Every Summer I co-host the annual Wild Women's Gathering with my partner Kiva, deep in a river canyon in the mountains north of Silver City. Form magically follows the energy as feelings are expressed, situations change, and intentions and needs are revealed.
Like everything else in nature, the Wild Women's Gatherings have unfolded according to where we're 'at' and what we hunger for. The wildflowers bursting with color, the shade of the gnarly oaks and the coolness of the water are all unplanned but somehow perfect. The kinds of delicious wild greens we add to our meals depend on what is growing at the time. Wild foods pizza baked over coals on an antique shovel demands and gets our presence, informing us through our eyes, and tongue and nose. A swim in the river planned to get us out of our minds and into our wilder beings becomes the seed for sharing about self-image and shame.
If I'm anxious about how well I do, it's only because I want the women making their pilgrimages here to get the most out of their investment of time. It seems to take a whole day just to slough off the vibe of airports and cars, to still the mind enough to begin noticing where we are in the now! I've been thinking about how there are just so many waking hours in a lifetime, and so few of these are give over to solitude or prayer - or getting together with our sisters. Or soaking up the lessons of the untamed world, dancing and cuddling in the arms of sweet Mother Earth!
When we lived closely with the natural world in tribes that were like big families, self-confidence and self-esteem came a lot more naturally to us. From a young age, we were given responsibilities and challenges that served as rites of passage. Our confidence grew as we learned to haul water and find wood, identify plants for food and medicine, start fires without a match, tend to our sick and enliven the tribal fires with our stories and wholesome enthusiasm. At home in the natural world, we felt a deep connection to all that surrounded us. Even the very real threats (predators, warring tribes, disease) helped give us a sense of the preciousness of our time and lives, and abundant opportunities for heroism.
We all need practice being in the natural world in order to feel at home in our bodies and capabilities. Becoming aware of our strengths and weaknesses in a natural context gives us confidence not based on illusion, but on the reality of our authentic beings. Facing our limitations, we find that even our most frustrating qualities are teaching tools, once we decide to learn from them, and to be as aware of them as possible. True confidence is knowing that what we have to give comes from our hearts and, therefore, is wholesome, real.
In all our relations, confidence grows along with intimacy and capacity. We learn to assess situations quickly and carefully, not jumping to conclusions, but using all of our resources and senses to gain insight and tap our intuition. Is it prayer that is needed, or is it protection from a threat? Is it words or wordlessness? Listen closely enough, and we will hear the instructions of the divine. Surrender to this process enough times, and we gain confidence in our ability to listen, and to act.
The maps list this as the San Francisco River, named after that lover of animals, St. Francis. But to the "Old Ones" it was the Sweet Medicine, and together with the echoing cliffs it both mirrored and amplified truths. Even the ones we don't really want to hear! For tens of thousands of years this bend in the canyon was a ritual centre for the Mogollon people - pithouse and cliff dwellers who needed their own ritual time and focus in order to stay in alignment with their environs. Like us, they used ecstatic dance, solo quests and the heat of the sweat lodge to help keep their pushy left-brains in check!
When Kiva and I decided to call these annual events 'The Wild Women's Gathering', we didn't mean 'wild' as in out of control, or a 'wild party' or whatever. We meant wild like 'authentic, original nature' - moving to the rhythms of a wild, wild world! Being wild is being in touch with our hungers and hurts, needs and desires, moon cycles and life cycles.
The results, if we can even talk about results, have seldom been what anyone expected. One woman remembered what she loved most about her husband, and others have found the strength to seek their dreams alone. Young gals have considered this their rite of passage to empowered adulthood, and my elders have used their time here to accept and 'own' the gifts and responsibilities of elderhood. Self consciousness gives way to the magic, as we're empowered by what we're able to give. And as we so appreciate what each woman gives us in return.
When the swimming and dancing are done, and our tears have soaked into the ground, the songs and laughter of women continues vibrating off of the crimson cliffs. One by one the sisters pack up, and wind their way down the canyon towards their cars. I watch until they are out of sight. And then I bend over to lift and fluff the grass that marked the circle where we had sat.
(Loba and her partners host the Wild Women's Gathering in an ancient place of power in the fabled Gila Mountains of Southwest New Mexico; www.animacenter.org)