Over the course of my life thus far, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some incredible people. There are too many to name and some of them are simply nameless. And, of course, I have met amazing men and women; and animals and forces that move on their own accord. However, I would like to focus this blog on Ten Radical Women that I have had the pleasure to be around, meet, or talk to at some point in my life. I would like to share them with you so that their message, their work, and their hearts can reach a wider audience.
From poet to healer to activist to chef to oh so many other things…their life ways and stories have inspired me to go deeper inside myself and reach further out into this world. I have enjoyed keeping up with their work as my life progresses; by remembering their fierce hearts and the teachings that they continuously offer this world, my world stays bright. These women connect, invigorate, and nourish communities all over the world.
Starhawk— Who can live in San Francisco and not hear of the legendary Starhawk!? Soon after moving to SF, I fell into the lap of the permaculture movement which deeply shaped the community I was a part of and the places I ended up. I soon heard about Starhawk and her amazing work in restoring pagan rites (basically, connecting people with each other and nature — fabulous concept!). And, with each breath she takes, she demystifies the label ‘witch.’ Her book “The Fifth Sacred Thing” is a must read and she co-teaches amazing Earth Activist Trainings. She also has written a children’s book that I heard her read from at the SF Green Fest this past year, called “The Last Wild Witch.” She is anti-nuclear through and through; she has a deep spiritual practice and informs her actions. Where there is great harm being done — you can find her fighting for truth and peace.
Katchie Ananda — My main yoga teacher and dear friend… Without Katchie, it would have taken me many more years to get on track with my path. Katchie is such an endearing, relate-able, and potent teacher. She goes into the nooks and crannies of the San Quinton prison to teach yoga, heart, and mindfulness…as well as the to Mission District and Berkeley locals in the Bay Area. Whatever is present for Katchie becomes nutritious fodder for her yoga classes…and she presents her teachings with humor, charged words, and spaciousness. Her classes are always nourishing; they always encouraged me to embrace my humanity and heal my wounds. I remember, during the work-week in SF…her classes were like drinking from a fresh, spring-water fountain. It was what I needed to rejuvenate my spirit and keep on, keepin’ on… I also had the opportunity to apprentice Katchie my last year in SF by assisting in her classes; this allowed me to soak in her teachings and support the healing space she provided her students.
Ouyporn Khuankaew — I met Ouyporn while visiting Thailand. I stayed at her center near Chiang Mai in late 2007 (it’s located in Mae Rim). Being a new-comer to Buddhist teachings at the time…I was hoping to find some fiery hearts practicing in temples. Ha! Nope… Just paintings…all kinds of Buddha statues…quiet monks in orange…and the distant call of sutras… Thankfully, I stumbled upon Ouyporn through my yoga training and attended a 3-day silent meditation at her International Women’s Justice and Peace Center. Nestled in endless fields of rice paddies, her earthen temple made for an inspiring sit. The earthen temple was built by refugee women from Burma. Their handprints barely detectable here and there on the walls. Ouyporn shared the teachings of Buddha with such soul and depth. To me, she revived what seemed dead in Chiang Mai. Ouyporn also provides solace for either women who are refugees or women working with women on issues of the sex trade and domestic violence. Considering that there are no ordained Buddhist nuns in Thailand (I think that is slowly changing now), the fact that Ouyporn has a practice and is teaching is huge (and practically illegal). She is a firebrand, indeed!
Jeanette Armstrong — I had the great fortune to participate in a training that Jeanette and three of her peers of the Okanagan tribe (SW region of Canada) led in collaboration with the Center for Ecoliteracy of Berkeley, CA. It was a 4-day retreat, in the hills of Marin County. Jeanette taught our group the ‘Council Process,’ the process of holding community space to locate polarities and dissolve extremes of those polarities through art, processing, and discussion. To the North sat the Tradition-keepers, to the South, the Visionaries; to the East, the Action-oriented, and to the West, the nurturers. We were placed at a direction Jeanette and her team felt we belonged. I was placed with the nurturers and that felt right to me. We spent a good couple of days working with our polarity (for me, it was Action) and healing the wounds between us. To this day, I still remember the exercise our group participated in for healing the polarities; it was profound and raw and so vulnerable. There is still something echoing in my from this — still resolving itself. I still remember a word that Jeanette taught us at this retreat — en’owkin — a philosophy of her people which encourages voluntary cooperation in everyday living. The image she told us that captures the essence of en’owkin (as the three syllable word is metaphorical for this image) is liquid slowly dropping and being absorbed by the mind. It conjures the understanding that things are learned in life by a slow, gentle integrative process. I learned a lot just by being around Jeannette’s solid and unassuming energy; and like the way of en’owkin it is still integrating itself into my understanding. Jeanette works with and supports the Enowkin Center, a center for arts, culture, and enrichment within the Okanagan community.
