This episode’s guest is Sera Beak. Sera is a Harvard-trained scholar of comparative world religions who has spent years traveling the world studying spirituality.
From ‘whirling’ with Sufi dervishes to meeting the Dalai Lama on her 21st birthday; from taking the host from a Croatian Catholic mystic who had the stigmata to having life-altering visions with shamans (and everything in between).
The New York Times called Sera one of the new “role models” for her generation. Sera is the author of Red Hot and Holy: A Heretic’s Love Story and The Red Book: A Deliciously Unorthodox Approach to Igniting Your Divine Spark. Sera was a featured presenter at the 2013 and 2014 Emerging Women Live Conferences.
In this episode, Sera and I speak about:
- The Color Red
- How she connects Sexuality and Sensuality with Spirituality
- Holding the Divine Feminine as ‘Sacred’
- The “False Feminine” and the misuse of Feminine Power
- And finally, the Female Archetypes that have served her the most
Tune in to listen to my conversation “Red Hot & Holy” with the ‘Red’volutionary: Sera Beak.
Subscribe to the Emerging Women podcast on iTunes.
Chantal Pierrat: Hello, Sera, welcome!
Sera Beak: Thank you for having me! It’s great to be here with you.
CP: It’s so good to hear your voice again. The last time we were together was Emerging Women Live 2013, so I feel like we haven’t really caught up. Your talk was so powerful, I’m still thinking about it. So it’s great to connect with you again and dig in a little deeper.
SB: Definitely. I loved what you created there. I still feel honored to be a part of it and to be with all those incredible women, both the presenters and the people who were participating in the crowd. It was so right on, so thank you for creating it.
CP: Awesome. It was great. It felt magical. Well, one of the things I wanted to dig into was you have two books out: The Red Book and Red Hot and Holy. And my first question for you is to tell us about Red. Is it the color red? The energy of red? What are you talking about when you are referring to Red?
SB: [Laughs] That’s the big question. Well, red, I think, is universal. I know that that color and that energy of red tends to resonate with many, many women, even if they have certain ideas around it or even baggage around the color red. Red tends to be associated, usually, with the lower chakra or primal consciousness or promiscuity or a race car or anger or rage. So there are a ton of different qualities on top of Red.
But for me, and this is true, I feel like, for many women, we’ve also discovered that red is a real powerhouse of our own divine feminine nature and holiness and intention and sensuality and life force and creativity and passion. So for me, red began to show up in my life in these ways that I call divine winks or synchronicities, and it reflected all those qualities. It felt like it was a color that was trying to get my attention and remind me of my own soul blood and life force and my own distinct assets.
So it became a real diving force in my life and something I kind of followed. And I also felt like I was being followed by red. Over the years, it really transformed less into something that I was trying to show other women and make other women jump on board to my Red bandwagon, and it became more of a personal reflection of my own distinct soul.
It went through its own metamorphosis with me, but I still really know and find that it’s an incredibly powerful color and energy for many women to come back into contact with. Especially because it’s been shoved to the corners of most spiritualities. So that when we come back to it and we start questioning, “What is Red for me?” a lot of ripe, juicy material ends up arising.
CP: And when did this happen? When did you start connecting to Red? Where were you in your life?
SB: Well, I would say since I was a child, I really felt this divine feminine power and presence around me. But I was raised Catholic, so that was really the only lens I had at the time, so I was like, “Is this God? I think it’s God, I’m not sure.” And it really grew from there, and it would show up through love songs, or even through obvious signs on the side of the road, through my studies of spirituality.
There are certain characters in the different spiritual traditions where red seemed to kind of leap through the pages and really grabbed ahold of my heart, and that would be Mary Magdalene, Kali in the Hindu tradition, Sekhmet in the Egyptian tradition, and Pele from Hawaii. There are many different winks of Red throughout all the different traditions, and archetypally, it has a very strong resonance with Eve’s red apple and Lilith’s red sea, even the whore of Babylon. So I just began to notice that these particular qualities, especially of the erotic and the gnosis—meaning self-knowledge and hidden wisdom of the body—these qualities of red began to really become more available to me the more I ended up opening to them.
