"And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”
Life is a journey, and mine has been a journey toward wholeness, a subtle and intricate orchestration of experiences that have led me to recognize dimensions of myself that needed to be accepted, embraced, and loved. This journey has led me to integrate my spirituality into everything I do. I choose not to live a fragmented life with artificial distinctions between the personal and professional. I have noticed that the more I am able to integrate all the aspects of my life that are important for me into anything I do, the more joy and fulfillment it brings. For example, as an educator, I have started to incorporate embodiment and creative expression in my work with adult learners, within and beyond academia, rather than keeping my creative practices as personal hobbies. The results have been rewarding. I choose to work with people and projects that feel fully aligned with my own values and seek to make my work not only a way to make a living but an expression of my life. My most intimate relationships are informed by a sense of shared purpose and a commitment to serve, learn, grow, as we help each other become more of who we are meant to become.
Wisdom has become the bridge between my external and internal realities, between my professional and spiritual work. Wisdom in Greek is Sophia and she is a Goddess, the personification of the Divine Feminine. I feel deep resonance in associating wisdom with the Divine Feminine. Through my studies of systems thinking, I learned that knowledge —our capacity to answer “what” and “how” questions—is not enough to understand and respond to complexity. We must also ask “why.” Why questions are connected to understanding and wisdom, and wisdom is a form of understanding that includes love, care and empathy. Why questions require the integration of values and ethical perspectives. Systems thinking is a way of understanding interconnectedness and wholeness, and what began as an intellectual and professional exploration has become the fertile ground for integrating the fullness of my experience and being. In the quest for a more holistic understanding, embracing not only rationality but also emotions, intuition and creativity is essential. The return of the Divine Feminine is the return of everything that has been forgotten, undervalued, ignored, neglected, or excluded. It is the reconciliation of intuition and rationality, art and science, feminine and masculine ways of knowing and doing. It is the integration of head, heart and hands in all our endeavors. It is remembering that we belong to the earth and to each other. It is remembering that everything is sacred. The great rebalancing.
We all share one thing in common: we are human. Such a simple and obvious fact, and yet, so easily forgotten. We get distracted by our differences: our skin colors, religions, languages, cultures, gender. But like the rainbow, all the colors come from the same light. My main colors are woman and Mexican. Those are the two that are fiercely obvious, although there are other hues that come from multiple experiences in diverse contexts that continue to be blended into the fabric of my life. They tint my perspective and make me unique, something I have learned to appreciate and celebrate.
Honoring diversity involves letting go of any stereotypes and preconceptions about being normal, successful, smart, beautiful, or any other culturally-imposed expectation. Diversity is a marker of healthy ecosystems, a condition necessary for their wholeness. Our human diversity means that we are different and unique, and yet, paradoxically, we are one. We believed in the illusion of separation and now we have to bring together the fragments. Our disconnection shows up in so many ways: a sense of isolation and despair, overconsumption, exploitation of nature, oppression of women and children, institutionalized discrimination against racial and ethnic groups. So the fact that I am a female Latina, a “minority,” could have been a curse, a constitutional disadvantage. But in my case, it has been the opposite. I have been blessed. Instead of being given less opportunities because I was a girl, I was nurtured by a loving family who encourage me to grow and dream big. Because of my gender and my ethnicity, I had access to educational opportunities that opened doors for my continuous expansion and the expression of my unique perspective. Maybe I’m an exception to the rule that most Hispanic women don’t have equal opportunity, and sometimes don’t even have a voice in their own homes. And my life experience itself is a proof that some cultural rebalancing has begun. As Bertrand Russell said, it is time to remember our humanity and forget the rest.
My Mexican culture and Catholic upbringing implanted a subtle message in my consciousness about women’s role in society: we are supposed to be wives and mothers above everything else; no woman would choose not to marry or not to have children, unless she chooses religious life. Loving and caring for others before and above oneself is expected. Love is self- sacrifice, and living the life of a martyr is honorable. My upbringing also implanted a profuse list of girly clichés, from the supremacy of pink to very specific do’s and don’ts for women. Do not be loud or assertive because that’s not feminine. Do not show too much of your intellect because you will scare men. Housework is women’s work. And no matter how competent you are, the fact that you are a woman (with the “risk” of becoming pregnant or having family responsibilities) means you are less desirable for a job than any male counterpart.
