“Those who have now attained spiritual immortality but cannot as yet live in heaven number in the thousands. They are all in various places on earth accumulating virtue, carrying out practical undertakings so that they may eventually make the ascent. Some of them take care of rivers and lakes, some of them manage the hidden government, some are in charge of mountains. Their hidden works are carried out in secret; their virtuous deeds are practiced covertly.” –Thomas Cleary
Over 100 women inspired by these words will gather on a mountaintop deep in the Catskills and practice Taoist arts from August 25-30. They will come together to organize and learn from one another as they celebrate the Earth and the ever-present feminine energy at the appropriately named Immortal Sisters Conference.
In anticipation of the conference, YogaCity NYC Publisher and Tai Chi student Brette Popper recently asked the presenters about why they are holding this event, inspired by the ancient arts, and what it is all about.
Brette Popper: Who were the Immortal Sisters?
Sharon Smith: We take our name to honor and identify with the female spiritual adepts in Thomas Cleary’s book, Immortal Sisters: Secret Teachings of Taoist Women. It presents the life stories of Taoist women adepts that lived from the 3rd to 12th centuries. These women
represent a female heritage of spiritual mastery as well as humanitarianism.
BP: Why hold a conference honoring them?
SS: We want to inspire women to see themselves as carriers of a potent spiritual lineage. We are living in an incredibly stressful time that is taking a toll on all of us. Over many lifetimes, violence, domination and the overriding of natural processes have created a collective experience that that devalues the Feminine principle. In Taoist terms, we would say that the Yin/Yang balance has been deeply disturbed – Yin has been severely compromised by the excessively aggressive Yang, manifesting environmentally, socially and personally. This lack of harmony is experienced everywhere and influences everything.
BP: What is Tao?
Marie Favorito: Tao or Dao is a Chinese word signifying the “Way of Nature.” The “Way” has been explained as the intuitive knowing of life that cannot be grasped full-heartedly as a concept but is known through the actual experience of one’s everyday being. A philosophical system, it’s about Yin and Yang co-existing in harmony. It’s about keeping love, joy and well-being in the forefront of your everyday decisions. It’s also about calming and balancing your nervous system so you can stay in the flow of life for creativity and conscious living.
BP: What are some ways social activism will be inspired?
Jamee Culbertson: It doesn’t take wisdom to take passionate action. It takes heart. Social activism is acting out of deep love and is an expression of our care for the Earth and the beings who live here. It is one way to empower women to take better care of themselves, each other and Mother Earth.
In addition to a focus on healing practices and self-care, the conference includes a presentation by Julia Butterfly Hill. Julia brought international attention to the plight of the world’s last remaining ancient forest when she climbed 180 feet into the branches of a 1000 year old redwood tree and refused to come down for 738 days until there was an agreement that provided protection to that tree known as Luna.
BP: Some of the presenters are specialists on sexuality. How will sexuality be explored and by the way, what is a Jade Egg?
Saumya Comer: Sexuality will be explored as an energy to harness for healing, increasing vitality and spiritual development. We will use a playful blend of embodiment exercises to help women feel more self love and at home in their bodies. Qigong exercises will purge the old and cultivate new positive energies. The Jade Egg exercise is an ancient Taoist practice for women to help themselves maintain pelvic floor health.
BP: Sharon, you’ll be teaching about bone and brain health, what is that?
SS: From the Taoist perspective bone and brain health relate to the circulation of “jing” chi (original energy generated from sexual energy) to nourish the bones and bone marrow and fertilize the brain. Recent medical studies show that the loss of estrogen is a factor in both bone density and Alzheimer’s disease. The Taoists recognized this early and used the jade egg practice as well as stimulating the bones with a wire hitter as an aid in circulating the reproductive energy to “fertilize” the brain and nourish the bones.
MF: Max Dashu’s amazing slide show presentation from the Suppressed Women’s Archives. Max has documented women’s history on a global scale and has immense knowledge that cannot be found in traditional history books.
The Immortal Sisters Conference will take place at Menla Mountain House . If you’d like more details click here. Space is limited so register now as prices go up after June 15. Special incentive are discounts for attendees under 30. Prices including accommodation and meals run from $1500 to $1950. A commuter option is available for $1200.