The most valuable experiences of our lives, those that have the deepest impact on our paths to becoming and expressing who we are, must sometimes cycle in and out of our lives for a while--sometimes years--before the time is right for us to reach out and claim them as our own. They come into our awareness when we are in a space of curiosity or vulnerability, a space that lends a certain stickiness to our minds and hearts. It's just sticky enough to capture a lasting impression of the potential that this experience could hold for us. Some day. Not today, but some time in the liminal future. When we are ready, or curious enough, to step into it. And when we do, when we claim our rightful seat within this space of transformation, we experience a curious and profoundly sweet sense of homecoming. A feeling of returning to a home that has, thus far, existed only in our hearts and in the fertile ground of our imagination, grown from the seed planted by that first encounter long ago.
The Embodied Wisdom Teacher Training Program of Shakti Rising is such an experience for me, growing now in my life strong as a redwood from a seed planted in my awareness eight years ago. My participation in this program, in the community of Shakti Rising, and in the Sacramento region as a Regional Master Teacher, is transforming me as I learn how to more deeply hold space for the transformation of others.
Shakti Rising is a social change organization that promotes the health and leadership of women and girls as they empower themselves to transform their lives and communities. Feeling the time was right to talk about my journey into this incredible organization, I sat down with Halley Miglietta--an expressive arts healer and fellow leader within the Sacramento region Shakti Rising--to walk back over the path that brought me to this work.
In sharing this interview with you, I invite you to remain open to any spark of curiosity, any tug of resonance, any shiver that runs down your spine, and plants a seed of awareness within you.
Halley Miglietta: What was your first experience/introduction to Shakti Rising?
Michaela Daystar: My first experience into Shakti Rising was vicariously through my students. As Director of the institute for Civic Leadership at Mills College, I sent students to Shakti as interns to learn about leadership and social justice through the lens of Embodied Feminine Leadership. And through their reports back sharing their experience, I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of more directly at some point.
That direct involvement didn’t come for about five or six years. I experienced an internal knowing that the time was right to directly connect. A knowing that I’d done enough of my internal work to be ready to jump into that pot. I wouldn’t have been ready before. My students were far more ready than I was at that time to do this kind of deep dive into the internal, transformative space. The kind of deep dive needed so that the external transformation that we really want to see can actually be manifested through us, and as us, instead of as something that we’re pushing against all the time. That’s how I was operating in my role as a social justice leadership educator prior to doing the internal work—always pushing against the outside world and expecting it to change without changing myself.
HM: How did you know that Shakti Rising was something that you needed?
MD: It started as a mind knowing and then moved to a heart knowing. At first, I knew that as a social justice leadership educator, I should be involved in as many different social justice organizations as I can. But again, that was my perspective when I wasn’t quite ready to fully engage in terms of working on my own spirit and heart. The heart knowing came about when I was in a space of transition and transformation in every other realm of my life. And at that point, getting involved with Shakti was no longer a question about something I was doing for my job, or something I was supposed to be doing for my leadership. It was something I needed in order to realign myself to my own purpose and my capacity to live into that purpose.
Shakti reappeared in the form of Chelsea [Cotton, NorCal Regional Director] and Eden [Trenor, NorCal Co-Director] coming to a career fair that we hosted at Mills, in a moment when I was looking for the next springboard to dive off of. The conversation I had with them at that point was about the connections between Mills and Shakti Rising, but it was also about my needing to be involved for my own self. And I remember very specifically not wanting to ask any questions about what that involved, like “what does it mean to be in Shakti class?”, or “what does it mean to do Shakti work?,” I didn’t want to know any of that. I didn’t actually know any of that until I was in it, until I was at Practical Alchemy. I felt strongly that this was something that I just needed to be dropped into. That I didn’t need any other information other than the way that it felt to be around my students when they came back from their internships, and the way that it felt to be around Chelsea and Eden when we were having the conversation.
I knew that there were two women in Sacramento [Kari Allen and Angie Hensley], near where I live, who are working on establishing a Sacramento sub-region of Shakti Rising, and I asked how I could help bring that to fruition. Chelsea and Eden directed me to Practical Alchemy and the Embodied Wisdom Teacher Training Program, and I’ve never looked back. I’m now training as a Shakti Rising Regional Master Teacher, and am in the midst of teaching my first full-length Shakti class, Salt of the Sea.
