2017 Women & Spirituality Conference
Rochester Women’s Magazine Article
Last September over 750 participants of the 36th Women & 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, many readers and healers were on hand to offer their guidance. Lilac Wellness Center created a beautiful space for massage, bodywork with a quiet area for meditation and reflection.
The conference now finds its home in Rochester after 35 years at Minnesota State University (formerly Mankato State University). Originally born from their Women’s Studies Department in 1981, the conference has both given voice to those with a message to share through teaching a workshop, or those open to new insights or experience through learning, personal growth or healing. Their mission statement reflects on 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, or discussion groups, lectures or presentations. Many of the presenters have utilized the conference to present papers for 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.
We decided to look a little further into those who participated in last year’s conference to find out why they came and what they may have learned.
College student, Ashalul Aden, talked about her hectic life, learning to take care of herself and to slow down on her journey through life with patience and personal commitment to her spirituality. As a Black Muslim woman she faces prejudice every day and often feels like the world is against her. She writes, ‘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. I have always wanted to live in a world where people could live peacefully amongst each other. However, if I want to live in a world like that, I must do the hard work. I must change the narrative from a negative to a positive one. 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. As human beings, 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.’
Ashalul 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. After the conference she realized she was rushing her journey and told herself there is no need to rush and to take as long as she wants to define herself.
When asked what does she feel is the difference between religion and spirituality, she said, ‘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.’
Ashalul gave a talk at the 2017 conference entitled, ‘Social Justice in Islam’
Anyone that has met Sue Stoltz will feel instantly blessed by her smiling presence. Invited by a dear friend, she drove Wisconsin for her first conference experience. Since a young age, she has always had a deep compassion and reverence for all the living 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 accept her abilities. Her experience has helped her to heal, so that she can begin to help others. She felt that it was one of the most powerful awakening weekends she has ever experienced.
For Sue, 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, that in today’s chaotic world it is time for women to find their voice and that it is time for women’s voices to be heard. She is on her path to understanding herself and 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!’
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 than 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 Shawngela, 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, ‘Law of Attraction Healing’ that will be ready the upcoming 2018 conference. The message of her book is that we can use the Law of Attraction to heal, to train our subconscious mind 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.’
She is in private practice in Sedona, AZ. For more information visit her website at www.seekwithinyou.com
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. Though 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 young 10 year old girl she 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 this 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 that have brought her peace and also grace and beauty to her path through life.
She embraced the woman centric conference as a celebration honoring the feminine power. We talked about the recent #metoo movement and how so many brave women are coming out and putting a voice to 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.’ ‘You learn to turn it into a power not a victimhood.’ She opened up about her own ‘labyrinth of pain’ – her own cycle of victimhood. She said, ‘the way out for me was through therapy and personal work.’ She drew strength from her spirituality as she learned to push through the pain, to recognize her feelings, not to push them down, to feel and let go. Her focus has now shifted to one of a positive sexuality, she has learned to embrace her inner goddess, her divine feminine, to be empowered and not a victim. 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.
Tina 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 at a Twin Cities bookstore to young women interested in exploring pagan traditions. She supports and encourages young women to revere strong female role models, to embrace the divine feminine. She also offers ‘seekers’ classes and a tarot series, all her classes are free.
The 2018 Women & Spirituality conference will be held September 22 – 23rd at the Mayo Civic Center in downtown Rochester, MN. The keynote speaker of this year’s conference is Donna Mejia, assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Donna is a choreographer, scholar, director and performer specializing in contemporary dance, traditions of African and Arab diaspora and emerging fusion dance traditions. A Fulbright scholar with a Master of Fine Arts, her research focus on gender representations and social coding in dance and movement traditions, transnationalism and emerging models of global citizenship promise to be enlightening and timely.
In her blog she writes about being a Creole woman, a descendant of slaves. She was fortified by the stories of her family ancestors and recognizes that ‘education was our deliverance from a trajectory of manipulation and suffering.’ Her goal is the advancement of all women in all aspects of life and that a balance of power [between the sexes] must be achieved. She believes that women’s perspectives are crucial in problem solving and though her personal experience of ‘subjugation, devaluation, trivialization and manipulation remain ever fresh, it serves to fuel my insistence that students of all gender expressions never settle for mediocrity when their minds are what is at stake.’
Information can be found at https://womenandspirituality.org/
Virginia Cooper is a writer, intuitive poet & 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 firstname.lastname@example.org