What is feminine healing? What is masculine healing? What are the implications of both in modern society? Health, wellness and medicine have been warped by the patriarchy as much as anything else. With emphasis on privacy, privilege and confidentiality, we find ourselves confronting challenges in isolation. We are driven into the shadows when we hurt. We believe it’s our duty to unburden our friends and family by confiding solely in therapists, doctors and healers. Or worse, with no one at all. We believe we must pay to be heard, seen and loved in our pain and grief. We in turn interpret our suffering as ugly, infectious, harmful, shameful. We learn to hide away and protect others from our dis-ease. We internalize the message that our struggle is unwelcome in the public domain. We believe that we will only be accepted by the world when we present with health, wholeness, attractiveness, pleasantries and positivity. The impact of this is different for men and women. Women are already profoundly objectified and taught to carry themselves through public space in a manner that enjoyable to onlookers. That is why women are so often told to ‘smile’ by men in public. Men are conditioned to be ‘tough’ and ‘suck it up’ and ‘walk it off.’ Men are often discouraged from acknowledging pain at all.
Medicine used to be a feminine art, embraced and practiced by men and women alike. Healing used to be a communal practice held in a tribal ceremony. The balancing of harmony and disharmony was understood as the never ending dance of life. Ying and Yang moving in and out of equilibrium with one another. Living in accordance with the seasons being the most effective medicine of all. Honoring the contrasting experiences of ecstasy and despair. Health only being truly appreciated in the temporary suspension of it. The feminine does not detest pain. It gently caresses it, offering loving touch, warmth and closeness. The feminine places a hand on the center of the grieving person’s back to communicate ‘you are not alone.’ The feminine deeply inhales the songs of struggle, letting the sobs move through her in waves. The feminine knows her strength, endurance and power to contain and metabolize the scariest, most threatening emotions. She is the light in the dark. She is not the demon. She is the demon slayer.
I had the recent pleasure of participating in a Winter Grief Retreat with a group of women who represent the global movement Shakti Rising. As a Licensed Mental Health Therapist in 3 states, I was am all too aware of the friction between the deeply entrenched masculine model of healing I’d adopted and this old, other way of healing that I could feel resonating in my bones. Twenty-three women congregated for 3 days to BE IN OUR GRIEF together. This is a Winter Retreat that they recreate every year, honoring the natural drive to turn inward and tend to the inner landscape of the Self in the cold, dark months. That itself, was a revolution. To deliberately carve out time and space to grieve, regularly, around the same time each year, implies that loss, pain and suffering are inevitable parts of being human and deserve consistent attention. (Rather than letting pain build and pile up until life becomes unbearably dysfunctional and help is sought in desperation.) And taking the cues from the body and it’s natural inclinations to slow down, rest in contemplative space and BE rather than DO.
The choice to be seen, heard and held in the midst of this deep inner work was another point of unlearning for me. To come together in trust and love of ourselves and one another was so healing in and of itself. To be painfully vulnerable and exposed as we confronted our betrayals, rejections and resentments. Without uttering a word, we placed our beating, wounded hearts in the hands of strangers, choosing faith over fear. We looked deeply into one another’s eyes, communicating safety, love and acceptance. We did this simply because we’d been offered the choice, the opportunity to take a risk and try something new (but very old). And it worked.
We existed in dual relationships together. Sometimes I was a facilitator. Sometimes I was a participant. Sometimes I was a anchor, other times an inspiration. Lover and loved, speaker and silence, dancer and danced. We seamlessly shapeshifted from one role to another depending on who needed what in any given moment. We trusted the intelligence of the healing process itself, knowing that wherever we were going, however we arrived, we would get there together. We touched. Held hands. Caressed each others hair. We physically leaned on each others shoulders for support. We soothed ourselves in our flesh, by flesh. (Rather than denying the impulse to hug and hold for fear of overstepping a boundary.)
We wailed. We heaved. We exorcised the parts of us that hate our Selves for being watery, emotional, tender creatures. We let ourselves be witnessed, revered and forgiven. We revealed our scars, bruises and fractures, letting the rain and starlight soothe and wash away the stories that no longer serve us. We loved each other in only the way women can love each other. And we healed. We reclaimed our severed parts, we wore them as masks and danced in the dark! We retrieved our souls and made them new, individually and collectively. We were rebellious and outrageously naughty in our rejection of the masculine model. We walked in silent procession through public space unapologetically, claiming our wholeness in our brokenness. We erected symbolic structures to externalize our sorrow and dismantle our inner walls and lay down our inner weapons. We sanctified our suffering and owned it as we transformed poison into power. As we faced our pain, we resurrected the wizdom and tools of our ancestors that saw us through to the end of the journey. We became ONE. And in our healing we healed Mother Earth and all of her children.