For thousands of years, women have gathered together in cultures around the world to sit in a circle, share stories and listen to each other. It’s hard to place which culture invented the women’s circle, although most tribal cultures have a version within their own tradition.
The art of the women’s circle is nothing new, but it is experiencing a bit of a renaissance in the last few years as more and more women begin to recognise the importance of setting aside time to be heard and held by other females.
What is a women’s circle?
Women’s circles are deceptively simple. A circle can be run in a number of different ways, but the form that is being used most commonly in the USA and Europe is a simple gathering.
Circles often involve a group of women, anywhere from 4-5 all the way up to 30-40 people, sitting together in a circle formation and taking it in turns to speak. When one person is speaking, everyone else listens. Sometimes there is a designated talking piece, which the speaker will hold whilst speaking to make it clear who is being listened to. In other forms, there is no talking piece and people speak in sequence, one after the other. Either way, an important characteristic of a women’s circle is that the most important thing you can do whilst there is listen.
Why is listening so important for women’s circles?
Listening seems like an easy thing to do at first, but in many ways it has become a forgotten art. Listening, deeply, with intention to what someone is saying, involves a deep act of mindfulness and a switching off of the need to respond, or to make things ok for the person who is speaking. In women’s circles, participants are often asked to listen from the heart, rather than from the ears.
The essential aspect is to be present to what is being said and not to try to correct, clarify or make sense of someone else’s experiences. As women, we are often taught to try to fix people’s problems and to be on hand to help any time we are needed. Within a sharing circle, that need is removed. Participants are simply asked to sit and witness what someone else is saying about their own experience. In these kinds of circles, it is often incredible how articulate and moving people’s stories become, and how often they touch upon our own, unexpressed experiences.
Why do we need specific spaces to practice listening to each other?
Women tend to be the more fortunate gender in that stereotypically, we are the gender who tend to talk and share our thoughts and feelings more readily than men, but there are still plenty of societal rules and limitations on what, how and when we share our stories. In a women’s circles, all of those limitations are removed. Women are invited to take the talking piece and to share their thoughts and their stories fully and openly, without the idea that they will be a burden on their listeners, as their listeners are in no way obligated to respond, let alone to fix what has been said.
How do I join a women’s circle?
It’s encouraging to see regular women’s circles popping up in local neighbourhoods and community centres. Take a look online to see if you can find one near you, or better still, consider setting one up. For more information and guidance take a look at the book The Millionth Circle by Jean Shinoda Bolen.