Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Women's Tent - Six Ways to Own Your Power Individually & Collectively

The phrase ‘women hold up half the sky’ is being heard more and more from all directions. And although women may, by their sheer numbers hold up half the sky, it’s hard to believe that when you hear the Taliban proclaim men have the right to starve disobedient wives. Or another painful story appears about the murder and abuse occurring daily across the United States. Those are the extremes of terrorist acts against women. Then there are other stores, less high profile but no less important about lack of access to a good education, health care for women and children.

That said, if you remove your focus from the harsh headlines and look from the side of your eyes, you’ll begin to learn that indeed new schools and hospitals are being built - by women for women. Women are pooling their resources and micro financing is being extended to women to start small businesses. The positive outcomes of these loans to women has appeared in reports by the World Bank and CARE. When women profit, they spend what they gain on food and education for their families and their communities. In their August 17th New York Times article ‘The Women’s Crusade,’ Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote that ‘the world is finding out that women and children are not the problem; they’re the solution.

The timing of these events is no accident. The earth is crying out for women to own their power; personally and collectively. It’s telling us we’re needed right now to help steer the planet toward a better future - knowing all the while that we may not succeed. It’s true that many women are already giving time and money to help other women, but with to-do lists that could sink a battleship, many of us are wondering how we can build on what has begun. How can we sustain the work of empowering others when all too often we neglect to empower ourselves.

As I’ve grown older, more and more I’ve found myself stepping inside the women’s tent to meet female friends and experience the collective power of our circle. There, while storms of uncertainty, conflict and chaos rage outside, I bask in the knowledge that I’m not alone. Each visit is a healing experience, and as I heal, the earth heals.

Inside the tent, I can examine the wounds that are my mother’s legacy - the physical and emotional abuse; the expectations she expected me to fulfill – and feel the soothing balm of the women’s hands and voices. I listen to the stories of the struggles, courage and endurance of grandmothers and ancestors that remind me we’re all connected. That the finest sword is tempered by the hottest flame and when it cuts, there are no ragged edges left to fester. They tell me that while some rules are necessary, the ones that dampen our spirits must be broken.

Many purposes can be served inside the tent, but they all rest on one primal aspect: As a woman, whether you’ve have children or not, you possess the ‘mother’ gene. The gene that prompts you to nourish, nurture; to create new life in the form of ideas and actions; the gene of the woman warrior who carves out a safe path for new life and tends to the elders. Inside the tent, power grows exponentially.

Several suggestions for strengthening the tent poles:

1) Leave the chores for later; eventually, they’ll wait. Having a few moments with a ‘sister’ may not happen tomorrow or ever again.

2) Collect daughters and bring them to the tent. With my daughter living at a distance, I’ve found myself collecting ‘daughters’. They don’t live in my home, but they occupy my heart and my mind. We meet for coffee or breakfast, and take walks. They talk; I listen. I make an effort not to give advice, but to frame any suggestions I may have as questions. Then I begin to introduce them to other women I know. Eventually, these daughters will bring others and more poles will go up.

3) Bear witness: Tell another woman how she beautiful she is; how wonderful, capable and courageous she is. Create and keep around year round mother’s day cards that share a quote from the poet Rumi – I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you…

4) Be the hearth: Keep the heart fires burning and the door open for weary women. They may be seeking silence in a safe place.

5) Share stories about being afraid and excited as doors were broken down. The kind of stories that stir the blood and hold the seeds of creative civil disobedience. A good woman friend, M. once described how she got the attention of the mayor who’d refused to listen to her objective of helping children who were suffering through a particularly hot summer in the city. Assembling a neighborhood group of toddlers to teens, they went to city hall. There they occupied all six cars of an elevator bank while singing round after round of Frere Jacques. An agreement was reached.

6) Get naked. Be vulnerable by stripping off your barriers and defenses to speak honestly and openly. Rumi once wrote If you’re unwilling to undress don’t enter into the stream of Truth. Stay where you are. A very boring and even deadly thing to do. I’ve found that being naked in the women’s tent, helps me gather the strength to stand naked outside.

Men have a similar aspect within and often express it in different ways than we do. However, a partnership between a man and woman that’s based on these values is extraordinarily gratifying. I’m blessed to have men friends with whom I share that kind of relationship, but I still thrive with the intimate connection that comes from women sitting down together.

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