The conversations became louder and more intimate as the wine continued to flow into the third hour of our ladies retreat happy hour. We had spent the day bonding, hundreds of feet above the forest canopy, zip-lining at 25 mph from tree to tree. We hiked the dewy Washington woods, bathing in the smells of pine and earth. We threw axes, releasing our aggression on the well-worn wooden targets.
And we talked. Many of us were acquaintances, all connected in one way or another to the hostess. But the conversations flowed easily. The excuse to get together was a birthday, but really we were craving intimacy with our friends and were happy to be out of our homes, away from our spouses, and surrounded by nature and other women.
The ladies retreat reminded me of the book, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés Her book is about the instinctual nature of women. She calls for the return to the “Wild Woman” that is within all of us for a more fulfilling life, and describes the modern woman as a “blur of activity. She is pressured to be all things to all people. The old knowing is long overdue.”
I heard the gluten free diet conversations, the difficulties of management talk, the decision to move to better school districts or pay for private school worries. This was a group of highly ambitious, intelligent women. We were striving for success in our careers, the perfect body and the best schools and opportunities for our kids.
But where was the “old knowing” in all of this? What was the “Wild Woman”?
Estés describes the Wild Woman as our “wise and knowing nature”.
When women reassert their relationship with the wildish nature, they are gifted with a permanent and internal watcher, a knower, a visionary, and oracle, an inspiatrice, and intuitive, a maker, a creator, an inventor, and a listener who guide, suggest, and urge vibrant life in the inner and outer worlds. When women are close to this nature, the fact of that relationship glows through them. This wild teacher, wild mother, wild mentor supports their inner and outer lives no matter what.Clarissa Pinkola Estés
I think the “old knowing” is the desire for a vibrant and authentic life. Wild Woman is fierce and passionate. She is devoted to her highest calling and to her creativity. She is the part of us who needs adventure and freedom, depth and mystery.
I caught glimpses of wild women coming through my friends and acquaintances. We howled around the fire pit, into the late night, talking about marriage, sex, children, careers. We cried, hugged, heckled and supported each other. There were flashes of insight when someone realized she was more powerful than she had thought, that she could make it on her own, that she deserved respect.
The wild nature has a vast integrity to it. It means to establish territory, to find one’s pack, to be in one’s body with certainty and pride regardless of the body’s gifts and limitations, to speak and act in one’s behalf, to be aware, alert, to draw on the innate feminine powers of intuition and sensing, to come into one’s cycles, to find what belongs to, to rise with dignity, to retain as much consciousness as possible.Clarissa Pinkola Estés
We made friends with another pack of women, feeling each other out. Those who got along stayed, others left the circle. At the end of the night, we women slept soundly together. Paired together in sleeping spaces, sometimes nuzzling, sometimes claiming our space.
In the morning, we circled up in the great outdoors, hangovers and all; connecting back to our bodies and our breath; the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge filling us with awe. But I wondered if the bottles and bottles of wine and the rich cheeses were what we had really wanted. I wondered about the work hard, play hard mentality. The two women working sixty-hour weeks had played the hardest and were the most hungover. Did they feel rejuvenated after this retreat or just sick and more worn out? Were they nourished in mind, body and soul, or did they simply escape from the grind for a couple of hours.
Estés tells us,
When we are connected to the instinctual self, to the soul of the feminine which is natural and wild, and instead of looking over whatever happens to be on display, we say to ourselves, “What am I hungry for?” Without looking at anything outwardly, we venture inward and ask, “What do I long for? What do I wish for now?Clarissa Pinkola Estés
What do we really want? Because society tells us that we want luxurious suites and fine wines and cheese. But is that what our Wild Woman wants? The wild in us that “is ideas, feelings, urges and memory. She has been lost and half forgotten for a long, long time. She is the source, the light, the night, the dark and the daybreak. She is the smell of good mud and the back leg of the fox. The birds which tell us secrets belong to her. She is the voice that says, ’this way, this way.’
Where is that earthy wolf in each of us? What does she want out of life? How can we find her and feed her and bring her out of each other? Because I sense that longing for her.
The longing comes when one realizes one has given scant time to the mystic cookfire or to the dreamtime, too little time to one’s own creative life work, or one’s true loves.Clarissa Pinkola Estés
I hope in our next ladies retreat, we all show up as wolves.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés is a mythologist. She explains how myths and stories are filled with metaphors about life that help to ground us and direct us. For a while I felt like Jonah stuck inside a whale. That story really resonated with me. It helped me understand that I was stuck, and I was feeling stuck because maybe I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. What is a story or myth that you can relate to right now? What is it telling you about your life?
For an incredible Jungian deep-dive through a number of myths and stories in search of “Wild Woman” please read Clarissa’s book.
Support my local bookstore and buy at Powell’s Books
Or find it on Amazon
For more feminine inspiration visit:
Featured image by Piyal Kundu