Janell Kapoor — Oh, Janell! Even though I have known of Janell for about 6 years or so, it’s not until this year that I have been able to get to know her, personally. I first learned of Janell by going to a slide-show at Urban Forage in San Francisco (right there at Filmore and Haight, sad to see it’s gone now!). Janell presented a slideshow on the work she had been doing in Thailand with earthen building. Basically, she was a huge part of setting ablaze a new building technique in that area (and thank goodness as hardwoods were severely deforested). Janell has done work in South America as well and is in the process of creating the Ashevillage Institute in Asheville, NC which has been her hometown for quite some time. The slideshow she presented was the beginning to a many-year hobby exploration into the wonders of earthen building and earthen plasters for me. Also, in my research on earthen buildings, I was astounded to reveal that earthen building techniques are as varied as finches — so many shapes, sizes, colors, cultural histories, and textures. I began to research earthen building in the US, only to find a tangle of building codes, zoning laws, and stereotypes. There is much more that the US has to learn about this amazingly elegant building material. Janell has done an amazing job of integrating the ancestral practice of earthen building techniques into the modern context; enlivening it as an art form and as a way to create a dignified, hand-sculpted shelter.
Jalaja Bonheim — I found out about Jalaja through a friend of mine, Lydia Tan. Lydia handed me a book of Jalaja’s to read — “Aphrodite’s Daughters” which is all about women’s sexuality and healing that aspect of women. The book is a series of oral histories intertwined with anthropological references, mythological stories, and cultural anecdotes. A much needed book considering the chasm in our US cultures that exists between sexuality and the sacred. Jalaja’s name came up for me recently as a friend of mine works for Global Fund for Women in SF. Jalaja attended a meeting and spoke about a project she is working on in Palestine. My friend knew how fond I was of Jalaja’s book and that I was connected to the peace work in Palestine, so she connected me with Jalaja. Through a series of emails, I was able to find out that Jalaja was going to lead a womens’ peace circle in Palestine. That area of the world has been at the surface of my consciousness for awhile because I have some dear friends who live there. They actually participated in the circle that Jalaja hosted; and, Jalaja hopes to return there again… She is also training other women in Palestine to lead their own womens’ circles. Being part of a womens’ circle, myself, for the past 6 years, I understand the grounding and comforting power of these circles. They change lives and the positive ripple affect of these circles are profound!
Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo— I met this amazing woman at Esalen last year. She came in with her posse of poets and just rocked the house! Before I saw her perform, I met her while sitting by the fire in the lodge. Roasting our toesies by the fire, I immediately picked up on her full spirit. Her voice has a resonance that is rounded by rich emotion. I remember that we talked about spoken word and finding your voice; the power behind it all… That night, at the spoken word session, her words vibrated almost every bone in my body! I am grateful for her full-bodied expression and her ability to be so bold and vulnerable at the same time — a true artist.
Julia Butterfly Hill — I have never met Julia, but I remember hearing her speak at SolFest at the Solar Living Institute in CA years ago. Before I knew about her time guarding a redwood tree, I heard her speaking about trash and waste. I remember her shouting, “where is away!?” She shouted after that, “there is no away!” And, a statement as simple as that began a chain reaction for me…of investigating where my things went to when I no longer needed them…of being curious about the waste cycle…and deeply analyzing the disposable culture I lived in. It wasn’t until later that I learned of her story. She lived in a redwood tree (she affectionately called ‘Luna’) for around TWO YEARS so that she could protect it from being cut down by loggers in California. Of what I know of Julia, she keeps a fairly low profile and yet is able to deeply impact areas of the movement, all while working in mysterious ways. She has a wealth of collaborators that she works with and supports; and she is feircly dedicated to protecting life and the cycles of life. She is a complete inspiration for dedicated action…and a great person to teach the youth about!
Jessica Prentice — I’ve just reread Jessica’s book, ‘Full Moon Feast’ and it has blown my heart open, yet again! For some reason, this second time around, her words landed more fully in my lap. Maybe I am in a place to hear more of her wisdom this time around. Or, maybe my mind/heart has been slowly chewing on the words I read of hers from a few years ago and it’s reaching a deeper level of digestion this time around… Jessica is an amazing food activist; she is bringing fun, nourishment, and brilliance back to the hearth. I have attended some of her lovely Full Moon Feasts in Berkeley; I ate amazing food, talked food politics with my table, and heard folks from farms talk about their work. Each feast was like a home-coming to me — food is community, food is health, food is sacred… Jessica and a few other people also started America’s first Community Supported Kitchen (CSK) called Three Stone Hearth where you can order all kinds of yummy traditionally prepared foods. You can also intern there and learn how to prepare all that yummy, nutrient-dense stuff. I believe that if every town in America had a CSK, a lot of healing would happen…
Mona Caron — I had known about Mona for a few years before I met her. I would pass by a mural she painted on the back of Safeway in the Castro District of SF almost everyday for about a year. Mona takes the everyday-ness of a place and creates beautiful, detailed magic with her artistry. I got to know Mona more when I was working in the Tenderloin District of SF. She had been recruited by our local Community Betterment District to craft and paint a mural on a very popular corner (meaning drugs and such) — Jones and Golden Gate. Mona involved all the complex aspects of the neighborhood into the creation of the mural and into the actual mural — the Boys and Girls Club youth, the Arab-American families, the street characters, neighborhood history and the future of the Tenderloin (among many other elements). She weaved together a story to reflect back to the neighborhood… And, she had all kinds of people help her paint… I walked by that corner a couple weeks before I moved away from San Francisco. Considering that I sat in my office on that corner for 5 years, I could see that this corner would never be the same. Mona had given that intersection and that community the indescribable gift of art.