Notes From the Field: The Wisdom of Women: Notes from the Women’s Integral Practice Retreat

Gayle Young

Gayle Karen YoungThere’s a tribe from Africa that makes a point of welcoming people. For instance, if one of them met you outside at a gathering, they would welcome you. If they met you inside the gathering again, even though you had only crossed paths moments before, they welcome you anew out of a belief that people need to be continuously welcomed again and again, that there are ways that we as human beings aren’t welcomed to each other, in our own lives and sometimes even in our own bodies. The Women’s Integral Practice Retreat in Miami, Florida, from October 15-19, 2008 was a repeated welcoming of each woman there— into our bodies, our spiritual practices, our emotional realms, into our shadows and into our own light.

“Magnify your trust.” I think I’ll hear that phrase spoken in Sofia Diaz’s resonant voice in my sleep, that challengingly loving and compassionate support to trust my own ways of knowing. There are multiple ways of knowing in the world, and yet the scientific and rationalistic privilege of that which is verifiable, to a much greater degree than the subtle spaces where intuition lives and isn’t really verifiable by external standards. In the subtle spaces we learned to dance with exuberance, face our fears and shadows and our doubts, grapple with the deaths of the selves and the choices we make in order to truly live.

While the retreat maps onto the integral framework—the quadrants, lines, levels, perspectives, types, states—the old adage that those of us who work in development holds true: “the map is not the territory”. The territory instead was woven between thirty or so women who travelled to Miami from various parts of the U.S., Denmark, Austria, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, and the Netherlands. It was pulled out of the depths of our being into the intersubjective spaces and flowed into the container of safety, love and support we created for each other.

Thirty or so women at a spa “practicing love and compassion”: could anything be more simple or more complex? There were the moments when to love and feel compassion was as easy as relaxing enough to let it spring forth naturally in just looking at one another. And then there are the times when it’s stupidly hard, when we feel the hard bonds of our own constrictions where fears have their grip and the pain of life cuts us open.

“I love you and I don’t even know you.” When Mie from Denmark said this, I had to smile. It was one of many moments that when she spoke, she spoke to us all. The We interpersonal space was filled with love as we navigated our entries and exits, our separate unique selves and our deep interconnectedness in the similarities of hearts and minds and bodies. Everywhere I looked, anything I’ve ever looked for in goddesses resided in the women I was surrounded by—fierce strength, maternal love, unbounded compassion, mischievous fun, depth and darkness and light.

Shared pain isn’t lessened, it’s just more supported and held. The original line goes something like, “It hurts more but it bothers you less”, which I first heard from Beena Sharma in relation to the expansion of self that can hold with infinite capacity the pain of life. I like the expansion of the saying that Diane Musho Hamilton and Sofia Diaz gave it, that it’s not quite that one is less bothered. Instead, the capacity to care through it, to love through, is what allows that great holding of what is painful. “It hurts more but you care more too”, enough to love through it. “Life hurts more, but you love more fearlessly.”

There are the things I do in the world as a leader, in working with for profit and non-profit corporations, serving on boards, through my participation in different communities. Again and again, I seek these experiences because they serve as a nurturing wellspring from me, a place I can come home to be welcomed back into myself as an individual, as a friend, as a woman and that which is more than ourselves. To be at a retreat like this is to come home, to be welcomed, to walk among goddesses in all their many beautiful incarnations, to come home into a place of being welcomed into one’s own being and that which is more than the self.

It was actually painful leaving this container, to feel myself flow into the deep grooves of the habitual patterns of my life, etched in myriad contexts that have shaped who I am. And yet, the one that I am is different too. It means something beautiful to walk through the world, practicing constantly an open heart and to be bothered less because one can love more fearlessly.

Sofia Diaz and Diane Musho Hamilton did an unparalleled job of creating this wonderful communal web, supported wholly by Cindy Lou Golin, Nicole Fegley, Kelly Sosan Bearer, and Cindy Atkins. For more information, please see

Gayle Young is passionate about helping people expand their awareness of their own choices and behaviors as related to their life situations, both past and present, in order to facilitate sustained change. Gayle is an organizational psychologist with the consulting firm Maxcomm. She is passionate about the work of leader development, working within the corporate structures that are so influential in our social systems. As Warren Bennis said, “The process of becoming a leader is much the same as the process of becoming an integrated human being. For the leader, as for any integrated person, life itself is the career. Discussing the process in terms of ‘leaders’ is merely a way of making it concrete.” Her work consists of leadership development, change management, strategic communications, building high performance teams, and personal and organizational transformation. Within those contexts, she focuses on coaching, group dynamics, group facilitation and research, and helping leaders evolve and adapt to increasingly complex external environments.

She is particularly interested in global women’s issues and helping women be more effective in their leadership roles. Gayle has worked with and served on non-profit boards, including the Board of Trustees for Alliant International University and the Board of Directors for the Bay Area Organization Development Network. She has spoken to groups such as the National Association of Asian American Professionals about effective influence in the workplace and has been a facilitator for the Stanford Graduate School of Business and their Women in Management Program. Gayle earned her BA Degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco, where she graduated magna cum laude with Honors, and has her masters in Organizational Psychology. Gayle is an Associate Editor of Integral Leadership Review.