Amy, as you may know, has already proven a controversial figure in the world of social media and viral internet sharing. A few years ago a photo that her partner spontaneously took of her naked in a headstand breastfeeding her daughter exploded across cyberspace and ended up on major media outlets. Most people reacted positively, finding inspiration in her natural lifestyle, beautiful family, and fearlessness in sharing herself so fully online. But some people reacted negatively, and her Instagram account was deleted without her knowledge and was never reactivated, despite a strong campaign launched on her behalf to get Instagram to restore her account to her.
Instead, Amy started a new account and quickly gathered all her old followers back plus thousands of new ones. This is despite the fact that a few days before the recent gathering Instagram once again deleted Amy’s account without warning her. She had learned her lesson the first time and there were zero controversial images posted- no breastfeeding, no naked baby beach butts, nothing. The #savedaughterofthesun campaign was relaunched and this time Instagram restored her account quickly and without incident. It turns out that one person had reported 12 of her images (again, none of which violated any guidelines) and Instagram automatically removed her account without looking into it.
So something interesting is happening here- people are strongly drawn to Amy and find inspiration in the way way she is living and sharing her life, and yet for others her words and images trigger some form of fear or jealousy or perhaps just misunderstanding. And this same strong but divergent reaction seems to surround the Spirit Weavers Gathering as well, which Amy conceived of and has organized and directed twice now.
I realize that some people may just want a reporting of the events and my experiences at the gathering (and there is plenty of that below), but I also realize I am in a unique position to write about the greater cultural meaning of it all as both an insider and an outsider and as someone who has had mixed feelings about the gathering in the past and has spoken with many other women who have too.
I recently listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts Stuff To Blow Your Mind entitled Future Shock, which discussed the 1970s book by the same name that attempted to describe what happens to us as we rapidly integrate changing technologies. Technologies which, as explained by Moore’s Law, are accelerating in an exponential growth explosion which causes us to be constantly playing catch up with what is changing around us.
I was fascinated by this idea, though I’ve heard it many times before, because I could see so clearly that this future shock is partly why I had a hard time understanding what the Spirit Weavers Gathering was all about at first. The questions that many of us had, when Amy and others first started posting on Instagram and Facebook about the first gathering in the fall of 2013, were along the lines of:
What exactly is this? Would this gathering exist if Instagram didn’t exist? How does an online community become a real life community? Is it just a bunch of internet posturing? Look how pretty I am in my tribal poncho with a rainbow star swirl overhead that I spent an hour perfecting with my image editing app? Is this true spirituality? What the hell is true spirituality? Am I spiritual; am I a spirit weaver? Is the confusion I’m feeling actually jealousy? Are these chicks for real? Why am I feeling a longing to be there? Could my life ever look like that? Do their lives really look like that?
I just want to state again that, yes, I had all of these thoughts and more, but that I have also spoken with dozens of women- in real life and online, some of whom have been to the gatherings and some who haven’t- who had the very same thoughts within themselves and conversations with their friends. I’m writing this for them and for all of you who haven’t yet expressed these thoughts, especially those who really do want to attend in the future but still can't quite put their finger on what's holding them back. Because I want you to go! Because it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life and I am so glad that I was able to work through my issues and get myself there!
(Although I couldn’t have gotten there on my own and I am eternally grateful to Amy for being so gracious and generous in getting me down there at the last minute, and to Tehya, who talked through all these issues with me well before I ever thought I’d actually go and who was my ride partner for 23 total hours in the car round trip from Nevada City!)
But back to those questions. Perhaps especially the last one. Yes, their lives really do look like that. The pictures may be enhanced with image editing apps, but those are real landscapes and real people in them, with real intentions and experiences behind their captions. But also no, their lives don’t really look like that. Or rather their lives do look like that, but they look like a lot more too. Their kids throw fits, they struggle financially to make the artistic ventures they share online maybe possibly support them someday, and they (as Tehya likes to point out) all poop.
