Circles full of women

I didn't know what to expect when going to a Women's Circle. A term I'd heard maybe once or twice before, it sounded like something out of that cancelled CW television series about teenage witches called "The Secret Circle." If you care to know: 1. The show had a pretty mediocre pilot that even my eyes, callused by terrible television, struggled to watch to completion 2. Those witches had nothing on my favorite teenage witch of all time, Sabrina.

(Aside: When I used to really watch the CW, it was called the WB. It changed it name to "the CW" since Warner Bros. entered into a joint venture with CBS, hence the "C" and the "W." All I can really say to that is good job, CBS and Warner Bros. for having the insight to not name the network "the WC,"and thanks, WB/CW for robbing me of precious hours of my life in the form of "Smallville," "Gossip Girl," and, (most embarassingly during my freshman spring), the terrible horror-reality show, "13: Fear is Real." There. I said it. I watched "13: Fear is Real.")

I found out about the Women's Circle because the person who runs it, Catherine, is also the person who teaches the free Athleta yoga class on Saturday mornings that my cheapskate inner yogi attends on the weekly. I went to her website to sign up for one of her email lists and saw, in addition to an August yoga retreat in New Hampshire (totally going), she was running a monthly circle. I got an email about it a week or so later, and needless to say, the hippy-transcendent tone of the message was unfamiliar to me, especially the part, "May is the month of mother. Tomorrow we will honor our great mother Earth through a short ritual and I invite you, if you wish, to bring items from the Earth to place in the center of circle. We often forget the infinite gifts that our planet has given us day after day. We will honor the Mother within and discuss the importance of mothering ourselves as well as reflecting on the relationship we have with our own mother's and how to heal."

Me: (head cocked to right, expression contorted in puzzlement) "Umm…what?"

Anyway, Tuesday night arrived. I had just finished debugging a some code and the "Sisters of the Heart" circle was going to start at 6:30. A little riled up from staring at a screen and finally fixing what was wrong in the code for over an hour, I started looking for reasons why I should opt out of (what I thought would be) the mysterious "Women's Circle".

The internal dialogue was something like this:
The sardonic, lazy voice: "You accomplished plenty today--you did your coding assignment two days early! Take a break! Besides, if you go to that thing, I bet you'll end end up participating in a seance or rolling around in mud in the spirt of the 'Great Mother'."
The introspective, proactive voice: "Yes, good job on that coding assignment--that was challenging and you're starting to get jQuery a little, or at least the logic of it. But seriously, you don't know what this circle is. You think you do, but you don't, and you shouldn't judge it until you've gone through it. Besides, has anything led by Catherine led you astray yet?
The sardonic, lazy voice: "No, I guess not."
The introspective, proactive voice: "Then what have you got to lose? If you hate it, it's 90 minutes of your life well-spent figuring out that it was weird and you didn't like it. If you like it, well, it's something new you can look forward to on the third Tuesday of every month in Boston. Trust her and give it a shot. Don't avoid it because you're afraid. Remember, what would you do if you weren't afraid?"
The sardonic, lazy voice: (sigh) "I'd go to the circle."

 At 6:21, I booked it to Boyslton Street and made it to "Sisters of the Heart" just in time at 6:30.

I will admit, some of it was just as hippy-dippy as the email suggested to me. Light incense perfumed the air (and made me cough a little on arrival). Most people had their shoes off (and it took me a few minutes before I took mine off and pried my iPhone out of my hands). The room was darkened except for some electric candles, which sat on a crimson-aubergine cloth that you might imagine an "Earth Child" type tying around herself as a skirt (and that you could probably buy, if not in India, then on a beach in the Carribbean or in the kind of stores that sell spiritual-chakra stuff or clothing made out of hemp). Each of us expressed our intentions, embodied by small glass stones we then placed onto a plate in the center of the circle. There were eggplant-colored meditation cushions with gold endless knots embroidered on them. And there was some hand-holding and meditation/chanting at the end.

But that wasn't all. I thought I'd maintain a calculating, intellectual, and anthropological distance from the experience in that space. But when we each drew a "Goddess Card" and an "Angel Card," I couldn't help but intimately connect with the ones I picked up: the Saraswati card (Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, and the creative arts) and the Entrepreneur card. Creative, individual, and vaguely entrepreneurial pursuits had been on my mind a lot recently, and were especially strong that evening after an afternoon of trying to design some pieces of a website. It may seem silly to take such things as a "sign," but I'm going to roll with it anyway because it makes me feel good and it doesn't hurt me or anyone else.

I didn't expect how much I could connect to the people in the circle. They were people who were wounded by something in their lives but still were so strong and willing to share parts of their story in a group of mostly strangers (in a safe place, for sure, but still in a room of strangers). Given what some of them must have been dealing with, it would have been very easy for these women to indulge in self-pity or try to one-up one another and "compete" for who had the toughest life or the worst problems. But what they shared and the way they shared it was nothing like that. They sought peace, comfort, and hope for those 90 minutes. They sought genuine guidance and support from other women. I know it sounds cheesy, but it was beautiful. It was the way women (and people in general, but especially women) should but often don't relate to one another in this world.

When I left my apartment at 6:21, I couldn't have expected how I would feel in that room. I thought the environment would be as strange and unfamiliar as I found the tone of the email. And parts of it were. But there was something in that space and in that circle that let me feel okay with tapping into how I really felt and what I really wanted, in that moment and for the few moments ahead of that moment. I don't recall experiencing anything like that. Even though I didn't open up as much as a could have in that meeting, I'm glad I pushed myself to go to the meeting and speak as much as I did. I'm even more grateful that I mustered up the courage to give one of the women a hug at the end. I wasn't a different person when I left that room at 8:10, but something in my awareness had changed, and for the better.

I'll probably visit the circle again when I return from China, so if you're a woman in Boston and reading this, consider coming along with me in July or researching a circle in your own city. You might be as surprised as I was and have an experience you're thankful for.