Creating safety and sacred space in our Groves
Inbreath Series ~ Blog 1
Why we need safety and containment in TreeSisters Women's Circles and how do we create it?
Creating safety in a woman's circle is paramount. Unless women feel safe and able to trust that they are welcome to be as they are, express themselves fully and say things that not everyone in a circle agrees with, the depth of and trust in the circle will be limited. If depth and trust are limited, the sensing abilities of our nervous systems will be compromised which will limit our knowing of ourselves as the incredible feeling and intuiting bodies of nature that we are.... If we don't recognise our true nature then we live as though we are separate from each other and the rest of life.
The individual and collective history and current day experience of being oppressed
All of us have had the experience of being told that certain parts of us are not acceptable, and for different women the messages will vary. Some women will have learned that their anger is unwelcome, others will have been told they are too needy and others will have been told to calm down when excited. Being conditioned like this can create beliefs that it is not ok to express X,Y or Z which inevitably leads to a feeling of it not being safe to relax into who we are.
If we also consider that many women have:
- been taught to be in in competition and comparison with other women.
- Have experienced institutionalised oppression through work / education / family.
- Come from lineages of women who have been burnt or drowned simply for being women.
- Have been objectified and overly sexualised to the point of feeling unsafe to be embodied.
It becomes easier to understand that creating a sisterhood where women feel safe enough to open, trust, love and shine takes deep care and commitment.
As a Grove Tender it is important to know that you are not 'responsible' for another woman's safety as we cannot control how any one woman is going to respond in any given situation. However what you are responsible for is to help create the kinds of conditions in a circle that will optimise women feeling relaxed and open and also having something in place to turn towards when a woman does experience a reaction of unsafety.
Agreeing circle guidelines
Circle Guidelines help a Grove to have a feeling of safety, consistency and groundedness. We often refer to this process as 'building the container' so that the women in the circle can feel safe enough to relax and let their natural energies flow.
There are no definitive circle ground rules but you might want to include some or all of the following and spend some time thinking through how you can apply these in your circles to support cohesion and togetherness:
- Our TreeSisters Grove is an experiment which means we can't fail, we can only learn.
- The foundation of our circle is kindness.
- Everything is confidential within our circle.
- We commit to honouring the fullness of each sister rather than seeing her as a problem to be fixed.
- Our Grove may be therapeutic but is not a replacement for therapy
- How a woman expresses herself in any one moment is simply how she is now - we do not fix anyone in stone based on previous behaviour / expression.
- Recognising ourselves as indivisible from nature we open to support and guidance from the wisdom of the natural world.
Creating safety during sharing
Many women have rarely if ever had the experience of being deeply listened to. This experience can feel radical and intimidating and again benefits from being set up with care. Simple tools and invitations can create a feeling of containment that will support each woman to relax into taking her space more fully.
- Introduce a talking stick (sacred object passed around the circle such as a piece of wood, a stone, a shell) and agree that whoever has the stick speaks without being interrupted.
- Encourage all women to speak from their hearts with as much gentle awareness to their whole body as possible.
- Agree that feedback to the woman speaking is only offered if she requests it and invite her to say what kind of feedback she needs - appreciation, reflection, suggestions - remember the golden rule that we are not here to fix each other.
- Suggest spontaneity and brevity in sharing - what is alive right now?
- Invite women to own their experience and to speak from personal perspective when sharing - such as 'I feel / I notice/I experience', or 'what is true for me is....', as ways of deepening intimacy.
- Agree to split the time between the numbers of women in each Grove and appoint someone to ring a bell as the time comes to finish the sentence that they are saying.
Utilising different styles of sharing circles - each offering different gifts
- Round: the talking stick gets passed around in circle and each woman in turn is invited to share. If a woman is strongly not feeling ready she can pass and the stick can return to her once it has done the round. This form enables women to know when to expect their go which can create safety for some, and is a very efficient use of time as no time is spent waiting to be called to share.
- Web: The talking stick is placed at the centre and the first woman who feels moved to speak picks it up, shares and then returns it to the middle where it waits until another woman feels moved to speak her share. Although this way takes longer, it offers a rich experience of tuning into when we feel called to speak rather than taking our turn and can create a strong energetic connection between women feeling inspired to follow each other.
- Spiral: This is an extension of the round where the talking stick continues to be passed round and round to encourage deeper sharing.
Holding your Grove and the women as sacred
The sacred element of our gathering is absolutely key. Whilst TreeSister Groves are open to all, they are also non-partisan, non-political and not aligned to any belief system. Instead TreeSisters holds a strong invitation for our circles, ourselves and each other to be held in reverence for our one shared and precious life.
In cultivating a strong connection to our feminine nature-based wisdom, Groves allow a moving away from the old trappings of jealousy and insecurity; and a movement towards an exploration of the vast, unfathomable mystery that we each are.
Practices that can support circles to drop more deeply into a field of awe include:
- Being together in silence.
- Receptive eye gazing - making eye contact with each woman in turn and receiving her as fully as possible.
- Sharing rituals that honour each woman.
- Finding ways to explore yourselves as nature - moving as the elements, time in different landscapes; creating a nature mandala together in silence.
- Giving thanks for each other by acknowledging each other's gifts and qualities.
- Introducing the TreeSisters core circle practice of Sistering. Covered in detail in our third blog in this series.
Facilitating your Grove in moments of conflict or reaction
All of the above will help reduce the chances of your circle being taken over by conflict but it is still possible that you could find yourself needing to support sisters who are experiencing strong reactive feelings. Our next blog in this series explores the area of Triggering and ways to respond and return to safety and containment.
The ultimate safety for all of us is of course internal, but for the reasons mentioned above many women have lost touch with their own ground of being and inner security. Being supported by a rooted and strong circle can offer an experience that once internalised has the capacity to reconnect a woman with her own inherent rooted and expansive nature.
In a circle such as this, it can become possible for each of us to turn more strongly towards our inner sensitivity, allowing connection to our core expression, whether you call it life force, beingness or simply energy to strengthen and expand, transforming old places of contraction, limited perception and stuck emotion. Overtime this core expression of us becomes more and more established in an experiential knowing as what we really are and we once again find the internal safety that our true nature offers us.
By Jenny Smith
Most images by various photographers on UnSplash
Exception the Talking Stick photo by Terra Canova