Seeking Meaning In (R)Evolutionary Times
Welcome to my ongoing seasonal, circle infused musings. You may wish to sit down with a cuppa and your journal and play along with me, or you may prefer to have a quick scroll to see the headings and trust what draws your attention. xx
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Hello Dear Circlers
The Wheel of the Year has turned once again. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we have experienced the shortest day and longest night, and now the light begins its’ slow return.
The journey from Samhain to Winter Solstice is the time of sitting in the dark. It is a space with liminal qualities, through which I choose to tend to the unknowing. I endeavour to remain curious and see what flourishes without light.
Over in our Chat space, I share this question:
If the Winter Solstice was a question, it might ask: if darkness is the source of all creativity, imagination and potential - what is incubating in you right now?
Please do pop over and share your thoughts.
The days following the Solstice event are a time of reflection and remembering, so that I can start dreaming towards Imbolc and see what is waiting to sprout as the days lengthen again.
I have found myself reflecting back on the last 12-months in some detail. Reflection is always a tricky process; we are being our own witness to what has passed, filtered through the lens of where we are now! But perhaps that is what makes it a worthwhile endeavour!
So I’m going to share reflections and rememberings from the last 12 solar-months. There is a small (but loud) voice in my head that says this is very self-indulgent and not at all interesting); and yet my heart is nudging me to share. I sense that there is medicine in this for me, and perhaps something helpful for you.
Or perhaps not! And you may wish to scroll to the bottom for some listening and reading recommendations and Circle School update!
Reflections and Rememberings
I survived! I began the year being admitted to hospital with what turned out to be bacterial meningitis. It was scary and humbling and weird! I have been pondering on the experience all year in the hope that some dramatic insight would make itself known! Instead, I realise that the gift in the experience is that I now embody a deep appreciation for this “one wild and precious life” (from Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem, The Summer Day) and a sharp devotion to living wildly and tending to what is previous to me.
We re-started our home-educating journey. The gift has been witnessing River thrive with the freedom and flexibility to follow what fascinates him, whilst also enjoying days with other home educated kids in different environments. And through the process, I am learning so much about trust. I’ve been noticing all the ways in which the systems I engage with seem to be predicated on subtly undermining me, sowing seeds of doubt in my own decisions or choices and acting as a niggling irritation which questions my competence. I have also learnt (again) that other people will have opinions about you, but often those opinions are a projection of their own self-doubt, as they too seek to navigate these wild times.
We visited the Museum of the Moon in Exeter Cathedral. This is Luke Jerram’s touring artwork replica of the moon. It measures 7-metres in diameter, and is an internally lit spherical sculpture featuring high resolution NASA imagery of the lunar surface. It is at an approximate scale of 1:500,000, so each centimetre represents 5km of the moon’s surface. I am in awe of the Moon from a cyclical, energetic and mythological perspective, and River has been studying whether the moon landing actually happened (!) and we both loved it!
We visited the incredible exhibition: Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters' at The Box in Plymouth, which is touring from the National Museum of Australia. Since returning to the UK it has felt important to me that we continue to learn more about Indigenous Australian cultures. The exhibition is described as “..an Indigenous Australian narrative, and a global story, the equal of great oral storytelling traditions and epic poems throughout history. It showcases the unique cultural heritage assets of Australia.” It was absolutely brilliant.
River took part in a puppet making workshop with about 60 other children. Together they made a puppet show to express their feelings about climate change. It was a heartwarming example of collaboration and co-creation (favourite themes of mine). Guided by adult artists but given free creative rein, they wrote the script and made the puppets and then put on a huge puppet show! It was recorded for a short documentary that you can watch here if you’re looking for inspiration.
We moved house. After 20 months in what was meant to be a temporary flat where we had vicious neighbours upstairs (who seemed to despise us because we rented!) and a neighbour who had a severe mental health episode which took months to get her help, in April we moved! We now enjoy being part of a small terraced community within the wider town community. River adores being so close to his friends and the freedom that a small town gives him.
