Miriam: When Mama Gena and the Palace Staff asked my mother and I to share our story here on the blog, as a way to celebrate Mother’s Day, I wasn’t sure at first.
This the first time my face is front and center in a blog, let alone amongst that pink fluff, you know? And to give you a sense — my favourite clothes were black, blue and some grey until the age of 23 (more of my story later).
Yet, it’s a huge honor to share here. And I’m so touched, because I love this community. I love my mom, and I’m really proud that we get to do this work together.
I was in Mastery for the first time last year, and now I’m on Team Pleasure (the volunteer staff) while my mom, Estela, is a Mastery student this year for the first time.
I hope you enjoy reading a bit about our story, how we each found our way to the School of Womanly Arts, and what’s been possible since.
Miriam: I didn’t feel very close on an emotional level to my mom growing up. I saw her as a woman who worked very hard – always running after the kids, working long hours, waking up at 5 a.m. to do laundry, and collapsing after work to take a nap before she made delicious dinners for all of us.
Estela: I was a busy mother, Miriam being my first of five. She has always been completely responsible, I always trusted that she was doing the right things all the time. When she was 3 or 4 years old, she would wake up before me in the morning to give her younger brother his bottle of milk. I never instructed her to do that, she understood it by herself. I used to call her “Mary Poppins.” I have been a mother struggling with life, and Miriam has been at my side.
Miriam: I always loved her very very much, I just didn’t quite understand why she wished she looked better, or why she wasn’t quite so happy in her skin, in her role, in her place in life. My parents’ relationship was rocky, so I attributed a lot of it to that and my heart always hurt a little, especially because, seriously, my mother is the most beautiful woman, and in her twenties and thirties she was flat out hot, and I wished she knew that and felt that in her skin, deep deep deeply within.
I guess it makes sense that I inherited many of the same body image issues but thankfully I have had the tools to overcome them at a relatively young age. I remember how I’d buy my mom clothes – anything to try and “do” her over! What I didn’t know was that those changes first come from within, something I very much learned at Mastery.
Miriam: Mastery was one of the best decisions of my life. I landed at the School of Womanly Arts at just the right time, after a period of seeking and exploring.
Honestly, when I signed up for Mastery, I wanted to come out a size 6, and maybe with a ring on my finger. But you know what? That’s not what it’s about. I do still desire pieces of those things, but life isn’t measured in such a linear way now. I can see that what I was actually seeking was sisterhood and community and embodiment.
I have a healthier body image, and that’s huge, because those negative body image issues were not just mine — they are those of so many women living among us! Coming to this peaceful place I feel heals not only me, but somewhere helps to end that cycle of self-flagellation that exists among so many women, not just physically, on so many levels. Now, I look in the mirror and approve of myself.
Through Mastery, I understood what I wanted in a friend and a sister. And I understood what kind of relationships I wanted to have in my life. I learned how to really stand for my friends in a deeper way, and I also learned how to let things go. Ultimately, I gained an incredible community. Whenever I am upset, or unhappy, or I need someone — they are there.
In Mastery, I gave myself permission to feel more emotions — the fact that it’s okay to be in rupture. Now feelings like sadness or heartache can feel like luxurious emotions. It’s almost sensual. That’s a huge reframing of how I look at life. Even when I’m not happy, there is such a beautiful space for it to bathe in. These are the tools for all of your life.
Throughout Mastery, I also had a deep desire to share it with my mom, but I knew I couldn’t just tell her about it on the phone, she needed to be there and do it herself. I wanted her to have the experience of knowing herself on a deeper level, of finding comfort and approval within her own skin, of being able to receive love, of learning to put herself first sometimes.
I invited her to my Mastery graduation, in June of 2013, and she signed up for Mastery 2014. Actually, she had originally signed up the previous fall, to do the program with me, but had decided it wasn’t the right time and cancelled. Now, clearly, the time was ripe for this 60-year-old to take the leap. I didn’t need to convince her, I think something in me was glowing on graduation, and she did it.
Estela: I came to Mastery to be with Miriam. She invited me, she made it really easy. She never mentioned details, she just said “you have to do it in order to know.” And I’m very thankful to her for that, because I wouldn’t have been able to understand it. She’d tell me, “Ma, I want you to be a fulfilled woman.” She’s a role model for me in this work. I followed her because I trusted her. This is all very new. I really appreciate Miriam for introducing me to the SWA. I was in a very painful place, and Miriam helped me to find the support I needed.
Miriam: On the first day of Mastery this year, I saw my mom standing in the back of the room, refusing to do the exercises, very blocked. I was really upset. I wanted this for her so badly.
The next day, I was backstage preparing materials for the afternoon event, but I could hear what was going on in the room. At one point in the curriculum, I was half listening, saying to myself, “Please, please God. Let my mom have this experience, let her say yes to herself, let her stop resisting.”
And then, I kid you not, I hear Mama Gena call my mom up to the stage! I hear her voice over the speaker. I couldn’t believe it.
