What happens when you find your tribe?


There was a time in my life when I was really lonely. If you had been an observer watching my life, you probably wouldn’t have seen much evidence of the loneliness. I was a busy mom with great kids, I had a good job with co-workers who were easy to work with, and I had a few friends and family members around to socialize with, so it didn’t look like a lonely life. But I was lonely nonetheless. (Which leads me to believe that many people who appear to have “put-together” lives are lonely under the surface.)

A full-time career plus small kids is not a lifestyle that leaves a lot of room for friendships. Plus, some of my friends were still single and childless, so we no longer had much in common or were available at the same times. And, even though there were people in my life who cared about me, I wasn’t finding people who wanted to talk about the kinds of things I wanted to talk about.

Together with my family, I went looking for community, and eventually we found it in a lovely small church where people were authentic and progressive. We were well cared for in that community, and people showed up to support some of the most difficult times in our lives. It was really good for quite a few years… but then one day it started to feel like it wasn’t quite enough. Even though there was authenticity there, I wasn’t finding the opportunities I longed for to talk about the things that were becoming increasingly important to me. Nobody was talking about the Feminine Divine, for example, and only a few people seemed to have the same curiosity I had around how our faith journeys might be positively impacted by other faith perspectives. I was curious about Buddhist meditation, for example, and wanted to explore more of an Indigenous approach to spirituality.

Though I found community, and developed some beautiful friendships there, I was still searching for my tribe – people who understood the kinds of questions I was asking and were as eager as I was to have deep and meaningful conversations about the quests we were on. (It’s worth noting here, that I don’t use the words community and tribe interchangeably. You can find one without finding the other.)

I spent a lot of time searching for the kinds of writers and thinkers who were talking about what I was longing to talk about, and my bookshelves were soon full, but that still didn’t feed my ongoing quest for conversation and connection. That was in the days before social media, and all of those people I found who seemed like kindred spirits were far away from where I lived and had only static websites where there was little opportunity for interaction.

When I started blogging a dozen years ago, I started connecting with other bloggers who had similar curiosities, and those connections deepened with the growth of social media, but I still wanted more face-to-face connections.

Things started to shift quite radically five and a half years ago, when I was on the verge of quitting my non-profit job and jumping into self-employment. Though I’d been to lots of conferences and retreats where I found people to connect with, the first time I really arrived somewhere and felt almost instantly that I had found my tribe was the Summer Institute of Authentic Leadership in Action. These people were speaking my language, inviting the kinds of questions that were burning in my heart, encouraging vulnerability and curiosity, and creating safe spaces for deep and honest conversation. I started crying shortly after I arrived – I was so overwhelmed that I’d found what I was looking for.

Since then, I have found the same thing in a few places and my tribe continues to grow. After years of reading her work, I finally had the opportunity to be in retreat with Christina Baldwin, and since then have become deeply connected with her and Ann Linnea and others who are practitioners of The Circle Way. I have also found those connections in the community involved with The Art of Hosting. And, more recently, I have found my tribe within Gather the Women Global Matrix, an organization that exists for the sole purpose of supporting women’s circles around the world.

What makes these gatherings more conducive to tribe-building than the many other places I looked? In my experience, it’s the circle that changes things. All of these gatherings have, at their essence, a circle way of gathering, where you don’t just sit in rows and listen to speakers on a stage, you gather in circles where all voices are heard and real connections are made.

Last week, I attended my fourth annual gathering of Gather the Women. Fifty-four women from seven countries gathered in a beautiful, lush, green retreat space in Florida. We laughed, cried, danced, sang, made art, created ritual, hugged (a lot), dressed as funny non-human characters, had ceremonies, and most of all, we talked. In small circles and large ones, around breakfast tables and under the trees, we talked and talked and talked. We talked about our heartbreaks, our families, our spirituality, our discomfort, and our strength. We talked about sex and gender and human rights and wine and food and our bodies and the earth and the animals and the Goddess and the government(s).

We talked about real things that matter. Rarely did we talk about diets or fashion or shopping (though we didn’t judge anyone if they wanted to) and nobody cared if we wore make-up or if our skin sagged.

We talked and we loved. We loved each other and we loved the trees and we loved the pelicans in the sky and we loved the dolphin and sea otter playing in the cove.

That’s what it’s like to find your tribe. That’s what it’s like to show up in a place where people are authentic and kind and openhearted – where they sit in circle and look each other in the eye. That’s what it’s like when fifty-four women show up to hold space for each other.

When you find your tribe, and they accept you for who you are and believe you are capable of greatness, it can change your life.

