Category Archives: women’s joy circle

Women’s Joy Circle: relationship

English: Flow of Merced River after Autumn's r...

Here in North Carolina it has been raining nonstop for close to two weeks.  Long walks of exploration through newly roaring creekbeds and exciting leaf-boat journeys down gutters aside, it gets depressing.  When we assembled last night for joy circle, I could feel it in the room.  We were all out-of-sorts.

I have learned through hard experience that when I am facing turbulent or charged or discombobulated energy, the only way out is through.  I can’t pretend it’s not there or fake it until I make it or put on a glossy mask and act as though I’m utterly self-possessed.  I have to jump into the messy emotions and the fear and the not-knowing until things change.

So I threw what I had planned out the window.  Next week is our herbal high tea, and there was loads of planning to be done, but none of us were in a “planning” kind of space.  I took some deep breaths and did a quick internal scan of what had been coming up again and again this week.  And what emerged was relationship.  Disintegrating relationships, or painful confrontations, or loneliness, or longing, or miscommunication.  So many friends had been calling to talk about this, so many articles and conversations and books had turned up to shed light on it.  We would explore relationship tonight.

Supine Pigeon

pigeon pose…compressing the third eye is wonderful for the nervous system

We started with some very slow, deep hip openers.  All of us store emotional tension in our hips, but for women especially the practice of hip-opening stretches like thread-the-needle or pigeon can be very intense and cathartic.  We warmed up with cat-and-cow and slow vinyasa, then took our time in pigeon, using the breath to expand on the inhale and fall down on the exhale, compressing the third eye on our doubled fists or the floor.  From this place of release we slowly resumed a seated position and went through a guided meditation.

In the meditation I asked everyone to identify a pattern in their relationships that has caused pain.  It could be a pattern of abandonment, or betrayal, or loneliness, or a sense of unworthiness…any painful experience that seems to repeat from lover to lover or friend to friend.

When we think of these patterns it hurts.  We followed the pain within, to the place in the body it seemed to originate.  There, in the body, we stayed, feeling the pain, noticing the sensation it caused.  I asked:  if this feeling had a voice, what would it be saying to you?  What is its message?

I could see the messages on faces lit by flickering candlelight:  you’re impossible to love.  you’re not good enough.  you try too hard.  you don’t try enough. 

I asked everyone to identify the age of this voice.  Was it a little girl speaking?  A teenager? A grown woman?  And  I asked each woman to return for a moment to her breath, to her own power and centeredness.  From this place of adult self-assurance, I asked each woman to extend her love and power to that voice, to contradict the message that caused such pain, to envelop it in love and warmth and safety.

And then I asked for each woman to conjure up within her body the feeling of being loved.  The feeling of being adored, cherished, cared for.  I asked for each woman to draw this feeling through her body with the breath, filling each cell with that sensation of warmth and bliss.  I asked each woman to imagine her ideal mate sitting before her, regarding her with complete love and acceptance, and to notice how that felt.

I put a paper and pen in front of each woman and, still in a space of candlelit silence, asked that they write down how it felt to be loved this way, what thoughts and resistances emerged from this feeling.  I asked them to write who they were within this relationship of love, how they walked when they were loved this way, how they spoke, what changed in their lives, what they let go of, what they learned.

Some women had to leave the room, overcome by trying to imagine a love like this. We are a circle of strong, self-assured women who juggle very meaningful work, studies, care of others, and personal evolution, and yet through each of us runs this fault line of self-acceptance.  We have difficulty creating for ourselves what we effortlessly give to others each and every day.  I never fail to be blindsided by this paradox.

When we gathered again over tea and lavender scones, the energy was subdued.  We had touched on something deep and vulnerable.  I talked a little about vulnerability, how it is the only way into communication, how the high gloss of self-sufficiency repels every attempt at connection.  I know a lot about this.  That doesn’t make it any easier.  I spoke about ways to use what we had learned: taking what we’ve written and using it to create a sense of expansiveness and love in our own lives, now, making the changes for ourselves that we sensed would happen only when we were loved.

