There will be two types of people reading this post- those who have never heard of the Spirit Weavers Gathering and those who have. Of those in the second group there will again be two types- those who have attended one or both of the gatherings that have happened so far and those who have not. And of those in the latter group there are again two types- those who want to attend in the future and those who still don’t quite know what to make of the whole thing.
I know this because of my own experience of trying to figure out what this new cultural force was and because of the many conversations I had with women at the gathering who had undergone the same process. We talked about their initial reaction when they first heard about Spirit Weavers and about their process of figuring out what it meant to them, making peace with any confusion or insecurities they had lingering, and their final decision to get themselves there. (And I’m still being approached by women who weren’t there but who want to know just what it’s all about!)
What causes this confusion and soul-searching is the fact that the Spirit Weavers Gathering probably wouldn’t exist if not for social media and specifically the popularity of Instagram and the community that my friend Amy, Daughter of the Sun, has built up around herself there with her beautiful images and inspiring words.
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.
But sometimes it is! I really appreciate how stepping outside of everyday life and entering a liminal space like the Spirit Weavers Gathering- a temporary community occupying sacred land and created with the intention of elevating and empowering the people who enter it- challenges one to step into one’s highest vibration of being. You realize quickly that to give into the insecurities will be paralyzing and will stop the flow of abundant love and genuine connection coming at you from every direction. To choose anything less than bringing your truest, realest, most beautifully imperfect self forward in this setting is choosing to shut down to the full spectrum of experience available when so many come together with the purpose of learning and activating future growth.
“Activation” is the word I keep coming back to when reflecting on Spirit Weavers. There was something about that desert land, that group of women, and the intention we all had to learn from one another during our few days there that activated something deep within me, re-awakened tender and true parts of my soul essence and reminded me of the magic of the multiverse and of my own ability to create the life I want by following my heart’s deepest desires. I am willing to say that I am not the only woman at the gathering who experienced this same activation.
Below I share a few of my own photos, but mostly those of some of the many amazingly inspiring women I met at the gathering (or connected with on Instagram afterward)!
I absolutely loved meeting new friends there, but I also cherished the time spent deepening connections with women I already knew. I must admit (along the lines of things discussed above), that I was relieved when Tehya first told me that Alela & Alina- friends from Nevada City who now live elsewhere- would be there because it meant I'd know more people than just her & Amy (both of whom would be very busy as teachers and organizers)! I commend the women who journeyed to the gathering on their own without knowing a soul there. It takes courage to show up alone without knowing anyone in any group of people, and I love that women who only have this kind of positive, empowering community on Instagram were able to establish some real life connections at the gathering.
This photo is from Tracy of Prism of Threads, looking' sweet there in front in her rainbow poncho ;-) Front and center in the blue top is Mila, who taught a couple classes on Wild Fermentation. That's just-made ginger sauerkraut in those jars! I took this class also and am still enjoying my purple kraut. But I'll need to make more again very soon and am so grateful to Mila, with her never-ending smile and radiant warm kindness, for reminding me of how simple it really is to do, and how grounding of a practice it can be when done mindfully. And need I mention how the addition of rainbow sparkles made this photo that much better? Tracy is the queen of beautifully enhanced prismatic photos, as you might suspect from her shop name.
Another one from Tracy, this one of the Cosmic Castle. This actually exists people. In the middle of the desert. God bless the dreamers and artists among us.
Yeah, this also actually exists in that desert. There was a donkey too.
I do not know these ladies, but I was so taken with this photo while searching through the #spiritweaversgathering images on Instagram that I asked to post it here. Such beautiful women! So grounded and present and happy. And their clothing. Let's talk about clothing. I forget, living in Northern California, selling vintage for a living, traipsing around in folksy lace maxi dresses, that most people spend their lives clad in the mass manufactured drab garb that real jobs (damn them) and city living necessitate. Many women at the gathering talked about how fun and freeing it was to get to dress this way while they were there. Which makes me happy, but also sad that so many of us feel so constrained in our sartorial choices. I think that one of the most light-hearted and fun-filled ways that we women can empower ourselves is to dress with full creative expression- to feel like 100% ourselves in every outfit and to cast off the burden of thinking we "should" dress a certain way to please or appease others. I hope this weekend served as a catalyst for some women to begin doing just that.
More beautiful clothing (and more rainbow ponchos)!
Sunshine faces and sweet threads everywhere you turned! Carrie, on the right, is wearing a caftan she got from my pile of vintage during the trade blanket portion of the gathering.