My early adulthood was a combination of both fulfilling the cultural expectations for a Mexican female and breaking some of those patterns: I became a wife and mother, and at the same time I earned a Ph.D. and engaged in international work; as a married woman I passed from being protected by my parents to be protected by my husband; and yet my marriage was a multicultural synthesis that didn’t match the established mold.
My spirituality today is a synthesis of life experiences and intentional explorations filtered through my bias and proclivities. The result is the integration of diverse practices from many cultural traditions that I find meaningful and helpful in keeping me grounded and open to listen with all my being. My personal spiritual evolution has been characterized by three phases: religious, agnostic, and post-religious or spiritual. In my teens I was a fervent Catholic. Between my fifteenth and sixteenth birthday, I promised to pray the Rosary every day. I was able to keep the promise and consider that year one of the happiest years of my life—at least by the measurement that I remember not crying at all (disclaimer: I cry easily). I even considered becoming a nun. It was more like a fleeting thought that never received full consideration because, at sixteen, I got my first boyfriend. And from that moment on I was never out of a relationship, until I asked for divorce 24 years later. At age twenty-two I met the man who became my professional partner, husband, and father of my daughter. Because of his multicultural background and our experiences beyond my native Mexico, I graduated to an agnostic stage in which God became a questionable concept. This was a very intellectual stage of my life, when I got my doctorate, and forged the foundation of my work as a scholar-practitioner. However, my work has always been values driven, future oriented, and humanistic. It was the dissolution of my marriage that created the crack in my consciousness. I experienced the dark night of my soul, and had some mystical experiences that helped me see the truth of my being and the path forward. It was at this point of complete surrender that I became aware that all my “success” and everything good that has been part of my life was not the result of my personal will alone. There was a shift in my perception from me being the one who makes things happen to me being an instrument of a larger, more powerful Divine will.
Today, after decades from my formative years in Mexico, and with full awareness of the constraints and parameters of my Mexican upbringing, I haven’t fully recuperated from the deep effects of the gender biased messages that I received. I still believe that I’m not good with tools and that I can’t change a tire (thank goodness for roadside assistance). I am deeply relational, wired for assuming a nurturing and caring role. If gender is a continuum, I’m deeply rooted on the feminine side of it. But I have embraced the personal work that is required to bring more balance to my internal masculine and feminine energy. One book that was instrumental in this process was Jean Shinoda Bolen’s (1985) Goddesses in Everywoman. Bolen created what she calls a binocular vision of the psychology of women by integrating feminist perspectives and Jungian archetypal psychology. For me, her work was eye-opening and liberating. There is more than one way of being a woman! Her archetypal language resonated with my own systems thinking perspective, allowing me to see the archetypes of the different goddesses as patterns and dimensions present in varying degrees in each woman. Womanhood is a spectrum. Humanity is a spectrum.
The desire and struggle to attain equality is becoming more present for many women across nations and cultures. There are varying degrees of progress and we have much to learn and be grateful for from the pioneer feminists who raised awareness and fought for their human rights. As part of this movement, some women had to learn to embody a more masculine leadership style in order to be accepted and included in a masculine-centric world. I celebrate their courage and strength. And now, it is time to welcome and integrate an authentic feminine leadership that will bring much needed balance and create new possibilities. The pendulum has swung from oppression to rebellion and it is now time to bring it into a dynamic balance in which both men and women, masculine and feminine attributes, can be valued and appreciated. My insight that feminine leadership is needed today emerged in an unexpected, organic way. Leadership was never a field that I intentionally sought. Rather, my professional experiences provided me with reflections of something that was missing in the organizations and communities where I was working and something that felt natural to me: a leadership style that was vulnerable, collaborative, nurturing, and creative. Or simply, more human.
That’s what I mean by leadership: the practice of being more human, more conscious, and more responsible of our choices and their impact. We are becoming increasingly aware of our interconnectedness and interdependency. We live in a complex network of relationships in which we are all leaders and followers, affecting each other, affecting the planet, affecting future generations – even if we are not thinking about those impacts. My notion of leadership is limited to formal authority or structural power. I believe that each individual has power to shape their life. I believe that if we are alive, we are called to leadership, because we must learn to lead a conscious life, because everybody’s contribution is necessary to deal with the socio-ecological mess we created, because the world is yearning for love and wisdom.
