By JoAnn Campbell-Rice
Is there anything more healing than being truly heard? In ordinary conversation when someone speaks, others respond, interrupt, ask questions, share their own experiences, offer advice, or change the subject entirely. That format works on lots of topics, but for things close to my heart, I prefer a circle of wisdom.
In a sacred circle, people speak without interruption and listeners give their full attention, often without response. This can be liberating for a speaker who fears judgment or critique and illuminating for one who has spent a lifetime reading cues to shape her story to please the listener. In such a space we often hear our story in a new way.
What makes a circle sacred is a deep trust in the speaker’s own guidance and enough time and space to allow him to find answers. One person commented after sharing her painful story without interruption, “This is the first time I didn’t have to take care of my listener.” Once at an equine-assisted learning center, my team stood talking in the field and were soon surrounded by nine horses. We were encircled without consciously inviting them, yet clearly something in us was open to that quiet circle.
Listeners too can be deeply impacted by another’s story once the barrier of intellectually formulating a question or response is removed. This freedom to not reply allows listeners to notice their own reactions and responses, a double listening done by trained spiritual directors every session.
In the space between my sharing and the lack of response grace or insight comes forth. I try to create a safe circle when I’m alone. My daily practice of stillness invites the frightened parts of myself forth. Rather than banning the needy child, the self-absorbed teen, and the critical judge, I use the Welcome Prayer to include all of me in the circle.
I also step into a sacred circle whenever I call upon Spirit, guides, angels, or higher power before I write, eat, drive, teach, or sleep. A conscious invitation for wise support makes ordinary tasks special and difficult ones easier.
I’ve been fortunate to be part of circles of wisdom in my workplace, with staff at Loyola, in my recovery groups, and in writing circles. I invite you to notice where such gatherings exist in your life, and if you find yourself lacking supportive circles, to create them, especially within yourself.