Feasting at Women's Tables


feast1Since I left my job to write in 1989 I’ve always been part of at least one women’s circle with sometimes as many as four ongoing groups at the same time. My Jungian study group was formed in 1989 and our weekly meetings lasted for ten years. The Purple Pro’s, my writing group, has met monthly since 1990 and usually shared home-cooked lunches. This year is the first we haven’t had a meeting because of changes in our lives that make it too difficult.
In 1997 a few women and I founded The Matrix, an organization dedicated to identifying and meeting the sometimes physical, but always psycho-spiritual needs of women in Central Florida. Until we passed the torch along a few years ago, my monthly meetings with five unusually wise and gifted women were deeply growth-inducing and soul-sustaining. 1997 was also the year I started teaching classes and leading dream groups at the Winter Park Jung Center. When it closed, our dream groups met in private homes until my latest book demanded too much time and energy.
For over 20 years I have regularly shared meetings, study groups, planning sessions, classes, programs, volunteer projects, weekend workshops, retreats, dream groups, and food with circles of women. We opened and closed most occasions with rituals. Some, like the five minute deep-breathing meditation before dream groups, became traditions. Others were tailored for specific occasions like Matrix meetings, classes, holiday gatherings, and individual life passages such as birthdays, weddings, new babies, transitions into crone-hood, house-blessings, illnesses and deaths.
The defining feeling running through all these groups was abundant nurturing. This is nothing to scoff at, I assure you! Think about it. When’s the last time you were with a group of people who wanted to nourish each other more than they wanted to grab all the goodies? I’m not saying there were no hurts, disagreements or misunderstandings, but there were only two occasions when differences were not resolved with emotional restraint born from growing fullness and caring. In both instances, the unforgiving women who left were deeply wounded neophytes in self-reflection.
A climate of abundance is rare among both genders in social institutions where an attitude of scarcity prevails. Not even religions are immune. Think about the usual office and board meetings, gatherings around the water cooler, times off in the break room, holiday office parties. How many have you attended where you didn’t hear a single snide remark or juicy bit of gossip? I’ve sat in faculty meetings where scorn for other professors, departments or colleges was palpable. Served on boards, chaired committees, and attended church functions where petty gossip, misogyny, exclusivity, and competition to impress hid behind the thinnest of pious veils.
I know some women prefer the company of men. I’m sorry for those who’ve never experienced the deep sustenance offered by mature and generous-spirited women, who’ve been poisoned by the spiteful gossip of miserable, mean-spirited women. I’ve shared tables with a few of the latter type when they’ve joined one of my classes or tried to befriend me. But ever since I excused myself from the company of rigid institutions and started communing with like-minded sisters, women like that have never hung around for long. I think their wounds have left them feeling so empty that they crave a constant diet of discord and drama, and I have no appetite for this.
There are some desperately unsatisfied and spiritually starved women out there, and it hurts knowing they can’t digest the kind of food that would help them discover their inherent beauty and capacity for love. But there are also many generous-spirited Queens, Mothers, Wisewomen and Beloveds, and sharing my journey with some of them, including you who join me at this table, has been a major blessing in my life.
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15 Responses

  1. Jean, despite the thousands of kilometers in distance, you are a source of abundant ‘heart calories’ for me ; )

  2. I was filled with yearning when I finished reading this recent post, Jean. I want to be surrounded by like-minded feminine spirits (certainly not excluding men, just their masculinity) and home-made sandwiches. I want hugs and tears, talking and laughter. You make your point with subtle grandeur, and just the right amount of compassionate censure: “I think their wounds have left them feeling so empty that they crave a constant diet of discord and drama, and I have no appetite for this.” I’ve been struggling to put this into words for a few months, as I gently pull away from relationships that are being sustained only for the sake of sentimentality, empty echoes from a past life when surfaces meant more than substance. Thank you for these beautiful thoughts.

