FLINDERS ISLAND, Australia—In October 2006, a group of women from the Holy Land gathered in Colorado to co-create a Middle Eastern village experience—living, eating, and learning together. The women came from a wide variety of backgrounds: Jewish (several were religious, others secular and some pagan), Arab (Druze, Muslim, Christian and pagan), as well as women from the US with a range of cultural identities.
The premise of this group was not to focus on divisive identity politics, but on what we have in common: our humanity, our caring for life, our empathy. And while we were deeply unified in our perspective as women, we also explored the disparities in how each cultural group perceived being seen by “the outside world.” By naming these generalisations and confining narratives of our cultural and ethnic identities, we diluted their potency—enabling us to dissolve our separations and deepen our mutual-understanding.
Part of this process was to feel into the nature of separation—understanding it in the context of the social, political and physical reality of Israel/Palestine. Aiding us was Rianne Eisler’s model of the Dominator culture, which is described as using separation, force and violence as tactics of control, e.g. torture, terrorism, tearing apart families, creating the “other” as enemy.
To understand the Dominator paradigm, we had to view it dispassionately, without judgment. It is simply the way of the world at present, and it is entirely possible for the paradigm to shift towards one of Partnership. By Dominator we were not implying or bashing a male-dominated gender system; this model is just one way of understanding the most recent cycle of human development. It is a model that reveals great imbalance between masculine and feminine influence.
One thing becomes clear in this current paradigm: there can be no Partnership model in the world of politics and social justice until we understand the qualities of feminine power, which can bring balance to masculine power. We started our exploration of Partnership by asking: what keeps women from being stronger, and rising into feminine power? What is feminine power? How do we begin to heal the wounds that keep the feminine disempowered?
The end of our 10 days together culminated in a theatrical ritual representing the impact separation and walls have on personal power and freedom. The scene was set up as an improvisational piece, a ritual dedicated to healing separation.
A group of women played dominator stereotypes, and constructed a wall of fabric, ordering the other women into two arbitrary groups, one “green” and one “orange.” Jews, Arabs and Americans were on both sides. All were told not to speak, not to smile, not to engage with the ‘other’. This exploration was really about the impact walls have in creating division, isolation and loneliness. The women easily accessed the emotions of the symbolic conflict, which were amplified by not speaking. No one stormed the wall; no one broke the rules; no one became violent. Indeed, the first response was one of acceptance and resignation to the familiar—they knew what walls feel like, and at first they simply adapted to its limitations. On either side, the women gathered to tend to each other and commiserate in their separation.
Then something erupted. From acceptance, discussion, and commiseration, a force of will appeared as several rose simultaneously to challenge the wall and its keepers. At first they were repelled by the “dominators,” and cycled back into the familiar realms of feeling and thinking about it. But the will arose again, and the women, aligned in their determination and collective will, brought down the wall.
Some of the Jewish and Arab women still clustered in their cultural groups, feeling the internal walls that existed between them. Good friends who had never spoken about their differences as Jews and Arabs suddenly spoke of their pain and sorrow. Gradually, bridges were built—bridges of caring, tenderness and empathy. The energy of the enactment diminished naturally, as we spoke about what had happened.
Something profound remained in the room. For the first time in ten days, we were sitting in a circle that felt truly whole. Unseen walls had come down. Something mysterious had, in fact, changed the quality of authentic expression and communication, reflecting the power of ritual and theatre.
The women returned to the Holy Land and began to work more effectively together, from a place of common ground and intention. Over the last months more circles, and hundreds of women, have continued to meet and work together in the power of Partnership.
“Shaped by systems thinking, the partnership worldview teaches that in complex systems, small causes can produce extraordinary effects. Where islands of partnership are created, hope blossoms and the creative cycle spins larger and larger ripples…” (Alfonso Montuori and Isabella Conti)
*Lila Tresemer is a playwright, photographer, ceremonialist, minister and co-Founder and Facilitator of The Path of the Ceremonial Arts. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
This article is part of a special series on the psychology of separation, which examines the psychological, spiritual, and political implications of physical and emotional barriers.
Source: Common Ground News Service, 31 January 2008, www.commongroundnews.org.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
The women of Tunisia have a decisive role to play in shaping Tunisia's future. Fatma Ben Saïdane reminds women of the power of their vote and the importance of civic engagement.
"The articles of the Common Ground News Service give hope that there are people out there who work
on solutions inspired by the need to co-exist in tolerance
and by the hope for a better future."
- Christopher Patten, Former Commissioner
for External Relations, the European Commission
It takes 200+ hours a week to produce CGNews. We rely on readers like you to make it happen. If you find our stories informative or inspiring, help us share these underreported perspectives with audiences around the world.