While I walked through the aspen trees and the cottonwoods at Ghost Ranch my hips swayed, moving my belly from side to side like a basket rocking rhythmically on ocean waves. This motif continued throughout the wisdom circles, gathering together the treasures from our journey. Some of my companions have written about their experience, which I add to our basket of wisdom.
A few weeks ago, a remarkable group of mostly liberal women, I among the 450 or so, journeyed to Ghost Ranch to participate in a Wisdom Sharing event. Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, and Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung shared the meaning they garnered over the years and the hopes they harbor for women and for humanity. Though there was some new content in their presentations, the wisdom that became palpable among us emanated from their years of moving the message forward in the face of monumental historical forces; the life changing work that amplified their spirits. We understood how they changed their own worlds and while doing so changed much of ours too. Perhaps the most salient message was the warm, collegial, and spontaneous way they engaged each other. These womens’ and our vastly different lives were woven together by efforts to seek freedom, respect the struggles of poverty and disadvantage, refine honest assessments of the things that matter most, engage with curiosity and compassion, and disclose the transformative nature of equality. They offered essential teachings when those gems would enhance or challenge our values. Their personhood as well as their presentations conferred truths while they modeled a kind of leadership that will long be remembered and emulated.
The nice surprise for me was the different voices and opinions that were heard ( starting with the 3 main speakers). I liked their similarities, but most importantly their differences. People listened to each other with respect and were not afraid to talk about setbacks and opportunities for growth. I really liked the incorporation of politics and spirituality. The word that resonated the most for me was “interconnected.“ Yes, we need each other. We will grow together. It provided more fuel to hope, the creativity and energy to keep searching for ways to work for a better “us” for a better word (and to have fun in the process). The experience was greatly enriched by the leadership of the Native American healers in the wisdom circles.
Licia Berry writes about Gloria Steinem at 80 in her blog post excerpted below.
She’s 31 years ahead of me, and at 80 years of age, a seemingly tireless crusader for women’s equality in the world. But when I spent 4 days in her company at the Wisdom Sharing Retreat at Ghost Ranch last month, one of the things that Gloria Steinem said was, “It is okay to be tired.” Wow.
As an artist, visionary, cultural commentator, author, educator, speaker, advocate, mother, wife, woman, and human being in the 21st century…I have also been tireless in my (much less significant) efforts over the many years I have been doing the work I do.
The title above is linked to Licia’s full post, well worth a visit. I’m wrapping up the Ghost Ranch series now and wondering what comes next. The connections on so many levels, with wonderful women I now call friends continues to inspire and energize me for new adventures. And for now, let’s keep dancing.
There is an international indigenous council of 13 Grandmothers who travel the world to bring healing prayers to the earth and her inhabitants. I met Hopi Grandmother Constance Mirabal in 1998, which I’ve written about in my post Magically Real and took part in a wisdom circle that Grandmother Florademayo led at the gathering. There were a number of indigenous women leading wisdom circles, which is a testament to the many programs at Ghost Ranch that honor our sacred connection to the earth. The opening prayer was led by Florademayo, who prayed and wept as she entered into spirit. Tears flowed often from our native presenters, sometimes as they felt personal grief and always on behalf of the divine mother. I’ve been in sweat lodges, sun dances, pow wows and meetings with Native American medicine people. I have witnessed the ways in which they enter other dimensions when the visions flow. Some of the dream symbols Florademayo shared with us were the healing power of triangles (shout out to Bucky Fuller) and her vision of the coming renewal of humanity, symbolized by the birth of the golden baby. The baby is a cross-cultural motif seen by people the world over. Florademayo’s passion for collecting seeds is another part of the renewal and the protection of heritage plants. The blue corn pictured here is a symbol of the Hopi people. There is a compassion, directness and humor about many of the indigenous people I’ve met. There is also a reservoir of sorrow, released in tears that often flow in healing ceremonies. For those of European descent, white guilt is no stranger at these gatherings. We had moments when it was the elephant in the room and others when it was on full display. It’s hard to avoid – the collective unconscious is burdened with pain and unspoken apologies for the sins of our fathers, which continue to this day. When she was asked by Hyun Kyung how she dealt with the anguish of her peoples’ genocide, Florademayo said, “You accept the past, move forward and quit looking back.” Perhaps our only hope for our planet and our humanity is to come together in healing for our past, our present and thus, our future. The collective shadow is in dire need of integration. It can no longer be projected onto the other, for we are all other and we are all one. Our world needs us to become the humane beings we really are. I shared my poem, these tears of joy with Grandmother Florademayo, affirming our connection to the beauty of the living light. May we continue to heal in love.
