“Circles: The moon is most happy when it is full, the sun always looks like a perfectly minted gold coin polished and placed in flight by God’s playful kiss. And so many varieties of fruit hang plump and round. I see the beautiful curve of a pregnant belly shaped by a soul within, and the earth it self. I have gotten the hint: There is something about circles the beloved likes. Within the circle of a perfect one there is an infinite community of light.” – Hafiz
Circles keep showing up in my life, again and again, drawing me in, enticing me, inviting me to find the wisdom at the centre.
First there was The Circle Way
I fell in love with the idea of The Circle Way when I first encountered the work of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea thirteen years ago. It took awhile before I had fully embraced it and could use it confidently in my work, but now it is central to everything I do. I use it in the classroom, in retreats, in group consultations, and even in online spaces.
The Circle Way is both simple and complex. In fact, I would say it is the “simplicity on the other side of complexity” that Oliver Wendell Holmes is talking about in this quote… “For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.”
The Circle Way helps us cut through complexity to the simplicity on the other side.
By gathering people into a circle where we can all look into each other’s eyes, using some simple structure, principles and practices to help hold the conversation, and being intentional about the way we engage with each other, we can dramatically shift our conversations. I’ve seen it happen again and again. People engage more intentionally than they normally do, conflict is resolved in constructive ways, and there is honesty and authenticity in the way we show up for each other.
Here are some of the things I love about The Circle Way:
1. It gives each person a voice. Circle council always begins with a check-in and ends with a check-out, where a talking piece is passed around and each person has an opportunity to speak. Whoever is holding the talking piece is the only person who can speak, giving respect and reverence to whatever each person chooses to speak of.
2. It cuts out distraction and holds focus. I’ve sat in many meetings and classrooms where only half of the people in the room are engaged and the other half are in side conversations or checking their smartphones. That rarely happens in a circle, and if it does, it will be called out by the others in the circle and rarely needs to be addressed by the host. People are much more attentive when they know they are being witnessed and when they are invited to witness each other.
3. It calls out the best in each of us. In circle council, we talk about each person in the circle “holding the rim” for each other. That means that the circle is not complete without each person taking his/her seat and committing to being part of that circle. Together we hold the container, giving each other space for growth, grief, courage, and fear. If people in the circle take that seriously (and they usually do, because it feels like an honour to be invited into this sacred space), remarkable things can happen and people can step into their own greatness. In our gathering on Whidbey Island, for example, each person stepped forward, offered their gifts, and took on the work of making The Circle Way Initiative a reality. When you’re invited into a space where there’s a leader in every chair, you’re much more inclined to contribute what you have to offer.
4. It allows us to be more intentional and listen more deeply to what is being said. By using things like a talking piece and a bell, the conversation is slowed down, there is less interruption, and there is intentionality in how we listen to each other. The talking piece is used to give each person our undivided attention. The bell is used to create pauses in the conversation when something particularly profound is said, or there is conflict or a need for a shift in energy. In addition, the circle creates a space where we are all looking into each other’s eyes instead of turning our backs to each other.
5. It invites people to step out of judgement and into grace. When you are invited to listen to people’s stories with openness and intention, not interrupting or giving advice, you learn to practice grace and non-judgement. Each person has value and nobody’s contribution is worth more than another’s. I have seen people enter the circle with resistance and judgement toward others in the circle, and before long things shifted and they were listening to each other in a more intentional way.
6. You can get lots of work done without feeling overly constricted by too much process. In some facilitation processes, there is so much complexity or restriction in the way the process unfolds that there is less room for creativity and spontaneity. The circle creates a more intuitive space, with just enough gently applied structure to keep things from going off the rails. At our gathering, we were all divided into work groups, and each group used the circle principles to guide their conversations. A great deal of work was accomplished and a lot of creativity showed up. There was just enough structure to hold it and not too much to limit it.
