Much of life is passed in the Ordinary. We wake up, go to work, pay bills, read news, negotiate logistics, eat doughnuts, go on diets, socialize, exercise, check our bank statements, meet with therapists, and enjoy our hobbies.
A secret known to few is that just to the left or right of the Ordinary is the expanse of the Extraordinary. Here, the unusual is common. What I mean by this is that transformation, discovery, love, healing, evolution of consciousness — rarities in the Ordinary world — are the threads that weave the fabric of the Extraordinary. More is possible here, and those who visit leave with the clarity that if humans spent more time in the Extraordinary, life would be better and the planet would thank us.
This is the story of one such Extraordinary space.
I open my Zoom meeting, and people start filing into the waiting room. One name after another populates the list, and I know them all. Over the past three weeks, I’ve made contact with each of these people, connecting and coordinating about the space we will be co-creating today. Now that the day has come, I am terrified.
I start letting people into the Zoom room. On some of the screens, multiple people are seated together. On others, it’s just a single person. Scanning the faces, I notice two things immediately:
- I’m not the only one who’s scared.
- There are more women here than men.
Where the Women Speak and the Men Hear
We’ve gathered today for a very specific purpose. Namely, we’ve come together to create a space where women generously share their experience of living in Patriarchy, and men listen.
To be clear, when I say the women “share their experience,” I’m not talking about a calm and casual recounting of their lives. Nor do I mean that they are here to enumerate statistics or engage in lively debate or give a class on feminist theory. There are plenty of spaces where that already happens. This space is for something different.
Here, when the women speak, they speak from their insides. They speak from their pain. They give voice to their deep, red rage. They let the terror from centuries of rape, violation, and oppression shake their bodies and speed their hearts. They let pour forth the heaving, heartbroken sobs that belong to them, their mothers’, their mothers’ mothers’, Gaia, the witches.
And when I say the “men hear,” I don’t mean they sit there attentively taking notes, studying, and nodding along. Nor do I mean that they listen, but occasionally interrupt to add corrections or point out misinterpretations or say, “yes, most men, but not me,” or “but we men have suffered too.”
When I say the “men hear,” what I mean is that they sit together as brothers, take down the defenses, and make themselves as available as they can so the words of the women can penetrate their shields and pierce their hearts. It is a totally protection-less kind of listening .
The only time the men speak in this space is during short pauses wherein they repeat back the words they heard the women say.
This work cannot happen in an Ordinary space. It takes an Extraordinary space.
“Where Are You? Where Are The Men?”
Anne-Chloé leads us through centering and grounding, sets context for the space and how it will work, and then opens the floor. There are 12 seconds of silence, and then she is first to speak, and when she speaks, she rages.
“Where are you?” she yells into the space. A prickling sensation rushes up my spine, my neck, and I gasp. I can feel my walls begin to come up already. I say no to the walls, and let the sting in.
“Where are you? Where are the men? Where are the fathers at the dinner tables? Where are the fathers to be with the families? Where are the fathers to hold the children and protect the village? Why aren’t you here? Why do you have to go away? Where do you go? Why do you leave us?”
With her words and voice, the space comes to life. A moaning ripples outward, and other women go next:
“How dare you touch us as little girls! When we are small, when we can’t defend ourselves! How dare you touch us without our consent!”
“I was a child, and you were a doctor! Stop f***ing flirting with my mother! Don’t you care that I have a father? Don’t you give a shit at all that she’s married? That I can see you and see what you are doing? You think I don’t know! I see everything!”
“Stop trying to steal my radiance! It doesn’t belong to you!”
As they go, the space saturates with the pain and grief of the Patriarchal millennia. Tears stream down my face as I listen to the women wail and look at the other men on the call. Many of them are also weeping and shaking.
Moment by moment, I keep guard inside myself. In this intensity, it’s all I can do. I watch for any thought, voice, or move within me that might wall off my heart or immunize me from feeling. There are many: “This isn’t fair,” one voice says. “I’m a good man. I don’t deserve this.” Another voice says, “I’m bad. I am guilty. I’m a terrible human being.” A moment later, I notice my fingers absently twisting a piece of paper.
I refuse the voices. I drop the paper. I come back to opening up, letting the words in, stepping into the groundlessness of this space. I will not stop myself from choking on snot or tears. I will not stop the rage as it tightens my wrists, agitates my chest, makes my feet stomp the wooden floor. I will do nothing to make the shaking in my jaw go away.