Because it’s become so important to me, I continue to grow this tribe, drawing in anyone who dares to be real and flawed and openhearted. Last night, after flying home just the day before, I gathered with my local women’s circle and the same things that happened in Florida happened there. We laughed and cried and opened our hearts. We created safe space for each other by honouring each other and not judging.

Here’s what happens when you find your tribe:

  • you feel truly seen in a way that you’ve rarely been seen before
  • you find safety and you learn how to create it for others
  • you learn to be vulnerable because you’re finally in a place where your mistakes are not being judged
  • you dare to speak of the longing of your heart and you invite others to do the same
  • you grow, because you know that the people in your tribe are cheering for you
  • you learn to take risks in looking into your own shadow and the group’s shadow
  • you want everyone else to know how good it is, so you start growing your tribe the best you can

Because nobody’s perfect, no tribe is perfect. As I’ve said in the past, shadow will inevitably show up wherever people gather. Sometimes there is conflict or jealousy or frustration. That’s all part of what it means to be real and to let people see you for who you really are. Also, as you change and grow, sometimes you outgrow a tribe and realize it’s time to find/build another.

Just as I said last week about how it can take a really long time to tell your truth, it can also take a really long time to find and/or grow your tribe. Sometimes, in my long lonely years, I feared it would never happen for me. There were a few false starts during that time, and each failure sent me into despair. But each time, I rose up once again, more and more determined to find the kinds of places I could be vulnerable and openhearted. Now that it’s happened, I feel incredibly lucky and want to spread the love to everyone I meet. (Yes, that includes you, even if I’ve only met you virtually. My tribe is all-inclusive.)

If you have not yet found your tribe, take heart and don’t give up. Hold onto your intention and it will surely happen for you some day. (And, from now on, even if we have never met, you can consider me part of your tribe.)

Here are a few tips for finding your tribe:

  • If you are interested in women’s circles, join Gather the Women and either find a women’s circle in your own region or gather some friends to start talking about creating one (Gather the Women provides resources to help with that.)
  • Go to the kinds of workshops, retreats, and learning events where people gather in circle and where authenticity is at the heart. The Circle Way is one of those (note: we are very close to launching a new website that will be a useful resource), as are The Art of Hosting and Authentic Leadership in Action. (All of these are international networks.) Another event I’ve had the pleasure of attending and which has been a great tribe-building place is Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp.
  • Be intentional about the kinds of conversations you have. When you begin to be openhearted and you speak out loud your desires to connect with people in more authentic ways, you will eventually find others who have similar longings. (Note: This doesn’t happen with everyone, and you will likely face some rejection, but over time you will learn to discern which people are the most open to these conversations.)
  • Find other resources, books, communities, etc. that inspire you. Some are listed on recommended reading list. Another organization for women’s circles (which I know less about) is the Millionth Circle, based on Jean Shinoda Bolen’s books.

I wish you well as you seek your tribe.

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What the circle holds

love each other into wholeness

All week, I’ve been trying to write a piece about The Circle Way, but nearly every effort ends on the virtual cutting room floor.

How do you write about something that has radically altered the course of your life, that has changed nearly every relationship in your life, and that has brought you into the most authentic conversations you’ve ever experienced? How do you do justice to the kind of wisdom that is as ancient as humankind and still as fresh as the lilac buds bursting open in the Spring sun?

Next week I will have the privilege of being in circle with my friends and mentors, Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea. The anticipation of that has me reflecting on the significance of circle in my life and I want to share some of those thoughts with you. I will try, despite my inability to write it as eloquently as I’d like…

Nearly fifteen years ago, I discovered Christina’s work and knew instantly that it would change my life. I was in a particularly hungry place in my life at the time, working in a toxic bureaucratic environment that was making me realize just how much I craved real connection in my work and life. I’d sat in too many leadership meetings where every word spoken came from a guarded place and I longed for authenticity. I devoured Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture, and, though I didn’t entirely understand the circle or see clearly how I could adopt it into my life yet, I knew this was something I wanted with every fibre of my being.

I knew that the circle was the doorway into the authentic way I longed to live my life.

Sitting in my government office one day after reading her book, I promised myself that I would study with Christina some day. Ten years later, that intention was realized and I sat in circle with her, devouring everything she had to teach me. Now, five years later, circle has become embedded into all of my work and I have become part of the global network of circle hosts and teachers who will continue to spread circle practice as Christina and Ann transition into their roles as elders of the lineage. Be careful what you wish for!

