I was talking with my partner last night about a practice that we've woven into our life that has proven quite profound and that is the sharing circle.  It's a practice I learned during my years studying the ways of the indigenous of Turtle Island (or North America) up at Six Nations.  My teacher taught us that the sharing circle is one of the essential ways the indigenous maintain community by offering a way to resolve issues amongst members that can be rapt with intensely heated emotions and facilitate healing of its members by encouraging the opening of the heart to pour forth the deepest parts of the self that often lay hidden behind emotional armouring and other acts of repression.  As we participated in this sacred act, we were encouraged to share whatever pain was ailing us, to unburden ourselves completely and fully.  We were also told that everyone was allowed to speak for however long they wished and that we were willing to stay till sunrise if it took that long for one to pour out the deepest wounds buried within them.  Finally, there was no interrupting the speaker and no one had to necessarily respond to what was spoken.  Merely a space was opened for our soul to be expressed, in all its rampaged glory.  

These sharing circles became one of my favourite activities up at the land.  I always admired the stoic attentiveness of the elders who held the space with a fierce love shining in their fire-flickering eyes, looking on as men and women alike opened shattered places that some had no idea were even there inside of them.  Indeed, some nights the circle began at 8pm and we did not retire until 2am, and yet our attention never wavered. It created a profound communal pact as we all wished to be there for each other, silently holding the space, getting up from time to time to offer prayers of tobacco for someone who had just spoken, praying for their sufferings to relent and for them to be transformed by the pain, not simply comforted.  

I had never witnessed the beauty of the human soul in such a way, bedazzled with all its tumult of tragedy, all its festival of idiotic obsessions, its stubborn self-destructive leanings and, most especially, its immense yearning to be free of pain; to unburden; to dig into the most howling of aches and bear it to Creator to do away with it.  I saw grown men collapse into tears and anguish, others share things they had never-ever thought they'd share, and even a young man share his suicidal tendencies in their most existential and nauseous-nightmarish capacity.  And I watched that young man grow stronger by each circle, as he relentlessly dug in and shared with more courage than anyone the dark wounding of life's inevitable passage of struggle.  It was a revelation like no other.  

    "Wouldn't it just turn into people complaining about all the crap in their lives?" my partner wisely asserted.
But it didn't.  The circle was not a sharing space charged with merely complaining petulantly and repeatedly about the unresolved issues pinning us down.  The intention of the circle was to release our destructive tendencies to direct us to the cultivation of virtuous lives.  I was struck most deeply by the realization that speaking from the heart was a wholly different affair than normal speaking, one of a palpably different energetic than the normal 'sharing' conversations we have with friends where we often interrupt each other at such frequency that we perpetually stop each other from digging deep enough to reach the central temple.  I became convinced that the sharing circle was essential to proper human relations.  I became convinced that everyone needed to experience it and even make it a discipline in their lives if we ever hoped to heal the fractious wounds of contemporary society, drowning in alienation, fear and narcissistic individuality.

My partner and I use it when we find ourselves in a crisis-kind of situation in our relationship.  You know the yucky-mucky spots when you're so angry at the other that you can't bear looking in their soul-shining eyes, and you turn away, ashamed at the revilement bubbling within you toward this beautiful other, spiralling into more anger at your own shame, and the inevitable frustration that comes with not giving voice to our concerns when they arise spontaneously, caging them deep down where, like any caged thing of animal or energetic nature, it just gets wilder and more ferocious.  Yep we all know them well, I'm sure.  So I presented the sharing circle to her one day because I knew it was good medicine and that it would clear our situation up and push us along.  She was open to it and so we dove in.  Not much of a circle, mind you, with just two, but a circle nonetheless and a powerful one at that.  

The results were brilliant and quite simply relationship changing.  It was hard, especially for her from the outset as she didn’t have the experience with this kind of thing as I had.  Hard for her, that is, to not respond with facial expressions of pain and even disgust as sometimes hard truths leapt from my heart.  But she, strong soul she is, endured beautifully, and managed to get hooked on the serenity of silence.  We would use a meaningful object we had around for a talisman, usually some kind of gleaming looking crystal.  We'd say our peace, taking all the time we needed to get it just right, knowing that even if we didn't we had the space to stumble and fumble around, knowing we wouldn't be cut off in huff.  It was remarkable how effective it was, how crucial it was, in fact, for us to manoeuvre the inevitable pitfalls of relationship.  Heck, without it we may not have survived, at least not at the high level of development that our relationship is now pushing into.  That’s just how vital this sharing circle is, folks.

These circles always end up in a lovely place. Their primed for loveliness.  It’s just what happens when you give the beauty of the bashful soul time to unfurl its sacred scripture.  You’ll be wonderstruck at how exquisite your partner is.  And you’ll be blown away at what clarity and wisdom comes out of your own heart.  Life will taste a little sweeter, transmuted magically from a bitter.

So let me break it down for you, about how we go about it anyhow.  Bear in mind this is not some set-in-stone kind of thing, but something I encourage people to play with:

1. We sit face to face in a space where we know we won’t be interrupted (that means phones off).  Cushions and the like are helpful as our sore bums are no excuse for leaving one hanging with their spirit gates flapping open.
2. We start with a 5-10mins meditation, usually accompanied by some sweet relaxing music. During the meditation, I often either just focus on having no relationship to any thoughts popping up so as to burrow a highway right to the heart that thinks before the mind OR for those more into an imaginative affair I use visualizations called ‘light-work’ which involve imagining strands of light blazing from my heart to my partner’s.  This generally flows into both of our hearts turning into shining suns, or green vortices of energy a la the heart chakra.  Either way, the focus is on the connection.  Try not to get washed away into the mystical too much.  There’s serious work involved here.
3. We open our eyes and the talisman we’ve chosen that we’ve placed between us is picked up by one of us (if the emotions are so heated still at this point paper-rock-scissors can suffice to solve the stalemate, though the meditation should generate enough peace to facilitate smooth sailing).
4. Share away. Remember no interrupting the other while they’re expressing, which means holding back facial expressions, sighs etc. Simply hold the space for them. You will be amazed at what a precious gift that is and you’ll be so grateful when you experience it in return. Finally, the talisman can be passed back and forth for as long as it takes.  This isn’t just a one-shot deal.

    I hope some of you try this out in your partnerships.  And it needn’t be only used at crisis points.  We’ve recently begun doing them just to share how much and what we love about each other and also just to share what’s going on with our own personal journey through life.  It doesn’t have to be relationship centred.  It’s an essential need of the soul to express what’s going on at the deeper levels.  Repression can lead to lots of dilemmas.  The key is expressing with the intention of moving forward, not backward to stew even further into the sewer.  Release and move past your issues.  The sharing circle is a great opener and encourager of this kind of evolution.  May you enjoy the spirit of the circle.