Sunday, February 3, 2013

Beauty: A Delicate Force Spinning Its Strands As a Spiritual Discipline- A Women's Day Retreat

Sunday morning, hair akimbo, coffee in my hands.

I keep repeating the third essential prayer in Anne Lamott's book:  "Help, Thanks, Wow".


My three sewing machines are out of place-  parked just inside the back door, alongside of a tub or two of fabric, a tin of buttons, and a suitcase with a few bags left inside of it.  My sewing room floor is still scattered with bits and scraps from the sewing and prepping, packing and fussing.

The retreat is over.  The presentation and workshops are behind me now.  And though I am filled up entirely from the very top of my most Joyce-ed-ness to the very bottom, I am strangely at a loss for words.

How can I describe for you the house; with its yellow paint, windy staircase, wooden floors, coloured glass?  How can I give justice to the piece they call "The cabin"- the scattered rugs, rows of marvelously incongruent chairs, wood fire burning, deep burgandy couches, wooden piano, rows of books, curvey coffee table, candles burning?  Or the kitchen, richly infused with coffee bean grinding, red glass suspended in sunlight, that orange chair, the bowl of apples?

How could I possibly give adequate descriptors to the women who filled these spaces?  Silver hair and shining eyes, auburn mother with babes at home and the one she carries inside her.  Long legs, slender.  Shorter, rounder.  Retired; just starting.  Socks and sweaters, skirts.  Fitted, flowing.  Tight, taute-  sick.  Dying.  Mother, grandmother, soccer player, writer.

And so, we began with silence.  Allowing it to fill and expand us, pushing us past the relentless urge to do and say, and into the reflective grace of quiet.  Together.

The first presenter brought me back to my own beginning.  A little church in a prairie field.  The youth group we once shared.  The centuries that had since passed.  And in the cabin on a cold, cold winter's day, the strange redemption that began to unfold as I heard her speak so eloquently, with such passion, and on the topic she couldn't have known was ever on my heart and mind, the one that raged and waned, ebbed and flowed within me.

“Threads that Bind Us; Unraveling Societal Female Beauty Standards".

I was spellbound as she led us through hundreds of years of history on perceptions and demands that popular culture has imposed on its female population.  Its mothers and lovers and daughters.  How our rates of depression have risen while billboards demand that our thighs and waists decrease and our bosoms increase.  I felt strangely vindicated, as though I couldn't bear full responsibility for my own lifetime of obsession, disgust, starving.....  I felt like I had found some kindred spirits who weren't hoping for a pedicure after lunch, or a three tiered sales pitch on miracle creams to make all that nasty badness go away.  I felt a solidarity, a happy collusion- I rose my glass, and joined a pact to use my voice,- yes, and my body to preach a different gospel.  One of redemption and beauty and power, and not of "not-enough-ness" whose tune had grated me for oh so long.

All that before lunch.
All that before I led my workshop to a group of inquisitive, interested women who wrapped themselves in the layers of my "break the rules" sewing circle.  Our needles and voices rose and fell.  With hands busy creating and redeeming these swatches that nobody wanted, there was no awkward effort in getting to know one another or soothing that itch to find a conversation.  It found us in exactly the places that we were and invited us to embrace what was, who we were, where we found ourselves, where we might yet be going.

It isn't often lately that I forget to eat, but if it weren't for the smell of fresh coffee brewing, and the sounds of women setting out cheese and dips, salads and sandwhiches, tall glasses of cool water infused with lemon and lime... I could have happily gone through my day feasting on the richness of my berninas whirring.

But the coffee was rich, and there were a myriad of coloured felt balls in bowls on the table- the fruit of another labour in a workshop I wished I'd been to.  Skeins of wool in decadant dyes.

There were songs and poems.  Laughter and silence.  Readings, spoken words of wisdom.

And then the presentation I'd laboured and birthed.
It was everything you said it would be- a reception for the story that has written itself, in all its miracles and redemptions, generosity and stories.  And then the threads that wove my story into Val's rendition of women and their bodies, the redefinition of beauty, the constant practise of
Construction, Deconstruction.... Reconstruction.

I couldn't have been more happy, more entirely "joyce", and yet simultaneously lifted way above myself into something so reverent, and beautiful, and Holy.

There was oppurtunity for walks, and yoga, silence, and naps.  Felting wool balls, learning how to knit.  And I wanted it all, but found myself nesting upstairs with my berninas and my inspired new seamstresses, pushing the limits of what I thought might be possible to complete in one singular day.  It was endlessly gratifying to notice how they took my stacks and combined them in ways I hadn't seen myself.  How they were curious about corners, and linings, pockets and straps.  How we continuously lost ourselves while simultaneously being found.

We had to be prodded down the stairs, lured by the smells of rices and dahl, green beans and spicy dishes.  Cake.  Wine.  Coffee.

And even more fullness as we once again convened in the cabin, summing up our day in single words while we passed an empty bowl around the circle of women.  We wept at the death of a local woman, who courageously lived out her cancerous life, losing every piece of her physical femininity, and yet remaining intact- loved, celebrated, beautiful in ways that our bodies couldn't possibly show.  We laughed through a one woman monologue depicting the reality of sitting through one of those horrible home parties where your physical flaws are enunciated for the express purpose of selling you the product to make it all better- to make you happy, whole, unblemished.  We toasted to hair, and dimples, real breasts and fleshy thighs.

I felt like I'd come home.
I wanted it to last forever.

And in ways, I think it will.  I will carry this with me, in my pocket, in my days of monotony and "if only's".  I will know that its okay to raise my voice, swim upstream, love "even though".  In bits and pieces, I will recall those women with their beautiful hair, their creative clothing, their songs and poems, silences and laughter.  These women who do not hide their essentials selves.  I will seek them out, and fashion my life in ways that give permission to others, as I'd enjoyed that same permission on that glorious, glorious Saturday in the coldest Canadian prairie winter.

A week ago, I prayed for HELP.  And you did.  You e-mailed and messaged and commented.  You rallied and believed.  You gave these gifts of assurance and assured me kicking and screaming and whining right into

And best of all,


brenda said...

This "retreat" reminds me so much of the book The Red Tent (if you haven't read it, you must!). The red tent, in biblical times, was the place where women retreated to when they were in the midst of their cycles, together. Only women were allowed in here as it was an "unclean" environment for men. I can't help but believe that the women of a tribe likely pined for the Red Tent days for this is where they encouraged each other and nurtured their souls. We definately need to re-establish the Red Tent. Us girls need each other!

Schwester Laura said...


Periwinkle Dzyns said...

lovely, thank you

janice said...

Lovely description, lovely day. I want to go.

Judy said...

Wow is right.
I've given up hope on ever finding such a thing.
What a blessing.

JessieJane said...

I saw a lady on the bus today with one of your bags. Made me smile knowing she helped because of you.

Keep up the amazing work.