Part 1: From Inside the Circle Part 2: From Outside the Circle
Written by Monisha Chandanani
I will begin by stating the content of this blog post is vulnerable, edgy and complicated for me. Three great reasons to break the silence and speak.
This past February during the closing circle of the first Wisdom Women gathering, a powerful experience occurred.
As the ceremony began, the ladies who led the circle asked those of us who identified as non-white to stand in the center of the room. I turned to the sister next to me with a perplexed look on my face. She mirrored my expression as we both rose to our feet. In that moment, I was scanning my system for some resonance with those words. Did I identify as non-white? I had never thought of myself in this way before. Regardless, I knew the space was being opened for me, so I stepped in.
As a small group of us stood together in circle, a question was posed. “How do we each identify?” I was one of the first to share as I spoke, “human” into the mic. This answer came from the predominant part of me that is deeply rooted in the world of Spirit. In my experience, through the gaze of Spirit we are one consciousness, one love, one race. It is relevant to note here that if I had been asked this question even 30 minutes later, my answer would have been different. Herein lies the transformation.
As I looked across the circle, there were a few women that appeared white who were standing amongst us. As the mic found its way to them I felt something unsettling within. The wide, open, unconditionally loving lens of Spirit was no longer at the forefront of my being. In some ways, to my surprise, my humanness was rising.
What were they doing here? I was annoyed and confused with their presence in the circle. Honestly, the thought that emerged was, “Really? Do you have to take up this space too?”
Now, it is important to point out that this reaction was rooted in an assumption that these women weren’t non-white. Or maybe these women were white but identified as non-white. Who knows? As I mentioned, this stuff can get complicated. I caught myself in this judgment, and checked myself. I had no idea what these women’s stories were. I was doing to them what had so often been done to me, judging a book by it’s cover.
One of the facilitators then asked for those that could pass as white to sit down. And then it happened; all of a sudden the battle that I was having in my mind – which was around the validity of these white-looking women in the circle– crested. I had been trying to make it okay for myself that they were including themselves, but something visceral in me responded and I realized that though I would have liked to have been, I was very much not okay with it—and I burst into tears. By shifting the participants in the circle, I felt acknowledged and recognized, not for our oneness but for our differences. I felt an honoring for a struggle that couldn’t be fully understood by the women who left the circle.
As the flood of tears came, I cried for the little girl inside of me that grew up in a white world feeling foreign, minor and other. I cried for the western standards of beauty that did not include me. I cried for the roaring voice inside of me that was last to get center stage; white men, men of color, white women and then me. I cried for every moment I felt unseen, unheard, undervalued or afraid.
When the women left in the circle, I stood taller, in deeper resonance for we didn’t have the luxury of passing as anything other than the variety of our skin tones. And I was safe to grieve with the women who understood this struggle.
Through this process, I realized why acknowledging our differences is so incredibly important. Though yes, I do believe we are one living, breathing, human consciousness, the truth is in this current reality we are far from being treated as such. To dismiss this reality is a form of spiritual bypass, an action of which even I was guilty.
So, yes I am human and I am Spirit. I am also a South Asian. I am Indian. I am American. I am woman. And I am a beautiful, glorious, radiant woman of color.
In the months since the Esalen gathering, through the unfolding of the U.S. Presidential election, we have borne witness to the deep divide that exists in this country. Now more than ever, it is important for us to dive into these difficult conversations around race, class, privilege, sexism and so much more.
It is time to understand one another better- to acknowledge our differences in the name of greater unity. My main take-away from the closing ceremony is a familiar one. We cannot transform what we do not see. Once we do the work to see clearly, we can put conscious effort into elevating ourselves and the planet. It can be a messy path at times, but so very worth it.
Monisha Chandanani is an Intuitive Leadership Coach for social entrepreneurs and executives who build business for good. For more about her you can visit www.seelovechoose.com.
Written by Laura Reddick
The moment came unexpectedly upon walking into the dome. I was late to the closing ceremony where over 130 women had come together for a weekend at the idyllic edge of the world, Esalen Institute. Internally I was blaming my tardiness on the beautiful weather and urge to follow my inner compass. As soon as I arrived and sat down, I realized something important was happening.
The hard floor pressed into the bottom of me, matching my mild discomfort, as the convener of the group announced a ceremony intended to honor the women of color in the room. While I was eager to honor the women of color in the group, I’ve often struggled with how to do this respectfully, without painfully exposing my own rough edges of unexamined privilege that I’m sure are so obvious to those further along than me. I have feared unintentionally causing even more trauma and harm to those who I hope to support.
The facilitation shifted to a woman of color on the leadership team, who invited anyone who considered themselves non-white into the inner circle. All were welcome. I remained seated, claiming my whiteness and the full history and implications of that label. There was no judgement in remaining seated, as most of the women in the group also claimed their whiteness, simply by remaining in place.
The women in the circle, a group of maybe 20, were invited to state their name and how they identified themselves. I watched with attentive interest at how the space would be held. As the women claimed their own identities, I could feel the energy building. Some women who looked white stood in the center, something that made me uncomfortable at first, and claimed themselves as members of the human race or in unity with all life. Then, those women who could pass as white were gently asked to take their seats. The energy shifted palpably in the room. A small group of 8 or 9 women from all backgrounds remained in the center. It was a powerful moment of noticing and deeply seeing these wise women of color.
There were a few short moments to hear the wisdom held in these women’s experiences and knowing, and the request for those women to state what they needed. I wanted to hear each one of their voices, know their stories, sorrows, and exultations, understand their needs and how I might be able to support them. Two or three women were able to speak, and their comments drove into my being the need for women of color to have the space to step into leadership roles in all areas.
Then one of the women clearly had something essential to say to those of us gathered, the message was visibly coursing through her body. The other women in the inner circle gathered around her to steady her legs, provide a hand at her back, lift the microphone to her lips. She spoke the pain, the suffering, the need for recognition to the group with a power and force rarely held in the safety of mixed company. It seemed her soul was speaking to the cosmos, ringing throughout the room.
In honoring her experience, we were led in chanting, “We see you. We honor you. We respect you.” As she was moving past me towards the door, where she was ushered outside to be held more privately, I found myself pinned to my seat, knowing it was not my place to support her in that moment as a white woman, yet also knowing she was receiving the support she needed. Once the circle was thanked and the women returned to their seats, we were led in a similar process of honoring those in the group who identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
I don’t know if that chant was planned or if it emerged as the thing that needed to be done in the moment, but it felt to me the first time I understood in my body my place as a white person in respectfully honoring the experience of a person of color. It felt right for me to remain seated, simply witnessing whatever would emerge. I didn’t need to be the “good, white person.” I needed to simply listen with my entire body, soul, and emotional presence, then briefly, without taking away, reflect my understanding of the process into the space.
I was given the gift of witnessing the wisdom of the women who stood in the inner circle without placing any qualifiers on them or their experience. I was shown a way to return the gift of their presence by simply acknowledging that I had seen their being, honored their wisdom, and respected their willingness to share. And I was able to experience this side by side with a room full of other white women also dedicated to witnessing and listening deeply.
I learned later that this honoring circle was an unexpected addition to the closing ceremony, and I am so grateful for the white women in leadership who had the wisdom to step back, and the women of color in leadership who stepped forward to share their wisdom and guide me toward a respectful, embodied honoring that I will practice in the world.
Laura Pustarfi Reddick is a philosopher and integral ecologist working on her Ph.D. By day, she is the Assoc. Director of Public Programs & Performances at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.