I really struggled with the online personas we present, especially on Instagram, for a while there. The perfect selfie, posted after deleting the dozens that weren’t perfect, the editing with different retro looking or layering filters and/or sparkly rainbow additions, the gushingly flattering comments made on others’ photos. I watched as my Instagram community slowly incorporated more of these practices, and I was challenged by the feelings of disquiet I felt. And yet, I did it too. I had done it too. And I knew that. I had been sharing photos of myself through my various blogs and social media accounts online for years, and I definitely pick the best ones and delete the bad ones! And I had spent hours playing with different editing apps, and in fact doing so is one of my favorite creative expressions.
I’ve come to a place where I totally accept all of these practices as a part of the rapidly changing world we live in. Instagram is currently one of the strongest ways we connect with people, and more power to those users who are trying to share beauty and inspiration with their followers. I love your selfies if they also tell your story. I love your rainbow sparkles if they add beauty to my day. I love your gushingly sweet comments if they come from your heart and strengthen our bond.
I’d also like to examine the question of jealousy. I’m fascinated by how social media effects our daily lives, especially for women. I have watched and read every serious talk or article I could find about these topics, and have discussed them at length with my friends both in real life and online. As Parul Sehgal points out in her TEDtalk An Ode To Envy- jealousy is the currency of social media. We all post the highlight reel of our lives, leaving the moments of defeat and disappointment off of social media (for the most part). And it is so easy, especially for those of us who aren’t leading lives that are true to what we want and who we are, to feel quiet jealousy instead of happy inspiration when we see people who are. I wish that any person who is unhappy with their self and/or their life would see Amy’s or anyone else’s social media accounts and immediately feel inspired to start changing their life for the better, but for many people the opposite happens and a paralyzing sort of fear and negativity take over instead. I have been there myself.
For the women I spoke with at the gathering, many had to overcome the tendency toward jealousy-induced inertia and instead choose to be positively inspired by Daughter of the Sun and others and by the Spirit Weavers Gathering. Many had to dig deep and clear out old insecurities about their own imperfect lives in order to find the courage to attend the gathering. Many had to take Brené Brown’s priceless advice and let their vulnerability be their strength as they chose to enter into conscious community with a group of beautiful and powerful women, most of them heretofore strangers.
Marianne Williamson's famous quote comes to mind here. "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. As we are liberated rom our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." Many of us see others shining and immediately recoil (who am I to be?...). But many of us also recognize this impulse to hide and stay small, and work to consciously keep it at bay and to pursue relationships, work, and other activities that allow us to shine. I am grateful for Amy and countless other women who inspire me to own my power and step fully into my light.
I certainly experienced a few fleeting moments of insecurity at the gathering. It is so easy, thanks to that constant stream of everyone’s highlight reel rolling in at us on social media all the time, to assume that everyone else has their shit together. That we are the only woman in the room (or under the desert sky) with relationship issues, debt, parenting insecurities, cellulite, addictive behavior. At one point I found myself on a blanket at dusk with a woman I know who lives in another town and whom I haven’t seen in person in years, but have kept in touch with on Instagram. She opened up to me about recent unexpected and unwanted life changes, and when I responded with my own honest vulnerability about every way in which my life is challenging she said, “I thought your life was perfect!” I responded, “What? No! And I thought yours was!”
As women, we all have to realize that no other woman’s life is perfect, and that being honest and powerfully vulnerable with one another about the truth about our lives is the only way to forge genuine relationships that truly empower one another. I cannot recommend Brene Brown’s research about shame and vulnerability enough here. It completely changed the way I live my life, share myself, and relate with other women. I just cannot bring myself to only share the pretty stuff anymore and find that I talk about my struggles more freely now than I used to, both in person and on social media. I try to be direct and honest when I share my challenges and to ask clearly for help if that's what I am after. But usually it's just a chance to feel better by sharing, and to make others feel better by reflecting their own struggles back to them. I don't want to be pitied, but I don't want to be prettied either. Sometimes reality is not pretty.