“Our earth home and all forms of life in it are at grave risk. We men have had our turn and made a proper mess of things. We need women to save us.” – Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Prize Winner
In 2004, I headed off to a tiny country town in the Upper Hunter of New South Wales, Australia to study Ryoho Yoga and Zen Shiatsu with Andzej Gospodarcyk and Lisa Foster. During those long, hard three months I learnt things about myself, the human body and our nature, that changed me in a deep and sometimes unsettling way.
I watched on as Andzrej and Lisa ‘miraculously’ cured ailments and broken spirits where Western medical science had shrugged its shoulders. I saw desperate people find good health again and a life-less-ordinary when they thought it was all but over.
I discovered that I could heal myself and that everyone around me could too. And I learnt that things don’t always need to be hard when you approach the issue at hand with care, compassion and commitment. There’s a warning in that statement because there is hard work involved. As I learnt from my time with Andzej and Lisa and the wise souls I came across thereafter, facing the personal demons that have made us sick (whether it be physically, emotionally, spiritually or as humankind) requires a great deal of bravery and dedication.
I left the safety of Andzej and Lisa’s nest and went out into the big wide world to have the big, rich exciting life that Andzrej challenges people to have:
“Why keep doing what you’ve always done?’ he’d ask. “Why go to work to do a job you hate to earn the money to buy a car to drive you to work to do a job you hate to earn the money to buy a car …”
Get the picture? In search of love and adventure I packed up my life and went to live indefinitely in Cape Town, South Africa. It lasted a year and was one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences of my life to date. But I soon caved into my old insecurities, my sense of adventure waned and I found myself back in Australia entangled in the safety net of a responsible job and fast on-track to becoming desperately unfulfilled.
Three years later I woke up one day to find myself broken hearted, dissatisfied with my work, bored by my life choices and perplexed as to how it all went so wrong. In the space of 10 months I’d been through a cancer scare, a pregnancy termination, and the devastating end to a relationship with the man I falsely believed was the love of my life. I had no idea what I wanted other than something better than my current circumstances.
I also felt like a fraud. I hadn’t even found the strength of character to deal with my health issues in a way more congruent with my belief systems. Why? I was scared. I felt I had somehow lost my way. And when I looked at what was happening around me it dawned on me that I wasn’t on my own. The planet was in a state of environmental, political and economic crisis and there were many women (and men) around me who felt the same dissatisfaction, helplessness and despair I did.
With a yearning to find myself and whatever was ‘missing’, I embarked on my own ‘heroine’s journey’. I craved an adventure of self-discovery and a deep exploration into the world of sacred women’s business. I didn’t know exactly what it was that I was seeking, but I knew it had something to do with this thing called ‘the Feminine’.
In the can of worms that Andzrej and Lisa opened all those years ago, I knew (and I’m not sure how) there was a body of wisdom out there that I was hungry to taste. So I temporarily threw in the velvet handcuffs of my well-paid job in the vague hope of finding what it was that I was searching for. Eleven years later, I’m still on that journey.
The Exiled Feminine
For centuries women (and some wise men) have been the keepers of branches of knowledge and practices that bind us. In many ancient traditions these were secret teachings passed on from one generation to the next through myth, storytelling, ritual and customs.
But in more recent history, much of that ancient wisdom has been lost through the forgetting of stories, the breaking of traditional practices and the diminishing of female memory through persecution, lack of understanding borne out of fear, the toxicity of competition and a feeling amongst many women that being a woman is not enough.
In 1987 (perhaps ironically a year before the bi-centenary of white colonisation of Australia), a gathering of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders made the decision to no longer keep the teachings of Aboriginal lore (law) secret from whites. That decision was echoed throughout different indigenous communities and cultures in other parts of the world as it has become painfully obvious that the planet is suffering from the massive scale of humanity’s destructiveness.
In the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu, “our earth home and all forms of life in it are at grave risk. We men have had our turn and made a proper mess of things. We need women to save us.”
So what’s this got to do with women’s business? And what’s it got to do with you and me?
