Over a decade ago, my dear friend Birgit and I were sitting on shore of Lake Ontario. At that time, the models I use in my work were being birthed out of me, and in many ways she was my doula through that process. We’d also been using them as we supported each other through some really challenging life passages, so we knew the power of this work. But on this day as we sat together watching the waves lap on the shore, we were reflecting on the pain we could so palpably feel in the lives of men we cared for.
Though we didn’t actually know what it would mean, or how we would enact it, that day beside the lake, the phrase that came to us was “geisha healing of hearts”. Healing as in reintegration; returning to and (re)claiming expression of all the parts of ourselves with an integrity and power that allows for true connection. An experience of mutuality without the need for domination.
Ever since that moment by the lake we have in our personal and professional lives been walking the path of developing, and like geishas in training, exquisitely honing, some essential skills and practices.
We first needed to attend to healing of the damage and subsequent shielding of our own hearts as a result of living in a world where patriarchal thinking, including the notion of safety through domination, and wielding of power over those deemed weaker, has been the water we all swim in.
We needed to develop the self respect and courage to stand powerfully for the vision of possibility we could feel in our bones – even when we didn’t know how to articulate it – and to do this while keeping our hearts open.
As a way of celebrating and anchoring our shared vision and intention, Birgit gifted me with this beautiful wall hanging you may have seen behind me in the videos I’ve shared.
Developing the capacity to stand powerfully in a way that didn’t just compete for part of the limited pie of ‘power over’ is no simple, overnight task.
It’s been easy for many women who have been hurt in countless ways by this system to blame men. Yet as bell hooks says in her book The Will to Change – Men, Masculinity and Love, that’s not a complete picture.
She writes “Men do oppress women. People are hurt by rigid sex role patterns. These two realities coexist. Male oppression of women cannot be excused by the recognition that there are ways men are hurt by rigid sexist roles. Feminist activists should acknowledge that hurt, and work to change it – it exists. … If men are to reclaim the essential goodness of male being, if they are to regain the space of openheartedness and emotional expressiveness that is the foundation of well-being, we must envision alternatives to patriarchal masculinity. We must all change.”
One of the ways this system has stayed in place is the unconsciousness many of us who have been socialized into the system have, of the way these rules still govern most of the systems in our world. To even think of changing them has felt dangerous if not impossible. Yet it’s clear as I noted in my blog The Winds of Change are Blowing … things are changing – people are waking up.
But we have to find a way of doing this differently – we cannot as women simply take on the power mask and bury our emotional selves as men have done for so long. In doing the work of respecting ourselves and stepping out of those deeply engrained patterns of domination and ‘power over’, women (and the brave men who join us) will be the leaders here.
Through our couageous modelling we’ll show those we love the incredible strength it takes to step out of power struggles. Through our own powerful vulnerability, we create a space where it truly is safe for them to be vulnerable. Doing so requires the sensitivity and a skill of a geisha – or perhaps a ballerina might be another more familiar image. Both of these professions require years of training to make something that’s really challenging look beautiful and effortless in its expression, so support and community as we engage these practices is key.
But the connection, creativity, and ‘power with’ we experience as a result is so worth it. And the deeper truth that bell hooks speaks is that “While it is evident that many men are not as willing to explore and follow the path that leads to self-recovery as are women, we cannot journey far if men are left behind. They wield too much power to be simply ignored or forgotten. Those of us who love men do not want to continue our journey without them. We need them beside us because we love them.”
As my husband said this morning as I shared with him what I was writing about “It’s been a worthy journey.” Indeed it has, and the journey continues as we make a difference in our personal lives, and in the wider world.