Embodying the Sacred Feminine: A Conversation with Judith Ansara


Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Sacred Embodiment, Sacred Service: A Retreat for Women with Judith Ansara and Danya River, September 26–28, 2014.

According to Judith Ansara, women innately understand and experience the inter-connectedness of all life, and the wisdom, creativity, and power that is part of this “knowing.” Yet, in the busyness of our multi-focused lives, it is easy to lose touch with our own depth and the capacity to rest and move away from this connection.

In this interview, Judith shares some wisdom related to the experience of being embodied as a woman, and some thoughts on the importance of women gathering together in the sacred space of retreat.

Watch our interview with Judith below, or scroll down to stream/download the audio.

If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.

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Judith Ansara

Judith Ansara, MSW, has been a pioneering teacher of applied human consciousness for 30 years. Synthesizing her immersion in Buddhism and other wisdom traditions with her experience as a psychotherapist and leadership trainer, she teaches internationally at centers such as Omega and Esalen; and trains and coaches health practitioners and social change leaders. A master of the arts of conscious embodiment, she also leads couples retreats with her husband Robert Gass.

Courageous Women, Fearless Living Celebrates Its Eighth Year

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Photos by Barb Colombo

Shambhala Mountain Center will be hosting the 8th Annual Courageous Women, Fearless Living retreat from August 19-24, 2014. This innovative and contemplative program was founded in 2005 and has helped over 300 women with a current or past diagnosis of cancer. Through nutrition, Tibetan healing, integrative medicine, meditation, yoga, art and community building, women are given powerful tools to meet the totality of their experience directly and courageously.

“Our goal is for our participants to return home with a new circle of support and friendship; with the mental, emotional, and contemplative tools to support them in their journey through cancer; and with greater self-awareness, confidence, DSC_7664and appreciation for life,” says Judith Lief, one of the lead instructors of the retreat. Lief is a contemplative hospice pioneer, senior meditation instructor, former dean of Naropa University and author of Making Friends with Death.  She is joined for this retreat by a team of experts with similarly impressive credentials including Victoria Maizes, MD, Executive Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine, and Linda Sparrowe, a writer, yoga instructor, mentor and practitioner with deep roots in the Vedas, Sanskrit, and women’s health. Read more from these inspiring instructors below:

“In the same way that it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a village to heal from a serious illness like cancer. Confronting illness can be such an alien and lonely journey. At the Courageous Women retreat, I have been inspired over and over again by the village we form, if only for a few days. Within this village friendships are made, stories are shared, and deep healing occurs – for staff as well as participants.  This kind of healing continues without regard to the ups and downs of life, the remission or progression of cancer.” — Judith Lief

DSC_7701“When things go really bad, and whatever is happening seems completely solid and hopeless, the only ally I have found is a sense of humor.  By humor I don’t mean ha-ha trivialization, but a sense of lightness that punctures the heavy-handedness of my own dramas. What a relief to know that S.O.H. is always lurking around, ready to pop up just when I need it most.” —Judy Lief

“Living with cancer can indeed be a long journey, sometimes confusing, often frightening, and hardly ever predictable. People often say, take one day at a time, but I love that Tulku says sometimes even that’s too much. Do what you can, but don’t forget to “rest along the way.” Cultivating a yoga and meditation practice can help you stay in the present moment, be gentle with yourself, and give you a respite from the emotional chaos and physical challenges you may be facing.” —Linda Sparrowe

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“When you are dealing with the medical system, you are caught in the hassle of finding doctors, going to appointments, enduring procedures, and basically running from one medical consultation to another, not to mention dealing with insurance companies, worrying about finances, and all the “collateral damage” that comes with a cancer diagnosis. In the midst of this claustrophobia and fixation on disease, simple sense perceptions can collapse all this pain for an instant and give you a fresh perspective A glimpse of the new moon, a spring flower in the meadow, a hawk perched high and proud in a pine tree. The evening star. A child’s laughter.  How precious!” —Judy Lief

To read more about this retreat and its instructors–Acharya Emeritus Judith Lief, Victoria Maizes, and Linda Sparrowe–click here. This retreat is also open to caregivers and loved ones of women on the cancer journey.

The 8th Annual Courageous Women Retreat is being generously supported by the Eileen Fisher Foundation and the Beanstalk Foundation, both of whom have awarded grants to fund program scholarships. To apply for scholarships, please visit cwfl.org.

