For nearly two years, we have held theme-based Healing Circles for Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. Our themes include self-care, grief and loss, relationship and communication, growing with and navigating emotions, reframing thoughts, mindfulness, joy, purpose, and connection. These themes generate a meaningful and integrated experience over time. It’s wonderful to gather and create a whole experience for the participants through qigong, meditation, imagery, poetry, writing, and sharing that reflects the depth of the month’s journey.
We find a way of balancing intention, presence, and spaciousness that helps the group settle in and feel held as well as allowing for what feels most emergent and alive. I carry a woven basket that contains our portable altar to create sacred space whenever and wherever we arrive for circle. Participants have made offerings for the altar such as sweetgrass and a beautifully carved wooden angel given during chemotherapy.
Though we meet for only two-and-a-half hours on a Monday afternoon once a month, it’s moving to see how the members of the group feel a sense of seamless continuity. We’ve grown to care for one another and to track each other’s journeys. The capacity to feel more ease, to listen and to dive deep creates inspiration shared by all. A major learning from our experience is the importance of commitment over time to show up fully for circle on the part of the participants and the facilitators. There is a mutuality and reciprocity that develops over time and enriches and deepens how we show up—both in circle and our lives. The sense of safety and spontaneity allows for each of us to share what is true for us, and to know that we will be accepted, honored and celebrated in our sorrow, joy and wholeness.
One couple, both skilled musicians, came to circle originally as patient and caregiver, one actively in treatment while the other had a history of cancer. Over the course of our time together, the caregiver developed a new brain tumor and was catapulted into treatment. They had to change the dance in their relationship—to be there in a new way to support one another while being in the throes of their individual journies. During one of our healing circles, they brought a guitar and sang right into our hearts. We were deeply moved by the beauty of the music, the power of love, and the appreciation of how evanescent these moments of meaning can be. (We were also grateful for the box of tissues that have become a fixture in our altar.)
Each month, participants receive an overview of the next month’s theme. Being able to anticipate the theme creates a keynote for the month that gains momentum, meaning, and clarity, and that guides each of us over time. From the feedback we’ve received from participants, healing circles are transformational as mini-retreats, akin to the longer retreats we offer at Harmony Hill Retreat Center for people with cancer and their families.
I am grateful for my partner and ally, Linda Covert. Co-facilitation is a dance that calls for listening, flexibility, mutual growth, creativity and the moment-to-moment discernment of knowing when to step in and when to make space. As facilitators, we carefully weave and support the process and the sharing of the group to bring a vibrancy that carries us all through the ongoing rough-and-tumble of life.
Header photo by Corrine Bayley