ALL BELIEFS ARE HONORED AT THE WOMEN AND SPIRITUALITY CONFERENCE
LAST SEPTEMBER, OVER 750 PARTICIPANTS OF THE 36TH WOMEN AND SPIRITUALITY CONFERENCE WERE WARMLY WELCOMED AT THE NEWLY REDESIGNED MAYO CIVIC CENTER. THE CONFERENCE OFFERED 84 DIFFERENT WORKSHOPS ON TOPICS RELATED TO FEMINISM, SPIRITUALITY, HOLISTIC HEALING, SELF-HELP AND MORE. OVER 80 VENDORS OFFERED THEIR UNIQUE WARES IN THE EXHIBIT AREA, PLUS MANY READERS AND HEALERS WERE ON HAND TO OFFER THEIR GUIDANCE. LILAC WELLNESS CENTER CREATED A BEAUTIFUL SPACE FOR MASSAGE AND BODYWORK WITH A QUIET AREA FOR MEDITATION AND REFLECTION.
After 35 years at Minnesota State University (formerly Mankato State University), the conference now finds its home in Rochester. Evolving from their Women’s Studies Department in 1981, the conference has given voice to those with a message to share through teaching a workshop and those open to new insights or experiences through learning, personal growth or healing. Their mission statement reflects their goal to provide a “supportive and nurturing setting for a dialogue of caring and mutual respect between and among women and men from many spiritual and religious traditions.”
Over the years, the conference has been a safe space for experiential workshops like yoga, drumming, moving meditation or dance, discussion groups, lectures and presentations. Many of the presenters have utilized the conference to present papers for their master’s thesis or doctoral research on topics ranging from theology to feminism. What has made it a fascinating experience is that it changes completely from year to year with new presenters, new workshops, new talents and new ideas.
College student Ashalul Aden gave a talk at the 2017 conference entitled, “Social Justice in Islam.” She spoke of her hectic life, learning to take care of herself and her decision to slow down her journey through life by focusing on patience and her personal commitment to her spirituality. As a black Muslim woman, she faces prejudice every day and often feels like the world is against her.
In her writings, Aden shares, “I deal with racism, sexism and Islamophobia regularly. Growing up, I was silent about those things and listened to what people who had negative perceptions of me had to say. It was not until I was in high school, I decided that I had enough. Every human being deserves to have their voice heard regardless of their ethnicity, gender, race, religion or any other labels.” She wants to live in a world where people can live peacefully among each other, and she knows that takes hard work. She says, “It is the job of every person to learn how to live with people who are different and embrace those differences. Diversity in community is a beautiful thing, there are so many different things to learn about each other, whether that be language, customs, anything!”
The world would be a boring place if people all looked alike, sounded alike and had the same interests, Aden suggests. She adds, “We should all embrace these differences and admire the beauty that diversity brings to our perspective. Historically, women have had their voices silenced because men controlled what they could say, wear, etc. It is now—and has always been—the time for women to speak out and fight the barriers men have placed on us.”
Aden defines her spirituality as an interpretation of her soul—that personal, deep self-journey, leading her to find her purpose and identity in the world. Last year’s conference impacted her to not rush her journey to finding herself. She found new clarity and wisdom knowing that this journey through life is an enduring task and requires patience.
When asked what she feels is the difference between religion and spirituality, Aden says,
“Religion is a loaded word. Religious scholars have a difficult time defining it. Religion is a lot like race; it is a social construct. To me, I define religion as a community where people have shared beliefs about God, afterlife and religious practices.”
HEALING AND HELPING
Anyone who has met Sue Stoltz will feel instantly blessed by her smiling presence. Invited by a dear friend, she drove to Rochester for her first conference experience. Since a young age, she has had a deep compassion and reverence for all living things and life itself. She has always known she had an ability to touch and heal people, to be the one to make a difference in someone’s life. She had never talked about it or understood it. Through her experience in that “joyous weekend” she learned to stop second-guessing herself for who she is, to accept herself for being different and acknowledge her abilities. Her experience has helped her to heal, so that she can begin to help others. The Women & Spirituality Conference was one of the most powerful awakening weekends she has ever experienced.
