I'm lying on the floor, rocking side to side with my knees clenched tightly to my chest, face red-hot to the touch and damp with tears. I'm not alone. The room is alive with 20 other women doing the exact same thing. Somewhere between "Oh my God, I can't do this" and "Why do I feel so hot—is anyone else this hot!?" a thought arises that actually brings a smile to my surely contorted face: "On a scale of 1 to 10, how different is this from my usual Saturday at 3 p.m. routine?"
Before I can get too carried away calculating it out down to the decimal, we're asked to partner up and prepare for the next exercise. I come to a cross-leg with the feeling that the most intense part of the weekend is about to unfold, and it turns out I'm right.
Dropping what separates us, together.
Let's back up a bit. Before you jump to conclusions: No, I am not in a Bikram class or some sort of communal infrared sauna. I'm about 24 hours into a Moon Club gathering for the Leo new moon—one that is calling on me, and a handful of other incredibly brave women, to drop our barriers and sit with our deepest, darkest selves in order to make space for our true purposes to rise to the surface.
Easier said than done.
When I first got word of the weekend in upstate New York, I was immediately intrigued. After all, the event was to be hosted by two of my idols in the spiritual arena (Alexandra Roxo, the writer, director, healer, and voice behind the incredible Holy F*ck column, and Ruby Warrington, the fashion-editor-turned-mystic who makes spiritual living cool with her website, The Numinous, and book, Material Girl, Mystical World), and it ensured lots of astrology, incense, and opportunity to roam in a forest. It delivered on these promises, but what came in between was incredibly hard—but even more incredibly necessary—work.
A series of visualizations, group shares, and intention-setting exercises were united by the common theme of forgoing the niceties and chitchat we usually lead conversation with and sharing something more personal with one another. Prompts like "Tell your partner about a transformative experience you've had" and "Speak of a time that you've experienced grief" were thrown out before we even had time to exchange cities and occupations.
Because I am an introvert to the bone, this was beyond uncomfortable to me, both emotionally and physically. By the time I reached the pivotal aforementioned floor session, my legs felt like I'd just run a marathon, my stomach was in knots, and my head was pounding with a feverish intensity. It was a potent reminder of the mind-body connection, of the way that a mental challenge often incites a physical one. But in this moment, the height of my discomfort, something extraordinary happened.
What I released.
I sat across from another woman, whose name I did not know at the time, and was told to look into her eye in unflinching focus. I was told to hold her gaze, to connect with her breath. Then I was told to scream. And that's what I did.
In that moment, I felt safe to let out any anger, frustration, and sadness that had accumulated over years of just being a human in the world. I, somebody who hardly ever even bothers to voice her opinion on what lunch option a group should go with, threw my voice into a chorus of animalistic exhalations. And I did it because I knew that the person holding my gaze was also holding space for me to drop these feelings I didn't want to carry anymore. She was supporting me not because she knew me or felt obligated to but because I am a woman and she is a woman, and in that moment that was enough.
Later that night, the group put words to our release, verbalizing the negativity we wanted to leave behind and dropping it into a bonfire. It was a very Leonine show of grit and passion, and one meant to clear us of any shadows—something we all have, no matter how happy we may be (I should probably note now that I consider myself a very happy person overall)—in order to shine our light brighter in the lunar phase to come. The new moon is all about speaking from the heart and setting intentions, and that's what we did beside the stars and flames that night. We spoke for one another as much as ourselves, in solidarity as women who descend from other women, drunk with the power that comes with that.
What I took back with me.
So why, you might be asking, do people forgo summer weekends spent sipping cocktails on rooftops with friends to attend gatherings like this? For me, these days of deep spiritual, emotional work serve as reminders that we are all working to break through similar shadows, no matter how different we may seem on the surface. To use a vastly overused trope, we are all on the journey to find our true, authentic selves, and it's impossible to do that if we constantly bury our darker emotions instead of letting them rise to the surface and drift into the sky with the smoke.
Thankfully, you don't need to scream in a roomful of strangers to learn about yourself. You can embrace this inner work and encourage your friends to do the same simply by holding more space for one another in your day-to-day interactions.
"Ritualize it. Create a weekly meet-up with your friends where you know you're gonna go straight to the real talk," Warrington advises. "Set the intention before you even meet up, perhaps even setting a theme for your chat. Be brave and go first, setting the tone by sharing what's really going on for you. And don't drink! Alcohol can feel like it opens us up to deeper sharing, but whatever is shared under the influence won't 'land' in the same way. Deep, honest sharing feels much more intimate when you're sober—and you remember it all the next day."
So today, let's all vow to ask a woman we care about how she's doing and let her know we can handle the honest answer. Let's bring a sense of openness to our relationships for a while. It may just make room for some magic.