    1. Yes, it’s not about excluding men at all. It’s just choosing to have a good store of mature feminine nurturing available to counteract the toxic overdoses of excessive masculinity we’re bombarded with every day. I’m so glad to have helped you find the words to express this growing awareness. When I opened to it my old surface relationships gradually dropped away and wonderful new women presenting new growth opportunities began showing up. All I was doing was following my passion for self-knowledge, honoring my inner changes, and writing about these changes and it just occurred naturally, with no strain on my part. The reciprocal interactions between inner and outer change is very real and powerful. Thank you for your kind words about my writing. Feels good!

  3. One might reasonably ask, “Where are the like minded groups of men?” I find I have nurturing relationships with men in one-on-one meetings, and occasionally in small gatherings of family and friends, but almost never in groups, and never never without the kind of snide remarks you so correctly mention. Among Veterans, who have been there, there is a deep understanding of and wisdom about the consequences of the macho mystique, and we can be gentle with one another; but when the group exceeds two or three, it’s back to the war stories and the glories of the hero. Still, as Andrew Lloyd Webber had it, I’m “just a man”; but the underlying Jungian question is, “How are the feminine archetypes within every man given their due, so that humanity can learn to live on our precious and fragile planet, where only about 20 miles of oxygen above us prevents us from ultimate doom?”

    1. Hi Skip! Thank you for the great comments and question. It’s so beautiful that Veterans are aware of the consequences of the macho mystique. Jung noted, and every Jungian I’m aware of agrees, that great advances in awareness come at the cost of great personal suffering. The reason for this is that suffering is a powerful and painful feeling that cannot be ignored, and when one finally acknowledges it, it opens the door to a return of “feminine” feeling in every area of our lives so that we live with more appreciation, gratitude, nurturance and compassion. This is the antidote for the world’s man-made suffering. People who feel compassion for others cannot coldly rape and kill them, confiscate their property, or allow innocents to starve.
      I once talked to a 70-something marine who said that when he retired from the corps he put all that macho b___s__t behind him and found great pleasure and meaning in taking the lonely little old lady next door shopping for groceries, helping her cook, taking care of her yard, and so on. He said his wife wouldn’t help; she’d made enough sacrifices as a service wife and now it was her turn to live her own life! I thought it was so sad that coldness and bitterness are some consequences of being a female in an extremely male-dominated hierarchy.
      Anyway, maybe one answer to your question Iies with the veterans who have suffered so much that they have nothing left to lose. As Kris Kristofferson, himself a highly decorated and psychologically transformed veteran has said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Perhaps in a society where the voices of men are valued over those of women, if the more highly conscious men who have lost practically everything, learned how to feel, and have nothing left to lose would band together and speak their truths openly, people would actually take them seriously. This could make a huge difference! I nominate you to start and lead this movement! You’d be awesome at it, my friend. 🙂

  4. Jeanie, implicit in what you say is a suggestion of separation of genders. Even at our Easter dinner on Sunday, the women went off to the kitchen, and the men were left to hang out at the bar and tell lies to one another or watch “the game”. I know this is archetypal, but how is it changed without it being a church group, which quickly devolves into why my religion is better than your religion. I just spent the last month traveling with an Orthodox Jew, a variety of Muslims, and my Hindu partner. Although I’ve been among these communities for decades, I did find it wearing to always be trying to fit business in around all of the religious strictures, especially in such a concentrated dose. And yet, on a one-on-one basis, or even in a group of three of us, we can be honest and tolerant of one another without fail–and we can do business together. So what’s the missing link?

    1. Consciousness. Brought upon by suffering, accepting one’s shadow, and allowing oneself to feel. After that, having the courage to speak Truth. Until these two things happen, there will be no significant change in the individual or collective psyche and religious beliefs will continue to be repressive and divisive factors.
      People who transcend this way of thinking are still rare, but there seem to be more and more of them than ever before. And the internet is making it easier for them to get their messages out. So perhaps the psyche’s evolution from Ego Consciousness to Integrated Conscious will speed up a bit from now on. I’m counting on that. As you say in your last letter, our planet is so precious and fragile and we’ve been treating it so poorly.
      As for the separation of men and women at your gatherings, that does seem to be the norm, doesn’t it? I don’t see anything wrong with this, of course, especially if you’re choosing to be with the people you really want to be with. But wouldn’t it be lovely if people of both genders were raised without gender stereotypes and felt free to openly visit with whomever they find most understanding and nurturing, be it a male or female, instead of feeling constricted by expected behaviors? I see some of that happening with our family’s young adults and find it very heartening.

