Friday, November 19, 2010

Mothers meeting - women's sacred circles

Welcome to the circle. Come in with your chatter, take off your coat. Find a place, slip off your shoes, wriggle your toes and tuck them under you. The candle on the centre table is lit. Its golden light softens the tired faces grouped around it. The brass singing bowl is sounded, its rich resonance dissipating into silence, leading us into the realm of stillness. We join hands and breathe together. In and out. This invisible trace leads us into ourselves. Conscious breath fills the room, sanctifying this simple lounge. Our separateness diminishes as a new energy enters the room tangibly changing the atmosphere: it is richer, heavier, more sombre. We settle deeper into stillness.

This is where we meet, on the first Sunday of every month. Although many of us meet at playgroup or for tea during the month, this is different. This is our space. Our sacred space in which we find ourselves once more. We start, like always, by speaking to the very simple question: “how are you really now?” In the stillness a small voice, which has been swamped by the busyness of daily mothering begins to emerge, haltingly, but with strength. How am I? How wonderful to be asked. Terrifying but wonderful. Can I speak to it, bring myself to this question with honesty? This is not a place for being “fine”. No one here is interested in “fine”. Here I can be confused, elated, barely scraping through. Here it is OK to inhabit a place of paradox or of not knowing. I start to speak, uncertain of where my words are headed. I surrender myself to them. Then, as I grab the thread more clearly I open my eyes and sweep them slowly around the room. Women who have become dear friends sit, their eyes focused and loving on me, as I unfold my soul before them. Not for approval, just to be witnessed, this tapestry of my life. The floor is mine, I cannot be interrupted. And it is such a wonderful feeling. Not to stop mid-sentence again and again to answer a child’s question or grab a cup of juice from being spilt or pre-empt a sibling slap. Just space to be me. Wonderful.

And though mothering takes up so much of me, teaches me so much, satisfies me, there is also so much of me that is nothing to do with my kids, which has no expression in play dough or picture books or cooking dinner. The part of me from pre-kids, which inhabits dreams and books and philosophy. The part of me which even my husband does not really know and which I only get glimpses of. This gets a chance to creep out from under the stone of daily life and emerge blinking into the sunlight of awareness, to be witnessed by this circle of women. And then when another stands to speak I get to practice what I am so weak at in daily life, yet need for my parenting: deep, non-judgemental, open-hearted listening. This is where I learn skills which I take back home to my family.

Women’s circles are as old as women themselves. At many times in history they have been outlawed, suspicious. At times they have held the names of quilting bees or sewing groups. We are not a great group of stitchers. Instead each month a different leader chooses a topic which stimulates our minds and titillates us: Creativity, Home, Books, Community, Spirituality… But this is not a discussion group either, though the final discussions can be juicy. Instead we speak from our deepest selves in the spirit of council sharing, a custom borrowed from Native American elders, and familiar to me from Quaker meetings. Waiting for the spirit to move us, then allowing it to meander us through the topic. As we hear our voices speaking we discover what we truly feel and believe. Often it surprises the speaker herself. The listeners’ heads nod in agreement, eyes well with tears of compassion. We sit in a circle and, as women, often we talk in circles. Women’s circles seem to be coming back, spreading like ripples through communities, sustaining the women who belong to them, their goodness spilling out into the families beyond.

We drift out into the hallway, asking after our children’s playmates, organising to meet up for coffee and playtime. We swap forgotten socks and disappear off into the night in time to fix supper for the family, or maybe, just perhaps, a little too late and so to be fed! I float into the house, transformed from the empty husk of a woman who left just a few hours before. I scoop up my children, delighting in their faces. “Mummy’s back” I announce, and I am. I really am.

The women’s group that I started in East Cork began in February 2008 and meets once a month, with a different leader, venue and topic each time.

This was the first of my Dreaming aloud columns, published in JUNO magazine, Spring 2009. An adapted version is also in the 2011 Earth Pathways Diary)

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