In case you are curious about circle but (like me fifteen years ago) don’t fully understand how it can change things, here are two recent ways that I’ve used circle practice…

1. Circle in the classroom
When my students were in conflict about a group project a few weeks ago, I invited them to push the tables against the wall and move their chairs into circle. With a few simple guidelines, I taught them how to have conversation in circle, looking into each other’s eyes, remaining silent when someone else was holding the talking piece, and being as honest as they were comfortable being when it was their turn to talk. People opened up in ways they don’t normally in the classroom, we addressed the source of the conflict, and we were able to move in a new direction. The students were surprised the following week when, after a second circle session, I let them abandon the group project entirely, but I told them to see it as a learning opportunity rather than a failure. In the final round with the talking piece, we each shared something we’d learned from the process. Everyone walked away looking a little lighter than when we’d started because they’d been heard by each other and by me.

2. Weekly women’s circle
Ever since I joined Gather the Women four years ago, I’ve wanted to start a women’s circle, but until recently, the timing wasn’t quite right. Finally in January, I knew it was time. I sent out an invitation and around 15 women accepted the invitation. Since then, we have been meeting on a weekly basis and, though it’s not the same women each time (everyone is welcome), we always have deep and authentic conversations. The circle offers us something we are all hungry for – a place to share our personal stories, to peel away our masks, to be honest about our shame and fear, and to heal. With the help of a talking piece, we are each given the opportunity to share stories without interruption or advice. We come to the circle not to fix each other but to listen and be listened to.

Each circle has different energy and holds a different purpose, but there are some things that every circle I host or participate in have in common. Here are just a few of them:

1. Being intentional about the space changes the way the conversation unfolds. Have you ever sat in an office talking to a senior manager who stayed behind their desk the whole time? Consider how you felt during that interaction. Though it may have been subtle, the desk separated you, gave the other person the position of power, and probably kept you from being authentic or vulnerable. In the circle, we sit and look into each other’s eyes without barriers between us and without anyone sitting in a position of power and it changes the way we interact with and are present for each other.

2. Simple rituals (sitting in circle, placing something meaningful in the centre, using a talking piece, etc.) shift us out of our everyday, often mindless conversations into something that is more mindful and deep. I’ve seen this happen especially in university classrooms where I invite students away from the tables placed in rows (where some have their backs to others) and into a circle where they face each other. Instantly they are more present, less easily distracted, and more willing to open up to each other.

3. The talking piece invites us to listen more than we speak. When you are holding the talking piece, your story holds the place of honour. When someone else holds it, their story is the honoured one. This gives you both an opportunity to speak intentionally without interruption or advice and to listen with attention without needing to interject your own story or solutions into someone else’s story. In far too many of our conversations, we feel the need to fix people, critique them, or give them good advice, which often makes that person feel like they’re flawed or not as smart as you. In truth, the gift of being listened to is often more healing than any advice you could give.

4. The circle offers us an opportunity to share the burden of the stories we carry. During our Thursday evening women’s circle, a lot of intense, personal stories come up – stories of depression, abuse, grief, etc.. These are the kinds of stories that feel really heavy to hold if you’re trying to carry them alone, or if it’s just one friend is helping to hold them for another. When they’re shared into the container of the circle, however, nobody leaves the room carrying the story alone and nobody feels solely responsible for helping another carry them. In the process of sharing them, we begin to heal each other. As one of the women shared in the circle, we do not only have “a leader in every chair”, we have “a healer in every chair”.

5. People need to come to the circle when they’re ready for it. The intensity of the circle is too much for some people and they need to walk away. That’s okay. We have to trust them to know when they’re ready to be held in that way. When they walk away, I simply wish them a blessing and hope some day when they’re ready for it, they’ll find the right circle. I would rather wait for them to be ready then to try to impose something on them that feels unsafe at the time.

6. Circle is not always be easy. I have been in many incredible circles and they are always meaningful experiences, but sometimes they’re hard. Sometimes things come to the surface that people have kept hidden for a long time and that surfacing can be painful for the person sharing and/or wounding for the people listening. The circle can hold all of that, but only if it’s guarded well and only if the people involved take responsibility for “holding the rim” and staying with the process until something new begins to grow into the cracks that have formed.

There is much more to be said about circle than this post can hold. And there are also things that cannot be articulated and can only be experienced. I encourage you to find a way to experience it. In the future, I will be offering circle workshops, but in the meantime, I encourage you read The Circle Way and to check out what my mentors at PeerSpirit have to offer. If you are a woman, I also encourage you to consider joining Gather the Women and perhaps finding or starting a circle where you live. If you are in Winnipeg, you’re welcome to join our Thursday evening circle.

If you have questions you’d like me to address in future articles, either about The Circle Way or about other topics I write about, please feel free to ask (by comment or email). Even if I don’t get back to you right away, please know that I appreciate every piece of correspondence I receive. Once a month, I plan to write an article specifically addressing a question I receive.

Interested in more articles like this? Add your name to my email list and you’ll receive a free ebook, A Path to Connection. I send out weekly newsletters and updates on my work.

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