Last night, for the first time, joy circle met in public, on the outdoor patio of a downtown restaurant. We were surrounded by tables of young hipsters (the men bearded, the women in cateye glasses and/or handmade purses), fairy lights, and fountains, the sky slowly darkening over the busy park opposite. We opened circle as we traditionally do, left hand palm up, right hand palm down, connecting palm to palm all around, breathing deeply together. I passed around the goddess cards and everyone selected an archetype to ponder while ordering bruschetta and wine and creme brulee. Continue reading
Category Archives: women’s joy circle
I have been remiss in posting lately, and I apologize. Summer is gardening and long days at the stream picking mulberries and creating new herbal infusions and cordials and rosemary cakes and wonderful kombucha pickles, summer is leisurely visits with friends and watching the children catch fireflies. My laptop just doesn’t even begin to figure in.
This week has been full to overflowing with laughter, realizations, music, dance, and incredible food, courtesy of my adored friend Anja who has been visiting from New England. There is nobody like Anja. As a child she used to bike several miles to her school, collecting apples and pears from wild trees along the way, then joyfully handing them out in the city. When she was 15 she decided never to wear shoes, and went barefoot everywhere. She sewed skirts out of old scarves and traveled all over Europe collecting folk songs and studying herbal medicine. Now she leads circle dances, teaching ancient steps that peel away everything but the sense of sacred time. She uses laughter about as often as words to communicate.
She traveled down from new england to help us dance the summer solstice in. We gathered candles and torches and cakes and kombucha and scarves and guitars and packed them all into the car, merrily traveling toward the outdoor pavilion where the dance was to be held. Then the heavens opened. I mean it. It was as though someone had slashed a hole in the sky and instead of space, there was an ocean up there. The car was not driving, it was swimming along the road, and there was no airspace between raindrops. There was only water. Continue reading
Last Saturday I sat in a circle of women at the home of a friend. We’d shared a bountiful and delectable meal, gathered around a cleansing fire, protected ourselves all around with candlelight and color and books and beauty. Yet when we sat to share and listen, there was such darkness there. So much sorrow and pain and terror, wrong turns and misunderstandings and fury. Our children were being put in danger, our elected representatives were trying to eliminate our basic rights, our voices were being silenced, and we were in PAIN. I had actually turned it over and over in my mind whether I should come to this circle or not, as I’d been in a bit of a funk myself and didn’t want to inflict my turbulent energy on others. Continue reading
For my half-birthday this year I sent out a letter to people I greatly respected, people who have known me through very diverse stages of my life, some dear old friends and some passing acquaintances. I asked them to bravely, honestly, share with me what they saw as my challenges. And I asked them to answer this question: if you could wave a wand and ‘fix’ me without ever having to worry about my knowing or being offended, what would you change?
I did this because I was in one of those troughs of experience in which I had finished up one phase and not yet discerned what was next, and I wanted to choose wisely. I wanted to step bravely into my strengths and shine a light on some of my weaknesses, to carve out new ways rather than following old comfortable paths.
Receiving the answers was terribly scary and difficult. Part of me desperately hoped for responses of “I wouldn’t fix a thing! Nope, you’re absolutely perfect as you are!” (even though I’d expressly forbidden anyone to answer that way.) But the curious, contemplative side of me wanted to know. It wanted those shadows aired. And I am so glad that my brave, wonderful friends responded to that side of me. Their bravery started this blog, because one response I heard over and over again was that I needed to share my writing. Continue reading
In the normal course of things, writing comes to me like breathing. I do it without thinking. When I sit down to write an article or a post or a letter, I am more mindful of writing, just as I am more mindful of my breath during a yoga class or meditation. But it is still an involuntary process, flowing through me, requiring little of me.
Lately this has not been so. It’s been a tumultuous few weeks: last week I traveled to Indiana with my parents and children to visit our family matriarch, a powerful woman of 95 years who ran a dairy farm alone after her husband dropped dead, leaving her with three small boys and pregnant with a fourth. From all accounts, Grandma’s early life was pretty joyless: an unhappy marriage followed by an even unhappier widowhood, constant struggle with poverty and endless hard work, a tornado that destroyed her entire town, hopes for a second marriage that were cruelly dashed, an unsupportive and judgmental extended family and church community.
As an adult, I can see all of this. Yet as a child, my experience of Grandma was her ever-present gravelly chuckle, her bustling busy-ness as she baked and crocheted and painted, utter delight in her work as a hairdresser and in her family. Grandma always sent buckets of presents for Christmas, and her house was full of art and candy. Her hair was always perfectly curled and colored, her eyes were always sparkling. She gave me my first “permanent” when I was 12 years old, treating me as a co-conspirator in my endeavor to be beautiful despite the disapproval of my staunchly anti-chemical-hair-enhancement parents (the heathens!) Continue reading
Last week my children decided to stay in Meeting with me. (Meeting is the Quaker form of worship, and it consists of an hour or so of silence. There is no planned music or ministry, though anyone who feels led to speak may do so.) Normally, my children sit with me for ten minutes or so, then leave with the other children for their own program. On this day, who knows why, they wanted to stay.