Can't stop won't stop with the glowing, beautifully adorned, rainbow halo'd women! Here is Sarah, Angela, Paola, and Amy (Amy's also wearing a piece from me!). One of my favorite moments of the weekend was actually spent away from the gathering, when Tehya, her 6-year-old daughter Isa, and I journeyed to Angela's nearby desert dwelling to feed her cat during a brief trip to the town of Joshua Tree. We were feeling pretty grimy after a few days in the wilderness and took hose showers standing outside Angela's house under the wide desert sky. It felt amazing to be naked and cleansed surrounded by such a vast and beautiful landscape. Thanks for the water Angela! And endless, infinite, eternal thanks to Paola, who facilitated an absolutely sublime cacao ceremony, and to Sarah, who assisted her and served us all our sacred brew with such grace and beauty.
It was an honor and a truly transcendent experience to have sat in ceremony with these two women and all of the others in attendance inside this amazing yurt (which, like the Cosmic Castle, was preexisting on the land).
Another of my favorite classes was Erin of Active Culture Family's teachings on the Wise Woman Herbal Tradition. As with the fermentation class, it was such a lovely reminder about how simple and nourishing it is to take the time to care for ourselves and prepare plants in the tradition of generations of wise women (and men) before us. Erin is such a wise and grounded teacher and it was incredibly sweet to connect with Erin in real life after years of Instagram followings, and I will be forever grateful to her for suggesting that I connect with her friend Aemen Bell, an herbalist who had come from Woodstock, NY to teach classes on Herbs for Moontime. I never did get to take Aemen's class (which everyone said was amazing), but I sure did end up having many heart to hearts with her.
In fact, she was sitting next to me, hours after we met, as I sobbed my eyes out to Alela's musical performance on Saturday night. It was so unexpected but there was no fighting it, and I felt absolutely safe and understood in Aemen's presence. Alela's sweet baby Vera was asleep on my chest and I just had this crazy full circle moment where eight years of connections and interwoven loves and desires and dreams just came rushing at me- babies, motherhood, daughters, lovers, time and how it changes things. All connected to Alela and her songs and my past and her past and... it was very beautiful and healing. Aemen offered me a heart gem essence she had made and I took it readily, thinking it would slow my tears. Instead they increased! I love homemade medicines, especially ones that work on an energetic level, for their ability to provide exactly what is needed.
Aemen also provided what was probably my very favorite moment of the gathering, and was definitely the perfect ending as I was making my final goodbye round on Monday morning. The most oohed and aahed over piece on my trade blanket had been this dress:
You can see why. I was smitten with it myself, and at least six women tried it on and said they might be back for it, but no one followed through. As I made my way up to Tracy & Tehya's vending space (where Tracy had been kind enough to let me stash my goods in case any last minute buyers materialized) to grab my bag before heading home, Aemen suddenly appeared in front of me wearing this dress! It looked incredible on her and was one of those moments where the perfect piece of vintage finds its perfect new owner. I live for these moments my friends, and after connecting with Aemen so deeply over the weekend I could not have been more thrilled to send this dress home with her (my only regret is not getting a photo of her in it!).
This photo of Tehya and I warping the earth loom was taken by Elena Ray. RAINBOW PONCHO.
And this photo of Tehya and I was taken by me at In N Out on a busy Memorial Day as we left the desert to head back to the foothills. Yes, this is a purposeful juxtaposition of the pretty photos we post of ourselves versus the not-so-pretty real life occurrences that take up most of our lives.
Another juxtaposition. The same photo featured at the beginning and the ending of this post (differently edited to showcase the tweaking I've been writing about here) alongside another view of the In N Out insanity we experienced mere hours after leaving the gathering. The difference was startling! As was seeing my own face in the bathroom mirror after five days without looking into one- oh yeah, that's me! Sunburnt and with greasy hair, but so happy and elevated.
Speaking of rainbow ponchos and editing apps, I've been having fun playing with my Etsy photos since returning from the gathering.
...and enjoying using photos and even vintage pieces to tell stories. I named this cute 90s bell sleeve top A Mother's Prayer in honor of the mamas who were in the desert with their babes at the gathering, especially the two whose children got sick there and who had to dig deep into their maternal knowing in order to make the best choices for their child in those harsh conditions.
Because really, REALLY, if it's not about fun and telling our stories and layering beauty upon beauty and hoping to inspire others with what we share, then it isn't worth doing. And this gathering. and the way it has inspired my life since. was one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done.
I hope to see you there next year.
This humble little post represents about .05% of the true experience of being at Spirit Weavers. Please see the website for the full class offerings, and search hashtag #spiritweaversgathering on Instagram for hundreds more gorgeous images of that beautifully fleeting community under the desert stars.