A collection of warm and remarkably intimate conversations with 14 famous women of various ages, backgrounds, religions, and professions, each of whom has a spiritual life that nourishes them and serves as a dependable compass for their decision-making. Participants include: Olympia Dukakis, Riane Eisler, Sister Helen Prejean, Rabbi Laura Geller and other artists, activists, religious leaders, and visionaries.
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In Sweet Company
ABOUT THE WOMEN:
Sister Helen Prejean C.S.J. - A Catholic Sister of St. Joseph, she achieved national recognition when her Pulitzer Prize nominated book about her work as spiritual advisor to convicted murderer Patrick Sonnier was made into the Academy Award-winning movie, Dead Man Walking. A Nobel Prize nominee and social justice activist, Sister Helen currently lectures around the world about her experiences and the importance of eliminating the death penalty.
"I think spirituality is also about the reconciliation of opposites. It's about diving deep inside yourself beyond the polarities to a place of unity where everything holds together. ... Initially, it seems as if you have to choose one thing or another ... But that's not true. When you operate out of the wounded places within yourself, places that are not your truest, the extremes seem irreconcilable. Life is too deep for cynicism or polarization. It just is. Compassion enables you to transcend these polarities at a place within yourself where you stand for the dignity of every human life."
Grandmother Twylah Nitsch - An elder of the Seneca nation, Grandmother Twylah is the founder and leader of the Wolf Clan Teaching Lodge, an international organization that promotes the Native teachings of her ancestors. A 1999 recipient of the Living Treasures Heritage Award, she writes books and lectures around the world. Her Seneca name, Ya-weh-node, means "She Whose Voice Rides the Four Winds."
"Seneca people gauge accomplishment by where we are on our Earthwalk, how we've developed our natural potentials and shared our gifts. Our elders know we're ready to move forward by the questions we ask. There is no criticism or praise, there is only movement through the labyrinth of experience until we remember Who we really are. A bear wakes up in the morning knowing who he is and what he must do each day. He doesn't 'accomplish,' he just lives in harmony with Great Mystery. This is true for us as well."
Miriam Polster, Ph.D. - A prominent and beloved Gestalt psychotherapist, trainer and Professor of Psychiatry at University of San Diego School of Medicine, her work helped encourage the development of positive archetypes that celebrate women's lives. Her book Eve's Daughter's: The Forbidden Heroism of Women, supports the development of models of courage and cooperation for contemporary women and men.
"The Ill-Made Knight. [was a book that was important to me.] As the story goes, ... Lancelot tried so hard to be a wonderful knight because, deep down inside, he was convinced he was not a very good person. ... That book taught me to not be so hard on myself when I tried something I was not yet good at, to see myself as a work in progress. Years later, I heard psychotherapist Laura Perls elaborate on this idea when she said, 'Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.' After all, we all have to start somewhere."
Alma Flor Ada, Ph.D. - Born in Cuba, this Fullbright scholar is an award-winning writer of over 100 children's books, a teacher trainer, and the Director of Multicultural Education at the University of San Francisco. Her work celebrates the universality of human experience and has inspired peace-making efforts in culturally diverse neighborhoods and nations around the world.
"I have had a life-long struggle with ... somehow believing that I had to choose between social action and the spiritual life. When I was living in Peru and in the midst of this struggle, I had a moment of revelation ... I realized that when I brought goodness into the present moment, I was being politically active and deeply spiritual at the same time. ... what [then became] of immediate importance to me is not whether there is an afterlife, or whether something remains of my spirit after I die, but that I live each moment of my life to the best of my ability ... be fully present, right here, right now."
Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress - is Canon at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral and a licensed psychotherapist. After walking the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France, Lauren founded the Labyrinth Project and began teaching others around the world to use this ancient meditation tool as a vehicle for healing and spiritual transformation.
"People today want clarity from their spiritual practice, something that speaks to the deepest parts of them. And we're tired of living with the guilt and the boredom of practicing a belief system that doesn't allow us to feel comfortable with being human -- or that doesn't inspire us. We've got to stop hanging out there in the wind, living without meaning -- or being unaware that it's meaning and aliveness we're searching for. ... we need to change our seeking into discovery and our drifting into pilgrimage."
Olympia Dukakis - Academy Award - winning actress, star of stage, screen, and television, she is also a film director and producer, a passionate teacher, and popular lecturer. A founding member of Voices of Earth and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and a member of NOW, CORE, and Amnesty International, Olympia is deeply committed to women's issues.
"[Archeologist] Marija Gimbutas used to say that the heart of the goddess is transformative energy, the same energy that turns the seed into the plant, the tadpole into a frog ... . In ancient times, these animals were sacred because their transformation illustrates what life is really about. It seems to me that how we understand transformation and how it exists in our lives is also a big part of spirituality. ... It's something women understand intuitively and intimately through our bodies -- if we have the courage to claim that kind of knowing."
Riane Eisler, Ph.D. - Feminist, historian, and author of the groundbreaking book, The Chalice and the Blade, Riane also founded the Center for Partnership Studies, an international education and consulting firm dedicated to fostering social responsibility and global understanding. Riane's interest in creating "partnership societies" began after her childhood escape from Nazi-occupied Austria.
"I have given much thought to what it is that allows people to survive. One thing that helps is faith, but what we have faith in is crucial to our own survival and to whether or not the circumstances that brought about the horrors we endured are perpetuated. One of the main obstacles to changing things for the better is this belief that 'somehow, it -- brutality -- was meant to be.' The whole point is to change our thinking so that we no longer use any excuse to accept brutality."
