Enlivening the Morphic Field
The First Gather the Women Congress

Stephanie Hiller.

Artemisia Gentileschi


The Gather the Women Congress, held last weekend at the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco, ended with a burst of enthusiasm mirrored by the release of 100 Monarch butterflies in a nearby park.
It was a fitting image. The Congress included 300 women from more than 20 organizations and representing 33 countries, who came together in the conviction that women will be the ones to lead the movement out of the present crisis and towards our cherished ideals.
The Congress revealed an unsurprising degree of unanimity about what that world might look like. Justice, equality, food and water for all, safety for children, education and above all, peace. Weaving a Web that Works was the theme, but the nuts and bolts of how to get there were not its focus, causing some frustration in the practical among us, but reflecting the enormity of the undertaking in a world still hell-bent on war, environmental destruction and economic deprivation.
The brainchild of Kathe Schaaf and her colleagues at Women of Vision and Action (WOVA), this first Congress was an experiment in applying whole systems thinking and New Age spirituality to the task of gathering the women, and judging by the reactions of many of the participants, it worked.

Whole systems thinking has its origin in the new science. Ecologists have shown that nature is composed of non-hierarchical, cooperative, and self-governing relationships. This new biology is congruent with the new physics, which has theorized that reality is made up of complex patterns of interactions, constantly shifting, and given definition only when observed. It is the consciousness of the observer -- you and I -- which selects and orders the pattern.

The inspiration for the meeting came to Schaaf after the March 8 Gather the Women event last spring, which was highly effective in stimulating connection between disparate celebrations of International Women's Day throughout the world, via the Internet. Described by Schaaf as an eight page "download," her proposal was based on a line from Carol Lee Flinders book, At the Root of this Longing, in which she wrote that feminism had failed to bring about the desired social change. Suffice it to say that feminism was not a theme of the Congress, and that is unfortunate, for feminism laid the groundwork that brought most of us to this meeting. But it has also splintered into multiple disagreements and divisions amongst the women's movement, to say nothing of how feminism has affected men. And the whole point of the Congress was to avoid debate.

Its chief innovation was to create a container suffused with energy in a highly organized process with no specific agenda, and no predictions about outcome. The open field thus created (and channeled faithfully, Schaaf told me, by 100 channelers in the weeks preceding the conference) was an effusion of energy, an intensifying collective experience of happy feelings, generating renewed optimism that what we can change the world.

The GTW included a number of excellent speakers representing divergent aspects of the women's community, including Jean Shinoda Bolen, Vicki Noble, Elizabeth Sahtouris, Patricia Melton Smith and Lynne Twist. Their talks were inspirational and informative. Welcome indeed was one of the Congress' innovations: the "celebrity" speakers, instead of disappearing after the applause, joined the tables of participants for meals and "circle" work for the duration. Representatives from the 20 participating organizations also gave presentations. The Millionth Circle presentation in which I participated was, I am happy to say, a very special experience of sitting in sacred circle. And the preview of the new film by Patricia Melton Smith and peacexpeace, Women at the Frontlines, was stunning.

There were some frustrations. Although the Congress repeatedly dedicated itself to the principle of "self-organization in a whole system", almost every minute was organized for us. The circle meetings were especially so. Seated around tables with papers to fill out in a room of 300 women created a buzz that made concentration difficult at times. There was a sense of being ungrounded that drove some of us up to our rooms or to the meditation room to cool out. What was lacking here was the deep feeling of connection that is our rich terrain in the women's circle. Achieving such resonance is not easy in the confines of an urban hotel imbued with the familiar practices of business conventions, and in that sense it was a bit like holding a tea party in a London men's club whilst the men were away. We need to create our own spaces for future congregations. A country setting would help.

Two important issues stood out in the uproar. One is the terrible condition of our waters, which Sahtouris emphasized. Another is stopping the militarization of space, introduced in a workshop with Carol Rosin of ICIS.

Also emerging from the Congress was an exciting project brought to our attention by Jean Shinoda Bolen of Millionth Circle and Angela Weber from Brazil. Through the Millionth Circle, and the serendipity of which Bolen is immensely fond, plans have begun to hold the next International Convference for Women in Salvador, Brazil in 2007. Weber has already won the approval of the Mayor of Salvador and the Governor of its state Bahia. This is the vibrant Afro-Brasilian sector of the country, famous for its endless music. A petition to the UN supporting this idea was filled with names. Look for more information on this web site as plans evolve.

Within the final day's proceedings, however, no clear focus was achieved. The ideas were presented and we went on to lunch. The rest of the concluding day was dedicated to various kinds of cheerleading, including an awards ceremony that by its very nature reflected habitual allegiance to the old hierarchical process where some people get to be stars while the rest are challenged to summon their best altruism despite feeling personally unrecognized. This reversion to an old model may be due to the difficulty that Vicki Noble pointed to in her talk: that our efforts to achieve universality tend to undermine our connection with the embodied feminine, because in our culture the universal is identified with the masculine. Despite repeated rituals to call in Spirit and intermittent allusions to the Great Goddess, the hectic energy of the Congress was not fully grounded in the embodied feminine, and as a result, reflection and deep sharing were difficult to achieve.

Regardless of whatever may have been its perceived limitations (and no event can be all things to all participants), it definitely broke ground in allowing for a convergence of connections without dialectic or debate, arousing a passion for concerted action that may -- or may not -- take form.

What comes next will show whether the Congress was more than another feel-good gathering of women. A second Congress is already in the works for next year. The web site planetweavers.org will provide many opportunities for interactions and discussion. Will these forums encourage the kind of honest evaluation essential to a truly open process of co-creation without holding back for fear of being labeled with the dreaded "N" word -- the big taboo of the New Age -- negativity? As Schaaf emphasized, language is so important. We will need to offer our suggestions in a positive context, keeping the gateway open for loving connection, building on what has begun with eyes firmly on the goal: a world where the only taboo is the "V" word -- violence against self, environment and other. Disrespect for women and the permission men have granted each other to be violent in their treatment of us are the root cause of all the cruelty of the world, and that difficult subject must be tackled along the way.

Two statements from the UN Indigenous Peoples Conference were presented by Cynthia Walker, who is the calendar keeper of the Mayan people. I will be posting these at the web site. They encapsulate, for me, what it is we are moving toward. According to the Mayans, we have nine years left until the emergence of the fifth world. Meanwhile, the world situation continues perilous. Powerful patriarchal forces remain in ascendance. The poor are in for a rough ride, and that includes all of us except the small elite that stands to benefit mightily if these plans succeed. Old ways of thinking, though currently intensely manifest all around us, are not yet showing signs of their death throes. Much destruction lies ahead. And until the existing structures cave in upon themselves, as we have reason to hope that they shall, there may not be room for us to take our place on the center stage.

But although the daily news would seem to prove otherwise, we have time. We have time to build a women's movement. We have time to really think about what we want it to look like. We have time for linking our networks and laying the groundwork for projects large and small which together may be expected to shift the morphic field until we reach the tipping point, when the new paradigm will become the way of the world. With luck and the songs of the angels, we will survive. And from us and the generations who come after us, a new world will be born.


love and blessings, Stephanie