how i resist circles and why we need elders for clear vision

South Dakota Gather the Women | Hali Karla Arts
South Dakota Gather the Women with art journal peek | Hali Karla Arts
South Dakota Gather the Women | Hali Karla Arts
South Dakota Gather the Women | Hali Karla Arts
South Dakota Gather the Women | Hali Karla Arts
South Dakota Gather the Women | Hali Karla Arts
South Dakota Gather the Women | Hali Karla Arts
South Dakota Gather the Women | Hali Karla Arts

There is much in my heart about my time in South Dakota at the Gather the Women (GTW) circle. As it is with circling, in coming away and reflecting, it's as if parts of our unfolding story are cleansed and clearer, nestling in our hearts like puzzle pieces in right place, and affirming with new perspectives what we've already *known* down deep in the center of us. With it comes fresh resolve to express that truth in a way that aligns our inner and outer worlds more clearly. Sometimes others will notice, sometimes they won't. It doesn't really matter. The path we are here to walk, and how we seek and find meaning on it, is a matter between Self and Source only.

That said, we are humans here, together, experiencing humanness and connection alongside one another - and my gratitude for walking a path that has led me to the strong & beautiful (though they don't always see it), deep-diving, seeking women I have met is beyond adequate expression.

I find an interesting cycle within myself about sitting in circle, particularly in women's circles. I sense it is about my own part in healing patterns that don't work between us on a collective level, combined with my own stories and limited perspective, of course. Before I go to circle, I reach a point where I think of many reasons to back out. Even though I know by now how deeply beautiful and filling it is if I will just get myself there - just show up and speak from my heart.

Then, once there, I go through an initial elation, like a home-coming. I sense that this is part of that deeper knowing that pulls me there to begin with - it feels womb-like, like a cellular memory of yes, this is how we communicate in a good way, this is how we see and honor one another. Women's circles are no new thing. Our bodies know this.

Next, once we begin or maybe a little bit into it, my mind creeps in, full-force. I start to feel irritations, resistance, little judgments... you know, the usual patterns that show up as our ego fights change and exposure in the name of all the things we "ought" to be doing with our time and how we might look to others if they see us how we really are. The thoughts aren't from my heart's truth at all, and they certainly feel old and junky. This is the part where the real healing begins (or continues). Having done a few rounds with this over the past two decades, I know this is the test - am I going to be here, present, in this? Will I speak the truth of my process even if I shake or cry or sound babbly, or will I gloss it over or just watch the clock? Can I surrender to where I am - to what I truly hold faith in - which is that Creator/Universe leads us right to where we need to be, as we are, but that it won't matter one bit if we don't Open to Receive it with full presence.

So when those moments creep up, I choose Trust in the greater process - the one I may never be able to explain or even fully understand. I am grateful to get to choose Openness again and again in this way, in these sacred places we create for just this work of connection. Because the Circle meets us, right there in the center of our heart, when we do.

South Dakota was no exception to my own cycle of healing, realization, surrender and coming back into a deeper awareness of our inter-connectivity. Despite the incredibly warm welcome from the very first minute I met the planners at their pre-gathering breakfast (I arrived early), I still had moments of resistance to it all on the first day. I'm grateful to be in a place of awareness and curiosity about this, where I know how to ride those waves, and to let flow from my lips and heart the real issue my spirit is processing (which is different every time, and never related to the circle itself or the people within it).

That is what I did in South Dakota when I felt the struggle coming on, and ego trying to disguise it behind masks I don't hold in my heart. So I opened when the moment presented itself, and poured the truth of my real pain to an elder I had only just met the day before, and she did not flinch, seeing beyond my words and trusting her own presence in the moment wholeheartedly. More than that, she helped me heal a story I had been carrying for over a decade, while simultaneously calling me into my own power to Step Up in devotion and leadership from the true story of my path - the one given to me by the Great Mystery herself.

Maybe some day I will share that story with some of you - most likely in person, if at all. But let me just say the word that keeps tugging at my heart about it: Initiation.

Our voices matter. Our stories matter. Our pain and healing matter. Our connection with Spirit matters, however it looks. Every part of your story and experience belongs to you; it is your right - don't let anyone try to take that away from you. I write that because I sense some of you may need to read it, like I needed to feel it.