Finally, I gave in to the quiet and turned on the music.  We danced, and outside the rain poured down and lightning flashed in quick illumination of our bodies letting this out, this unutterable paradox of strength and vulnerability, self-assurance and self-doubt.  This feels very important to me.  I think that the unraveling of this question will have a bearing on questions of environmental damage and social injustice and right living and mental health.  I know that our self-relationship has a bearing on our relationship with everything and everyone. I don’t know how yet.  But I am beginning to be clear on the question.

Lightning 2


May 7, 2013 · 9:19 pm

Women’s Joy Circle: Setting Boundaries

aura 2007 08 23

Last night’s circle was a bit of a departure; after all of the opening up and radiant joy and discussion of desires we’d been doing, it seemed time to talk about boundaries and safety.  “Setting boundaries” is such a slippery concept; it seems too abstract to be of much use.  So we talked in terms of our energetic fields.

I prefer the term ‘energetic field’ to ‘aura’  because fewer people  get all shifty-eyed and back away from me when I say it.  Come on, it makes sense that we have an energetic field.  The electromagnetic energy of the brain and heart are scientifically quantifiable.  This field is our first defense, both immunologically and psychologically. When we are aware of the boundaries of our field, when it is clean and clear, we can feel infringements upon it and deal with them.  When we are unaware of our boundaries, or our fields are low due to illness, unhappiness, or stress, we are easily affected by others’ germs, criticisms, and demands.

In my study of the martial arts,  and in the study of tracking and wilderness survival, I learned the importance of presence.  When you are alert to the world around you, engaged with your surroundings, you are difficult to victimize.  We practiced presence by pairing off and facing our partner, gazing into their eyes without speaking for five minutes.

Though this crowd is so freaking evolved that they hardly batted an eyelash, when I first encountered this exercise I found it a hellish experience.  It was really hard to be looked at.  My face felt funny.  I kept wanting to engage the interest of the other person,  to make looking at me a more interesting experience.  But slowly I learned to bring my focus away from myself and onto the other person, and to simply be present with them rather than trying to control their experience of me.

Observing another person with such focus is a pretty rare thing to do socially.  We spend a lot of time in our own heads, evaluating the impact we are having on the others around us, guessing at their judgments of us, obsessing over the same old thought patterns that tend to preoccupy us.  Rarely do we fully engage in observing.  Yet observation is critical not only to our survival, but to our happiness.  It is when we are fully engaged with the world, taking it all in, stretching all of our senses to savor what is spread before us, that we experience joy.  It is also, not coincidentally, when we are most alert to the intentions of others and whether or not they are beneficial to us.

Haystack Mountain in the evening haze

the sensory world is pretty nice, actually!

I have two exercises I practice regularly to hone my ability to observe.  One is the kundalini exercise known as “the woodchopper” (I’m sure it has a fancy sanskrit name but I don’t know it.)  I try to do this exercise every morning, setting an intention and then using it clear away any blocks. 

Stand with feet shoulder width apart, a slight bend in the knees.  Hold your arms out straight in front of you , palms facing inward.  Then turn your right palm outward so that the thumb points down.  Bring it under your left hand and across, bringing the palm of the right hand to the back of the left hand, clasping it with the thumb. Now, on the inhale, raise your interlocked arms straight overhead.  Exhale forcefully and bring them down to chest height, as though chopping wood.  Inhale and lift them again.  Do this, following your breath, for three minutes.   (I can actually feel the space around me come alive after this exercise, and I am far less likely to take any crap from anyone on the days that I do it!)

The second exercise is a mental one.  I have noticed that when I stop observing, it is often because my mind has slipped into a pattern of thought negative enough to distract me from the real sensory world all around me.  Generally, for me, these thoughts are about money, but in the past they’ve been about relationship, or self-image.  We all have certain default thought patterns our brains like to worry over.  Once you’ve identified yours, stop yourself the next time it plays.  Just stop.  Then make a conscious effort to interrupt it.  For example, if I am thinking “how will I pay the bills this month, I’m afraid to look at my balance” I can shift that to “Isn’t it amazing that I am never hungry? I am always surrounded by plenty of fresh, wonderful food.  And my business has been doing so well lately.  It grows every month.  And I was just awarded a fellowship that will pay half of my tuition. ”   (HOORAY! I still can’t quite believe it!)