For Stoltz, her spirituality has no limits; it is the free-flowing energy of the Holy Spirit that can be shared without judgment. She gives thanks every day to the Creator. She feels that as a woman she is still learning to find her unique voice, and in today’s chaotic world, it is time for women to find their voices and that it is time for women’s voices to be heard. She is on her path to understanding herself and says once she does, “Watch out, because I will be shouting from the rooftops, what it is, what I have been put on this earth to do!”
LAW OF ATTRACTION
Another conference presenter last year, Shawngela Pierce, teaches others about the Law of Attraction. She says, “It’s been around for millennia and guides us to tap into our own spiritual guidance, whether we call it ‘Source,’ ‘God’ or ‘providence.’” She teaches people to learn to know who we really are: We are spiritual beings in a physical body, a completely different approach from thinking of ourselves as physical beings seeking spirituality. She offers spiritual healing retreats, individual sessions and uses chi-gong, meditation and movement to help her clients to open to the message of their own inner guidance.
She offered her reflections about the difference between religion and spirituality. “My definition of spirituality is tapping into your Source. I feel that in many respects spirituality is different from religion. Religion has doctrine, rules to be followed. Spirituality is listening to your spirit and letting that be your guide. Always we are awakening to loving thyself and loving thy neighbor.”
For Pierce, her spiritual practice is woven into her life; she “walks the walk” as she says, and is guided from within. She is currently writing a book entitled “Law of Attraction Healing” that will be available at the September 2018 Women and Spiritualty Conference. The message of her book is that we can use the Law of Attraction to heal and to train our subconscious minds to understand ourselves as creative beings. “We need to relearn that we are powerful beings. When we have been misled to believe that someone else knows better than we do what we need; this is disempowering. Relearning that we are powerful is not random. We can own the fact that we create imbalance or disease in our bodies or lives. When we take back our power, we can heal ourselves and our lives from within,” explains Pierce.
Pierce is in private practice in Sedona, Arizona. For more information visit her website at seekwithinyou.com.
HONORING THE FEMININE POWER
Tina Cotterman volunteered her time and energy last year as a workshop proctor, also her first year at the conference. She identifies as Pagan and acknowledges the essence of the natural world as her inspiration for her spirituality. This has given her the ability to feel grounded and centered in her life. Cotterman was raised Lutheran and still honors her roots in the church. She lives her spirituality at all times, finding solace in nature. She grew up on 20 acres of natural forest, and the cycles of life in the woods gave her more answers to her spiritual questions than the church.
As a 10-year-old girl, Cotterman was deeply impacted by the death of her beloved grandfather. At his funeral she was so overwhelmed with grief that she ran out of the funeral home crying. Even at that age, she already knew she was an empath. She questioned, “Why would God do this?” Her mom told her, “It’s just the way things are; you have to have faith.” Not understanding this as an answer led her to look to the natural world, the cycles of life and death, which has brought peace along with grace and beauty to her path through life.
Cotterman embraces the woman-centric conference as a celebration honoring the feminine power. She spoke of the recent #MeToo movement and how so many brave women are sharing their stories of being raped, abused or molested. She is proud to see women accepted for their truth. She also talked about her own #MeToo experience and how she used it as a “point to grow from.” Cotterman describes her own cycle of victimhood as a “labyrinth of pain.” The way out of her pain was through therapy and personal work, drawing strength from her spirituality as she learned to push through the pain. She learned to recognize her feelings, not to push them down, to feel them and let them go. Her focus has shifted to one of positive sexuality: She has learned to embrace her inner goddess, her divine feminine, to be empowered. This, she says, is key to being both pro women and pro-men, honoring both sexes. When we are in the victim role we diminish our total self. When we honor both the inner feminine and the inner male side of ourselves we can live as an empowered, whole person.
Cotterman is an environmental scientist working to better air quality in Minnesota schools, prisons and businesses. She is also high priestess of her coven and teaches classes to young women interested in exploring pagan traditions at a Twin Cities bookstore. She supports and encourages young women to revere strong female role models and to embrace the divine feminine. She also offers “seekers” classes and a tarot series; all her classes are free.
Virginia Cooper is a writer, intuitive poet and musician who lives and works in the Rochester area. She attended her first Women & Spirituality Conference in 1986. Over the last 30 years she has presented many workshops on several topics, including Shamanic Drumming, Connecting with your own Spiritual Guidance, Healing with Flower Essences and Vibrational Medicine. She is currently writing a book on the Goddess and the Divine Feminine. She can be reached at email@example.com