Day 3 of 3, Do Power Differently, 2017 Women & Power Retreat


The last day of the 2017 Women & Power Retreat by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) couldn’t have ended any better. I would estimate about 400 people attended from all over the USA and several other countries. Considering how impactful the program was, that will translate into a good amount of change for women around the globe.

We started the morning with Sharon Salberg, who continued her discussion about mindfulness meditation. Today she talked about neuroplasticity, answered questions from the audience (and gave us some more sage advice), and guided us through an 8-minute met (loving kindness) meditation.

Then we had a keynote from Sarah Peter, an artist, philanthropist and co-founder of the OWLC. Her talk was about women as the subject of art, and women as the creators of art. She presented a slideshow of the works of leading-edge female artists from different countries who are changing the dialogue surrounding women. It was a thought-provoking talk and it got the first standing ovation of the day.

The next keynote was from Tavneet Suri, a developmental economist who focuses on research that can be used to bring people out of poverty and influence policy makers to affect positive change. I hadn’t paid much attention to economics before hearing Tavneet speak today. Her work is very interesting and one of current areas of focus is Mobile Pay, which has proved to be an excellent tool in sub-Saharan Africa. Among the statistics she shared with us regarding Mobile Pay: 196,000 households have risen out of poverty in Kenya, and 100,000 women have gotten better jobs, moving out of agriculture and into business. Her talk was mainly about how economic research and action can provide women with more agency in their lives, and the outward ripple effect of that.

Veronica Domingo joined us for about 10 minutes to guide us in some empowering body movements mixed with positive affirmations. By the time she was finished, I felt ready to take on great challenges, which was the perfect mindset for the next part of the program.

Robyn Moreno (president of Latina Media Ventures) and Dolores Huerta took the stage for a conversation, but first spoke to us individually. My goodness, how impressive these women are!

First we met Robyn, who talked to us about how “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and the importance of telling a different kind of story to show Latinas what is possible for them. I loved her story about how seeing Latina Magazine for the first time changed her life. And how she moved to New York, boldly walked into the offices of Latina Magazine and asked for a job, and then worked her way up to being President of that organization.

Robyn then introduced us to living legend Dolores Huerta, who received a whooping, hollering standing ovation when she walked onto the stage. Dolores has dedicated her life to creating great change. The activism and organizing she has done (and continues to do at the age of 87) is filled with inspirational success stories. I look forward to seeing the new documentary about her life, produced by Carlos Santana. Here’s the trailer, which we all watched together. The energy you might feel when watching the trailer is what I felt coming from Dolores herself during her talk. She led the audience in cheers, had us clapping in unison and shouting at the top of our lungs, “We Have The Power! Feminist Power! Si Se Puede!”

She talked about many things, each one as important as the last. The need for women to take power, empower ourselves, empower others. The importance of organizing and voting. The importance of educating our young girls to be strong and forceful. How women need to take over school boards so we can make a curriculum that includes teachings about the true history and contribution of people of color. The importance of teaching our children properly so as to eradicate bigotry, homophobia, racism and cruelty in the future. Not surprisingly, she got a second standing ovation at the end of her talk.

Then Dolores and Robyn had a conversation. This was mainly about all the different ways women can take action. We watched a video about the work of  the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and heard many success stories about real communities in the USA taking power and making positive change. When asked how she managed to do all of her activist work while raising 11 children, Dolores told us it’s ok to ask for help with your childcare, and she couldn’t have done it without the help of her community. She also encouraged the mothers of young children to take them to meetings, take them to protests, take them out canvasing.

Dolores believes every moment is an organizing moment, and she used every minute on stage to prove it to us. She asked the audience to make a commitment to take action, and gave many concrete ideas about how we can organize our own communities, create our own groups, etc. Even after the conversation was over and we were giving her a third standing ovation, she encouraged us again to get involved. Three standing ovations for this woman, and many of us were crying. What a way to end the weekend!

