Michelle walks to the Ocean, a mere 5 minutes from her home in Santa Cruz, California. The waves are crashing on big boulders, leaping over the cliffs and into the street. She walks around the rough water that interrupts the sidewalk pathway, looking to the Ocean to feel more grounded.
It’s a few days before she’s hosting her first ever women’s retreat at Esalen, a personal development center in Big Sur, California. For Michelle, entering into the unknown like this has sometimes felt terrifying. She used to be someone who just gets things done, moving into action. However, these days, she’s driven by something that’s less about her, and more about a vision that’s been coming through her. A vision with a long gestation period…
She’s hoping the upcoming event will honor this vision for the wisdom of women to emerge, which means a certain amount of letting things happen without her controlling it all. While this is a new way of being for her, Michelle has grown resilient over the past few years by continuing to come back to her role as a steward for the vision.
Her Esalen gathering has maxed out it’s capacity: 130 women will be coming together to explore their own personal visions for a better world in areas such as education, business, and community. It is meant to be a sacred space for their visions to be shared and connections to be made, to help bring them to life. They have put their trust in Michelle for putting the event together—and there’s no way for her to know what will happen.
Michelle recalls the truth of her original vision for Wisdom Women: “An open space for women to provide their wisdom and voices in service to a more beautiful world—and from that place of trust, the nature of the space gets co-created.”
Some of this clarity and trust came from her work with Soulful Brand. In her engagement with co-founders Ryan and Matt, the intention was to bring some articulation to her vision without feeling pressured to come up with something. They had convened at an early stage when the vision was more fragile—she was just beginning to put it into words and had barely shared it with anyone else.
The experience together was an exercise for her in honoring the energy behind the vision with gentleness and humility. The spaciousness in that work allowed Michelle to see the way back to her own wisdom and knowing—not to be told what to do or how to do it.
In reconnecting to her guiding light, Michelle relaxes in remembering that it’s not all up to her. She returns to trusting the unique wisdom and leadership that each woman holds to contribute to the space.
The sky is grey and foggy. The Ocean is rough—pounding water is coming in fast. She feels Mother Nature is conspiring with her.
The Esalen workshop takes place in a large circular tent with an open floor plan. The women have gathered for the weekend, intentions have been set and those who have come are gaining more familiarity with themselves and one another.
In one exercise, the women step up to a microphone, each speaking to their vision for a better world. Each tapping into their own vision’s fragility as they connect with a deeper knowing—a deeper power as they are witnessed by others in the group.
The sisters in the space celebrate with cheers and applause. It’s just one of many moments in the ebb and flow of proud and vulnerable declarations.
In the midst of that weekend, Michelle has another meeting with the Ocean. Here the cliffs are steep, laden with trees and succulents. She is perched over a bathtub that looks out at the water, which moves in a gradual and powerful rhythm. The sky is pink and purple, moving towards dusk.
As a woman, Michelle used to defer her power to men—feeling like what she would say and the way she wanted to contribute wasn’t good enough. Occasionally, she is tested when men show up and want to help her by telling her what to do. But she’s strong enough to meet that now—it doesn’t happen as much as it used to.
In this moment, the Ocean is her co-creator. She receives clarity that the next morning’s schedule needs to completely shift. It’s time to honor women of diverse backgrounds, whose voices and wisdom have not historically been valued. The currents of the Ocean are a lesson in continual change.
The sandy surface around the baths are comprised of earthy, round stones that connect the concrete in between. The wires below the baths stand by like safety nets.
For Michelle, she believes the world will be a different place when women know who they really are and don’t have to be alone in their journey of discovering their wisdom.
“With Soulful Brand,” Michelle recalls, “Ryan and Matt showed up differently. They were there to strengthen my leadership, but in my way. They helped me see how much the vision was tied into my personal experience as a woman.”
When considering the unknown today, Michelle explains, “It’s still terrifying for me. But I’ve had enough experience with being held in it that I can trust the unknown more. I’ve had enough experiences to know that there’s something greater at play that’s guiding this particular movement. And so I can relax.”
After the weekend at Esalen, Michelle returns home to Santa Cruz. Again, she convenes with the Ocean, but things are different since her return.
The water here is rolling in smooth waves as the sun sparkles in reflective patterns. The roughness of the previous week had taken parts of the sidewalk out. There is tape restricting access to parts of the road as cars go around the men working in hard hats—they are moving boulders and setting them back in place with bulldozers. Walking through the scene, she is in contact with a softer quiet in herself.
More is coming for Michelle and Wisdom Women. They have Visionary Councils that are beginning to meet as well as Circles where women meet locally in sacred space—always asking the question, “how can we support the sacred visions of the women in our community as we birth the reality our hearts’ desire?” Their most recent Rising Woman event is a direct result of what these councils are co-creating together.
“To put faith in the emergent,” Michelle says. “And to follow an unknown process—we don’t do that much in our society. Going into the unknown is scary and uncomfortable. That’s why some of us need to be at the forefront of taking it on. The question is: how might we show up for what arises here and serve what wants to happen while trusting that something beyond us is leading the way?”