Welcome to our June newsletter, a midpoint of the year. I’m writing this in the UK, where life has taken on a newly busy flavour, and seems to offer a chance to reflect on how and where the balance can be best found.
I spied this living fence, woven from willow, in a park back in the spring. Tightly bound to supports and itself, the willow will draw up from its roots, strengthen and bloom to provide security for its space – it’s both a solid boundary but also something transformative and beautiful. It doesn’t shout ‘keep out!’ at me like other fences might, yet holds its function with grace and tenderness.
Recently I have been reflecting on boundaries and the points at which it is best to prioritise my own needs. I’ve been thinking about where I can grace others with a ‘no’ and resist the drive to do too much, or fall into being a rescuer or martyr. Prentis Hemphill crystallises this when they say, ‘boundaries are the distance at which I can love myself and you simultaneously’ *. This idea is explored more fully from p153 of ‘Red Tents: Unravelling Our Past and Weaving a Shared Future’, and forms a part of the outlining of care for both self and others that can feel quite a radical departure from what Western, capitalist, white supremacist society projects as expected of women.
So with new freedoms and social plans, workloads, parenting commitments, there are multiple windows of opportunity for growth: by drawing healthy, strong boundaries to establish a truly mutual point of respect. It doesn’t always feel easy.
This month we hear from Natalie sharing her own experience of Red Tents, as well as Aisha who is sharing some of the work and thinking behind the new book. We would love for as many of you to read and share it as possible, and to tell us what you think.
Opening the Circle – Natalie
I first encountered the Red Tent on a sweltering July day in 2015. I had just moved back home to Austin, Texas after graduating and spending a year in my college town in total early adulthood misery. I was on the heels of a breakup, questioning everything, feeling totally lost, and seeking guidance wherever I could find it. My dear friend told me about the Red Tent and I showed up to the event only to discover I was the only attendee. The ‘fabric carrier’ (as we called the tent facilitators) and I sat in circle with each other, eating cookies and drinking tea. Though we were strangers, being in that space felt deeply comforting and familiar. I knew immediately that I would return, and I didn’t miss a month for the next six years.
The Red Tent was the answer to the question I had been asking myself since the moment I received my diploma: Am I enough as I am?
With profound gentleness, utter simplicity, and unshakeable authority, the tent always answered: Yes.
The Red Tent answered this vulnerable (and universal) question not because She could provide some kind of evidence or data to back it up, but because the mystery is the answer. The space in-between, the faith we all share in the experience of the tent, is the answer. I am enough because we are here together and this simple fact makes it true.
I carry this feeling like a talisman wherever I go.
A few years ago I myself became a fabric carrier alongside two others. Taking on more responsibility and giving back to a space which had given me so much was a great honour. However, after the others had moved on, and I spent a year holding virtual tents on my own during the pandemic, I made the decision to step down, which meant that the Austin Red Tent went dark. It was a wrenching decision, but one I knew I had to make, just as I knew I had to attend that first tent all those years ago. I felt that holding the space was taking more than it was giving, and then I realized that I didn’t have anything to prove. Letting the tent go was the gift I was always going to get from Her. It was the lesson waiting for me when I walked through the door that July day, and it was always going to take me six years to learn it. I am enough as I am, and my well-being is more important than proving myself “useful.”
Letting go of the tent was part of Her story, just as much as mine, and I could feel Her yearning for the next chapter just as much as I was. And, I know that whatever is waiting for our tent will reveal itself at the perfect time.
Red Tents: Unravelling our Past and Weaving a Shared Future book
I was 16 when I went rock climbing. I liked the idea of scaling a wall, I liked the idea of trusting that I was held if I fell. But ultimately, I couldn’t match the feeling of fear with the invitation to push into that discomfort and give it a try. My feet stayed on the ground the whole day, I felt like a failure and my awe for everyone who climbed the rocky ravines rose high. But I remember clearly from that day that the safety devices that you wedge into cracks to hold the rope at intervals up the cliff face while you climb are called ‘friends’. They are the points that will hold you if you fall, to literally catch you from falling further. It rolled around my head for years.
While writing the book the image returned and we embraced the thought that honouring each other is about giving space, allowing the ease and discomfort of any emotion and listening fully. When we jump in with advice, our counsel or our questions it can feel like being airlifted out of a situation before you are ready to leave. Offering silence is the friend that holds you from falling down the ravine and allows you to feel things at your own pace and to find the courage to return to your feet when ready.