I like circles.
We have always sat in circles; around fires in caves, telling stories, sharing food, singing songs.
When I train I like people to be in a circle; it means we can all see each other and it sends the message that we are all equal, that we all matter equally.
I've been to circle dances, I've sat in therapy training and been part of 'check in' circles, I've led circles in Findhorn offshoot Kalikalos in Greece and I've spent time this year sitting in circles at a sweat lodge. I've taken part in restorative circles and Circle Time with children. I know a man who is using circles in the MIddle East to find peace between the opposing factions and I know another man who uses circles to work with stakeholders to save the environment. The Red Tent movement creates circles for women.
Circles are powerful spaces for personal and societal change.
What happens in a circle?
On one hand; nothing.
There is no trainer, no expert, no-one with more power or answers than anyone else. There are no solutions planned, no agendas, no performance indicators, no planned outcomes and no timetable.
They take the time they take. What happens, happens.
On the other hand there is a structure, the simplest of which can just be that we go round the circle the circle in turn. Some circles use a talking stick or object which people can use to indicate that they want to talk, and whilst they hold the object others listen. Some circles use rituals such as grounding, meditation, smudging or music and song. These rituals not only create a space which is different from our every day life, but they can introduce different rounds of listening and speaking; for example gratitude or prayer.
The Circle Holder
In some ways the Circle Holder does nothing. They are part of the circle, in some circles they join in and in others they don't. In some circles they might ask questions, in others they don't, they just join the listeners.
And yet, the Circle Holder is critical and skilled. The gather the circle, they call the people in. The Circle Holder sets the intention of the circle, maintains the boundaries of turn taking, confidentiality and respect, models focused listening and attention.
The Circle Holder is able to bear and contain the emotions and experiences the participants bring and maintain unconditional positive regard. The Circle Holder gives participants unspoken permission to be who they are, without the need to defend of pretend.
Winnicott the psychoanalyst was the first person to talk about the importance of the 'holding environment' in early childhood. The 'good enough' mother would not only physically hold the baby and attend to need such as bathing and feeding, but would also 'hold' the child's emotional needs; soothing it when it is distressed, laughing with it when it is joyful.
The ability to create a holding environment and contain emotions is at the core of what a Circle Holder does. The concept of emotional containment comes originally from Jung who talked about therapy as being like the alchemical crucible where thoughts, experiences, memories and emotions can be held safely in in the process transmuted. 'Reaching Autism' provide a detailed description of what emotional containment is.
The Circle Holder creates the psychic state within the circle where people are safe to speak their truth knowing that they will be heard and that their experiences will be contained. It is a powerful process.
There is no circle without people to sit in the circle, so just as the Circle Holder is pivotal in calling and holding the circle, without people, there is no circle.
Some circles ask that people join in the rituals, that they bring food to share, special objects to bless. All circles call for participants to listen, with attention, without interruption, expectation or comment to each other.
Beyond this, the key thing that participants bring is a willingness to be seen, to show up authentically as them self with what ever they are thinking, feeling and experiencing. Participants enter the space with the intention of being open to change, open to learning and with an open heart.
Participants create the space to really hear each other without the need to fix, or make someone feel better, without the need for solutions or conversation. Participants are the witness to each others journeys.
Participants speak their truth, say what they have held onto for too long, imagine what they never dared dream, they are allow themselves to vulnerable and fierce, confused, fearful, blissful, numb. They allow themselves to be fully present in the moment without having to wear a mask or fulfill a role. They can be there without feeling the weight of expectation and judgement.
Alchemy is the mythical process of turning base metals into gold by transmuting them in a crucible (container). Circles are the crucibles for alchemy as we are the metals being changed.
When ever I have sat in a circle and spoken my truth I come away changed. I realise things about myself I haven't seen before, I free up limited thinking, I feel braver for having spoken out, stronger for having shown up as myself. I can feel intensely emotional and yet OK, I dare to say the things I would never say in any other situation.
I come away feeling lighter, more in touch with my real self and freed of some of my roles and conditioning. I come away feeling more alive and more present to my own life and experience. I feel more able to be a peaceful, compassionate, powerful person in the world
I also come away with a strong sense of connection with people I may never have met before or see again. We might not even know each others names let alone family status or work and yet there is such intimacy in witnessing and listening to people speak from their heart that the relationships that occur in the circle can be profound and intense and it doesn't matter that they are created in a day, or in an hour.
I have no idea exactly what happens in the circle to make me feel braver and truer and more open; that is the alchemy, the magic at work. It is the synthesis of having quiet and focused time to reflect, of having a holding environment, of hearing other people's stories and experiences and having them resonate with my own. it might be the rituals, the intentions, the boundaries.
A circle lets us know that we are all equal and yet connected, that we can see and be seen, that we are individuals and a group.
Circles let us know that we are part of the circle of life and that we, by being in the circle, help create that circle, and create that life.
Join a Circle
Come sit in a circle.