I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
- Brené Brown
I love this Brené Brown quote because to me it sums up my experience of the deep connection, emotional realness, and open-hearted support that I feel at women’s circles.
And yet I notice that so many women are still unsure and uncertain about what women's circles are, which can hold some women back from attending one. I find I am often being asked “so… ummmm…. what’s a women’s circle, anyway?”
I’ve been facilitating women’s circles since 2016, and in that time, I’ve noticed them becoming a lot more mainstream. Even Imogen Bailey from late noughties Neighbours’ fame has started her own women’s circle facilitator training school and has been on prime-time TV talking about it.
But when I say ‘becoming a lot more mainstream’, that’s starting from a low base. Women’s circles are still not really mainstream at all – and most women either have never heard of them, never attended one, and/or aren’t really sure what they are.
Quite simply, women's circles are a unique experience where (not unsurprisingly) a group of women sit around in a circle. However, women's circles are different to a usual girly catch up because the facilitated, supportive structure of the circle creates an environment of deep listening, both of listening to others and being listened to yourself - allowing us to learn the wisdom contained in each other, and often within ourselves too.
The structure provided by the circle also quietens our (sometimes noisy and judgemental) minds, which allows vulnerability to be expressed safely in a way that is rare in other facets of life. This allows facades to quickly drop as we recognise ourselves and our life experiences in each other's stories, creating the most extraordinary sense of connection that is quite simply unlike anything I experience elsewhere. It astounds me constantly just how similar we all are, and how we all face similar things when you get down to it – sitting in circle, I’m regularly reminded that I’m really not alone.
To me, women’s circles also feel a little bit revolutionary (of the gentlest and best kind). We live in a world in which competition and comparison is considered not only normal and natural, but something to be encouraged and celebrated. In this way, women’s circles offer us an alternative way of relating with each other – we can simply be and feel accepted without even needing to speak. I’ll never forget my first women’s circle. I remember being struck by how without saying a word or anyone saying a word to me, I had felt accepted. Without having to be a certain way or even needing to do anything at all, I had felt that my presence was valued. And without first having to prove my worth in any way, I had felt that every woman in the circle was assumed to be of equal worth to one another. This underlying acknowledgement of our inherent equality felt so rare and yet so natural to me, like a sense of coming home.
I think this is why I adore women’s circles so much, because their very nature creates a magical environment of connection, honesty and acceptance - I feel deeply connected to both myself and other women at women’s circles. As we know from Brené Brown’s work, sharing authentically and from our hearts is so powerful, as it is what allows us to genuinely connect with others and stay open to the best that life has to give us. And women’s circles offer us an opportunity to experience this authenticity and connection in a very safe way.
Our ancestors and women throughout the ages have known about the importance of women gathering, and have been doing it for millennia. It is a deeply felt need and instinctive yearning within us; after all, listening to each other’s stories and sharing honestly is the way that we used to learn and grow through our life’s many experiences. It is in our modern industrialised times that we have forgotten this sacred way of sharing wisdom, as well as lost our previous understanding of the importance of rituals and ceremonies generally.
Despite being undervalued, discouraged and misunderstood under patriarchy for a very long time, women’s circles are important, needed... and very powerful.