Hello Beautiful Community. I want to share some things with you that I am really excited about. As many of you know, In Sacred Balance has been growing into a national organization for the past seven plus years, and we are developing regional communities all across the country. Ann Arbor Michigan is where our roots are, as we did community building here for twenty years before we took the national leap. We have always had a firm commitment to inter-generational community and the Ann Arbor regional circle boasts the oldest and youngest members of our national community. The depth and breadth of our intergenerational family is something I am very proud of and I want to offer a little glimpse into how we roll, specifically with regard to our youth programming.
This past weekend we held a very special event that was co produced by one of our youngest community members, Nyah Selassie. If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook you will have likely seen the story of this most recent unfolding adventure: Mama’s Market. Nyah went to high school (just graduated a few days ago) at our public open school here in Ann Arbor, Community High. Because of this, she was able to do two Community Resource classes with me, her In Sacred Balance mama/mentor, and actually get credit toward graduation for these classes. WHAT A BLAST, and what a gift.
Mama’s Market was a final project for a math credit in which Nyah was challenging capitalism and organizing an event that put the “Market” back into the hands of the nurturers…all of the artists and healers were women and girls, between the ages of 13 and 54, (the majority Women of Color) who make our own creations: clothing, medicine, jewelry, magical tools, art, menstrual supplies, or provide healing service…with our own hands and with integrity. At eighteen, Nyah learned about everything that goes into producing such an event, and she held down the role of Mistress of Ceremonies, greeting people, introducing them, offering refreshments, orienting them to the lay of the land, and she did so beautifully as our magnificent day wore on.
(Above: Nyah holding down the fort.)
Nyah has also been my intern/assistant for Diana Circle, our teen girls group centered on magical feminism, for the past year. (We have Diana Circle chapters in Ann Arbor and Philly, contact us at info@insacredbalance for more info, if you are curious.) She has been a tremendous asset to our circle and truly deepened her relationship with the younger girls, taking on a sort of older sister role and offering so much support and wisdom. It is really remarkable to watch these relationships deepen in a spirit of affirmation, respect, and support…this in and of itself has a dismantling impact on patriarchy!
Over the past couple of months, Diana Circle has been intermittently studying Red Tent teachings. Focusing on ancient, more compassionate, cultural models, these teachings offer a body positive, self loving, orientation to change and our fertility/menstrual cycle. This tends to put us more at ease with the cyclical nature of life on earth. In this way the teachings expose destructive beliefs we are steeped in, often unknowingly, and they help move us toward an overall dismantling of internalized misogyny. HELL YES.
During the course of this study, we decided to create some “products” that could bring these teachings, of self respect and alignment with the rhythms of nature, to the wider world. We wanted the products to be able to serve as a springboard for important conversations, as well as send people off with tools that support deeper intimacy with the natural world and a life style based on greater self respect.
We made many things (so stay with the post to glimpse more of them), but I’ll start with the Red Tent accoutrements that are perhaps least common or comfortable to talk about: truly beautiful, and super soft, reusable cloth menstrual pads….(here are the girls working on them in circle)
Nyah and Addy tracing away…(above) and Maya, who kept us on track and productive 😉 during circle time (below).
…and there’s the finished product.
Because, misogyny teaches us that our fertility cycles should be hidden, and that our menstrual blood is dirty, we are challenging, not only these beliefs, but the actions and consequences that are a result of such beliefs, as well as the impact they impose on the earth. The unexamined belief that menstruation is gross, and that interaction with it, even the mention of it, should be avoided at all costs, promotes the use of often toxic, and always costly, “feminine hygiene” products. Most of us don’t consider the impact on our bodies of using such products, we are trained to be less than kind to ourselves, nor do we consider the immense burden these products place on the earth (you know…the mama planet that generously provides us with everything we need to thrive), but we should. These habits of consumption, and expense, set us up to generate hundreds of TONS of “feminine hygiene” waste that ends up in the oceans and/or land fills and further poisons/stresses our mama planet. Tons and tons of “waste” that not only places a burden on our wallets, but will remain sealed forever in the endless space that landfills take up on the planet, or drifting at sea, places that should be treated as holy.
In original societies, ones that are based on respect for the nurturer, as opposed to unconscious admiration/adoration of the conqueror, our bodily cycles and processes, especially those that have the capacity to create life itself, are seen as sacred, not shameful. Only some ideologies see menstruation as “evidence of due punishment for our role, as women (or menstruating beings), in humanity’s fall from grace”. UM….HELLO! No. Thank. You.
Many Native women I have known and studied with over the years have spoken of the way that a return to respectful practices with our menstrual blood is a short cut, and a sure fire way, to expedite the mending of our relationship with the earth. This makes visceral sense to me, but it requires a rethinking, and reimagining, of our practices and habits. These pads are only one way to catch your flow that does not bring harm to your body, or the earth…there are others. Diana circle is opening up the conversation, we ask that you please choose one/some less wasteful means and return to seeing your ability to bleed as the sacrament that it is.
We created little info inserts with the pads that help people understand the importance of this practice.
Moving into perhaps the more fun and/or accessible Red Tent accouterments we conjured up…we also made this lovely herbal, nutritive tea…
..and luminaries that came directly from shamanic dream entry work with the girls. In one of our weekly meetings, we centered the question “What offerings/products should we make that will help us share the most important teachings?” Nora, an amazing fourteen year old member of Diana Circle, had a beautiful experience that informed this next offering…
“In the dream she sees herself standing at the vast seashore as the sun is setting and a beautiful dusk is setting in. As she stands taking in the beauty, there is a pivotal moment between day and night when the magic is palpable in the air. At this moment she raises her arms in a sweeping motion and a long line of candles, running along the shore line in both directions, are spontaneously lit.”