  5. Dear Jeanie,
    For the past four years, once a month during the Dream Group I attend I also get to ‘feast around the women’s table’ and feel so completely nourished afterwards that I can hardly wait till our next monthly meeting.
    Thank you for your ‘abundant nurturing’ that you so freely give us, today it serves as a timely reminder for me, as for the past two years I have been considering starting a women’s circle myself, in celebration of my 50th birthday later this year, the time is beginning to feel right.
    As you’ve had so much experience and knowledge of attending and running women’s groups over many years, could I ask: Do you find there is an optimum number of members? At my dream group around 8 – 12 of us attend regularly and these numbers seem to work well, perhaps I’ve answered my own question there.
    Your summing up of miserable, mean-spirited women really resonated with me, also serving as another reminder for me to continue with my own Shadow work and thank you for putting into words my own desire to create ‘a group of mature and generous spirited women’.
    Thanks once again for the deep sustenance you offer to all who read here, another wonderful post.
    Deborah x

    1. Hi Deborah.
      What a lovely birthday gift to give yourself! I see an interesting correlation between our lives; I was close to 50 when the time for women’s groups felt right to me too. The only groups I was ever in that had as many as 12 people were my dream groups, and that worked as there were always people who couldn’t attend for one reason or another. I wouldn’t want a group to be any bigger than that. My Jungian study group, The Purple Pro’s and The Matrix all had five or six regulars, and that seemed ideal. We met for two hours and always began with a touch-in time in which we shared the latest about what was going on in our lives.. People were usually very careful not to take up more than 2 or 3 minutes apiece, and often it was less, so this usually lasted less than 15 -20 minutes. This was really well-spent time because invariably, in every group I’ve been in, the material studied synchronistically addressed many of the issues we’d bring up. And there was always time for discussion along the way.I just realized I forgot to mention my regular summer Jungian study group in North Carolina which also has 5 or 6 regulars. This one is still ongoing! Wow, have I been blessed! These are some really accomplished women with wonderful minds and social skills!! I wish the same for you!
      Anyway, I also think it’s very important that once you’ve built up a sound core of women who really respect and like each other, you think very carefully before you invite someone else in because the dynamics will change. This can be for the best, of course, but you need to be sure that the women you invite are conscious and open enough not to change things in a counterproductive way, for example by being too dominant or overly talkative. With certain groups (depending on the purpose) it might also help to train yourselves, or get a professional to train you, in group skills like active listening, respectful questioning, how to handle group leadership, and conflict resolution. With The Matrix we consciously and openly sought a higher level of interaction at the very beginning to be sure we nipped potential problems in the bud.
      I’m thrilled for you. I hope you’ll let me know what happens!

      1. Will do Jeanie! thanks for your lovely reply and sound advice. In the future I think six feels about right. The amazing woman who runs the dream group I attend is a Jungian analyst who is approaching seventy years of age (this year I believe!) and in her prime in every way!…and like you she is generous, knowledgeable, caring, inspirational and deeply spiritual – the kind of mature generous spiritual women we all learn so much from! I hope the day has found you well.

  6. Jeanie, I know our Jungian group changed and added so much enrichment to my life that I am forever grateful. It is exciting to see how you are contributing so much to women’s thinking! Hurrah for you, Jane N

    1. Oh, Jane. It’s so good to hear from you. I’ve missed you! Our group was very special. It contributed to what was an extraordinary period of personal growth for me, and I find myself compelled to do the same for others as best I can. Thank you for your so sweet and welcome support, dear friend. Love, Jeanie

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