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Dear Friends,

Some conversations are simply too unfamiliar, taboo, or exposing, to have in public. We need small circles of trusted people to speak these truths into.

The Women's Liberation Movement of the 1970's famously employed Consciousness Raising groups to accompany activism, so that women had a space in which to talk openly about life as a woman. Often it was the first time that women talked through personal experiences like menstruation, motherhood and sexual assault. 

These Consciousness Raising groups were courage-creators. A crucible for new personal narratives and political insight.

For example, in an oral history project for the British Library, Catherine Hall explains that these groups enabled her contemporaries to recognize that it was perfectly possible to say to one's husband, "Why don't you cook tonight?"

In the same collection, Jelna Hanmer goes so far as to say that, "You had to be in one of the groups...That was the Women's Liberation Movement. If you weren't in a group you were just an individual." 

Today, women's groups are back. From The Cru to At The Well and new moon circles at various retreat centers and yoga studios, they once again provide spaces for intimacy and reflection.

This will please Jean Shinoda Bolen, a Jungian analyst and women's activist, whose book The Millionth Circle combines vision with practical guidance on facilitating a group. 

Her theory of change is simple. "When a critical number of people change how they think and behave, the culture does also, and a new era begins." (In this she echoes my beloved early Methodists!)

In a circle, we become one another's "validators of reality and possibility." We are witnesses to one another's stories, role models in how to navigate difficulty, and "soul connections" for each other. People in circle together might not know the ins-and-outs of daily life, but explains Shinoda Bolen, people in circle "know what is of consequence."

It is this aspect of being in a small group that strikes me as most powerful. Amidst the crises of social isolation, mental anguish, and economic inequality - the experience of sharing what matters most is rare and potentially life-saving.

But how do we create a good circle? 

"A circle that is trustworthy has a spiritual center and a respect for boundaries," explains Shinoda Bolen. Something must be living at the center that invites everyone into this different way of relating.

On a material level this means a candle, a fire-pit, a beautiful bunch of flowers. But there's also a "connection to the center [that] is intuitively felt, purely subjective. In silence or singing or hum, each woman connects with her own center, connects with the center of the circle, and feels like both a spoke and a part of the rim."

Now, the archetype of a circle may be perfect. But any real circle never is. 

"Sometimes a woman does not belong in this circle because she cannot hold onto her center or connect to the center of the circle." This might mean failing to keep confidences, or being unable "to see others or herself clearly," explains Shinoda Bolen. 

May we each find a circle where we are both spoke and rim. And where we discover new capacities for courage

Have a wonderful weekend, Shabbat Shalom,




PS. If you love reading Virginia Woolf and walking through the English countryside in the soft June sun, registration is now open for this beautiful pilgrimage.

PPS. On October 11th I'll be launching my new venture together with Angie Thurston and Sue Phillips - Sacred Design Lab. More to come soon! 
 

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
 

- William E. Stafford

 
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