Reaching Beyond the Limits of My Own Feminine Consciousness

 

Okay, I cannot ignore the fact that I am publishing this post on the day that the US presidential election awarded the highest office in the country to a man who is now widely known as a sexual predator a for his vow to restrict or even completely block entry of Muslims into the USA.

Quickly this morning I was able to recognize that – as with everything else I am currently experiencing in life – it will be in my best interest (perhaps ALL of ours) to see how this situation is working FOR me and NOT Against me. Echoing many friends and mentors, I will point out that this choice did not all come together in one day. We have been leading up to this for some time now with our collective negativity, complacency and general reluctance to fully stand up for what we believe and know to be true. I know some people have put lots of effort and blood/sweat and tears into it but as a collective nation, we are clearly quite divided. And I am certainly not innocent! I have taken too long myself to finally get it together and share my stories and the things that are dear to me.

I see this election outcome now as an opportunity to be inspired, to organize and unite with Americans and international communities alike. I have no idea exactly how to do this. I suppose I will figure it out along the way. I will start by opening my mouth and raising my voice right here. Singing my song for everyone to hear.

On that note:

The following is a reflection on ways  feminine spaces in Islamic culture have taught me about community, trust and support and the importance of pushing limitations and boundaries.

Living in Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates over 10 + years from 2000-2010, my continued relationships with the cultures through my marriage to a Moroccan man, my love for Arabic language and the Arab – Muslim friends and acquaintances I have grown close with around the world exposed me to the magic that can happen when women regularly gather together to work, live, raise their children and go through life inwomen-only spaces.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know this thought is loaded with politics. I know that some of this separation of women and men in Arab-Islamic societies has been a way of controlling and keeping women down. I know so much of it is unfair – BELIEVE me! I have been down that road. I rejected and resisted entering these women-only spaces for a very long time. For several years,  I barely dipped a toe in – the hammam (public steam bath) in Morocco, which I visited only once in my first year in Morocco and at the weddings and parties I was invited to in those first couple of years – I stayed close to my male friends with only a brief nod in acknowledgement of the women who were sitting on the opposite side of the room. I feared those spaces. I thought being with the women would somehow make me smaller and even restricted. And I acknowledge that from valid perspectives in certain contexts, this is exactly what it would be.

However, there is a realm I had never imagined. A level of collective, supportive feminine consciousness that nurtured my soul and taught me how to be a member of a group – something I had never known as an only child to a single mom in the USA, moving from state to state every few years of my childhood. I was very good at being alone, justifying this with a prideful independence. That independence has served me extremely well. In fact, it facilitated my inclusion into the female collective I now describe.

In the UAE, I worked inside Abu Dhabi public schools where all staff are female through primary school and in high school male and female students are separated into different schools with male staff for the boys and female staff for the girls. For three years, I went to work every day with only women. The security guards and a maintenance man here and there were the only exceptions. These men had to announce themselves – standing just outside of a doorway with eyes averted – before entering a room, giving the women inside time to cover their heads and sometimes even their faces before he entered.

Inside those rooms I was welcomed. My otherness was recognized and acknowledged but for the most part did not hinder my inclusion. My deep interest in and experience with Arab/Islamic culture and my willingness to listen earned me their trust. Every day we shared food and coffee, stories about our husbands, children and lifestyles. (I did not have children yet so they loved to offer their wisdom about what to expect in the future – some of them were a bit worried about my age (I turned 30 the first year) and the fact that I still hadn’t had a child. They were fascinated by my knowledge of yoga and meditation. Some of them were even so brave as to join me in group guided meditations in the school gymnasium – though they weren’t so sure this was an activity approved by Islam.)

I was invited to come to their homes, developing am especially close friendship with one woman mentioned in the previous post. Through her, I was able to witness and participate in cultural and religious gatherings: weddings- which are also female only in the UAE, the men’s party taking place on a different day or in a different location – birth celebrations, trips to the mosque, or lazy Sunday afternoons hanging out watching Egyptian soap operas and drinking more tea and coffee.

There were women who got a wistful and faraway look in their eyes, asking me what it felt like to be on the beach in a bikini. There were other women who stifled laughter when they asked me why American and European women felt okay going jogging in the street in their underwear (shorts and a sports bra/tank top). As my interest in Islam began to grow, and when I eventually declared my own belief in Islamic practice (while meditating at a yoga ashram on a Thai Island – that’s another story), there were some who wondered about my sincerity – asking me to recite various parts of the Quran – which I did – and others who worried for me and my decision not to wear the hijab – not covering my hair as they did. Still they welcomed me, every day. They embraced me. I prayed in mosques in rooms full of women at times savoring the profound collective energy of a group feminine meditation. At other times I found myself in mosques suspiciously empty in the women’s room – indicating that for many women their duties inside the home or other cultural (patriarchal) restrictions related to womanhood required or made it easier for them to just pray at home.

