I had a cloud-parting, heart-zinging, angels singing type of revelation last month. After mulling over this experience during long drives and late night musings, I share with you a polished jewel for your crown of wisdom. I recently attended “The Experience,” a life changing Women’s empowerment weekend with Regena Thomashauer, aka “Mama Gena,” author of the book, Pussy: A Reclamation. Regina teaches that a woman’s experience of pleasure is her greatest untapped source of power. Her mission is to bring women out of feeling disparaged and powerless, and back into their own “inherent radiance and innate aliveness” through sisterhood, and experiencing their power, beauty and brilliance through what she refers to as “turn-on”.
From first glance, you might infer that I’m talking about eroticism or sexual pleasure, but it is so much more than that. We are talking about reclaiming all the parts of the self from 5000 years of patriarchal world culture, parts that we’ve shamed into a dark corner, judged, numbed and hid. The number of women who experience rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking are staggering. From early childhood, girls have been taught to distrust themselves, to feel ashamed of their bodies, their voices, their power, and their sense of self. We internalize messages from society that tell us we are not enough, or that we are too-much. How many women suffer from anxiety and depression and physical ailments brought on by stress?
There were close to 1000 women from a wide range of ages, ethnicities, races and backgrounds gathered together for what was billed as the very last “Experience” weekend to ever be offered. One of the most profound takeaways for me that weekend was when Mama Gena’s shared the idea that a woman, like a piano, has 88 keys and, “all 88 keys want to be played.” She was referring to emotional range, and pointing to the idea that, “the degree to which you can own your own darkness is the degree to which you can own your light.”
That weekend I realized that for most of my life, I had been living in a very narrow range—the safe zone —of my 88 keys, and that I deeply longed to be living and embracing a fuller range in my life. I suddenly knew, that that to the extent that I allowed myself to feel my pain, that an equal and proportionate capacity to feel joy, happiness, pleasure and connection would open up.
Within the safety of sisterhood created in that weekend, Mama Gena led us through a process of “swamping” or coming into contact and fully experiencing the pain, anger, heartbreak, disappointment, frustration and trauma that lives under the surface. It is a process involving music, movement and embodiment, where you make space to be with and experience those feelings. You move them by literally moving the body with music and dance.
The song starts and you might begin by moving your hips, or gently swaying side to side with a hand on your heart; you might begin to weep; you might find yourself stomping your feet and beating your chest. You move with the emotions, staying with whatever needs to come to the surface. You reclaim these parts of yourself that you haven’t let yourself fully feel and heal. The transformation occurs when you add what she refers to as “turn-on”. Turn on is an experience of your own sensual pleasure. As the music crescendos, you turn up the heat in your movement and the body is flooded with those feel good neurochemicals—dopamine an serotonin—from the pleasure of the dance. Something breaks loose inside of you, and that stuck and shut down place is suddenly given freedom and light and you are liberated by the dance.
It is hard to describe the power of this work unless you immerse yourself in it. I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen and experienced it first hand. Something magical happens when you take safe, supportive community to both hold and witness you, and make time and space to experience those shadowy emotions . I watched women who came out of domestic abuse situations, and survivors of child abuse take back their power from their trauma in the most beautiful transformations. I was floored by a mother and daughter pair who liberated each other on stage. It was breathtaking and awe inspiring. I longed for my mother and stepmother and sisters and all my girlfriends to be with me then, for us all to be held and uplifted in such a powerful way.
That weekend I came face to face with my life long habit of stuffing the harder feelings and memories into a mental filing cabinet, compartmentalizing and sealing away the shadowy parts of myself. I realized by doing so I was putting a tight lid on my capacity to feel a range of positive emotions as well. For years I learned to do this as a survival mechanism, to both be accepted and acceptable, and to stay safe. But I don’t have to be afraid of feeling the hard stuff. It won’t overtake or consume me. Adult me has tools to be with and process this stuff so that I can experience a fuller range of my emotions.
I’m thrilled to be taking on the later half of my life with a fuller range than ever before, and excited to see where this will lead me! In my own way, through coaching and writing, I want to “turn-on” as many people as possible, to be a spark that helps others reclaim their personal power and honor their unique gifts and life purpose.
Note: If you are intrigued by reading this and want to learn more, I highly recommend getting Mama Gena’s book for starters. If you are grappling with serious trauma, and looking for that supportive container to help you cope and heal, you might look for a therapist trained in somatic experiencing and trauma informed therapy. I can’t emphasize enough how important that supportive container is!
Bio: Melissa Eppard is a certified Life Coach, mom, writer and breast cancer survivor. As a Healing Hope Cancer Coach she uses her personal and professional experiences helping cancer survivors process the emotional impacts of cancer, build out circles of support, and deepen feelings of hope, courage and resiliency. She has shared her coaching work with groups and individuals for the last 4 years, and draws upon over 10 years of work immersed in holistic health and wellness. Her writing has been shared in Conquer Magazine and reblogged by the Young Survival Coalition. Melissa lives in Kingston, NY with her husband and son. You can learn more at MelissaEppardCoaching.com and read about her healing journey at Melissashealinghope.com