Angela wrote to ask if she might be allowed to attend Women At Woodstock, even though she was not yet 50. Far from it, in fact.
“We won’t card you,” I said. She was more than welcome. If she found the workshop topics of interest and had a desire to join in community with women (mostly) over 50, by all means, join us!
Angela came, she saw, and she conquered. She may have been a young woman, but she was an “old soul.” We loved her. She’s been back every year since. And she’s still a long way off from 50!
What is the difference between a dream someone has and a dream someone lives? What is the secret to the alchemy that transforms wishful thinkers to the embodiment of their success? What is missing from the lives of people whose creativity burns out in fits and starts without ever finding an anchor?
In America we have a strange relationship to community. We imagine ourselves as “rugged individuals” and buy into the fantasy of the completely self-made person at the expense of our recognition of and investment in community.
Fortunately, the value of community, especially communities of women, are becoming recognized as instrumental to success. Women at Woodstock is one such community, which began over a decade ago as a celebration of women friends at midlife. From the first gathering, it became clear to founder Ann Voorhees Baker, that a powerful transformation had occurred among the original crowd of 15 women who gathered in a cabin in the woods to connect in honor of her 50th birthday. She writers that as a result of the deep conversations and reflections in this gathering, members of the community began to reclaim aspects of themselves lost or abandoned during the busy years of tending to roles as wives, mothers and career women. She describes one participant who reconnected with her love of painting after this life changing weekend.
And life changing was the phrase used to describe Women at Woodstock years later, when a friend told me about her experience attending what had by then become an annual retreat for women at midlife.
“I can’t wait until I turn 50 so I can go!” I told her. She informed me that there was no age requirement, but that the intention of the event was to create a place for women of a like mind who were in the process of redefining themselves in a way consistent with midlife experience.
So I signed up.
I was nervous about going because at the time I had never been on a retreat. I was still earlier in my recovery from a traumatic brain injury, a year into full self employment without the security of regular income, and still not quite sure what direction I wanted my work to go. I had a wonderful and supportive partner at home and in my mind, vacation was something you did with family or a partner…..but a group of women you don’t know? Was it right to spend all that money instead of going away as a couple? Was it ok to spend any money with an inconsistent income? The day I was supposed to leave I was panicking. I almost didn’t go. Having lived in a state of semi-hibernation since 2012 when treatment for my TBI began and I learned of the importance of pacing myself and resting, it was now a very new experience to go on a trip alone and be surrounded by a group of people. Lots of stimulation compared to the life I had been living for a few years.
But I was committed to going, and it was, in fact, life changing.
The women were kind, generous, compassionate and welcoming. For all the rumors of “caddy” women, there was no evidence of this anywhere. It was amazing to see women from all walks of life who were simultaneously successful and inspiring, and also everyday women. Authors, entrepreneurs, mothers, wives, former wives, artists…..everyday women who were also extraordinary in spirit.
The friendships formed during this weekend lasted throughout the year as many of us kept in touch with each other. The alchemy occurred instantly as I left the weekend retreat feeling changed.
Entrepreneurs talk about the “Master Mind” or the concept that the shared creative energy of the group has the power to uplift each member of the group. Synergy, the concept that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, that the group becomes a more powerful entity than the individual components, and that we can raise energy and consciousness together which we can’t raise alone is also recognized in self-help circles, and even in spiritualism in the practice of gathering in seance circles. Women at Woodstock is like a weekend filled with the energy of the Master Mind…or Mistress Mind? The shared consciousness of a positive group of inspiring women that becomes an incubator for the greatest potential of the individual to be reborn and to grow.