There followed the most interesting 40 minutes of mental acrobatics in my life.
My goal was to maintain the settled silence. I therefore could not use any of my normal methods of guiding my children—talking, explaining, separating, demonstrating, disciplining. They, as 8 and 4 year olds, were wriggly and interested and had things to say and places to go. At one point my 8 year old reached up around my neck and removed my necklace, uttering in a harsh whisper “this is MINE.” He then proceeded to put it around his own neck.
I had a very strong immediate reaction of anger. The first response that went through my head was to take the necklace away and talk to him about the rudeness of his action. But it was Meeting for Worship. I knew that to do so would set off an emotional (read: LOUD) reaction from him, and we would seriously disturb everyone else. So I sat there and simmered. The second response that occurred to me was to walk him out of the Meeting room and talk with him about proper etiquette in Meeting. But again, our leaving would cause a disturbance as well as a probable upset for my 4-year old, and it would sort of defeat the purpose of explaining Meeting etiquette if, to do so, I had to violate it.
We sat there, and third and fourth and fifth responses ran through my mind, none of which I could act upon. And then, as the silence gathered, between adjustments to small wandering feet and hands that kept making their ways onto various parts of my body, the responses deepened. Now, rather than being knee-jerk emotional reactions to the stimulus, they were considered and heartfelt responses. I thought about the ways in which my son’s belief in his ownership of the necklace was justified. I thought about the deep roots of my angry response, why it was that I felt so violated. I thought about how my daily interactions with my son can so often devolve into stimulus/response, almost scripted interchanges.
By the end of Meeting I had decided to act upon my 347th response, which was to have a long talk with my son about the kind of human being I hoped he would grow up to be. And that’s what I did. All the way home, walking and gathering flowers, we talked about what a good man is, both in his view and mine. I really listened to him. He really listened to me. I told him that reaching into a woman’s space like that and taking what he wanted really disturbed me, and I told him why. It was an amazing conversation. It could never have happened had I followed my first response.
First responders are emergency workers. They are trained to act swiftly and decisively in emergency situations. In these circumstances, going with the first response is highly recommended. But how often are we in emergency, life-or-death situations? I know that for many of us, the stress of daily life triggers fight-or-flight responses from our nervous system far more often than is necessary, with terrible consequences to our health. Might this be true for our mental experience as well? Might it be true that going with our reflexive, knee-jerk first response in nearly every situation is harmful to our mental and emotional health?
At women’s joy circle on Monday, we explored this idea. We spent a lot of time in yoga, warming and opening our bodies with deep, conscious breathing. Then we gathered in a circle and talked about first responses. We talked about how many of our interchanges are scripted: “Good morning!” “Good morning.” “How did you sleep?” “Fine.” “How was your day?” “Great.” “Have a good one!” “You too.” We talked about how easy it is to fall into these patterns of exchange and never really communicate at all. And then we did this exercise:
Number a sheet of paper from 1 to 15. Your partner asks “How are you today?” Write down your first response. Again, your partner asks “How are you today?” Write down your second response. Continue until all fifteen spaces are filled.
This gets reaaaaally interesting right around response #8. Authentic communication starts to break through. In the circle, we shared some of our favorite responses and got everything from “filled with light and love!” to “incredibly sad” to “did you have a favorite umbrella as a child?”
Pairing off, we practiced communication beyond first response. Each partner responded to the questions and comments of their counterpart in a normal dialogue, with the caveat that no first responses could be used. No one spoke until the third or fourth response had presented itself.
We had an odd number of women, so I sat out and listened. What fascinated me most was how incredibly interesting the conversations became, within the space of just a few minutes. There was a lot more silence than occurs in a normal conversation too, as people considered their responses.
We closed with rose petal tea and cookies and brags and dancing. Everyone had a difficult time leaving. True communication does that to people! Many of us decided to practice using third, fourth, fifth responses in the kind of pat conversations that occur with cashiers or bus drivers or other parents at school, and to see what happens. Here’s mine from yesterday morning:
Parent of child in my child’s class: Good morning!
Me: I know that it could be, but I’m feeling off today.
Parent: What happened?
Me: I don’t think anything happened. I think I’m frustrated with myself for not following through with promises I’ve made.
Parent: what sort of promises?
Me: Promises to myself, mostly, about how I want to spend my time.
Parent: You know, I do that too. I’ve been wanting to go berry picking for several days now, and I keep getting caught in other stuff, and I’m going to miss the window of opportunity.
Me: want to go berry picking today?
Parent: great idea! let’s bring the kids and do it this afternoon!
We had an incredible time. It was so much better than “good morning/good morning/see you later/goodbye.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about healing lately. I am taking 7Song’s Herbal First Aid class remotely, and dawnings of understanding about the body’s capacity to heal are beginning to break through. To heal the body, I’ve learned, you clear away anything that might be interfering with the body, and then allow it to heal itself. The antimicrobial and sedative and carminative herbs we prescribe do not, per se, heal the body. They relieve symptoms, help deal with invaders and optimize healing conditions, yes–but it is the body that heals.