Of course, as Nora told the rest of us her story, we all could see not only the environment she described to us, but her, standing there emanating that stunning magic. From this experience, and through collaboration, came the Ocean Goddess luminaries that celebrate an iteration of the West African Mother of the Ocean, Yemaya.
What a beautiful process!
There is a particular power in dreaming together. It is a process that allows us to open our hearts not only to each other in magical collaboration, but to the infinite possibility that is available to us as we dream. This process is not new to the world, nor is it unique to us. All traditional societies (and by traditional I mean nature-based) honored the process of direct communion with a power greater than us as necessary to keeping us silly humans on track. It’s called humility. Resurfacing and centering dreaming practice in the throes of modern society is a form of Sacred Activism. Providing sanctuary for our youth to stay connected to this natural inclination is one of the things that may actually hold the power to redirect our reckless course. We all need guidance and it is consistently available to us if we pause long enough to recognize that.
One very central part of our Red Tent study, around which most of it revolved, was the moon. Of course, as we looked to the history of menstruation and woman loving societies, we invariably kept coming back to the moon. Humanity has a long history of a love affair with the moon, and the moon has an innate impact on our bodies and psyches, no matter how we may sometimes forget. It was magical and evocative to read from countless books and have many meaningful discussions about what it had been, and can be, to live in greater awareness of, and respect for, our relationship with the natural world. Our bodies and our experiences of life, contrary to modern opinion, are not separate from the earth, the tides, or the seasons.
If the over culture demonstrated respect for the fact that we are all, by nature, cyclical beings, and that this is a cyclical planet, how different would our lives look? How much less violent would the expectations of just our schedules be?
These are big and essential questions, and while it felt right to explore them, theoretically, and cosmologically, ultimately we wanted to also DO something with this knowledge that could help bring about the necessary shifts in consciousness, and practice, we want to see in the world. We just kept plugging away at creating things, that people could hold, use, smell, celebrate, ingest, and be impacted by, one week at a time. These magical “products” are the place where the Diana Circle study and Nyah’s community resource class intersected and the rubber met the road, and this lunar mood charting system might just be my favorite!
As the moon was so central to everything we read and learned about right relationship with our bodies, and our time on earth in general, we wanted to make something to help bring people closer to the moon. So we built on an idea of a founding mama of the feminist spirituality movement in the US, Shekhinah Mountainwater, (now passed) and made these Closer to the Moon – Lunar Mood Charting Systems. We are SO excited about them, and really excited to share them with the world as we trust in their power to slow us down, help us remember a state of awe over the beauty in the world and, from that place of greater calm, help us make better choices about the world we share.
I’m going to show you the art, and the process as it unfolded, but I want to introduce you to Addy, our newest member to this generation of Diana Circle here in Ann Arbor. It was suggested that she had a knack for visual arts and that she could “whip somethings up” for the center of our lunar charts, but..Oh.My.God….who knew?! Here are a just a few examples of the outstanding original art that she contributed to the “moon wheels” as we have come to affectionately call them….
…and here’s what they look like as Maro, our super competent and generous graphic designer, helps us format them to serve their magical role of conveying the essence of the four seasons as the moon goes through her paces.
We are in love with this tool, and so it would seem, is everyone else who sees it. As we progressed through the many dreaming, brainstorming, and working sessions it became really clear to us that, while we originally envisioned these wheels helping folks chart their menstrual/fertility cycles, ultimately we wanted to welcome community members of all shapes, sizes, ages, and gender orientations into deeper relationship with the earth, the moon, and self love. So that’s what we are doing. We have created a system that is a beautiful both/and…anyone can use the wheels (as well as the symbols and instructions we provide) to chart their cyclical moods, feelings, and experiences across the arc of lunar cycles and the year, and, folks who menstruate can chart that as well. One of the mama’s who bought the kit plans to do the charting with her daughter, with different colored pens. What a fun way to deepen intimacy!
Here’s Addy (left, at thirteen!), and Nora (right, at fourteen), holding down the table on the day of Mama’s Market.
Please don’t EVER tell me that our children are not brilliant beyond compare; just look at them, and perhaps more importantly, look at their brave and outstanding contributions to the world they want to see.
In the end, round one of Mama’s Market was a huge success. All of the artists and healers had a chance to exchange gifts with each other, and do reasonably well with sales. Even more than that though, we created a climate, a climate in which we were all celebrated, honored, and held up for exactly who we are…a climate of love, generosity, community, and hope.
Zerah Hernandez and her beautiful crochet wear.
Jess Kilbourn doing her fabulous massage!
Jahmanna Selassie (right, midwife and healer) with her radical well being products, standing with our beloved bear, and aforementioned endlessly helpful graphic designer, Maro Beauchamp (left.)
Maro presiding over the tapestries and original paintings of Lia Rose. (My beautiful oldest daughter who was sadly home sick.)
The current generation of Ann Arbor Diana Circle, Nora, Addy, and Maya…for whom I would give my very life.
For that small window in time we embodied the village we wish to be and I personally believe that this is how we change the world…by stringing together more and more moments where we are living as we are meant to. When we remember that simple truth, it makes the changes we know we need to make in the world feel a hundred time more accessible. And when in doubt…just sing…here is a little clip of an original song that Diana Circle birthed during our creative process. We hope it keeps you humming.
Chin up people, the future is BRILLIANT, and we got this!