Women in these cultures often shared the care of their children. In Morocco it was not uncommon to see breastfeeding women feeding the infants of their cousins or sisters. I met grown men who introduced me to their “milk brothers,”  – a close friend who was otherwise unrelated and had been breastfed by the same woman (one of their mothers, another woman all together, etc). I have had Moroccan mothers on long train rides pass me their infants to hold while they ran to the toilet or got up to stretch or rummage through their bags for food, a diaper change, etc. In the UAE more women had foreign housemaids to mind their children but the Emirati mothers were never far away and in the beginning I would lose track of which child belonged to which woman since all of the extended family freely blended together and women took responsibility and care for all of the children.

And at the risk of rambling on – how awesome is it that there is a separate – much shorter line for women at the bank and the DMV!?!?!?! (Some of them with curtains so you are totally free from the leering eyes of men! Yeah there are leering men all over the world!)(Yeah, I’m stifling a joke about the new president elect.)

I left the UAE and returned to the USA in 2010, when I was still pregnant with my first child.For many reasons the last six years of living in the US and being a mother have been a strange and challenging transition. Something I have missed most about living in the Middle East/North Africa is that sense of community. It has been lonely at times raising my kids in the USA where it can be very natural for Americans to isolate themselves in the hustle of the lightning-speed of the daily grind. I have fantasized about all of the community I would have had available to me in mothers in Abu Dhabi or in Morocco that sometimes only translates to text messages with other overly busy, overworked, overtired American mom-friends over here.

What to make of this? In my personal experience, I have been fortunate to explore my American feminine consciousness as highly independent, a solo traveler, a rebel in some cases, a trail blazer. All of this has beautifully led me to see and know some complementary, harmonizing aspects of Middle East and North Africa feminine consciousness. I learned what it looks like to belong to a group, to steep myself in feminine energy, issues, and practicalities where before I tended to avoid understanding what it is to be a woman.

Reaching beyond the limits of my comfort in these ways has incited a personal expansion, a deeper compassion and understanding for others than I could have developed if I had insisting on clinging to what I thought was comfortable – what I thought was the “right” way. And in turn, I have inspired others to challenge their own boundaries – as in the case of the women who adventured into yogic meditation with me, those who dared to learn to speak English with me, invited me into their homes, allowed my different ideas to spur conversation a their dinner tables.

I regard all of this as deeply significant at a time when my original country – the USA – and the rest of the world – is in dire need of unity, healing and a renewed sense of connection – with the self and to others. There are plenty of illusions, distractions, falsehoods disguised as truths that parade through our lives. We latch on to those – recognizing differences and allowing fear to dictate our responses to those differences at the encouragement of media, politics, and others with questionable, selfish agendas.

What is possible when you push the limits of your perceived boundaries?

What is revealed when you pull back the veils of perception and assumption?

What’s left when we strip away labels, “shoulds,” and attachments to identity?

Honestly, the simple answer to this is: Truth. Love. Purpose. Potential. Literally everything is possible when we remove limits and fear.

What will that look like for you? What will you do?

“Recognize the other person is you.” -Yogi Bhajan.

 

“The degree to which your Consciousness expands, is the degree to which you understand yourself and the universe.” ~ Gina Charles (Artist: Alisha Lee Jeffers) ..*:

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Categories: Feminine Consciousness, Inspiration, Morocco, UAE | Leave a comment

The Privilege of Awakening Through Intercultural Experience.

I thought I was a liberated, empowered and independent woman until I encountered Islamic feminine culture. Over the course of ten years living in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, I learned to recognize the vastness of possible expressions of femininity and how I had been rejecting certain feminine ways of being to my own detriment.

Everything you experience is subjective because you naturally and unavoidably filter all that you see, do, and understand through your own consciousness – your own experience of being.

The thing is that people are living in different cultural consciousness wherever you go and it is a privilege and a duty to recognize that. Even if you cannot ever completely understand it or have it – taking the time to recognize it will make all the difference.

Here’s what happens when you start to realize where you come from culturally –

  1. You recognize your gifts and your challenges. For those of us who are free to buy a plane ticket, pay the fees for a passport and visit almost any country we choose – this is a privilege easily taken for granted. When I began to recognize this privilege as a gift, the quality of my experiences changed. I became more open to respect and experience the cultural differences I met – even when they made me uncomfortable or angered me, in some cases. To take it even a step further, I could see that the things that made me most uncomfortable could be directly traced to something within myself that needed attention.

