The Athena Festival accentuates celebrating “the wisdom of women”, and indeed at the gathering that I attended, there did seem to be an air of celebration and excitement.  In addition to a multigenerational female turnout, a few stout-hearted and deferential men were also present, with some even visibly interested in the topics being discussed. 

Booths laden with merchandise geared towards women’s spiritual and fashion tastes were doing brisk business, while event rooms were almost packed with enthusiastic onlookers.  Inundated psychics, Tarot, and palm readers were mostly taking appointments for later in the afternoon.  You could hear women’s laughter coming from all common meeting areas.

Suffering from emotional exhaustion, I shopped quietly for a while and bought a couple of photographs from a woman who had worked in the criminal justice system for over 20 years.  Her photos of peaceful nature scenes were soulful and inspired.  She said after serving that long, she needed a therapeutic way of recapturing the beauty of the world.  I could relate, for traumatic experiences have left me drained of any significant zest for life.

Eventually I ended up in front of Donna DeNomme’s booth, and had an opportunity to talk with her at some length.  Donna gave the keynote address earlier that day.  We shared some of our past experiences and found several commonalities, for both of us were sexually abused and did time as single mothers on welfare. 

I agreed mostly with her that as individuals we carry all that we need to heal within ourselves (as long as one views the task from the therapist’s chair) but in practice, something more is needed.  Something external to us.  Something outside the turtle shell of self-containment that we all carry around with us.  In fact, a quote from her book, “Turtle Wisdom: Coming Home to Yourself”, alludes to this need:

“Be fully alive!
Savor this human existence, and by doing so
you will elevate it to even more of what it can be.”

So, according to Donna (plus a plethora of philosophers and psychologists) we cannot be fully alive unless we “savor” life – or more to the point, without engaging the world.  Metaphorically, I wondered if emotional healing was possible without external contributions from the very world that traumatized us to begin with, but Donna did not seem to think this was a primary mechanism.  Her emphasis was drawing on our inner resources for self-healing.  Clearly, I was missing something.  Some fragment of truth was unavailable to me at that moment, so I stepped outside for fresh air. 

It was a sunny, warm day and the hotel sprinkler system had left sparkling droplets of water everywhere.  A pine tree near the building entrance was covered in these tiny prismatic beauties, and as I considered one especially beautiful branch, a wave of peacefulness began to wash into my soul.  The natural world was somehow part of my missing fragment of truth, but the thought would not complete itself, and so I returned to the festival.

The meeting rooms had been crowded all day, however I stumbled upon one room that had not yet filled up, so I ducked inside.  Agoraphobia makes sitting in a room full of people difficult for me, but the chairs in this meeting room had been arranged at angles to one another and prevented me from seeing most of the others in the room.

On a table at the from of the room was a very large, white, frosted glass singing bowl.  Intrigued, I decided to stay.  The room grew peaceful in anticipation of the speaker’s appearance, and I half closed my eyes while visualizing the drops of water on that pine tree…

Then in a rush, the speaker entered the room.  She had long hair, and was dressed in a floor length, white Chiffon dress.  She held a long-handled mallet in one hand, and proceeded to tap the singing bowl once lightly.  A single pure tone emanated from the bowl, and all attention turned to the speaker.

She told us of her many years in the high pressure business world and how successful she had been in climbing the corporate ladder.  I tried hard to listen to her message, but it all got lost in the incongruity of the setting and the speaker.  She would have not been out of place in either Stonehenge or a board room, but both personas in one room under fluorescent lighting, on man-made carpeting, enclosed by four walls, a floor, and a ceiling made for a bizarre experience.  Then she gave us her pitch – for only $250.00 we could have a one-on-one session with her.

I looked around the room.  My cohorts sat in rapt attention while I mentally estimated the distance between me and the door.  It was not difficult to imagine her journey to the top of a corporation.  I got up and quietly left the room.  Not knowing exactly where to go next, and feeling an impending panic attack, I went back to the vendor area.

The psychics and Tarot readers were all still busy…except for one older woman who was jammed more-or-less behind her neighbor’s huge sign.  I asked if she would perform a reading for me.  She smiled and handed me the deck to shuffle.  Twenty minutes later, she had given me a detailed and fairly accurate recount of my history.  The future, she said, was filled with symbols relating to a long period of hard work without much tangible reward, but that I had to complete this part of the journey before progressing to the next, more gratifying segment.

As with everything related to humanity, there are charlatans and there are fellow travelers, and I was led to both during this festival for comparison and illumination.  The photographer began my experience with a sense of companionship and the reminder that Nature is of herself a healing entity.

The turtle is a partial answer, but positive input from appropriate sources is also required.  We need times of reflection and withdrawal to dig deeper into existential questions and to lick our accumulated wounds, but without contributions from the larger world, we will not find more complete answers or healing.  The brief time spent admiring a well-watered pine tree reinforced this latter concept by coupling a feeling of peace with the natural world.

The $250.00/hour businesswoman was of course, the day’s impostor.  By offering a few tricks attached to a very large price tag, she afforded me an opportunity to see where my answers would not come from.

The understated Tarot reader hidden behind a sign completed this mini-journey by retelling my past, while accurately prognosticating the immediate future.  The past 18 months have indeed been overflowing with fear, anxiety, and hard work with little to no reward.  I have wrestled with horrific depression for much of that time , and am only now just beginning to emerge from the depths of despair.

And, it has taken me 18 months to understand some of the unconscious messages taken away from the Athena Festival:

  • The natural world is a vital healing force in my life
  • It is necessary for me to withdraw for some period of time to facilitate assimilation of accumulated inputs, but synthesis requires interaction with the natural world
  • Beware of fake or instant cures (Corollary – I have become hypersensitive to insincerity and deception)
  • My past does not shock anyone, therefore it shouldn’t shock or embarrass me
  • Periods of hard work with little return are an essential part of life
  • Depression and anxiety have their place in life for they point out areas that require change

Take my experiences for what they may be worth to you, but do pause a moment to watch a bright yellow flower dancing in the breeze, or as I did, a spectacular drop of water filled with the colors of the visible spectrum.