I am lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest, when the skies are leaden and the mist or rain or downpour occlude the sun, I can go to a Korean Woman’s spa and luxuriate in warmth. There are hot tubs, a cool tub, saunas, steam rooms, dry mud rooms, salt rooms, mugwort tea baths. There are rooms with heated floors where I can recline on couches or cushions and read or snooze or dream. There is a restaurant which serves spicy and comforting soups, tangy kimchee and grassy infused teas. I can, for a few hours and the price of entry, relax in a version of heaven.
There are no men to be seen. Anywhere. All the people who work there, massage therapists, skin care aestheticians, body wrappers and body scrubbers are women. All the people soaking in tubs, sipping tea, all are women. There is no whiff of testosterone anywhere. When I go to the spa, I go to be in a purely feminine world. There are not many places in our culture where it is appropriate and necessary to be in female only space.
This is what it’s like: in the shared public spaces like the restaurant and relaxing rooms, we wear our bathrobes and hair covers, otherwise, we are naked. And it is a glory to behold the many shapes, sizes, ages, colors, wrinkles, tattoos, the gravity defying and the gravity affected, all of us, carriers of the double chromosome, and each one unique. As I said, it is glorious to see and be seen exactly as we are, no hiding or covering up our perfections or imperfections.
I had a vision, while almost sleeping in the salt room on the bamboo floor. I saw the many wells and ponds and lakes and pools where women had gathered from the beginning of time. The Well-maidens, the shepherdesses, the women gaily braiding flowers into their hair by the many waters – all flowed through my imagination. The word seraglio came unbidden. While seraglio originated as a place where women were kept for the sultan, it is actually a container, a protective enclosure that keeps danger at bay. And then, and then, in the lovely moment of feeling myself one with the mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers of all time, I had a sudden surge of terror.
I knew with certainty, that at any moment, the Saracens could come thundering through the seraglio, the container of safety, and in their blood lust, destroy, kill and murder us all. Robert Langs has a word for this, it is secure frame dread. When you finally feel safe, when the head rests on the beloved’s shoulder, when the infant gives in to the paradise of oneness, the terror comes. It is the very fact of feeling vulnerable and safe that elicits the terror. That is the psychological lens of what I experienced.
And it is also something more, as deep and as true as the fact that water will flow to find its level. That is, when women have gathered together to celebrate, relax, mourn, grieve, support one another, we have been raped, killed, enslaved, ripped from the womb of the family, the culture, our homes. Truth be told, we don’t even need to be in groups to be targets. Read the papers and weep.
That is why I am so involved and dedicated to Seeing Red, an initiative which seeks to unearth the roots of feminine oppression and violence and to explore how we see ourselves and how we are seen. So we provide, for the moment, a feminine only space where we can embrace our experiences and find solace, comfort, and the energy to confront the terror and heal our souls. www.seeingredconference.com.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor