Recipe for a Wisdom Potluck

All that’s left of our tacos and cocktails are the dinosaur garnishes.

All that’s left of our tacos and cocktails are the dinosaur garnishes.

Here’s a little idea I tacked onto a planning email for our upcoming, long-awaited Gals’ Weekend:

OH, ALSO… I think it would be awesome if everyone came prepared to TEACH something to the rest of us. We can all use my studio as much as we want, but I don’t feel the need to be the art teacher all weekend. We all have ideas and knowledge to share, whether it’s a dance step, a cool chemistry factoid, a tune on the ukulele, or whatever. OK?? I’d love to schedule each person to have their hour (approx) of leader time. :)

As soon as I hit “send”, I started wondering if my request was too demanding. Would people resist, because of time constraints or the stress of preparing something? Did I sound like a control freak?

But responses were positive, and when Stephanie replied asking the group whether teaching knot-tying was a good idea—or if the sailors in our group were already too familiar with it—I relaxed. Knot tying? I didn’t expect that. This was gonna be fun.

Ok, so back up and tell me what you’re talking about.

In late April, two generations of women in my family gathered for a reunion-retreat—a first of its kind for us. My daughter Elena hatched the idea last fall, craving more girls-only time in her life. (She’s not alone in this, what with the daily news and all.)

The nine of us—my two sisters and I, plus our combined five daughters and one daughter-in-law—live all along the west coast, from northern California to southern British Columbia and the two states in between. Coordinating a date and location that worked for everyone took several months to negotiate, but we did it: Easter weekend here in my neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.

The Spot Was Sweet.

Our house is too small for a group this size to sleep comfortably, so we split the cost of a 4-bedroom AirBNB house five blocks away. Coffee shops and restaurants are plentiful and within easy walking distance. Honestly, there was no discussion of how we’d handle food until everyone got here, but I’d picked up some sandwich fixings and breakfast options, and others brought snacks. We decided we’d forage for our own breakfast and lunch at the house, and go out (or order take-out) for dinner each night. This arrangement made the Meals part of the weekend a breeze, and we still ate well.

Then We Found Another Sweet Spot.

We would have had fun together, regardless. Ours is a comfortable group: easy-going, silly, up for pretty much anything (including doing nothing). We like healthy food and sugary treats; exercise and lounging around with a book; talking and silence.

Some of us are chattier than others, but no one needs to be the center of attention. There’s little-to-no drama, unless someone’s performing on stage. Or we’re trying to dance flamenco. Or sing in Swedish. ;)

So yes, the gathering was already destined to be good. But somewhat accidentally, by adding just the right amount of structure in the form of casual learning, we hit the sweet spot.

In fact, as the last remaining three of us described it to my partner Mark on Monday, after the others had left to travel home, “It could not have been better.”

Tell us the recipe, please.

Having more of these “wisdom potluck”gatherings WILL ONLY INFUSE JOY AND CONNECTION AND HEALING into the world, so yes, let’s replicate them. Propagate them. Infiltrate them into our very driven and competitive and in so many other ways masculine-slanted society. Everyone will benefit, regardless of your gender.

How to do it?

First, I should say that our ages and life stages helped make the magic possible. We range from 20 to 57, all healthy, all independent, able to rustle up food when hungry, find coffee when needed, go to bed when tired, get up when ready, entertain ourselves when necessary or preferred. Although we love tiny people and pets, we didn’t have any in our care that weekend. Our partners? All self-sufficient and elsewhere.

Second, we have several teachers among us, plus other experienced group facilitators. So when we gathered in my studio the first evening to kick things off, there were lots of ideas for how the weekend could progress. The plan unfolded organically and, I must say, beautifully.

While of course you are encouraged to alter and tweak and make it your own, here’s the recipe that worked magic for us:

STEP ONE: Have an official beginning.

We jokingly called ours “opening ceremonies” (which later led to a “closing ceremonies” activity). Seated around my big work table, we went around, from youngest to oldest (just for fun, because we were happened to be arranged that way) each sharing the following:

  1. a brief update on our life

  2. something that’s been bringing us joy lately

  3. what we hope to get out of the weekend

  4. what we’ll be teaching

Why it worked: That life update given to the whole group at once saved us from repeating ourselves in a half-dozen separate conversations. The joy question zoomed us in closer to the rhythms of daily life (good addition, Natalie!). Question 3 focused our intentions, prompting responses like “meaningful down time” and “being with people who are similar to me, because most of my time right now is spent with people whose lives are very different than mine.” And also: “Doing a range of things with people who know a lot about me, because I spend time with people who are all focused on the same topic.”

