Most women I know have had very happy and fulfilling relationships with other women- up to a certain point. Sadly, it is not uncommon for our female connections to become strained or destroyed by subtle or overt forms of jealousy, competition, betrayal, gossip, undermining, ostracism, hurt feelings, or heightened emotions. We often lose friends or settle for superficial relations with family, but why would we choose this- unless we believed nothing better is possible?
Over the course of about a dozen years I’ve been lucky enough- and committed enough, to be a part of a women’s circle, officially called “the Wise Women,” and unofficially called “The Naked Girl Scouts,” which alludes to some of the adventures we have shared (such as a visit to a clothing-optional hot springs.) Being part of this circle has been one of the most supportive and empowering things I’ve ever done. Throughout the years, all of the nasty ways we women can be with each other, have come up- and have been transformed– inside of our circle.
So, how did we, a group of 10 “sisters,” work through all of the unconscious and conscious mean-girl patterns that usually show up, and- instead of tearing each other down, create a container to support us all? Here are some of the important elements that we have developed over time, the elements that create a safe space for each person and for the group as a whole to create magic together:
Shared purpose is the foundation for any group or event. Our gatherings started out as a few slumber parties, and everyone had different expectations. We quickly had to clarify and agree on what was our time together for. Was it like other social occasions? (to party, ski, get pedicures?) Through conversation, we aligned on a group purpose- to create a space in which we could come together, be known, supported, called to be a greater version of ourselves, and to help each other heal and grow. It’s come to have a sacred feeling, a valued event that we put intention into. And by the way, in the beginning the group was much larger, but as our purpose became more clear, anyone who was not aligned chose not to attend anymore.
Our group of women met during a personal growth course together, and our shared context was “transformation” using the ideas and the learning we had gained in that course. We agreed to be a microcosm, a space in which our own transformation could spill out into the larger world. I recommend that a group always use some sort of frame, perhaps a class, a shared philosophy, or even a worthy book. Otherwise, the time together will not facilitate new insights and changes in the lives of the members.
Through the course we had done together, we had a template for some agreements- the most important of which was no gossip. Women in general are notorious for talking about other people, behind their backs or in front of them. While this is often socially acceptable, it erodes trust and creates drama. We agreed not to talk about or undermine each other. We also have an agreement around scheduling. When we meet it’s an important event, and so we book our time together far in advance, and then we hold space by being present with each other throughout the designated time. During our weekend, when we need to work for an hour we let each other know, so that everyone knows when to bring focused energy together. In the beginning we met for four long weekends a year. Now, we meet twice for a long weekend, and sometimes we take a long trip together in the summer.
Attention to Process:
Over time we developed some structures for getting the most out of our time together. We each send out an email update about a week before we meet, with highlights about what has happened in our lives and what we hope to work on next. Someone spearheads meal planning and food shopping, someone scouts out the location for our meeting. We arrive by a specific time and have a little ritual to open up the focused, or intentional time for our circle.
During that circle we each name our “conditions of satisfaction,” or what we need in order for our time together to work for us. (for example, someone may need to borrow some aspirin, or eat a certain way) We also do a “chicken share,” where we pass around a little plastic chicken and hold space for anything anyone needs to talk about that is difficult to share in the group. This helps us clear the air before we go into the rest of our time together. We like to do a symbolic opening to create a sacred space– we light a candle, set intentions, and chant three “Oms” together, which seems to harmonize our energy and align us in a shared intention.
We spend a few hours “in circle.” During that time each woman gets between 30 minutes to an hour to talk about something they would like support on. We all attentively listen, and only provide advice or feedback on whatever the sister has asked for. We also have a closing circle before anyone leaves, in which we remember our intentions and start to focus our energy back out into the rest of our lives. We chant 3 “Oms” again, and we give lots of hugs before parting.
Due to our shared background in personal development courses, we all have built some skills around communication. That doesn’t always make it easy though, to say what you need to say, or to listen to what you may not want to hear. We have a commitment to communicate with each other, and there have been times where big disagreements or conflicts came up. Several issues have been resolved in one-on-one conversations, but sometimes the group has sat in circle and held space while two or three sisters worked it out. The commitment is to have a clear space and be in communication. We are not perfect of course, but we do always course-correct in the direction of having a clear space with one another.
Giving grace is a way of being, a way of interacting with each other. When I am being patient, allowing myself or others to be imperfect without revoking my love or respect, I am offering grace. It is so easy to become vulnerable, offended, withdrawn, judgmental, or in some way remove ourselves from the intimacy of true friendship. Having grace for ourselves and extending that to others is necessary for sustainable connection.
All of this may sound very serious, and profound transformation does take work. That’s why fun is a crucial component of our time together. When we go on a long trip we always do some kind of excursion, perhaps body surfing or ziplining in the rainforest. On shorter trips we play music for each other, dance, tell jokes, do some online shopping, or just get goofy while washing the dishes. No one can be fully present, and hold a focused space for days at a time, so sharing in some relaxation and play is a vital element for giving us the energy and good spirits to sustain us.
As I write, I’m on a plane heading to a long weekend with my group. I’m reflecting on weddings and funerals, breaks-ups and births, career transitions, mental health issues, breakthroughs in wealth and health; all the gifts of “doing life together” in an intentional context. I wonder, what would my life be like if I had never had the gift of this circle? I’m certain that it would be less beautiful, less joyful, and far less successful. This is why the circle is worth it, and this is why I love helping women have meaningful connections with other women.
The Dalai Lama has said, “The world will be saved by the western woman.”
I say, only if we have each other’s backs. So, let’s do it, sisters. Let’s do it together.