On Becoming a Circle

It's December 21st, 2000. Our group is sitting round a dinner table sampling potluck prior to beginning our Solstice celebration. The talk is of having completed our first year as a 'closed' circle - twelve meetings (once a month) with the same seven individuals. We are pleased with ourselves, the way our circle has been going, the way we feel about each other, the ease with which Spirit directs us each time we gather.

We are not a new circle, but we've been created anew. Our sometimes rocky past seems to have been swept clean and we are joyous about our arrival. With gratitude for a year of rich learning, we offer our reflections of our initial year as a 'closed' circle.

Our History

For a group called Open Spirit, becoming a closed circle was a big leap. Originally, we had come together as a result of a Thanksgiving Open House Ceremony hosted by Gay Spirit, a drumming circle for gay men. 'Straight' friends expressed their envy of our celebratory circling and joked about the need for an 'Open Spirit'.

For several years, Open Spirit met through various configurations. Sometimes we were large (up to 15 members), sometimes small (4 members). We struggled with a wide range of shamanic and circle experience. Some had lots; many had little. We put on an all-day journey skills workshop to help newcomers. A few got jazzed while most drifted away. We struggled with sharing leadership when only a subset of the group was willing/comfortable to step up to facilitating. We experimented with format and scheduling. We struggled with new people dropping in, having a seemingly good experience, never to be heard from again. We lost Sage, a very loved and powerful member who died unexpectedly.

Over time, the 'core' members became weary. Some of us saw the 'public' circle as a way of being of service, but we were growing tired of the constant challenge of not knowing who or how many would show up and the sense of responsibility of holding and carrying the circle regardless of who attended. A few of us, concerned about not always feeling safe, expressed the desire for a circle that fed those who were most committed to attending. After repeated journeying and discussing, we decided we needed the consistency of a closed circle. We invited all those who were willing to make a commitment to join us. Seven of us responded, committed to attending regularly and began meeting in January, 2000.

Tend your circles
as you would tend your children
Nurture them
Encourage them
And when they feel wayward,
Hold them central in your heart.
(guidance in a journey)

Foundational Elements

Because of our previous struggles, our closed circle is grounded in ways that aid our growth and deepen our experience. Key elements of this foundation include:

* Commitment. All seven members have a similar notion of commitment and have consistently attended. We leave it up to each member to let us know if they are going to miss, so we pretty much know who to expect each circle.

* Common expectations. All of us have shared our expectations of what we want the circle to be and what we expect of each other. The focus is on shamanic circling, connecting with Spirit and each other in ways that promote learning and healing.

* Showing Up Fully. Although we vary in our abilities, experience, and personal familiarity, all members have grown more comfortable with speaking up and giving voice to Spirit when they feel moved. Circling requires that we allow space and encouragement for each member to bring forward their contributions, concerns, and compassion.

* Shared leadership. At the end of each circle, two people volunteer to co-facilitate the next circle. Their main task is to journey and get clear on the focus/intention of the upcoming circle. Co-facilitators may come with a ritual or a specific journey in mind, but we've learned not to get too wedded to specifics. The co-facilitators provide some structure, but they hold it very lightly allowing everyone to help create in the fluid experience of circling. Typically, any member may be involved in calling in directions, offering prayers, suggesting a journey or ritual, etc.

* Flexibility. After closing, we schedule our next 1-2 meetings. Although we generally meet the third Thursday, we occasionally modify this if it will help accommodate attendance. We have two meeting locations which has been helpful in freeing us from any one person's schedule limitations.

Circle As Teacher

* A significant lesson came as a result of the International Shamanic Gathering in Oracle. Four of our seven members planned on attending the gathering. As we prepared for Oracle, the members who weren't planning on attending realized the importance of this gathering for all of us. One member changed his plans in order to attend "If I'm going to commit to this circle, then I want to invest the time to get to know you and have shared experiences". This member's beautiful prayer for the Earth appears on the Oracle pages.

The two remaining members initiated a discussion about how they could "hold those attending" and how those attending might hold those "staying home". When we returned from Oracle, the members who had stayed home shared their experience and what they had learned in our absence. Those who had been to Oracle shared personal highlights and painted a picture of some of what had transpired. That evening, as we sang the songs from the Arizona desert and we invoked the energy of the World Map, the whole circle had an experience of Oracle.

I wish you peace
I wish you joy
I wish you plenty in times of need
I wish you starlight
I wish you laughter
I wish you love in your heart always

* Another important lesson came about as the result of a friend visiting the circle. Tom, who was going to South Africa to work with People with AIDS, came and participated in our circle and shared his intentions. The circle was taken by his mission and decided to support him from afar - to be at his back as a circle. We drummed our prayers and journeyed on what this meant for each of us personally. When Tom came back from Africa he re-visited our circle (his second day back in the USA). He felt a need to tell us his experiences -including a story of people from various parts of the world finding themselves huddled together in a Zulu encampment teaching each other the healing songs and dances of their respective cultures. Tom taught us a song which came to him during this experience and it filled our hearts much like his story.

Oh Great Spirit
Bless all people
Bring in the light
Bring in the light

That night, we also discovered that Tom is the steward of land on the Big Island of Hawaii and so we now have plans for an Open Spirit retreat at the end of 2001.

* On several occasions, we have arrived at circle and discovered that members needed healing. Although we might have focused on the one or two people who were most in need, instead, we have found ourselves doing the work organically and on behalf of all members.

For example, in December, we linked the need for healing work with our intentions about Solstice (how to acknowledge the dark and be ready for the return of the light). Individually, we journeyed on what the theme meant to us and if there was some way the circle might support us. After sharing our journeys, we then went into a healing space in which each person took time in the center. The group respectfully responded to each person's requests in whatever way their Spirit helpers directed.

Each healing was markedly different in tone and technique. One member was held by the group and sung to gently. One member needed an extraction. One member taught the circle a song and then left to hear the circle calling her from another room. One member asked us to whisper to remind him to pay attention to his "little voice" - this started in wide smiles and gentle giggles but ended in a cacaphonous crescendo of "pay attention".

What amazes is the synergy of this work. We each get specific healing related to our request, but we also get much more. There is an incredible richness in the pageantry of holding each other, honoring our varied requests, singing our prayers of love, letting Spirit weave its way through us like a web glistening in candlelight. Compassion gushes forth, our hearts open like flowers, our spirits are lifted high above our gathered heads. This is the beauty of the circle as teacher.

We weave a web
We weave a web together

Lanz Lowen