Well, it wasn’t over quite yet. Carla Goldstein returned and gave a summary of the weekend’s highlights, its themes and its most important messages. So much had happened in just two and a half days that it felt like I’d spent weeks at this retreat. With each portion of the program so rich and impactful, and with so many angles to the theme Do Power Differently, the time was ripe for Carla to weave it all together in her closing speech. She announced that we had came very close to last night’s goal of raising $50,000, which means that a lot of women will be able to receive scholarships to attend next year’s conference.

At the close of the retreat, the audience was invited to come to the front of the room, pick up a pair of scissors, and cut a thread from the artistic backdrop on the stage. I really enjoyed the symbolism of taking a piece of the retreat home with me. I now have a lovely piece of ribbon and will keep it with other souvenirs I kept from the last Omega program I attended (that program was also life-changing for me). I encourage every person who is reading this to find a way to to visit The Omega Institute and participate in a program. If money is tight, look into their scholarship program, which has grown a lot in recent years.



Day 2 of 3, Do Power Differently, 2017 Women & Power Retreat

FullSizeRender 2The Women & Power Retreat organized by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) is still going strong and bursting my heart open with love and inspiration. The weekend got a great start Friday night, setting high expectations for the rest of the weekend. Saturday did not disappoint as I was filled with respect and admiration for the women who graced the stage.

This morning began with the same communal energy from last night. A quick poll of the audience revealed that women had traveled from all over the globe to come together. The nations represented here this weekend include Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Rwanda! I met a birth doula who had driven all the way from Kentucky. There were also women from Maryland and Tennessee. The group was ethnically diverse as well, and it was so nice to see some men in the audience, young and old.

The day began with a heartfelt keynote from Sharon Salzberg, who is one of the world’s best-known meditation teachers and also a core staff member of the OWLC. Sharon guided us through a brief session of mindfulness meditation and spoke about how she came to be a meditation teacher. Her stories touched my heart, and they also touched on the themes of universal vulnerability, suffering and resilience. She shared very wise advice about how we can disconnect from our inner critic, and reconnect with our personal truth. By the end of her talk, my heart felt open. What a nice way to set up the rest of the day.

Next was a panel discussion called Turning Pain into Power. I would have loved for each of the panelists to give their own one-hour talk, so rich are their life stories. Simply knowing who these women are should give you an idea of how engaging the discussion was. First we were introduced to Tia Oros Peters (Shiwi), who is the executive director of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, and has spent decades engaging in social and environmental justice. Next, we were introduced to Gwen Carr, who was  moved to become a community leader and activist when her son, Eric Garner, was murdered by police.  Then we heard from Norma Bowe, a registered nurse who, among other impressive feats, founded the community service and activist group, Be The Change. The moderator was Eva Tenuto, founder and executive director of the TMI Project.

These women shared their deeply personal stories of trauma and resilience. I was surprised by how I could in one moment shed tears over stories of grief and despair, and in the next moment feel tremendous hope and inspiration. Overall the panel was uplifting and gave me some ideas about how I might become more engaged in in my community and co-create positive change in the world. One of the things that stayed with me the most was when Gwen said, “If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.”

The next panel (just as impressive as the last one) was about the ongoing creation of The Women’s Building in New York City. The Women’s Building is being constructed from a former women’s prison, designed by women, to serve women. It will even be built by women. By this point in the retreat, I was actually wondering if my heart would be able to handle any more love and inspiration! I’d never worried about that before, but if I’m going to worry, this is a good thing to worry about. Oh, what a tremendous group of women this was! Carla Goldstein moderated a discussion with Sharon Richardson (founder and executive director of Reentry Rocks), Yasmeen Hassan (global executive director of Equality Now), Judaline Cassidy (the first woman to be elected to the Examining Board of Plumbers Local 1 Union), and Pamela Shifman (executive director for the NoVo Foundation). The audience learned about the role each of these women are playing in the creation of the Women’s Building, and we watched a very moving video. Here are some videos about the project for you to enjoy.

After a nap and a healthy and delicious lunch, I headed back to the main hall for the afternoon program. I’m willing to guess that you’ve heard of It was cofounded by Joan Blades, who also cofounded and Joan introduced us to Living Room Conversations and guided us through a few exercises so we could practice having conversations in a way that facilitates collaborative engagement among people who have different opinions. We only had about 10 minutes to practice but it was a lot of fun and it was just a preview of her break-out session, which would happen a bit later in afternoon.

