Friday, October 1, 2010

Omega Institute - 2010

The journeys of life are amazing, as this past year is most definite in my own life. This past weekend was the candle on the very awesome cupcake of this past year as it seemed to hug all the experiences I’ve blogged about so far, grab my doubts in for a squeeze, and plant a big fat kiss of encouragement to grab life by the ovaries and sail forth.

When I applied for Omega ( in Spring 2010, I thought it would be a cool experience. In the midst of my final semester of undergrad, I forgot all about it. After I came back from Feminist Boot Camp, I saw an email that I was granted a full scholarship to attend. Sweet! I get to hang out with Amy Richards again, see Zainab Salbi who changed my life 3 years ago ( and check out Ani DiFranco finally!

It wasn’t until the Tuesday before I was to leave that I digested fully the website. I couldn’t contain the excitement and stayed up way too late completely amped to be a part of this. If I knew beforehand the women I was going to meet and the amazing work they do, I don’t think I would have slept all week.

The greatest experiences of life are not only the direct experience, but also of the periphery experiences that come along for the ride. The universe was chock full of messages throughout all experiences so first, the conference details.

The congregation of women speakers was amazing. Friday night’s lineup began with Carla Goldstein who heads the Women’s Institute at Omega and Lateefa Simon who I instantly LOVED. The way she spoke was reminiscent of spoken words artists I love. She had the great task of introducing all of the speakers throughout the weekend and I adored the enthusiasm she had for these women.
Elizabeth Lesser spoke and I finally put a face to the person who cofounded Omega. It’s trippy that a person who lead an energy healing the next day to send love to Eve Ensler and who is so connected with amazing people across this Earth presents to down to earth, but isn’t that the way its supposed to be?
Then Lateefa introduced Leymah Gbowee. This was my second big moment of the Universe reiterating my right path (the first will be explained in a bit). Back-story – at Old Dominion University, a class on Motherhood and Rhetoric gave classmate Patrina the opportunity to share the story of her home, Liberia. Specifically she shared with us the work of the Market Women and Leymah Gbowee. Now I got to see this powerful woman and hear her words. Of the many great tings she said were “We need to redeem our time…you need to take it because the men will not give it.” She talked about how empowerment is spoken but never what that means – " empower, you have to give up some of your power. That is why patriarchy has such a stronghold because the men do not want to give up the power." I could hear her say the word Patriarchy all night, in her accent it was incredibly beautiful, not only in her tongue but in feeling the power she speaks of that patriarchy doesn’t want to give up but she is forcing it to. Without taking your own empowerment against patriarchal strongholds, it is like “taking a mouth of water, it turns to saliva and you swallow it.” Such poetry!
Simply put, she said, “Visions that change the world are trapped in a normal girl.” “Never lose sight that where you are is a privileged place. Never forget you represent yourself and never forget you represent a group of women.” And lastly, “It’s never about you.”

Interspersed with this first day of greatness were the universal messages that were coming loud and clear. Backtracking to Port Authority in New York City where we caught the shuttle to Rhinebeck. Luckily the universe was looking out for me because I originally told the cab driver from LaGuardia that I was going to Penn Station. I also told him I didn’t want to spend more than $20 on a cab. He was a really awesome person from Turkey and we had a delightful conversation about Turkish tea and he clued me in on a great Turkish restaurant in Va. Beach. Who knew? As we approached Times Square he asked which gate and that’s when I realized I told him the wrong place I was going to. I could be wrong but it seemed like he stopped the meter because the almost 40 minute cab ride only cost me a just over $20.

So I’m waiting at Port Authority and this lady comes up to ask if I was going to Omega. We chatted and she was such a cool spirit. After this venture she was going to work at an ashram in Virginia. When we got to Omega and were getting our room assignments, she was getting her room the same time as me…go figure it was the same room! We shared much in common and as she smoked too, we would sneak off to the only place allowed to smoke…a far off tent past the parking lot WAY away from the main campus. This was only the beginning of the universe.

