What would be a good reading, poem or ritual for a women's group?
February 13, 2013 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Friends are starting a women's group and are looking for a ritual or a reading as a way to begin each meeting. It's a group that includes their teenage daughters so it needs to appeal to both. Any ideas?

It's for a group that is meeting to share advice, stories, experiences and they want a way to open the group. They were talking about a poem or a reading but I suppose it can be any sort of ritual. The idea of silence/meditation was already suggested but they still want a reading or something to do. I've searched for poems about women, circles, nature, but I'm not finding anything good. I've found some things from New Moon gatherings and wiccan rituals but they're not right. Here are the parameters:
* It would be something that they would say or do each time (not a different poem each time)
* Non-religious, not related to 12 step programs
* No burning things (candles, sage, etc)

Any ideas for a poem, saying, reading, or something to do? Thanks!
posted by hellochula to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I really like this ritual where everyone holds hands in a circle and your squeeze the hand of the person on your right. They squeeze their right, and on and on, until whoever "needs" the energy the most takes it into themselves. It's really powerful.
posted by spunweb at 12:29 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about "intention setting" followed by a short period of silent meditation? I've done this in a women's choir before practice and really enjoyed it. The intention-setting script could be something as simple as "Let us take a minute to all be here with each other and meditate on what you would like to get from tonight's meeting." Or a more structured, reading (this is a little on the new-agey side, but if you don't mind that) here is a poem from Mary Anne Radmacher:

“Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Listen Hard.
Practice wellness.
Play with abandon.
Choose with no regret.
Appreciate your friends.
Continue to learn.
Do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is.”

We also used to do a "back-rub train" which was basically a conga line with backrubs. Silly, but effective!
posted by Katine at 1:10 PM on February 13, 2013

I agree on it being something solemnly funny. Perhaps raising your arms and doing a little shimmy dance while reciting or singing something relevant, like a favorite song about womanhood.
posted by DisreputableDog at 1:16 PM on February 13, 2013

What about some Mary Oliver?

Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York -1957

Once, in summer
in the blueberries,
I fell asleep, and woke
when a deer stumbled against me.

I guess
she was so busy with her own happiness
she had grown careless
and was just wandering along

to the wind as she leaned down
to lip up the sweetness.
So, there we were

with nothing between us
but a few leaves, and wind’s
glossy voice
shouting instructions.

The deer
backed away finally
and flung up her white tail
and went floating off toward the trees -

but the moment she did that
was so wide and so deep
it has lasted to this day;
I have only to think of her -

the flower of her amazement
and the stalled breath of her curiosity,
and even the damp touch of her solicitude
before she took flight -

to be absent again from this world
and alive, again, in another
for thirty years
sleepy and amazed,

rising out of the rough weeds
listening and looking.
Beautiful girl,
where are you?


or Elizabeth Alexander

Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

or Louise Gluck


A bird was making its nest.
In the dream, I watched it closely:
in my life, I was trying to be
a witness not a theorist.

The place you begin doesn't determine
the place you end: the bird

took what it found in the yard,
its base materials, nervously
scanning the bare yard in early spring;
in debris by the south wall pushing
a few twigs with its beak.

of loneliness: the small creature
coming up with nothing. Then
dry twigs. Carrying, one by one,
the twigs to the hideout.
Which is all it was then,

It took what there was:
the available material. Spirit
wasn't enough.

And then it wove like the first Penelope
but toward a different end.
How did it weave? It weaved,
carefully but hopelessly, the few twigs
with any suppleness, any flexibility,
choosing these over the brittle, the recalcitrant.

Early spring, late desolation.
The bird circled the bare yard making
efforts to survive
on what remained to it.

It had its task:
to imagine the future. Steadily flying around,
patiently bearing small twigs to the solitude
of the exposed tree in the steady coldness
of the outside world.

I had nothing to built with.
It was winter: I couldn't imagine
anything but the past. I couldn't even
imagine the past, if it came to that.

And I didn't know how I came here.
Everyone else much farther along.
I was back at the beginning
at a time in life we can't remember beginnings.

The bird
collected twigs in the apple tree, relating
each addition to existing mass.
But when was there suddenly mass?