There were six break-out sessions to choose from, all teaching practical skills for us to practice in our day-to-day lives. Before splitting up into these sessions, we got a brief introduction to each one by the presenters, which was very helpful.

  • Life Through Prose-Colored Lenses, by Aja Monet
  • Courageous Communication, by Diana Adams
  • Turbo Kick Live, by Veronica Domingo
  • Walking Meditation, by Sondra Loring
  • Nature’s Workshop, by Alisha Mai McNamara
  • Living Room Conversations, by Joan Blades & Debilyn Molineaux

We had plenty of time to rest and have dinner before the evening program. This break came at the perfect time because the night was high-energy and big fun!

The keynote tonight was given by superhero Anna Deavere Smith, who impressed us with her talk and dramatic performance. If you aren’t familiar with this powerhouse of a woman, please read her bio linked above, because she is worth knowing about. I’ve also linked her TED Talk here. Her perspective on the #DoPowerDifferently theme of the retreat, and her theatrical performance, were simply magical. As soon as her time was over, entire rows of the audience leapt to their feet to cheer for her. She got the biggest standing ovation of the night and we continued to hoop and holler in appreciation until she left the building (she had to catch a flight back to California as soon as she was finished).

The appreciation kept flowing from the audience after Carla Goldstein returned to tell us about how the OWLC was born, and about all the different organizations they work with to support, guide and feed the advancement of women all over the world. As she explained, in the 40 years since The Omega Institute’s inception, half a million women have come to to the main campus to participate in programs. When those women were asked what was needed in order to make positive change, leadership was repeatedly mentioned. Thus the creation of the OWLC. They have a goal tonight to raise $50,000, to be used to bring 50 women to next year’s Women & Power Retreat who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. It was heartening to see how many people in the audience contributed to this fundraiser to invest in the future of other women. Paying it forward feels so good, and it had us primed for the final event of the night.

In fact, the night ended on an almost ecstatic level and I’m still buzzing on that energy as I write this. Women of the World gave a concert and by the end of it, the audience was going wild. The singers in this quartet are from Japan, Italy, India and Boston (her family is from Haiti). As such, they sang one song in Japanese, another song in Italian, a song in a Haitian language, and one inspired by the musical sounds of India. In fact, they have a repertoire of 31 languages and tonight they also sang a song from Argentina, and one from French Canada. For this concert, they were joined by two men, a percussionist and a guitarist, who told the audience how important it is for women to have the support of men when doing power differently. I was glad to hear this message from a male perspective and again noticed how much I appreciated that there were men in the audience of a women and power retreat.

The music was beautiful and rousing and the energy in the room was contagious. It felt like a party. It was a party of sorts, because it was a really a celebration. Women of the World got a jubilant standing ovation, with three songs still to be performed! They eventually closed their concert with an old Negro Spiritual and it seemed like everyone in the audience jumped up, threw their hands in the air, whooping and clapping to show their appreciation. People all over the campus must have heard this! My goodness, what a fantastic evening. So joyful.

After a day like today, and all that happened last night, I’m sure tomorrow will be incredible.


Day 1 of 3, Do Power Differently, 2017 Women & Power Retreat

FullSizeRenderThe opening night of this year’s Women & Power Retreat by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center just finished and I’m feeling inspired, loved and powerful. From the moment I stepped out of my car and onto the campus of the retreat center, I knew this weekend would be one to remember.  An Omega staff member was greeting guests in the parking lot with a couple of Hawaiian leis around his neck and a ukulele. Yes, this feels like it will be another life-changing weekend in Rhinebeck.

After settling into my cabin, I walked down the hill to the main hall where all the main events of the weekend will happen. I needn’t have known where the main hall was; I could have found it by following the sounds of laughter and jubilation. The energy in that space was fantastic! Hundreds of women of different colors (and some men too) filled the floor. Music filled the air. A curated art installation filled the walls, representing 14 women and their thought-provoking work in the fabric arts. Everyone I mingled with was approachable and friendly, and the air was pregnant with a collective anticipation of the experiences we would soon share.

