Over the past 30 years, motivational speaker Gail Straub has helped thousands of people worldwide find meaning and purpose in their lives. Recently, the empowerment and leadership expert undertook a period of soul-searching and came to believe that, like her mother and so many other women, the success in her outer life came at the expense of her inner life. She explains in her new book, Returning to My Mother's House: Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine.
To succeed in life, women are encouraged to adopt and develop what Straub calls their outer qualities.
"No matter where we live, we're encouraged to go toward the masculine or outer qualities, towards our 'father's house.' That is, the world of performance, concrete results and rational thought," she says. "And so often, our 'mother's house' - female wisdom - is put down. It's not important. It's not useful. And those [qualities] are deep intuition, emotional intelligence and the capacity to cultivate an 'inner' life."
Straub calls those inner qualities the "wisdom of the feminine," and she says when there is balance between feminine and masculine qualities, women are most content and fulfilled.
Women sacrifice inner peace for outward success, author claims
In her book, she recalls how her mother sacrificed her dreams of adventure to the demands of being a wife and working mother. Surprisingly, Straub says, she realized that was also her own story - and the story of countless women around the world.
"Most women at a certain age realize something fundamental in life is missing," she says. "When I turned 55, which was the age my mother died, I had a kind of spiritual crisis in a way and realized I had to stand up for my mother, meaning really stand up for my own female wisdom."
Straub says most women lose the connection with their inner wisdom when they become addicted to achieving.
"There is a great temptation for workaholism and constantly doing [something]," she says. "We're at work. We're raising our families. We're very busy. All these things are important, of course, but we often don't develop our interior lives, don't have the time - this silence, simplicity, solitude and slowness - where we develop this quiet place where we're listening to slower rhythms and more mysterious things: our emotions, our intuition."
Straub offers tips to reconnect with intuition
In her book, Straub offers a variety of ways to build and sustain our interior life, which can restore our feminine wisdom. They include listening to our emotions and intuition, building our home and community and engaging in creative arts.
"Writing, sculpting, painting, dancing, any form of music, singing or playing an instrument - all of these creative arts are doorways into our intuition and our interior life," she says. "Then, of course, I talk about creating a women's support group. Circles of women - our mothers, our grandmothers, our aunts, our close women friends - are the most direct mirror to our deep wisdom. I've had a small women group for over 30 years. It's been one of the primary ways I've overcome my workaholism, my addiction to all those places that steal our feminine."
When women discover feminine wisdom, Straub says, they become more open to different experiences and lifestyles.
"I think that female wisdom, philosophically, suggests a paradigm where we embrace the 'other,' where we live in a world where we're saying, 'I may have a different political or philosophical or spiritual position, but I can listen to you. I can reconcile those opposites,'" she says. "So in my view, female wisdom has the capacity to appreciate differences, to respect differences."
Institute aims to empower women across the world
Straub, along with her husband David Gershon, directs the Empowerment Institute, a school for leadership in New York City. Her work gives her an opportunity to meet with women from all around the world and listen to their stories.
"I've been working with this empowerment for 30 years, and I'm so inspired by the women who are coming from different parts of the world," she says. "We've had women come from Rwanda just after the genocide, women from the killing fields in Cambodia, women from South Africa. Recently, I've worked with many, many women from Afghanistan.
"At first, you think, 'Well, their issues of empowerment and power and taking back this wisdom would be quite different than western women.' But I found, over and over, that really, at the very fundamental level, the issues are the same."
One of the Afghani women who received training at Straub's Empowerment Institute is Shqipe Malushi. She is back in Kabul now, working as an empowerment trainer. She says the wisdom of the feminine helped her achieve a more balanced life.
"I personally was much pretty defensive," she says. "I was more on the masculine energy - run, defend and fight for whatever I wanted. Ever since I worked with Gail in empowerment, you reach within and you touch your beautiful side and you find power within that feminine."
Through her work, Malushi says, she is helping other Afghani women discover and embrace their feminine wisdom and not be afraid to express themselves.
"For example, one woman used to dress all in black and cover up completely," she says. "After 12 sessions of empowerment, when she gets in touch with her feminine, she wears blue clothes, cuts her hair and covers it with a beautiful scarf rather than just black to diminish herself. Now women are beginning to realize that they are beautiful, they are strong, and they are feminine. They don't have to apologize or deny that."
Straub says she finds it inspiring and empowering to share experiences with women of different cultures and backgrounds. Through the power of the Internet, she adds, women anywhere in the world today can easily connect and support each other in their quest for inner wisdom and strength.