By Alex Eisenberg, Apprentice for Becoming A Young Woman, July 7-13, 2013
Becoming a Young Woman is a unique trip for Journeys because it is not a backpacking trip. The seven girls who came on this trip did not struggle over miles of a trail. They did not experience the world from the top of a mountain. They did not get to enjoy the challenge of carrying all their own food and gear into the wilderness. Instead, they spent a week at Sacred Groves, a powerful and nourishing retreat center in the woods and meadows of Bainbridge Island.
And even though the girls of Becoming a Young Woman were not backpacking they were still on a journey--they still struggled, they still experienced "mountain-top" moments, and they certainly still had plenty to enjoy and plenty to carry.
The girls enjoyed trust-building games and wilderness-awareness activities. They enjoyed sunny afternoons and dance parties in the Moonlodge ("In the Moonlodge! We're all dancin' in the Moonlodge!"). They enjoyed fires, story-telling, yummy food, and new friendships.
What they carried were stories--good and bad, funny and scary, sad and uplifting. They carried stories about themselves and stories about each other. They carried stories about their childhood and stories about their future. They carried stories of their own lives and stories of people in distant and mysterious lands. They carried all of these stories, and each of them was different.
The girls also carried masks--masks that had been shaped by childhood and parents, by shelter and by storm; masks that were hiding some things that wanted to be seen. By the time we arrived at Sacred Groves those masks were feeling cramped and uncomfortable, and weren't fitting so well anymore. And those old stories seemed strange in this new wild place, with these new wild people, who actually weren't like the stories had said they would be.
On Monday, the first full day at Sacred Groves, the girls were joined by an elder--a basket-weaver and a story-weaver. Kayla shared her weaving wisdom with the group, and then helped as each of the girls carefully crafted her own unique reed basket. Each basket emerged differently--all different shapes, sizes, styles, and combinations of colors. Through their artistry, each basket honored the important stories woven into them. And it was clear too that each basket was made to carry something different.
As we wove, we sang:
"Weave and spin,
Weave and spin,
This is how our work begins.
Mend and heal,
Mend and heal
Take this dream and make it real!"
The next day, during the sweat lodge, the sharing deepened. The stories came out, the masks came off, and the intentions of each person began to weave into reality. Which stories would they carry into adolescence, and which would they leave behind?
And we sang:
"Spiraling into the center, the center of the wheel.
Spiraling into the center, the center of the wheel.
We are the weavers,
we are the woven ones
we are the dreamers,
we are the dream.
We are the weavers,
we are the woven ones,
we are the dreamers,
we are the dream!"
Wednesday was almost like a dream. It was the day of the 8-hour solo-fast, and the girls stood around the fire in the misty morning, clutching their masks. One by one, they stepped forward and let them go, releasing the stories of childhood they no longer wished to carry. Then, one-by-one, they were led along a path of their empty baskets and crossed the threshold to the woods where they would go, alone.
Eight hours later, around the same fire, we welcomed back 7 young women, each with a brightly-painted cast of their face, shining boldly with intentions for what they will carry in adolescence. The baskets that had been empty now carried of gifts for remembering and celebrating the freedoms and responsibilities of this new stage of life.
And celebrate they did! The group enjoyed a relaxing evening and then a wild night of sweet treats, dancing, being goofy and letting loose together, beading necklaces and telling stories. The celebrating and fun continued the next day as the group spent the morning doing each other's hair and make-up in preparation for the Maidenhood ceremony where they would be honored and witnessed as young women. And after the ceremony there were even more treats and dancing, and (finally!) on Friday we all got to go to the beach to swim and play before heading back to Songaia the next morning.
Sound like a whirlwind? It was! But it was also timeless.
In a reflection about the trip one of the young women had this to say about her experience:
"I think when we're in our day to day lives, we really forget who we really are. All of the technology and mindless babble going on around us, it's hard to really concentrate on who we really are. But when you get the chance to spend so much time alone with yourself... It's truly enlightening. You get the chance not only to remember who you are, but to discover who you aren't as well. You can see your strengths and weaknesses clearly. You know your flaws, and you can see your own beauty. And you get to understand how you can change yourself for the better, so that the person you've always wanted to be can become the person you know you truly are."
All seven bold young women took this journey to uncover and remember who they are and want to be, and began to weave that truth into something they can carry with them as they move forward in their adolescence.