Exploring Self and Sisterhood
“All things are relative, it is said, meaning that everything that exists,
exists in relationship. When referring to our interdependent connection to the
world that sustains us, we call this purposeful interaction ‘ecology’. And so it
is an ecology of men and women that creates the balance we know as lasting,
healthy love. In all such interactions, we are both recipients and givers, the
one effected and the one that is having an effect. A healthy social ecology is
based on reciprocity, a never-ending cycle of giving back, as well as an
authentic expression of our needs, desires, hopes and dreams.”
— Jesse Wolf Hardin
It’s easy to think of relationship only in terms of spouses and lovers, but both men and women can also benefit from developing nonsexual, mutually-beneficial bonds with others of our kind. There is a culturally impressed tendency for men to compete with men for position and rewards, and for women to compete with women for desirable men. Yet — as Hardin writes — at a deeper level, in our ancient beings and knowledge-storing genes, there also exists an imperative to form alliances based on the need for cooperation, and a hungering for platonic intimacy with those we see as most like us. For the majority, this means identification with and commitment to people of the same gender. For every example of backbiting treachery or open conflict, there are dozens of other examples of men in fraternity, and women enjoying the experience and benefits of sisterhood!
As the moon rises over the volcanic cliffs, the New Mexico canyon I caretake fills with the glad howls of twenty re-wilding women! A fervent activist all the way from North Carolina, seeking inspiration to fuel her work. A mother, taking an opportunity to nourish herself the way she usually tends others. A Florida business woman, getting in touch with her needs, her dreams, her playfulness. Elders, and youth, marking their transitions with a Solstice week next to a winding river. Each seems to sense that they are welcomed by an ancient spirit, encircled by a protective river, and soon we are feeling safe enough to take the risk of expressing and embodying our truths. Self consciousness gives way to the magic, as we’re empowered by what we’re able to give...and as we appreciate what each woman gives in return!
For thousands of years, women on every continent have set aside special times to be together, not to separate from men, but to enjoy the special trust and bonds of sisterhood. To commiserate, and celebrate. It is no different for the women gathered in the canyon this day. The “Wild” they celebrate is not being ”licentious” or “out of control” as dictionaries claim, but being one’s authentic, responsive self... resting, sharing, learning, savoring and reveling! Their brand of wildness is being in touch with their hungers and hurts, needs and desires, moon cycles and life rhythms.
Like everything else in nature, the Wild Women’s Gatherings have unfolded according to where we’re “at” and what we hunger for, the experiences and wounds and hopes that each person brings with them. The wildflowers bursting with color, the shade of the gnarly oaks and the coolness of the water are all unplanned but somehow perfect. The kinds of delicious wild greens we add to our meals depend on what is growing at the time.
We move through one powerful experience after another, with the only certain
direction being deeper and deeper! I smile as my sometimes serious and always
intense partner Kiva Rose unselfconsciously lets her guard down with our guests,
turning as cute as a Spring bear in the clover, running around and playing.
We’re almost giddy with this shared feeling, as “Why?” and “How?” become “Yes!”
Form magically follows the energy as feelings are expressed, situations change, and intentions and needs are revealed. No matter how attached we are to our plans beforehand, it is especially potent whenever we can respond to opportunities, whenever somebody expresses something deep or something significant and unexpected happens. The way water-striders skate across the surface of the river, make us think about doing the seemingly impossible. Wild-foods pizza baked over coals on an antique shovel demands and gets our presence, informing us through our eyes, and tongue and nose.
A spontaneous moonless hike turns into an opportunity for all of us to exceed our imagined limitations, how much we can really “see” without our eyes, and the ways in life in which we are really “in the dark!” A swim in the river planned to get us out of our minds and into our wilder beings becomes the seed for sharings about self-image and shame.
A certain vulnerable story comes up, and a circle about bodies and self acceptance shifts to the difficult subject of relationship, and the difference between co-dependency and the inter-dependency represented by everything around us: the river nourishing the cottonwoods and willows, the willows providing a home for the insects and birds, the lion needing the deer and the deer needing the grass, the water, and each other!
When humans all lived closely with the natural world, in tribes that were like big families, self confidence and self esteem came a lot more naturally to us. From a young age, we were given responsibilities and challenges that served as rites of passage. Our confidence grew as we learned to haul water and find wood, identify plants for food and medicine, start fires without a match, tend to our sick and enliven the tribal fires with our stories and wholesome enthusiasm. At home in the natural world, we felt a deep connection to all that surrounded us, and we prove that it is possible for us to feel that still.
Men’s and women’s gatherings hold power even for those who cannot attend, setting an example of what is possible, generating new thoughts, actions and trends. There is a mythic dimension to these circles, whether held in a wild Southwestern sanctuary or dedicated urban refuge, a story that makes the rounds of conscious people far and wide, a seed filled with potential that other folks, and other generations, will help to grow. It is “man against man”, some will argue. And one can always cite instances of women failing to support one another in their struggles to be real, noticed and fulfilled... meaning only that brotherhood is an unfinished project, and that sisterhood remains something for each of us to envision and then help to create.
So it is with the Wild Women’s Gathering. And when the swimming and dancing are
done, the tears of sharing are all soaked up by the ground, the songs and
laughter of women continues vibrating off of the crimson cliffs. One by one the
women pack up, and wind their way down the canyon towards their cars. I watch
until they are out of sight, waving like the wind swept pines. In the wind’s
stirrings I can feel the movement happening in these sisters’ lives, growing and
flowing wilder than ever!
Loba, columnist for Sagewoman magazine, joins her partners in co-directing the Animá Retreat & Women’s Center in the forested mountains of Southwest New Mexico. They offer Animá correspondence courses on rewilding, shamanic herbalism, plant medicine and more, hosting events including the Shaman’s Path intensive July 26-29. This year’s Wild Women’s Gathering will be held June 29 - July 5. Register at www.animacenter.org or write to: Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830.
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