by Kyra Epstein, Commonweal Communications
In profound ways, the global pandemic is teaching us about our need for refuge and deep healing. It’s next to impossible to do this alone. We need the loving accompaniment of others and the experience of how profoundly interdependent we are as human beings. Healing Circles is a safe place to bear witness to it all.
(from the Healing Circles website).
The global pandemic, combined with widespread adoption of video conferencing, has provided both the opportunity and the need to offer circles to a global audience. Today, in addition to the many circles in the United States, circles have formed in Canada, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Europe.
Slovenian medical doctor Barbara Hrovatin and Ulrike Faubert, a German former journalist who lives in France, are facilitators in one of the European Healing Circles: Coming Together Europe. Over the past year, the circle has grown into a steadfast support for European Healing Circle participants from Ireland, Germany, Austria, France, England, Romania, and Slovenia. Since spring 2021 the circle has been meeting virtually every week (though they are now on summer break).
Ulrike had been a participant in the Commonweal Cancer Help Program in 2019, and then joined in the very first Healing Circles when they came on line. Barbara met Commonweal Cancer Help Program Medical Director Rachel Naomi Remen years ago, visited Commonweal in 2005 to train in the Healer’s Art program, and then heard the call during the pandemic for virtual Healing Circles training and joined in.
“A number of Europeans were involved in Healing Circles and then in the training, and we saw the need for a European circle” Barbara said. “First, a German circle formed, and then Healing Circles Global Program Manager Susanne Fest encouraged us to start another circle—she gave us the space to step into the unknown.”
What does a European Healing Circle look like? Is it different from other circles that have formed in the United States or other places? Ulrike and Barbara say that the Healing Circles Global model works well but that they have had to modify the language used to talk about the circles to appeal to Europeans.
“It has been surprisingly difficult to present this circle work to Europeans, Barbara said. “People here need more time to open up, and the word ‘healing’ is less well accepted here…instead, we talk about being together in authentically human ways. Now, after these many circle meetings, there is such deep reflection, and each week we all feel deep gratitude. Together, we are learning how to be with each other and also how to be with ourselves. We’re experiencing being part of a community where you can speak your heart, where that is welcome. Sharing humanity becomes palpable and flows even over zoom. You really feel each other’s presence. It is deeply moving and healing.”
Ulrike agrees that a focus on speaking honestly and authentically has made it possible for their circle participants to really express what is in their hearts.
“You don’t feel alone; you feel connected and, therefore, stronger and more hopeful,” she said. “The Agreements and the poems help to create this very safe space, which makes it possible to be so open. Being heard and being seen—hearing and seeing others—it just feels so good. Even if I come in the circle sad or angry, I normally leave it in very good spirits.”
Barbara said that they hope to form circles in their own languages next. She would like to offer a circle in Slovene in the fall with a co-host there, and Ulrike will be hosting another circle in French.
Although some modifications were needed to support Europeans in Healing Circles, the Healing Circles framework does seem to bring out the best in people no matter where they are located.
“The circles have changed me, made me feel better with myself, my family, and my friends,” Ulrike said. “It’s kind of like the ‘University of Life:’ You learn to listen to others and, so, to listen to yourself, to your needs, to your sorrows, to your deep inner self. And you realize how all the Agreements, the circles, and the poems could help people all over the world to better communicate, to learn more about themselves, to avoid misunderstandings, and to live and be better.”
Finally, and this may be true for all Healing Circles Gloabl circles, some participants have experienced unexpected freedoms when circling up with a global community of people whom they may or may not ever meet in person. Susanne Fest, Healing Circles Global Program Manager said, “There is the joy of getting to know people from different cultural contexts and learning about their life experiences and perspectives. Also, the resulting separation between the sanctuary of circle and everyday life; for example, not running into the same person in the grocery store after having just sat in circle with them, can feel like a welcome buffer. Furthermore, there is the language aspect. The circles that are open for all Europeans are conducted in English. While speaking in one’s mother tongue is comfortable and familiar on one level, one also taps into deeply ingrained cultural, social and mental models. Slipping into English as a non-native language can neutralize those imprints and invite us into different worlds.”