Hosting three sisters in circle

From the UK, Linda Joy Mitchell shares what it means to trust the process and herself as she accepts an “atypical” invitation to circle up in support of family healing and end of life planning.

Hosting Three Sisters in Circle

The following is a story about hosting a conversation among three sisters, intent to talk about their relationship with their mother, explore how to care for her as she was dying, and address the many things that had gone on in their family over the years. 

I was surprised to receive such an invitation and admit that initially I wasn't sure how to “hold it,” but knew it was something I wanted to offer.  So, I concentrated on two things: how to prepare the physical and energetic space for the conversation, and how to prepare myself to simply hold it.

With this focus uppermost in my mind, I trusted that circle practice and the sisters themselves would take care of anything else that was needed.  I reminded myself that their conversation would take its own course, and that whatever needed to emerge would do so just at the time it was most needed.  This took enormous trust, and holding that all was well within myself, despite the inner voices and fears telling me otherwise!  I found that more quiet I could become, the less attached to getting it right or doing the right “process”, the more space I could hold for whatever was needed. 

We met in my home.  I spent considerable time thinking about how to make the space intimate and welcoming.  A fire was set, a candle was lit, a talking piece chosen to be significant, tea on arrival, and time to settle with each other and the space, and to sink in, if that was where we needed to go.

I opened the conversation by simply speaking about their request, and offering to them my home and my holding.  I spoke the principles of circle and invited a first round of check in.  I can’t remember the specific question – perhaps something for which each was grateful in their family -  but I do remember thinking we needed to start somewhere simple and light.  We passed the piece round, giving permission to pass if it didn’t feel right or time yet to share.  

The invitation to simply listen, to be present was especially important.  One sister initially didn’t want to talk.  As the piece passed round and she understood it was perfectly OK not to speak, this built trust.  Eventually, when she did speak, is was so powerful the whole energy field shifted.

When I took the piece, I remained silent to give space and time to let their words and feelings sink in.  I didn’t try to comment or analyse or summarise.  Instead I was trying to be a powerful yet invisible holder.  I trusted the centre of the circle to hold the tension and the pain.  I kept my attention there, and called everyone to hold their attention to it the center, especially when difficult things were being spoken.

The sensation I had was of a spiral going down and deeper.  Each time the piece passed round, people were more able to speak from their hearts, from what really mattered to them.  They felt heard.  Trust grew and deepened. There were tears and laughter.  Truths were spoken. Things were said that had not been spoken nor heard before.  

We continued until it was over, until you could feel that enough had been said.  Then, the quality in the room was different and it was time to gently wind up the spiral, to say thank you, to leave the space, to say good-bye. 

I was exhausted at the end. I had done everything and nothing at the same time.  I took time to recover and nourish myself.

Deep gratitude to circle practice and to what is both within and beyond.  To what, I think, is simply you and how you prepare yourself. 

I remember somewhere a saying that we can only open and hold a space as big as the space we can open and hold in ourselves.  This was true for me in hosting this circle with the sisters.


Linda Joy Mitchell: I am a group process designer, a facilitator, an artist and host of spaces, meetings and gatherings where people come together.  A collaborator at heart, a connector of people and ideas, I am a teacher of living systems, participatory leadership and citizen engagement. I co-steward the Art of Hosting and am a circle practitioner in the UK. With a background in law, facilitation, psychotherapy, group work and systemic constellations, and over 30 years’ experience of working with people, teams, communities and organizations, my work is to take care of and hold the purpose and the process, the ways in which people come together in cooperative exploratory dialogue.