Last weekend I attended a women’s retreat with the women of a local Unity church. We gathered in a lake resort near Austin, some hours from my new Texas home. Even after a year and a half, Texas still seems new to me. I lived in California so long and have so many active friendships among women my spirit still lingers in that liminal space where the foothills suddenly become mountains and the mountains begin their long descent into the valley.
As a long time devotee of the feminine divine, I no longer find it surprising when she steps in to guide me. But I still marvel. In California, I helped found the California Alliance for Women, which grew out of Charlotte Kelly’s vision of a summer solstice camp for women. Her Voices, Our Voices spanned more than a decade. Once I discovered it, I attended every summer. It changed my life. When it finally folded, I became a founding member of the California Alliance for Women. We met as a circle and to this day the board continues to meet as a circle working by consensus. The group grew out of our determination to offer the camaraderie and connection we had experienced living in a community of women, to as many other women as we possibly could. We didn’t have the resources to create a weeklong event like Charlotte’s, but we did think it possible to swing an annual three-day retreat. Three years ago, I stepped down from the board and then family deaths and a move across country kept me from attending the last two years. I’ve missed it sorely.
Meanwhile, serendipitous circumstances guided (I choose to think) by the breath of the Goddess, conspired to bring together a group of women right here in my new hometown, who have discovered the same joy in coming together in community.
Don’t get me wrong- I love men. Father, lovers, husband, son – in every guise they have shown me love, understanding, support and encouragement. I couldn’t be more grateful. Nevertheless and also, there is nothing quite like the company of women. After all, we share a culture- the culture of being female, which manages to transcend race, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation and just about every other divisive parameter humanity has been able to create. And our culture is so juicy; so full of emotion, heart, intelligence, wisdom and vast experience in suffering the indignities and wounds particular to our sex.
Not that we dwell on those – or any one thing. The joy of these gatherings lies in the rich integration of all these experiences so that tears follow laughter; follow a philosophical discussion or exchange of information; follow a journal entry or solitary walk; follow, dancing, theatricals and hot tubs. At home- a second glass of wine is my limit- on retreat my glass can be full till the moon goes down or rises and I’m not even tipsy or hung-over the next morning.
It could be adrenaline, certainly the gatherings are exciting, but I think it’s really relaxation. Out here, in the “real” world, no matter how safe one’s personal circumstances, so many things threaten a woman no matter what her age or social standing – rape, violence, harassment, disparagement, indignity, indifference, ignorance – the list is endless and directly related to gender. In retreat that background noise is stopped, ended, quiet at last. The difference is astounding.
The time and energy one needs to ignore, buffer against and cope with the background static of a culture that wishes you active harm is extensive. (Afro-Americans, Native Americans, Latino-Americans, and Muslim Americans to name a few million or so, also suffer this kind of “noise” constantly, but being female amps it up considerably.) Without that background irritant the world feels much more spacious; time stretches and extends, allowing time for deep connection. Safeguards and defenses drop, allowing heart to speak to heart.
Whatever happens, I can only describe it as magic. An element of the inexplicable, the ineffable arises out of such communities of women that cannot be successful described. Even I, a poet and lover of metaphor, can’t think of anything to say that more than hints at the experience. All I can say dear sisters, if you get a chance to join such a happening – TAKE IT!