Before lockdown I went to a few Sister Stories women’s circles. Towards the end of my last relationship I was seeking a space to connect with women, to talk through some of my plans, my thoughts and my decisions. I found Sister Stories by chance through Instagram, and made my way to this beautiful space where women would gather to tell their stories.
Both of the ‘in person’ circles I went to soothed me in a way I hadn’t anticipated. There was something so gently empowering about being with a small group of women and telling them some of my stories, letting go of words that I have been holding on to for too long.
Sometimes it was about the big stuff like the decision I had made to stop IVF, and at other times I would just think out loud as I pondered over my day or an interaction I may have had.
During these circles you don’t listen with the intent to reply, you listen attentively to the stories being told and withhold from offering advice or guidance. Being on the receiving end of that deep listening made me feel like I was being truly heard; something we often don’t get to experience in day to day life, and it felt magical.
After those two circles I signed up to an intensive Sister Stories series over Spring. This format would be the same as the other circles I had attended but would be with the same group of women each time. Under normal circumstances you would turn up to a circle and it could be a different sea of faces each time, so the idea of some consistency really appealed to me and I felt it could offer a deeper sense of connection and intensity in the stories we may share.
After the second meeting the country went into lockdown and the sessions were moved on line. In those early days of lockdown my need for connection was strong, having recently moved in to a new area. The women in this group went into lockdown all over the country, but getting together through the first few months of lockdown, sharing with one another about our lives and making sense of the changes that were happening in the world was an amazing help to me.
Although I go to therapy every week this space is very different. Although I felt a therapeutic benefit by attending Sister Stories the set-up is less clinical, and the idea that no one is going to make a suggestion as to how to think next, or how you should move forwards with a situation feels very different to therapy. There is a space to explore your words, slowly looking at each one as you connect them together like a jigsaw puzzle. Telling a story that you may never have anticipated sharing but in the peaceful guided meditation at the start of the gathering you felt called on to put into words. I realised I was sharing things that I hadn’t before, perhaps out of shame or fear. In a way circle work reminds me a lot of something Brené Brown says about shame…
By telling our stories we are wrapping words around our shame, and it can not thrive in that environment. Shame need silence to survive. In circle there is no judgement, and while you don’t need to be sharing big shame stories, (we also shared stories of our ancestors, our jobs, our relationships and our aspirations) the connection and intimacy of that space really helps you open up about what is in your heart.
What I learned the most from these circles is how connected we all really are. When listening to the stories other women would tell there was always something I could relate to and empathise with. Despite our differences we are all warriors making our way through life, doing the best we can. It was a great reminder that we are all from the same tribe.
The art of storytelling is as old as humankind, and is something that we have lost from our modern lifestyles, but it’s something I think so many women could benefit from. Yes men too no doubt, but so often women are made to feel that what we have to say is unimportant, we feel unheard and marginalised. Providing this space to women specifically was the aspiration of Gemma Brady – the founder of Sister Stories, because it was something she craved as a woman. A space to sit, be calm, and share stories with other women. And it is truly a wonderful thing.
I was so moved by my experience of attending these circles that I decided to train as a Sister Stories facilitator, so that I could hold my own circles. I completed the training over lockdown which took several weeks of deep introspection and exploration to uncover what I could bring to this work.
Through the training I met some incredible women, each with their own stories to tell. So many beautiful creatives who bring colour to this world through their art and writing, healing practices, teachers and business women, entrepreneurs and mothers. A small cross section of society all finding commonality through the stories we told and the aspiration of making room in the world for other women to be heard.
At my first circle I was so grateful that so many of the ladies from the Spring Sister Stories group were able to join, and the familiar faces took a lot of pressure off. I feel like the evening was intensely beautiful, with space for everyone to talk and be heard. I have fallen in love again with writing poetry, as I prepare for each circle by creating some prose that encapsulates the intention of these gatherings. I am tapping back into my creative side which feels delicious after being so science focussed for so long.
It’s made me feel like this new pathway is where my focus needs to be these days. I have been a facilitator for the last 7 years in my current job, so I have a lot of the skills needed to be able to hold space for people, but this work in particular feels like a bit of a homecoming, like I’m getting back to a more authentic version of me. Where my skills are being used for good rather than profit.
I’ve taken a break from holding circles over the Summer holidays and have just booked in my next one for 1st October under the first full moon of Autumn. I am a major fan of Autumn and the lessons we can learn from nature so it feels like the right time to start this work again.
As we enter into Autumn, the more yin months where the pace of life changes and we start looking inward more, I feel like the space for holding circle is even more nourishing. At the moment I will still be holding my circles online and maybe before too long can begin to hold them in person.
For now I am just feeling very contented that for some reason life has taken me on this new path. My life journey has taken me through a lot of trauma and the last 10 years I have been working hard on my healing journey. I have been finding my own voice and in doing so, through sharing my story, other women have begun to feel empowered to share theirs.
It’s the start of something truly beautiful.
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