The Alchemy of Groups
By : Victoria Fann
"Circle is not anything new. Circle is an ancient process of consultation and communion, a place for slowing down, respectfully listening and being heard, a place to change the conversation and a way of being together that taps into the deep well of wisdom and creative thinking that is so needed in this time and place in history. Being in Circle is a matter of remembering our original way of being in community." ~ Birute Regine, author of Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World.

Recent studies show that isolation not only shortens your life, but it can also lead to health problems including dementia. And yet, many of us have fewer friends than we did twenty years ago. Instead, we're spending more time texting and visiting each other on Facebook than we are cultivating face-to-face relationships or being part of communities.

The more we become technologically dependent, the less human contact there is. We can check ourselves out at the store, drive through a machine operated toll booth, check into the airport via machine, get our movies tickets via machine, pump our own gas, get directions from a GPS, communicate with friends, family and co-workers via social media, texting or chatting. None of this involves face-to-face in person contact. None of this includes a hug, a touch on the shoulder or a reassuring gaze. None of this allows us the benefits of relating and connecting with others using all of our senses and non-verbal language.

We can now literally go through large portions of our days without contact with another human being. Family and friends are often scattered and far away. Most of us don't really know our neighbors. Few of us are involved in clubs or community organizations.

What to do? A simple return to the traditions of ancient as well as indigenous cultures may provide us with a simple solution.

For thousands of years humans have survived by being part of a tribe or community of people. Individual members of the group depended on each other for sharing resources, labor, skills, emotional and spiritual support, protection from the elements and other humans, among other things. Circle gathering was used for sacred rituals, decision-making, rites of passage, celebrations and healing.

In the western world - as evidenced by the success of 12-Step groups and the recent popularity of Meetup - we know that groups of people with common interests can create alchemy for its individual members. In fact, the human in the context of a group - a community of people invested in a common values, purpose and each other's well being - is one of the most powerful mediums for transformation that exists. Particularly in an ongoing circle or group, self-awareness can be cultivated and expressed over time in a sacred, safe space. This cultivation allows room for the healing of wounds and building of character as the personal dynamics in a group setting tends to push people's buttons and evoke old, often painful issues connected with their existence.

I discovered the power of groups over two and a half decades ago in 1989 when I started my first writing group, Mothers Who Write, with around eight women. This was before the internet and social media. I placed a small one-paragraph ad in the monthly newsletter, of the popular Minneapolis writing center, The Loft. It struck a nerve. I received over forty phone calls within the first week. Three weeks later, we had our first meeting.

Meeting twice a month for two hours on Saturday mornings for a year, I learned so much: I wrote more, got a few things published and felt much more confident as a writer. But more than that, I learned what the power of a group could do for the individual members within it - the encircling energy and the way it contained the members sparked a kind of synchronistic flow that opened them up and made them braver and more willing to jump into places they wouldn't touch on their own.

My interest in the power of groups has not waned. It's grown stronger. My work with groups has evolved into a deep passion and commitment to gather kindred spirits together for connection, inspiration and wisdom. Over time, I've learned the importance of filtering members to get the right mix of people, clearing energy before and after a group, using sacred ritual to open and close a group meeting and breaking bread as a way to help group members bond. I've also been blessed with lots of wisdom. One of the most valuable insights I gained is this:

When people are aligned in a group context, giving and receiving become one!
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