There’s a line behind me in a local bakery, but I don’t care. As the owner is sharing with me vegan ideas for traditional Eastern European cheese substitutes I feel like we could talk for hours. It’s not just the bakery. Lately, I’ve noticed myself lingering on the trail talking to the other dog owners and stopping to chat with fellow shoppers in the grocery store.
Is it just me? I started wondering.
In the recent World Happiness record, Karynna Okabe-Miyamoto and Sonja Lyubomirsky write:
Accumulating research has shown that the pandemic has led to increases in negative psychological outcomes, such as depression and anxiety, for a large portion of the population.
It’s no surprise. We don’t need researchers to notice that the effects of lockdowns, social distancing and collective fear have taken a toll on our connectedness. And now, as we’re slowly emerging from our cocoons, we’re craving connection more than ever.
As I looked around the local community of the small town I live in, I felt called to start a sharing circle group. It was just the medicine we all needed. It left me feeling more connected and relieved. Here’s why starting your sharing circle is a great idea and how you can do it, wherever you are!
1. We’re wired for connection
Although it might not feel like it when you stand in an elevator full of people, we are wired for connection. That’s why it feels so weird to be in a crowd and pretend we don’t see people around us. Maybe that’s also why big cities can be so intense for many of us.
“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” states Brené Brown in Daring Greatly.
Acknowledging that we are wired for connection and finding ways to connect with people around us is a huge step towards well-being. Starting a sharing circle can be a big step out of our comfort zone. Will people want to come and share? Will I know what to say? Who do I invite? All those questions can be intimidating. Start with the first step. Find a safe place to sit and gather. I asked my local yoga studio and they were thrilled to help me organize it. Print a poster. Invite neighbors, housemates or strangers from a yoga class. People are craving the connection!
2. Sharing circles have been a part of our traditions forever
Sharing circles have been a tradition of many indigenous tribes from North America, but the concept of gathering people in a circle to share and practice storytelling is even broader than that. It has been practiced by tribes ranging from Africa to Australia. As a species, we have developed around storytelling. By connecting to that most natural tradition we learn skills that helped us survive. In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Robyn Fivush writes: “Telling your story is an important skill; listening to others’ stories is a lifelong process of understanding yourself and others.”
After my first sharing circle session, one of the participants said: I haven’t felt so human in a long time. By gathering with people and setting the intention to practice active listening and honest sharing we’re connecting to the core of humanity. We’re practicing vulnerability and deepening connections with people around us. Something, we’ve been doing for centuries! Connecting to our own emotions, joy as well as pain, and to others is what makes us human, after all!
3. Sharing and listening open our hearts
We spent two years living in a bubble. As far as bubbles go, they are fluffy and protective but they also make us blind to the things outside the bubble. So many of us have not been connecting with people different from us. That’s why sharing circle, where we sit with people from different backgrounds, ages and lifestyles can open us up to empathy and compassion.
By mindfully listening to people who might seem different from us, we have a chance to see all the things that connect us and make us similar. In the end, we all want love, peace and understanding. We all get tired, angry and hopeless. Hearing that from others and sharing it openly is a truly healing experience. As I was sitting in the sharing circle with women I met for the first time in my life, I felt a sense of togetherness. We were so much more similar than we were different. Having that experience made me feel less isolated.
4. We’re all space holders
The beauty of sharing circle is that in the circle we’re all equal. You don’t have to be a professional or have any previous experience. All it matters is that you gather people with intention, present the guidelines (sharing without interrupting, confidentiality, mindful listening) and let the beauty of people showing up take over. Although you can prepare a theme or prompt questions, you don’t have to plan for the circle. Let it happen. We’re natural at this because coming together to share joys and fears is in our blood. Even if you organize the circle with people you know well, you’ll still be surprised by how much we don’t know about the other, unless we create a safe space to be vulnerable and raw.
As you sit in a circle you just organized you might be mesmerized by how easy it flows, how effortless it is to cry and laugh in front of strangers who look at you without judgement and prejudice. You’ll be amazed at how wonderful it feels to hold hands with strangers after months of isolation. You’ll leave feeling connected and grateful, knowing what it feels like to be human!
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