Patriarchal Spirituality: An Excerpt from Jeff Brown’s Grounded Spirituality
We’re so happy to bring you this passage from longtime Truthteller Jeff Brown’s new book, Grounded Spirituality.
In this courageous, groundbreaking book, Jeff takes us on the spiritual ride of a lifetime. The book opens with his compelling journey through a variety of spiritual approaches. Through decades of dedicated exploration and discernment, Jeff exposes the transcendent notions of spirituality that limit our human experience. In his fiercely authentic, no-holds-barred style, he reveals that what we view as spiritual is often devoid of the gift that makes us most alive—our precious and unique selfhood. Be sure to get your own copy of this important treatise here.
At the bottom of so many of these philosophies is the skyprint of patriarchy. The wool had been pulled over our eyes. Men who were too unhealthily egoic to admit that they couldn’t deal with their humanness, their feelings, their trauma, had to find a system that smoke-screened their avoidance. They found it. It was called Enlightenment. It was also called Spiritual Mastery. And it usually involved leaving the world, in one form or another. This way, these men could convince themselves that they had mastered the one true path. This way, they could conceal their confusion and fragmentation behind an all-knowing mask.
I saw it clear as day. From pain-avoidant New Cage teachings, to pseudo-superior spiritualities, to rules of discourse designed to suppress dissension, to sexual abuses of authority posing as awakened offerings, to a system-wide exclusion of the wisdom of the Divine Feminine, I saw the legacy of a man-based system that had spread its toxic tentacles everywhere. And it was riddled with contradiction: both self-negating and radically selfish, rarefied and not remotely realified, seemingly non-attached yet deeply invested in maintaining control over our consciousness. It wasn’t weaponry they used to control us. It was the rituals of guru-worship, the dogmatic passing off of man-made “truths” as divine wisdom, the enforced distinction between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” spiritual practices, the disciplining approach to spiritual inquiry, the conditioned notion that someone other than us had all the answers we sought.
Everywhere I looked I saw a system that was created and controlled by men. And they weren’t exactly the healthiest members of the brotherhood. They were deeply wounded men who had no interest in processing their issues or entering heart-first into the visceral world of feeling. Instead, they camouflaged their wounded egos and fear of the world beneath the cloak of enlightenment, in an effort to fool themselves and those who followed them. They wanted the benefits related to the claim of enlightenment without having to do the challenging work of emotional healing and ethical transformation. It all felt like a hustle, a patriarchal landmine masquerading as a field of divine possibility. Evasion misrepresented as expansion.
I woke up one day, with a lengthy definition of patriarchal spirituality waiting to be written and shared on social media. It was a bold, imperfect statement, but it felt true, in its essence. People wrote me to angrily express their disagreement: “What you are describing is the way that the West has perverted the core texts”, “Stop blaming the men for all of our problems.” And of course, their favorite edict: “Spirituality does not include anger!” (except, their own 😊).
After that, I went to a spiritual bookstore, looking around at the books that had been written about spirituality and enlightenment. Almost all of the so-called classics had been written by Eastern men. I looked closely at the question of whether their original message was actually more embodied, more emotionally inclusive, more integrating than the way it was being interpreted in the West. And it wasn’t. Almost all of the classics were speaking the same regurgitated, self-negating, emotionally dismissive vision of possibility for our spiritual lives. One that would serve us if we wanted to sidestep our humanity, but not if we wanted to engage it. The mad ones among us had been running the show.
I went outside and sat in one of my favorite Toronto parks. Quakes of insight erupted. I flashed to images of various spiritual teachers I had encountered. In one way or another, nearly every one of them was leading us away from our hearts. Where were the spiritual models rooted in the bountiful wisdom of the Divine Feminine—relationship as path, heart as portal to the Godself, the emotional body as the breeding ground for the soul’s emergence? Where were the models that didn’t inherently adopt and build upon notions of spirituality put forth by the “saints” of yore, but, instead, began from scratch and explored entirely new frontiers? Where were the inclusive models, the embodied models, the models that would take us home, intact and tenderly intertwined? How could I contribute to their co-creation?