In a few months I will turn 50 and I'm contemplating what this means to me personally and to the role I can now play in the wider world. A few days ago, an older woman told me that her daughter (not much younger than me) is focused on remaining 'young', as she sees no alternative to her future marketability.
This woman, who works as a drug rep and supports a family as a single mother, expects to have to work long beyond 'retirement' age. As a woman who has not had children, I respect her dilemma; I also feel concern about the way in which the old economic paradigm has so many people apparently entrapped.
So, this piece of writing is mainly for my water sisters - to encourage us to see our lives as something more than our youthful beauty or family bonds (not to discount the value of either at certain stages of our lives). I believe there is something far more to be drawn up from the deep well of life - a more enduring health.
Read on to see what this might have to do with spa culture and water. I need your help in creating a movement that supports and safeguards a truly soulful and sustainable spa culture; one that puts water back into center stage and sees itself as far more than an escape from difficult realities.
Women and water
From 2002 to 2007, I owned a small private spa-retreat in the Missouri Ozarks. A few years in to the venture, I surveyed our visitors and found a clear predominance of women in their mid-forties to mid-fifties. I asked myself what state of being or seeking the above age-group might represent.
(Women also make up about 75% of spa goers and the larger percentage of seekers of alternative lifestyles, in addition to predominating among those who make consumer decisions based on their concerns for the environment.)
The climactric (menopause): a natural feminine season, presaging irrevocable change, new freedom and ancient wisdom. As the flow of blood ceases, these women might naturally seek out the flow of water to reinvigorate their transformed lives.
Women, well-versed in the blood rites through their own bodies, are also increasingly wise to the overriding importance of water, especially insofar as it represents the mythical and natural realms, the ultimate force for life and meaning.
This awareness may become even stronger as middle-aged women move into the 'change'. For some, it's a scary time that sends them to estheticians for anti-aging treatments, to gyms for workout programs. It's not that these are necessarily wrong but the motivation behind them may deny a greater power.
Herbalist Susun Weed suggests that the 'change of life' is also a matrix for the three classic stages of initiation: isolation, death, and rebirth/reintegration. Unoppressed women in this phase are often passionate seekers and willing shape-shifters; the visitors to my first vision spa retreat were no exception.
Susun's Native American teachers say that we are in the midst of earth changes that will culminate around the year 2013, and predicted that these will bring heat, and floods, and upheaval on an enormous scale. Susun points out that 50 million women will have achieved menopause by 2013 and asks:
Many of the women who came to the spa-retreat and to receive aquatic bodywork, came alone on purpose. Seemingly aware of the responsibility that Susun hints at, they came to determine what they could do apart from and beyond their family commitments with, and in, their own lives.
These earth-mothers and earth-lovers were not seeking the age-defying programs or fancier options of the popular spa industry. Their quest was a private and quiet one; they simply wanted to melt back into the media from whence they came - nature and water.
For myself, the merging with water has been a profound experience, one that now calls me to do what I can for water and the planet. But to do so (to do anything that seems to oppose our cultural norms) is often challenging and may require us to separate from our previous tribal rules and ways.
Water vs blood
The age-old aphorism 'Blood is thicker than water' claims that family relations (blood) are more important than all other relationships (water). One suggestion is that this saying arose from the idea that water can evaporate without leaving a trace, but blood leaves a stain and is more permanent.
But does the transformability and transparency of water make it less than? Isn't this something our culture may now need? What teachings might this contrast of blood and water offer? And what role could women have in reversing the age-old significance of blood and water?
I found this retort to the old saying:
This danger is easy to see all around us now as we face water shortages and escalations of violence between peoples all over the world. The question of 'blood ties' and our willingness to transcend these is paramount. Will Hutton, writing in The Observer, UK (October 20, 2002), said:
Women, the perpetuators of the species, traditionally take care of life in its many and varied forms, plant, animal and human. They are also adept at cooperative social interaction. I am hoping that they (we) will not succumb to the past oppressions of our gender but use their potential freedom to safeguard all life now.
I'd like to share here a water-induced dream I had a few years ago when I attended a workshop during which, every evening for ten days, a group of us would float in a warm water pool and in the morning recount our dreams. In some cases the dreams seem to hold social rather than personal significance.
In a short vignette I am confidante to a wise black woman who tells me about the opportunity she was given to put together a documentary that would be significant for her culture and background. For the initial test interview in front of a board of white production people she decided to take along her baby niece. The baby became the focus of interest at the interview and inspired the board to make the child the subject of the documentary. The woman tells me that when they suggested this and asked her to bring the baby in again, the baby could no longer be found.
Making visible the invisible
Perhaps the black woman and baby in this dream represent feminine source and mystery - the mature aspect attempting to become visible to modern culture by courting media and the primal aspect which vanishes as soon as it is likely to be captured. This is the dance of visibility and invisibility that so many women face.
It's certainly one that is uppermost for me now as I explore the power of the internet (new media) to share my new venture, and at the same time sense that it is difficult to convey well in words my concept of spa-retreat or the spirit of water, especially when I intend this to be a means of right-livelihood.
In Europe, the Christian church repressed water cults, often appropriating their sacred waters for itself. Malcolm Godwin, in The Holy Grail, comments that this 'was in bleak contrast to the healing and nurturing powers of the Black Virgins. Behind this dark female face was a hidden Catharic leap in consciousness...'
Jean Shinoda Bolen described in Crossing to Avalon, how Chartres Cathedral was built over the Druid's sanctuary of sanctuaries, on a mound where there was a sacred wood and a well called 'The Well of the Strong' where a statue of a dark woman, a goddess with an infant on her knees, presided.
Could the production team in the dream have signified the potential sacking of the sacred waters? Not by the church now, but by our greedy consumption of planetary resources and the neglect of our own spiritual natures.
The Grail Legend warned of three unhealing wounds: the destruction of nature, the individual wounded in soul or spirit, and suppression of the feminine archetype. Could water, the life blood of Mother Nature, or Gaia, embodying the feminine mysteries, be the healer of these wounds?
When you sit in a sweat lodge, Native American tradition considers that you are enfolded in Grandmother Earth. When floating in water, many feel they have reentered the womb. Water has been linked in mythology to the unconscious, to the feminine or yin nature, and to gentle but persistent power.
In the Grail Legend, the hero/ine - the one who is eventually to Free the Waters - has to discover the meeting place between worlds (conscious and unconscious) and to re-establish the precious links with nature. This is the challenge I have set myself personally and professionally.
More people are realizing how much they miss the wilderness, and are wanting to retreat to it, to restore it and themselves. Water, I suggest, is an essential element of this healing. And women may be leading the way judging by the numbers who are pursuing soul-seeking arts now.
I invite you, if you have read this far, to join me in a quest for the wisdom of water. You can get involved by:
- sharing this weblog with others
- writing a comment or emailing me
- joining my Facebook page: Aquaest
Note: Also from Jean Shinoda Bolen is Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World
This unique combination of visionary thinking and practical how¬to seeks to galvanize the power of women acting together in order to save our world. Bolen outlines the lessons we can learn from the women’s movement, draws on Jungian psychology and the sacred feminine, and gives powerful examples of women coming together all over the globe and making a signiﬁcant impact.