(My cabin in the morning light)
Saturday began our choice in movement classes before the say of speakers. I chose Tai Chi and there’s nothing like feeling how out of shape one is when you are tuning into yourself. The beautiful tree pose and grounding one’s self felt so amazing. Tai Chi is so lovely in its beautiful simplicity but make no mistake it can leave you achy. Off to another amazing vegetarian meal and then the main hall.
I wish I could have an alarm with Lateefa Simon. Her vibrancy in the morning is just the positive spirit that coffee doesn’t really reach to.

We heard the words of Annie McKee. Her words on leadership were spot on.
* You cannot be brave until you’re really scared
* You cannot lead until you know what it means to be powerless
* We operate on false assumptions about what it means to be a great leader
* Things are changing constantly so everything is new, can’t be shut down.
* The minute you become victim you cease to be a leader.
The last two especially resonate and remind me to stop the inner voices that constantly shut me down. Even when the daily routine gets me down, it is new so I need to get off my rear and step it up.

The moment I looked forward to arrived with the speaker, Zainab Salbi. I had known her story from her great book, Between Two Worlds. When I met her at American University, I was struck that after her stellar words and obvious exhaustion from a long day, she engaged each and every person at her book signing. The look in her eye as she signed your book and thanked you personally was one of such quiet strength and depth. I had forgotten that she was such a big fan of Rumi and because of her words three years prior I was introduced to Rumi’s amazingness. She shared the stories of the women she came across in her work with Women for Women International and what still strikes me is that it isn’t charity the women wanted but dignity and integrity. With the great need to lead assistance to women whose voice is taken by the patriarchal structure, this is crucial to remember. With dignity we can aid, not give charity. Zainab Salbi shared how these women gave her the courage to tell her own story and reminded us that it takes courage to show our vulnerability. “A strong heart is not heart a with armor and a sword. A strong heart is one that can dance and that can be happy. Only when you have the joy and heart can you venture into darkness and with happiness can you dissolve.”
The power of her words resonated all throughout the weekend as I will share in a wee bit.

Pat Mitchell, after speaking great words and sharing amazing stories had a dialogue with Jensine Larsen who started World Pulse magazine. Her online Pulse Nation gives voice to global women who want to speak out about what is happening in their country. Many women traverse hard terrain and long hours to venture into an internet café to tell their stories. Oftentimes this is detrimental to their safety.
What stops us in our privileged America to not take action and tell the stories of ourselves and our sisters?

More yummys from the dining hall, I was quickly falling in love with quinoa. Finally I ran into Amy Richards! So great to see her after the Feminist Boot Camp.

The afternoon workshop was a hard decision. I chose the writing workshop as it kept popping into my head. That should have been the clue that the Universe was trying to steer me that way.
The leader of the workshop spoke of how we need to turn off the inner voice in our head that tells us we aren’t good enough. We have stories that need to be told and we are now going to do it in a 20 minute free write. I wrote down the ideas in my head about my own personal journey but nothing I really wanted to share. When we broke into groups of three, I let the other two ladies read their work.
The first woman to read was the moment I was waiting for. I knew that my mother would show up at one point in the conference. I had been struggling with her passing but not sure exactly why; I just knew it was a little more than the normal mourning process. This woman read her story about the last breaths of her mother and the peaceful journey she had at the end of her life. She had stepped out to catch a break and at that moment was when her mother decided to venture onto the other side. When she came back into the room the nurse told her to hold her chin as she arranged her body before rigor mortis set in. They sat with her body to help ease the spirit to the other side. I realize this was what I missed from my own mother’s passing. My emotions were locked in my throat and when she was done reading the two of us that listened sat stunned. When it was my turn to say something, all I could do was say thank you and start crying. I highly dislike crying in public, especially in front of people I don’t know. I reached such healing with her words, it was indescribable. Thank you universe.

