Relinquishing Power

"Therefore, be ye lamps unto yourselves, be a refuge to yourselves. Hold fast to Truth as a lamp; hold fast to the truth as a refuge. Look not for a refuge in anyone beside yourselves. And those, who shall be a lamp unto themselves, shall betake themselves to no external refuge, but holding fast to the Truth as their lamp, and holding fast to the Truth as their refuge, they shall reach the topmost height." (Gautama Buddha)

You know the cliché that asserts that those in power will never voluntarily relinquish power? As with most generalizations, this one tempts us to abdicate the authority of our own experience and risk missing what might actually be unfolding. I'm happy to report that I witness exceptions to this particular platitude everywhere I go now. As I travel around speaking about the interconnected teachings of love at the heart of the world's religions, I have been encountering an emerging tribe of middle-aged, middle-class white men who are dropping their male privilege and bowing at the feet of the feminine. And not only white guys, but men of color. Not only Western men, but representatives of traditional cultures as well.

From Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, Episcopal priests in Pasadena to Catholic priests in San Antonio, Conservative rabbis in Washington D.C to Vipassana teachers in the Midwest, college professors at my own Alma Mater to Yoga teachers in Brooklyn, men are joining with women to proclaim: the masculine solution to the human condition has backfired. It's time for something different (yet ancient--primordial, even). This shift takes many forms. Sometimes it is an invitation. A religious leader will call a woman up to the proverbial altar and step aside while she shares the dharma, willing to listen to whatever comes out of her mouth, unafraid of her wildness or vulnerability. Other times it is a simple reconfiguration of the default language, in which male clergy replace the masculine pronoun for the feminine when speaking of God -- not because they suddenly think of God as girl instead of a boy, but just to even out the score a little.

A few years ago I had the great fortune of hearing the Dalai Lama speak to a few thousand of my closest friends (he has this way of cultivating intimacy in any setting) at Radio City Music Hall in New York. What struck me most profoundly about his talk was when he said something along the lines of, "It is time for Western women to step up and bring peace to this ravaged world." Whatever his exact words were, the message landed like an arrow in my conscience. It's my turn. Mine. I have been born into the wealthiest nation on the planet; I am educated and socially conscious; I have a few decades of spiritual practice under my belt. I don't have all my shit together by any means, but I can work with what I got. OK, Mirabai: go.

We are not separated from our brothers in this task. There are large numbers of men cheering us on, reinforcing our endeavors. I keep running into them. I have celebrated Mass with an elderly Irish priest who invited me, his "Jewish friend," to bring the communion host to the altar. In the past year I have heard at least three homilies in which the otherwise conventional minister has referred to God as "she," without missing a beat. A growing group of women leaders is emerging in every one of the world's faiths -- from the most institutionalized to the radically reformed -- bringing the fierce tenderness of the feminine to the table and offering much needed sustenance to the withering collective spirit.

I am not in any way suggesting that oppression of the feminine is a thing of the past and that every man in any position of power and control is suddenly ready to cheerfully hand it over. It's clear that we have a long way to go. Our ravaged economy, precarious environment, and fundamentalist religious and political agendas provide ample evidence of entrenched patterns of greed and corruption. Yet my heart is lifted by the loving efforts of the men I am meeting who are dedicated to supporting the empowerment of women however they can. This is playing out in the religious arena -- the soul of the world -- and I think it's going to change everything.