Carla Goldstein (co-founder of the Omega Women’s Leadership Center) opened the retreat with an exploration of this year’s theme: Do Power Differently. She beautifully stitched together the different aspects of this concept, even explaining the significance of the stitches in the art on the walls. As she explained, this is the 15th year of the conference and they recently decided to start calling it a retreat instead. This is why The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies was created. It’s a retreat center. And, as Carla described, the schedule for the weekend was designed to allow people to truly retreat. To step back, get a different view, practice new things, practice self-care, self-healing and personal growth. The atmosphere on campus really is unlike any other place I’ve been. People here are encouraged to meet new people, learn from each other, learn new things about themselves, and reconnect with their innate wisdom. It’s a refreshing change and when I’m at Omega, I feel like I’m part of a gigantic family.

This sense of community started at the very beginning of the program when a microphone was passed down a randomly-selected row of the audience. Each woman in that row told us where she was from and why she chose to attend the retreat. A few were from the local area, but one woman had traveled from Canada and another had come all the way from Spain. But all of them were friends and they each explained that they had met up at the retreat to celebrate their friend’s 50th birthday. Finally, the birthday girl herself stood up to introduce herself, and the entire audience showered her with loving cheers and applause.

Next on the schedule was a song – an opening blessing – by the award-winning a-capella group, Women of the World. They’ll give an entire concert tomorrow night, but this one song gave me chills because their voices were so pure and powerful. A quote from their website: “By making music together, we have made beautiful friendship. In this spirit, we celebrate the beauty of diversity. We sing for not just tolerance, but wisdom, respect, and joy.”

The keynote for this evening was given by Elizabeth Lesser, who co-founded The Omega Institute 40 years ago. You may also know her from her best-selling books or her appearances on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey. My goodness, what a wonderful and clever speech she gave! This was my first time hearing her speak in person and it was the kind of experience I’d expected from her. Elizabeth has a way of getting right down to the center of me with her words, and speaking to a part of myself that feels like it shares the same mind and soul with everyone else in the world. She shared her approach to women’s leadership and how we can become part of the solution to the world’s problems by healing ourselves and helping to heal others. It has to do with emotional intelligence and finding your voice, connecting to your truth, and connecting with the people around you.

She guided us through a brief meditation to connect with our emotions, and as soon as she had us put our hands on our hearts, I cried a little bit. Then she had us hold hands with the person next to us. That was really nice. You might think it would have been awkward to hold the hand of a stranger, but not in this space. The woman whose hand I held was indeed unknown to me. We’d only exchanged a few pleasantries earlier in the night, but by the end of this meditation when it was time to un-clasp our hands, I leaned into her a bit while she gave my had a good squeeze, and we shared a hearty laugh. It’s not surprising that things like this happen at Omega. Their programs have a way of bringing out parts of ourselves that are usually hidden, and inspiring interactions with people in ways we don’t typically experience in day-to-day life.

Based on the standing ovation Elizabeth received on this opening night of the retreat, I’d say she inspired the entire audience. I do recommend you look her up on YouTube to hear what she has to say.

The evening closed with a discussion between Elizabeth Lesser and Loung Ung, who is is most recently known for a movie she co-wrote with Angeline Jolie. First They Killed My Father (available on Netflix) is an adaptation of her biography, and we watched some excerpts during the discussion. Long and Elizabeth talked a lot about Loung’s life, genocide in Cambodia and domestic violence in the USA, but the theme of it all was resilience, love, family and community. I can’t imagine what it was like for her to lose both of her parents and 20 family members to war, or the ways in which she changed when she was forced to be a child soldier, or what it was like to be transplanted to Vermont at the age of 10. Though the discussion was very serious and explored some disturbing topics, I sure did feel a lot of hope for the future by the end of it. The current political and cultural climate has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed lately, but after this first night of the Do Power Differently retreat, I already feel energized and optimistic about creating a better future.

Oh my goodness, what a night! Tomorrow’s schedule is packed and I have a feeling I’ll be floating around on Cloud 9 all day. I’ll post a summary of the day’s experiences. Stay tuned…

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