A School For Womanly Arts and a Series of Mini-Lessons on Womanly Love

Gathering with women is essentially a love fest. Not for all women, but it has always been so for me. Coming off a 2-Day dive with Mama Gena and over 2200 women who gathered for her School for Womanly Arts Weekend called The Experience here in New York City, I feel raw, exhausted, moved, inspired, powerful, grateful, and so so so much love. The weekend was full of mini-lessons and big dissertations on what it means to be and act in the world when the divine feminine takes the reins. For me, some of these lessons started during childhood, while others were painful conclusions after many years of confusion and self-doubt that are the by-product of navigating a treacherous ocean of white-supremacy, patriarchy, anti-blackness and misogyny. There are still many lessons that I have yet to fully integrate into my sense of truth about being a woman. Yet this post is a sharing of feminine insights that arose for me as a result of participating in The Experience with five friends.

Love Lesson 1: Take every opportunity to thank the first Goddess, your Mama.

The Experience included many participants who were inspiring examples of wise motherhood. One moment provoked an eruption of applause when a mother shared taking pride in not making her daughter feel shameful about masturbating and finding pleasure in autoeroticism. The too frequent association of self-pleasure with shame can be deeply destructive toward a girl’s holistic development. There was gratitude and revelation in the air with the knowing some girls in this world will bypass years of unsatisfying sex and perhaps therapy, too, because of loving mothers.

My growth from girlhood to womanhood has been metered by the womanly wisdom of an exquisite Mother Goddess as well: Mary McCreary. The entire Womanly Arts weekend caused a recurring loop of childhood and adolescent memories to play in my heart and mind: memories of having a mother who modeled being guided by her powerfully wise woman’s intuition, aka”pussy power”, as Mama Gena would call it. Starting as a toddler, I observed the measurable distinction between the choices that my mother made (the most devoted advocate and nurturer of my life) and how they were infinitely more generous, kind, powerful, and wise than any other adult’s, such that my life and my own sense of agency was consistently enhanced by her choices for me or those choices she supported me to make for myself. This is so true that as a kid I grew superstitious about how not listening to my mother would always prove to bring doom. It was bizarre, but so measurably true that when I refused to heed my mother’s words, I always regretted it. Of course this superstitiousness was enhanced by the very obvious superpowers that my mom did possess: an ability to cook daily meals for a family of six before the days of microwavable food, clean the house, prepare her four children for school (and with black girls that often meant, washing, pressing (until we got relaxers), and styling our hair) and a gazillion daily extra-curricular activities, help with homework and school projects, manage finances and envision empowered educational futures, AND work full-time after returning from maternity leave for each of us. Were there days when my hair wasn’t perfect, or my project was completed last minute, or her temper was short? Oh, but yes. Nonetheless, the daily feats that were accomplished under such great odds were nothing short of marvelous. Dear Goddess Mama, I thank you and the incredible power you possess to make life a grand and livable one.

Love Lesson 2: Distinguish and assume your womanly role in the lives of girls and adolescents as a guardian whether you’re childfree or a mother.

The Experience created many opportunities for women to recognize the impressionable role we can play in the lives of all girls and women. From the time I was small, I experienced my mother “get out of my way” and simply play the role of being the guardian of my life experience, rather than be the dictator of my day-to-day life in the way that many children experience, as if pawns in a game of chess played by their adult “care-givers”. A perfect example of this was my mom’s educational advocacy. Starting from age 2, when I started preschool at Family Montessori School in Milwaukee in the 70s, long before UPK was even a notion, I can remember the priority she made to start me off with what she considered an excellent education as early as possible. She shares today that she instinctively understood that the seeds of curiosity that would be planted and watered by the Montessori School philosophy would last a lifetime, and support my cultivation of a sense of wonder and exploration in my approach to life and all things. My mother attuned to my interests and strengths and used them as a guide, demonstrating that she trusted me, my own instincts and will, even as a little girl, to experience a life that was my own, not an extension of hers. One memory I have of this was when I was quite little. My mother would watch me walk with “turned-out” feet, as dancers call it, and she realized that that was her clue to follow through on enrolling me into ballet class. I think of this often when I hear parents discuss enrolling their kids into ballet more/less because, well, that’s what they are “supposed to do” as a measure of status that could determine a child’s future prospects for college, etc. Where’s the joy or pleasure for a girl in doing what she’s supposed to do? I am so grateful for all the ways that my mother responded to the clues I gave about the kind of human being that I might evolve into, rather than deciding in advance for me the kind she wanted me to become.

Lesson 3: Teach girls to discern and heed the magical wisdom of women.

All women recognize the magic in other women, yet the shadow side of women being mysteriously powerful shows up in relationship as the misogynistic tendency to doubt and tear down the value and estimable triumphs that women achieve daily. One of the biggest gifts a woman can give a girl is training in how to discern another woman’s beauty, her intelligence and grace, and to heed her, celebrate her, and be her ally. This gift seals the bond of sisterhood among women from an early age, and limits the destructive impact that the hatred and fear of women can make. My mother tells a funny story about how I came to be potty-trained that illustrates an early respect I had for her. When I was about two-years old, my mom and I were in the backyard while she spent the afternoon gardening. At some point, her instincts told her to turn around to see what I was up to, after an unusually long stretch of silence from my direction. Her gaze fell on my two-year self squatting with my pants down and in the process of doing “number 2” in the dirt. (Ha! Though not socially acceptable, clearly this was evidence of my intelligence!) Out of shock she chuckled and walked over to me, squatted down to my level and looked me steadily in the eye and as if casting a spell pronounced, “Crystal, we do not use the bathroom in the backyard. We use the toilet. When you have to use the bathroom, you go to the toilet upstairs. Do you understand me?” After I nodded, she continued, “Now you right upstairs, and then finish your number 2 on toilet.” I followed her directions without protest, and just like that I was potty-trained. I never made another mess or had to be told how to use the bathroom again! This is a true story. What I love is what it reveals about my girl-self’s capacity to perceive my mother’s power and wisdom, and listen without resistance. My mother reflects on how astonishing it was that I simply listened and followed sensible directions the way I did, and shares how grateful she always was that she was gifted with children that listened. Yet, today, I desire to give credit where credit is due. My mother has always paid close attention to me, what I’m doing, who I am, what I need, and she responds with words and action inspired by a loving, nurturing spirit. I imagine that it might be an easier task for any girl to follow through and be her best self when her mother is an attentive and powerful role model.