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Way Seeking Mind: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat for Women

by Katharine Kaufman

open pavilionI offer a women’s retreat twice a year, on the hottest, longest days in the middle of summer, and the coldest, dark winter days. I see myself as more of a facilitator of this retreat, rather than a teacher. We arrive alone and together, 12 or 15 of us, and we simply practice yoga, sitting, sharing. Something subtle and close transforms because of this turning our discursive gaze inward. There is a luxurious break in the afternoons to hike, read, rest, or visit with each other. Transformation is not always a smooth ride. We have our practices, the support of the schedule, teachings, to hold us—and each other.

My favorite part of this retreat is when we individually choose a place outdoors, and practice solo the four postures of meditation. These beautiful places we choose offer us the chance to simply be in one area in nature, with no agenda. We understand the gentle wind, grasses, texture of rocks, as good friends, not just scenery. We can lean against a tree, close our eyes, listen, create a temporary nest.

It seems natural to pause, reflect, sit, gently move, talk and find silence amongst other women. This phrase, ‘Way Seeking Mind’ struck me when I first heard of it during a Zen women’s retreat. I hesitate to define it. It should speak directly to one’s heart and marrow, and not pause too long in any cerebral place. We have a sense of what that mind is—what that journey is. Or perhaps it is a big mystery.

This women’s summer retreat is special to me since it takes place in the eight-sided pavilion, which happens to be built on the old Girl Scout’s fire ring. This rustic pavilion is separate from the main area, tucked in the pines. The winter walls will be removed so that we experience a space both inside and outside—a living metaphor for our practice. To me, this is coming home to a place that has always been waiting—wild, familiar, natural. It’s reflected outside but of course, also in us.

The gap between what we experience and what we desire—inside and out—is not so far apart as we had imagined.

This retreat is now full.

In the Company of Women: Precious Knowing

By Katherine Kaufman

Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained in the Soto Zen lineage of Kobun Chino Roshi. She taught and practiced yoga for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and has studied in India. Below she shares the inspiration for her annual winter women’s yoga and meditation retreat “Precious Knowing.”

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I have the good fortune to be at the Shambhala Mountain Center at this moment so I can tell you what it is like in the winter here — at least right now. Still & quiet. Today I walked up to the ridge — maybe to get nearer to the sun. There was some trudging through snow and also big patches with no snow. I rested on an outcropping of rocks. A group of deer were close to the Stupa. They looked up at me and leapt away as if gravity were no problem. Inside the Stupa I was struck by what feels like the thickness of many years of people practicing. The good humored gentleness and authentic way of the staff feels so warming. I am called back to this place. This is one of my homes.

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My idea for the women’s retreats began from my sense that it would be great to gather, and do practices on the coldest day of the winter and the hottest day of the summer and that the retreats would reflect the seasons they are in somehow. Women particularly need gaps in routine to pause, leave their responsibilities, and have a time to reconsider where they are in their lives, and be with other women. That this is a retreat for women with emphasis on formal practices, is a big part of the title, “precious knowing.”

The Experience

Even though I have had many years to refine these retreats it still amazes me that something happens — it feels magical. We are very simply practicing together: gentle yoga, meditation, and a little improvisational movement in the afternoons. We take our naps, bundle up and walk in the forest and up to the Stupa alone and together. The group is small enough so that we can sit around a table for meals. We discuss things that are important to us, and begin to know each other in a way that is different perhaps, from our usual knowing another. In certain ways I feel like this must be how women in small villages live. It feels so natural, for women to join and support each other this way.

This particular retreat is one where I facilitate rather than impart knowledge and I also don’t see it as a training program. Although there is instruction and we are practicing ancient forms this retreat is really about participating in practices all together, as well as sharing our combined wisdom. On some level we each know what we need already. The practices of sitting, yoga, movement, and sharing help facilitate our inner knowing. Sometimes our practice requires silence, sometimes questions, sharing, laughter or an evening by the fire. Most evenings we listen as each woman has her time to share. We acknowledge our differences and find a sense of acceptance and kindness. So we do this for a few days — simple and basic. Time slows — or we — by our practice — slow time.

And from this work, and play combined with being on the land we begin to feel more of our inner experiences — something shifts in us — a crack in the view. Something that has been propped up melts, and underneath a sense of relaxation occurs. Our desire for some rest, connection, realization is simply exchanged for actual practice. We experience something tender. When we return to our homes, our ways and days, the practice and the precious knowing continues.

Upcoming Program:

Precious Knowing: A Meditation and Yoga retreat for Women | February 19–23, 2014