Archive: All things center – reflections on a circle gathering

By Maureen Dobson
July 2013

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Our Circle Tale this month comes from Maureen Dobson, MSW, CSL. Maureen is a professional social worker, certified Sage-ing® Leader and education committee co-chair of Sage-ing International (, a private, non-profit organization that provides learning, service, and community-building opportunities for older adults interested in exploring the psycho-spiritual components of healthy aging. She has worked in Colorado with elders and their caregivers for 27 years and currently works for City of Boulder Senior Services as a wellness program coordinator.

Maureen and her WisdomWork business partner, Rosemary Williams, are graduates of The Circle Way Practicum, and incorporate The Circle Way into all Sage-ing Intensives and wisdom circles they facilitate. You can reach Maureen at

As the talking stick made its way around the circle of 35 colleagues, the closer it got to me, the faster and louder my heart pounded. I knew it was fear, but fear of what? Not saying the "right" thing?  Not sounding smart enough, or wise enough? Not knowing my truth in this moment? Not knowing how in the heck I could articulate this intense body reaction, especially when I didn't have a clue why I was so fearful? 

After this quick minute of thoughts, I gently refocused my attention back to where the talking piece lay, in the hands of someone else. I tuned in to their thoughts and listened deeply, knowing it was their time to share and that my time would come. My attention continued wavering back and forth like this for the next 25 minutes--feeling my fear and the rapid beat of my heart, while resisting the crazy rehearsing of what the hell I was going to say, then simultaneously refocusing my attention on what colleagues were sharing as they held the talking piece.

By nature, I am a reserved, quiet, reflective person who is very shy in group settings. So it is an interesting experience to have chosen to facilitate circle practice while remaining true to my introverted nature. There are ways that circle is supportive of introverts, especially when using a talking piece. I enjoy the equal and balanced opportunity to speak, the chance to hold onto the piece and gather my thoughts without interruption, and knowing when it's my turn to speak helps me keep my nervousness out of the way and listen to what's being said. Even though I was struggling with my fear on this particular day, I appreciated the circle. 

In The Circle Way, it is a common practice to offer a "check-out" ritual as part of a closing council. Check-out provides a time for participants to share thoughts, feelings, or reactions about their overall circle experience with the attention of their peers in a talking-piece council. One person shared how circle helped her to find her voice.  Another person shared a sense of awe and wonder from participating in more amazing conversations in one week than in the past year.

When the talking piece reached me, I took it into my hand, paused a moment, let out a big, deep breath and said: "Being in circle scares the holy hell out of me. But it also gives me hope. So I place my fears AND my hopes into this center. And I ask this center to please bless the many fears and hopes of anyone and everyone who continues to join us in circle." I proceeded to thank everyone for the unique ways they had all blessed me, both individually and collectively, just by being who they are and for sharing themselves with me. I thought I'd have a lot more to say, but in that moment I felt done, so I passed the talking piece to my neighbor.

What I learn from being in circle is that I can safely express my real feelings without needing to have some clever wrap-up answers for others. Speaking my truth is freeing and empowering. I speak to the center and the center receives my statement. And my emotions are managed by my desire and commitment to be present and listen deeply to what is being said. I have a chance to be myself and it is enough.