In my college classes, I often tell my students that in working with people, we need to learn to think in circles, rather than in lines. Circles are strong. Circles are steady. Circles hold the space, circles make a place for others. Circles can expand or contract as needed. Circles can be permeable and yet have a strong boundary. Linked arms in a circle can keep things out and show solidarity. Linked energy in a circle can transform the ordinary into sacred space. Hands at each other’s backs, facing each other, eye level. Working together in a circle for a ritual, change is birthed, friendships are strengthened, and love is visible.
Recently I have noticed a lot of offerings for sacred circles and sacred temples and councils of women that are all online or virtual. The websites advertising such programs often have beautiful photos of firesides and dancing and I find myself thinking, where is the REAL fire? If we spend all of our time at computers enjoying virtual sisterhoods and looking at pictures of fires, where are our real opportunities to dance by the fire hand in hand? Today, against all odds, I managed to have a meaningful conversation with friends at the skating rink. We talked about the difference between online and face-to-face connection and why online connections can feel “cleaner” and less messy or complicated than face-to-face. It reminds me of my experiences in creating rituals for my family. In the books it looks so easy and fun. In real life, babies have poopy diapers and my sons make fart jokes and my papers blow away and I speak in a snappy tone of voice and things take longer than I expect. It is same with women’s circles. Online, we can look at pretty pictures of flower crowns and crystal grids and flower mandalas and daydream how wonderful it would be to have a real women’s circle, but in real life people don’t always like each other, we interrupt each other, we talk too much or not enough or about the “wrong” things. As the facilitator of a ceremony in real life, portions might lag, people laugh at the wrong times, guided meditations might bring up painful experiences, people stop listening to each other, or they might forget something they were asked to bring. I might lose my place, sing off-key, or get distracted when someone is sharing something important.
As a priestess, I have to engage in what is called a process of “self-facing” that can be uncomfortable and sometimes stressful—the looking at my own shadows and shortcomings and then doing it anyway. Because it matters. Because it is real. I’m not saying that online connections aren’t real or valuable, they can be tremendously so. And, I love that in writing I can carry my thoughts all the way through and develop an idea completely.* What I am saying is that there is simply no substitute for standing hand in hand with flesh and blood women in a sacred circle. (Even if someone makes a fart joke.) Our hands matter. Real hands. Reaching out to one another. Our fingers may be too long, too short, too wrinkly, too skinny, too fat. Our hands may be too cold or too sweaty. We may be too loud, too quiet, too anxious, too confident, too self-conscious, too distracted, too intense. But…we can show up. We can offer what we offer and give what we give. Our whole, actual selves. Separated from the screens and other shields. Touching each other’s actual hands and offering actual hugs rather than (((hugs))).
My plans for a Red Tent Circle later this month have been on my mind lately and I’ve been feeling a little insecure about my plans for our first event, primarily because I’m hoping to attract a broader group of women than the women who regularly circle with me. As I explained to a friend, I want it to be nurturing, and celebratory, and fun and contemplative…somehow all at once! Oh, and not alienate anyone. And, not have it be lightweight chatty OR heavy and tearful. Serious, but not too serious. No pressure!
What I forgot until I got home is that I’m pretty good at doing this. I’ve been working with women and priestessing women’s circles for a long time, not to mention having trained and studied and read and written and studied and trained. However, I’m also real. And, in the end, that is what I have to offer. There is a vulnerability and risk there as well as a courage.
Here’s my hand.
(*All this said, our hands can also reach out virtually via typing blog posts or sending supportive Facebook messages too. I’m not discounting the role and value of using our hands for that connection. I love that a post that I wrote 3 years ago can still reach 300 people a day, that my other blog can speak in some way to 700 people a day, and that my book can essentially last “forever.” That feels like a magical power of my hands and words!)
Related past post: Do Women’s Circles Actually Matter?