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.

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.

A Love Letter to Healing Circles Langley

dear Healing Circles friends,

i write in lower case when writing to friends.

Healing Circles Langley means something different to each of us. i want to say what it means to me.

HCL began when i met diana and kelly at a winter gathering at the whidbey institute in 2014. we had just bought our home on 2nd street in langley. an inner voice said “find a place to live and await further instructions.” when i met diana and kelly, we instantaneously agreed to join forces to start Healing Circles Langley, which was founded in 2015. that soul-filled agreement was the “further instructions” i had been told were coming.

diana and kelly’s incredible generosity and commitment brought Healing Circles Langley into being. diana is a long-term metastatic lung cancer survivor. She is an extraordinary visionary and co-creator of projects with a long track record in langley. kelly has been the beautiful, self-deprecating, funny, gifted partner and financial/operations force behind diana’s enthusiasm and ability to make things happen.

you may know that kelly and diana are now living with kelly’s glioma. kelly blogs about the experience on his caringbridge website, and it’s unlike anything i have ever seen in 35 years of working with people who have cancer at commonweal. kelly describes a “farmhouse” in which a whole host of “imaginary beings” live, interact with, and counsel him. He says the farmhouse is as real as anything else, and i believe him.

i witnessed Healing Circles Langley grow over the past five years as if looking at a series of time-lapse photographs. my wife sharyle and i are up on whidbey four months of the year. we live the rest of the time in bolinas, in western marin country, just north of san francisco, and we work at Commonweal, a center i co-founded 44 years ago (Healing Circles is a Commonweal project).

bolinas is a town similar to langley in many ways. i like to say that west marin is to san francisco what south whidbey is to seattle, and bolinas is to west marin what langley is to south whidbey. similarly, commonweal is to west marin what the whidbey institute is to south whidbey. the parallels are profound, but there are deep differences as well. the most striking one is that south whidbey has more “social capital” than any other community i have ever experienced.

Diana Lindsay and Michael Lerner

Diana Lindsay and Michael Lerner

that depth of social capital has been a major contributor in the astonishing emergence of Healing Circles Langley as a powerful community force. there are other forces as well. south whidbey is what is known as a NORC—a  naturally occurring retirement community, which means that many people move here in later life seeking a place to really engage with community. Healing Circles Langley gives people an extraordinary opportunity to engage with others in depth. but retirement is also a time when loss often comes to us. again, Healing Circles Langley is a profound gift for those facing many kinds of loss.

later life is also a time when the quest for meaning often becomes more important and may be a time that is more about being than about relentless doing. Healing Circles Langley is a gift for all of us who find the journey of self-discovery to be an essential part of what matters to us.

in summary, Healing Circles Langley offers us deep community, deep resources for facing loss, and deep opportunities for the life-long journey of self-discovery. most of all, it offers us a place to be of meaningful service to others in ways that matter.

when diana had to step back to be with kelly on his journey with glioma, i offered to participate as best i can—along with the steering committee and the circle of hosts—to support Healing Circles Langley’s work. the truth is that this is a time of transition for Healing Circles Langley. we all hope and pray, and in fact expect, that diana will return to active leadership. even so, it is wise for us all to be building a leadership community for HCL that will enable all of us to pass this beloved community on to those who follow us.

we need to do this not only for HCL and south whidbey, but for the entire rising global Healing Circles Global community. Healing Circles Langley is right at the heart of Healing Circles Global. it is the place that people from around the world come to see what is possible, to learn, and, quite honestly, to be astonished by what all of us have co-created here.

healing circles now has four founding partner centers in vancouver, union, washington, washington, DC, and at commonweal in bolinas. we have major centers in Healing Circles Langley and Healing Circles Houston and robust partner centers elsewhere in canada and in jerusalem. and we have promising start-ups in zurich, mumbai, and bangkok—each driven by deeply committed people.

but really, it all started right here. and that matters. Healing Circles Langley is the flagship for all our Healing Circles Global work.

i’m all in to help sustain Healing Circles Langley as best i can. i hope each of you reading this will decide whether you can make a commitment according to your abilities. how do we express this? there is an old saying. with time, treasure, or talent. time to help in some way according to our capacities. treasure to support Healing Circles Langley financially. and talent understood spaciously and in its true meaning—not some professional ability, necessarily, but giving what our soul has to offer to this beautiful soul-filled community.

mother teresa called loneliness the poverty of the west. loneliness is epidemic in our time and loneliness often accompanies us in our older years.

the gift of a community like Healing Circles Langley is like what the sufis call the “pearl without price.” we heal in community. we discover ourselves in community. and above all else we serve others in community.

i write these words with a heart overflowing with love for diana, for kelly, for each of you beloved friends whom i have come to know here, and for all those i hope to come to know in the years ahead.

let us keep our beloved community alive, thriving, and of ever deeper service.

with love and gratitude,

Michael Lerner

p.s. let’s all donate what we can. to donate, you can click here.

