The Circle Way has powerful potential for helping us navigate life’s changes, challenges and celebrations. Below is the deeply personal story of how circle helped Marjeta Novak mark and process her divorce with her husband and their community of friends.
Divorce Circle Ceremony
Community has always been called in to support people in life transitions - such as marriage, death, childbirth. When divorce happens, we lack communal ways to mark the ending of a couple; even though the breakup affects a much larger ecosystem than the two persons separating - family, friends, colleagues etc. As my own story shows, circle can be a powerful ally in the individual and communal grieving process that accompanies divorce.
My divorce was initialised by my husband of 16 years, and came as a total surprise to me. Knowing it was also a shock to the many communities and circles we had been part of, I suggested we hold a closing ceremony, and invite our friends to grieve and celebrate together. Stories as to why did this breakup happen would be circulating around anyway; wouldn’t it be better if our friends and family heard directly from us what happened, and how we would navigate the separation? My husband said yes, which I really appreciated.
As he was with one leg already in a new relationship, there was little ‘togetherness-time’ left.
Therefore I proposed to host the circle within a few weeks; before he would fly off to his new life. Given that there was little time, I offered to host the circle. Circle has been my long-time personal and professional practice; in it, I always felt ‘at home’. I trusted I could host it also in that very difficult period of my life.
We picked the date, sent off the invitations, and started designing the ceremony. Most of the process design was done by me; yet I checked everything with my ex partner, who fully cooperated. We asked our friends to come with trust and goodwill - and with some food to share after the ceremony. The setting was the stone house near the Mediterranean Sea that we had just renovated. This was also the last time that beautiful house would host us and our friends.
Before anyone arrived, I prepared the circle space: the center; the cushions; the objects to be used in ceremony. I circled around the rim praying, drumming, singing, asking for help; knowing this was going to be the most challenging circle I had ever hosted.
When everybody gathered, we sat in circle. For the opening, my husband sang Sting’s Fragile, one of my favourite songs. In the check-in round, several participants expressed nervousness as they had never before been part of anything remotely similar. These were brave souls as many of our friends did not come, saying the news of our separation had been too shocking, too abrupt, and too painful. They were unable to ‘support’ this change.
After the check-in, my husband and I sat in the center of the circle, to express gratitude and appreciation to each other for the years spent together. In another round, we shared our regrets: what we wished we had done differently. Next to the two of us there was an empty cushion in the center. We then invited friends to come and join us by sitting on the empty cushion; one person at the time (if they wanted to). We made space for them to share anything they were moved to share, now that they probably see us for the last time together.
One by one, all of them joined us in the center; vulnerably expressing gratitude - and sadness - for how we touched their lives. ‘To me, you have not been two people - you have been one being until now. This circle helps me better grasp the new reality which all of us are confronting now,’ one of them said.
After that, the two of us made a symbolic gesture: we disentangled the hiking shoes of the same brand and model that we had been wearing for over ten years; and which started falling apart shortly before our breakup. Then we stood up, and expressed blessings for our future separate lives; ending with a hug.
We then all moved to another space - to a fire pit nearby. Everyone got small sheets of paper onto which they were invited to write either (1) whatever pains, fears, regrets, resentments, anger etc they were harbouring regarding our separation, or (2) whatever blessings they had for our individual futures. The pains were offered to the fire; and the gifts to us - together with many nourishing hugs.
Around the potluck dinner that followed, tears and laughter flowed in Life’s inexplicable dance of joy and pain.
Looking back, this circle ceremony did not end all the shock and pain in the abrupt change of my life, nor in the communities we were part of. However, it was an important communal truth-facing for all present.
With getting older, and with the challenging times we appear to be entering globally on this planet, finding ways to grieve major losses together is going to be an important skill and capacity that can help us stay sane and centered when everything falls apart. The Circle Way’s simple yet powerful form is an ally in marking such beautiful and painful transitions.
Marjeta Novak designs and hosts processes in which people dialogue with and from what truly matters to them, to create bolder and more life-affirming futures for organisations, communities and themselves. For the past 15 years, she has worked as a dialogue host, consultant and trainer; in a range of settings – from complex multi-stakeholder strategic dialogues to participatory confererences to personal visioning retreats. She sees Circle as the blueprint of everything she does – inviting people to connect as humans who care; beyond the roles, positions, interests and divides that mark the usual social space.