A Day in the Life of Healing Circles Langley

When Diana arrived at our last steering council meeting, she checked in, not with the latest saga of Kelly’s illness, but with a description of her day so far: “It is what I always dreamed Healing Circles could and would be.”

The day started with an ongoing Qigong class, held in a small room upstairs with windows on three sides, overlooking the waters of Saratoga Passage and graced by our resident guardian eagle.

Meanwhile downstairs, two Healing Circles “hosts,” Kären and Donna, formed a circle of two, catching up with each other. Soon, the door opened, and a new host-in-training walked in. As retired nurses, Kären and Donna both have extensive experience in helping others access community resources. They had just begun training the new host when a young woman walked in, wide-eyed, telling them she was new to the community and struggling. A friend had told her to turn to Healing Circles for help. “What is this place anyway?” she asked. “I don’t know why I’m here.” Kären sat down with her in the Circle-of-Two room to listen to her story. Forty minutes later, the woman asked if she could just sit for a while because she found comfort in the welcoming physical space.

Donna continued the training but soon realized that what was most on the new volunteer host’s mind was a friend’s recent cancer diagnosis. The need to learn about community resources became more immediate.

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Meanwhile, Qigong class was over, and class members broke into circles of two and three in the upstairs room. But one had more on her mind. She had had to miss several classes due to a family emergency out of state. Diana suggested they talk, which they did for an hour, each learning from the other’s experience as a caregiver about when to be allies, advocates, or adversaries with the care system.

Soon after lunch, a full circle of caregivers gathered in the living room in front of the fireplace, sharing and supporting one another in their difficult roles. When that circle ended, it was replaced by the steering council circle, which addressed pressing practical matters, such as who would buy new toner for the printer, who could draft a donor letter, and who would respond to the evolving needs of the community and requests for new circles.

Soup and Solace came next – a dinner-hour circle for those experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one. And to close the day, the men’s group gathered.

This was one day in the life of Healing Circles Langley. We are alive and well, and it is how we hold the vision, tenderly and with open curiosity, that enables us to continue to thrive.


Gracious Listening: Beyond the Edges of our Circles

 “It is not our differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do.”                          (Margaret Wheately)

How do we listen to others? It is critical in this time of increased polarization that we learn to connect and work across lines of difference, whether the ‘other’ be family, neighbor or fellow citizen. Listening is where we start.

During the month of May 2017, Healing Circles Langley hosted a series of evenings with Jeanne Strong to engage in reflective activities designed to crack open our appreciation of otherness.

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Together we explored, through the writings of Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer, Margaret Wheately, John O’Donohue, Rumi and others, how to move from self-protectiveness and fear to hospitality, so that our gracious listening can help heal what Desmond Tutu called our ‘radical brokenness’.

Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends…

…Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.  It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit.

                                                ~ Henri Nouwen (in Reaching Out)

So often we feel right – and righteous about our views – so much so that we may not extend to others the space and grace to be fully who they are, and increasingly tend to think the world in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  The good news, says Parker Palmer in Healing the Heart of Democracy

… is that “us and them” does not have to mean “us versus them.” Instead, it can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger and give us a chance to translate it into twenty-first century terms. Hospitality rightly understood is premised on the notion that the stranger has much to teach us. It actively invites “otherness” into our lives to make them more expansive, including forms of otherness that seem utterly alien to us. Of course, we will not practice deep hospitality if we do not embrace the creative possibilities inherent in our differences.

We practiced the art of asking honest and open questions, questions to which we could not possibly know the answer, questions that do not couch our own hidden assumptions, opinions or agenda. This life-long practice helps us take the time to understand another’s point of view – without judgment – especially if it is different from ours.

Gracious listening requires a hospitable heart, a compassionate presence, a willingness to hear another’s story, a commitment to not ‘fix’, a willingness to suspend judgment and turn to wonder, a willingness to hold each story in confidence.

What kind of a world could we create if we each practiced gracious listening?

The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?

                                         ~ Terry Tempest Williams