The Alchemy of Our Spiritual Leadership: Women Redefining Power. Interview with Co-Leader Kathe Schaaf by Willi Paul. Co-Presented by Magazine &

Our Earth is in crisis and it seems that many are looking to women to heal the planet and our human family. Before women can step into our full potential as leaders and guides in this moment:

  • we must individually reconnect with our deepest wisdom and with our spiritual roots;
  • we must collectively heal the many dimensions of separation that keep us fragmented and ineffective as agents of social change; and
  • we must globally reclaim our rightful place as spiritual leaders in service of a balanced and compassionate new paradigm.

Interview with Kathe by Willi –

What makes women’s spirituality different than men’s these days?

I do see something fascinating happening right now among spiritual women I know – a shared sense of excitement and urgency about showing up fully and stepping into the potential of this moment in human history. Many women are feeling restless and knowing in their bones that ‘Now is the time’. It feels like a collective preparation for an impending birth. As women, we know something important about birthing and I think we are relieved that the world seems to be asking for our wisdom and experience after so many centuries of being shut out of leadership, marginalized and unheard. We are finding our individual voices and we are weaving communities of connection so that we can listen to and learn from one another. Spirituality is the heartbeat of this organic process, which feels congruent and natural for many of us.

There is a rising energy of the Sacred Feminine afoot among us and a lively discussion about the impact of having a God who is defined as masculine in many of the major religious traditions. There is a sense of remembering an aspect of ourselves, what Vajra Ma describes as ‘women’s natural spiritual authority.’ In this context, authority does not mean power over others but more an awakening to our own powerful gifts offered in service of the divine.

The men in my life are witnessing and supporting this journey and it is the same for many women I know. At our recent Retreat for North American women spiritual leaders, one of the women spoke about her husband’s reaction to her new passion: “He sees what is needed in humanity right now is a transformation in consciousness, and he sees that women are going to lead that transformation.”

I also see that sometimes men reacts with concern and confusion. They see this growing, buzzing hive of women and are not exactly sure what we are doing and what it means for them. I don’t see the same kind of collective energy or community taking form among spiritual men right now. That might happen organically if men are hungry to explore the same kinds of questions.

Are you angry at men?

The conversations I am hearing among spiritual women have nothing to do with being angry at men. In fact, the conversation often leads in the opposite direction: How do we include men so that they too can feel authentically empowered, so that they too can be free to express what is true for them, so that they too can be assured of their intrinsic gifts? The women I know feel as much love and protective instinct for their sons and partners as they do for their daughters and friends.

As we created the structure for the Alchemy gathering, we discussed many times whether the event should be open to men because some are interested in the conversation. Our decision to create a women-only space is not a reaction against men but grows from a sense that there are some important conversations that need to happen to bring healing within the community of women. That is an important distinction.

Is sustainability like a new religion?

Actually I think that sustainability may be modern language for an ancient religion. Our earliest forms of indigenous spirituality were centered around a reverence for the Earth and a deep respect for our profound interdependence with the cycles of nature. At the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia in December 2009, thousands of people from every major world religion listened as indigenous wisdom keepers from every continent shared their teachings and spoke about the urgent need to once again recognize our Earth as sacred. Sustainability is at the heart of this sacredness.

How do you use alchemy?

The first thing that comes to my mind is “I do not use alchemy; alchemy uses me.” We’ve discovered there are many layers of meaning of this word ‘alchemy’. The original meaning (a chemical process to turn lead into gold) has expanded and evolved over the course of history. Carl Jung uses the concept of alchemy in a psychological framework related to the process of individuation. Some religions use the word to describe a process of transformation and the acquiring of wisdom. offers this definition: any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value. There is a sense of mystery wrapped around the word, an invitation to surrender to the unknown together and be changed.

What labels or cliques have you had to fight off so far?

If I were to look under your question at a deeper layer of inquiry, I would say that we exist to create a safe space for challenging conversations about the tensions or assumptions which keep us separated. We humans seem to find lots of reasons to label and discount one another. Race, class, gender and religion are some of the obvious labels separating us but there are also other dimensions of diversity in the work we are doing with women. Young women bring a dynamic voice and often a radically different perspective than older women. Peace and justice activists sit beside women who believe in the power of prayer and ‘holding space’ to transform the world. Introverts explore the challenges of holding their own in a circle of vocal women.

