Friday afternoon was our quarterly women’s retreat and I’d like to share the outline of our process as well as some reflections in case they are helpful for others…
Summer retreat outline
1. Choose bindis (I got some nice fresh ones that are not stuck to the paper!)
2. Circle up and group hum. We do this at every women’s ritual to unify our energy, to harmonize, to focus our intention and to bring our minds and bodies solidly into the ritual space. I feel like this simple action is what “casts the circle” for our group and is a point of continuity from ritual to ritual that we all value.
3. Invocation (slightly modified from Gathering for Goddess by Melusine Mihaltses):
South: We call on Fire with our flesh. Rub your hands together fast and furious, feel the heat you have generated. Now place this heat upon your chest. Feel the heat upon your heart.
We have invoked the powers of Fire.
(group together) Welcome Fire!
West: We call on Water with the moisture found on our lips, lick your lips, wet them with your saliva. Feel how this element lives within you.
We have invoked the powers of Water.
North: We call on Earth with the solidity of our own bodies, give your neighboring sister an embrace. All embrace each other.
We have invoked the powers of Earth.
East: We call on Air with our breath, panting and sighs, inhales and exhales. Altogether, breath audibly.
We have invoked the powers of Air
4. Candle lighting with reading by volunteer:
…Make a sacred fire
and throw on it all that you would use to harm yourself.
Make kindling from shame.
Let your dance be wild,
your voice be honest
and your heart untamed.
don’t make sense..
By Aisha Wolfe
5. Quick centering guided meditation using Elemental Connecting by Traci Nichols.
6. We’re a bit past the summer solstice date, but the energetic theme and the season are still the same, so I shared some summer solstice information and reflections. Each woman took a turn to add a symbol of what she’s been womanifesting to the altar as well as discuss any responses to the questions…
It’s now that we Celebrate the womanifestation of the seed dream/s we conceived at Winter Solstice. Much like the Mother Mysteries associated with this time, we are giving our full attention, time and creativity to nurturing, sustaining and protecting our dreams, while reveling in the abundance of all that we are the creatrix of.
With all of this heightened activity and energy, we may find ourselves bumping up against the shadow of the Mother Archetype. With the full activation of our Fire energy that Summer Solstice generates, we can experience “burn out” by over-giving, over-nurturing, over-protecting, and/or over-doing. So remember to “Mother yourself” as you are caring for your creations. Seek out and create support systems that sustain YOU, as you work to sustain your hopes, dreams and all that you love.
The LIGHT of Summer Solstice not only activates us to “tend the fire” of our creative dreams, we can also feel the heat and challenge of spiritual tests we may be going through at this time. Honoring where we are in our spiritual journey, as well as all of what is being brought to “greater light” and asking for “healing” and “transformation” –
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
What seed dream have I nurtured since Winter Solstice that is now in full radiance?
Do I Mother myself as I Mother my creations? How do I create support structures for myself that sustain me during times of high activity? Do I experience “burn out” during this time of year due to overwhelm or have I cared for myself in order to feel my full radiance and vitality?
What part of my soul’s growth is being “lit up” this season? What am I being asked to shine a light on in order to heal or transform?
Is my life a reflection of the abundance that is being mirrored to me by the Mother Earth? Does my life flow like Her rivers? Is it abundant like Her gardens? Is it buzzing with loving community? Does it illuminate others with the radiance of the sun? If not, how can I shift in my relationship to abundance so that I can fully and completely shine my radiant light?
7. Dance! With jingly hip scarves and scarves in our hands, we raised some energy! This was new for us. After dancing to the African drumming on the Rise Up curriculum CD during our last Rise Up class, we re-visited the action during this retreat. My mom planned out a simple, circle dance and then we did a small spiral dance too. It was fun!
8. For this retreat, we also tried something new for the middle “working” part of the retreat in that I asked each woman to bring an offering to the circle as a sort of group-prepared “potpourri.” Women read stories, shared wisdom and articles, and we made a fun project (see more soon).
9. Shamanic drumming journey CD (15 minutes) followed by journaling and brief discussion. This was also new for the group and had interesting results. Our experiences varied widely, but most had a powerful experience. I think if we did this more often, we’d be more comfortable with the feel of a “journey” and would relax into more easily.
10. Then as my own potpourri contribution and reflection, I read my recent Outraged Ancestral Mother Prayer
11. Closing reading:
…May this day of longest light become for each of us a day of longest gratitude.
A day of longest peace.
A day of longest creativity.
A day of longest hope.
Hold up to the sun your heart, and feel fully present in your life.
May it be so.
