Author: Alline Anderson
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #151
It all started with Amy. She, like many of the women here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, felt dissatisfied with the quality and depth of her relationships. Looking for a format that encouraged and developed closeness among women, she found the Woman Within Journey (womenincircle.org). She went for a weekend, learned about Women’s Empowerment Circles (e-circles), and was profoundly moved. One by one she approached women in our community who she hoped would be interested in participating in a circle of discovery and sharing, and with whom she felt a level of comfort. I was fortunate to be among these women. Oh, how I count my lucky stars!
In the beginning there were seven of us. It was scary, uncomfortable, and often painful. We had a lot to work out. For all of the closeness of our lives here, we seemed to have developed a culture filled with emotional barriers. This makes sense if you think about it. In “normal” (non-intentional community) life one resides with a partner, or room mates. You go to work, where you interact with an entirely different set of people. After work you might get together with friends, or volunteer somewhere, or belong to a gym—all with an expansive group of individuals. I found I missed the safe anonymity found in a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. For example, if I were having a conflict with a room mate I could run it by my co-workers, or friends in my book group, who might have ideas on resolutions, or help me with perspective. But when all of these people are the same it can become problematic.
Here at Dancing Rabbit, we (members, residents, and work exchangers) eat, work, and play together. There are occasional shorter-term visitors and guests, but basically it’s just us. And therein lies the difficulty. If everyone knows everything about everybody (or thinks they do), where are the boundaries? Where is the safety?
So with Amy gamely leading us into unknown territory, we began. At first, we used the Woman Within text. We were reluctant, unsure that we would reap any benefits, nervous, and not entirely trusting. Many of us, each week, said the same thing “I didn’t really want to come, I don’t know if I’ll keep with this, two hours is a lot of time…”
After a few months we ditched the text. We took turns leading. And amazing things happened. We found many more commonalities than differences. The differences we discovered provided insight and understanding rather than being divisive. We realized that prior to e-circle we were comparing our insides (filled with flaws) with other women’s (seemingly perfect) outsides—not accurate, and certainly not helpful. We found that we shared many of the same insecurities and fears. Even better, we found that we really liked and admired each other, even when we knew that each of us was less than perfect. It was eye-opening and yes, empowering. Oddly enough, as the weeks and months went on, we found that we really looked forward to going. Or that at least after our e-circle session was over, we were grateful for having attended.
Our gatherings look like this: Every other week, we get together in a place where we’ll have no interruptions. After lighting a candle, we sit in a circle and have personal check-ins—each woman can take up to half an hour. Daunting at first (“Am I boring you? Oh, this sounds so stupid…”) we came to revel in our sharing time. I mean really, when is the last time you had half an hour of anyone’s undivided attention? We speak of what is happening in our lives, what we’re feeling, what we’re struggling with. There is no back and forth—this is each woman’s opportunity to share without interruptions. The rest of us listen in supportive silence. If, at the end, she asks for feedback, or help, we share what we’re feeling and thinking. We don’t gossip, and do not talk about others in any way other than how they intersect with our lives. We work hard at being constructive. Everything is entirely confidential, even from spouses/partners. This creates an incredible sense of trust. We are creating a force of support, a silent yet fierce network of women who believe in each other. We have created a space where we can be vulnerable safely.
When I asked the women in my group why they like e-circle, one told me, “It’s not just what is happening in my life. It’s bigger stuff, the growth edges. We can receive support with what we’re working on, get and share empathy and compassion. We are able to expose the raw spots where we’re trying to grow—no one holds back when sharing.” Another replied, “E-circle has enabled me to share more openly with more people, especially women in this group. It encourages a depth in relationships and trust. I am able to expose more of myself. I am learning to be more accepting and empathetic.” Another said, “I so desperately want to feel understood. In e-circle I feel I am, and I feel safe” and “best of all, the relationships carry beyond e-circle. There is not a lot of space in our community for ‘what’s really happening for you’ conversations. But now there are five people I actually know well, who know me well, and who have my back.”
For me, the beauty of e-circle comes from the support we receive from each other. For example, one of our members has a lot of fear and anxiety speaking in groups. So when she musters up the courage to speak in the community’s Sunday meeting, we are there cheering her on. No one else knows what’s going on behind the scenes, but we do, as does she. We have found that we each have a deep sense of appreciation and pride when we have a full vision of another person, in this case the members of our circle. We’re on the same ride together. It’s not always fun, and sometimes involves screaming, but what the heck!
In the year and a half since we started, much has changed. One of our members passed away last September, and Amy is taking a sabbatical away from Dancing Rabbit. Those of us who are left continue to meet regularly.
We now look forward to our meeting every other week, and joke about how we’d like to have a daily e-circle, if only our busy lives would allow it. We truly appreciate the gift we’ve inadvertently given ourselves and each other—the solace of friendship, and the balm of caring women. I feel incredibly humbled to be the recipient of the trust of these amazing women.
One of our goals is to establish a number of e-circles here at Dancing Rabbit. We hope to add more women to our circle, and empower several other circles to begin and flourish. More women supporting women, and therefore making our community stronger and healthier. What could be better?
Alline Anderson wishes to thank the women of her e-circle for their continued support and anonymous quotes for use in this article.