As I write this I am listening to ancient Greek circle dance music. After high school I spent a year WWOOFing, traveling from one organic farm to another, exchanging labor for room, board, and instruction in horticulture and permaculture. My travels began in North Carolina, led me to Oregon, Ireland and France, and eventually dropped me at the Springfield, MA bus station, looking out the window at the scruffiest pair of derelicts I’d ever laid eyes on.
“Please, let it not be them,” I muttered under my breath as I exited the bus with my framepack and guitar, scanning the crowd hopefully for more wholesome-looking farmer-types. But sure enough, it was that scruffy pair of derelicts who had come to escort me on the next stage of my journey. I climbed into their rusted repurposed ambulance, and thus began two of the most soulful, most transformative friendships I have ever been privileged to build.
Shakur and Anja were the co-owners of Touchstone Farm, which was less a market garden and more a direct portal into the eternal. No one ever understands how Touchstone, which on the surface is a decrepit collection of sagging buildings and overgrown fields, could possibly inspire such love and devotion in the community of sojourners who have been blessed enough to find it. I’ll let you in on the secret. In a world that skates by on appearance, where election to power is only a good speechwriter and an expensive haircut away, where women born to abnormal height and body mass can make millions by donning expensive fabrics and allowing themselves to be photographed, where entire villages and ecosystems and cultural heritages can disappear behind silky PR campaigns, Touchstone Farm gave not a whit for appearances. There was a free pile in the junk-strewn end shed, replete with flowing gowns and spangled pants, and we would all dress up from time to time in colorful regalia for circle dances, but we were just as likely to wear nothing at all.
Touchstone was all substance. As deep as you can go, as old, as sacred. Shakur once rolled a sprig of artemisia annua between his fingers, and asked me to sniff the scent that wafted from it. He waited, silently, and then asked me what this plant would be good for. I had not yet studied herbs with any seriousness, and it was on the tip of my tongue to ask him just to tell me. But I trusted him. I reached in, and my eyes sprang open with the sudden certainty that artemisia annua heals the lungs. I blurted this out in shock, and he only smiled. Later, looking it up in the crumbling library of herbal treatises, I discovered this was indeed so and felt a thrill of recognition deep inside.
Shakur led weekly circle dances and evening yoga classes, and spent endless hours in his attic eyrie mixing down recordings of circle dance songs that we’d be pulled sweating from the fields to sing on. He was the first to tell me of Cosmeos, the Greek goddess of beauty and life, and how kosmetikos, from which we derive the word ‘cosmetic’, originally meant a celebration of life, beauty, adornment. Temple priestesses would wake and adorn themselves in keeping with the energetics of the day, bringing their outer bodies into line with the cosmos, both without and within. It took me years to fully understand this, and remains one of the deepest teachings I’ve ever received.
The heart beat full and loud right at the surface of Touchstone. There were no intervening layers between the true heart of things and the life lived. It was almost too much for most of us. But Shakur and Anja danced it every day.
Shakur, the bravest and deepest man I’ve ever known, is now Deborah, a beautiful and vulnerable and soft-voiced woman. It was difficult for me to take in, at first, that Shakur was gone forever. It shook me. How could this be? But when I met Deborah and looked into her eyes, something fell away that I’d been holding. Some deep pain, a resistance to changes on the surface of things that mean nothing to the substance. The shamans have always danced with gender, always kept us on the edge of possibility and human consciousness. How brave. How impossibly difficult.
We all contain divine feminine and sacred masculine, however we identify on the surface. Without divine feminine, we act, continuously, like automatons, producing and producing and acting and reacting without pause for reflection or inspiration. Without sacred masculine, we dwell deeply in the realm of creation and vision and desire and possibility, without ever achieving any of it, sinking into the depression of inaction. The spiral, inward journey of the heroine finds vision and meaning and inspiration, and the arrow-shot journey of the hero takes this inspiration and turns it into achievement and advancement. Without the vision of the feminine, the hero’s journey is a meaningless reflex. Without the action of the hero, the feminine vision is wasted. It is a truly beautiful dance.
Last night we welcomed men into the Women’s Joy Circle for the first time. I was scared shitless, I’ll admit it. The answers to my survey had given me some indication of where the conversation would go, and had brought me both to tears and laughter, but I was a ball of nervous energy all day, preparing herbal footbaths, soaking calendula and hawthorn in rosewater for rose-stuffed-dates, brewing up heart-opening teas to enhance communication. And then it happened, and it was easy and smooth and lovely.
The men had great questions, running the gamut from “Why are you so bitchy sometimes, with no provocation” to “What can I do to help you? What do you want from me?” to “What is it with women and team sports?” And the women breathed deep and stretched and answered from the heart. I learned so much, from my brothers and my sisters. Mostly to communicate what I want. Regularly, clearly, constantly, simply.
And for the men: bring your woman tea, and let her have her process, and let it be okay. Know that you cannot make her happy. Only she can do that. Compliment her 10x more often than seems humanly possible or even sane. And communicate. Regularly, clearly, constantly, simply.
We danced Dimna Juda, one of my favorite Touchstone dances, fiery and full and free. And then the men left, silently, and the women remained. And we continued to dance. We are still dancing.
- Connecting to the Divine Feminine. (aurajade.wordpress.com)