7. Conflict can be held in the container without destroying the circle. At the centre of the circle, there is always something in place which acts as the hub of the circle – a candle, flowers, a bowl, or something that represents the intention of the circle. When we gather in circle, we speak to the centre, rather than to individuals at the rim of the circle. This helps to hold the conflict in a safe way. Rather than directing our anger or frustration at a particular person, we offer it into the centre and the circle helps to hold and dissipate it. I have seen conflict almost miraculously evaporate when everyone in the circle feels heard and witnessed, and there is not the intensity of a one-on-one attack.
8. There is space for intimacy and community. I have been to a lot of conferences, retreats, and other gatherings, and without fail, the ones that are held in circle always result in the most intimate conversations and new friendships. Something special happens when you gather in circle, look into each other’s eyes, listen with intention, and hold space for each other. It spills out into the coffee breaks and lunch hours, and you take it home with you after the gathering has ended.
If you are looking for someone to host your circle, or to teach you how to incorporate The Circle Way into your business, non-profit, church, or community group, contact me and I’d be happy to explore with you.
Then there was the mandala…
I don’t know exactly when the mandala began to intrigue me. It was a gradual thing, evolving over years and years of curiosity and exploration.
“Mandala” is the ancient sanskrit word for circle and it symbolizes wholeness. It’s pretty simple, really – anything that shows up in circular form – whether it’s art, dance, or a slice of kiwi fruit – can be considered a mandala. I love the fact that they are so universal and can be found everywhere. In every part of the world, mandalas show up in the art work, nature, and cultural and spiritual history of a place.
Mandalas have been used in various spiritual traditions (especially eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism) for spiritual teaching and meditative purposes. They have also been used for therapeutic purposes by psychoanalysts, most notably Carl Jung, who considered them the “archetype of wholeness“. In the Christian tradition, mandalas have been used by such notable mystics as Hildegard von Bingen.
Mandalas combine spirituality, meditation, therapy, creative process, and play in one holistic circle. They help us slow our minds, process our complex thoughts, and shift out of our logical left-brains into our intuitive right brains.
They also have a strong feminine aspect to them, with connections to the womb and the birthing process, as well as to nature and Mother Earth. They ground and centre us and bring us back to the heart of who we are.
Anyone can learn to make mandalas – just start playing with colour, lines, words, and images inside a circle and see what emerges. But if you want to take that into deeper self-discovery, I can help you.
I have developed a unique process that combines mandala-making with intuitive journalling. This process has been gradually emerging for me over many years of journal writing, creative process, poetry writing, and art-making. I use the process when I teach creativity, writing and personal development workshops. My first mandala poem was published in a poetry journal twenty five years ago and I’ve been exploring it as a tool for my personal development ever since.
Unlike some of the more traditional mandalas that rely on specific symbols, follow certain rules and are closely associated with specific religious or cultural traditions, my mandala process is intuitive and unique to each person who does it with me. I give you guidelines and support, but I never give you rules.
To learn more about why I make mandalas and what I get out of them, read this post. To learn more about me, visit my website. To see what a mandala prompt might look like, see this sample prompt, or visit this post or this post. To sign up for the next offering of Mandala Discovery, go here. To incorporate mandalas into a coaching session, sign up on my coaching page, or contact me.
Then there was the labyrinth…
It’s been more than a dozen years since I walked my first labyrinth and fell in love. I visit labyrinths often and am very happy that the beautiful Carol Shields labyrinth is just across the river from where I live. It was at the centre of that labyrinth that I stood with my candle in a small circle of women, welcoming 2012.
Labyrinths symbolize the search for the One, or God, salvation or enlightenment. The labyrinth also symbolizes the many dangers of the spiritual path; for example, one can get discouraged or lost in despair, or fall off the path altogether. But if these dangers are overcome, the centre awaits as a symbol of love and completion.