I see myself as a voice for the reintegration of the feminine into our culture, the remembering of Sophia. To be an example of womanhood that is comfortable with being different, or simply, herself. To bring back our attention to the primacy of relationships and care. To show that creativity, and playfulness and the cultivation of beauty are essential aspects in our attempts to transform and regenerate organizations and cultures. To reconnect to nature and her cycles, to love and rejoice in our bodies, to take time to listen and reflect. To reconnect to the simple pleasures of living and the exuberance of life.
My academic work has been primarily rooted in the systems science community. In the early 50s, systems science emerged as a reaction and response to reductionism, to a way of doing science that kept pursuing objectivity and pure knowledge, focusing on parts, out of context, and without considering the ethical implications. Systems thinking is an attempt to unify science, to create a common language that can cross disciplinary boundaries, and a form of inquiry that embraces complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, and change. Systems science is about wholeness and integration. I started to notice that my work with individuals, organizations, and communities was definitely about wholeness and reconnection. I have been helping people to be more authentic, to find their purpose, to develop their capacities to say yes to work that is aligned with their soul, and to design learning experiences and structures that support social transformation. I remember attending a professional networking event. A dear friend and colleague of mine introduced me to one of his friends. He said, “Kathia is a social architect” and turned to me to observe my reaction. He knows that as a teacher, facilitator and consultant I gravitate toward participatory design and innovation approaches. I didn’t resonate with the label “social architect” and I believe I communicated it with my smirk. Later, in private, he asked me, “then, what are you?” and to my surprise, the words that came out of my mouth were “I’m a social healer.” Hearing them out loud, expressed to someone else, launched me into an exploration of what that meant to me. I have come to accept that I am a healer at the emotional, interpersonal, and cultural levels. I have realized that psycho-spiritual and emotional healing are important dimensions of transformative learning, leadership development and capacity building for social change.
I went through five years when my life was falling apart and my identity, my relationships, and my work were being reconfigured. I was experiencing the “mush” of a disintegrating caterpillar preparing to become a butterfly and I was fully immersed in reimagining my role in the world. When the word “healer” came up, it produced confusion and anxiety. After 15 years of working to become an educator, consultant, coach... did becoming a healer mean starting over? I was overwhelmed and fearful. But there was a message embedded in my experiences that helped me realize that there is more to healing than the narrow definition related to physical illness. The connecting thread that run through my personal experience and through the projects that were coming into my life helped me recognize the importance of emotional and interpersonal work. It was emotional and social healing what had already showed up in my life. I found very meaningful that healing and health share the same etymological root with wholeness, and holy. Healing, as the process of making something whole again, of reconnecting with Spirit, was something that I could wholeheartedly embrace.
Embracing the Sophia path has not always been easy. It has involved a commitment to truth, justice, vulnerability and love. For example, I have noticed that I have become more courageous to be a truth speaker, and have learned how to do so with care and compassion. I have been in conflictual situations in which it was very clear that if I didn’t speak the unspeakable, nobody else would. And through those experiences, I discovered that not only could I speak it, but I did so in a way that others, especially those who would become uncomfortable with the truth, could hear it.
Wisdom work is what Joanna Macy calls “the work that reconnects” (Macy & Brown, 2014), the work that is about wholeness and healing and reintegrating the feminine principle into the fabric of our lives. This wisdom work is as complex, multidimensional, and vast as the mystery of life. It is the work that is intimately connected to our soul purpose. It is the work that supports our personal evolution and brings forth the unique and interrelated contributions that the world needs at this time of great transition.
My career path has not been conventional. Even before the flexibility and new ways of working enabled by technology, I have always had a portfolio of activities that didn’t match conventional jobs. I was not designed to sit in an office from nine to five. Only once have I had that kind of a job and it lasted three months. I need much more stimulation: Continuous learning, new people, new places, projects that challenge me, and above all, meaning and a sense that I’m contributing to something ethically good. I am a meaning-seeking person, someone with more questions than answers, someone with a capacity to generate a thousand ideas, and with a big desire to test, at least some of them, through practice.
