The healing power of sharing circles

A RITUAL TO: allow friends to share their feelings, struggles and aspirations.

My mother remarked to my sister-in-law recently, “god, Holly is just so busy.” My sister-in-law, who is one of my best friends and a mother of two young children, and I laughed together when she relayed this back to me. To our generation, busy is the new alive! And actually, these days, I intentionally try to breathe more space into my life and routine. But to my mum, I appear to be a spinning top bouncing from place to place.

But what does seem to be true is that it gets harder to make time for those your love. Not just any old time, either – good, quality time. After my twenties, I was sick of having snatched catch-ups over costly dinners in noisy central London restaurants. In recent years I’ve become a huge advocate of planning overnight stays or weekend breaks with friends.

One group with which I always cherish my time spent is a group I know through my husband. The group first bonded through university gospel choir, and the rest of us are partners and add-ons from over the years. We’re a big group and we don’t live all that near one another so these annual weekends are important times to check back in with one another, and, happily, deepen friendships with those in the group perhaps you haven’t had a chance to yet. And because of the infrequency of our gatherings, at some point we set up a ritual where we go around a circle and tell people how we’re doing.

This activity started out as a way to get everyone up to speed with the things that you miss if you don’t see each other much. The usual stuff, like job or house moves or new hobbies. But over time it’s taken on the form of a true sharing circle. People are free to share in whatever way they like. Last year, I suggested some framing questions. For example, ‘tell us one thing you learned last year, and one thing you want to learn in the next’.

I can’t remember everything I shared, but at the time I was in the middle of a challenging but transformative therapy journey. Another friend told us about a heartbreaking family situation that he had been going through. There were tears. There was a lot of honesty. And a whole lot of gentle ‘hmm’-ing and nodding!

I can’t think of many times in my life, if any, when I’ve felt so truly ‘held’ by a group of people. We came away feeling deeply connected to everyone in the circle. I felt refreshed, inspired and truly ‘known’.

This might sound like some people’s nightmare. God knows I’ve been treated with eye rolls or looks of panic at times when I’ve suggested something similar in other groups of friends! (I don’t always let that stop me!)

But there is a magic that is felt when you find people on your wavelength. Souls who connect and express with others in the same way as you do.

The other takeaway is that we get to create our own rituals and traditions. Structured faiths don’t have the monopoly on ritual. A ritual becomes real and meaningful simply when a group of people start to do it, and do it again.

If the rituals currently on offer – be that from the church, from our gym community or popular culture – aren’t meeting our needs for community, we have permission to create our own rituals.

It could be a stark naked New Years Day dip in the ocean. It could be a simple toast round a dinnertable. It could be playing the same song each time you get ready to go out dancing with the same group of people. It could be lighting a scented candle while you share three small gratitudes with the universe every morning.

Make it yours. Borrow from tradition, or rip up the rule book. But your life, and your milestones, matter. Make the rituals that you want and deserve.

Do you have a ritual that is meaningful to you? Please share it in the comments to inspire others.

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