So Red’s been this presence throughout my life, but it got more and more personal once I began to not just see it as a universal color but also just try and see what it was trying to tell me about myself and what I find to be very true about the soul of each of us. It will use any medium to wink at us or kind of grab our attention or kind of poke us to say, “This is who you are. You’ve been told all these other things, you’ve been labeled all these things, you’ve had all these definitions placed on you from the time you were born.” And our souls are trying to tells us and show us and remind us that we are that and we’re much, much more than that.
CP: Right. I’m going to come back to that because I love your term “divine winks,” but before we go there, I want to hear a little bit more about—when we say “Red,” there’s obviously a power, there’s a feeling of heat and fire, and there’s that feeling of sensuality, sexuality. And you seem to be gathering both divine energy and this sensuality into one. And I’m curious to see if you could articulate more of that intersection.
Because when you think of spirituality, you think, “OK, we’re going to be in a cave.” You know, an extreme version of that, the traditional version, is celibacy. Not that you’re indicating something else, but I’m curious to see how you’re bringing these two together in a divine way—the experience of sensuality and that hot, sexual promiscuity, so to speak, relationship to Red and this holy, divine force.
SB: Yes. I really feel like it is what has been bringing me together. Part of Red’s expression for me, and part of what it reawakened inside of me was these aspects of myself. I think, traditionally, we can call them the virgin and the whore, or we’re looking at exactly what you said, being a nun or being this promiscuous person out in the streets or something.
There are many different sides to this coin that have been split, but basic is the split between our spirituality and our sexuality, especially for women. And especially for women in the West. Even if you weren’t raised Christian or Jewish, there’s a Western tradition that kind of pervades our collective consciousness, and it really informs and directs our lives in ways they we’re not even conscious of, especially our relationship with our bodies and sexuality.
So Red, for me, really holds those qualities. And it would pop up through these archetypes and these beings, like Eve with the red apple and Lilith, who is an early figure in the Bible who refused to be on the bottom during sex with Adam. So she was actually considered to be the first woman that was created, but because of this refusal to be dominated by a masculine force, she was kicked out—actually, I think she left on her own. But she was kicked out in terms of our consciousness and kind of considered this evil demon slut, you know?
Anyway, all these characters are a part of us, even if we’re not fully conscious of them. And they have directed our lives and our sexuality in some really unfortunate ways. For me, Red began to just remind me that these were not so separate, and in fact, they belong together and have always belonged together. The erotic was a real natural experience and expression of the divine and it was the creative life force of this universe that runs through every single one of us, but women’s bodies in particular, are able to really hold and reflect and radiate the life force in ways that have normally be shut down or condemned or considered evil or wrong or not spiritual.
And this is funny because I’m talking about it in a way that’s kind of [from] ancient times, but the fact is this is still going on in modern days. I can’t tell you how many women that go to a spiritual retreat or go into a meditation practice or even a yoga class and really feel that they have to shut that part of themselves, that real natural experience and expression of themselves down in order to participate. It’s really be a disservice, not just to women, but to this entire planet, because we’ve ended up cutting off half of who we are and half of who the divine is.
CP: You know, it’s interesting because I think of some of the dominate spiritual practices out there—whether it’s Christian or even Buddhism—and I feel that a lot of the tendency towards the stripping down of our identification with that eroticism or sexuality is maybe—and I’m grasping here—is it because men, in general, have a harder time having that experience and not letting it take over? Whereas women maybe are more adept of integrating that energy? And so the practices that men have come up with in spirituality are definitely more dry, more brain-oriented, more dissociative in nature? I’m just reaching here, you’re the expert, but I just wonder.
SB: No, I love—you’re totally resonating, sorry to cut you off. I was just excited about what you were saying! [Laughs] Yes, I really agree with you. You’re so on it. And I’m far from an expert in this area, but definitely, when these practices were created, most practices—I mean, we could really say almost all of them, except for possibly a few forms of tantra—were created for a male body and for a male consciousness.
And they were created in a time in history where these things were really important. It was so good for men to learn how to not let their lust totally override them, so they wouldn’t just be causing destruction to women, raping other women—these are really important exercises, helping them be still and helping them really quell their desires and helping them really calm down and just be able to manage their own natural temperament.
