In her ground-breaking book, The Millionth Circle, Jean Shinoda Bolen proposed that the proliferation of "women's circles with a sacred center" would lead to nothing less than a global change in power dynamics.
In a circle, all members share power equally, a cooperative power structure that Bolen believes to be more natural to women than a hierarchical one. Under patriarchy the dominant power paradigm is a triangle or pyramid, a top-down structure in which a leader holds the most power. Patriarchal hierarchy, Bolen argues, has favored competition rather than cooperation and a need to "save face," which has led to conflicts between people and between nations. Women's experience of power within circles is quite different, favoring equal access, communication and connection. That experience of support within a circle changes the way women relate to each other and their family members and friends; it has a ripple effect into their communities and places of work. That experience, she argues, has the potential to change the way individuals and even nations relate to each other, share resources, and solve the planet-threatening problems we all face.
Bolen uses an unusual format—regular prose with side-adjusted margins for discussions of ideas or dissemination of information, alternating with poetic language and centered-margin sentences aimed at the more intuitive right brain. She discovered the format by accident when she hit the center-line icon on her word processing software instead of the right or left margin icon. Here's an example (p. 81):
Western Civilization is the story of patriarchy,
a dominator, hierarchical history of power and
that together have brought us to new heights of
and to the possibility of destroying our planet.
Bolen argues that if the changes we so desperately need to resolve international conflicts and stem the tide of war, violence against women, destruction of habitat and all the ills of the twenty-first century, it will be women who lead the way (p. 83):
In myths and dreams and in our collective
women are remembered as they once were and
carriers of the sacred feminine.
If patriarchy is to be healed and the planet
might women's wisdom be needed?
Bolen ties together theory, mythology and advice on establishing and maintaining women's circles. She describes how circles will proliferate based on theoretical biologist Rupert Sheldrake's morphic field theory. The theory states that once the behavior of a critical mass of individuals changes, the behavior of an entire species will change. It was Sheldrake's attempt to explain a phenomena observed by field biologists studying monkeys on a group of islands off the shore of Japan. To track them, biologists would lure the monkeys onto the beach with sweet potatoes, a favored treat. One day, a monkey they had named Imo began to wash her potato in the surf before eating it. Soon her playmates and her mother learned to do this. The behavior spread through the monkey population on Imo's island until all the monkeys washed their sweet potatoes before eating them. But what was more remarkable, was that suddenly, the monkeys on all the other islands began washing their sweet potatoes as well, even though the animals were completely isolated from one another geographically. Anti-nuclear proliferation activists adopted the theory envisioning the "hundredth monkey," whose new behavior tipped the scales. This "hundredth monkey" allegory encouraged their efforts when society and governments all acted as though disarmament were an impossible dream.
Publication of that book led Bolen to the United Nations during meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women which take place each spring. There, thousands of activists in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) designed to help women and girls regularly meet to share information and present panel discussions and workshops. During women's history month in March of 2012, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the 66th General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser announced support for a joint statement calling for a Fifth UN World Conference on Women in 2015. The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing ten years earlier had a huge ripple effect globally as participants returned home to their various countries energized and armed to continue efforts to improve women's lives. There was great excitement at the potential ripple effect a fifth conference would have in a new era of social media and internet technology.
But for reasons which were never made public, the idea was squashed; supporters were told that "the time for women's conferences is over." There was speculation that member states that did not want reproductive and other rights for women had killed the initiative.
Moving Toward the Millionth Circle is Bolen's response. In it she outlines the history of the initiative and the reasons why a Fifth World Conference on Women (5WCW) is crucial not only to women, but to humankind. She writes:
Now is the time for circles instead of hierarchies, for people to meet together in a form in which everyone is equal, in person and in virtual online circles. Circles with a sacred center support those in them to be true to themselves, to follow whatever the calling or assignment might be, to support each other, make wise choices, and call upon invisible help through prayers, intentions, and meditation. Moving Toward the Millionth Circle is about circles and about heart-centered activists. It is about seeding circles and a global feminist movement. It is about spiritual equality and the healing power of the feminine (p. 13).
Bolen's new book is at once an eloquent call to action and a meditation on women's perspective and women's power that, once harnessed, could change the world and the way we live in it.
Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., is a psychiatrist, Jungian analyst, an internationally known speaker and author of The Tao of Psychology, Goddesses in Everywoman, Gods in Everyman, Ring of Power, Crossing to Avalon, Close to the Bone, The Millionth Circle, Goddesses in Older Women, Crones Don't Whine, Urgent Message from Mother, and Like a Tree with over eighty foreign translations. She is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a former clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco, and a past board member of the Ms. Foundation for Women and the International Transpersonal Association. She was a recipient of the Institute for Health and Healing's "Pioneers in Art, Science, and the Soul of Healing Award", and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. The Millionth Circle Initiative was inspired by her book and led to her involvement at the UN as the initiator and the leading advocate for a UN 5th World Conference on Women.
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