I sat in the morning sun watching the garden grow
Light glistening on spider webs
spun in moon’s rays just hours ago
Hummingbird gulped nectar
fueling its dizzy, spiraling flight
The light found me, seeping into my essence,
opening the eye that sees behind the veil
I saw the breath of the earth, rising up in radiating
needles of light, knitting the fabric of life
growing around and through me
So infused was I, witnessing this moment of creation
that tears fell softly down my cheeks
Moving beyond sorrow or joy
Naked in the presence of my Soul
The breath and the light, commingled
In loving recognition that moments
such as these are rare glimpses beneath
the endless parade of dos and don’ts
that occupy our daily lives
In the garden, sipping the wine of early morning’s light
I am moved to see what loving hand molds
This day into being
Professor Chung Hyung Kyung teaches at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, when she is not researching or talking with people around the world who are inspired by her story and her wisdom. Kidnapped and tortured in Korea as a university student, Hyun Kyung survived, emigrated to the United States and completed her graduate work in theology. She describes herself as a good Presbyterian girl growing up in Korea and has lived in a monastery in Tibet practicing Buddhist meditation, which she has incorporated into her faith and her feminism.
The Ted talk pictured above will give you a sense of her vibrant presence and how she views her Christian and Buddhist practice. An ongoing theme in her talk was breaking open – that hearts will be broken, but from that brokenness comes new life and new ways for the light to enter. She started her presentation with an invitation to forgive those who have wronged us and spoke about a series of men who were sent to torture her. Making a connection with her oppressors allowed her to postpone the inevitable torment, until she met a man whom she described as having suffered “soul loss.” Her talk was in honor of the man whose dead eyes betrayed no empathy for the young woman who had to choose between saving her lover or protecting her friends after withstanding the most violent abuse.
I spoke with many women who had been abused or even tortured. Some, as a result of government persecution and others, personally. They were all challenged to forgive what none could forget and they moved forward with courage and humor, some days better than others. Their hearts were broken and mended by an ongoing effort to live and love with respect for all. Dr. Irene Martinez was one of the wisdom circle presenters who spoke of her experience as a political prisoner in Argentina. In all these stories of abuse, the support of women for one another shined through, underscoring the intrinsically relational nature of who we are. We are partners in the dance of life, with much light to share.
Dr. Chung will lead a group of women across the DMZ into North Korea next summer. Women from the North and South have been meeting periodically to exchange recipes, talk about daily life and come to agreement that we all want a peaceful life. Our hearts are with them as they reach out in sisterhood across the barriers inflicted by war and famine in support of peace and healing.
Gloria Steinem is 80 years old, tall, unbowed and aging naturally. Her voice is strong and despite chronicling the setbacks women have faced in the last number of decades, she retains a light, dry sense of humor. Ms. Steinem took us on an historical tour of patriarchy – in religion, government and culture. Coming to the conference from Austin, TX (where women are fighting to retain control of their reproductive rights) I resonated with her statement that men control women by controlling reproduction. Patriarchy has institutionalized rape, genocide and created a capitalistic system in which fealty to God, King and husband have been legislated for centuries. She views monotheism as religious imperialism with an imperative to subjugate nature and thus, women and children. It’s hard to argue when women are still fighting the battle for fair and equitable representation in the workplace, at home and in government. What would the world look like if women were in charge?
In Texas, many of us have been struggling to get out the vote. Three of the young people in my office (students at a university) either were not registered to vote or did not know who was on the ballot. Among other important considerations, we are electing a Governor and Lt. Governor who will control the money and the laws that will represent the wishes of the people or those of powerful elites. Ms. Steinem rightly said that successful social movements are like a tree, starting with the roots and spreading upward. Our power lies in how and where we spend our money and in exercising our right to vote.
One of the most powerful stories Gloria told was the story of how Clarence Thomas eventually came to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court. In 1982 John Danforth, a Congressman from Missouri narrowly defeated his Democratic challenger, Harriet Woods, by roughly 2,000 votes in his bid for reelection. He had earlier appointed Clarence Thomas as his aide, introducing him to highly placed Republicans in Washington DC. Thomas was subsequently appointed to the United States court of Appeals by President GHW Bush. Then, only 16 months later he survived a hard fought confirmation hearing by a 52-48 vote (after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment). He was now the most conservative supreme court justice in the United States and has cast pivotal votes in electing George W Bush, among other decisions that have changed the course of history and will continue to do so. This is one of the best arguments I’ve heard for voting. Many people feel disenfranchised and unrepresented by their elected leaders. But I agree with Gloria; we really can make a difference by using our dollars wisely and by voting. There was a 13 year old girl at the conference who stood up on the last evening as we were summarizing what we would take home from our experience. She spoke passionately about how grateful she was to know that feminism is alive and well and that she now knew that whether or not she was considered weird by her friends, she had people. Let’s continue to fight the good fight for we are not done.
is always the same; wherever Life
I want to stick my toe
& soon my whole body
into the water.