Lesson 4: Inspire adolescent girls on a path to personal liberation and agency in relationships and in the world.

It is notable that in the 90s, many of my college peers were still being encouraged by their mother’s to find the “prized possession” of a husband during college. Though decades had passed since the women’s liberation movement began, some of these same peers did find husbands as early as 22 (!). In contrast, I found more interest in studying abroad in Paris, or doing an internship at Sony Music in NYC or at the Schomburg Research Center for Black Culture in Harlem, or working abroad in Korea as a means for an Asian adventure and to become debt free. In other words, my mother and my all girls education instilled the value of mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual growth, and a commitment to the kind of life-long learning that would enrich my sense of personal freedom and empower me to live a life that I loved. Whether that included a husband or not was insubstantial to the notion of being truly free. In 2018, I recognize that my careers in education, as an actor, a yoga educator, and the globe-trotting joyful life of my own choosing is literally a result of the sacrifices, the suffering endured by my ancestors from slavery through the Civil Rights movement as well as the feminist liberation movement. We are witnessing the renaissance of these movements today because the issues at stake at the heart of each remain yet unresolved. Social injustice continues to permeate the fabric of all our lives. The most invaluable gift of my evolution into womanhood is the fact that today, in these deeply disconcerting times, I feel confident in the knowledge that the social, emotional and intellectual education that I’ve been empowered by has given me the perfect tools to navigate my personal challenges, as well as those we face as a country today. Though I may not be able to change the systems at cause for institutionalized suffering, I am consistently confident that discerning choices and my life experience toolkit can impact my environment and the way I feel for the better.

Lesson 5: Be a model of the intrinsic value of every woman’s self-worth.

When I was younger, I can remember my mother telling me not to worry about a “finding a man” because the right one would show up when I might truly desire one, and when he was ready for a woman like me. I vaguely assumed all girls had these such talks with their moms, and I look back decades later and instead see a boldly nontraditional view that did not place a status-building relationship with a man or the economic flexibility often created by marriage above all else. Most importantly, in my household, being in a relationship or married were never measures to determine my womanly value. Alternately the message I got from my mother was the deeply entrenched value of feeling free to be wholly me, and that a man should embrace that fullness and add to it and my life. The idea of shrinking, getting smaller, feigning mediocracy, or getting stuck in another person’s version of what life should feel like and look like has never sat well with me. And yet, sometimes despite my best efforts, I have found myself tied to men who drain the heck out of my energy rather than invigorate my capacity for greatness. My ultimate refusal (even if reluctant at first) to contort myself into a version of myself that the man or relationship seemed to require, and compromise my sense of freedom, self-expression, vitality, capacity to be loving or open-minded would be the nail in the coffin of those relationships, every time. The priceless lesson sourced from those fragmented relationships and my mother’s early talks about boys was an intimate understanding that seed of my potential lies in fully embracing the intrinsic nature of my self-worth and that feeling complete does not come from gaining another’s approval or achieving extrinsic rewards. Mama Gena compelled us during The Experience to prioritize pleasure, joy and love in our lives, arguing that a woman’s sense of wholeness and empowerment is directly connected to these, not necessarily a relationship, job or achievement by default. Thank you Mama Gena and the women present at The Experience Fall 2018 for the reminder to go forth boldly in my pursuit for all my heart, soul, and pussy’s desires.

Love Lesson 6: Bask as often as possible in the sweet company of women.

At The Experience, I was struck over and over again by the might and magic of women. At one point, Mama Gena asked every woman who had been sexually abused or assaulted in the hall to stand. When I looked around the auditorium, I was nearly thrown off kilter when I saw how few occupied seats there were in the house. She then asked everyone in the room who stood to make the sound of their pain from the(se) incident(s). The collective wailing that ensued hit me in the gut and caused an age of mourning and sobbing. The energy that got released in those next few moments was the uncorking of an untapped source of womanly power that if harnessed, could literally send a rocket to the moon. Full stop.

During The Experience, if measured, I’m certain the electromagnetic output from my body would have proved vibrationally higher than normal for simply being in the company of women expressing their fullest versions of themselves: as playful, pleasure-seeking, nurturing, supportive, connected, magical, liberated, powerful, honest, gutsy, intuitive, trusting, and fearless badasses.  This group of again, over 2200 women, felt at times as if it were one collective mind, one collective organism, observing, experiencing and celebrating each other’s capacity to release the muck that’s been holding us back and move into spaces within our own bodies, minds and hearts that have become alien to us. We were sublime, and I will never forget it. In spaces like The Experience, there is no room for women to play small, or to put down other women because the collective amnesia caused by the patriarchy is not present in such spaces. With each other, we are connected to our true source. With each other, we can practice being our fullest selves, even if only momentarily free from pain and damage done to us (and men) by the messaging we are programmed with from birth about the supremacy of men (and in particular white men) from families, communities, schools, media, and culture. For this, and for the great excess of suffering seen in our world today caused by the patriarchal world culture, I charge all of us to bask as often as possible in the sweet company of women.