My Red Tent is the fourth guest post in a series called “Your Life in Progress.” In this series we will hear from other women like you and I – women who are learning to love and care for themselves well. They are taking risks, making mistakes, trying new things and letting others go, sometimes struggling, but ultimately living beautiful, gentle lives.
There was a time in ancient cultures that gave birth to a meeting, or gathering place for women known as the “red tent.”
In some cultures this was a design by men to separate women from men during the time of their menses or childbirth, so the men would not be “contaminated”. In Native American culture however, it was called a “moon lodge,” and the women believed that at this time of month women were incredibly powerful; therefore, out of respect for themselves and the men they would set themselves apart. The women would take this quiet time to re-connect with themselves, and according to a study called “It’s In Our Blood,” “They would also learn from other women in the community about their role and responsibilities related to ensuring holistic well-being for the next seven generations.”
Whatever the initial purpose of the tent, it soon became a sacred gathering where women could learn from each other, thus empowering themselves and their communities. Throughout history, women have been congregating in an effort to support and lift each other up, to help heal hearts, and to pass on knowledge. In modern times, the literal “red tent” assembly may be much less common; however, female relationships remain one of the paramount relationships we can be blessed with in our lives.
In my life, these relationships have been critical in helping me learn to love myself and others, recognize my power, and not only grow into the woman that I am meant to be, but flourish in my own skin.
My mother was the woman I was most connected to in my life, and she had, and continues to have, a profound effect on the shape of my life. She was my healer, my caregiver and my best friend. When I was in my early twenties, my mom was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. I was living in England, and had just returned home for a visit. She had undergone reconstructive surgery on her face, and looked startlingly different. I was wounded and scared, and one day I took it out on her, screaming and swearing, and running from the house. I sat in my father’s car, not going anywhere, sobbing, and a few minutes later she came and sat with me to comfort me. In the midst of dealing with her own grief and fear my mother set her feelings aside to comfort her daughter. I am always struck by the power of this memory, and how it speaks to the strength of her character, and of her love for me. She was a woman who served her family with passion, loyalty and fierce love. She taught me to love people through sorrow, heartache and anger, as well as times of joy.
Her gift to me was modelling the power of real love.
My oldest sister and I are twelve years apart in age, so when I was young, she was a beautiful mystery to me. She would swoop in for visits from places I couldn’t imagine living at that time. She seemed so fearless and adventurous. I was always told how much I looked and acted like her, and it made me proud. When I was twenty, I moved to England to live with her. For the first time in my life, we became more than sisters; we became best friends. We were inseparable, and without my realizing it, she had become my security blanket. I was still very young, and quickly realized for the first time in my life I was not as independent as I had imagined. As time passed, and poor choices were made on both sides, we became distant. I was forced to venture out of my comfort zone and learn to fly. Throughout this time in my life I was lonely and often afraid; however, I slowly learned that I was much stronger than I imagined. It became a beautiful time of growth, in which I was able to make my own life and become my own woman. I was no longer just the little girl who so strongly resembled her big sister. My sister, though we were separated for a time, remains one of my greatest inspirations. I grew to realize that behind her independence and bravery beats a gentle heart that is, at times, afraid of life, yet she never allows that fear to hold her back.
Every day she shows me what it means to walk in your own power as a woman.
As a grown woman and mother I find my newest challenges in life sometimes overwhelming. I am often trying to find balance with life’s busy schedule, and meeting my family’s needs as well as my own. My heart desires to walk through life in peace and joy, but I do not always possess the strength or tools to know where to begin. These challenges are not new to women, and are the kind you would naturally bring to your own mother. I am very blessed despite my mother’s passing, as I have found great delight in a woman who is not only my sister and friend, but has become one of my most influential mentors. Our relationship has blossomed over the last couple of years, as I have grown older. She is one of the most passionate women I know, and she believes wholeheartedly in striving to walk through life in honesty and joy. Every day she chooses to walk with courage through life’s hard lessons, and choose peace. In my times of excitement, as well as pain, she is the woman whom I am drawn towards. We can spend hours laughing, fellowshipping and crying. In her, I believe, I have found a kindred spirit.
Her gift to me is not only encouraging me to fully embrace myself, imperfections and all, but to be brave enough to trust in myself even when I feel that I have failed.
In our lives, if we are fortunate, we will be graced with a few amazing women to walk beside us, helping hold our hearts and our hands. These women are a part of us, and help us see who we really are. Author Louise Bernikow once said, “Female relationships that work are those in which women help each other belong to themselves,” and it touches the heart of the truth perfectly.
Have we really lost our sacred spaces, or have they, in fact, just changed shape? Although I have never actually participated in a red tent meeting, I know without a doubt that these are my red tent women.
I love this essay written by my beautiful younger sister, Alyssa Hickley. I am thankful for Alyssa’s sarcastic wit, her yummy cooking, and most of all the gift of her friendship. She is part of my Red Tent. Alyssa lives with her gun-toting British husband and two sweet little people in northern Alberta.