Several weeks ago, I was inspired to start a Women's Circle in our village. I posted the first event on my Facebook page and mentioned it to some local friends and clients hoping that a few people would turn up. On the night, I was quite amazed when so many women arrived we ran out of chairs - we were in the local Chapel and literally had to 'pull up a pew' to fit everyone in. It was less a circle than a very long and elongated lozenge. At one point, I asked the women to share why they had come and what they hoped to get from the evening. Most were not really sure on either count. Many admitted they didn't even know what to expect or what the evening would involve, but (for some reason) had come along anyway.
"Sharing stories, holding space, and a passing down of wisdom, there is nothing more healing than a group of honest sisters that truly see and accept you. In a period of history where we live more separately than ever, the ritual of coming together is one that we must not underestimate. In my experience, it is something that all women crave but most aren't even aware of. And when we get a taste of it we wonder how we ever survived without it."
Hearing woman after woman say they didn't really know why they had come, made me realise quite how true Rebecca's words are. There seemed to be a need for 'something' and they were willing to see if they could find it in the group. It started me thinking about the importance of our relationships with other women and the different ways in which they nourish and support us.
Sisterhood is commonly defined as the bond between two or more females, who may or may not be related. It denotes an open and truthful relationship, in which all parties are honoured, supported and loved. For many of us - especially if we don't have sisters or female cousins of a similar age - this often begins with childhood friends. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to still be very close to two of my own school friends after thirty-something years. While we speak most days via various forms of digital communication, we live far apart and have to rely on annual weekend breaks to get together - in fact we're going on a city break next week and I can't wait!
In a Huffington Post article from 2016, Angie Frederickson wrote about the importance of these getaways. She said "what old friends know is the soul of the true person underneath all of the daily details, and maybe that’s the best part to know. Despite our very different adult lives, with careers or lack of, and children of different ages and struggles, we are still the same girls we were 20 years ago. We just forget because responsibility landed squarely on each of our shoulders and dug in for the duration. A girls’ weekend is the reminder we need."
There's something very special about being with old friends like this. There's a shorthand, a deep understanding of where you are from, what you've been through, and everything that made you who you are today. Those layers of mutual experience can't exist in new friendships, simply because they take time. If it's true that friends are for a season, a reason, or for a lifetime, then those are definitely the 'lifers'.
So what about the others? I can think of many women who have blessed my life for a shorter time, each of them having their own special role to play, no matter how big or small. For example the first person who befriended me after we relocated - our relationship was fleeting, as she moved away soon after we arrived, but we had fun at the time. There were the women at ante-natal classes, some of whom I am still in touch with and others I no longer know. We held one another through the early months of sleepless nights, leaky boobs and poo-monitoring in ways our childless friends could not. For that I will be forever grateful.
In many ways it's easier to meet other women when you are pregnant or have young children who seem to create natural opportunities to meet other women in the same situation - at the park, the school gate or via 'playdates'. But as children get older, or if you don't have any to start with, then the opportunities to make new friendships seem to dry up. For the most part, we are left with colleagues (who may not live nearby), neighbours, and the people we meet through our hobbies. If you work from home and don't have a reason to get out and talk to people, you might not see anyone outside of your immediate family for days.
While our ancestors lived in communities with larger extended families, we are becoming more isolated and insular. We tend to have smaller families, which are spread out far more than in previous generations. The majority of us don't have a ready-made community of women, and so we have to seek it out. (Even if we're not sure why!) I believe this to be a major reason that many of us join multiple Facebook groups and spend so much time online. We are trying to find our 'sisters' - we long to connect with other women who can relate, listen, and hold space for us. We want to be able to be ourselves, without pretence or competition. We long to be heard, without someone trying to 'fix' us. In Rebecca Campbell's words we need a safe place "where we can lay down our burdens and stop pretending to hold it all together." This is what a Women's Circle is all about.
I began this post by saying that I was inspired to start a Circle and I meant it. It wasn't something I spent much time thinking about, it just felt like the right thing to do. When two of my closest local friends were immediately in, we knew we'd have a good time even if it was just us. Interestingly, once I'd booked the venue, I started to notice a lot of other women in my online communities talking about the same thing - either finding an existing group, starting one, or wanting to. I've read about many circles that are taking place in sitting rooms, coffee shops and village halls all over the world - groups of women, sharing their stories, connecting, recognising themselves in one another. Rebecca Campbell is right, it really is very healing.
It's still early days for our Circle. After only one meeting, I'm not sure who will come again. While I hope no one was sitting there smiling while inwardly hating every minute, I realise that's a possibility. People are all different and when you're not sure what it is you're looking for, it might take a while to find it. I have no idea how long the group will run, or how it might evolve, how many great friendships might come from it, and who might hear or experience something that makes a difference to their lives. We just never know. As I discussed in my last post, all we can do is speak to those who can hear, and see where it leads. It's exciting!
If you're local to the West Sussex/ Surrey border and would like to join us for the next Women's Circle in Billingshurst, you can find all of the information on the Events page. If you'd like to work with me on a one-to-one basis, I offer (local) Reiki sessions and Distant Healing (worldwide).
Find the audio version of this and other posts as The IHUK Podcast on all of the major podcast apps.