by Donna Ahlstrand, North Bay Regional Coordinator
I knew I wanted to start a women’s circle in 2010. After attending a couple of circles in women’s homes and two larger gatherings of the local Gather the Women North Bay group and then participating in GTW’s annual four-day retreat, I realized this form of being together as women was calling to me. I retired from my job at a nonprofit agency in April 2010 and was looking for things to do, places to go, people to meet. My interests were varied and slowly becoming more spiritual.
After thinking about starting a circle way more than I really needed to, I decided to just go for it. I sent out an email to 30 local women I knew pretty well from classes, work, support groups, and friendships. These were people I could think of immediately who I’d want to share life, emotions, stories, and spirit with.
In the email I gave them the particulars of a first meeting and my vision about circles in general. I wanted to gather 8 to 12 women for ongoing support and learning.The agenda of the first meeting was to discuss and reach consensus on what we’d like to do together, what we’d like our topics of conversation to be. Perhaps we would want to do a specific project or read and discuss a particular book. We might want to talk about our varied life issues and the challenges we face as women, or focus on something of interest to any one of us like raising children, working, encouraging each other in hobbies, interests, artistic endeavors. We might celebrate each others milestones! The list is endless (start a community garden? Support a school or nonprofit?).
I also mentioned the three principles of circle: rotating leadership, sharing responsibility, and relying on Spirit (whatever that means to you). The three practices of a circle were also listed: speaking with intention, listening with attention, and self-monitoring our impact and contributions. I made a couple of book recommendations in case anybody wanted to know more. Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture by Christina Baldwin and The Millionth Circle: How to Change Ourselves and the World by Jean Shinoda Bolen were the first two I read. Since then Wisdom Circles: A Guide to Self-Discovery and Community Building in Small Groups by Cindy Spring and Charles Garfield has also become a guide for our circle and another circle I attend.
My email ended with “Please know I have never called a circle before. Your ideas, support and suggestions are welcome. I hope you will join me in January. If you can’t come in January but would like notices of future meetings (and anything we decide at the first meeting), let me know. And please RSVP for sure if you are planning to come. Feel free to forward this invitation to your friends as well.”
And then I waited. A few people responded quickly with “Sounds interesting” or “Sorry, I can’t” or “Don’t have time, but thanks for thinking of me.” After a week I had three yeses, a couple maybes, and a few no’s. I then emailed a few more people I’d thought of and posted a notice on the Gather the Women Bulletin Board online. One person from GTW responded with interest, and a member from India emailed me to say she was sorry she couldn’t attend “but good luck and let me know how it goes!”
Ultimately, eight women attended the first meeting: four who had worked with me at the nonprofit, the contact from the GTW bulletin board notice, a woman recommended to me three days before in a waiting room, my partner (who said she’d come a couple times but wasn’t really interested in this “sharing stuff”), and me. It was a busy and fruitful evening. Three of the group had never been to a circle before, so we spent some time on the basics, and used Wisdom Circles’ 10 Constants as our guides. I set up a simple altar with tea lights (one for each person to light), a gourd spoon, a shell and a stone. I did a reading to open the circle and another to close.
We decided to meet once a month for two hours, and those who wanted would take a turn “facilitating” a meeting by presenting something we wanted to share. Either the facilitator or another volunteer would do a simple opening and closing of the meeting. Everyone would get a chance to check in, we’d participate in the topic of the evening, and close. We left with the vision of finding a few more women to join us.
This first meeting was everything I’d wanted! I felt connected to the other women, liked that we had different interests and traditions and spiritual connections we could share with each other, and the space we created together felt very safe.