This exercise does a couple of things: first, it trains us to be aware of our own thoughts so that we can snap out of them and be more engaged with the world around us; second, it gives us a line of defense against people who read our preoccupations and use them to manipulate us.  Criticism always hurts most when it is directed at something we don’t like about ourselves.  When someone can discern what it is we are struggling with, it can become a tremendous source of power for them. But if we are aware of our own vulnerabilities and are actively working with them, we no longer give over power to those who would use them to leverage us.

We closed with a round of brags, gratitudes, and desires. It is much easier to notice infringements of your boundaries when you know what your boundaries are! Stating your desires is a very effective way to jumpstart this process.

Most people  see a radiant, fully alive woman, and are inspired to come more alive themselves. There are, unfortunately, others who see her and try to take what she has by force.  We don’t have to allow this, however subtle or overt it may be.  We can define what is allowed in our energetic field, notice when these boundaries are being breached, and take action to defend ourselves.  In fact we have a responsibility to do so.  In the words of Martin Luther King Jr’s spiritual advisor Howard Thurman, “what this world needs is people who have come alive.”


April 30, 2013 · 8:40 pm

Women’s Joy Circle: Divine Feminine, Sacred Masculine

Franz von Stuck Ringelreihen

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. Continue reading


April 23, 2013 · 3:16 pm

calling all men!

The god Heimdallr with the horn Gjallarhorn an...

To all my beloved male readers (if, indeed, there are any?)—will you please help me out?

Next week, our women’s joy circle is opening to men.  This is scary for me.

I have loved men, I have deeply bonded with men, I have birthed men, but the sacred masculine still remains mysterious and a bit forbidding to me.

I believe that at the holy core of masculine experience is a deep faith and desire to serve that is staggering in its strength and purity.  I believe this because I have seen it again and again, and it leaves me breathless.

So why is it that when women gather to talk about men, the traits that we most often complain about are the faithlessness, the egocentrism of our partners and lovers?

The work I have done with women—with myself—is to slowly regain the inner equilibrium of the divine feminine.  This equilibrium expresses itself as a beautiful self-sufficiency and joyful caretaking.  I cannot do this work with men, because I do not know what it is to be a man.

But I can open our circle to men, with love, and show them what we have done.  And we can share our self-sufficiency, our joyful caretaking, our carefully tended well of divine femininity, in hopes of inspiring an emergence of that soaring, sacred masculine that weakens the knees and staggers the breath.

Or maybe there will be a lot of awkward silences and giggling.  This is why I need your help.

In the comments below, will you do the human race a solid and answer the following questions? (And female readers, will you pass these on to the men in your lives?  I really, really, desire some answers before next Monday!)

1. What makes you feel comfortable and safe around women?

2. What do you most fear/dislike about women?

3. If you could ask a woman any question without fear of offending her, what would it be?

4. What is your deepest wish for the women in your life?

5. What do you most appreciate about women?

If you don’t want to answer these questions in the comments, you can also answer them anonymously by taking this survey:  PLEASE TAKE THIS SURVEY!

Thank you, so much, for your honesty and bravery!  Next week I’ll write how it all went, and spill some juicy secrets, and hopefully answer some of your questions.  In closing, the sexiest appreciation of men I’ve ever heard.


April 16, 2013 · 3:55 am

Women’s Joy Circle: the wanting

Flaming June.

I brought a lot away from the radical pleasure workshop I taught March 30th with the inimitable Briana Schuck and the incomparable Laura Alvarez. The ringing one-liner, though, the kernel around which last night’s joy circle crystallized, was something Briana said about the difference between a want and a desire.

When you want something, you are aware of a lack.  You are bemoaning what isn’t.    There is a gulf between you and what it is you want.

I wrote this song in the throes of want, languishing in an unhealthy relationship and confused about what I really wanted.  The misery of wanting is downright audible!

When you desire something, however…ahhh.  You feel it in your body.  You come alive with the tingling sensation of desiring this beautiful thing.  You luxuriate in the knowledge that it is already in you.  And you celebrate every time you see what you desire, because the fact that it exists at all just lights you up.

