Jalaja Bonheim is one of those transformative writers, the kind where everything she writes is eaten up like honey. When reading Aphrodite’s Daughter for the first time it felt as if I was reading the answers to all the questions I had been asking… all the questions that made me feel as if I was the only one. Her words are medicine. She is medicine.
Jalaja Bonheim was raised in Austria and Germany. She completed her Ph.D. in English and German literature at the University of Freiburg and spent two years teaching at the University of Warwick. Her life took a new turn when she decided to study classical temple dance in South India, where she lived for several years. Here, the seeds were planted that led to her first three books, which explore issues of embodied spirituality, sexual wholeness and feminine empowerment. The practice of temple dance also deepened her understanding of how music and movement can help people shift into expanded states of consciousness. Today, Jalaja (pronounced DJA-la-dja) is internationally known for her groundbreaking books, inspiring keynotes and her work in empowering women internationally. Her workshops, retreats and trainings are life-changing cauldrons where women from all walks of life, faiths and cultures connect in a spirit of rare authenticity, openheartedness, freedom and joy.
How has being female affected your spiritual journey?
My second book, Aphrodite’s Daughters, is all about being in the female body and how this affects our spiritual journey. It came out of my experience of going to India and studying Indian temple dance. I realized there had been a tradition of woman who held their own spirituality sacred and did not split it off from their sexuality. Coming from the West this was an eye opener. We are taught that gender doesn’t matter… that it’s not supposed to matter. Perhaps it doesn’t in terms of where we’re ultimately headed. But as far as our personal experience is concerned it matters a great deal.
While leading circle gatherings for woman around the world, I kept hearing women tell stories about their sexual experience that they would not have told anywhere else. I realized these stories needed to be shared. There are so many books that tell us how to have better sex. But we as women really need to hear from other women about their personal experiences, their stories. This sharing cuts through a sense of isolation. So many women think, “This is only my issue…. this only happened to me.”
When you hear stories from women about falling in love or ecstasy or sexual abuse or birth, you begin to realize that we are on a collective journey. We are living in a very exciting time because today, the feminine is returning and coming into her own. So this isn’t just about our personal healing, but it’s something we are doing together.
Describe a time when you walked through the doors of passage? What did it feel like? What did you learn?
One time I was teaching at a summer camp where about three hundred woman had gathered. There was this beautiful lake, and one morning we did a ritual by the lake. You have to picture this: It was very, very early in the morning, barely dawn. It was still a little dark and mist was rising from the lake. At first, everyone was completely silent. All you heard was the sound of birds waking up. Then this very slow drum beat started, like a heartbeat. Now picture three hundred woman, all of them totally naked, wading into the water, still in silence. I still get chills thinking about it. Wave upon wave of woman’s bodies, all ages, all sizes. It was so ancient, so primordial. What I saw weren’t separate women wading into the water, it was the Goddess, the Sacred Feminine herself. Tears were streaming down my face. There was such a sense of holiness, reference and awe. I will never forget this moment of actually seeing the Sacred Feminine. Encountering her, not as a thought or a concept, but as something I was seeing with my own eyes.
How did you learn to honor your voice?
The first time I led a circle I felt a sense of home coming. I wasn’t taught or trained. From the start, I knew what this was about and how to do it. It felt like the archetype of the priestess had awakened in me. I had access to a wisdom and knowledge that I hadn’t absorbed from the outside in. Rather, it was emerging from the inside out. At the same time, I have had many wonderful teachers and role models. Every time I lead a circle I feel like every woman present is one of my teachers. Each one teaches me something about what it means to be a woman, what it means to have a voice, what the healing journey is about. It is a collective journey and we are all learning from one another.
What does pleasure mean to you? What does pleasure look like from day to day?
Pleasure is how nature signals to us that we are on the right path. It’s how nature tells us that there is a YES coming from our body or our heart.
This can be hard to remember in our Western culture which doesn’t really honor pleasure. On the one hand we have these spiritual traditions that teach us to distrust pleasure… to be wary of it or to avoid it. One the other, consumer culture is constantly bombarding us with messages that make us feel that the pleasure we feel naturally isn’t good enough.
There is a lot of confusion about pleasure. What I find in my circles is that we need to really slow down so that we can return to the natural speed of our bodies. As long as we stay in this speedy, frantic mindset, we remain disconnected. Pleasure is constantly offering itself. We need only to be open and present in order to absorb it.
We need to slow down so that our bodies are capable of receiving the pleasure that is our birthright.
What are you saying a big YES to these days? Projects? Places?
There are several things. First of all, I have a new book coming out that I’m super excited about. It’s called The Sacred Ego: Making Peace with Ourselves and Our World, and it’s about how we can understand and heal our collective ego instead of judging and rejecting it. You can find out more about it at www.sacredego.com.
Also, I’m exploring the relationship between women on the spiritual path and money. I feel that it is the last frontier. A lot of women can talk about sex now, but they can’t talk honestly about money. There is a lot of pain, shame and confusion around it. So in August, I am starting a webinar called Invoking the Goddess of Wealth. What does it means to actually embody her in our lives? I think there is a lot of healing to be done here so we can come into a positive healthy, clear relationship with money.
Of course I am continuing to train women both here and around the world in the art of circle leadership. That’s a big YES.
Tell me how you rise up in fullness?
An essential medicine for me is dancing. I entered this path through Indian temple dance. Dancing is something that brings me back to myself. Solitude is important too, and spaciousness. Many teachers I know don’t have a spacious life, they’re too busy. Yet this is my commitment to myself. No matter how much I am committed to my work in the outer world, my first commitment is to my own soul. My soul craves spaciousness. I need empty days so I can follow the thread of my own creative process.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild precious life?
My purpose is to connect women to the sacred feminine and to the divine Mother. I have been given the gift and the blessing of knowing how to do this. I believe it is crucial to our own healing, but it’s also what our planet needs. Connecting to the sacred feminine is crucial for our collective healing. Every time I see a woman stepping into her own true self I rejoice. If I can facilitate that, then I’m doing my true work.