And since we are beings of mind/body/spirit…not just one or the other, but all, always…it is also so with healing the spirit. Heartbreak and grief and emotional exhaustion can’t be “fixed”. Healing is not something you add to your routine like a bandaid. Healing, for the heart, is just as it is for the body. You remove everything that is impeding it. It is already there.
I think about this in terms of my young motherhood. There was little sleep, there was screaming and crying and utter exhaustion, there were ceaseless cycles of not-having-enough-hands, there were impossible gordian knots of chaos that seemed interminable. And then, suddenly, about a year ago, I realized that this part was over. I’m still not sure when it happened, but somehow, at some point, my children learned to bathe and feed and dress themselves, and to walk around without impaling themselves on butterknives or hurling themselves over cliffs, and there were, all at once, moments of serenity between the gordian knots of chaos. I did not have to learn that serenity. It was always there, simply waiting for its chance to emerge.
And I believe this is the human condition. It is interesting to think of God/Goddess/Spirit/Tao/Universal Intelligence as a young mother, marshaling the growth of this immature, spirited baby species, utterly exhausted by us. It pleases me to think of it this way because then I can believe that our evolution is not meant to be a slow, steady progression toward “good” and “right” and “balance”—because, if it were, there is no evidence that we are progressing at all! Perhaps it is instead this chaos of fits and starts—exhaustion and misery and impossible complication—and then, suddenly, moments of clarity and peace, of deep understanding and beauty. And then the swan dive back into the chaos. (Because I don’t for a moment imagine I’m out of the woods. Teenage years start in T minus 5 x 365 x 24 hours). If this is so, then there is hope for us. There have been these moments of deep beauty and understanding and there will be again, the chaos of war and genocide and genetic engineering and sex trafficking notwithstanding. We don’t inch toward perfection. Perfection is already there, and from time to time we manage to peel away the outer circumstances concealing it.
We circled up on Monday and shared, as usual, first our names and then one word to describe ourselves at this moment. I am always amazed by the articulations: overjoyed. frazzled. overcome. happy. grieving. in my center. nervous. giving it a shot. healing. frantic. healing.
Using the word “healing” as a focal point, we settled in for a long, slow yoga practice. We noticed what parts of our bodies responded to the word “healing” and what emotions it elicited. We did a lot of cyclical movement, hip circles and knee circles and shoulder circles and circles of the head and ribs. We checked in with our center by doing cat/cows in forearm plank position. We spent long moments in child’s pose, compressing the third eye, scanning the body for areas of tightness and coldness and pain, using the breath to melt them down and open. Yoga is wonderful for asking the questions of the body that a good herbalist would ask of the patient. What is going on in the body? Does this hurt? Do you feel cold or warm? What moves easily? What feels stuck? I love my yoga practice for reliably peeling away one of the layers between me and healing, that layer of disconnection with my body.
Then we ate some of the 756 leftover scones from the herbal high tea (slight miscalculation. Sorry Molly) and sipped tea while I discussed the next exercise. I like to call it “The Two-Year-Old.” You sit facing your partner and ask them “What hurts?” and they answer. When their words slow or stop, you ask “Why?” They answer again, and you continue to ask “Why?” for five minutes. Have a pillow ready so that if they try to punch you in the face you can protect yourself. I’m kind of kidding, a little. But kind of not.
Then you ask your partner: “What do you want?” and allow them to answer. When their words slow or stop, ask “Why?” and continue as before. Go for five minutes. Then switch and have your partner ask you both questions.
Getting to “Why” is fascinating for so many reasons. For one thing, you get to discover what makes you angry—usually just past that point of anger and annoyance is a very interesting insight. For another, you get to discover the similarities between what you most want in this world and what has most hurt you. You get to see that what you really want is inextricably tied in with what needs healing in you, because what hurts us in the world, what feels painful or isolating or deeply wrong, is what we are strongly called to fix or make right. I have found that my deepest pleasures in life have been the moments when I can prevent someone from being wounded in the ways I was wounded, or create circumstances that bring joy and connection where I once felt alone or isolated. I know that this is my work, and my healing process. As I peel away the layers of misunderstanding and pain and rote behavior that keep me hurting, I heal both myself and my world. Not by “fixing” anything. Just by revealing the beauty that was already there.
I feel another “Permaculture and Parenting” article coming on, about removing limiting factors. I so love this principle, that the perfect ecosystem is already there if you just set it up, get out of the way, and let it thrive. That miracles happen in Zone Zero and Zone Five. That you always leave a little wilderness as example and seedbank. That the chaos is part of it all.
- Nora Yelles-Young: Healing Ancient Wounds. 20 Steps to Clearing and Healing (goldenageofgaia.com)
- Inner Healing: Your Body is the Tool (omtimes.com)
- Your body wants to heal – but will you let it? (inspiredoc.com)
- Freedom to Heal (americankabuki.blogspot.com)
- Healing (kirstio.wordpress.com)