The first time I ever stepped forward in a leadership position to champion women’s empowerment was early in the 1980s.
Even though the women’s empowerment movement had been around for many years, the small southern provincial town I lived in at the time was not a mecca for young women who wanted to assert their individuality and out of the box thinking. I naively offered a 6-week course at the local Unitarian Church and invited 15 of my friends to explore their leadership qualities, find their voice, empower their ideas and values, and own their female sexuality.
Then, the husbands of the women in the group found out about where they were going every Monday evening.
I was called every name in the book (in a derogatory manner). In fact, I found out that at certain Saturday night dinner parties my “wanton, communist, red-headed whoring ways” were the topic of conversation. To be clear, I was not whoring around – actually I was happily married at the time. And, I was not a communist – but for them, I had to be something ‘other’ than their conservative, patriarchal viewpoint of the role of men and the role of women in society. I think if they could have run me out of town they would have formed a posse to do just that.
I remember thinking at the time that they hadn’t seen anything yet. But, every time they had an opportunity to throw mud my way they did. As a consequence, several women dropped out of the class. I did feel a bit guilty, but kept trying.
And if I were completely honest, their rancor and outright condemnation of me was a bit rattling. I did not really know my True Self yet and there was a big part of me that wanted to be praised, not condemned for what I was doing.
No matter what they said, something inside of me refused to back down.
Instead, I was emboldened to keep going on this path of finding out what my experience was all about. I wanted to discover more of the ‘me’ that had so much joy and expansive presence when I was teaching that class. This delighted part was new to me.
We all have been conditioned to seek validation from the world. When we were small it came from our family, or not; our teachers, or not; our sports coach, or our best friend, our good grades or the ‘in’ crowd at school. At best it was a slippery slope.
At worst it was hell. But we usually figured out some way to get that nod of approval or that accolade of praise – some way to know that we fit in were loved and we were not rejected.
This primal need to NOT be rejected and to fit in pretty much runs the show until we get older and realize the futility of looking outside our self for approval. We note that the energy it takes to maintain an ‘image’ is exhausting.
And it is fear-based.
But somewhere along the way, we forgot we began to run our lives by these false parts that believed in a win/lose, right/wrong, good/bad to belong. We didn’t understand that they would create much anxiety and stress when they were shunned or ignored. And we didn’t realize the cost of trying to uphold a self-image that was false, empty and in need of constant feeding.
That feeling of lack of attention can be devastating…unless we have also cultivated and attended to the part of our self – the True Being – that is not conditioned, not run by fear, not wanting to compete, or win or get its way to feel whole and at home.
The True Being knows its esteem comes from a presence of equanimity, compassion, fearlessness, and freedom to co-create with the benevolent energies of the Universe. A person who is in touch with their True Self-emanates a presence of loving that can permeate and dissipate separation and discord.
But following our truth is not always easy.
Who was this Being inside that came alive when she watched others get free?
If I could create peace between the warring voices out here in my community that mirrored my own…then maybe I could assist others to do the same.
My journey from there to here – my Camino – is full of similar challenges, risks of ridicule and misunderstanding, striking out on paths less traveled and following my inner voice of guidance and truth.
Today, I am seasoned in knowing how to prepare for the journey. I have received praise and I have received the dismissal. I have been ignored, looked over, not chosen and told ‘you don’t have what it takes’. But what is different between then and now is I know my truth. I am fueled by what sings my heart and soul alive and I listen to its counsel. I am also aware that I am still on my path.
The next opportunity to meet more of my True Self is just right around the corner.
Rebecca E. Skeele