The focus of my work has been expanding and the flexible professional portfolio has allowed me the opportunity to follow my curiosity. What on the surface could look like an eclectic collection of interests, has become a rich tapestry pull together by a red thread related to learning and transformation. It has been like walking a labyrinth. Sometimes it feels like I’m taking a completely new direction, but then I can see that it is all part of a coherent pattern. I’m getting better at trusting each turn, even when I lose sight of the center. The glimpses of the emerging pattern, my wisdom work, are providing me with much needed structure and guidance.
I still need to work on my patience. There is such a deep yearning for integration, for bringing all the lessons of my experiences together and meld them into the piece of work that I could call my gift to the world. It has been a humbling journey. So many attempts and “failures”— according to the financial way success is measured in our Western world. But I have come to embrace the process as important, or sometimes more important, than the outcome. And many of my experiences, even if they didn’t take me to the envisioned destination, were extremely important iterations: the practice ground that that has enabled me to go a little bit deeper and further at the next opportunity. My experiences have brought to me an abundance of healing, soulful friendships, joyful moments, connections to magical places, intellectual breakthroughs, and renewal of hope. The overwhelmingly positive energy that surrounds my work and life keeps me inspired and reassures me that I’m on the right path, that I have been preparing for this moment and that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
The meaning of having a PhD has also been redefined through my awareness of the appearance of the Divine Feminine in my life. My appreciation of philosophy, the love of wisdom, is more than an intellectual pursuit. Rather, my work is about love and wisdom. I seek to elevate intuition and emotional intelligence to the same level of relevance as logic and rationality. Part of the mystery of the way my life is unfolding is the amazing juxtaposition of cultural and educational experiences, scientific and spiritual perspectives, that literally have given me the opportunity to reconcile opposites as I inquiry into wholeness. Wisdom, understanding with love, the integration of our left and right brain, the bridging of mind and heart. Someone called me “edgewalker” and I loved the gifts that this name brought into my awareness. I walk the boundary of academia and business, of north and south, of interior and exterior reality, of divine and earthly experience. My research includes and goes beyond science, since I want to integrate the whole of the human experience with its many ways of knowing. This is transdisciplinarity. I feel great relief and freedom to weave my own synthesis in resonance with the archetype of the divine feminine. “The weaver of the spirit knows that the discovery of the sacred, the immanence of truth, can lie nowhere apart from in the reality of each moment, each task and each interaction she engages in. Banishing models of perfection from her life, she frees herself from the bondage of halos. With an open heart and clarity of direction she sets aside the dualities of perfection and imperfection and is free to attend to what is of vital significance in herself and in her world – the end of all separation and the discovery of what is sacred. Through her weavings, she learns to heal and to live her life in a spirit of reverence” (Feldman, 1994, p. 181).
In recent years, my work has taken the shape of experiential workshops, innovation labs, women’s gatherings, life coaching, and design of social enterprises. My creative practices—journaling, collages, drawing mandalas, rituals—are moving from private explorations to tools I share with others. I see my work as evolutionary experiments to learn what it takes to forge the deep collaborations that will truly heal our culture and enable a partnership society. I enjoy blurring boundaries and seek to include the full spectrum of whatever continuums I can perceive: internal-external, rational-creative, personal-professional, abstract-embodied, serious- playful, visionary-practical. We tend to function on one side of these polarities. Institutions like business or education are afraid of including the other side of these apparent opposites. It is important to become aware of the ways in which we become accomplices of the dysfunctional incompleteness of the ways we work, learn and live. It is time to intentionally shift toward greater inclusivity and bring the full spectrum of what is, the full range of knowing and expressing that we humans are capable of, to learn to work with the tensions that these contrasts bring, and by doing so, create the conditions for emergence of new social systems.
