I arrive in cold drizzle having rushed from my duties. The door is opened by a smiling stranger who welcomes me like a treasured friend. I step through the portal from grey to warm technicolour. The room is assuaged with soft, vibrant, red hued fabrics. A ring of cushions and blankets blurs the hard edges.
A gentle heartbeat of women’s chatter and laughter soothes my ears as a mother’s heart beat might reassure a baby in the womb. The kettle has boiled. I plump for a Womankind teabag. It seems appropriate.
I join the circle. I am home.
Only now do I look at the faces of the women who will share this evening with me. Some I have circled with before, some I recognise from other contexts, some are new to me. We range in age, in interest and in background but everyone shares the look of a person who has just released a huge sigh.
The notion of a space where women would come together to menstruate and birth was first introduced to me at university when I read ‘The Golden Bough’ by James Frazer. There he documented many cultures which banished women, particularly at first blood and often in horrific circumstances, to cages or small darkened rooms, suspended between heaven and earth, in an attempt to insulate the mysterious, powerful and spiritual force that charges them at this time. Later, reading ‘The Red Tent’, I was offered a more appealing version: a haven where women were freed from the taboos that surround their bodies, where they could celebrate and explore their cyclical nature. Anita Diamant’s vivid creation clearly invoked a need for such a space and Red Tents began to surface all over the world, like poppies on a battlefield.
The opening of the circle happens organically. There is no set agenda and ideas are shared and ultimately amalgamated. We settle on introducing ourselves and naming our female heritage as far back as we can remember; I’m ashamed that I can’t remember my Grandma Ackerman’s first name and make a mental note to check. We welcome each member in turn, along with her female energy- her shakti. I feel cherished in this space. This time we have all set aside to spend in the company and manner of women is sacred.
Here, women are free from duty, from expectations, from goals and deadlines, from imposed structure (one woman spends time reclining on the cushions, clearly soaking up the restorative power of the female collective). Whether your contribution is traumatic, trivial or triumphant, every voice is heard, every silence respected. Whether the earth is moving for you or crumbling beneath you, you are held.
There are few rules but one of the most challenging and powerful is that we do not try to fix each other's problems. We do not step into the sacred space of another woman’s words with our own. If we feel a resonance with her words, we say ’Ahhh mama’ This simple protocol frees each woman to say whatever she needs without judgement or the guilt of burdening the listener, who is free to hold space without the need to rescue. It is a powerful tool for healing as well as a catalyst for finding your voice.
There is singing. I have to confess: this was a challenge for me in my first couple of circles. I shaped the words silently, afraid of the strangled noises that might escape but now, having learned that each song contains only a few words and a narrow range of attainable notes, I throw myself in with the full gusto of a shower performance, finding in my voice, cushioned by my sisters, a soothing and solid companion. I float peacefully on a gentle tide of voices, allowing them, along with their sentiment to rock me.
Later, with peaceful hearts, we share food, more tea and company. This time has been a balm for our busy lives, an opportunity to recalibrate with our female energy.
I step back from technicolour into the darkness. I feel both grounded and lifted and I trail vibrancy in my wake.
For Norwich Red Tent, check out this link: http://www.sacredsisterhood.co.uk/
or to find your local red tent: https://redtentdirectory.com/
As I write, the chorus of White Stripes still roars in my ears like the sound of the ocean echoes in a shell.
Four days ago, I walked into a stadium of almost 10,000. Strobe lights sought me out in the darkened room and huge screens beckoned me in with their colourful Catherine wheels. I had watched ‘I Am Not Your Guru’ and I’m an experienced hypnotherapist and NLP Master Practitioner but nothing had quite prepared me for this.
Whatever your views on Tony Robbins, you would have to agree that he has created for himself an extraordinary life and many that come to his events credit him with their own extraordinary lives. I myself have gleaned many a gem from the pages of ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ and I had come to ‘play full out’ and see what the big man could unleash in me.
