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Curved by Julie Kanga

In 2020 we continue to feature extraordinary works of writing by recent Ranch guests. Each piece focuses on The Ranch and moments of personal insight, observation, or awareness.

Curved by Julie Kanga

All my adult life, I carried the weight of a thick stone slab.  Inherited from my parents, that stone travelled with me from my childhood home to my college dorm, to first and second and third adult apartments, hanging heavily as reminder of how to be. The square-edged tablet bears an engraved verse my pastor spoke over me, a refrain given on post-church afternoons to a pre-teen girl with urgent questions about God and life and being. He and my parents repeated the verse to me: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.”

It’s little wonder that a Christian girl in small-town Texas would lack confidence. The day before I defended my dissertation, the women at church prayed over me, asking God to speak through me. When I expressed nervousness, they assured me, “Just ask Him for guidance, and He will enact His will. And wear a dress that makes you feel good.” The next day, I defended my dissertation to a committee of three men, my voice sore from pushing it deep into vocal fry.  When these three men announced I had passed, there was no cathartic moment.  No elation.  Only joyless handshakes and a frustration at myself for expecting to feel better after earning the title “Doctor”.  I cried, disappointed it didn’t feel better to be done. They saw, signing my manuscript and quickly leaving the room. I finished the 6-year path of my PhD, feeling lost after years of saying “I’ll be happy when…”

I decided to aggressively pursue the happiness I wanted to feel. I was great at some kinds of self-care, like healthy eating, exercise, sleep – basically only the types of self-care that help you stay thin. I hadn’t learned how to care for my hurting spirit. I searched “wellness retreat” online and found the Ranch. I called every few days asking for last-minute availability. There was one unsold Villa in two weeks that I could have if no one booked. I took it.

I arrived at the Ranch on the earliest Saturday shuttle, mindfully walking in the quietest pocket of the week.  I saw sculptures of the female form arrayed along curving paths. A seated statue of a meditating woman greeted me outside the doors of the mid-morning yoga class. A yogi placed fresh flowers in the natural bowl of her marble lap. The Ranch was my first experience being in the presence of powerful feminine energy, and this energy grew a first, small love for being a woman.

I had always had a complex relationship with femininity.  While I was, in fact, very feminine, I had always felt ashamed of my feminine traits. I changed the way I spoke for academia. I called myself overly sensitive for having normal emotions.  I cried and hated myself for crying. I played the cool girl who is cool because she acts like a guy.  But at the Ranch I saw what it would be like to live in a world that celebrated femininity. I also saw how vulnerable I am to hating femininity, not only for the typical reasons of patriarchal culture, but also because of my lifelong obsession with connecting to God “Himself”. I wanted Him to accept me. I went to Him for guidance. I was constantly thinking about how to please Him. I had lived my entire life with deference towards “God,” while believing that “Goddess” was sacrilege.

Near the end of my week at the Ranch, I walked the curving, curving, curving paths of the labyrinth, communing with the Divine, asking if I was still accepted as my personality and faith have changed. When I prayed, I directed these questions to a divine feminine energy, to a Mother Goddess. I felt Her glow. I felt her pulse and the joyous curl of her presence around me, “Of course, my darling,” She replied, “Always, and just as you are.”  I felt Her acceptance, Her guidance, Her pleasure.

When I got home from the Ranch, I put away the sharp lines of square stone that promised a straight path and I replaced it with the curvy figure of a meditating woman, her lap filled with flowers.