This month we are using our voice, our platform and our community to sing out a song of unity. When I first started a Red Tent I used to call in the circle by welcoming everyone in the room and lighting a few candles for women of the past, present and future. I felt a fiery tingle when I said ‘as we sit here in circle we are connected to all women around the world coming together in this way.’ The hairs on my arms rose up and my heart lifted as I thought about the power and presence of a sisterhood spanning the globe.
This month we want to go beyond the borders, the divisions, the separation that filters through our politics and identity. We want to announce our directory as worldwide: not just our sisters throughout Europe but all our sisters. This is a vision we have held in our hearts for years. At the same time, as a few volunteers doing this work alongside our everyday lives, we wanted to wait until it was tangible, real and possible. We launched the directory with four listings in 2007 and it has grown to 200 plus. We have the same sense that this will take time too. We imagine that Red Tents across the world will find us gradually.
The story of Ellen Harding Baker, a science teacher from Ohio, comes to mind. She spent seven years embroidering a tapestry of the solar system, completing it in 1847. Her vision was to travel and teach women locally about physics, at a time when colleges were closed to women. We honour her using her platform and skills to share this knowledge and provide support to a greater cause; just as we have, through our work on the directory, focussed on our local communities while having the whole universe in our hearts.
We welcome Emily this month in our Sitting in Circle piece, telling us about her Red Tent in Canada. You can read about her current Red Tent in Santa Cruz in the Find section along with an incredible array of Red Tents spanning the globe.
|Sitting in Circle with Emily|
Red Tent – Witnessing and Weaving Collective Resilience
Right now, nobody is sitting at the desks. No clicking keyboards, no coffee in the pot. But make no mistake, there is work going on.
In the studio next to the coworking desks, a circle of women gather on velvet cushions under a ring of warm-hued silk saris, kissed by the setting sun. In the middle of the circle is an altar with flowers, seashells and river stones. It holds candles, one for each woman which she lights to open the circle: calling herself in, calling in her spiritual or biological ancestors, calling in a sister who is not physically present and sending healing to someone who needs it.
The women range in age from seventeen to seventy. There are women who are menstruating and women for whom the womb is an energetic space and not a physical organ in their bodies. There are women who know they need this, and women who seem surprised to find themselves doing “this kind of thing.” They have brought tarot cards and dark chocolate.
And they have brought their stories.
By day many of these people share a coworking space; they are busy entrepreneurs. But tonight they come to the workspace without elevator pitches, agendas or objectives. This is their real work: to counter the voices that tell working women they must show up polished and positive, hold it all together. The real work is to resist the messages that equate success with scale and conflate self-worth with productivity.
For the years that I ran Shecosystem, a feminist coworking and wellness space in Toronto, our Red Tent hung in the workspace as a token of our members’ everyday resistance. It was decorated with baubles and braids of intention that members added to it month after month, an ever-evolving physical manifestation of our life’s spiral. We met in circle underneath the Red Tent’s silk wings twice daily, to open and close the workday with presence in the body, intention and non-judgemental connection. And once a month, we gathered at a co-created New Moon ceremony.
To me the Red Tent is a placeholder for a space that doesn’t quite exist in our culture: a permanent, physical, non-denominational yet sacred place where people can drop in to connect with our whole selves, with each other and with the cycles of nature. It is a place to be wholly held and witnessed in community. It signals that we have permission to pause for ritual in our busy lives.
Meeting here is an act of resisting a patriarchal culture that fragments us and undermines our innate knowing. It is a place to rest and restore, and it creates a safe container to expose the darkness and shadows in our lives without problem solving or trite silver linings. It is a place where we stop forcing the answers and instead allow them to arise from saying yes (tentatively or boldly) to mystery. It is a place to marvel at the gifts of co-creation, where I have witnessed so many synchronicities and patterns that I cannot help but believe in magic!
I have found that one of the things people want the most from Red Tents is alarmingly simple: they want to be witnessed, not for the sake of ego but for building relationships rooted in empathy. They want to be seen and acknowledged, and they want to see themselves mirrored in the stories of the women around them.
As different as we are, the Red Tent is a place where we glimpse the invisible threads that hold us all together. When we meet each other in this way, we remember that interconnectedness cultivates abundance and resilience within each individual and in the human and natural ecosystems that we call home. The Red Tent weaves our collective lives into something so beautiful that, month after month, it renews my faith in our potential to live more harmoniously with our planet.