Then, joining hands, we sang Woman Am I together and headed for the kitchen for tasty potluck snacks! I’d originally planned to make a project using some nifty new crescent moon charms I bought recently. My vision for what exactly we were going to do with them wasn’t very clear and so it was great that one of my friends had brought a surprise project to do as her potpourri offering. Perhaps by next time, I’ll have a charming plan in place! My friend had sewed a set of 40 tiny white prayer flags for each of us upon which we drew our Womanrunes symbols with Sharpies. She also brought us each a dowel upon which we can mix or match the womanrunes and stick it in a garden, a plant, or elsewhere to be a rotating sort of “prayer branch.” She suggested either choosing the runes whose meanings match that which we desire OR randomly selecting a set and seeing what messages want to be carried on the breeze. We can switch them out in a semi-infinite array of mini prayer flag action. It was a really good idea and I was excited that she brought something like that to offer to the circle. When my husband got home, he drilled a little hole in one of the beams of our front porch and we stuck my new prayer flag system into it (flying five randomly selected womanrunes).
I’ve been feeling a little discouraged about my retreats lately, primarily because there are a lot more women on the email list than actually show up and so I always feel like I’m doing something “wrong” or am not planning interesting enough things to attract them. I also take it kind of personally—there is a vulnerability in preparing an offering such as this and each time I do it I actually feel like I’m preparing a gift for my friends. When they decline the invite, it feels, in part, like a rejection of the gift I’m offering. Cognitively, I know (or, I hope!), this isn’t true, but emotionally that is how it usually registers. This summer retreat was a beautiful experience that felt just as I wish for these retreats to feel—nurturing, affirming, and celebratory—like a blessingway for all of us with no one needing to be pregnant!
Things I was reminded of after this experience:
- There is nothing like having friends who are willing to lie on your living room floor and listen to a shamanic drumming CD without laughing or saying you’re ridiculous.
- Small IS good—I already know from my years as a breastfeeding support group leader that I’m a sucker for bigger-is-better thinking (I tell my own students: don’t let your self-esteem depend on the size of your group!!!!!). When the group is small or RSVPs are minimal, it starts to feel like a personal “failing” or failure to me somehow. However, the reality is that there is a quality of interaction in a small group that is not really possible in a larger group. At this retreat there were seven women. While there was an eighth friend I really wished would come and who we missed a lot, the size felt pretty perfect. I reflected that while some part of me envisions some kind of mythically marvelous “large” group, ten is probably the max that would fit comfortably in our space as well as still having each woman be able participate fully. Twelve would probably be all right and maybe we could handle fifteen. I also need to remember not to devalue the presence of the women who DO come. They matter and they care and by lamenting I want more, it can make them feel like they’re not “enough.”
- Retreats like this provide an opportunity to explore/experiment with ideas and activities that we usually do not allow ourselves time for in everyday life—I know that I often “run out of time” for more spiritual/contemplative/relaxing pursuits.
- Circling together in a woman-to-woman atmosphere allows for a type of healing and connection through shared experience that is qualitatively different from getting together to casually chat and socialize. Shared experiences matter and are in some ways more satisfying than shared conversation (most women do plenty of chatting–we can benefit from some being and experiencing together).
- The potpourri thing was a good idea. While my husband said it sounded like a nightmare idea to him—he hates being responsible for bringing something to a group setting—I felt like it created a sense of investment and shared responsibility for our circle. It was fun for each woman to be at the center for a while and to share her contribution with the rest of us.
- I find great value in interacting with my friends in a woman-to-woman context, rather than a mother-to-mother context. So often when I’m with my friends we are in a space of “co-mothering” (i.e. mothering together and “friending” at the same time). While this can work and be fun, a lot of times it is actually kind of unfulfilling—there are constant distractions and I often feel I’m doing neither well–not paying full attention to my kids OR to my friends, and it is a scattered, distracted, stop-and-start, unfinished sort of mode of interacting (I think this is particularly a feature of having a toddler. If I only had my bigger kids, it probably would be a less scattering experience to co-mother). There was a time earlier in this year when I felt like the sense of unfulfillment or frustration I often experienced during friend conversations had to do with my friendships themselves and it took a post-retreat revelation in the spring to realize that it actually had to do with trying to have a substantive visit with friends with all of our kids present!
- That said, perhaps it is somewhat ironic that my own mother is a regular part of this women’s circle—apparently, she can’t escape her kid, ME. But, this too is of important value—despite the close proximity of our homes, we rarely actually have the chance to interact in a woman-to-woman context, rather than as busy adult daughter and grandmother co-strategist. Also, along the same lines of my first point, I also feel lucky to have a mom who is willing to plan ritual dances and lie on the floor with me listening to shamanic drums!