An Excerpt from The Book of SHE by Sara Avant Stover
Before we get started, I need to tell you a secret. In the spring of 2010, about six months before my encounter with Mary Magdalene, I experienced a perfect storm of three life-changing events that altered my path forever. Just as I signed the contract to write my first book, The Way of the Happy Woman, which was a lifelong dream come true, my then-boyfriend broke up with me, and my landlord asked me to move out of my idyllic home in Boulder, Colorado. Suddenly, I was bound to a six-month deadline and — despite my best attempts — I couldn’t find a new home. Every possibility I came across imploded. Running out of time, and without a stable base from which to write, I received the grace of a girlfriend’s invitation to move out to Ashland, Oregon, for the summer to rent a home she owned and finish the book. I packed my car, put the rest of my belongings into storage, and headed west.
Once there, I struggled to nurse my broken heart without my friends, teachers, and mentors. Instead, I dove into writing that book — something I was still not convinced I could actually pull off. Day after day, my Inner Critic pummeled me: Why can’t any of your relationships ever last? Why aren’t you out enjoying the summer, like a normal person? You’re such a loser. Who the hell do you think you are writing a book about happiness? You’ll never be happy. What the hell is wrong with you?
Its sneers clawed and burned inside me, until I couldn’t take it anymore. One night, another familiar demon took over.
Oh no, I thought to myself. Can this really be what I think it is? No, no. Please God, no. Not now. I’ve been doing so well, for so long. I am going to take some deep breaths. I am going to write in my journal. I am going to go for a walk. Call someone.
Ha ha, nice try, Sara, it snorted, too late.
And the demon was right. Possessed by a dark inner force that seemed beyond my control, I got up to lock the door, draw the blinds, and head to the refrigerator to enact the perverted, ancient goddess ritual that my body knew all too well. I gathered offerings: dairy, grain, and sweets. First the ice cream. Then bowls of cereal. Bread with peanut butter. Whatever my demon wanted, she got. Until the demon said: Enough.
To complete the ritual, the demon dragged me into the bathroom, forced my finger down my throat, and made me vomit. Over and over and over again. Until it was all out — every last bit of it. When she was sure of that, she robotically led me to the bathroom mirror, as I wiped the carnage away from my face with the back of my wrist. There, in the mirror above the sink, I started to come back. I looked into my eyes — scared, sad, and hollow — like I was peering into a haunted house. I had never, ever, wanted to see myself like that again.
Where are you, Sara? What’s happening to you? Why does this have to be so hard?
I tried to soothe my terrified reflection. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry; I will never do that again. I will never do that to you again.
These pleas echoed words I had uttered to myself many times as a young woman — always in vain. I wished I could believe them this time.
The strong, willful part of me said, Yes, it can be different.
But my demon only cackled. You’re thirty-two fucking years old. Shouldn’t you be free of me right now? Ha ha, nice try. You will NEVER be free of me, no matter how hard you try.
A Very Feminine Being Having a Very Feminine Realization
A year later, I had moved back to Boulder, Colorado, found a new home, and entered into a relationship with a wonderful man named Keith, who is now my fiancé. My book had been published with much fanfare the previous spring. On the outside, it looked like the pieces of my life were coming together again, but inside I was unraveling into more and more fragments. Now I battled some new demons: searing pain in my heart, mounting anxiety, oceans of inexplicable tears, energy exploding in my pelvis and snaking up my spine, rooms spinning, my company (also called The Way of the Happy Woman®) on the brink of an unexpected bankruptcy, more visitations from Mary Magdalene, and way too many sleepless nights.
Since my root teacher in feminine spiritual practice, Sofia Diaz, was away tending to her sick mother, I resorted to seeking answers to my dilemma in the place I always had: the Patriarchy. I met with a Zen ro-shi, an honored senior teacher, to help me understand what I was experiencing. During our meeting, the ro-shi told me that there was nothing going on but my own neurosis, and that all I was experiencing was just a distraction from my “real” practice. He encouraged me to drop the drama and fully take my seat as imperturbable awareness. In the end, I left that encounter feeling like a broken little girl: unseen and misunderstood.
During the next few days I grew increasingly angry that the rōshi didn’t “get” me and that sensitive women are too often seen as weak, crazy, and hysterical. But, most of all, I was angry with myself. A part of me believed that he was right and I wasn’t strong enough to cope with the stresses of life.
A few weeks after that meeting, Sofia returned to Boulder, so I requested to meet with her privately. As I sat on a chair across from her, she instructed me to close my eyes. Then we sat up straight, deepened our breath, and arrived more fully into the moment together. The one-hour meeting I had scheduled spilled into three more hours, and I told her everything. Meeting Mary Magdalene in Santa Fe nine months earlier. The searing pain in my heart that came, mostly at night, in random episodes. The feeling that I was being completely taken over by who knows what. The bulimia relapse. The financial struggles. The rooms spinning. The tears.
Throughout our meeting, she furrowed her forehead and listened really closely, more with her eyes and her body than with her ears.
When I finally finished speaking, she cut in with a fiery rebuttal.
“First off, you need to notice your language here. Stop saying ‘When It happens to me.’ No. From now on, say, ‘When She is communicating to me.’ This is not something external to you. This is you. You’re sovereign here, not a victim.”
Then a big smile spread across her face.
“And, this is a Hallelujah moment!” she exclaimed, with a twinkle in her brown eyes. “When we both arrived together at the start of this session, with our eyes closed, I felt the presence of Mother Mary’s blue robes in the space between us, and now I know why. I’m so happy for you, Sara!”
Then I told her about going to see the rōshi. She laughed and then pulled back, unleashing her sword once more.
“Well, what did you expect? Now, you know I love Zen. But why on earth would you even think of going to the most patriarchal spiritual tradition in the world
to have this answered for? You are a very feminine being having a very feminine realization. That’s what’s going on here. So of course that rōshi couldn’t help you with this. How could he? What were you thinking?”
Ouch. I let her words burn me, because I knew she was right.
“I have no idea what I was thinking,” I admitted, shaking my head in disbelief.
Prior to that day, despite my extensive background in feminine spiritual practice, it had not even occurred to me to find validation for my experience within a feminine lineage. The only lineages I had ever seen acknowledged as real, bona fide paths to Awakening were masculine ones. Ultimately, those were where I had always oriented myself toward as my spiritual home.
That day things shifted one hundred and eighty degrees for me. I fully stepped off the path of practicing and Awakening like a man. I committed myself to waking up in this body — a woman’s body — through a feminine spiritual practice, whatever that might entail. Sofia offered the instructions for my next steps.
“The first thing that you need to do is apologize to Mary,” she ordered. “Apologize for doubting Her, for mistrusting Her, for not listening to Her, for not welcoming Her. What a huge insult to Her! She came to you to share a message and a mystical experience and you shut the door by doubting your experience and writing it off as your neuroses. First heal that. Then open up a dialogue with Her through divine communication. Ask Her to speak more loudly and clearly. Find out exactly how you two will be in dialogue. Tell Her that you are here to listen now. Tell Her that you want Her to be the center of your life.”
She concluded, “This is a tremendous blessing, Sara. There’s so much grace here. You’re not going crazy. This is exactly what a feminine realization looks and feels like. This is what you’ve been practicing for all these years. This is it.”
Sara Avant Stover is the author of The Book of SHE and The Way of the Happy Woman. A pioneer in contemporary women’s work, she has been featured in Yoga Journal, Newsweek, and Natural Health and on ABC, NBC, and CBS. Visit her online at thewayofthehappywoman.com.
Excerpted from The Book of She: Your Heroine’s Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power ©2015 Sara Avant Stover. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com