirituality have always been closely connected, laying claims on me at the same level. I'd taken up meditation out of a driving and, yes, aching need for self-knowledge and meaning. My feminism had arisen out of that same well of feelings, and in many regards the life I'd chosen had satisfied it. Part of me, though--the part that never lost awareness of the attitudes that demean woman and girls so universally and sytematically--was like a muscle that was sore from continual strain and misuse. It was hot to the touch. If after all these years it was still flaring up, then surely it was time I attended to it." -- from At the Root of This Longing

In this brilliant exploration of the apparent conflicts and tensions, between feminism and spirituality, Carol Lee Flinders, author of the highly acclaimed Enduring Grace, here uncovers how she found that a life of meaning, self-knowledge and freedom absolutely depends on both.

In At the Root of This Longing, Flinders identifies the four key points at which the paths of spirituality and feminism seem to collide--embracing silence vs. finding voice, relinquishing ego vs. establishing "self," resisting desire vs. reclaiming the body and enclosure vs. freedom--and sets out to discover not only the sources of these conflicts, but how they can be reconciled.

With a sense of urgency brought on by events in her own life, Flinders deals with the alienation that women have experienced not only from themselves and each other, but from the sacred. Providing historical and mythical context to our contemporary struggles, she finds inspiration in the story of fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich and her direct experience of God and in India's legendary Draupadi, who would not allow a brutal physical assault to damage her sense of personal power. She also draws widely from the voices of mystics across the ages, feminist theory and history, anthropology, women's psychology, contemporary fiction and film, and her personal experience as a meditation instructor to weave a shimmering tapestry of stories and insights that will forever change our understanding of how we can--and why we must--begin to satisfy both our spiritual hunger and feminist thirst.

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Review:

Many feminists have been skeptical about traditional spirituality, and their mistrust has not been entirely unfounded. The forms of self-sacrifice often required by the spiritual life--including silence and suppression of desire--are conditions that have been imposed on women for centuries. But, as Carol Lee Flinders makes clear, spirituality and feminism do not have to be diametrically opposed. Drawing on Western and Eastern spiritual traditions, Flinders traces her own developing awareness of the "mutual necessity" of the two disciplines and makes provocative suggestions about the potential of a feminist movement guided by spiritual principles.

From the Back Cover:

Bestselling Author and Professor Explores the Paradox After living through the sixties and seventies in a spiritual community of work and service where meditative practices defined, nourished, and sustained her very being, Carol Lee Flinders experienced an awakening. She heard the clamoring bells of feminism and glimpsed its imminent clash with her spiritual practice. At The Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger with a Feminist Thirst is the memoir of her journey to understand what seemed to be irreconcilable. What does spirituality look like when it coexists with feminism's sharp critical faculties? And what does feminism do when it is steeped in spiritual perspectives? Author of the critically acclaimed Enduring Grace and co-author of the bestselling cookbook Laurel's Kitchen, Carol Lee Flinders has written a poignant and deeply moving memoir of her internal battle to find her way as a woman and a genuine spiritual seeker. "I feel as though I am looking at two distinct cultures, with two sets of values, for whom the same world could well have two different meanings." In At the Root of This Longing, Flinders identifies and explores four key points at which the path of spirituality and feminism collide:

Vowing Silence vs. Finding Voice: How does one reconcile the spiritual practice of being silent and stilling the mind with the feminist practice of finding a voice and making oneself heard in the halls of oppressive institutions?

Relinquishing Ego vs. Establishing Self: How does one reconcile the spiritual discipline of putting oneself last and unseating the ego with the feminist call to "know who you are" and establish and live up to one's authentic identity?

Resisting Desire vs. Reclaiming the Body: How does one reconcile the spiritual practice of re-channeling one's desires and dis-identifying with one's senses with the feminist insistence on reclaiming the body and its desires from all those who objectify and demean it?

Enclosure vs. Freedom: How is one to reconcile the discipline of turning inward and disentangling oneself from external and public activity with the feminist discipline of moving freely and "taking back the streets"?

Flinders finds inspiration in the enrapturing metaphor of Draupadi--the beautiful, competent, and wise princes-goddess who was known to be extremely devout and proficient in the spiritual disciplines from the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata--who fell into a meditative dance causing her sari to endlessly unfurl as her aggressors attempted to harm her, to forge her conciliatory path. At the Root of This Longing is a fascinating chronicle of the "synchronicities" that Flinders finds on her inner pilgrimage. What she discovers is that, like some of the medieval women mystics such as Julian of Norwich and spiritual teachers such as Ghandi, is that there is a well of strength, courage, and creativity within that can be drawn from through spiritual practice. "We must be capable of speaking from real depths. To be truly and effectively open toward one another, women must find their way into a genuine, active interior life. Through prayer and meditation practiced in disciplined, systematic ways, women can ground themselves in the interior and exterior life-spirit, mind, and body." At the Root of This Longing re-focuses feminism over and against its traditional rejection of spirituality and finds its true strength as a resistance movement based in sacred. Carol Lee Flinders is co-author of the best-selling vegetarian cookbook Laurel's Kitchen and has written about food for newspapers and magazines for over twelve years. In 1993, she published the critically acclaimed Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics. She is an adjunct professor of writing and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley. She lives with her husband and son at the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, located near Petaluma, California.

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