But when you put those same exercises onto women, who have been really suppressed and repressed for the entire history of this planet, it doesn’t have quite the same healing effect. It can actually really do, like I said before, a disservice to women because these exercises and these practices are going to naturally quell your erotic nature. And so for women to find a way to find a balance with those—and find their unique balances, not somebody else’s balance of the masculine and feminine practice, but really something they know they need to be working on. Because I know some women [laughs] who it would probably benefit them to be more mindful with their sexuality—
SB: And I know other women where it’s like, “Oh my God, they just need to take a pole dancing class and get some high heels,” because there’s something really authentic there for them that would really open them up into their own sovereignty and divinity. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all with this whole “come find your divine feminine sensuality” trend that’s going on right now. It’s really important, but we don’t want to get lost in that trend either. It’s just kind of opening that question for each of us, like, “Where might I need to know myself that much more and experience myself that much more and embrace myself that much more?” For many women it is in that domain, but not for all.
CP: Well, let me touch a little bit on your talk, which was so powerful at the event. One of the messages that you were talking about that you gave to the group was that we want to hold our divine feminine sacred. And your words were: “Stop whoring ourselves out.” I think everybody was relating to that in one way or another, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that here.
SB: Yes, yes. And, you know, that message really got spanked into me by the great mystic scholar Andrew Harvey. He had a perspective that was very useful for me, and so he [had] a great [direction in his life] [laughs] without being a whore. And it’s really confronting, I think, whenever we hear that message. It’s very confusing and it’s a very delicate subject, because like we’ve been saying, on one hand we really had to repress and cut our sexuality off if we were going to be giving our gifts in the world or [doing] inner work, inner career, and especially in the realm of spirituality.
So it’s a very delicate topic, but it’s an important one because—my experience, and this is based on my personal experience, is that I know how it easy it is to get lost in the current trend of this divine feminine, “rah rah rah,” “go goddess go,” strut yourself for all the world to see theme or motion or wave that’s kind of running through the mainstream spiritual self-help arena right now. And I was fully a part of that, fully contributing to it and a part of it, and I was really unconscious that I was participating in something that not only had some positive elements to it, of course, but also had a real shadow side to it.
And it was that shadow side that Andrew Harvey really helped me wake up to and admit to. Because if I was really honest with myself, I knew that there were ways that I was participating, there were ways that I was being out there in the world with my work and with my guests and with my career that wasn’t truly in integrity with the divine feminine as I knew her, as I knew how she was for me.
So having to come to terms with that and look at that and really do a tremendous amount of shadow work around my own participation in what I would sort of consider to be a little bit more of the false feminine message that’s out there right now was really important. “Where is my own falsity? Where are ways that I’m actually misusing my femininity in order to get attention that I’ve never received before?”
So if I’m going out there because, “Hell, feminine spiritual and sexuality has never been put together and I’m going to show it and I’m going to be it,” and I haven’t done the shadow work around it, [I] can end up, in more subtle ways, misleading my audience and misusing the feminine. If I’m willing to look at all these parts of myself that are actually possibly doing this in order to seek attention or approval as like a hot, sexy goddess [laughs] or even some of my best intentions, which were just to really serve the feminine and help women reclaim their erotic nature—if I haven’t done the shadow work, it could really end up doing more harm than good.
So I had to face that within myself. And at first, doing that, I was then able to just see it going on more on this cultural level, and I really began to get some deep and powerful insights about how patriarchy, this old-school system, [is] masculine domination that we’ve seen rule the world. [And] it’s actually also internal consciousness that’s inside all of us and how it’s really good at manipulating this particular trend of the divine feminine and using it more as a commodity and using it to really forward its own agenda.
So if women can’t be kept silent anymore, let’s turn them all into these hot, sexy goddesses that can go out there and do all this [and] actually still not create the authentic change that the true divine feminine is trying to create on this planet. Let’s keep them all lit up and turned on and going from workshop to teleclass to sexy this to sexy that. But let’s not actually have them seek in and do the real work around freeing our sexuality from all of that so it can actually just be authentic. It doesn’t have to look like whatever we think the divine feminine looks like. It just has to look like our authentic selves. And that, in itself, is really contributing to the divine feminine.
