Spending two days on retreat with Gestare last week, a women’s art collective I co-founded 5 years ago. Gestare is an artful and nourishing part of my life. Though it has been an at times challenging over-commitment for me, amidst my time-pressured life of work and mothering young family. But I have hung onto and in our artistic collaborations, knowing I want to be there. And wow, have we been busy, in a steady-progress-kinda-way, when you see what we have been up to over these years.
From labyrinth walking, ancestral journeys, tree-work, to “nap-ins” and dream scrolls, our collective artwork grows and is sourced from a process-based, Earth-centred, divine and sacred feminine honouring, women’s circle way of working together. “Process” means we engage sounding, ritual, labyrinth walking, movement, journal writing, and that we take time in circle to hear and share in each other’s life stories, sometimes at the expense of what might look like ‘working.’ This can be a source of tension in our processes, the line between processing our lives and ‘doing’ the work! Yet at heart, this is a deepening aspect of our artworkings, to know and support one another, to go between the personal and transpersonal, moving along together through shared art projects. Echoes of the feminist consciousness raising groups of times past, mixed with our shared experiences as ritualists, and women’s spirituality circle makers.
This woman-to-woman way, is a way of being fully seen, mirrored with/in each other, yielding to the creation of our collective art practices. The art is a creative life-based practice, growing from our skills and our lives, our commitment to trying things out in shared trust/vulnerability with various practices. Art is produced in both tangible and intangible forms. Sometimes, as in our initial vision of the “nap-ins,” an odd-ball-seeming idea (yes, we DO laugh at ourselves!!) becomes a profound art practice, to be shared with groups around the world.
The gift and re-mothering
Related to all this, I am just now re-immersed in thinking about the “gift” and “gift economy,” while reading a review copy of Genvieve Vaughan’s new publication (lucky me!) “The Gift in the Heart of Language” (2015). I am reading on the heels of the MIRCI /Gift Economy conference in Rome. And as they (Nané via Einstein) say, “coincidence” is goddess’ anonymity:
Vaughan’s book is groundbreaking in its complex simplicity. Understanding the gift, what it is and isn’t, puts so much into perspective. Once you see how the capitalist exchange economy functions, as a parasite of the maternal gift economy, various other critiques of the too-many human/Earth exploitations fall into clearer alignment. We have an already-made answer in the maternal gift. The "push" of my own work in birth-philosophy is rooted in the primacy of maternal relations, as lived by mothers-themselves, and midwives-at-work.
Gestare is truly engaged with the gift economy. As artists, our work comes from and is shared by us, without payment or necessary economic reward within our collective. Through writing essays we may further our careers, in needed publications for academic ‘advancement’ and such. Yet the work is unfunded, and comes from the gift of time and presence that we give to each other and ourselves, and then share with others. We advance transformative and restorative living ideals, and woman-centred /honouring ways of being with others on the Earth. Being artist-scholars, and experimental artists, we work with/in processes that benefit our lives, which can have beneficial impacts with the people and communities who also experience this work.
The gifted/gifting part makes me think more about practices of “re-mothering.” This theme arose on my recent California trip, watching the last WSMA graduates present their thesis projects. Almost every one of those women had in one way or another been on a profound journey of re-mothering herself in community with others and the sacred feminine/goddess, through her WSMA studies. This aspect of woman-centred, transformative education seems to have been more explicitly guided by the WSMA faculty in the last few years. We are women healing wounds/lineages from mothers and traumatic experiences of mothering in our families and communities. This is a difficult topic to surface and admit in patriarchal society, let alone in an educational context. Yet the experiences and wounds can be very real. Beyond mother-blaming, there are layers of daughter-healing that many of us have had to face to become the empowered mothers, parents, and people we are in our lives. To work from nourishment of the “gift,” through life-based ways of being in the world, valuing unconditional love, nurturing relationships, and doing the “work” of healing with each other. It takes community, and is not an easy path, working through the struggles/anguish of self-location.
I think this is an aspect of our Gestare practices, the re-mothering we share in with each other. This could also be framed as “sister-ing” each other, being compassionate sisters to one another. A way of women-being-with-women in our lives. To hear each other's challenges, not in any sentimental kind of way, and not as therapy per say, but to witness each other, and move on and forward with more insight, more love. This is the mirroring aspect of women caring with and for other women. In understanding the gift economy, it’s the giving of language, words-in-communications, care, time, (and food, housing) that a mother does with her child. In Genevieve Vaughan’s view we are “motherers” to babies, children, and to each other and the world in this sense (not having to be a physical mother). This is one-way gift to the receiver (not an exchange). We don’t expect a reward or payment, if done in terms of direct nourishment, rather then through violence, or conditional giving. We give simply because the child requires it to live and thrive. You might also call this gift “love.”
On this theme of “re-mothering” and the “gift” (which I draw a line between, visa vi Vaughan’s groundbreaking gift analysis based in the maternal), Cixous catches my eye with two paragraphs, one in Coming to Writing, and one in Laugh of the Medusa:
“Woman, for me, is she who kills no one for herself, she who gives (herself) her own lives: woman is always in a certain way “mother” for herself and the other. There is something of the mother in every woman…In woman, mother and daughter rediscover herself.” (Coming to, p. 50-51)
“a woman is never far from “mother”…There is always within her a little of that good mother’s milk. She writes in white ink.” (Medusa, p. 881)
“Woman for woman—There always remains in woman that force which produces/is produced by the other—in particular the other woman....There is hidden and always ready in woman the source; the locus for the other. The mother too, is a metaphor.” (Medusa, p. 881)
When a nurturing-centred way of maternal mirroring was missing in some way (or given through physical or verbal violence), as it was for some of us daughters, re-mothering can come through other women and communities later in life. This is true for me, in my healing studies of grassroots midwifery and women’s spirituality, in which I engaged close friendships, studies, and circles with other women. But it also true in my relationship with my husband as a companion. I think Cixous’ readers can feel this way about her generous texts, which give the gift of self-formation and mirroring in the reader, through a text that makes space for you.
“What moves me to write—is analogous to what moves the mother to write the universe so that the child will grasp and name it.” (Coming to, p. 51)
The gift—written in white ink of mother’s milk.