Women at the forefront of change

Madison Avenue would have us believe that the whole world happily runs on Dunkin’, mindlessly pursuing careers while juggling concerns of family and personal life.

In reality, many people are searching for a more spiritual path. Through yoga, Reiki, energy healing, meditation, physical activities or more traditional approaches, they are seeking to find a balance between their inner and outer lives.

At the same time, there has been a shift in the way spirituality manifests itself in our culture. No longer just a religious experience inside stained glass-covered walls, spirituality has become a global search for balance and connection. Here in Maine, men are certainly playing a role in this transformation, but women have a unique perspective that has placed them at the forefront of change.

“To be spiritual, you have to be vulnerable,” says Rabbi Carolyn Braun, the leader of the Temple Beth El congregation in Portland for the past 17 years. “Being in touch with spirituality means we are responsible for the world, and (at the same time) the world doesn’t revolve around us.”

“There are lots of people practicing religion without much spirituality,” says Anna Allocco, a yoga instructor and reconnective healer. “What is needed in our culture is more time for reflection, and a willingness to explore the mystery.”

For Allocco, 37, of Falmouth, the spiritual journey has always been front and center. When she was 19, she participated in an ecotour through the Amazon rain forest with a shamanic healer that “set her up” to explore the mysteries of life in the spiritual realm. An active member of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland, Allocco says her church has “no dogma, nothing you have to believe.” This allows members more room to explore and develop spirituality on their own, she says.

Allocco is also a yoga instructor with Portland Power Yoga. Her workshops often combine yoga practice with journaling and what she calls a “revolution of the spirit.”

Her latest endeavor is in the field of “reconnective healing,” which she describes as a way of being with a patient at a vibrational level to help facilitate healing.

“There’s no set path to spirituality. There’s lots of ways in,” says Allocco. “It’s all about honoring your inner guidance system. That’s spirituality,”

For Kimberly Jacques, 38, of Lewiston, exploring spirituality has meant being open to creating a more meaningful life. Jacques had been working as a polarity therapist at Spa Tech when she developed health problems that doctors weren’t able to diagnose. Her intuition kept whispering that she needed to take a risk and make changes in her work life.

Jacques committed herself to a daily mantra during her 50-minute commute to work, focused on attracting opportunity. Things soon began to fall into place, she says. Her sister suggested she enter a contest for creating a business plan, which led six months ago to the opening of Revelation Massage in Auburn. Jacques’ marketing of her business centers on giving back to the community. In return, she says, the community has rallied around her business. She uses polarity therapy techniques, polarity yoga, and awareness coaching to help others reconnect to themselves.

“Only then can we act from a place of authenticity and integrity,” Jacques says. “Then, our choices are coming from the unique whisperings inside ourselves.”

Maine women also are in the forefront of fostering spirituality in the community. Klara Tammany is the director of the Center for Wisdom’s Women in Lewiston, a women’s drop-in center, sponsored by the local Trinity Episcopal Church, but not affiliated with any religious organization. She describes the center as a safe and secure place that supports and empowers women. Not a social service agency, the center utilizes volunteer “companions” who listen deeply, provide support, and help build community.

Wisdom’s Women resides in the “parish” or neighborhood that surrounds the local church, where the poverty rate is 40 percent, and residents are recent Somali refugees, as well as traditional millworker families. Many are isolated by poverty, dislocation or broken families. Each day, they are invited to gather in Sophia’s Room at the center. There, a Tibetan chime begins a contemplative circle. Participants recite a wisdom prayer, and share a concern or express gratitude, then close the circle with a prayer from a collection of prayers for women.

Over time, Tammany says, the bonds that grow among the women help to break through cultural barriers, relieve their isolation, and foster a shared sense of purpose.

“The niche we fill is being present to tend to the spirit of the women who come here,” says Tammany, who has a postdoctoral degree in spirituality. “We can’t say we get them jobs or cure their illnesses. But life is better because their spirits are enriched.”

All over Maine, a multitude of such stories of intuition, risk and connection are repeated, as women take the time to nurture themselves and those around them. This, they say, is what it means to be spiritual today.

“The pace at which we are expected to live our lives is not honoring our feminine nature,” says Jacques. “People are seeking out the nurturing of their bodies, minds and spirits in a way they never have before.”

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