On Sanctuary and Alchemy
Once upon a time when I was at a conference I met a wonderful man named Glen Lauder. At the time I was cocreating a social lab to support youth well being in Tāmaki called Flipping East. Glen came up to help facilitate with what I thought would be a planning session to figure out how on earth we were going to run the first major hui to convene all the participants of the lab for three days. What actually happened was transformative.
There was the lab team who were convening the lab, Glen and his friend and workmate of the time Phillip, and a bunch of really interesting and passionate people from the youth well being ecosystem in the area. We all sat in a circle, and basically just talked about who we were, and what we were here for, and what this work meant to us. But the effect was like walking down a spiritual spiral staircase, down, down, into a place of magical energy. I think I remember saying to Phillip afterwards that it was like having been a fish swimming in water and then finally seeing the water I had been swimming in the whole time. And it was one of those events that had a transformative effect on my development. I thought at the time that it was THE transformative moment but have since learnt that there are hundreds or thousands of those available in my lifetime, if I begin to open to them. But it was powerful.
Glen suggested that I do a course on the circle way, so I did. The facilitators shared with us some basic structures which this method of meeting with people uses, having a rotating host who sets the intention and facilitates a little more, but there being “a leader in every chair”. But more than the structures, we were learning a way of being. Being more and more present. Just witnessing and truly hearing another person’s existence, and truly being witnessed. Trusting that I am enough and so are they. The experience of being in circle was like drinking from a well, as my friend Tamara said today. And when the course ended, I knew in my heart that I needed there to still be a well. A group of us started meeting weekly.
The group kept meeting, every week, every time deepening the ties, deepening this practice of just being together. It was (is) an extremely safe space, where you could voice all sorts of vulnerabilities, be accepted and honoured for them. I realised that I didn’t trust that people really valued me, because I wasn’t that connected with myself and I didn’t think I was enough. So I gradually learned to do all those things in circle. The circle could hold all sorts of pain and hurt that people had experienced, and transform it through the power of just being heard and seen by we who care. And we’d also laugh, and joke, and have fun, and goof around. It is like family, but even deeper than family, to me it is a shared spiritual practice, without the trappings of a religion. I have experienced so many transcendent passages of time with this group of people.
At some point, for some reason, we started turning up less and less, and haven’t met for the last couple of years. I was surprised because I was sure it would carry on forever. But also, we can never be disconnected, even if our whatsapp group has gone a bit quiet; the connections and experiences are etched into my being, and even when someone wasn’t in circle I knew that they were in circle. There is a poem that my friend read to me that I think will stay with me my whole life, and I can remember the words in her voice. I recently had a catch up with one of the group and that led to her calling us back together, and it was great to see and appreciate all of them and the circle even more. I am hoping we may rekindle our practice together, let’s see what the universe holds. If you’d like something like that in your life, send me a message, and let’s have a chat, or try a circle way course. If you are a seeker of transformation and sanctuary, you might find something valuable.