I want to shake out a fat broom
& sweep dried leaves
I want to grow
It seems impossible that desire
can sometimes transform into devotion;
but this has happened.
And that is how I’ve survived:
how the hole
I carefully tended
in the garden of my heart
grew a heart
to fill it. Alice Walker
Alice Walker began her talk by giving us permission to be afraid, that in times of danger it was a sane response. It was not what I expected from the woman whose grace touched the audience with such warmth, simplicity and humor. She was not patronizing, did not preach – but led us through war, then into peace and eventually, joy. We did not look away from the pain of families crushed by bombs as she reminded us that women and children just want to come home, sit in a cozy chair and pet their dog. We honored the sorrow and the tragedy of the innocent victims of endless war and were advised to “feel everything and want less” in order to come to peace despite the suffering – to care and to do something for those who need our help.
She acknowledged the struggle of our divided people to get over the feeling that “she might smell nice, but . . ” when breaking bread with those whose skin is different. She encouraged us to “get to know who stands beside you, to see her as she really is.”
Alice Walker has fought so many good fights, not least being the right for women to freely claim and respect their own bodies, and to ask for the same respect from everyone else. Womanism, a term she coined decades ago, is now the subject of a class at the University of Texas “Beyonce Feminism and Rihanna Womanism“. She has inspired many scholars, authors and poets, including our moderator for this event, Dr. Melanie Harris, an associate professor of Religion at Texas Christian University. To Walker, womanists are to feminists as purple is to lavender – they also recognize the struggle for racial and class equality (particularly for black women) as a central tenant of their social activism. Also noted – wise elders can teach younger women the difference between freedom and stupidity.
Using ones’ imagination: allowing for fluid gender identities in the 11th grade and sophomore years of college are among the many ideas put forth by our wise earth woman. Joy in non-attachment, allowing it to reside in your heart is the fruit of many years of meditation and the infusion of spirit into all aspects of her life. I spoke with her briefly, to extend an invitation to come and speak to the students in our graduate program here at UT, and found myself teary eyed. Her energy was so kind that it allowed a very delicate aspect of myself to engage openly in our conversation. I will remember that impression and the other funny and poignant moments with gratitude and reverence for the wholly spirit – that which makes us whole. Many thanks to the noble soul who is Alice Walker. Our world is better for her caring.
When women come together, we dance. We dance our thoughts, our sorrows and our joy. Flowing like water, drops in an ocean – we recognize that we are one. Gloria Steinem said empathy arises when all five senses are present and engaged. It was impossible not to feel and embrace otherness – all we will never know about ourselves and each other.
Ghost Ranch, set in the high mesa of New Mexico is best known from the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe, whose home is on the ranch. She spent years traveling through the box canyons, painting the cliffs from many perspectives. They transform dramatically during the day and night and are as varied as the people who call New Mexico home.
The Deepening Women’s Wisdom workshop, led by Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Hyun Kyung Chung was supported by Indigenous women’s healing circles for humankind and for our mother the earth. Many of the attendees were ministers, therapists, teachers and feminists who came to share their story and to renew our commitment to move forward in the face of decades of creeping inequality. This was the first time I attended a gathering of women and didn’t know how easy it would be to flow with the stream of our relational energy. I felt illuminated by new friendships unfolding in the vibrant beauty of the land. We respected our leaders and each other in equal measure. The conversation embraced us all, no matter our hardships, privilege or age. I felt the gentle grace of the holy spirit settle upon us like a soft cloud when we gathered in the evening to reflect on the day’s activities.
Connecting with the earth was part of this renewing journey, something that typically encourages me to wander away from humans. Making new friends, dancing with abandon and learning with and about the amazing journeys of the women who attended opened up my heart to people. The stars filled the sky with dancing lights and streaming galaxies. Our songs and stories filled my heart with love. Thanks be to all that is and special thanks to Dr. Leona Stuckey-Abbott, the (Ir)Reverend Shannon A White, and Licia Berry for making this journey so heartfelt and memorable.
Ghost Ranch (beloved by Georgia O’Keefe) rolls over red cliffs and yellow cottonwoods clattering alongside quaking aspen trees in the sparkling light of the high mesa. Most of the posts to follow will feature talks from the Women’s Deepening Wisdom Retreat with Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Chung Hyun Kyung. But for me, nothing is more centering than the sound of wind blowing through the grass and leaves. Part one of my journey here at the ranch.