Le Ly Hayslip - When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, Le Ly's own story about her experiences as a young peasant girl growing up during the Vietnam War, was adapted into the Oliver Stone film, "Between Heaven and Earth". In 1990 she created Global Village Foundation focuses on healing the wounds of war for American and Vietnamese people and promote education, medical, and community outreach efforts in her homeland and in the United States.
"A thought is like a magnet. ... It taps into a specific frequency that creates or draws negative or positive results, depending on the quality of the thought. Whenever I felt scared or hopeless, I would think about something happy, something uplifting, something bigger than myself, something not just for myself. Then I would feel better. ... This is Buddha's teaching: You make your own heaven or hell. ... Someone can rescue you, but only you save yourself."
Zainab Salbi - Founder and President of Women for Women International, Zainab's foundation provides indigent women in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Kosovo, Pakistan, Colombia, Nigeria -- and soon in Iraq -- with the skills and financial resources to move from crisis and poverty to self-sufficiency. A native of Baghdad, Zainab grew up during the Iran-Iraq War, then came to the United States to complete her education. Her humanitarian efforts have been honored at the White House.
"... I don't believe in ... grouping people only according to a geographical location or outer characteristics. Culture, religion, ethnicity are man-made social constructs that influence our lives, but we are more than these limited constructs. We are one humanity, the human race, and we have a responsibility to help each other regardless of what group we belong to. ... If we act based on what we have in common with each other rather than on what's different about us, we can really help one another."
Katherine Dunham, Ph.D. - World-famous dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist, she broke the color barrier of classical dance. A Kennedy Center Honoree, Katherine performed in film and on stage, founded dance troupes, choreographed for the Met, and created an arts school for urban youth. A life-long love affair with Haiti began with a Rosenwald Fellowship to study the roots of African dance.
"As a child, my conception of God was influenced by Bible pictures that depicted God as an old man with long, curly hair and words streaming from his mouth in a cloud. When I grew older, I understood this image could not possibly be accurate for everyone ... each of us has an internal image of God that is based on our culture, our religion, and our own unique relationship with our Deity. It was then that I stopped thinking about what God must look like and began to form a personal relationship with my God."
Margaret Wheatley, Ed.D. - Consultant, lecturer and writer, her ideas on organizational management have revolutionized Fortune 500 companies, schools, hospitals, and foundations around the world. Berkana Institute, the educational and research institute she founded, promotes on-going dialogues and management practices that foster a fully integrated sense of self. Meg's award-winning book Leadership and the New Science outlines her workplace renewal theories.
"... What gives us ... the ability to go on in such horrific circumstances, is a deep centeredness. It doesn't matter if we're talking about an individual, an organization or a nation. If we have a sense of that place within us where we know and trust ourselves, a place that's clear about what we stand for and what's important to our life, where there's always a feeling of peace, then we can withstand the enormous shifts going on around us and know what action is appropriate to take. We're not reacting in the moment or feeling like a victim of circumstance."
Rabbi Laura Geller - The third woman in the world to be ordained a Reform rabbi, she is currently the spiritual leader at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, California, as well as an activist and a role model for women throughout the international Jewish community. Laura is recognized for her work in helping to re-cast American Judaism with an increased emphasis on spirituality, especially women's spirituality.
"For me, a real crisis of faith occurred early in my career, around some tragic deaths. I struggled with this for quite a while and often asked myself how God could have let this happen. Eventually, I came to understand that God is not someone who allows things to happen or not happen. The real question I needed to ask was how can God help me find the strength to deal with what happens? By reframing the question, I opened myself up to other possibilities."
Gail Williamson - Voted 1999 National Mother of the Year, she and her husband are Evangelical Christians raising their two biological sons, one of whom has Down Syndrome, and her six nieces who are Mormons, to follow the spiritual path that speaks to their hearts. Funded by a grant from the Screen Actor's Guild, Gail works to create positive role models for the disabled community by helping young people with disabilities to find work in the entertainment industry.
"... many people told me that God had chosen me to have a disabled child because I had some extraordinary attribute that would enable me to accomplish something other mothers couldn't. ... I think Blair has Down Syndrome not because God thought I was an incredible woman -- or, as others also told me, because I needed to be tested or punished -- but because we live in an imperfect world. Some of us wear our shadows on the outside and some of us wear our shadows on the inside."
Sri Daya Mata - President of Self-Realization Fellowship, the world-wide religious society founded by Paramahansa Yogananda [author of Autobiography of a Yogi] she is one of the first American woman in modern times to lead a global religious movement. Sri Daya Mata directs the operations of religious, educational and medical centers around the world, yearly international lecture tours, and the Fellowship's many publications. Her Sanskrit name means "Mother of Compassion."
"... To me, God is Love. ... the universal love that created all of us and everything in this universe, the unconditional love, the infinite power, that transcends everything in this finite world. When you know that love through personal experience, it's something that's with you constantly. You have only to turn your mind within to feel it. It's not just a thought or mental process. It's an experience, a joy that wells up in your heart. I could not live without that inner communion. It's more precious to me than life or breath."
"This book is about what it means to be a spiritual woman in the twenty-first century. It is about connectedness to God by any name, and connectedness to other, including Self. It is about the depth and breadth and height a soul can actually reach in an age where global technology and Wall Street reign fairly uncontested." Margaret Wolff