Before dinner, there was a reception in the beautiful library. The main reason for the reception was to highlight the scholarships that are awarded. This year, they were able to award 140 scholarships, $1000 per recipient. A few recipients spoke about what it meant to them to be able to attend. A girl that had ridden with us on the bus spoke. Coming from Haiti, she became emotional as she spoke about how she was able to live the life her mother could not. She knew she made her mother, whose voice wasn’t able to reach out, proud to be a college student and attending Omega showed her the right path she is on. She would have been completely unable to experience so much without the scholarship.
Another woman spoke up about being a Hutu woman. Earlier in the writing workshop we were graced with her story – how her father was killed when she was 7 and what her home in Rwanda was like. It wasn’t until this reception that she spoke about the courage Zainab Salbi gave her. Zainab spoke about not wanting to talk about being the daughter of Saddam Hussein’s pilot. She didn’t want her face to be replaced by his and how the women she came across gave her the courage to tell her story. This woman also didn’t want to speak out about being Hutu, but after hearing Zainab she had the courage to do so. So powerful…

The first year they did this reception, they raised $10,000. Last year they raised $15,000. We found out Sunday morning that this evening’s reception raised $35,000 – all of which goes to fund scholarships for the Women and Power conference. Beautiful!!!

So with heightened emotions, Saturday ended with Poet Elizabeth Alexander and Ani DiFranco.
Elizabeth Alexander was the fourth female poet to read at the presidential inauguration, “Praise Song for the Day.” The other works she shared were reminiscent of poets I got to know through Women’s Studies and her honesty in her work was similar to the frank honesty of Lucille Clifton, who was one of her mentors. The thread of great poets continues to live through the words and the influences of those that walk among us.
My first Ani DiFranco performance was stellar. Why have I not fallen in love with her work before? I felt so lucky to be in such an intimate setting with songs mixed in a Q&A format. There is a song on her upcoming album that is my new anthem, I was too engrossed to take down notes but it speaks of the power of the feminine and is a great F*U to the patriarchal establishment. So I realize that speaks about many of Ani’s work but this song in particular is up there with Alix Olson’s Subtle Sister, in my opinion.

If this day wasn’t enough, there was still another day. (And the periphery experiences that parallel the power of the speakers).

Sunday began with a lakeside personal vigil. Originally I was going to kayak but they were locked up so I sat and watched the water. Mists were rising up in the chilly air. It is in silence that we realize the times few and far between that we experience the beauty of nature and the serenity it gives. The fish jumping, the birds beginning their day, the moon setting and the sun rising, absolute tranquility.

Another yummy vegetarian breakfast and off to hear more speakers.
Lateefa’s energy started us off right and then we were blessed with Gail Collins. Her stories of amazing historical women showed us that it’s the women who didn’t do what was expected, who didn’t live within the boxes framed for them, but had courage to see a problem and fix it against many odds. Well behaved women rarely make history, correct?

I admit I was a little restless so I ventured. I conversed with one staffer whose life journey knocked him down and his solace became the Omega space. I ended up getting a tarot reading from another of the seasonal staff. (How cool to venture to Omega to work for a season). This was his fourth season working. When I’m moved to get a reading I do so to check in; this reading really reinforced that things were groovy on my path and how I am putting to rest the self-sabotage that has been the Bain of my existence.

I came back to the main hall in time to see Jennifer Buffet who started the Novo Foundation. I’ve heard a lot of the work they’ve done and seen immense support coming from this organization. Her personal story was stellar in that it doesn’t matter who you are, many women are born with a lack of voice. (For those that know me, the finding of my voice has been the saving of my life).
Jennifer Buffet called her experience a living gender experiment. She had the “wounded belief that opportunity wasn’t for her.” She “stopped participating in her delusion and trying to run love like love existed outside of her.” She also reminded us that “self-care is never a selfish act, it’s good stewardship of the only gift we have.” It’s fantastic to see someone whose work is far reaching but whose story is so similar to many of us.

Suddenly, this amazing journey was done. It was time to get one more quick bite of yumminess in the dining hall and get on the bus. Life charged back into my existence with the delay of my plane and horrible weather but at midnight I made it back.

Writing these words gets me back to the vibrant feeling within that I obtained at Omega. I knew one of my greatest challenges would be to maintain this feeling to keep at bay the doubts and stress that keeps me from reaching towards what is beautiful. I now know that there is a place in this world that I can return to recharge this beautiful vibrancy and I can’t wait to share stories of others who have made the venture to this wee bit of paradise in the mountains of New York.

Thank you to the donors who made this journey and all of my previous journeys possible. Philanthropy is not only the right thing to do, it has the ability to transform. The altering gift goes beyond the monetary value and has perpetual outcomes. It is the ripple in the pond that creates lasting effects.
And thank you to the women who came before me to create their stories.
I am one very blessed person.