Friday, November 13, 2009

You Are a Phenomenal Woman, Really You Are!

“It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride in my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”
- Maya Angelou

We’ve all known phenomenal women. They have that special “something,” a glorious glimmer that brightens a room when they enter. Their smile, warm demeanor, or caring presence draws us to them. If we’re honest, we’d like to be more like them, but we’re not quite sure how or where to begin.

Many years ago, my friend Ellie gifted me with a small book of poetry penned by Maya Angelou. It harbored the poem I’ve cited above, Phenomenal Woman. I recall the first time I read it, chills ran up and down my spine. My heart burst with emotion. Oh, I thought, if we could only recognize and accept ourselves as the phenomenal women we are! In that moment, I began to ponder how it might be that we come to a sense of our own phenomenal beingness—our “wowness,” as some might call it. Is being remarkable, extraordinary, like Maya Angelou herself, something women are born with, or a compilation of qualities we must cultivate over time? A little voice inside of me whispered, ‘Both.’

I continued to reflect upon the author herself. Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in Missouri in 1928, an “ordinary” little girl by all appearances. Unfortunately, however, at the age of three, her parents divorced and she was sent to live with her grandmother. A few years later, Maya was returned to her mother’s house where she experienced a traumatic sexual assault, becoming mute for the next five years as a result of the attack. Her childhood, if anything, was not something to be celebrated, but something to be overcome and healed, which she has. Yet, perhaps, this is precisely why this singular woman has led such a distinct life. She was able to tap into her inherent phenomenal nature and cultivate the gifts and talents she was born with, all the while overcoming any challenges life brought her way—notably done with verve and flair.

In many ways, Maya Angelou is ‘Every Woman.’ A woman of unlimited potential who can, by choice, create a life of her own design, no matter the circumstances of her birth, or what hardships she has experienced. With effort, focus, and faith, she can access her essence—the core of who she really is—to become all that she can be. Today, as I read certain lines of the poem once again, I surmise that Maya is referring to qualities that are latent within all of us— "wow” qualities we need only nurture to fruition.

“It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing of my waist,
And the joy in my feet ...”

This fire, this flash, this grace of which she speaks is present as pure potentiality when we are born. It is incubated and fostered within us as we find our way through life. Our wowness emerges gradually as we experience one personal success after another. For Maya, it may have been learning to speak again with the help of a dear teacher, or receiving a scholarship to take dance and drama lessons, or securing a job as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. The same can be true for any of us. One victory stacked upon another begins to embolden the flash in our smile and the swing in our hips. But only if we let it.

For these moments when we experience our own “wowness” are fleeting at best and we must latch onto them with resolve. We must gather them up and hold them close to our hearts as they will supply us with the courage and confidence we need to continue to move forward in life. The world, its pressures and its nay-sayers, even the failures we experience, can easily cause us to bow down in insecurity once more. They can lure us into feeling we are not phenomenal women at all, just ordinary women struggling to be something that we are not, or can never be.

Yet, our wowness does not come just from striving alone, or from achieving success in the world. Our wowness comes from painstakingly growing ourselves from the inside out. Our wowness expands gradually over time as we quietly affirm our personal triumphs (both inner and outer) and celebrate the woman we are becoming. Our wowness takes hold as we become more comfortable with who we are—more accepting, gentle, and kind to ourselves.

“Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud ...”

Let us make no mistake, this process of acknowledging ourselves as the phenomenal women we are is not characterized by arrogance or pride. The most phenomenal women I know are not self-centered, nor self-absorbed. In fact, as they have grown in stature, they live with a sense of true humility and equanimity toward others. They see in every other woman a woman like themselves—a woman who desires to live free—a woman living from her fullness. By embracing their wowness, phenomenal women naturally desire to reach out, to serve, to uplift other women so that each one can finally experience her own glory, as well.

“It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

My hope is that each of us will begin to see ourselves as phenomenal women. You are a phenomenal woman, too. Really, you are. And so is every other woman who walks this planet ...

So, how are you doing with embracing your "wowness" these days?

Tell us, what's Wow! about YOU ... 

(*Reference: Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women by Maya Angelou. Random House, 1994.)


cream_city_chick-A-DEE said...

I'm so thrilled that you posed this about Maya Angelou! She is such an amazing woman & has been an inspiration to me for a long, long time! She surely possesses that "wowness"!!

Lynn said...

What a warm welcome. Thank you.

I am sure I shared Maya Angelou's Phenomenal Woman with my English students years ago. It endures.

I hope that my book, You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers, is helping to open up the "wowness"in those who care for a spouse, parent, child, special needs child, or themselves. We are all caregivers for someone.

This site is a wonderful place to tap into your "wowness," right here and right now. Thanks for sharing this.

B. Lynn Goodwin
Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

Sharmila said...

Jan, I adore this post and was drawn in with Maya Angelou - who has been one of my female mentor roles at one point this year (she has surely gained my respect)
I love this part most of all:
“It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

I'm learning 'the need for my care.' and its exhilarating, scary but important! ;)

If I had to say something Wow about me, I'd say I am sensitive warm-hearted and so loving and I always paint the sky wherever I go (with hope) This year my focus has been on my 'eyes' feature which speak of wellness I desire to attain still but more importantly they speak of who I really am - soul ~at the end of the day, nothing else matters.. all is fleeting except being.

thank-you for a lovely post!

Jan said...

So nice to hear your enthusiasm about Ms. Wow herself, Maya Angelou. She does inspire! Thanks for commenting.

Welcome! So glad you stopped by BEFORE your guest visit here on Dec. 2. Can't wait! Lovely to meet you.

Ladies, Lynn will be speaking with us about "taking care of oneself self while taking care of others." A big and very important subject!

Another MA fan. Yes! I love how you are proclaiming your Wowness here. Your phrase that catches my attention is: "I paint the sky wherever I go." So beautiful. Paint on! We are blessed to know ye...

I would also say that is one of my own Wowness features. I see beauty wherever I go...I don't know if I paint it, perhaps with my words now and then. :-)

Miche - Serenity Hacker said...

This absolutely beautiful! I adore Maya Angelou. What an affirmation of all being a woman encompasses. The reminder to latch on to those moment when we feel "phenomenal" in our woman-ness is such an important one, and well taken. That's where we can empower ourselves.

This part, for me, embodies so much:

It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing of my waist,
And the joy in my feet ...

It's light-hearted, simple, yet very powerful. It's so vital to connect with the phenomenal, the ultimate feminine power within us. And Maya reminds of that so well. Thank you.

-Miche :)

Joy said...

What an amazing post! I love Maya Angelou--what grace, wisdom, charisma.

"It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing of my waist,
And the joy in my feet"

I have all of that. Quite honestly though, I don't feel phenomenal, I feel quite ordinary. I know my talents are in sailing, cooking, and nurturing, and that my desire to stand in faith just lights every area of my life and makes anything possible.

Rose - The Center of My Self said...

Such powerful hope and strength in Maya Angelou's writing! Every time I read "Phenomenal Woman", I am re-invigorated. I embraced my wowness on the mat this morning, especially in Balancing Half Moon where I made extra effort to open back my hips and ribs in order to more fully open up my heart - wow! Some days, though, I don't feel so wow, as I continue to struggle with my weight. I feel my power so much better when I'm at a health weight.

Laura Hegfield said...

Jan my dear,
this line in your words "Our wowness comes from painstakingly growing ourselves from the inside out" speaks to my as much as darling, audacious, phenomenal Maya's! That is my "wowness" I think...I am expanding daily from the blessings I discover every day as my disabilities open me to new improved abilities to be compassionate, and express my love to many people. It is painful, my life in many ways...and yet, like Maya's story...every humans story if they take the time to sit with our suffering...we discover that we are growing from the inside out into marvelous facets of God, embodied in fragile human bodies.

beautiful post Jan, beautiful!

Laura Hegfield said...

ps...I am having difficulty with language right sorry about type-o's in above message...still even with my confused words, the essence I think is still able to be understood.

Jan said...

You know I think the stanzas you picked are my fave too. They are alive and sensual and sassy! (I like this word--sassy!)It sparks and sends out dazzling reminders of who we all are in our essence.

You like this one too! Great. :-) I appreciate you sharing your talents with us, for they are marvelous talents to have. I think you are a WOW. :-)

Terrific news that you accessed your wowness during yoga today. And that you are continuing to celebrate you as you move toward enhanced health. Yes!

Yes, physical challenges do certainly open us up to new "virtues," esp. compassion and love. Patience too. And forgiveness. You are rising to an amazing challenge and I, for one, think you are doing it with WOWness! You make me proud...

Nina P. said...

"They see in every other woman a woman like themselves—a woman who desires to live free—a woman living from her fullness. By embracing their wowness, phenomenal women naturally desire to reach out, to serve, to uplift other women so that each one can finally experience her own glory, as well."
I love this post and these thoughts... I am, You are, We are.... The Energy of what was, what is and what will be..... Nothing, part and All is the "wowness" within each of us. I Celebrate Cultivating the You, Me, We in all of us... The Fullness of Women... You my friend are the "Wowness" of Women, encouraging us to let go and Be... the Phenomenal Women in, with and through all of us. Thank you Jan for this wonderful post and sharing your wisdom and grace. Blessings to you and yours. Love and Light, Nina P

Jan Lundy said...