So doing that work is just a really important aspect. And I know it is talked about out there, I’m definitely not the only one who has experienced this and is talking about it, but I don’t see it really talked about or named about quite as much as I would like it to be.
CP: Well, I think you’re doing it. I mean, when you say, “Don’t whore yourself out,” that’s strong, sister! It resonates, you know, because the thing is, you see it in yoga. You see it in how people are displaying themselves in yoga. And I’m not saying that it’s not OK to get all sexy and show your yoga in that way. I think that there’s something there.
But as a trend across the board, I’ve just been so amazed at how that industry has become really over-sexualized and the people that are getting into it now, especially the women, I don’t know if they have the same depth. I mean, I don’t want to judge, but what I’m seeing is the images and the clothing is getting more and more scant and it’s becoming more sexualized. I think it’s a really fine line because there’s so much power in female sensuality, female sexuality, that it’s hard to navigate that power once you start coming into it and feeling it within you.
SB: It’s very hard, especially when we go into a system that looks really positive and helpful, like the mainstream spiritual and self-help arena, that has its shadows, like anything. And if we’re not aware of that, [of] how our own shadow is participating and contributing to that shadow, we can just sort of go on this train ride. And we can actually be incredibly successful.
Right now, as we know, hot, empowered, successful women—this is it. This is the trend. And now more than ever is when we need to be that much more vigilant and conscious, like, “OK, this is good, but like anything good, it’s going to have a shadow side, and we’ve got to look at what [are] our roles of participation.” It’s so not about judging. You can’t point the finger and be like, “Oh, that person’s whoring herself out and that person isn’t.”
We have to start with our own inner, “OK, we’ve all got both the sacred whore”—which is actually really here to seduce as the sacred and as authentic and not fucking buying into any of this and is only going by that divine truth that’s running through our veins—versus [a time] when we’re doing something where that’s not quite true. We’re actually being affected by these unconscious habits and this real push from the mainstream arena to keep going out there, to keep giving our gifts, and to keep being these empowered, sexy women because it’s actually benefitting the system. It’s actually bringing more money into the system.
And if we use more of these women as spokespersons to be talking about feminine empowerment when what’s going on behind the scenes as just a more advanced and covert way of enslaving women, then we’ve got a real issue. I think this is something that has been going on on this planet forever, but this is the modern, updated, more mature and confusing version of it.
It just means that we all want to be more conscious about it. We don’t want to be anal about it, we don’t want to be judgy about it. We just want to know that it’s happening, and how do we want to participate?
CP: Right, right. I think that point about judging is really important, too. The thing is, it’s such a powerful energy and it’s been usurped. Just like Eve said—the reason that there’s been so much violence against women and all of the media just sort of undermining the power that we have through our sensuality is because it is so powerful. It’s probably the most powerful thing, the most powerful energy on the planet right now. And so to really be conscious of it so that we’re serving that energy and not serving the reactions we get—it’s very seductive, whether it’s a man, the masculine, or people are responding to your powerful feminine energy.
SB: Exactly, exactly. There’s an allowance and an understanding around it and a real freaking honest compassion. We’re all trying to figure this out. Nobody’s perfect at it, we’re all just trying to help steward [that] really powerful energy that has so much baggage, so much shadow, and so much light to it. We’re all like, “How is this happening?” And the best we can do is really manage our own relationship with it and really try to do the work around it and the play around it.
I think Nancy Qualls-Corbett—she’s a Jungian analyst and she’s the author of The Sacred Prostitute, and she has this great line in there, which I cannot repeat verbatim, but the gist was really [that] the psychologically immature female, no matter what age she is, she is using this energy to serve her own advancement. And we could [also say] to serve her own career, to serve her own abundance, to get her soul mate—to do whatever, to be using it for her own self-promotion, even if the self-promotion is also helping other people. [Nancy] was saying that the psychologically [mindfully] mature female, again, no matter what age she is, is someone who knows that she is here to serve that energy, not use that energy.
It really is a shift. And I have to say, speaking from my own experience, it is a rough shift. The habit to use our femininity, to use the divine feminine in order to get what we want in this world—especially when getting what we want is kind of being promoted right now as a real spiritual quality—it can actually have some really negative effects on us. It actually isn’t in alignment with the truth.
