The Importance of Women’s Circles

The Importance of Women’s Circles
by Chelsea Wakefield

Painting by Molly Roberts

Painting by Molly Roberts

Over the past ten years, I have drawn great strength, courage and wisdom from being in women’s circles.  In these circles of trust, I have been upheld, encouraged, challenged and given a port in the storm.  I have clarified my passions, my purpose and defined my pathway.  I have loved the egalitarian understanding that none of us have all the answers, but together we can share our light and find our way.  In listening to many experiences and perspectives, I have learned new ways of being and seeing. 


A good women’s circle is a place where a woman can sort herself out, and speak her truth without having to justify it.  She can bring possibilities not yet formed or speech ripe, things she is gestating.   It is a place where she can be safe from questions like “Why would you want to do that?” or “How are you going to make that happen?” or “Who do you think you are?”  These are questions people ask that women don’t always have answers for.  Questions like these shut women down and short circuit their dreams.   A good circle provides a womb for a woman’s fledging ideas.  Because we often sacrifice our own potential to nurture and promote others, we need this protected space.  Women often talk about what a good idea it is to take quiet time for ourselves. The world is constantly pressing in on us and the collective message is that accomplishing things is more important than finding a quiet center and listening to your own deep rhythms.  When I am in a women’s circle, it insures that I honor my deep stirrings.    


My favorite book on women’s circles and how to form one is Jean Shinoda Bolen’s The Millionth Circle.  It is a small treasure.  You can read it in an afternoon.   It will inspire you for a lifetime.  The Millionth Circle provides many good ideas for how to start a circle, outlines important ground rules for how to make it successful, provides suggestions for content, and advice on what to do when a circle gets into trouble.   


The grass roots movement of women’s circles is a quiet revolution.  Bolen proposes that with each new circle, we move towards a critical mass where a paradigm shifts will occur, rippling out through the greater culture.  This is based on the Morphic Field theory put forth by biologist Rupert Sheldrake.  According to this theory, there is a tipping point that occurs when a critical number of members in a species change an attitude or behavior.  Somehow it triggers a collective change in the larger culture.  It seems the scientists are “proving” what Jung said a long time ago.   We are impacted by both the personal and the collective unconscious in more ways than we can logically understand.      


The Hundredth Monkey is a popular tale that illustrates this principle. In this story, a monkey on a tropical island begins to wash her sandy sweet potato in the sea before eating it and discovers she can enjoy a grit free meal.  She shows this to her mother and playmates and they begin to do the same.  The idea spreads and then suddenly, one day, every monkey on the island begins to wash their sweet potatoes in the sea.   What fascinated the scientists observing this was that at the same time, on a nearby island that had no contact with the first, the monkeys also began to wash their sweet potatoes in the same way.   This mysterious dynamic has been observed elsewhere and has come to be called the Morphic Field phenomenon. 


Women’s circles can take many forms.  A “girl’s night out”, where a woman can relax and cut loose is good for any woman, but we are talking about something different here.  The more intentional a circle, the greater its power.  Sometimes these groups consist of old friends, who reunite every few months or years to maintain the continuity and depth that comes from having known one another over long passages of time.  In my Luminous Woman circles, many of the women have never met before the initial group.   They become fast friends over the course of a weekend and reunite joyfully at reunions.  Circles like book study or craft groups can become havens of support.   When a group has a spiritual or growth focus, good ground rules for how to be together are important.  These include things like a commitment to confidentiality, defining how you want to share, respond and support each other, what boundaries you want honored, and being conscious of the compulsive need to “fix” others.   Time to reflect in silence is powerful and important after someone shares something that is deeply moving.  Listening and speaking from the heart instead of the head are important to creating a profound experience. 


Join a women’s circle.  If you can’t find one, start one.  Begin to talk about what really matters to you and watch what happens. Teach other women to do the same.  The momentum is powerful.  The mystery is life changing.  You never know who will be forming that final circle that becomes the tipping point for everyone.  It could be you.

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