Many of my professional explorations have been related to the design of new learning systems, either as formal educational institutions or as alternative learning offerings. One of my foci is about the reintegration of rites of passage into learning processes. Our modern culture and educational systems are mostly designed to help individuals take on a predefined role and fit into the structures and norms of society as they exist today. But today’s society is a sick society (i.e., not whole, incomplete) which allows for selfish and unethical behaviors, lacking of compassion to care for the whole of humanity and life on this delicate planet. We need experiences that help us wake up to our innate power to create just, sustainable and thriving systems, and I believe that this innate power is ignited by the clarity of our soul purpose and our sense of oneness. Many cultures have initiatory rituals designed specifically to help their people explore their unique potential and the ways they are meant to contribute to their community. These ways usually entail some kind of journeying beyond the status quo of their existence to break away from established patterns and come to a new understanding of self, the world, and our place in it. As I began working on these ideas about integrating ritual in transformative learning experiences, I had a dream in which a group of youth were preparing to go out and explore a city as a learning and discovery journey. The walls of the narrow and long building were covered with maps and drawings of routes and ideas for the exploration. As I was walking down the aisle, I realized that the drawings on the wall were covering stained-glass windows. I then recognized that the building used to be a church. When I woke up, I had the insight that I am meant to bring back a sense of sacredness, or holiness, into education. As I said before, health-holy-whole: the return of the Divine Feminine is about bringing back wholeness and reverence for all things in life, big and small. It is all sacred.
That’s my flavor of wholeness. The wholeness that only I can create, through my predispositions and preferences, through what I have learned to notice that is different from what others notice. So returning to my reflections of my personal journey to wholeness, I believe that each one of us is unique and therefore, the work that we are meant to do is also unique. Unique versions of wholeness. That uniqueness becomes very present when I facilitate a collaborative experience that seeks to truly acknowledge and empower each individual in order to unleash the wisdom of the group. The sense of the collective would be different with one person missing, with a new person joining the group, or with anyone not contributed fully and freely.
In previous evolutionary stages, humans held the belief that we are all One. Our scientific and industrial capacities gave us the power to dominate nature and to fully inhabit the illusion of our superiority and separation from the rest of the natural world. It is in the last decades that new scientific knowledge is helping us understand (again) that the universe is intricately interconnected. Slowly, this scientific knowledge, which beautifully converges with the perennial teachings of many spiritual traditions, is starting to permeate our consciousness in ways that may start to impact not only our thinking, but also our feeling, doing, and being. We are just starting to awaken to the power of our consciousness.
As I was reflecting on the ways I have come to make choices for what I would consider my wisdom work, I identified three spheres of intervention that I seem to focus on. The first is connected to personal development and psycho-spiritual and emotional healing at the individual level. This sphere is about lifelong learning and developing the possible human in each one of us. It requires inquiry and exploration about the ways we have responded to our life experiences and taking ownership of our choices. It involves embracing our light and shadow, developing our authentic self, and clarifying our purpose. From the work in this sphere, our leadership capacities and roles emerge. We become ready, willing and eager to engage with others, to collaborate, to co-design, to assume responsibility in the shaping of the world. This second sphere is all about deep and authentic collaboration and the ability to create synergy. It is about learning to bring our genius forward but in humble ways. It is about being willing to share our dreams and fears, and to let go of our personal agendas in the service of a larger emergent possibility. The second sphere is about recognizing that we need each other, that only together can we address the complexity of the socio-ecological problems we face, and that it will take all of us to create a new world. The third sphere is what I call sacred entrepreneurship. It is the consolidation of the second sphere, the commitment of a group of people to do something with integrity, and in complete alignment with their sacred purpose. It is the ability to create organizational structures and cultures that embody the spirit of collaboration and inquiry of the other spheres, the complete commitment to work that is in service of the evolution of humanity as we continue to learn and evolve as individuals. Sacred entrepreneurship is the ability to translate the vision of a new kind of organization—something beyond the for-profit/non-profit dichotomy—where work is joyful, where the motivation to work is not sourced in fear, and where individuals do not betray their soul or push aside their values but rather connect through their authentic self to contribute to the success of the enterprise.
I feel deep gratitude for my life. I feel that after many generations, the work and life that I have chosen honors and offers redemption to my ancestors. I feel blessed by all my relations as I am surrounded by incredible humans who are simultaneously teachers and peers. I feel enormous privilege for being able to do work that nourishes me as I nourish others. I feel lucky to have had the right experiences that helped me to learn to listen to my heart. And I am ready to help others do the same. We are not alone.
Bolen, J. S (1985). Goddesses in Everywoman. New York: HarperCollins.
Feldman, C. (1994). The Quest of the Warrior Woman: Women as mystics, healers and guides. San Francisco: Thorsons.
Macy, J. and Brown, M. (2014). Coming Back to Life: The updated guide to the work that reconnects. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.