HM: In what ways are you incorporating things you’ve learned in the Embodied Wisdom Teacher Training Program into your life?
MD: This work is being incorporated in every aspect of my life. The way that is happening is by deeper and deeper of levels of intuitive response. Being able to respond to whatever the situation is, and being able to be with the reality with whatever the situation is. So in my parenting, for example, where there’s all manner of difficult situations that arise, difficult questions posed by my kids, and painful situations, I experience a much deeper knowing that whatever comes, I can respond to it. My learning and teaching from Shakti Rising shows up in my life as an ability to be with discomfort in a way that I never have had been before.
One of the ways in which I’ve changed over the years from intentionally doing my own healing work is by moving from being intensely conflict averse—like, cannot handle conflict at all, and will do whatever it takes to not be in conflict (which generates deeply unhealthy behavior)—to being mostly okay with conflict, or at least able to be with it in various ways. Such that before I went into Shakti Rising, I felt like I was pretty good at being in a difficult conversation, for example. And I now know that even then, after five years of working on that particular issue, I could tolerate being in a difficult conversation, but I couldn’t sink into that conversation. I couldn’t be with the other person. I couldn’t be heart to heart with the other person in that difficult conversation, in that discomfort. I couldn’t fully be with their discomfort, their anger, their sadness, and mine. I still approached it as, “we just need to get through this; let’s just do what it takes to get to the other side of this so that life can continue.” But life can’t continue if we can’t be with discomfort, I have learned. A piece of the discomfort that we are unable to live into gets stuck with us, and prevents us from fully engaging with others and with life.
When we, then, connect the personal with the collective, we see that social justice can’t arise if we can’t live into discomfort, if we can’t sit with our own anger, sadness and grief, and that of other people. And so bringing this work into my life has made me aware that first of all, in every part of our lives, there’s the potential for discomfort and difficult conversations. And that in each of these instances we have resources. We have what we need, we have enough, we are enough; to not only be with it or get through it, but to thrive within it. To change, by our ability to thrive within discomfort and difficulty, the nature of that interaction for everyone involved. We are not taught to do that. So many of us are unable to be in those situations—including people whose work it is to change systems of oppression. We’re still not taught. I did social justice work for 10 years without ever really learning beyond the head’s response, to the deeper heart response and bodily response. I learned to ask, “what are the right things to say? What’s the right framing of the conversation?” There wasn’t anything about “how do I stay in my own skin when I just want to crawl out of it because this is so fucking uncomfortable?” None of that.
So I would say, that’s a major part of how the embodied feminine wisdom work that I’m doing with Shakti Rising—on myself, for myself, with myself, and with others—is infusing into my life. It’s subversive because the stereotype about feminine-based organizations is, “Oh we’re just talking about our feelings, figuring out how to be soft girls..” all that nonsense rooted in the stereotype of what it means to be female. When really, it is not about soft and strong and hard and weak or any of those binary categories. It is about being fully alive. Which includes all of those things and so much more. It is so much more important than the way that we usually talk about these things.
HM: What do you want others to know about Shakti Rising?
MD: I want others to know that there is a place for them, regardless of how they currently relate to notions such as “feminine wisdom.” I want them to know that there is a place for them to bring what they know and what they have into this space and have there be a mutual alchemical process that happens between them and the material of Shakti Rising. That message brings up a question for me. I want to understand what it means for Shakti Rising to include trans women? That’s a question I have. So I need to be in that inquiry.
I want people to know that there is a paradox in this work that’s so overtly framed in the feminine. By doing this work, we are actually engaging with all of it: with the masculine, the feminine, and things that can’t fall into either of those categories. Because of this work, I finally understand—I mean fully understand in my Being—what Gandhi meant when he asked us to be the change we wish to see in the world. Again, it is about what it means to be fully alive. It’s important to work it through this framework of the feminine because that’s a perspective that so many of us have not had access to for so long, regardless of our gender identity. So it’s not about figuring out how to be woman. It’s about figuring out how to harness an ancestral, archetypal, universal energy that has simply been denied to us for a very long time. To harness it, step into it, and let it fundamentally change the people and situations around us.