When we look at the modern world, the fact that almost all esoteric spiritual schools available today were originally intended solely for men contains a great irony in the fact that today the majority of spiritual practitioners in Western nations are women. There are millions of women earnestly trying to develop their spiritual depth but doing so in schools originally designed for men. The practice of Yoga, for example, is growing rapidly, with over 70% of its participants in the United States being women.
While women comprise the majority of spiritual seekers, almost all Western schools today are coed. Men and women participate on an equal footing with the same practices and lessons. But again, in most schools, whether the teacher is a man or woman, the curriculum is intended for men. These paths contain a great gender bias in favor of the masculine. As this bias has been the case for many, many lifetimes, however, the existence and extent of that bias and its impact on women is neither understood nor appreciated by the teachers. It’s just “the way we’ve always done things here.” When teaching women, these schools may attempt to have women students “tone down” their feminine characteristics (i.e. emotionalism, heart space, relatedness) and instead hone those masculine traits (i.e. concentration, single-focus, disembodiment) that are deemed essential for spiritual progress.
A spiritual path designed for men must successfully address a number of needs peculiar to men. The way that men approach spirituality is but one expression of their overall orientation to life. Men of all eras and societies have a generally uneasy acceptance of life. In the book I delve into this in more detail, but for now let me just say that men have great difficulty accepting life as it is. When confronted with a situation, men want to control it, or if that is not possible, avoid it. Life is too chaotic, disordered, and uncontrollable for men to feel comfortable in this world. That dis-ease with life has led men of the modern era to embrace a crusade to control life, to manage it, and make it more orderly. Men are using science, invention, technology, and management structures to displace natural systems and replace organic life with a more manufactured and “orderly” life.
In the Far East, men’s dis-ease with life led to a different and more religious response. The goal of spiritual practice was focused on the effort to transcend life, to leave life behind as much as humanly possible while still living in the body. Ascetic practices were therefore designed to enable the practitioner to transcend the currents, desires, and fluctuations of life in favor of a more eternal, unchanging, fixed state (Samadhi or Nirvana), a state in which all desires, thoughts, and human expression ceased. This negation is the goal of many Eastern spiritualties. You may still need to breathe, drink water, and take in food, but otherwise, you are out of here. (However, certain more secretive tantric sects in Buddhism and Hinduism continued to venerate the female and the senses.)
Thus has life discomfited men. For women, however, their relationship with life is completely different. The feminine is life. The feminine is the central current of life; she is the life force itself. Women are more comfortable than men are with the chaos of life and superior in their ability to adapt. For the feminine, it is unthinkable to want to transcend life for some sterile, negated masculine state.
While men of many faiths have diligently pursued the path of negation, a path where the goal is to “purify” themselves of all desire, thought, emotion, and attachment, stripping away everything except absorption in consciousness or god, women’s spirituality is very different. While the masculine has an innate yearning for perfection and will undertake heroic efforts to achieve it, the feminine seeks wholeness, a fundamentally different longing. She longs to find unity in the embrace of all existence and in the midst of life itself. As a result, when women have been allowed to practice their own brand of spirituality, their efforts are often designed to bring Spirit down into life and into their own bodies. It is, in some ways, the exact opposite of the masculine path.
While men live more in the conceptual mind, women live more in the body. Consequently, they want to feel. But this emotional embrace of life is considered by many spiritual teachers to be an impediment to spiritual advancement. In my path we embrace embodiment and feeling.