Number 4 helped us move into the next phase: scheduling.

STEP TWO: Create a loose schedule.

Britta took notes on what everyone would be teaching, then drafted a schedule for us to edit. We’re not early morning folk, so our activity times were in the afternoons and evenings, over two days.

Why it worked: We alternated physical activities with discussion-based activities, according to where we thought our energy levels would be. We kept the times loose, but made sure to fit everything in so that no one would get squeezed out of their chance to lead.

We have a collective name, you know—a Hollywood-style mash-up of all of our surnames. That’s it up top.

We have a collective name, you know—a Hollywood-style mash-up of all of our surnames. That’s it up top.

STEP THREE: Jump right in! (Unless you need snacks first.)

I was going to summarize the specific activities we each shared, but instead, I’ll let your curiosity roam around the schedule above.

See if you can match each item below with an activity from the board:

  • Hand-made, color-coded cards were scattered and selected.

  • There was literally dancing on the table.

  • Someone got serenaded.

  • We used chairs as props.

  • Two hours in, we’d covered only four of the dozen discussion questions.

  • Nothing kinky; occurred separately.

  • There are lots of ways to make a square.

  • You have to keep the needle vertical.

  • Fudge goes well with spirituality.

Why it worked: We hit it just right, coincidentally, with a great balance of mind and body and soul work. Teaching became a way of letting ourselves be seen and known in a new way. We chose topics that mattered to us right now, and by sharing them, gave the others a window into our lives, our communication style, and more.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that all of these relatives of mine are nerdy enough to view learning and deep discussion as relaxing pastimes. (I’m not the only one!)

Of course, there was meal time and lounging time in between. It did not feel like a conference where you rush from one presentation to the next in a tightly packed schedule. It felt spacious and intentional, full of growth and belonging.

STEP 4: Bring closure to the weekend.

Before the first person left on Sunday and after half of our group went to church, we gathered at a (gourmet) donut shop to perform our “closing ceremonies.” This involved passing around papers with each person’s name on one, and writing messages about the qualities we appreciate in them.

Why it worked: Those pages became personalized souvenirs of the weekend, capturing the spirit of what we’d shared. It also provided a chance to zoom in on each person, which felt like a little gift of time and attention, and therefore, love.

What was missing also made it great.

Here are some things that did not happen during our weekend:

  • No one’s ideas were reflexively shot down or mocked.

  • No one changed the subject in the middle of the other person’s sentence because they were bored and had stopped listening.

  • No one felt the need to crack jokes as a deflection method, or to gain attention.

These might not be gendered moves… or they might be. You could get these behaviors in an all-women’s group, but we didn’t. It was flippin’ fantastic to be without them. A revelation! And also sad that it was so noticeably different from normal, everyday life. And it’s not like we live among monsters. We’ve just lived in the world for a few decades, in female bodies..

My Wish For Every Woman — and Indeed, Every Human

This is not the first time I’ve felt the magical embrace of full acceptance, but something about it felt new. Maybe it was the size of the group, or the two generations, or the lifetime of familiarity (literally), or the continuous span of time. Probably all of the above. In any case, it was important and worth spreading.

Here is my vision for all of us:

To have or create a circle of people with whom you can speak freely, listen and be heard, even when your thoughts are not fully formed. And in the process of forming those thoughts, to be able to ask bold questions, admit confusion or lack of knowledge, and challenge one another respectfully.

Bonus: To have that same circle of people spontaneously break into applause because of something you did or said, or because of who you showed yourself to be in that moment. (Yes, that happened. And then kept happening all weekend.) To be able to tell each other how valuable we are, how brave and insightful and wise. And funny. Clever. Creative. Thoughtful. Loved.

By practicing with an inner circle, maybe we can learn to communicate better with those whose actions and beliefs we do not understand.

The world is ready and waiting to be healed. Berating the other side won’t do it, and neither will complaining.

Healing only happens when there is honesty, connection, trust, and belonging.

This is just one recipe. Follow it or create your own, and let’s cook up something healthier for all.

_ _ _ _ _

Partly inspired by that April gathering, I’ve been hosting twice-weekly “Sisterhood” gatherings in my NE Portland art studio. Officially dubbed “The Sisterhood of the Crafting Hands” (get it?), we are an informal group of women who come together to make stuff and talk about whatever is on our minds. Sometimes we’re silent together, which also feels good.

To find out more and see the schedule, click here.

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