The sharing circle and a way to change the world

There’s a circle of stones in the front yard. The dog and I gathered them one day in the old pickup and brought them here from the area near a…

There’s a circle of stones in the front yard.

The dog and I gathered them one day in the old pickup and brought them here from the area near a remote lake higher up in the mountains.

They’re various types and textures and they form the rim of a flower garden I planted for my woman’s pleasure.

Within it are plants and grasses suited to the arid heat. Now, as summer edges into fall, they’ve grown tall and thick and colourful.

The display of them draws hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. It’s a magnificent circle of life and it took tending to get it this far.

The rocks themselves are still rocks. Inspected individually they are simply stones, rough-hewn and unadorned.

But here, in the formation they’ve been arranged in, they have become a living thing, united by the energy contained in the sweep of it, a conglomeration of shapes and textures and histories, confirming life and adding to it.

My people say that all things are a circle. Life is a circle that moves from the innocence of childhood and back to it again in the realm of elderhood.

The energy we call Great Spirit moves in a great unseen circle everywhere around us. It’s why the bowl of a ceremonial pipe is round, a sweat lodge, a medicine wheel. The circle, they say, is the model of the universe.

When I was in my late 40s, I rediscovered the power of it. We were living in a condo in Burnaby surrounded by the angles and lines of the metropolis.

It began to dawn on me how isolated the geometry of the modern world makes us all. There’s a rigidity to straight lines, a hardness, and when you live within them long enough you can’t help but adopt their texture.

I spoke to the pastor of a downtown church. It was a United Church called the Longhouse Ministry and it ministered to urban native people and other marginalized people.

I told him of my concern that we weren’t speaking to each other anymore. Any of us. I told him of a simple ceremony I’d been instructed in a long time before.

It’s called a sharing circle. It’s open to everyone and quite simply, is a safe place to gather, to speak and be heard.

It’s a place of prayer, ceremony and ritual guided by ancient traditional spiritual protocols aimed at creating harmony.

The sharing circle is a place we are given to share openly about our common human experience, the joys and sorrows, and to offer the power of our words and emotions to each other.

We agreed that it was a necessary vehicle for the community.

Well, we put up posters and pamphlets around the community for a few weeks prior to the first gathering. I spoke to organizations on the telephone to divulge our intentions.

I e-mailed, faxed and visited in person. When the night of the first circle arrived we both, my woman and I, were anxious and did not know what to expect.

It was a rainy night, cold, on the cusp of winter. We arrived a half hour early and as I’d been instructed. I smudged the area with sacred medicines, said a prayer and centered myself on the push of positive energy.

We wanted so desperately to share the hope we felt, the strength we’d both found in the traditional teachings of my people and the vision of harmony we held for the planet.

When the people arrived we were amazed. They were a glorious conglomeration.

There were urban native people, dispossessed of their cultures and traditions. Along with them came a university professor, a carpenter, a school teacher, a working single mother, a grandmother and a business man. They gathered shyly in that circle, silent, skeptical and afraid.

We sat in candlelight and when the ceremony started and a prayer was said, you could feel everyone relax. Then, taking up a hand drum, I explained about the nature of the circle, that the very first principle that came into action was equality and that we were all merely brothers and sisters, all looking for a linchpin, a hope, a way to focus our lives. Then I sang a prayer song.

What followed stays with me still. I explained the nature of the ceremony, how it was created to allow every voice the opportunity to be heard, how it created a sacred space for every hurt, every joy to find expression and how it was a teaching way to show us how incredibly similar we all are, how alike, how joined.

Then, I passed around an eagle wing fan and each person had a chance to share, to speak, to be heard.

We heard stories of pain. We heard of struggle. We heard of confusion and doubt and unknowing. And we heard of gratitude, of joy, of the relief in finding a place where unspoken things could be given voice, released, surrendered, let go.

As the talk continued the sounds of the city disappeared even though we were half a block away from a major thoroughfare.

We sat in a deep communal silence. We heard each other. When it was finished with a final drum song, prayer and hugs all around, not a single person wanted to leave.

We carried on that simple ceremony for the better part of three years. Every night it was the same.

The energy of the people, their desire for talk, for joining, for harmony created the magnificent spiritual sense we all carried away.

It taught us that none of us are ever far away from the other, that we all carry the same baggage of life, that when we allow ourselves to hear each other, that we are joined forever.

Everyone has a story. That’s what the circle teaches us. We become better, a better people, a better species, when we take the time to hear them.

It’s how you change the world, really. One story, one voice at a time. You are altered. You are changed.

You stand in a common circle, prayerfully, meditatively, hands linked loosely together, warmth, skin, experience, spirit, round on round.

Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He recently won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels.

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