Conscious Conflict Immersion · Egalitarianism

Have Women Circles Turned Into Shallow RahRah Sessions?

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I would like to start by saying that one of the most beautiful movements I’ve had the privilege of being a part of, has been a resurgence of women empowering women. For the past 13 years I’ve enjoyed full and new moon circles coming together expressly to shift the climate of females trying to get ahead by putting each other down, as well as honoring a more cyclical (rather than linear) passage of time. The ceremony of acknowledging our cyclical life, through honoring the different phases of the moon, and of bringing something in and let something go, is a sacred and ancient practice that is being revitalized with grace and beauty. It is so exciting to me that as women now * in most places in the world * we do not risk bodily harm or death for outwardly appreciating our rhythm or for supporting our sisters’ sovereignty. I would not go back but I must move forward; let me explain.

What I have noticed in these women’s circles is an emphasis on dreaming, positivity, healing, celebration and the magic of synchronicity and manifestation. I can’t get enough of this type of faith and community building sentiment. I don’t, however, believe in weakening the life-affirming nature of entropy, chaos, destruction, and change in order to invoke positivity when it is not a vibrational match with my internal climate. It will eat me up from the inside out if I suppress ‘bad’ feelings that innately arise within me. I refuse to fake it and because of this commitment, I have experienced that it is possible to be both positive and true to my divisive feelings. My studies of various spiritual, psychological, and historical phenomenon as well as my experiences with myself, my friends, my foes, and my clients, have helped me embody some deep realizations. In addition to consciously lifting myself and my sisters up, I require a deeply supportive way to express myself and empathically discuss what is true for me. I hold the *feeling* of deep appreciation and love for myself, when I own all of myself– even the parts I’m still learning to like!  I am concerned that in an effort to stop tearing each other down, we have become afraid of conflict. Surely eliminating slander from our repertoire of self-empowerment does not require of us to quietly avoid the hard conversations?

I see this as an issue of self-love and how we concretely practice it. No matter what the christian commandments say, if I do not love myself first, I do not love my neighbor. Loving myself means honoring my ‘bad’ feelings just as much as mutual empowerment. In fact, the more I tap into this responsibility of self-love in a joyful way, I see my fellow woman as part of a global humanity rather than tribes of individuals divided by opinions and beliefs. I enjoy an identity independent of what others choose to do or be. Self-love requires of me that I do not orphan, but rather acknowledge, ‘negative’ emotions so that I can move through the inevitable changes of life with less suffering. Conscious Conflict Immersion is key here.

What seems to be scarce from the sage and rosemary cleansed gaggles of ladies that finally feel ‘worth it’ enough to unify in an expression of appreciation for life, is creating conscious agreements with each other to move through internal and external conflict that arises. This looks like having and giving permission for feedback and knowing how to safely and constructively commune with feelings that deviate from agreement. It looks like practicing joyful responsibility of ‘I feel something and I’m not sure what it is or where it is coming from;  would you help me sort it out?’ Or perhaps; ‘I don’t want to feel adversarial towards you, but something within me is having a hard time trusting you right now; would you be willing to explore this with me so I can more authentically support you?’ or even; ‘ I’m actually not getting much from this circle tonight and I’m not sure why; how is everyone else feeling?” I believe this is essential to the woman empowerment movement and I seldom see it in the circles of women who gather in spiritual unity. Because, the conflict is there; it is just not in the open. I emphasize ‘open’ because I have talked to many women after a moon ceremony who felt invalidated and disenfranchised because the dynamics didn’t support how they were actually feeling. Rather than feeling inspired by the organizers’ spirited invitation ‘to feel as good as she feels all the time,’ they instead felt wrong or deficient in themselves without knowing how to resolve said feelings in a social context. Comparison and competition are proving to be unproductive even in the research; and yet they do not dissipate by wishing them away.  Any time I put on a smile or suppress an unwanted feeling that arises spontaneously without giving it its’ appropriate attention, I feel the negative consequence of trying to rush or ignore my stormy weather. I also feel the additional sadness at missing an opportunity to build faith in the creation process of open conflict and its resolution.