I did not come here to play dead. Nor to pretend to be unaffected. I didn’t even come here to listen. I came here to HEAR, for once. To really hear.
“Stop looking at me like I’m a piece of meat! Like I’m just some f***ing hole that you can take whenever you want!”
This woman has been my friend and housemate for a year. I have checked out her cleavage many times. The horror of this sinks in.
“There are no f***ing men! There are just spineless, greedy, self-centered boys!”
“How about listening to women’s ideas for a chance? Huh? We’ve been backing your plans for centuries. What about listening to us?”
This is a former partner and collaborator. How frequently did I oppose her ideas? How frequently did I say, “That won’t work…” or “That didn’t work…” instead of “Yes” or “Yes, and…” or “Yes! Amazing!”?
“The world is falling apart! Do you hear me? The planet is f***ing dying! And where are you? What is it you really care about? Making more money? Looking good? Having your own private life, as if none of this affects you? You could be building the village. You could be initiating the children. WHERE. ARE. YOUR. BALLS? When are you going to stand for something other than yourself?!”
After 45 minutes, we pause. Starting with Clinton, we 7 men repeat back what we heard to the 20+ women. We do so with tears, rage, terror. We don’t take anesthetics. We speak, and when we say something incorrectly, one of the women corrects us. We try again.
There is no hatred in the space, now. No enmity. No revenge. The word I have for what is here is shambles, hands covered in ash that dissolves the moment it’s touched, a group of people earnest in the shambles.
When the men stop speaking, the women begin again.
“Stand With Me, Even If It’s Too Late.”
The second round is like the first, but now more grief than anger. The women share deeply of the pain of Gaia.
I have seen the David Attenborough documentaries. I have listened to the Derek Jensen recordings. I have read about the water shortages and microplastics and climate change and scanned the IUCN Red List.
Nothing touched me like these women touched me.
“I ask that you stand with me, even if it’s too late. Even if the planet is already wrecked and there’s nothing to do. Stand here with me, please.”
The men repeat back this second round. There is silence in the space, and once again the sensation of earnest togetherness among the shambles.
Somewhere, far away, I sense a reflex to take action right away, start cleaning up the mess. One woman asks how to integrate what happened here. Clinton responds: “I suggest you do not try to integrate this. Do not try to put yourself back together.”
Yes. Of course.
We look at each other as a group, the men at the men, the women at the women, the men at the women and women at the men. There’s nothing to say. There’s nothing to do. There’s nowhere to go.
One by one, we say thanks, click Exit, and disappear from the screen.
I look at the clock. It is 1:30pm on a Thursday afternoon.
What can I say? Time goes by. Thursday becomes Friday. The Ordinary encroaches. Still, something remains.
In the days that follow, I go on frequent walks alone. I spend time in Interlaken Park, letting the aftershock-memories of the space quake me into tears and rage. As I weep, my hands grip the moss and roots in this park I love so much. The sounds in my throat are big. Still, I muffle my voice. It’s a public park, and I live in a world where it’s not ok to feel.
Leaning back into the embrace of a tree, crying tears, I am broken all the more to discover that even now, even after all we’ve done to destroy this planet, here she is, still holding us in her arms. “How could that be?” I wonder. I have no answer.
As the weeks move, my mind sometimes tries to make sense of what happened. These attempts are mostly feeble feints. They dissipate quickly, and I am back in the not-making-sense-of-it. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Nothing to say.
One day soon, I notice that the experience has begun to fade. The impulse to reassemble oneself after a great shattering is strong. It’s driven by a thousand unconscious forces within and supported by a million unseen forces without. The best you can do is to stall the reassembly, holding the door open as long as possible. This act of holding the door open is an oft-skipped step in transformational work. I wish more people knew about it.
It’s been 16 months since that Thursday. It took me 16 months to have the clarity to be able to write about it.
What was that space we created? What really happened there?
I still don’t know. Knowing is not the point.
What I clearly detect is that my ability to stay in denial about men and women, about Patriarchy, about what is happening on earth — it doesn’t have the same sturdy legs it once did.
What I think is that if we created more spaces like this, and stood side-by-side in the brokenness, frailty, and shambles, brighter futures might reveal themselves for our species and the planet we steward.