Fiona Fraser, known for her non-woo-woo-ness, attends a women’s circle and is, quite frankly, shocked by the results. Is it something you need in your life?
In hindsight, the invitation to attend my first ever women’s circle couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Eight exhausting weeks, followed by the always-demanding countdown to Christmas had left me eggshell frail.
I’d always been curious about what went on at a women’s circle – specifically Alma Studio’s monthly women’s circle in my neighbourhood in Hawke’s Bay. But I thought it was all potentially a bit witchy poo for a pragmatist like me. What I didn’t realise was how light and free it would leave me feeling.
Lisa Ennor is one of Alma’s highly-qualified yoga teachers and passionate about the connection and healing that can occur during a women’s circle. As we enter the studio and choose a spot on one of the floor cushions positioned around a gently burning candle, she shares with us the purpose of the circle. How once upon a time, women gathered at the well, or in the village square, divesting their concerns and worries to other women – celebrating their successes and offering practical and spiritual support to their sisterhood.
“How might your life have been different if there was a place for you?” reads Lisa from the writings of Judith Duerk. “A place for you to go… a place of women. A place where you were nurtured from an ancient flow sustaining and steadying you as you sought to become yourself. A place of women to help you find and trust the ancient flow already within yourself… waiting to be released. A place of women. How might your life have been different?”
The six of us attending each nod in recognition of the message and then, the rules of the circle are discussed – anything heard within the women’s circle remains confidential, and we’re not to offer advice or commentary on others’ experiences without their permission.
We begin with a short guided meditation, which calls into the room our tipuna wahine, our female ancestors, and then we’re each asked to speak what our heart is telling us.
How often, I wonder, are we allowed an opportunity to simply share what’s on our mind without judgment, without input, and without – critically – interruption? How often do professional women like myself have a chance to speak without it being performative? Not a presentation, or a pitch, or a speech, or an argument – just a simple release of thought.
The stories we hear tonight are common to many women – concerns about our children and family expectations, fatigue, lack of time to oneself, perfectionism, parenting, self-esteem, isolation, fear of the future. A box of tissues is wordlessly passed around the circle as tears are unburdened.
When I sense it’s my time to share (during the women’s circle, we’re invited to speak only if and when we feel it is our moment to do so), what comes up is the death of a colleague a few weeks ago, and the terminal illness of a very close friend – a current challenge for me as I navigate what this means. I’m in my death era, clearly – the second time in my life. I talk about losing my dad and grandad in quick succession as a child, and how openly I grieved then. Why, then, can I not cry for my friends? Why can I not feel anything other than numbness?
It’s almost a surprise to hear the words leave my mouth. These aren’t thoughts I share easily (the irony is not lost on me that I’m writing them now… I mean, what is actually going on?)
No tears come, not that I expected them to because a cold heart and waterworks usually don’t mix (!!), and we close the circle by holding the hands of our fellow women, looking deep into each other’s eyes, and blowing out the candle. I thought this part would be uncomfortable, because I don’t usually hold hands with women I’ve only known 45 minutes. But it’s effortless, and afterwards, as we rinse out the mugs we’ve been drinking spiced tea from, we chat easily and continue to share our experiences before saying goodbye and disappearing into the night.
You know what else has disappeared? A sense of shame that I’m so shut down about death right now. My soul is lighter. I don’t feel guilty. As Lisa tells me “numbness IS an emotion” – so perhaps I’m not as incurably detached as I’d thought.
But what strikes me most is how utterly simple the concept of a women’s circle is – nothing more complex than a place to sit, and talk, and connect with strangers in complete confidence. As politics divide, the cost of living climbs and the climate crisis deepens, it’s the healing practice we all need in 2024.
Alma Studio is Hawke’s Bay’s premier yoga and Pilates studio, located in the centre of Havelock North. All are welcome at the Women’s Circle, where attendance is via koha.