Overcoming Our Feline Instincts

by Kimberly Hohman

I am a former "cat woman."  You know the type - always ready with a behind-the-back, snide remark or a nasty comment for a fellow female.  I'd join my girlfriends and roommates in trashing games, talking about so-and-so's current hairstyle or such-and-such's need for a wardrobe in a  larger size.  In fact, during my college days, it was rare to come across a woman who wouldn't participate in a little female bashing, so I counted myself among the majority at that point in my life.  Since then,  I've learned the beauty and power of celebrating our "spiritual sisterhood."  

As women, we are bound by so many common experiences that it would seem logical to draw support and encouragement from each other.  Unfortunately, we live in a society that fosters divisiveness and contention among gender equals.  Our self-esteem is constantly under attack by a media that pumps us full of images of air-brushed, perfectly-coifed, rail-thin women and then tells us that we are less than good if our bodies don't equal theirs.  It's natural to feel the need to defend oneself against expectations of living up to the impossible, but attempts to build one's own self-esteem at the expense of others' aren't only in vain, they are mean.  

Celebrating our "spiritual sisterhood" means looking beyond the messages we are force-fed to the ties that bond us.  

Have you ever been in a roomful of mothers who don't know one another?  My experience has been that if someone musters up the courage to break the ice, soon the entire room is chatting about birth stories, breastfeeding, stretch marks and potty woes. The trouble is, too often I've been in that situation and never had the ice broken at all.  The reason for this might be shyness or the desire to "mind your own business," but I've got a sneaking suspicion that it has more to do with that little devil that sits on our shoulders saying either, "She wouldn't want to talk to me anyway," or maybe worse, "Why would I want to talk to her?"  

The fact is we are more alike than we are different and our lives and our experiences reflect those similarities, it's just a matter of  actively acknowledging our connections.   As mothers, we spend much of our time fulfilling the needs of others. Who knows that better than other women and who better than other women to support us in fulfilling our needs?  Not only do we have a lot to offer the world, we have a lot to offer each other.

Overcoming the forces which drive us apart may seem difficult, but starting off with small changes in consciousness can lead to great things.  And the gifts we receive from our efforts certainly make them worthwhile.

Find Your Muse
For me, it's been a series of women who have inspired me to rise above my cattiness, love myself and consequently support and encourage other women to do the same.  Marianne Williamson, Oprah Winfrey and Anne Lamott have each in their own way provided me with insights that have always been just below the surface of my consciousness, but untappable by my former, feline self.  There is no shortage of inspirational women, either.  Iyanla Vanzant, Maya Angelou, Isabel Allende and others all serve as spiritual guides in their own right.  But inspiration doesn't have to come from a celebrity or an author with several books to their credit.  One of my dearest friends, Amy, has always unknowingly provided me with a source of spiritual enlightenment with her absolute sincerity and generous heart.  Her experiences and her actions have taught me a great deal about courage and unconditional love.  

Discover your own inspiration in someone whose life you admire and whose philosophy you respect and allow yourself to be led by their example.

Salute the Goddess in Yourself and Others
My mother gave me a copy of Marianne Williamson's A Woman's Worth when I was a senior in college.  In the book, Williamson talks about our tendency as women to put one another down in an effort to build ourselves up.  This cattiness, that I was a victim of, is usually the result of low self-esteem.  It sounds trite, but only when we love ourselves can we truly love others.  Marianne suggested that we silently greet other women with the phrase, "The God in me salutes the God in you."  I took her advice to heart, consciously reminding myself to resist the urge to be malicious and rather, to quietly pay tribute to the goddess in other women.  Soon the nasty thoughts ceased to enter my mind.  I began to realize that the same forces that were driving me to feel competitive were at work on every other woman I met. And I found myself  honoring their spirit as kin to my own. 

I later learned that the greeting, which has become a part of my life, comes from a Hindu belief called Namaste' which roughly translated means, "the great perfection within me honors the great perfection within you."  Namaste' is central in the practice of yoga, which has also since become a part of my life.  In yoga, Namaste' often provides a starting place for preparation, an ending place for reflection and a resting place for points in between. In our daily lives, Namaste' can serve much the same purpose: as a spiritual greeting to others, as a cue to reach beyond our negative selves to see the perfection in others and as a prompt to reflect on the perfection in ourselves.

Pray for Each Other
Prayer is another way of solidifying the bond among women.  But, if you aren't a 'religious person', the concept of prayer may seem strange or foreign, and it may even scare you.  But praying doesn't have to involve a ritual or be terribly complex.  It can happen at any given moment and it can be as easy as offering your gratitude to your higher power.

My friend, Paige, recently confided that when she talks to God it often feels as though she's talking to herself.  If her words ring true, you're not alone.  I've often wondered, when I pray, if I'm doing it 'right'.  But surely there must be no wrong way to pray.  And, in a sense, when we pray, we are talking to ourselves;  reminding ourselves that we aren't in it alone and that it's not only okay to give some of the weight we carry up to a higher power, it's necessary.

In a recent appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Isabel Allende talked about a prayer circle that she and her friends began.  Each day at a certain time all of the women in the group stop what they are doing and pray for one another.  The idea of connecting ourselves through prayer is amazingly simple and yet quite beautiful.  It also helps to reinforce the notion that no matter where we are presently, we are not alone. Imagine starting a prayer circle and being still for a moment of your day for the other women in your group.  With a prayer as simple as, "Thank you," we are bound in the solidarity of that moment, in the commonality of our experiences and in the celebration of divine sisterhood.

Copyright © 2000 by Kimberly Hohman.
Kimberly Hohman is a freelance writer and frequently harried mother of two
sons. Her writing has appeared in various on- and off-line publications, and she  maintains the
Race Relations site at About.com.