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Talking Circle

Sitting face-to-face with others is a reminder that we are all craving connection

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I attended a convention last weekend and chose to participate in a session about boundaries and how we navigate the space between sovereignty and unity in our lives. I attended, thinking that I might get a new perspective on the subject for my forthcoming book. As it turned out, it was more of a workshop than a lesson, and what I learned was far more profound than I anticipated. 

As I entered the room, I noticed the chairs were in a circle with several objects in the center. These included a candle in a selenite holder, a couple of bright orange scarves, a singing bowl, a frosted glass goblet, and a wand. Others entered the room and took seats. At the appointed time, we all moved in nearer to the center, and the facilitator explained that we were going to use a process called The Circle Way. The orange scarves and candle symbolized the ancient fire around which our ancestors would have gathered to tell stories and share challenges. There was a set of simple rules for participation, a talking stick to designate who’d be speaking, and a singing bowl to serve as a pause gong when the energy in the room grew too charged. 

To start the conversation, the facilitator had typed a few conversation starters and put them into a goblet for us to choose like little folded fortunes. Someone volunteered to manage the pause and designated the guardian. Another person raised a hand to speak and was handed the talking stick And we were off. In our circle were a great variety of people, male and female, gay and straight, various skin colors and ethnicities. The thing we all had in common was the willingness to connect. What happened next was alchemy, the unexpected magic that comes from the combination of various elements. From the cohesion and unity within the circle, I have a few takeaways, which I think apply to people across the board. 

  1. People are suffering. Often, you can’t see it because they are suffering alone in their minds, with all kinds of heart-breaking stories and fears, but nothing physical to reveal it. What you can miss with your eyes, you can intuit with your heart. If you pay attention, mannerisms and remarks betray others’ suffering, engage with love, and you can improve lives. The barriers that keep us from connecting are fragile, and the tiniest invitation can bring great connection and a deluge of emotion. We want to let go of our suffering and heal; we forget connection is the best tool. 
  2. Our longing to connect with one another is a big, powerful, ancient one. We want to trust one another and be our authentic selves. We want to be vulnerable. We want to be part of a community with shared values. More than ever, we crave community and connection with one another. 
  3. As we lose the perpetual mirror of live human interaction to the false online version, we lose external accountability and grow more self-centered and disconnected. Unfortunately, the sock puppet of self-doubt whispers back to all us affirming our insecurities and fears. The online world reinforces. We need human interaction to challenge these false narratives.    
  4. If we all felt safe and comfortable connecting and being ourselves, the world would change quickly and dramatically. Sharing enables us to feel compassion for the struggles of others and joy for their achievements. Vulnerability is terrifying, but once you’ve done it, the thrill of the resulting exchange is like nothing else. When you see and know someone, it’s difficult not to empathize with them. 
  5. Space for vulnerability is one of the most sacred gifts we can give to one another. Active listening is as essential as speaking the truth and divulging from our depths. I have always acknowledged the critical role of the audience in all the performing arts and storytelling. Likewise, is the role of the listener in deep, healing conversations. When you listen, you give others the precious gift of being seen. A deep listener transmutes burdens. 
  6. A beat or pause when things get tense is not our conditioned response, but it changes things dramatically. It allows the intensity to dissipate. A couple of deep breaths is all it takes to de-escalate, reset, and get centered. We’re not taught this simple trick in any formal setting, but it works wonders!

We agree upon boundaries and borders, but they don’t always serve us. Anything socially constructed can be de-constructed and re-constructed as needs change. In the workshop, we never got around to discussing the space between sovereignty and unity. Still, we tapped into something so much more profound by demonstrating the transformative power of safe space. After I left the circle, I kept wondering how much more we could achieve, individually and as a society, if we could create space for one another all the time, if everyone could be themselves and express fears without fear of hostility and humiliation. Imagine how things would evolve if the brilliant, shy people were free to share, and if we listened to one another with our hearts open. 

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