by Susanne Fest, Program Manager, Healing Circles Global
Nearly twenty years ago, I fell in love with circles. Since then, I’ve experienced circles as healing because they provide secular sanctuary, create safe spaces for opening up about our vulnerabilities and wounds (which we otherwise tend to hide for fear of reinjury), and they connect us all to our imperfect humanity.
In 2015, I met the co-founders of Healing Circles Langley: Diana and Kelly Lindsay and Michael Lerner. This was a crucial turning point in my life, and I’ve been involved in the development and growth of Healing Circles Langley and Healing Circles Global ever since.
Part of why I took to circles like fish to water was because I grew up in Germany in the post-World War II years. The entire country was in unrecognized post-traumatic stress, which filtered down from generation to generation. To me, the silences and unacknowledged pain sometimes felt like too much to bear, and I wanted to get away. I accepted a scholarship for a year at Stanford and stayed in the United States for the next 42 years.
But Europe, and the world beyond the United States kept calling. Therefore, when healing circles went virtual at the beginning of the pandemic, connecting across the globe suddenly became an option. Even though we promoted circles only through our English language website, people from all over the world found us.
As we trained people to host healing circles from all over Europe, South Africa, India, Vietnam, Singapore, and Australia, we learned about our cultural differences and the things we all have in common. We learned that loneliness, uncertainty, and a sense of loss and fear were universal. We learned that talking about feelings was easy in some cultural contexts but challenging in others. For example, a South African host found that her native language, Africaans, has few words that describe feelings, so she speaks English when she talks about her emotional life. We learned that an Austrian host experiences more freedom when he speaks English because the cultural connotations of his native German are absent. And we learned that our Vietnamese hosts are interested in the democratization of family relationships. Learning about circles gives them ways of talking to their elders in respectful, yet also more open and authentic ways.
The cross-fertilization between cultures feels rich to me. So does the other side of the experience, which brings up questions about what needs to be adapted to fit different local contexts. For example, talking about “healing” runs the risk of being labeled as “woowoo” in German-speaking countries. How can we become “glocal?” Especially now that many of us want to meet in person, or “off-line,” as the Vietnam team calls it.
In October of 2022, after 42 years in the United States, 13 of which I spent on Whidbey Island, I moved back to Germany—specifically to Berlin. This vibrant capital city still bears deep wounds, a warped past, and challenges presented by the polycrisis and the influx of immigrants and refugees from war-torn countries. The need for personal, collective, and ancestral healing is palpable everywhere, and in contrast to earlier times, this need is now acknowledged. Berlin is a place that is actively and openly in search of healing, though the German word for healing, “heilen” is seldom used.
I continue to work for Healing Circles Global (HCG) and am grateful for the connection to the Whidbey Island-based mothership during weekly operations team meetings. I spend much of each day in Zoom meetings with hosts, circle participants, and team leaders on different continents. But now that I live in Berlin, I also find myself longing for local circles.
Here are two examples that bring together the best of two worlds, the local and the global:
An HCG host from France recommended that I join InterNations, a worldwide community of expats with many members across the world, and several thousand living in Berlin. My assumption was that people new to Berlin might feel the desire for community in particularly acute ways. I posted an announcement for a healing circle on the InterNations website and, within a day, seven folks registered, most of them men! Given the fact that the overwhelming majority of our United States-based HCG participants are women, this was a surprise.
Since then, I have hosted several circles for InterNations members. Participants are eager to keep going. The themes are loneliness, the loss of home, the challenges of adjusting to a different culture, and the desire to build community.
Art of Hosting
At the beginning of April, together with two HCG hosts from France, I participated in a training offered by “CitizensLab,” an organization that facilitates participatory, democratic leadership trainings for the European Commission, among other organizations. The topic was the “Art of Hosting” (AoH). It turns out that the AoH community is made up of activists and practitioners who are interested in collaborative, heart-centered processes, very similar to the people who are attracted to our healing circles. The underlying assumptions, lineages, and methods have much in common with the HCG approach.
We felt warmly welcomed into the AoH community, and the interest in healing circles was great. After sharing our approach, one organization asked if we could offer healing circles to their staff. Others want to participate in our trainings. Still others offered their organizational development expertise to help us think through how we can grow Healing Circles Europe. And a group of former National Health Service employees from the United Kingdom expressed interest in forming Healing Circles UK.
Wherever I’ve been in the world, circles have helped me connect with others in an open-hearted and authentic way. They helped me establish roots and become grounded in community. And, though I’m new to Berlin, I trust that healing circles will soon help me feel at home, here, too.
Find out more about Healing Circles Global, and join a circle, on their website.
Photo at top: Gabi Steiner (multiple countries), Barbara Hrovatin (Slovenia), Diana Lindsay (US), Stefan Kanya (Austria), Ulrike Faubert (France), and Susanne Fest (Germany)