At GTW, over forty women, all ages, sat in circle, with shawls on their shoulders to represent the sacred wisdom and stories of our ancestors that each of us carries with us as well. We were in a land where medicine grows everywhere you walk, on soil that whispers of sorrow, blood, and the rites of great spirit love.

I had a realization of sorts that weekend, between laying on the earth and sitting with women who've been called together - about the importance of cross-generational connection. Of course, it is important for those of different cultures, spiritualities, gender-identifications, interests, socio-economic classes, etc - to have connection and open conversation, with respect and kindness. Absolutely. But in that weekend, I also felt how our culture is so deeply dis-connected from true honoring of our elders and their voices.

I have felt this truth calling before. Once, years ago, I felt called to work with the elderly and those facing end-of-life care and the human condition. So I went into nursing and learned a great deal. Only to find it was really a call to sit, spirit to spirit, with others, to slow down enough to learn of spiritual resiliency and the seeing of one another that is beyond our forms.

As I sat in circle at GTW, I realized with a wave of truth that I wasn't called to work with the elder-ly per se, but to sit and work with and honor the wisdom of our Elders - to really be with them, to see them as myself, and be part of the remembering of what they have learned on their own spiritual journey, despite any differences in details or beliefs we might have. To help heal that lost connection, spirit to spirit, and to bring it with me into the other relationships of my life.

I am all for new ways of doing things, for holding great vision as we evolve and transform. But it also seems to me that this all too often comes from a very dreamy place with great blindspots. Let's shift into a new world, by all means, and new ways of being together with great possibility, but let us not forget what those who have been around a lot longer have seen and experienced or we just might find ourselves inadvertently planting seeds for the very cycles and results we are running from and hoping to prevent.

Our elders hold a key to this. Our grandmothers and grandfathers. I believe the land itself does too, if we listen close. Our ancestors as well (a notion that is waking inside many of us in this time, I know). The stories of our people, of the places we land in, and the reality of their experiences matter. We cannot afford to lose touch with these gifts of perspective from the generations that participated in the creation of the world as it is today. We would do well to apply some of it more readily to our interactions and ways of sustaining life and relationship. It would also be wise to listen and honor them so that we remember WHY we are choosing to leave behind ways that do not work.

When I participated in Ojibwe ceremony/community for a time, I remember distinctly a couple of Sundances where the women would sit and talk about how we needed grandmother wisdom - their fierceness and tenderness, their courage and guidance on how to be with one another in ways that honor feminine energy and bring harmony to the often out-of-balance masculine energy that guides so much in our time. We all felt this emptiness, this ache for lost elder knowing about flow and fluidity and nurturing grace while facing questions of faith, tradition and new vision.

At GTW, I remembered that ache, and realized not only was I sitting in a circle of beautiful women, of which most were my elders, but that my life had come full circle in finding harmony for what I've personally experienced. I realized I was sitting in a circle of grandmothers, and that I needed to hear their stories. Their anger, their tenderness and fierce resolve, their memories, and their own journeys of healing and joy from times that look different from now. It is my honor and responsibility to carry their stories with me because they are planks of connection on a fragmented bridge that deeply needs our attention - for humanity, for our earth, and for our sense of well-being in our own skin and families (of blood or beyond).

I also needed that sister + grandmother wisdom to witness me, as a younger woman, taking back her own spiritual story and trying to make sense of what it means to be called to work with women in new ways of being together, to gather women for this very purpose of creative, honest healing and soulwork. It is grounding to honor both our vision AND that which came before - it is like watering the seeds we are planting and learning the songs of seasons and trust.

The energy of circle is timeless in this way.

It is good work. I am so so grateful to each woman I sat with at GTW this year, and to all the wise people in my life who remind me what matters most. The way we listen to one another, share from our vulnerability, and apply the heart-touching truth of that to the living of our lives is the ultimate medicine and hope for our world.

Circles are needed. Gather your people. Join them. Sit and See each other for awhile, open hearts. Pray together. Step into how it changes you, how it calls you to BE. It matters.