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By Jalaja Bonheim, Ph.D.
Spirituality is a basic human need. Yet in our day and age, it all too often goes unmet. Traditionally, people looked to religion to address our spiritual hunger. Yet today, millions are either no longer involved in organized religion, or their religious practice is failing to provide the nourishment they crave.
As a result, many now suffer from a spiritual famine. Spiritual famine usually goes undiagnosed, but it’s no less painful than physical famine, causing symptoms that range from anxiety and depression to addiction and violence.
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But spiritual famine can be overcome. For decades, women from around the world have awakened to a group practice called Circlework that’s specifically designed to do just that. Circlework has enabled thousands of women to co-create an entirely new kind of spiritual community — one based not on beliefs or ideologies, but on a simple commitment to kindness, peace and global sisterhood.
Today, Circlework is practiced in Australia, Afghanistan, India, Kenya, Israel, Palestine, Norway, Germany and many other countries, as well as throughout the United States. Highly adaptable, it’s made its way into hospitals and Yoga centers, activists’ gatherings and colleges, boardrooms and community centers. And while I personally am passionate about healing and empowering women, Circlework is an equally effective tool for men.
Part of the appeal of this practice is that it involves more than just talking. When participants talk, they do so in a structured way that ensures deep listening and supports honest, authentic sharing. But Circlework also includes a wide range of nonverbal tools, such as music, movement, touch, meditation and immersion in nature. In conjunction, all these elements evoke states of deep centeredness and profound peace. As women come home to themselves, they also discover the power of sisterhood in a whole new way.
Another unique facet of Circlework is that it uses the circle, not only as a format for gatherings, but also as a potent spiritual medicine. Around the world, people have always held the circle sacred — just think of the great stone circle at Stonehenge or the elaborate mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism. Circlework is, you might say, a modern-day way of tapping the healing power of the circle. However, instead of painting or sculpting mandalas, we’re using our bodies and our intention to co-create the sacred circle.
Sure, a circle is a great place to experience the healing power of Circlework and learn about its principles of Circlework. But Circlework is not just a group process; it’s a path on which we seek to embody the qualities of the sacred circle — such as wholeness, unity, centeredness, balance and integrity — in all areas of our life. You may never attend a circle. Nonetheless, you too can use the principles and tools of Circlework to heal yourself and your relationships.
Here’s a simple four-step process:
- Confront thought addiction. Are you a “thought addict?” Do you think incessantly all day long?
Perhaps you’ve been told that the only way to overcome thought addiction is to meditate for hours on end. In fact, this isn’t the case. Instead, try giving yourself frequent opportunities throughout each day to let go of thought, even if it’s just for a very brief moment. A few seconds of inner stillness can shift your entire energy field and change the course of your day.
One easy tool is to shift your attention from thinking to listening. Breathing in, listen. Breathing out, listen — not just with your ears, but with your whole body. Listening will take you out of your thoughts and into the mystery of the present moment.
- Step out. When women come to a Circlework retreat, they step out of their ordinary routines into a sanctuary where both their bodies and their minds can rest.
Maybe you can’t go on retreat, but no matter how busy you are, internally, you can grant yourself moments of retreat. Here’s a simple Circlework visualization to use:
Imagine that you’re sitting in a circle of light beings. Maybe they are loved ones that you know. Maybe they are angels, or simply figures of light. Either way, feel that they are holding you in a circle of complete acceptance and unconditional love. Give yourself permission to do nothing at all, to simply rest your body and mind. And feel the sweet relief of being held in a circle of safety and sacredness.
- Find ways to touch and be touched. In our culture, many people aren’t touched anywhere near as much as nature designed them to be. Touch is a powerful healing tool, and in Circlework, it’s structured into the process in ways that create a strong sense of safety and comfort. Here’s a simple practice that you can try:
Raise your hands and touch your face. As you do this, imagine how a loving mother would stroke her baby’s face, and offer yourself the same tender touch.
- Reconnect with love. We live in a highly judgmental world where we’re routinely judged by our looks, status and a million other things that have nothing to do with who we really are. In addition, we’re often our own worst critics. To counteract all that judgment, try taking a moment to turn to yourself and say:
Dear one, I love you. It’s fine if you’re not perfect. You’re beautiful nonetheless. You’re a child of God, and your life is sacred and valuable.
If your mind starts to argue, don’t pay it too much heed. As they say, “Don’t believe everything you think.”
Instead, place your hands on your chest and try to feel your heart. Breathe into it. Invite it to relax, to soften and to open. Remind yourself that you are safe. Affirm that you’re in the presence of love. Though your mind may argue, the truth is that love is here, will always be here, and has been knocking on your door since the beginning of time.
About the author:
JALAJA BONHEIM, Ph.D., is an internationally acclaimed speaker, an award winning author, and one of the world’s foremost experts in the use of circle gatherings as a tool for healing and empowering women. She is founder of the Institute for Circlework and has trained hundreds of Circlework leaders from around the world, including the Middle East, where her circles unite Jewish and Palestinian women.
Her new book, The Magic of Circlework: The Practice Women Around the World Are Using to Heal and Empower Themselves, reveals the concepts and tools that make Circlework such a magical experience.