Last night’s joy circle was a celebration of desire.  We ate the lavender-infused truffles I keep going on and on about (because they are THAT GOOD) and sipped kombucha and rose petal tea.  We did a lot of yoga.  We turned off the lights, lit candles, and had a sweaty no-holds-barred dance party with the delicious help of Modest Mouse, Florence + The Machine, MC Yogi, and Garmarna.  And then we settled in with our notebooks and wrote down our desires.

When you write down a desire, it should feel really, really good.  Your whole body should come alive.  Here’s an example:

“I desire an exquisite, handbuilt earthen cottage set into acres of gardens, overflowing with light and scent and flowers.  I desire built-in windowseats with bookshelves for curling into on a rainy morning, and an airy kitchen with space for all of my drying herbs.  I desire a little bathroom with large, light-filled windows and a clawfoot bathtub surrounded by blooming scented geraniums and dozens of varieties of lavender.  I desire gardens that contain cherry, raspberry, peach, plum, sea buckthorn, goji, jojoba, hawthorn.  I desire winding paths through my acres of medicine herbs and food forests that end at a year-round creek that supplies my little home with abundant microhydro energy, a cool place to submerge and swim in summer, a quiet place to meditate in winter.

I desire to share this beautiful space by hosting earth-centered events, exuberant parties circling on the wheel of the year, counseling circles,  healing herbal gatherings and permaculture courses.”

Wow.  That feels so good, just writing it again.  So different from wanting it...desiring it, feeling it, sensing it already there.  It’s a joy to desire something.  It’s agony to want it.

Knowing what you desire is an immense boon to those around you. Taking the time to write down your desires, in great detail and specificity, gives all of your tumbling tumultuous creative energy a locus point.  And in time, you become so comfortable with what it is that you really, truly want that you recognize it when it comes.  You make the choices that lead you to it.  You tell everyone you meet about the fulness of your desires and they voluntarily enlist in helping you achieve them.

Because our deepest, truest desires are for the things that lead us home.  And when we are home, creating what we were made to create, living the life that lights us up, we are doing the best good we are capable of.


April 10, 2013 · 3:14 am

Women’s Joy Circle: Arousal

It starts with her beauty in my eyes, it moves...

Ooh, arousal.  It has such a sexual connotation, doesn’t it? And yet it’s important to specify just what type of arousal we’re talking here.  Arousal of the nervous system–the fight-or-flight response–is the opposite of sexy.  When the nervous system is aroused, stress hormones get dumped into the bloodstream, halting digestion, cutting off blood supply to the extremities, and eventually suppressing the immune system.  Great when you need to wrestle a mountain lion off your back, but not so hot on the lion-skin rug, if you know what I’m saying. Continue reading


March 20, 2013 · 3:09 am

Women’s Joy Circle: Living an Authentic Life


Sculpture from the Peaceful Warrior collection by Margot Robinson

Last night’s joy circle was graced by Margot Robinson, a sculptor, artist, author, public speaking coach, and ecstatic dancer who came to share the wisdom she’s learned along the way.  We opened with a round of brags: one of us bragged that she had finally finished her grueling separation paperwork, another that she had managed a heartbreakingly difficult week without running away or collapsing. One of us had an incredible business opportunity land in her lap after following the lead of her heart, and one had designed an academic major that brought her personal passions into line with her academic work.

It is wonderful to sit in that circle and be reminded of the daily bravery this life takes, to take a moment and appreciate how sincerely we take this business of living, even when it gets painfully hard. One woman shared  gratitude for her cloud of witnesses, remarking that many in her support system are women who had “been made stronger than they should have to be” and how well that strength, born of struggle, had served her in her own difficult times.

After rose petal chai and sprouted-flour banana muffins we congregated again by candlelight to hear what Margot had to say. She first asked: “if you had one question to ask someone wise in the ways of life, what would it be?”  The circle responded:

“How do you care for yourself in the face of the press of daily obligations?”

“How do you get past the fear?” Continue reading


March 12, 2013 · 1:51 pm