How It All Began
Celebrating Women – Dreaming to Life
By Joan Bird
It is not easy to chronicle how ideas hatch into our conscious minds, gather shape and momentum, and then somehow take form in time and space. It’s a miraculous process akin to birth, although in the world of ideas, the baby is fed by intention, focus and will, rather than umbilical cord. What is unique about Celebrating Women, compared to every other thing I set out to do in my life, is the role of dreams in leading me toward that goal.
Dreams have always been a part of my life. I recall one from early childhood, and many from my teen years. Some have been warnings, insights, messages from a deeper part of myself, or from something beyond whatever boundaries of self I claim. Meanings sometimes elude me for years. Some dreams seem trivial or merely neuronal “noise,” while others I treasure as much or more than any waking experience. When focused on recording dreams, I have had the sense that dream life is continuous, always running, even when we are not tuned in. And often I see the interweaving of dreams and waking consciousness.
A number of years ago the job I loved turned into the job from hell after a change in management. Somewhere in this time frame I happened on Anne Wilson Schaef’s book, “Women’s Reality,” and realized the problems were related to the fact that I was a woman. Although the situation was difficult for everyone, I saw the professional women suffering most from the management change. As I was figuring out what to do about it, I had a series of dreams. . .
The Men’s Camp
I am in the men’s camp. It seems to be a hunting camp, and is not far from the women’s camp, which is a way up the hill toward a mountain. I see a dog that is made of so much metal, I am not sure if it is a living animal or a robot. Two or three of its legs are metal, and to my amazement, most of its chest and belly are made of steel. I can see rivets along the side. It’s a yellow lab that has been maimed somehow, and reconstructed. I ask a man standing next to the dog it it’s a he or a she. The man said it was an “it,” because he’d had all its female parts taken out. His blunt tone angers me, and I say to him, “Once female, always female.”
It took some time for me to see how I was like this dog, and why the man’s words made me angry. As a graduate student in zoology, I found myself in a men’s camp, where men’s culture ruled. No women professors had broken into this bastion. It was painful and crazy making. The female equivalent of castration seemed to be required of me to survive. There is a “steeling” that can happen to women in patriarchy, an armoring that damages the feminine soul. Actually, I think it damages the feminine in all of us. My work circumstances echoed that graduate school experience.
Water for the Women’s Camp
I am in the women’s camp and the water is not so good. Not horrible, but not good. The best water, the sweetest, clearest water comes from high up on the mountain. I look at the mountain and wonder why we can’t bring the water down. Someone says it will be very hard, it’s a long way, and I won’t be able to do it. The water we have is good enough. I don’t think it will be so hard because others will help. We begin to put together the pipes for the water system. The higher up we can go, the better the water. Many of us work together and it is going quickly. In fact, it’s easy.
After trying everything I knew to change the work situation, I resigned. A month later I set out on a raft trip through the Grand Canyon, accompanied by a group of women who hole an annual women’s retreat in Washington. Their strong bonds and mutual empowerment showed me what I wanted for women in Montana. I envisioned a place women are valued for being women, where women are inspired and nurtured by other women’s strength and wisdom, a place where women could go to relax and play and weave the fabric of women’s community.
I am in the delivery room with a woman I know, who works on behalf of women. She is giving birth and I am a helper. Everyone is amazed when she delivers quadruplets. She is dismayed, and knows there is no way she can care for them all. I step forward and offer to take one, realizing this is a great commitment. They give me one of the babies. I hold it in my arms and look into its face.
I did not know how I would do it, but the dreams encouraged me to just begin. Shortly before leaving my salaried job, an important woman in my life, my 99-year-old grandmother, died. From this loss came an unexpected gift. With a small inheritance I supported myself and covered initial expenses to put on the first retreat. When I began to put the word out, women called and wrote with support. How could they help? Together, with many hands, we laid down the pipe and began bringing down the water.
A Dreamer, in some of the old cultures on this planet, is a holy person, a medicine person. Dreams and visions guide their actions and totally direct their lives. They are believed to have greater wisdom because they are in touch with other dimensions, and may travel back and forth between this world and others. In Aboriginal culture, dreamtime is the primordial reality. Other peoples speak of a realm that is formless and endless as the ocean, the source of everything manifest.
Mainstream culture acknowledges only one world, the physical world, and has no name for someone who lives by their dreams. A “dreamer” is a lost soul, someone whose head is in the clouds and who cannot quite function in the “real” world. It’s not an esteemed title.
Yet attitudes are shifting. There is a resurgence in the value attributed to dreams, and more people are dream watchers. Charting one’s life by dreams is not unlike trying to understand the state of the world by listening to shortwave radio. I am more frequently baffled than not. Information can be in any language and from any number of sources. Yet listening to these signals deepens my understanding of this realm, and is a way of honoring the depths of our feminine souls.
Using dreams as a compass was not my customary method for setting a course, but it has been a rewarding journey. If I told you “I never dreamed where it would take me,” - that would be only half true.
For twenty-three years now women have gathered together near the fall equinox to be inspired and nurtured in the company of women. We soak in the hot pools, treasure time with beloved friends, make connections with a whole new host of remarkable women and hear each other’s wisdom. We dance, sing, laugh and weep, sharing the pains, joys and understandings of our lives. We welcome and honor women of all faiths, all gender identities, and listen to our different spiritual journeys. Every year the women say, “Thank you. We need this. Keep doing it. How can I help?”
Over the years, I have seen so many sprouted seeds from Celebrating Women; the links that continue, the dreams and events germinated at this weekend. It brings me great joy and fulfillment to see this vision, shared and carried by so many, continuing to serve Montana women, and blessing the world with the feminine creativity and values so needed on this planet.