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.


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