Celebrating Women and Spirituality: A Conversation with Carol Flinders, Ph.D

Letters from Barbara Findeisen, M.F.T.

Pocket Ranch Institute News

Celebrating Women and Spirituality
A Conversation with Carol Flinders, Ph.D.

by Lisa Bograd

When Carol Lee Flinders set out on a quest to find female spiritual heroes, she had no idea that in the end she would return to herself.

Surprisingly, the circularity is a source of both comfort and inspiration to Ms. Flinders, whose efforts culminated in the book, Endur­ing Grace, which details the lives of seven women mystics from the European Catholic tradition. “These are the portraits of people who have done essentially what the path I am on describes,” says the 50 year-old Ms. Flinders, referring to women like Clare of Assisi and Therese of Lisieux, who are among the sub­jects of her book. “I thought that if I could really do what I say I am trying to do, I could end up being like that. And so it really increased my notion and my sense that there is a real strong tradition for women to draw upon if we want to.”

In an upcoming workshop at Pocket Ranch, to be held March 25-27, Ms. Flinders will explore the rich experiences of these unique women. She believes female seekers of today can gain valuable insights and glean new tools for living from their example. The wisdom of the past, she says, speaks with remarkable relevance to the present.

Entitled Women and Spirituality, Ms. Flinders’ workshop is based on a five-point approach designed to teach calmness, concen­tration, clarity, compassion and courage. She will place particular emphasis on meditation; specifically the meditation on a memorized spiritual passage and the use of a mantra or a holy name. Drawing from the Christian tradi­tion to teach workshop techniques does not, however, imply that the workshop is strictly for those with a Christian orientation, according to Ms. Flinders. “These are methods of medita­tion that I learned from my own teacher who comes from a Hindu background,” she laughs. Her teacher, Eknath Easwaran, is the founder of the northern California based Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, a non-profit religious organization created to teach the practice of meditation.

A self-professed academic with a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and a concentration on medieval literature, Ms. Flinders conceived the idea for Enduring Grace teaching Women’s Studies at U.C. Berkeley about four years ago. But the seeds for this publication had been planted decades before, during her days as a food writer for publications across the nation, among them “The Washington Post,” “The San Jose Mercury News” and “The Vegetarian Times.” “During the whole time I was doing food writing, I was always writing about food in a much larger context,” relates Ms. Flinders, who is perhaps best known as the co-author of the Laurel’s Kitchen cookbooks. Towards the end of her food writ­ing career, which spanned 11 years, Ms. Flinders’ interests in deeper social and spiri­tual themes was becoming more impassioned, and eventually she was compelled to pursue what was to become a more personal career path.

In her classes she began to recognize a shift in consciousness; an awakening of sorts within her female students calling them to dig deeper within themselves to examine the emotional and spiritual issues beneath po­litical veneers. She too was swept up in the momentum. “As I saw changes (in my stu­dents’) perspectives and the questions they were bringing, I was brought to a new level of awareness and understanding.” Consequently, the subjects she was teaching began to take on new dimensions.

“The lives of these women mystics opened out more and more under the forces of these questions. It was really interac­tive.” From 1989 Ms. Flinders dedicated the next three years to researching and writing Enduring Grace, which was published in 1993. One of the least expected - and most heartening endorsements came from the Catholic Church. At every level, Church authorities are saying “there is a real yearn­ing to get in touch with that solid, mystical, spiritual core of the tradition.”

Having come to know these women so intimately, Ms. Flinders says she has awak­ened a deeper spirituality within herself. “And this has given me a clearer sense of what is essential regardless of the tradition within which a particular seeker is living and striving.”