When the invitation for the In Her Own Rite retreat came to me my immediate reaction to it was, "I want to do this with my sister!" I wavered as to whether or not I should text my sister and ask. She's worked at an accounting firm for years. A mixture of self doubt, fear of rejection and yearning caused me to feel like my asking her would seem burdensome. Everyone knows that Sis doesn't take time off during tax season.
As I pondered whether or not to text I reflected on my recent depression. Deep in, I would shutter myself in the house and rejected all communication: no phone calls, emails or voice messages picked up. I could not engage with the world. There was something though that piqued my interest, Susan's Facebook page. She was posting beautiful images of her artwork. She shared the personal healing work she was doing. That work took her to Nepal to work with women and young girls who were once trafficked. While in Nepal Susan experienced a culture that encouraged an authentic and humane dialogue of healing. She shone from a portrait she posted of herself with a glittering crown of her own creation nestled atop her head. That image brought me to curious wonder. She had flourished. Her creative practice had merged with her healing work.
I drafted a text with a link to the In Her Own Rite page--hesitated to send it to Sis but felt this urgency that it was important for us to do the retreat and allow ourselves to enter a healing space. I recognized an opportunity for Sis and I to begin the process of navigating ourselves away from familial trauma. I pressed send. I trusted Susan to help us chart the necessary distance from our years of anguish and pain. My anxiety pricked as I wondered how long it would take for Sis to get back to me, would tax season foil?
Sis texted me right back and said that she wanted to do it. I was stunned and felt this gorgeous peace wash over me. The yes indicated that we were both ready for metamorphosis. The next day Sis booked her flight.
Eight of us arrived at the In Her Own Rite space to begin the process of unfurling our monarchical wings. We entered a space heady with the scent of sage smoke and candles flickering in time with the rain that had just started to fall. We sat on cushions in an oval array at the center of the amber lit room. Susan welcomed us and introduced us to the retreat and schedule for the weekend. She asked us to partner up with someone and get to know one another by sharing a little bit of who we are.
Susan started by grounding us to the space. She clasped a heart shaped stone, a symbolic gesture of her receiving and holding our trust and told us about the personal work and journey that brought her to the moment there with us. In the process of her journey, Susan realized in herself the ability to receive and hold the trauma of others.
It struck me profoundly that she was unafraid of that ability, accepted it as a role and considered it a gift. I felt open to her as a guide, someone who could point me to a path into life rather than being managed and directed past it.
Susan passed the heart stone to us. Each of us held it taking our hearts into our own hands. She asked us to introduce ourselves and to touch on something that might be holding us back from claiming our inner queen. As I heard the women with whom I was sharing the space with share so openly, deeply, my usual space of distrust and overall jaded response to the world disappeared. Some allowed themselves the release of very raw emotions trusting the presence of healing energy and sacred space. I could feel what I wanted to claim immediately swirl up into my chest and get bogged down by my inability to claim it. I sputtered and alluded to it and told the group that I hoped that I would be able to claim that rite in their presence by the end of the retreat.
Susan asked us to lie on our backs and close our eyes and imagine the queen within us. We all took turns imagining our inner queen come out as she would. My queen kept ducking into the dark corners of my psyche to hide behind my super ego. She asked us to write down or draw what we saw. I managed to write something vague, afraid still to claim out loud my inner queen though in my mind's eye I could see her and her powerful scepter very clearly. I allowed myself to steep in the calm that I felt as the group held and supported my fragile emotions.
As we drove home from the first day, Sis and I processed together. We realized that we have never spent time together, just us, prior to the retreat. Sis told me how she was missing having friendship with women. She said she felt fluid in her trust and appreciation for the energy and camaraderie of our fellow queens. I spoke about how the retreat was the catalyzing factor to my reaching out to a mutual friend of mine and Susan's who was also registered for the retreat. That friend and I had been estranged for some time.
When Susan told me that our friend would be attending I made the decision to call that friend to reconcile with her. I couldn't imagine being in the retreat without mending the space between us. Sadly, I think that I may have let more time pass between us would we not have been converging at In Her Own Right.
