15 March 2012

Oh My Sisters...

Chris leads us in a stretch. Photo by Lenn Patterson

Last Saturday evening, on a yoga weekend in Dorset, I stood with a group of women at a bonfire, a bottle of wine (or two) doing the rounds. After a day containing three sessions of yoga, and a morning walk which had seen some of us escape temporarily over the perimeter fence, we were feeling mellow as we faced each other across the flames.

SH!” came loud ricocheting stage whispers.  “They’re coming out!”  We elbowed  each other in the ribs and looked furtively across the grass to the large portakabin.  From our best efforts earlier to peer in through its drawn blinds, we had fathomed that some kind of mysterious sitting and staring activity had been taking place inside.  Now it was finished.  One by one, five men and a woman came down the steps, avoiding the bonfire and any eye contact with us in order to walk back to their rooms in the main house.

 “It’s that Tantric group.”

No.  They’re here for ‘Love in Awareness’.

And they’re not allowed to speak to anyone.”

I wouldn’t be interested in a man who needed a course in Love in Awareness.  Would you?

And smoke blew into our faces and down our throats.

And Fi launched a Chinese lantern which first threatened to set fire to the Love in Awareness portakabin and then headed menacingly in the direction of the local sewage works. 

And the fire crackled and sparked.

And suddenly a majority around that purifying heat felt the compulsion, as if in some spontaneous Salem witch hunt, to admit they had attended convent schools and were, in fact, lapsed Catholics.

And then came tales of cruel nuns.  Of kind nuns.  Of expulsions from school.

And the confession from Nicky who, as a child, had once come running to her mother saying: “It’s true, Mummy, isn’t it, that if you’re not a Catholic, you’re a Prostitute?

And I wondered how I had for so long managed to live without the blissful earthy company of women. 

It’s not that I lack female friends.  But usually I see them in ones or twos, not in a large gaggle.  The last time I experienced female group ethos was at my women-only college at university.*  Then, however, I was often dispirited that some of my college friends were more interested in beetling off to the library of a Friday night than sashaying forth into the town.   And the sea of female faces over the muesli at breakfast was a tad depressing, and convinced me that I had stumbled unwittingly and unwillingly into nothing less than, well, there's that word again, a convent. The urge to hitch up my skirts and climb over the gates – which, incidentally, were shut and locked at midnight – was huge.

Fi  lends support.  Photo by Lenn Patterson

But sharing sleeping quarters in a mobile home last weekend, nattering over mealtimes, seeking out collectively the recipe for the delicious home-made seed crackers (but generally there’s been too much brown rice, said Katherine) helping each other, confessing our joys and our sorrows, doing lots of giggling - this is what it's all about.

Oh, and the yoga?  That was absolutely brilliant.

Photo by Lenn Patterson

Our yoga teacher for the weekend was Chris.  She was excellent, and you can check out her classes and yoga retreats.  Highly recommended:

A core group of seven of us are devotees of the wonderful Estelle:

A gentle and uplifting documentary on what life actually can be like in a convent  - on Rab in Croatia -  can be found here: 

The Love in Awareness group was, in fact, practising a technique of pure speaking and pure listening, in order to learn to drop the layers and masks that we all present to the world.  It, and other interesting developmental courses, can be found at Osho Leela:

*Why a single-sex college, you may ask.  At the time I attended my alma mater, there was no choice.

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