Naturally reserved, perhaps even ‘uptight’, I was immediately out of my comfort zone. Within seconds of his arrival, he was demanding a high energy; people pogoed vigorously whilst sandwiched firmly between the slim rows of plastic seating. I threw in some half-hearted knee bends like a badly faked orgasm and cringed inwardly. Whilst I truly wanted to create the high-energy state that would propel me forward, I wondered whether, perhaps, a more sedate, more English energy would suit me better.
Next came the hugging. In an attempt to reinvigorate the masses, we were sent on frequent quests for seven hugs; high fives; massages from random neighbours. We yelled ‘You Rock!’ and ‘I own you!’ into the strobe-lit faces of excitable strangers. It all felt very superficial, cheesy and cultish.
I sat back. I observed. I judged.
And then I began to question myself: why was I here? What had I come for? Why did this bother me so much?
We have all used the phrase ‘don’t get yourself in a state’. We know that if we focus on things that create negative emotions the results will be destructive. Yet we seem less aware of the possibility of creating good states, great states even and less rehearsed at doing that. I decided that I would let go of my judgement and let this charismatic man guide me into an outstanding state.
At first, I had to fake it. I must admit, I felt self-conscious and a bit ridiculous but, clearly these feelings were getting in my way. I had come with the full intention of completing the fire-walk. As a hypnobirthing practitioner, well-being teacher and mother, I knew how powerful this anecdote would be. I felt confident that Tony could get me through it and I knew that I would have to let go and offer myself up, fully, unfettered, unreserved and open to the experience and so I did.
Tony kept a room full of people buzzing with energy for the next nine and a half hours. The man is a machine. There were no breaks. He didn’t even leave the stage to pee. He used the full gamut of hypnotic and NLP tools and their effects were amplified by the remarkable dynamism of 10,000 positively charged people on the crest of a decision, like a colossal wave about to break. Cities could be powered on this kind of energy.
We were guided through mass visualisations, we danced, we chanted, we high fived and weren’t given a moment to reflect on the possibility that placing the bare and tender flesh of the soles of your feet onto smouldering coals might not be the most sensible action of a rational adult.
And then came the moment where we took off our shoes and socks and were decanted from the stadium, unfurling like a triumphant crowd. Intermittently, we roared the opening notes of White stripes and chanted ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!’ I registered my own excitement and chose to ignore the inner voice that wanted to play out the many scenarios which concluded with me faceplanting in the coals or immobilised by sheer terror as my toes bubbled and spat like sausages on a summer BBQ. These thoughts, I decided, were not my allies on this particular quest. I punched my fist in the air and chanted again, ‘YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!’
Funnelling out of Excel onto the concrete plains, I felt the bite of the cold, hard surface beneath my feet and imagined, for just a moment, the contrasting sensation of burning coals…’YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!’ We inched forward in the dark. The crowd, like dense fog obscured my view until, suddenly, it thinned and I was watching my friend as she stepped into the coals. And, then, fixing my eyes firmly on the London skyline, an authoritative voice proclaimed me ‘ready’ and I strode forwards, noticing only the change in sensation from hard to soft. And then I was being told to wipe my feet and celebrate. My celebratory roar was fully, unfettered and unreserved. I was elated.
Did I perform a miracle? I doubt it. Apparently, coal is a poor conductor of heat and there are a number of theories which claim to explain how a person can walk, unharmed, through hot coals. But that isn’t the point. To quote Oprah: ‘All animals know to run from fire!’ Hypnosis and NLP can eradicate the fears, doubts and beliefs that prevent us from achieving what IS possible and to harness the strength and courage to make it happen.
So now, with a spring in my step and a fire-walker metaphor in my pocket, I step back into my own extraordinary life, where I have the privilege of guiding others to find THEIR possibilities.
Thanks to Alix at Vanity Van for having me on her team for the event: