CARLA GOLDSTEIN of OMEGA INSTITUTE: Women, Power and a New Paradigm by Angelina Perri Birney

Carla GoldsteinThe Omega Point. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin imagined such a critical threshold, where humankind would reach its highest point of socialization and consciousness, breaking through time and space to a new level of enlightenment. The organization’s name reflecting this idea, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is dedicated to fostering movement toward that pivotal point of integration, encouraging both individual growth and social change.”

Sitting in her office located amidst Omega’s sprawling, nearly two hundred acre campus in Rhinebeck, NY, Carla Goldstein, Director of External Affairs as well as Director of the Women’s Institute, describes how she discovered Omega and how that meeting transformed her life.

“I consider myself an advocate,” Carla relates. “That’s really been the bulk of my professional life. I’m a lawyer by training and spent many years on the public policy front. I worked in the New York State legislature as well as in the City Council. It was while I was working for Planned Parenthood thatI discovered Omega. I found out about the Women & Power conference and it looked really interesting, so I decided to attend. I heard Jane Fonda speak that weekend. Eve Ensler and other great women were there as well.It was such a powerful event, the best conference I’d ever been to, bar none.”

Carla found herself thinking it was a shame that those amazing women were not being heard more beyond the conference environment. “This was all happening pre-digital download and the internet had not become what it is now. That’s when it occurred to me that since Planned Parenthood was a global organization, we might partner with Omega to figure out how to get that content distributed in some way, so I approached Omega with the idea. This was all happening just when the organization first began its Service Week program, opening its campus to nonprofits to do their own retreats. Through Planned Parenthood, I went on a retreat along with a team of thirty leaders, and we all fell in love with the place. After that, I brought my family to Omega during Family Week. It was avery transformative time for us. That’s when I realized Omega really had something going on that was special.”

Elizabeth Lesser, Eve Ensler, Jane Fonda, and Sally FieldCarla expresses that Omega’s and her own desire seemed to be synchronizing. In the universe of her policy work, while people were talking about heartfulness, caring, community and childcare, Carla reveals her personal experience was that “there was something missing underneath the rhetoric–a depth of spirit and community. And as far as Omega was concerned, the organization was at a time in its development when it was feeling its ‘grownupness’. The mission to bring hope and healing to individuals and society had been expressed really one person at a time through various educational programs. Omega was now interested in figuring out how it could deepen its impact on the social/cultural questions. So meeting up with the organization at that time was perfect. I was looking for spiritual depth, and Omega was looking for political/social action.”

Since joining Omega, Carla has seen the organization realizing its goal. The Women’s Institute . . . The Omega Center for Sustainable Living. . . The Scholarship Program . . . building a program around Mindfulness for Educators . . . the development of a Veteran’s Week. “The road has led to really figuring out how to serve the greater good at a social level in addition to the individual level,” Carla states. “The way I see it is that coming on the heels of the 60’s and the 70’s there were really two paths to social change. One path advocated changing the social structures–the laws, the policies. The other was the Ghandi path, the eastern path. ‘We’re going to be the change.’ What Omega was coming to understand, as well as what I and many of our teachers have come to understand is that it’s not an either or situation. It’s a both and more situation. So the question is how do we really bring thesedifferent prongs together in an endless cycle.”

Seeing two sides of the coin, Omega recognized that a deeper balance within the world at large needed to be attained for successful social changes to take place–a new paradigm where feminine wisdom is valued. Supporting a balanced power paradigm that is neither feminine nor masculine, but a healthy blend of both, will help create a more peaceful and just world that honors our interdependence with each other and the Earth itself. Thus, the formation of the Women’s Institute , a dynamic and innovative part of Omega’s mission to attain that objective.

Empowering women around the world, the Institute supports them in developing their visions and their voice, recognizing that feminine wisdom is an essential element in any effort toward sustainability and global peace.

“The goal of the Women’s Institute is primarily to cultivate women’s leadership and empowerment so thatwomen can be change agents,” Carla notes. “We’re interested in helping women who want to transform the power paradigm frombeing one of dominance and exploitation to one of cooperation and collaboration. We’re interested in not mimicking the kinds of leadership that we have grown up watching but inventing our own authentic leadership using our whole selves–mind, body, spirit, and heart–and doing it in the global context.The way that I understand it, where we are as women in the west today stems right from WWII. Since that time, when 6,000,000 women went to work and then left their jobs when themen came back from war, we have been in a largely adaptive relationship to power–conforming to the existing structures in relation to questions like ‘How do we get what we want? How do we hold it? How do we find our way? How do we navigate the power structures that exist that were created without us?’ But that’s changing. We’re now moving into a period where women are very interested in having power redefined to reflect our own unique values and visions. This is not to say that women are monolithic. We are as different as we are many, but nonetheless all of the social constructs were created primarily without any input from women, so we’ve been functioning in them in this adaptive mode and now it’s like ‘Well, wait a minute.’ Not to discard it all, but how can we infuse the power structure with our own visions? How do we challenge some of the assumptions upon which the system was based–a lot of those assumptions having to do with the exploitation of women? So that’s really what the Women’s Institute is interested in helping women do.”

But it’s not only women’s empowerment that the Institute is promoting, it’s feminine wisdom.

By healing and promoting feminine wisdom in women and girls as well as in men and boys, all of society benefits.

“The terminology is all problematic,” Carla explains. “When we use the term ‘the feminine’ which we mean in the Jungian psychological sense, people think we’re talking about feminine hygiene products or a hyper-genderized sense of the feminine so there’s all these challenges around stereotypes due to the language. That makes it tough, especially for men.In reality, we’re trying to convey the word feminine in the sphere of nurturing, as well as in reflective and relational qualities. Gloria Steinem once said at one of the conferences that every human being possesses all of the qualities that are available–360° around the wheel–but we grow into them at different stages of our lives. So the best aspiration would be to help all humans experience all aspects of themselves. With regard to women’s empowerment work, it’s about helping women find their own authentic voice and visions. It’s also about helping them become more comfortable in their masculine traits. It works the other way around with men. Many men can be extraordinarily nurturing. So none of this is simply biologically predestined. The real question is how can we bring balance for everyone? Of course, from a resource point of view, the Women’s Institute is interested in empowering women, but helping to awaken, enliven and support the feminine in men will definitely be a part of our agenda.”

Emphasizing female leadership in the world is essential at all levels. Carla makes reference to Nicholas D. Kristof’s book, Half the Sky, which describes the brutal inequality that women and girls face in the world today as well as the powerful resilience of those who have been harmed, who literally changed their oppression into opportunity. “Allowing women to play key roles is one of the answers to many of the development questions that we have,” Carla asserts. “It makes sense. Actually, it’s kind of a no brainer. If you have all these human problems and half of the humans are not at the table to help solve them, then you’re really not utilizing the full of human potential. It’s very simple. We need more women in leadership positions. At the same time, it’s an oversimplification to say it’s just about the biology. A lot of the reasons why have to do with patriarchy and what the overarching system is valuing. So although we need more women leaders, it’s not just more women in the biological sense, but specifically, more women who are interested in bringing in the values of the feminine.”

Omega’s Women & Power conferences, cultivating those values, aredynamic events, inspiring and affirming women’s leadership and empowerment. “Of course there’s only so much one can do in a weekend,” Carla remarks, “but it’s definitely an inspirational event and acts as a confirmation for those of us who think Hey, I want to wake up and strengthen this part of myself. Also, the conference offers a sense of community. Even though technologically the web connects us more than ever, we’re very isolated from one another. We live in a hyper-specialized society and culture so you could spend your entire life just staring at a computer screen. That’s why one of the main goals of the conference is to bring people into community with each other and to build a movement – a social movement.”

And that movement seems to be emerging around the globe. An amazing number of women’s organizations are bringing women together to explore the power paradigm as well as to create some changes in the blueprint. Carla points out that “everywhere you look, even on the internet, if you google women and power conferences, you will find events all over the world now. The Women’s Institute is not unique in the sense that we are part of a growing movement. That’s another one of our goals–to share that information, to help people feel connected to something larger than themselves. It’s important for us to know that we’re a part of an emerging global network of women trying to change the path of history, trying to bring a different set of values and experience to the table as well as forging new pathways and new vocabulary for what is developing.”

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by Angelina Perri Birney
With a Masters in English Education from N.Y.U. and a Bachelors in Writing and Communications, Angelina has also been trained in the Tibetan Buddhist lama tradition and completed a three-year retreat. While traveling extensively throughout Tibet, Nepal and India, she experienced the rich cultures and spiritual traditions practiced by the people of these lands. She received teachings on the various myths explored within Pure Vision, in particular that of Shambhala, from several eminent teachers including the Dalai Lama.