On the second day we gathered to craft our queenly scepters and crowns. We walked into the retreat space to find tables, earthly and delightful, laden with refreshments fit for an altar; further, the spectra of craft materials would delight any queen envisioning her new crown and scepter. After chatting and noshing for a bit we gathered at a square table at the center of the room. We sat to find a small gift of organic chocolate and a Tibetan affirmation card calligraphed with gold script for each of us. Susan grounded us to the space. We pulled in our breaths together and released with our voices as we exhaled. Before we commenced the brandishing of hot glue guns and sprinkling of glitter, Susan lead us through a workshop.
She started by asking us to define self-care for ourselves. We contemplated how we can communicate our needs and boundaries without losing ourselves to frustration. She asked us what obstacles might be getting in the way of clearly communicating those boundaries, how we can continue to establish those boundaries until they are heard and considered as an integral part of us. I realized that most of us were not asking for much: acknowledgement, consideration, our voice to be heard. We didn't want to continue being defined by societal dictates or continue being shaped by our mistakes. Our boundaries seemed so simple, non-confrontational, emotions welled up at the heavy lifting that it would take to lay our foundations outside of the retreat.
What is a queen? Susan asked us. What is personal power? What is power not? What does it mean to be sovereign? What makes us feel strong and capable? Her questions sketched our queens in values: light, gray, deeply dark, erasure and highlight until the portraits of our inner queen's were visible to all of us.
Susan focused us on the symbolism of the Crown of Glory and Scepter of Sovereignty. I thought of my scepter as a conductor's baton. I Imagined myself using it to conduct and move myself through things I have to communicate that would otherwise get muddled in the cacophony.
How do we claim ourselves, our glory? How do we stand our sacred ground? As queens we rule with the power to claim the strength of self through self-care. We become capable of using that power to protect our boundaries when we are strong and knowing of our rite. If there is a request for or a desire to give love, shouldn't that love arrive from a place that is holistically able to give and receive it? We should be sovereign and powerful absolutely in knowing what we will and won't accept for ourselves. We can shift the notions of sacrifice and strength and come to understand that they do in fact inhabit the same platform. With boundaries in place we have a safe space from which to communicate and receive communication without displacing ourselves or others. We become stronger in eschewing the control and manipulation that has power over us.
The person we need to communicate with knows from where we will speak and in turn they know that they will have an opportunity to respond. Though it can be hard to get through, the idea is to take the time, slow down, listen and hear one another. There is a foundation to be laid but first the demolition of the old space and then brick by brick the new foundation, sacred ground is laid. We learn that our needs do not displace another's being but allows for new conduit and connections starting from the point of those boundaries into ever growing space, enough to be built out for everyone.
Susan unleashed us to create our crowns of glory and scepters. We all fell easily into laughter, conversation and delighted like kids in a candy store over the crafting cornucopia spread out before us. Susan spoke to us amid the flurry of feathers and ribbons about drafting our queenly credo for the next day. I froze and was knocked off my scepter yarn-bombing game with the thought of it. I let the fear go immediately because it felt useless and I wanted it far away from the space that I shared with the queens. I decided to wait until the next morning to write it.
It wasn't until our coronation the next day that I realized how we flowed and shared ourselves with one another while we were crafting. We walked into the space to find two rows of chairs that were covered in white linen, tied with purple ribbon. The chairs flanked a path laid with rose petals to a table where we laid out our crowns with our scepters fanned out behind them. We noshed, changed into outfits for our queenly portraits, laughed together, laughed even harder and cheered on the queens working their scepters into spontaneous interpretive dance. Susan asked us to take our places and remove the eight blank cards from the gossamer bags found on our chairs. She asked us to write something about each queen on the pieces of paper before the coronation commenced.
We each took turns reading our cards to each queen. I was surprised to be recognized as someone who is elegant in her words, possesses great humor and that I am a person that listens, hears and knows how to respond with the right words after having heard. All the queens saw Sis as kind, loving and pure of heart. My heart sang, this is how I see her. Sis allowed herself to receive these affirmations and trust their sincerity, believe them.
Joyful tears flowed as we walked over rose petals through our flank of queens. The room filled with raucous cheers and applause as we placed our crowns on our heads and raised our scepters. We each read our credo as the final stage of coronation. My voice was stifled and hot with the claim that I was about to make. I told the queens that I could say what I wanted to claim in their presence and that I would hold onto that rite once I declared it, not waver from it once we dispersed from the space. I believed what I said. It was a confidence for the rite that I was about to claim that broke from its chrysalis and took flight in the presence of the queens.