Let me give you a metaphor to illustrate my point here. We live in a time of epidemic cancer rates. The U.S. population has about a 40% chance of developing some type of cancer within our lifetime. I don’t know about you, but living life to the fullest is a personal goal of mine moment to moment. Therefore, I cannot afford to ignore unchecked cell growth. My body requires not only that I have the materials necessary to build healthy cells, but that I have the capacity for apoptosis of compromised cells as well. To get existential on you; death is how we know that we are alive, it is one of the more life-affirming occasions. To quote one of my heros Stephen Jenkinson; “Death and the Love of Life are clinking their glasses and toasting you!” Knowing and appreciating the cycle of destruction as indivisible from the cycle of growth is, I believe, crucial to our well being. Yet, one of the societal pressures that I experience through our economic system, our default marriage assumptions, and our treatment of the dying — to name just a few examples — is valuing constant grow to the detriment of dissolution. If I am not conscious of how life naturally moves through me, this pressure can easily support limiting agreements that I can live wholeheartedly without accepting entropy. Said a bit differently; if I accept that life IS change/time, then it is a rejection of life when I cannot accept change that I perceive as ‘negative.’ One of the underlying principles of Love More and Be Happy is that our best ‘security’ is not to clutch or try to freeze what is, but to cherish it in the moment and to embrace change as an inherent force of life. I witness this so often when mentoring couples; so much of the source of conflict between partners is loving the person they met but not the person standing in front of them today. I believe that trusting the process of living — wherever it takes us — with humility and confidence, is the ultimate unconditional loving action.   

I would like to see this embrace, rather than bypass of ‘negative’ feelings, even more present in women empowering groups through some tangible ‘shadow’ work. I for one am tired of feeling like hugs and ‘heck yeahs’ are mandatory even when I’ve not yet gone through an evolution in trust with my fellow sisters. I know that positive regard, entering into a misunderstanding knowing that the other person is doing their best, is a necessary step towards my understanding and acceptance of the other — but so is consciously immersing myself in the unknown of conflict. The most profound loving relationships I have are the ones where we have walked through fire together, not just a meadow of wildflowers. For example, one of my good friends shared with me that, even though she was ashamed and terrified to mention it, she felt jealous of my budding friendship with her partner. The process of me reaching into my memories of when I have felt like that and unifying with her in ‘me too’, and the process of her saying the scariest things she could muster up, drastically shifted our relating to a whole new realm of trust and appreciation. We were able to get to the other side and she knew henceforth, in the core of her being, that I WANTED to support her in her specific and unique language of love. Another time with a different friend, I was asked to participate in her wedding. She was marrying an incredible man whom nonetheless she had been having the same unresolved conflict with for over 8 years. I SOOO wanted to support her but I had not ever heard how they had resolved this repeated tension over the years and I was concerned. Even though I was terrified of losing the friendship by broaching the topic, I knew it would feel out of integrity to me if I served as a witness in support of their marriage without at least understanding how she was moving forward in this life-long commitment. Being able to hear her heart in this matter gave me a much deeper knowing of my friend, and the bond we now have — knowing that we can trust each other to bring up the hard stuff — is stronger than ever before. We have continued to build on this precedent and even though it is scary every time, our relating keeps getting deeper and deeper and I strongly believe we have conscious conflict immersion to thank.