It feels to me like women have lost our place in the world. The men are doing their jobs –making money, building stuff, blowing things up and conquering the world. I’ve learnt that it is our role as women to be the nurturers of family and the environment, the communicators and the peacemakers.
Perhaps it was when they burnt us at the stake for being witches. Or maybe we lost our own way when we decided we wanted to burn our bras and become one of the boys. We fought for the right to vote, to work and pay taxes, but along the way we became sick, self-obsessed and dissatisfied. Now our forests are dwindling, the rivers are running dry and our bodies are becoming increasingly sick and infertile.
And we can’t even find the courage to talk to other women about it.
I believe that we are hurting ourselves, our men and the planet and it’s time for it to stop. We need to take a step back and look at what’s gone wrong. For too long we have let the pendulum swing in favour of the patriarchal masculine structure. But in the midst of a constantly changing world – where the constant threat of economic crisis, wars and environmental devastation looms – it seems that too is collapsing.
The balance between the masculine and feminine, the Yin and Yang, or however you want to look at it is out of kilter. It’s not women’s fault. It’s not men’s fault either. But in all the wise people I’ve spoken to (both men and women), I’ve realised it is women who have the creativity, the strength and the obligation to bring nature back into balance by reclaiming our feminine power. In Andzej Gospodarczyk’s words:
“Communication, relationships, nutrition, family, sex and the environment. These are all the big problems in the world and only women have the common sense to solve them.”
To avoid any confusion from the outset, this is NOT about replacing the patriarchy with the matriarchy, because that won’t work either. It is about restoring the balance between masculine and feminine energies to our world, our relationships and within ourselves.
The question is how? It begins on the level of the individual. To quote beautiful Australian Aboriginal elder and teacher of women’s lore, Minmia:
“You can’t be at peace in the world until you are at peace with yourself. You can’t heal or help heal the world if you are not healing yourself. So part of women’s business is women coming together to work on the healing of themselves with support in many ways.”
Embracing the Tradition of the Red Tent
Back all those centuries ago women came together ‘in circle’ to share their stories, wisdom and support for each other. It’s a tradition that still exists today in Wicca circles and dates back to ancient times when the ‘Red Tent’ was the place where, with the waxing and waning of the moon, women gathered during menstruation. It was where they birthed their children, told their stories, and taught each other how to sew and cook. It was also where they taught each other the secrets of lovemaking and prepared the girls who were coming of age for the rites of sexual initiation.
It was a place where the sacred and everyday collided in the spirit of the Feminine.
And on Sacred Women’s Business …
Sacred Women’s Business <fn> In some Indigenous cultures, ‘sacred women’s business’ refers to the sacred lore/ law that underpins their spiritual beliefs and sacred ceremony. In no way does the name or content of this site wish to offend or undermine the meaning of those sacred beliefs and cultural practices. In fact, we hope we will have the opportunity to learn about many of those beautiful cultures and practices on our journey together.</fn> seeks to restore the tradition of the Red Tent and retrieve the lost wisdom of the Feminine. I’ve sought out extraordinary women who’ve trodden the path in search of the Feminine before me. Through Sacred Women’s Business I share their stories and the wisdom of their traditions in the hope that the sisterhood will take our rightful place in the order of things. Because it is time to heal ourselves, those around us (including our beloved men) and Mother Earth too.
In sharing our stories, we celebrate the collective desire to come together, to learn from each other, and grow through mutual support and understanding. We explore modern themes – like sex, relationships, motherhood, career, health and wellbeing, community, the environment and changing the world – through the filter of story, myth, spirituality, ancient traditions and ritual. In doing so, we give expression to our yearning and what women long for.
And because it starts with the individual, every woman’s journey is going to be different. This is mine and I share it with you in the hope that my curiosity gives you the courage to find your own ‘sheroes’ (she-heroes), teachers and parts of the collective feminine that were left in the ashes of burning bras and witches.
Enjoy your journey, but be warned, it is not one for the faint-hearted