And the truth is just that we’re not always sure what we’re here for. And I do think it’s going to look different for each person, but if we don’t really cultivate that willingness to actually be of service to this energy and actually allow this energy and the divine feminine to say, “You know what? I actually need you to get these photos taken instead of these photos taken, because they’re just more authentic to your soul.” Or, “You know what? I actually need you maybe to not do that particular telesummit or newsletter, even though you’ll get thousands of responses, because there’s something getting lost in the translation here. There’s something that might not actually serve a woman’s soul. It might actually confuse it more. So we’re going to switch it to something else.”
And like I said, it’s going to look different to each one of us, but I can say making ourselves more of service to this energy is a real freaking crazy, challenging practice, especially in an age where we’re really being pushed to kind of do the opposite. And it’s tricky here because the lines around us—and why this gets confusing is we have all this information about us being of service to other women and feminine empowerment on this planet, but we often have to look at where the energy is really coming from behind these lines and behind these really good and positive intentions. So we follow energy, and that can really lead us to learning more about what and how we’re really operating.
CP: Well, let’s just switch now back to your divine winks, because so many women, and men, are in that question, “What is my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing?” So how is it that you are able to commune that way with the divine and get those messages? Do you have practices that you could give our audience that would help that communication be more clear?
SB: Yes, yes. For me, it always starts with just a really honest invitation. I call the source of inner guidance and the bridge between me and the divine my soul. And other people have other names for it, but that’s the name that really resonates with me. But for me it’s a real invitation to allow this source of inner guidance to become much more dominant in my life and to really turn up its volume.
It literally starts with me inviting it to participate in my life. I can say this verbally, I can make it with my intention. But I do it in a way that’s for real. It’s coming from my heart. I’m not doing it because I want to better myself in some way or because I just want information. I’m doing it because this relationship with my own soul, with this purpose of why I’m here on this planet, why I incarnated, becomes it for me. I get that that is it. Everything else—my career, my relationships—while being very important, this fundamental knowing is in place [that] all of those aren’t going to quite fulfill me. The only thing that’s really going to fulfill me is me being in alignment with my own distinct divine nature.
And so an invitation, sitting down every morning—I do this every morning, I do it throughout my day—and I just feel into my heart and I feel that authentic craving to know myself that much more and thus to know the divine that much more. And to know what my purpose is for today that much more and to be able to express it that much more. And it’s really sincere, and that’s when I invite my soul to participate.
Then I pay attention. I pay attention to things as random as watching a movie and a line is said in a movie that really prickles my skin, that kind of opens my heart. I write it down and I pay attention. I take a walk with my dog and a truck drives by and there’s a particular message on the truck, or just a slogan that seems to have a resonance, I pay attention to it. My dreams I pay attention to, conversations I have with people, and most of all, the kinds of feelings and sensations in my own body.
So it’s a feminine practice in the sense of just being willing let life show me who I am and not in the way that is meaning like [what] the forces of the media or patriarchy [are] showing me. But allowing the organic nature of life to be like, “I know you thought you were going down this track, but perhaps today you’re going to take a step in this direction because it’s just more authentic for you.”
So the practices are usually sitting down, inviting my soul to participate, listening inside, just to see if I hear anything or I see anything, even if I think I’m just imaging it, a vision or a voice or a memory, writing it down in my journal, and then actively engaging with life for the rest of the day. It’s not always something really concrete. It’s more about developing this relationship, and for many of us who have been sort of distant from our inner guidance and our souls, to just being willing to be more participatory with it. It’s something that really opens the doors to get more active in our [lives] and show up in more concrete ways.
CP: I love how you said that it’s more of a feminine practice, because it has more of a receiving feel, when you’re receiving these messages. I think often, especially in the space of personal transformation or growth, where we’re like, “OK, this is who I am and I’m going to put who I am out into the world,” sometimes we get so into that that we lose the two-way conversation that’s often happening.
SB: And that was part of the talk, to just say—I know for me, in my own experience, it’s been through delivering my truth to the world that I have most often lost my soul. That’s the kind of crazy paradox, that it’s been through trying to actually serve other women and serve the diving feminine in this modern day that I’ve experienced that, where I’ve lost contact with my soul or I thought I’d been in contact with it [laughs] but the reality was there was actually some part of my own spiritualized ego kicking in, or there were other aspects of me that were really more at play than my own soul.