Yet somewhere under it all is a shared longing and our potential as co-creators.

Some of our recent explorations have brought forth these questions: How do we transcend tokenism or the pitfall of making individuals speak for large diverse demographics and really integrate the conversation? How can we make one another feel truly seen, heard and valued? When does one claim one’s own space, and when does one need to be invited to take up space? How do our cultural and religious backgrounds influence our choices? What structures can we create that allow for people to express pain and help others see their own privilege at work?

Are you successfully building and maintaining relationships with social media?

This question makes me smile. Some of us are ‘baby boomers’ for whom the rapidly evolving field of social media is a mysterious place. Thankfully, we are blessed with the wisdom and guidance of younger women who have grown up in the world of social networks, blogs, tweets, YouTube and texts. We welcome your help if you have any suggestions to help us find our way.

‘Women of Spirit and Faith.’ What is the difference between spirit and faith?

This is a key question because we have an intention to invite relationships between women of spirit and women of faith. Women of faith describes a wide river of women who experience their faith through affiliation with a religious structure of some kind: Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, Sikh, etc. Some of these women have also gotten involved in the ‘interfaith’ movement over the past decade which encourages communication and understanding among people of diverse faiths. Women of spirit refers to another river of women who are no longer affiliated with a traditional religion though they remain deeply spiritual. Some of them have woven together for themselves a unique spiritual practice that incorporates elements of various religions; others are experimenting with new forms of earth-based spirituality.

Though I was raised in a Lutheran church, I think of myself as a woman of spirit. When I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions last year, I was often asked “What religion are you?” and I was unsure how to answer. Sometimes I said I was a follower of the Sacred Feminine (an energy that was very much alive and visible at the Parliament) and other times I would describe myself as ‘unaffiliated’ (which is the fastest growing religious identification in the U.S.). Several days into the Parliament, one of my wise friends observed “These women of faith do not even know that so many women of spirit are missing from their conversations.” I could feel the truth of that run through my body, followed by a sense I had just received a new divine assignment to begin inviting these two mighty rivers of women together.

How does your group view war?

By design, our community of women is diverse and no one of us speaks on behalf of the whole. So the simple answer to your question would be that there is no ‘group view’ on anything – including war. Like most of the people of the world, we might agree it is simply not a good idea to destroy one another and our planet.

When I look at the complex pattern of overlapping circles, organizations and networks of women, what I see is a tendency to focus on creating new forms and structures rather that dismantling old ones. Someone has credited Buckminster Fuller with saying we should not worry about killing off the dinosaurs but focus our energy on building a gazelle. I see a lot of women’s initiatives focused on building those gazelles: new models for leadership, collaboration, sustainability, economics, education, politics, art, service, activism – and spiritual expression. I see many women who are persistently and courageously birthing a new world at the same time they lovingly hospice the death of the old order.

Who are your friends and foes as you build a “powerful cultural shift into unity and oneness?”

My brain was kind of twitching at the contradictions inherent in this question- and then I realized that the answer is ME. I am both my best friend and my greatest foe in this work of contributing to a real cultural shift.

The potential for transformation on this planet rests with me and my commitment to consciously and consistently be the change I wish to see in the world, just as it rests with you and your ability to do the same. Cultural tipping points are only achieved when a million individual bright lights combine into a new pattern. So unity begins with me and the way I react when I am stressed or when I am happy, when I delight in my resonance with another person or when I bristle at someone with whom I disagree.

Which is exactly why a conversation about spiritual leadership is so important right now. My spiritual practice offers me a support structure for my daily challenges with patience, compassion and reverence for life. It provides me with a compass that guides my relationships, my service and my leadership. At a time when the civil discourse in this country is more polarized and hostile than I have ever seen, it feel essential to invite authentic conversations about our differences and an opportunity to explore hard questions in a safe space with a commitment to deep listening.