It took what it found after the others
we finished.
The same mateirals-- why should it matter
to be finished last? The same materials, the same
limited good. Brown twigs,
broken and fallen. And in one,
a length of yellow wool.

Then it was spring and I was inexplicably happy.
I knew where I was: on Broadway with my bag of groceries.
Spring fruit in the stores: first
cherries at Formaggio. Forsythia

First I was at peace.
Then I was contented, satisfied.
And then flashes of joy.
And the season changed-- for all of us,
of course.

And as I peered out my mind grew sharper.
And I remember accurately
the sequence of my responses,
my eyes fixing on each thing
from the shelter of the hidden self:

first, I love it.
Then, I can use it.
posted by anya32 at 1:17 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have teenagers? And their moms? This is a creative force waiting to happen! Please, please consider finding a way to make your own starting ritual. Have everyone contribute one thought, maybe something like:

> Please contribute one to seven words that reflect something you'd like to remember to think about every week.

Then, every week (or whenever you meet), one or two participants can explain the story behind their words. The rest can remain a mystery until the time for that story comes.

The story behind can include when the person discovered that idea, who introduced them to it, why they would like it to be shared more -- something like that.
posted by amtho at 1:35 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like this:

Because the story of our life
becomes our life

Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

Which is a fragment of this longer poem.
posted by bunderful at 1:53 PM on February 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's a group that includes their teenage daughters so it needs to appeal to both. Any ideas?

Are these even modestly crunchy daughters of crunchy mamas? Because if they're not, the kinds of rituals people are describing are likely to make these young women flee and never return.

I've done a thing where each person puts their hand on a hand pile and says a word - it can be an intention or a wish or an aspiration, for themselves or someone else. Examples: peace, love, sleep, courage, brownies, inspiration or whatever -- it leaves it very open ended and gives people some scope for their own personal woo comfort zone.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:31 PM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding DarlingBri: crunchiness can be alienating to the non-crunchy.

I was part of a women's group where everyone went around first and checked in. Nothing long or complicated, just a quick "I'm in a great mood because I got this tough project done at work" or "I'm feeling sad and don't really want to talk about it yet, so I'll probably be quiet" or "I'm really upset about this horrible thing that happened and I would appreciate it if I could talk about it with you guys tonight." People could pass if they wanted. It was a good transition from the chatting we did as we got there, to settling into the meeting.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:58 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a former teenage girl, I feel equal parts mortification at the thought of leading the group, or rolling my eyes the cheesiness of my mom, so in order to engage the girls, I would suggest getting the teens to come up with the opening ritual themselves. Also, keeping it short and simple.
posted by florencetnoa at 3:02 PM on February 13, 2013

Seconding The corpse in the library: check-ins are a great way to open groups like this. One I used to attend started with each person's "highlights and lowlights", or best and worst things from the past week. People can be funny, sincere, serious, whatever they are in the mood for on any given week.
posted by snorkmaiden at 3:25 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the poem suggestions and the other activities. Yes, assume that this is a fairly crunchy group with some tolerance for woo (though it is not necessary). They are already doing a brief check-in, kind of like the corpse in the library suggested. I think they want something that begins the group, even before the check-ins.
posted by hellochula at 3:39 PM on February 13, 2013

Ring bells. (one person or everyone or rotate duty)
hold hands in circle, lift arms together and shout a word that has meaning to group, lower arms and shout a complementary word. Do this 10 or 12 times, you get a nice rhythm and pace established by the group itself
posted by SyraCarol at 4:01 PM on February 13, 2013

The Journey by Mary Oliver is also great and also long.
posted by anya32 at 4:33 PM on February 13, 2013

Maybe a Maya Angelou poem? (can be shortened a bit if need be):

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou
posted by gudrun at 5:17 PM on February 13, 2013

Ok, back with yet more Mary Oliver (forgive me)! This one is positive and shorter.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
posted by anya32 at 6:16 PM on February 13, 2013

I'd encourage the teens to write something or choose an "anthem"...ie song that really resonates with them.

Listen to your young 'uns, it's the only way they'll stay.
posted by taff at 10:03 PM on February 13, 2013

Maya Angelou has another poem, Phenomenal Woman (last stanza):

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
posted by ElleElle at 7:19 AM on February 14, 2013

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