I’m not claiming that it ALWAYS goes well even if you have good tools — that’s what I mean by stepping into the unknown. I have been rejected outright plenty of times when I have requested conflict resolution!! That just helps me determine quickly who I would and would not like to invest my time in. The most painful relationship experience I have ever had with another woman was not knowing, until it blew up in my face 7 years later, that someone I considered a best friend did not trust me on a very deep level. She did not trust the process of speaking up and later admitted that she was trying to be ‘spiritual’ and bury the hatchet without confronting it with me. Then when she shared her true feelings with me, she didn’t want to hash things out. I had to sort it out on my own and accept that we may never harmonize our perspectives. Despite the pain at the time, it was a profound learning experience as it helped me understand how insidious not speaking up can be. Since I wanted to move on, even though I didn’t have any clarity or comprehension, I also learned how important grieving was to the forgiveness process. Since then, we have been able to clear the air and understand each other’s perspective. I walked into it hopeful but not attached. It was quite an incredible feeling as I walked away from our coffee date months after the divide to finally talk about what had happened. I discerned that I did not desire to be friends anymore, because the boundary violation of her not being vulnerable enough to share what was true for her is not what I’m cultivating in my life, and yet I still genuinely want the best for her. It had no charge to it anymore; it was a ‘clean’ decision. We are friendly acquaintances who occasionally have some heart-to-heart connection and I am incredibly proud of both of us for moving beyond our comfort zone and getting real. This pain, even though I was broken-hearted for months, gave me tremendous insights into my life and how I experience myself that are priceless. As Don Miguel Ruiz once said; “ Loving everyone does not mean you have to go to lunch with them.”

I know that this type of conflict resolution can also happen in women’s circles because once I witnessed it and I consider it to this day to be one of my most precious and satisfying experiences. I was hungry for something different than singing to my womb in circle, so I joined a small women’s group of which the premise was to broach challenging subjects and share our experiences. It was my turn to share what the prompt inspired in me; “ If you knew you wouldn’t live to see another day what wisdom or information would you like to write and bury for those who would find it in the future? ” I felt extremely inspired and had actually written a poem sharing some of the deepest pearls of wisdom I had acquired in my young life. I was about 2 minutes into my 5 minute share when a woman in the group raised her voice to interrupt my recitation announcing that she didn’t see how what I was sharing was relevant.  I felt completely shocked, rejected, and deeply wounded because I was in the flow and had opened my heart in the assumption that it was a safe space to express myself. I was overwhelmed with sadness as her announcement had triggered feelings of invalidation and unworthiness. I also felt anger that a boundary of mine had been crossed in that I knew it was not for anyone else to judge the merit of my heart’s sentiments. I could have swallowed my tears, and in fact I was afraid that showing how I felt would either be seen as a weakness or a manipulative strategy, but in that moment I felt one with myself and I let my emotions flow by crying. As soon as the tears started streaming down my face everyone else immediately wanted to soothe me. I gently let them know that I did not need to be consoled, that that would actually feel to me even more like I wasn’t accepted, and that what I needed instead was to express and move on with an attempt to understand where me and this lady were both coming from. It was very difficult for the people in the circle to hold space — essentially not heightening or diminishing our feelings — because it was very uncomfortable for about 20 minutes. This is where a powerhouse of woman, another of my now best friends, came through and helped guide the whole group through the conflict without blame or guilt. I will never forget this act of kindness and I feel like everything that I had ever learned up until that point was put into practice in order to remain present and receptive in both my feelings and in putting myself into the other woman’s shoes. Remaining vulnerable, even when I perceived that opening myself up was ‘how I got myself into this mess in the first place,’ was one of the most difficult and rewarding things I have ever done.

Every time I put myself ‘out there,’  whether it goes well or not, I feel all the pieces of myself integrating. Sometimes when I reflect on what I’ve gained by being open to this creative process, I realize that if I had never tried it I wouldn’t have known what I was missing. Conscious conflict immersion has served me well, not only to build a team of mutually supportive women, but in all of my intimate and professional relationships as well. The corporate world in fact has begun to catch on to the need for constructive and safe feedback loops. There are ‘Peer Advisory Councils’ where C-Suite individuals pay tens of thousands of dollars each year to come together and help each other through similar corporate challenges. There are very specific emotional literacy tools — for example distinguishing between feedback, opinion, and advice — that create the accountability and investment necessary to build fruitful feedback loops. I believe that these peer-to-peer corporate clubs are tapping into our need for understanding ourselves and the world around us by trading in the imitation validation we so frequently receive for the more authentic and sustainable confidence that comes with safe and effective mirroring. How wonderful would it be if, as a grassroots movement, we realized all the psycho-spiritual benefits of incorporating this type of co-mentorship into the blossoming networks of pro-women gatherings? I for one am eager for more opportunities for this courageous practice!!

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