The Feminine Balm of Women's Circles.

A woollen orange love heart with a criss cross band-aid attached to its left side

The private women’s circle that I have been part of for the last three years has recently become so popular that we’ve decided to become two circles. It warms my heart so much that there is now such a demand by women to attend a regular circle, and a growing acknowledgement of the benefits of sitting in circle with one another.

Living in our hyper-masculinised, patriarchal world can be discombobulating. Many of us are disconnected from, and literally starving for, feminine energy – and we don’t even know it. I know I certainly was. In patriarchal societies, masculine traits are generally worshipped and valorised over feminine traits (as well as widely promoted as 'the way things are' - see some of my previous blog posts, such as here and here, for an explanation on what I mean by ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’). Masculine values for example - such as competition, brute strength, and winner-takes-all - tend to take centre stage and dominate over all others. I know for myself, I can easily find myself getting caught up in a competitive mindset or a comparisonitis vortex without even realising it.

In this way, for me, women’s circles offer a refreshing alternative to the masculinised ways of being that are so prevalent and tempting in our society. This is because women’s circles are centred around feminine principles and values rather than masculine ones; while simple, these principles are actually quite different from our usual social norms and ways of being.

So, in today’s blog post, I thought I’d go through these feminine principles, so our (masculine) minds can better understand them...

Feminine Principle #1 - Listening is of equal value to speaking

The first important feminine principle is that listening is of equal value to speaking. This principle alone often feels revolutionary because deep listening is a feminine value that is so often lost under patriarchy (because patriarchy tends to suppress and diminish our feminine aspects while encouraging and rewarding our masculine aspects). A talking stick is regularly used in circles to uphold and encourage this principle of the equal valuing listening and speaking. It’s a simple yet elegant way to indicate that whoever is holding the stick is talking, and that everyone else is listening.

This can lead to profoundly different experiences in both listening and speaking in comparison to ‘normal life’. For example, normally when speaking, we may feel that we have to be interesting and/or funny and/or [insert something else] in order to hold another person’s attention, or we may worry that someone is going to interrupt before we’ve finished speaking. Likewise, we may stop listening and start thinking about what we’re going to say in response before someone has even finished what they're saying, so we’re either not listening at all or not listening deeply. Not having to worry about these things can mean that we can share so much more authentically in circles - we can share without the pressure of anything having to be perfectly pre-formed in our minds, witty and/or insightful. And sharing things in their messy, unfinished and unpolished glory means that we can get to the truth of things much quicker.

Similarly, in listening, without the pressure to immediately respond, we can really listen, which helps us to take in the wisdom of what the other person is saying, as well as potentially help the speaker by allowing them to feel really listened to. On this note, lulls are also ok and consciously ‘allowed’ in circles – we can wait until we feel ready to speak and share, and we don’t need to speak just to fill a gap or a silence. Giving this permission can also feel revolutionary because as women we so often feel responsible for keeping a conversation going or making everyone feel comfortable in a social interaction; in circles, we can take a break from this and prioritise our own needs instead. The equal valuing of listening and sharing also means that we do not need to speak or share anything in circle if we’d prefer not to – we can be a generous listening participant only, and that is very valued.

Feminine Principle #2 – Sharing from the heart and listening to wisdom is medicine

A second feminine principle at the heart of women’s circles is that we are invited to share from the heart and listen to each other – we are not seeking to fix each other or give each other advice. In this way, it is not a therapy session. The sovereignty and inner power of each women present is assumed. Instead, the act of sharing and listening to each other is considered to be the medicine – feeling really listened to as we share can spark insights and solutions within ourselves, and listening to the stories of other women can help us to piece together wisdom relevant for our own lives.

For this reason, a core principle of women’s circles is that they are not an advice-giving exercise. This can often feel quite different to a usual girly catch up, which may involve a lengthy discussion, brainstorming and/or advice-giving around various problems and life issues.

However, we can ask for wisdom from the group if we’d like to. In this way, the women in the circle can offer their wisdom on a particular topic – by sharing from their own experience of what’s worked or hasn’t work for them, or by offering an acknowledgement of the women’s strengths and/or her experience if we resonate with what she’s shared.

This works beautifully, but in all honesty, shifting away from automatic advice-giving can sometimes feel unnatural and hard to do. In normal social interactions, we can be so used to trying to solve other people’s problems (or perhaps this is just me?!). But, also in all honesty, being told what to do can sometimes feel jarring (even from well-intentioned people genuinely trying to help). So, in circle, we try to be aware that the woman offering wisdom is not giving advice. We listen to the stories and wisdom offered by others, and we can take on board what best resonates with us for our own situation.

Feminine Principle #3 – Vulnerability and authenticity creates connection

A third feminine principle underpinning women’s circles is a sense of emotional safety. Deep connections and authentic sharing naturally arise in women’s circles because a space of deep safety and trust is created. The other two feminine principles I’ve mentioned naturally help to co-create this. In my circles, I also tend to begin with a grounding meditation of some kind, an Acknowledgement of Country and Context, and the setting of circle agreements. These practical aspects help to solidify the circle, creating a sense of safety and containment for all the women present, which allows the main part of the circle – the sharing – to occur on a sturdy foundation.

It's important to create a safe environment of deep listening, loving support, and vulnerable sharing for everyone attending the circle. This is because, as Brené Brown and her work has shown us, being willing to be vulnerable and authentic (as difficult as this can sometimes be) is what leads to a strong sense of love and connection with those around us. I think this is exactly why I love women’s circles so much, because they can create the conditions for us to practice doing this safely. It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly our social masks and defences can fall away when we sit in circle with one another; when I have the courage to be vulnerable and authentic it creates the most extraordinary sense of connection that is unlike anything I experience elsewhere.

Feminine Principle #4 – The healing power of feminine energy

I think it is a deep sense of connection (with myself and other women) that continues to draw me to women’s circles. And I believe women’s circles are powerful and important because they tap into this aspect of connection that I believe is deeply yearned for (even if not totally recognised) within women: a connection with our feminine side. This is because women’s circles are based on and generate all the beautiful energies and qualities of feminine energy: deep listening, love, compassion, gentleness, connection, unity, and raw vulnerability. And in this energetic sense, women’s circles allow us to experience and be nourished by the healing properties of the feminine.

I also believe that women’s circles serve another crucial purpose, in that they help us to co-create and channel feminine energy down onto the planet. This is greatly needed because, just like us, our planet is severely lacking in feminine energy. It is overrun by masculine energy - masculine energy has been king, literally, and our planet is clearly crying out for our help. And while we should continue to do our bit in practical ways (keep collecting your soft plastics and using your KeepCups people!), I believe we can also help energetically. Holding women’s circles is one we way can do this, because women’s circles offer a soothing, healing balm through the co-creation and channelling of beautiful feminine energy.

Helping to create more feminine energy, even if a tiny bit, helps us stabilise and balance out masculine and feminine energies, and helps to bring us (and the planet) into better health and balance once again.

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