In our modern world we have lost touch with our origins, our roots, even our true identity. The labyrinth is the bridge that connects us to these things, to a long-forgotten part of ourselves. That’s why it touches people very deeply, often in a way they can’t verbalize, as the context itself is ancient.
As you walk the labyrinth, there will be times when you find yourself tantalizingly close to the goal, but then, suddenly, you find yourself moving away from the centre.
Like all rites of passage and initiation ceremonies, walking the labyrinth is structured as a pilgrimage with three parts. First comes the journey inward (releasing), toward the sacred space where change happens. Next, time is spent at the centre (receiving), where the new life begins. Finally there is the journey outward, the return of the transformed person to the world (returning), often with a new identity.
It is the labyrinth’s lack of complexity that allows so many people to use it as a meditative or devotional tool.
Once we are on the path, our minds are freed from the need to make decisions.
In addition to its value as a meditative tool, the labyrinth is also a great metaphor for life. Here’s why…
1. The journey to God is a path that leads along many deceptive twists and turns to the centre.
2. Though it often feels like we’re getting lost, if we keep following the path, we’ll eventually end up where we’re supposed to be.
3. When we’re weary and feeling lost, all that is required of us is that we put one foot in front of the other and carry on.
4. Sometimes we get really close to the centre, and think our journey is done, but suddenly we round the corner and there’s a whole new lesson we need to learn before we can rest.
5. Each time we pass a familiar place, we wonder “haven’t I been here before?” Those moments offer us the opportunity to lean even more deeply into the lessons we’re meant to learn and the beauty we’re meant to see at those places.
6. God is both the centre we seek and the path that gets us there. What we need is to trust the centre and to trust the path that leads us to it.
7. The path to God requires that we commit our body to it, not simply our minds. Get up and walk – God is in the movement.
8. To hear Spirit whisper, we have to be willing to be quiet.
9. Like all rites of passage and initiation ceremonies, walking the labyrinth is structured as a pilgrimage with three parts. First comes the journey inward, toward the sacred space where change happens. Next, time is spent at the centre, where the new life begins. Finally there is the journey outward, the return of the transformed person to the world, often with a new identity.
10. We don’t get straight paths in life – only winding roads that never show us the final destination and that keep taking us to places we don’t expect to go.
Labyrinths are incorporated into many of my retreats, workshops, and sometimes my coaching work. I’ve made them out of rope, mowed them into grass, and painted them on canvas. If you would like to talk about how a labyrinth might support your personal or group work, contact me.
And finally, the spiral…
You’ll find spirals all over my website, and if you ever meet me in person, I’ll probably be wearing at least a couple of pieces of jewellery with spirals on them.
Just like all of the other circular patterns I’ve just talked about, spirals teach me things. They teach me that life’s journey is never a linear pathway. They remind me to go inward, to seek the truth within, whispered to me by the God of my understanding. They encourage me not to seek simple answers but to look for depth and meaning.
The spiral is a very feminine symbol, representing not only women but also a variety of things traditionally associated with women. Besides life cycles, fertility and childbirth, the spiral can reference intuition and other more internal concepts associated with women.
Spirals and circles are much more commonly found in nature than straight-edged shapes. The spiral, therefore, is often associated with the natural world as opposed to the constructed, mechanical and urban world. Spirals are primal, raw, and unrestrained by man.
Life cycles and cycles of the natural world create change. The old dies away so the new can come forth. Each of us progresses from child to adult to old age. As such, the spiral is not a symbol of stagnation but rather of change, progression, and development. It embraces these things as good and healthy and helps one to accept change even though we often are more comfortable retreating into tradition and old, standard ways.
The spiral, therefore, invites me to connect with nature, to embrace my primal, feminine wisdom, and to consider the natural cycles of life.
In my creative journal, Pathfinder, I used the spiral as a way of helping us understand the journey each of us takes, deeper and deeper into our own hearts, our longings, and our vocations. I also use the spiral as a tool for coaching sessions.