 

  1. You have a deeper understanding of where your beliefs come from – for example – when I noticed I felt discomfort, confusion and even rejection around the idea of creating relationships with Muslim women in Morocco back in 2000 – my introductory year to the MENA , I didn’t realize at first that this was my American culture – or my understanding of that culture rising to defend itself against the “otherness.” I slowly came to realize that Arab/Islamic feminine culture was challenging everything I thought made sense about the world. And this caused me to first reject….and later grow.

 

  1. Your world becomes bigger and enables you to make choices about what you believe, what is universal truth and what is made up of assumptions and locked into certain spaces and times. We are now in a time when the world is seeming to grow smaller. Political strain, climate change, location independent career paths and lifestyles and more factors are bringing us into contact with cultural thoughts, traditions, languages, religious and spiritual practices most people would never have had to consider even as recently as 20 years ago. For many of us, we find ourselves faced with a necessity to expand our sense of what is true. As we are driven closer together as a global population, our narrow beliefs will no longer serve us. We will need to learn to extract what is best and most useful from our history, traditions and social systems while we work together to unveil new, more universal truths about who we are and how we fit together.

 

I have had the luxury and the fortune to draw from the history and experiences of women in both Western/ North American and Middle Eastern cultures. These cultures – varied and diverse even in themselves – have equally empowering, enlightening aspects that can be blended to create a new consciousness allowing for more freedom of movement between a range of feminine cultural constructs and architypes.

 

I remember what it felt like to be in a large group of Arab women every single day at work. By this time, in Abu Dhabi, I had already been living in Morocco and Turkey off and on for 7 years. I had read deeply about Islamic history and culture. I spoke a fair amount of Arabic – though I discovered with some frustration and embarrassment that my Moroccan dialect was not so useful in the Emirates. The only missing connection had been an opportunity to spend time with women.

 

I worked in an elementary school where all the teachers were women – as a rule. We would spend time in the teacher’s room eating Egyptian coushery (a heavenly meal of pasta, brown lentils and a slightly spicy tomato sauce), gourmet chocolates and endless streams of saffron and cardamom spiced coffee from tiny glass or porcelain cups. Back then I did not have any children. I was newly married and all the women were curious about me and my marriage to a Moroccan man.

 

Over time I began to spend more time outside of work with some of the women. One of them became my UAE bestie and would invite me to her downtown apartment during the week, or take me with her to her mother’s home in a suburb of Dubai where we met with all her siblings and their children, attending weddings and birth celebrations and so on. My number one take away from all of this was the simple yet rich pleasure of belonging to a female community. Their acceptance of me acknowledged our differences. In a culture where the native Emirati women believe it is inappropriate to dance at a party – even a party where only women are attending – they still encouraged me to dance when the music started hopping and the hired belly dancers came onstage at a party. I was dancing with the Filipino housemaids and possibly some Egyptian or Tunisian women – in a minority that was a contrast to the quietly seated Emiratis. But still we respected one another.

 

I will never forget a day, sitting in a luxurious living room at 2 in the morning with my Emirati bestie, listening to the music still loud and booming at the tail end of a new birth party – the kids and the house maids were dancing the night away. I teased my friend about not joining us for a dance, even at a private party in her own family’s home. She looked at me then and smiled. She stated that she was only doing what her mother told her was right. She was doing her best to be a good person, a spiritual and dedicated Muslim woman. Yet, she said that our relationship had begun to show her something else. And though she did not feel the need – or even the freedom to dance, she somehow understood why it was okay for me to do so. And she loved me for it.

 

There we were, two women from vastly different backgrounds, looking at one another across a room in a house in the Arabian desert. We disagreed on so many things. Really. So many. But somehow we met one another where we each were. And we shared a mutual love. We were equal in that each of us was doing what we knew how to do in our desire to be strong women. We were striving to act from love and achieve a sense of satisfaction, balance and fulfillment.

 

This story is neither a beginning nor an end.

 

Stay tuned for the next post where I will talk more about how my feminine consciousness was opened, challenged and reaffirmed through the phenomenon of being “required” to exist in women-only spaces in the Middle East and North Africa. I will talk about the value and the limitations of these spaces, and how they  can help encourage support and community in north American culture (and already are!).

 

The picture is me at an art exhibit in Abu Dhabi around the time of the above story. I won’t share any photos of my good friend mentioned here because she prefers not to share photos of her face on social media.

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