Crash Courses and Healing

My husband and I lived in Seattle for the past 22 years. We’d often take small weekend trips to Whidbey Island, Washington, specifically, Langley. It was our respite away to recharge from work and escape the chaos of a busy city. It’s a magical and wonderful transition as you come off the ferry and onto the island. The large trees form a circle around you. The calm waters soothe you. The incredible beauty captivates you. It’s a piece of heaven on earth. Here, your frazzled nervous system takes a deep breath and says “ahhhhh.”  It’s the beginning place for healing. Then you discover a beautiful jewel glimmering on the corner as you drive into Langley: a building surrounded by lush plants next to an open grass field with towering trees and piercing calls of bald eagles—and “oh my, the view!” This is Healing Circles, Langley. A place where deep healing transforms lives.

Starting in 2010, I decided to sell my last business and take a year-long sabbatical. I was burned out and tired. That year was supposed to be full of rest and relaxation, a period to reconnect with my inner being and discover what was next in my life.

The universe had slightly different plans. Instead, what happened was a series of challenging life events! It included a collapsed driveway at our home, which is located on a steep slope in Seattle, then a series of serious health issues for my husband that brought us close to his death. It included back surgery for me in 2015 and the death of two dear grandparents (that I was very close to) in February and November that same year. In 2016, my beloved brother and only sibling died. He had experienced a disability for almost 30 years, having been disabled at the age of 24. Challenging life events included my father’s dementia and eventual death in 2017, organizing and sorting my parents’ home to sell, and helping my husband through a difficult transition and sale of his business.

After all this, we decided we should buy a place in Langley. A set of new condos had come up for sale that was very near Healing Circles. Shortly after we closed on the condo, we went back to Colorado to check on my mother. She promptly announced that she was ready to move and wanted to move to Langley and into our new condo. We quickly realized she had too many things to fit into our small condo. So, we rented her a place to stay until she could sort through things in her own time. We moved her “lock, stock and barrel” in 2018.

This year, my husband and I decided to sell out of Seattle and move full-time to Langley as well. Knowing that Mom would eventually move to the Langley condo, we bought another home and decided to modify both the home and condo to make them fully accessible so we can all “age in place.” After everything we learned in our prior life experiences, we are committed to “conscious aging” and know we’ve found the perfect environment to support our intentions. This is a place where we can all grow old together—consciously, lovingly, and in community.

We had been told about Healing Circles by several of our friends on the island. Once we were somewhat settled, we reached out to Healing Circles. We attended some of the grieving circles. Bill and I provided a community discussion on advocacy and planning for serious health issues and death. We quickly connected with Diana and Kelly Lindsay and a few others. It was easy with the open-armed approach they take. It’s like walking into someone’s door and getting a big hug along with a, “Welcome, we’re so happy to see you.” It immediately feels like home, family, and true connection. My one-year sabbatical turned into a nine-year crash course on stress management, living, dying, transitions, impermanence, gratitude, and grace. I have found part of my “what’s next.” I now volunteer at Healing Circles and am honored to have been invited to play a role in the steering council. My first task—writing this blog post! I’m grateful to be a small part of something so huge.

I’m a firm believer that, as we heal ourselves, we can “heal” the world. That’s what healing circles are about. Heal yourself through community and ultimately, the world shifts.

Mahatma Gandhi stated it best: “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – but in being able to remake ourselves.

Roots: Exploring the Art of Wellness

In September 2019, a new wellness center offering a wide range of healing modalities opened in Langley, Washington. But before the doors of Soundview Center opened, a vision of a partnership between Healing Circles Langley and the new center emerged: Roots – Exploring the Art of Wellness.

Roots is a program of Healing Circles Langley but housed in the Soundview Center and focuses on 10 “roots” of wellness:

  • Exploration/creativity
  • Lifestyle/daily practices
  • Social connectedness
  • Stress/resilience
  • Emotional/mental health
  • Sense of self
  • Physical health
  • Finances
  • Purpose/meaning
  • Environmental

The mission of Roots is to help improve individual and community well-being by creating a supportive atmosphere in which people are encouraged to make positive life decisions, build community, and learn ways to improve health and wellness.

Healing Circles Langley has always been a learning community that offers a social hub where all of us—regardless of age or health—can expand our capacity for healing, living, and aging well. Yet our wellness classes have always been limited by our space restrictions. Roots of Wellness offers a large space and a dynamic team to focus on new wellness programs for the older generation as well as interactive programming for families with children and younger people in our community.

The small village of Langley is physically located between Healing Circles on one end and SoundView Center at the other. Together, they embrace and hold all members of our community, young and old.

To mark this new partnership, we hosted a Lantern Festival on December 20, 2019, a lantern walk through Langley from Healing Circles to Soundview, celebrating our children, the future of any community.

Healing Sound Bath

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.

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

 

Healing Circles: A poem by Judith Adams