Today was easily one of the most transformational experiences each of us has ever had. We had the privilege to take part in a traditional sweat lodge ceremony at Manu Wairua Retreat, which was an incredible experience. We anticipated going into the sweat lodge as a whole group, which was stressful seeing as there were 21 of us and the lodge seemed…small to say the least. However, because of some “moon cycles” from the women, which is when women have a large amount of power, we were separated into a male group and a female group. The men went in before us, and emerged red-faced, out of breath, and completely drenched, so the anxiety going in for us women was definitely high. Adding to that emotion, the lodge was completely dark; the only light that could be seen was the dim glow from the “grandmothers and grandfathers,” which were fire-heated lava rocks from the river, lying in the center of our circle. It took a lot of control to not panic, but I think we all knew this was something we needed to do, so we all took some deep breaths and embraced the darkness and the heat. The result of this embrace was astonishing. I can honestly say that the outpouring of honest emotion and meaningful prayer was unexpected, but was extraordinarily meaningful to all of us. We laughed, cried, and sweat the toxins and anxieties of life away, and we all emerged changed. Afterwards, we all went back to our shared living arrangements and the men were making us QUESADILLAS!!! They took our orders and handed us water, which was so nice of them, and had written the women a speech in Maori expressing their appreciation for us and for all women. It was by far one of the most lovely and beautiful moments in my life, a feeling which I think is echoed by all of the amazing women on this trip. Best Friday ever, am I right?
Coming into this program, I genuinely never expected it to affect my mindset in the ways that it has, which I think is a common impression among our group. I assumed I would be able to gain a more cultured view of the world around me, and learn how to better lead as an individual, but I did not anticipate the complete alteration of my perceptions, specifically in regard to traditional gender roles and environmental leadership. I’ve been ridiculously fortunate to be surrounded by strong women throughout my life, which I’m sure is a relatable statement. From my teachers, to my friends and family, these women have shaped me into who I am today. Throughout this experience, I’ve been absolutely blown away by how women are perceived in the Maori/ Native American culture. The women we’ve met here have been incredible; the way they are respected and protected by their people is fascinating to observe. They honor motherhood because without the woman and her womb, the lineage will perish, which is extremely valued in this culture. I have never heard the word “womb” spoken so many times, in the most positive sense, and this discussion has really has made an impact on how I think about gender roles. It has been pretty interesting to sort out these new perceptions, because there are definitely very defined gender roles in terms of things being more “feminine” or “masculine,” but at the same time they are very fluid labels. For example, Tiaki talked to us about how the weaving and usage of the flax plant to make clothing and such was seen as a feminine practice, but that did not mean that all women participated or that men didn’t participate. Back home, meaning the United States, the power of the female has been hidden in traditional norms. Stereotypes of gender lead people to mock the embrace of either when it is not normalized in society. Offhanded comments that degrade the feminine, like the classic “you throw like a girl,” should be taken as compliments, because girls are badass! Sorry for my language, but I am PASSIONATE! I am very excited to see how we will continue to grow after this experience, and how these new outlooks can be implemented in our own lives.
This retreat center that we have been fortunate enough to reside at is encompassed by incredible natural beauty. It is tucked away between hillsides, and is such an idealistic spot to ponder the environmental aspects that we have been learning about. I haven’t felt this excited and hopeful about environmental education in a long time, which has been so wonderful. The incredible people we have met have definitely inspired me to make personal changes in my life to help improve our planet. Visiting Xtreme Waste yesterday was so fun, and they’re doing incredible things. Just simply not using plastic bags or not taking a straw can make such a difference! The biggest takeaway is that small changes lead to big impacts, and I think that is so important to remember.
The fact that this experience has already been life-changing for us and it’s only been 10 days is insane. I am so grateful that this opportunity presented itself in my life, and I cannot wait to see how much more we can grow this month!