“Circle started around the cook-fires of humanity’s ancestors and has accompanied us ever since. We remember this space. When we listen, we speak more thoughtfully. We lean in to shared purpose.”

Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea

Circles are living entities: a full-bodied presence that we create together. They’re the mother of methodologies and are based on the fires that our ancestors gathered around to build tribe and clan.

There’s a difference between meeting in a circle and invoking or calling a circle. Healing circles are functional blends of mechanics and magic. The mechanics are necessary to establish and maintain a safe, conducive environment for magic to emerge. The trick in a healing circle is to be vigilant of the balance between the two—to avoid over-emphasizing one at the expense of the other.

What takes place in a basic healing circle is:

  • Welcome and transition into circle: stepping away from what you’ve been doing, taking a deep breath, and committing yourself to being fully in the circle.
  • Checking in: sharing how your particular journey is going.
  • Learning: harvesting the collective wisdom of the group.
  • Closing/checking out.
  • Social time.

The circle is big enough

She is the first to reach for the talking piece, so she can share. After completing chemotherapy, a treatment she deeply feared because her father had died from it, her first follow-up results are good. She is ecstatic, ready to celebrate, on the eve of heading to Europe for a trip she has always longed to take. She doesn’t believe she can delay her celebration; her doctors tell her that the chance of her ovarian cancer returning is 90 percent.

Another member, nearly a year out from a series of surgeries caused by a surgical error, found deep, spiritual peace this morning in our local Earth Sanctuary nature preserve.

A third member who has lived with cancer in his body for 40 years, has felt a level of pain this week that signals that he has entered a new phase.

Across the circle is a long-term circle member who has just entered hospice.

Do the members who are experiencing great joy mute their emotions because of the pain elsewhere in the circle? Do those in pain hold back in order to “not bring others down”?

No. The circle is big enough for all of it. For all of us. For all parts of us. For all stages of our life journeys. The work of the circle is to learn how to be truly authentic, to deepen our capacity to give full voice to who we are in this moment. In a safe circle, we learn to trust both ourselves in the telling and others in the listening.

In circle, we can honor the step forward and the three steps back. Honor the steps that wander, circle back, and whose directions are not yet clear. Honor those at beginnings and those at ends.

We don’t have to wait for a time when the circle is in synchrony. We support our unique paths to healing the heart and our dissenting opinions on what orients the mind.

Yet this is not how we have been trained in our social circles. Families often unconsciously prioritize attention to the one perceived to be the neediest, but circles understand that need exists in us all. Friends often fall into groupthink, coalescing around one point of view, lest the friendship break; circles make room for all viewpoints by sharing personal experiences from the heart and not from dogma. We, too, as individuals can find it difficult to break free of our own view of the world and ourselves but we can borrow energy from the rim of the circle to loosen the bonds of our story-telling.

In circle, we have the opportunity—should we choose it—to share both our pride and our shame; our strength and our vulnerability. It’s not important that we reach the same conclusion, we are loved simply for our humanity.

And we don’t always need to be serious. We can laugh, be silly, break into song. We can celebrate this one (messy, wild, crazy, tortured, inspired, rich) life we’ve been given.

Diana Lindsay is a co-founder and co-director of Healing Circles Langley. She is the author of Something More Than Hope: Surviving Despite the Odds, Thriving Because of Them, the story of her recovery from stage four lung cancer.

Header photo by David Welton