I am admittedly a humanist with feminist leanings. The walking stick pictured in the above banner photo has a little piece of rubber nailed to the end. The man who crafted it chortled “It’s from a high heel. So when you reach the top of the mountain, it will look like you climbed it in high heels.” Indeed!
I am also a black belt who has trained women and children to become black belts themselves. To face their fears, master their bodies, minds and emotions, then use their powers for good. Today’s unfolding news story about three women kidnapped and kept as sexual slaves in a Cleveland house for a decade is so…
Words fail me.
Just this week, I have been in several conversations primarily with women in various social circles that have demonstrated just how unhealthy the societal division between men and women in some arenas has become. In one case, a Native American woman shared that at some large powwow’s that her singing group takes part in, women are prohibited from playing the big drums. Even though women and men traditionally shared in playing of ceremonial drums until the 1970’s. But now there is animosity in some circles. A small thing, you might say. How does that affect me?
At a business meeting with other women healers, the massage therapists shared stories of men who had scheduled appointments for therapeutic massage, then demanded sexual acts. This had happened to me three times in my own practice, and two of the men had wives that were my clients as well! The third was a man who called and asked for an appointment related to a sports injury. He said he was a martial artist, so we talked about that brief connection and I agreed to taking him on as a client. Halfway through the massage, he asked “So what does what you’re doing have to do with sex?” “Nothing at all” I replied. I was stunned that someone I considered a peer would consider me a prostitute.
An article on today’s BBC website “Why are Indian Women Being Attacked on Social Media?” tells of female journalists in India who are silencing their voices as a result of threats of gang rape and other forms of violence in response to their writings. The authorities they contacted responded that women’s opinions do not need to be broadcast over social media to begin with. We in the U.S. know how far ahead of the world we are when it comes to equal rights, and yet even I hesitated before writing this blog.
In her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, author and consummate businesswoman, Sheryl Sandberg, is currently COO of Facebook, and a former VP at Google and Chief of Staff at the United States Treasury Department. She states “I am fine applying the word ‘powerful’ to other women – the more the better – but I still shake my head in denial when it is applied to me. The nagging voice in the back of my head reminds me, as it did in business school, “Don’t flaunt your success, or even let people know about your success. If you do, people won’t like you.’” Sheryl admits that writing this book came in response to the philosophical question “What would you do if you were not afraid?”
Women’s fears span the range from fear of retaliation for being too successful at work, to sexual harassment on the internet, to outright sexual abuse. These fears are pervasive and often based on direct experience. I can count on both hands the number of girlfriends or female relatives who have been sexually assaulted, and I admire the courage they have shown in moving forward in life. However, as I taught my martial arts students, our biggest attacker in life is the imaginary one within ourselves. Once we learn to stand up to imagined fears, and real opponents, we take back our power and can use that power for good. My challenge to you, as to myself, comes through the answering of this question:
What can I do to heal the wounds between women and men?
One symbolic effort I made today was to build a rock garden in the shape of a peace sign. In it I will plant medicinal herbs that symbolize healing between the minds, bodies, and hearts of all men and women. It may not be pretty right now, but someday it will be beautiful.
Another way is to appreciate the wonderful, strong, caring, and conscious men in my life. Everyone from the boy who bags my groceries and offers to carry them to the car, to the road crews who clear away debris and build safe roads. From the playful dance partner who knows how much I like to twirl, to the roofer who scaled tall ladders to patch the holes in the attic. From my father who worked ceaselessly to ensure the best for me, my mother and sisters; to my son who thanked me recently for raising him.
Additionally, I have been reading books, going to workshops, and listening to tele-seminars on building better relationships between the sexes. It all started when I realized the way I’d been viewing my past relationships with men, and wanting to better my relationships in the future. The change has to begin with me. We can turn our paradigms around. This true story is one that will go into my memoir. It demonstrates how we can turn fear into real power.
The Feather A few days after Christmas, I got a call from a stranger, a trucker with a painful backache who was in town visiting his family. I had scheduled my own family time between Christmas and New Years, but something in his voice made me say “Yes, meet me at my office around 7:00 pm.” It was snowing out, and no one else was in the building that week. As I massaged the knots out of his back, he asked me how I got the name for my business.
Years earlier, when my dreams for my own business were only in my head, I ran through many names for my practice, but nothing resonated. One day, I was to join a white water rafting group at Letchwork State Park. Leaving home around 4 am, I arrived at the park but could not find my group anywhere. Eventually, the Park Ranger told me the trip had been cancelled due to low water levels! Boy, was I pissed! But then I chose to consciously change my mood from foul to positive. I ate my sandwich in the cold, sitting on the stone wall overlooking the gorge. At that precise moment, fall leaves were spiraling down into the gorge while simultaneously, turkey vultures were catching the updraft and spiraling upwards. This was like witnessing a double helix – life itself! “Soaring Turkey Vulture”, I mused. “Soaring Hawk” sounded better. “Soaring Eagle” that’s it!
A few days later, I stumbled across a book in a book store “Animal Speak”, which describes the eagle as the most powerful of Native American healers – able to see past, present and future all in the same instant. Fast forward several years to the trucker with the sore back. After my story and his massage were over, he said “Wait here. I’ll be right back”. My mind went into fear mode – it’s dark outside, no one knows I’m here, we’re alone in this old building and he knows it. I intuitively flashed on him coming back upstairs with an object shaped like a large hunting knife, but still hesitated about calling 911. Then he returned. “My friend, a Lakota Sioux medicine man, gave me this Golden Eagle feather, and it’s been riding with me in my truck for years. But now I know it’s meant for you.” I was stunned at his sincerity, the gift and the sacred meaning behind it.
For the next three days, I lived with the feather, knowing that it was of high spiritual importance. Should I put it in a box or display it on the wall? I decided to give it to someone who would honor its medicine. Early in the next morning, I drove to Mike and Pam’s house. Mike is an Algonquin medicine man trained by the great Seneca Chief, Mad Bear. I had used my massage skills to help to deliver their child and was welcomed into their tight-knit circle of friends. As I presented the feather to Mike, I told the story of how it came to find me, and said that my intention was that it be used to heal the wounds between men and women, and between Natives and non-Natives. He thoughtfully stroked the feather and said that it held great power, and that he would use it tell my story and for healing.
It didn’t occur to me until later on that the date was January 1, 2000 – the start of a new millennium! A year or so later, at one of his community talks, Mike did what he promised – used the Golden Eagle’s beautiful offering to smudge and bless the participants, then retold my story of the trucker passing through, and the powerful lesson of turning fear into healing.
Think: What stories do you have to tell about a difficult experiences with the opposite sex?
Say: Write one story down as you remember it, the way you always tell it. Now look for the gift. Was there at least one positive outcome from this situation? How can you help someone else through the benefit of your experience?
Do: Tell your story to someone you admire. Or, share it here or in a blog of your own. Use your voice!