Well, I ran to the stage.
Estela: I wasn’t going to do it. I have to tell you. I didn’t do the first exercise. And when, out of the blue, Mama Gena called me up on the stage, I said, “Of course not, and I don’t understand how any of this can help me heal.”
Miriam: And then I see my mom resisting. And I know my mom. My mom has always had a hard time receiving. And that is what I saw on stage with Mama Gena as she resisted. She could have been receiving so much, and she was stonewalling it.
Estela: For years I’ve been praying to be the last generation of suffering women in relationships. I so much desire for my children to have loving, fulfilling partners in their life. I wanted to heal that part. But I couldn’t understand how Mama Gena was going to help me do that.
Miriam: Finally, I waved down Mama Gena and said “I’m her daughter.” So she called me up to the stage. And I forgot about the room.
I said to my mom, “You always said you wanted to break the pattern of pain that you were carrying from your ancestors, from the women in our family. Here you have an opportunity to break that chain. And if you don’t take it, you won’t know.” And I told her that I had been praying for her to be able to have these experiences. I knew that if she left without saying yes to this work, it would be over for her.
It meant so much that it was me to be inviting her, begging her, into this work.
Estela: So with all of my resistance, I said, “Ok. I don’t understand. But I’m willing to trust. And that’s what I did.”
Miriam: After that experience, I received phone calls, texts, so much support, gratitude, witness from women in the community. My mom and I were blown away by what an impact it had.
Estela: It was sacred. Because it touched everybody. So many women told me, “I just healed my relationship with my mother, thanks to you.” It’s amazing. From watching the experience Miriam and I had, watching us heal. What happened in the room. Because everyone thought about their own mother.
It was very powerful for everybody, and for me it was a stretching exercise of my beliefs, of not knowing, and just going blindly in trust.
Miriam: I am just thrilled to see my mom in Mastery, that my mom has allowed herself to open up to new experiences, new friendships and a new way of looking at the world. It’s amazing to watch her soften up and learn to forgive herself first and foremost, but also become an ever-better person to herself. That’s what I most desire for her, to truly be the most amazing caretaker of herself, her body, her well-being and her soul. And I know that the rest will just take care of itself, it will; with my mom shining, the sky is the limit. My mom is only halfway through Mastery, but I’ve seen real shifts.
Estela: It’s working on me in different ways. I have four women in the program who I talk to regularly. And it makes me feel so much better, because we’ve been holding each other — sometimes in very good times, and sometimes in very difficult times.
It’s a treasure. It’s much better than going to a psychologist. I appreciate this very much. And I have seen some miracles.
I see Miriam as more daring, knowing what she wants and going for it. She’s influencing me and I’m letting myself go. She’s pushing my buttons, and I’ve been able to let go of many things that before I just couldn’t.
As an Orthodox Jewish woman, I observe Shabbat. On Mastery weekends I rent a room that is not far from the venue so I can walk there. I do everything the way I understand I should be doing to observe it. For me this is a way of sanctifying and “resting” on this special day.
I see that Mama Gena is combining pleasure with morals. Any religion aims to bring you an ethical life. Mama Gena understands that a woman respects herself by behaving ethically. Even if the words aren’t the same, I now understand that flirting means that when you feel good with yourself, you are in connection with others. So flirting is about respecting yourself, honouring yourself first, and then through that you’re honouring the other.
So what she is saying is to value ourselves. And what I like as well is that this concept of pleasure also works well with my spiritual life.
Miriam: What Mama Gena is doing is bringing something back to all belief systems which was probably always there. Life is about being an ethical person and serving others, but there has to be place for pleasure and self-love and acceptance. Women have, for so very many reasons throughout history, had to evolve to a place where they now need to relearn this, almost like a kid learning to walk. We’re all meant to walk, but someone has to teach us, though some people kind of intuit their way to it, like Mama Gena did, and some take longer to get there. One thing I saw in Mastery is that women from the world over, and from all backgrounds, they all have this piece, and for each woman it’s different, and the story is different, but there’s that piece that just needs to connect for them.
Estela: What have I learned about motherhood? I advise mothers to start loving and accepting themselves just the way they are. Love and accept your children the way they are. Give advice, hold warm arms and delicious soup to receive them at all times, but let them be. They should build their own nest. If they fulfilled your dreams, great, if not, we bless them and let them be in their own dreams.
Miriam: I love hearing this! I mean, my mom used to chide me for the length of my skirts and my sleeves, let alone my showing collarbone. It’s such a beautiful feeling to know that she loves and accepts me as I am, and encourages me to grow in a way that is right for me. For someone who was always such a “good” girl, a mother’s blessing counts for a thousand words….
Estela: All women of today — from all over the world — should be caring for themselves and knowing that they are a goddess. Women should cherish themselves, enjoy themselves and have a voice. This “pleasure” world is incredible fun.
Thank you all for reading. We’d love to connect in the comments below about what resonates for you!
Miriam and Estela