Non-Religious Spiritual Practices and the Remedy for Women
By Layla Brener
Societally, believing in astrology and especially daily horoscopes has become incredibly polarizing. Most people either swear by it or find it childish and fake. Noticeably, women make up an overwhelming percentage of advocates for astrology and other non-religious spiritual practices. Examples of these practices include Tarot card readings, manifestation, affirmations, reiki healing, and meditation, among many other holistic forms of self-care. Non-religious spiritual practices, NRSP for short, will be an umbrella term for "Holistic spiritual practices aimed at attaining wholeness and well-being of body, mind, and spirit…" (The 'gender puzzle' of alternative medicine and holistic spirituality Keshet and Simchai). Non-religious spiritual practices strengthen women in the West by removing gender prejudices present in religion and prioritizing both physical and mental health.
Worldwide, the Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are the most practiced faiths ("Field Listing- Religions"). Of the Western countries -these being much of Europe, North America, and South America- Christianity, and its many branches, are the most practiced faith in each. The Christian religions are the most influential in the West. People often practice religion because it gives them fulfillment, clarity, and control. Although many women are invaluable components of the religion's formation and preservation, they "have largely been relegated to supporting roles throughout recent history" (Crary), in scripture and consequentially in practice. There are undeniable examples of traditional gender roles and power imbalances sanctioned by God. In the tenth book of the New Testament, Paul the Apostle writes, "As the church is subject to Christ so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands" (English Standard Bible, Eph. 5:22).
In the Book of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden tells of humanity's creation. It is foundational in Christianity and Judaism, and there are even references to "Adam and his mate" in the Qur'an (Kvam et al.). In the story of Adam and Eve, God creates Adam, the first man. God "later created Eve from Adam's rib" (English Standard Bible, Genesis 2:7). Eve is the first woman and, in a way, represents women as a whole. The same applies to Adam about men. God creates Eve second to Adam to be a companion. Her existence is for Adam, and she is his devotee.
Women in various church sects do not receive equal treatment, opportunities, and power as men. On the sole basis of sex, Catholic and Orthodox Christian women are not permitted to be ordained as priests. "According to Catholic doctrine, priests are supposed to represent the likeness of Jesus, a male figure" (Power and the Priesthood). Men are the most actively influential within the Abrahamic religious texts. Men, as a sex, are valued for their leadership. Women's contributions are vital but primarily serve as nurturing and supportive roles. They are mothers, wives, and supporting figures (Crary). The gender differences translate into reality within the church. "Catholic doctrine mandates an all-male priesthood, on the grounds that Jesus' apostles were men" (Crary). Jesus' 12 apostles were all male; priesthood is a male-only position. This assertion was reinforced as biblical law by the Pope in 1995 (Power and Priesthood). This is not to critique scripture or the roles that gender plays in former and present religious expectations. However, the reasons above demonstrate how religion feels alienating for many women. It is incredibly male-oriented. NRSP remove gender from the equation and instead focus on growing and healing the inner spirit and energy. Expectations of masculinity and femininity are irrelevant to practices like manifestation. Spiritual practices focus solely on inner health and mind, body, and soul alignment (Keshet and Simchai). Sex and gender are removed constructs, which makes it far more open and comforting for women. These practices provide comparable feelings of strength and fulfillment as religious practice does but value the self and the universe instead of a diety.
An act of protest is a form of healing from a societal limitation. NRSP, like meditation and reiki, protest societal power limitations on women by accentuating a feeling of personal strength and control. Anorexia nervosa also accentuates the feeling of personal strength and control but does so at the expense of everything else. Pathology and protest go hand in hand. However, the act itself can be constructive or deconstructive to the body. NRSP promote "attaining wholeness and well-being of body, mind, and spirit" (Keshet and Simchai). Many forms of NRSP focus on aligning energy to better one's health and mental clarity. This differs positively from the many other destructive forms of protest common among women, notably female-dominated disorders such as agoraphobia and anorexia. Anorexia nervosa is a deconstructive act of protest and, simultaneously, an act of remedy. As put by professor of gender studies Susan Bordo:
[The anorexic] woman discovers what it feels like to crave and want and need and yet, through the exercise of her own will, to triumph over that need. In the process, a new realm of meanings is discovered, a range of values and possibilities that Western culture has traditionally coded as 'male' and rarely made available to women: an ethic and aesthetic of self-mastery and self-transcendence, expertise, and power over others through the examples of superior will and control.
Destructive remedies create a sense of alignment by clutching onto false feelings of power. In doing so, they harm the women hosting them. Anorexics take pride in their asceticism. They regularly show unbearable acts of self restraint to the point of inflicting pain on the body. This extreme self-restraint provides a feeling of power over themselves that is complex to obtain societally. Meditation is an example of an NRSP that equips those who practice with more control over their mental state. It is a constructive form of protest. A woman meditating is a form of protest by putting her mental health above all else, especially the needs of others and vanity. She is exceeding the societal limitations put onto her to support those around her. It is her role to be motherly and nurturing. This role is incredibly damaging as it forces her purpose to be supporting others, which quickly makes her lose her sense of self (Dimen 44).
NRSPs value mental well-being and strengthening of the self—from physical treatments like reiki and acupuncture to mental practices like meditation and positive affirmations. In a study done on the demographics of spirituality, social scientists Eva Sointu and Linda Woodhead found that several subjects "spoke of dealing with the problem of having lost a sense of self in the context of families in which the needs of husband, children, and dependent relatives took priority over personal self-realization" (Sointu and Woodhead 267). Their study aimed to understand why there is an overwhelming female presence in spirituality; this was a common finding throughout their study. Clinical professor of psychology at New York University, Muriel Dimen, coined "relatedness" and "individualizing." Relatedness is a dependency between people, like a mother and her child. On the other hand, individualizing is a lack of dependency or responsibility over anyone but the self. This trait is societally masculine. NRSP prioritize wellness and alignment of the self, which is an act of individualizing. These practices help to balance the societal relatedness that consumes most women. A healthy person needs a balance of relatedness and individualizing in their life. These practices are positive ways of providing the necessary balance. At their core, these practices strive for the "cultivation of bodily well-being for the benefit of the woman herself, and through this personal well-being, for the benefit of her relations with those around her" (Sointu and Woodhead 269). They help women to attain the balance of individuality needed for survival as women are societally conditioned to devote themselves to others. This balance enriches a woman's life extensively by healing themselves and their mode of relation with others.
NRSP prove that what some view as frivolous can hold much more power and meaning in another's life. These practices are a growing way of healing the damage done by patriarchy. For women, they enrich inner peace, strength, and alignment, which combats the lack of power and persistent gender expectations in society.
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