Some time back, I became quite aware of where I looked for wisdom. Like the baby bird in its nest with beak wide open, clamoring for Mama Bird to feed it, I noticed myself constantly looking to others to feed me. I hungered for answers. I wanted answers to questions I wasn’t willing to live. I began to see I had to live them to grow the wisdom from within.
Sometimes, we’re thrown into the living of such. Like the fledgling bird that finds itself no longer in the safety of the nest, we too must discover how to get along in the world, and no amount of advice from others can begin to match what we learn when we navigate the new world on our own.
A few years ago, I taught what was loosely called a dating/relationship class to women who had lost their spouses in 9/11. In reality, what it turned out to be was a course on learning how to go ‘from alone to alive’ (how one woman named her experience after moving through it).
For 18 months, I commuted between California and New York to teach this course. It consisted of three day-long classes, each held two weeks apart. We structured it this way, so the women would have time in-between each class to practice what they learned, and even begin to dip their toes in the dating pool.
My colleague, Julie Saltonstall, and I designed the course based on my own experiences as a widow, her experience as a remarried woman with a blended family, on many of the coaching modalities we’d learned over the years, but most importantly on the realization that each woman had her own unique internal wisdom to bring to what she was facing as a widow, as a new single mother, and as a woman who wanted to love again. Because of the nature of the loss, there was no shortage of people offering advice on how best to raise the surviving children. Wisdom was key in supporting her moving back into life. Her body and her heart held this wisdom, so we gently encouraged each woman back into communion with this wisdom within.
The class was so much more than simply learning how to date; it was about learning how to be alive again, how to mother and nurture after deep grief, how to trust oneself, and how to allow oneself to know happiness, love and companionship again.
At the end of each class, we held a wisdom circle, using the indigenous tradition of a talking stick. In the circle, one can only speak when she holds the stick. As long she holds the stick, no one else can interrupt her or talk over her. When she holds the stick, if she isn’t talking there is only silence.
What happened in these circles was profound. Even though none of us knew what we would say in advance when we sat down to the circle, when the stick came our way we dropped down into our bodies and trusted what flowed forth from our hearts. And out of every beautiful mouth wisdom flowed. Remarkable wisdom. By the end of the circle, the air was so thick with truth and silence, tears ran down cheeks, eyes gazed knowingly, and smiles broke open. The wisdom was palpable in our bodies, in our circle and in the air.
The effect of the realization of internal wisdom spoken aloud in the presence of other women is life-changing. Being in relationship with women, holding each one as a wise being who knows something integral to the whole, something that is yearning to be spoken aloud completely shifted how I see women. I know our wisdom is needed, now, in this world.
I’ve learned deep things from being silenced. I grew up silenced for I learned silence from my mother. It was no fault of hers, as her mother was silenced. It’s a cycle. As Adrienne Rich wrote,
“The woman I needed to call my mother was silenced before I was born.”
The woman I needed to help me know I am wise from within, couldn’t know this herself. The silencing has been here for millenia. How life would be different if we had been taught the wisdom circle from birth, and now we can help each other remember it.
In October of 2004, thirteen indigenous Grandmothers from all parts of the world gathered in the land of the people of the Iroquois Confederacy in Phoenicia, New York. The Grandmothers sat together for seven days, creating an alliance in service to the healing of Mother Earth and all Her inhabitants.
Carol Schaefer wrote a fantastic book, ‘Grandmothers Counsel the World‘, collecting the wisdom of these Grandmothers, and includes many other wise women’s wisdom as well.
“We must be warriors with the power of love, the Grandmothers say. The great goal of the Grandmothers is to unite the hearts of the world. We all share the sun and the moon, the planet and the stars, they say. Our blood is altered when we come together as one people, allowing the Divine Feminine within and without to unite us and free us from fear.
The Grandmothers tell us that together as warriors we need to hold the spirit of the land, the spirit of the ancestors, and the spirit of the people who are resisting the yearning in their hearts, which is the Light. Breathe the light of Spirit in, they say. Move with the Divine Feminine.” ~Carol Schaefer
I’ve had this yearning in my heart for a long, long time, the yearning in my heart, which is the Light. There has been no logical reason for the yearning. It’s not about logic. I finally figured that out years back. In fact, trying to make sense of the yearning takes me out of my heart, out of the yearning. No, it’s about trust. Trusting that which is calling. Trusting that which moves through me, and you, and all of us. It is the Divine Feminine stirring within, returning now to bring us back into balance. Balance within and balance without.
The Grandmothers say we must remember our nature, our wisdom. They say that “women carry the ancient knowledge of the Divine Feminine deep within the very cells of their being”.
Our wisdom is unique to us, unique to each woman, just as unique as she is. This is another thing we must trust. That we are inherently wise, that our bodies hold this wisdom.
Learning to once again trust the body and trust one’s wisdom when we’ve been out of touch with them takes a community of women, where each woman is held by the rest. A community where she is nurtured, loved and supported simply as she is, without having to strive to be something she cannot be, a striving for perfection that keeps her from knowing what is already enough within her.
In reading the Grandmothers, I now look back on those women in New York and realize what was happening. We were holding each other in our hearts, and in this holding, our resistance was melting away. In community we began to move together with the Divine Feminine, both individually and collectively.
“Remember, the Grandmothers say, we women have been gifted – we are all-knowing, the creators and makers of life, the seed carriers for the children of the Earth. We must walk strong and walk in our innate knowledge and power…women must wake up this great force they possess and bring the world back to peace and harmony…”
Now we can find our community, trust the yearning in our hearts, and awaken to our deep love for all of life. We can awaken to our creativity, the sacred creativity that we’ve been gifted with.
The one thing that shakes me to my bones is looking into the eyes of my three grandchildren, knowing we’ve made an awful mess of things and wondering what kind of world they will have to live in. What will they face?
We are all mothers and grandmothers to all the world’s children. There isn’t time to worry about whether or not we qualify for the job. All women were made for this. As Joan of Arc said,
“I am not afraid…I was born to do this.”
If you get very quiet and listen to your body, it will lead you. Our bodies know the way.
So gather your community. Trust the yearning in your heart. Move with the Divine Feminine. Wake up this great force within. Hold each other in your hearts. Share the talking stick. Walk and talk your wisdom, loudly and clearly. I am honored to be waking up with you.
You can purchase this book at Shambhala.com