So when we start this relationship with our soul—and I just mean start being more conscious of it—I don’t want to treat it really lightly because it does require work. It does require the willingness to really look at the different voices inside of us that we might have thought were our [souls] that weren’t exactly our [souls]. It does require us to be willing to let go of everything that we thought we were and thought we were supposed to be doing in order to really allow that to be redefined from the inside out.
It’s not easy. I wish—I look out a lot of things that are being offered today or suggested and there’s a lot of promises of happiness and confidence and success and abundance, and it’s awesome. And then I kind of look at the full [picture] and I’m like, “Wow. [Laughs] Those all can be a part of it, but it usually first requires us to do a tremendous amount of inner work so that when those things show up, they’re so in alignment with us that we actually don’t even care if they show up or not because we’re so full of our own being, of our own essence, of our own love that they don’t matter as much.”
And actually, what we’re doing naturally, just being ourselves, is what is the success, is what is the abundance, is what is the actual contribution on this planet. It’s not a really popular path and not always the most practical path [laughs] but I do think, just from my own experience, it’s the only path that I know now that I’m here to do. Because it makes me the most alive. It makes me the most honest, just being my imperfect divine self here.
And it fills me with what I realized before I was kind of reaching outwards for, either attention from my audience, or to be this great, popular spiritual teacher, or to be successful—all these things that were really well-intentioned but I wasn’t really doing this inner work and allowing the soul to fill me first [and] that weren’t really serving me or this planet.
CP: Right. Well, we are getting close to time here and I have one more question for you. And we could do a whole podcast on this, about women archetypes. I was curious, since you are so well-studied in this area, personally, for you, who are the archetypes that have served you the most? Maybe just give us one or two or three, if there’s three. I’m sure there’s like a gazillion, but if you had to narrow it down to your top one to three.
SB: [Laughs] Yes, wonderful question! The Hindu goddess Kali was definitely a major player for me for many years. She really helped reawaken the wild feminine, fierce, dark nature in me. Being a Midwestern good girl people-pleaser, being raised in that way, it was really essential for me to come back into contact with and to really recognize that that was just as divine and just as important as these more divinely sweet goddess and archetypes that are out there.
She’s also the goddess of destruction, so she’s badass. She’s for real. Anything that’s really in your way of your divine truth, even your best intentions, your career, your relationships—anything that seems like it’s not really authentic to you, Kali will bring that to your attention. And the great thing with Kali that I found, personally, is with me, she hasn’t so much taken things away from my life, like a goddess of destruction. She’s actually handed me her sword and been like, “Trust yourself. What are the things in your life that you know, deep down in your belly, are not really in alignment with you, are not really authentic to your nature, are not really true for you at this point in time? Be willing to change them. Be willing to actually get active.”
So she’s been a huge force of nature for me. And the other one that has definitely been just an incredible force has been Mary Magdalene, and her heretical Red wisdom has just been very profound for me. It continues to really remind me and remind all of us that we haven’t been told the whole story on this planet. Not just in Christianity, but the whole human story and therefore the whole divine story. And so she definitely represents that unorthodox heretical facet of the divine feminine that’s inside all of us that’s really been suppressed and quieted and been told that she is a whore—in the more negative way, not the authentic way. She’s been a huge one for me as well. So those two.
And there’s a third one that’s even more controversial, which is Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s daughter. She is sort of a newer archetype on this planet, and she really, to me, represents the feminine that hasn’t even been known to exist on this planet, has been so silenced, has been so shoved into the dark that we don’t even know that she exists. She’s sort of the wild rebel daughter child that’s inside all of us that has a lot of say right now.
CP: Wow. Does she have a name?
SB: Her name is Sarah. S-A-R-A-H. That’s the name she’s known as. You can’t get more heretical than Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s girl child when we’re talking about archetypes. But it’s fascinating to see how she’s arising right now.
CP: That’s juicy! That’s the People magazine I want to read. [Laughs]
SB: [Laughs] Me too! I know, I know!
CP: OK, Sera, this has been lovely. I look forward to more in the future. Thank you so much for being with us here today.
SB: Thank you so much for having me.