We celebrated Simon’s birthday with a long wished for camping trip in Cornwall. River and I share a fascination with the myths and stories of King Arthur and we revelled in visiting Tintagel (his supposed birth place). And I finally read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. And I did indeed love reading the familiar stories through the perspective of the women, whose voices we still so rarely hear!
My Dad survived! My brother and I found ourselves flying out to Sicily unexpectedly (and awkwardly as I had taken a pledge not to fly!) after my father had a very close encounter with the Otherworld. He miraculously lived to tell the tale and I was home just in time to celebrate River’s birthday!
And we celebrated River’s 9th birthday, with a fabulous gathering in the woods around a fire. The kids explored, played and made up their own games. It was a moment in time that showed me that after 4-years, we are (finally) finding our community and making friends. When we decided to move back to the UK (Simon had been in Australia for over 20 years and me for 12 years) we didn’t think through the strangeness of starting again in every aspect of our lives, and needing to make new friends in our late 40s! I am so grateful for my on-line besties and voxer sisters, but we need friends and community in the places we inhabit. I feel that I now have that, and these new friends and their sons are about to embark on a 12-month mother and son journey with me.
In Steiner / Waldorf circles, the time after the 9th birthday is referred to as “Crossing the Rubicon”. This is an important turning point in a child’s life when they leave early childhood and feel a sense of separateness from their family, may choose to privilege their friends opinions and views, and can be critical of their parents! We were prepared for this time, drawing on Bill Plotkin’s book, Nature and The Human Soul, and Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. I will probably never know the reason, but the time since River’s birthday has been deeply connected, loving and supportive. I do feel that incorporating aspects of Circles into our lives such as deep listening, holding space for one another, cultivating curiosity and asking for what we need from each other helps us to nourish and nurture us as a family.
I updated and recorded my beloved space holding course. I first ran this course as we relocated from Western Australia to the UK. I had intended to hold a final live round but I received so many messages from participants about the course saying things like “I don’t know how anyone holds circles without doing this course”, that I decided not to close it. It is the course that often has the slowest uptake and yet seems to have the widest ripples. And so, (after my Facebook account was randomly permanently disabled) I ran a live round in a completely new format. It is now available as a self-study course. PRESENCE is an immersion into how to hold space for ourselves so we can hold space for others in these wild times, and I am really proud of the content and resources and of overcoming my own tech fears to create it in this way!
We had the most exquisite extended-family holiday in Scotland with daily visits to Findhorn Bay and lots of swimming, crabbing, eating, walking and reading!
I also created a new circle holding course, Circle Skills. I have shared and taught my approach to holding unique and powerful circles in many formats from live multi-day retreat-style experiences to a 14-week online certification course. Circle Skills is a distillation of all my experience into a 10-part methodology designed for wellbeing practitioners, creatives and community organisers who are already deeply skilled in what they do, and desire to incorporate circles into their offerings. It is a self-study course with live rounds and monthly live calls between live rounds. For me, this course is a testament to taking your time, deepening into your craft and skills and continually experimenting and learning. I could not have created this course 6-years ago because I did not know what to leave out; in fact I kept adding more in. Now with the benefit of experience I can exercise my discernment and offer a meaningful methodology for those wishing to hold Circles.
We got a kitten! Our gorgeous new best friends is a ginger kitten called Mars. He has already brought us so much joy; we can’t imagine how we were doing life without him!
I enjoyed the most wonderful birthday weekend which included lunch at the fabulous Beach House.
We took on the winter stewardship of an allotment to practice our skills and have a nourishing space to visit. I love the idea of seeing ourselves as caretakers or stewards of land rather than “owners”, and wonder how we could collectively tend to our landscapes if we approached doing so from a view of holding them in trust for the next caretakers. I am grateful to be able to support organisations here such as Right to Roam and The Stars are Ours as we await the judgment in a recent case brought by a private landowner to stop wild camping on Dartmoor. Of course the private ownership of land and trespass laws in the UK are complex issues but it seems to me vital to be engaged with them. If these themes interest you too, get yourself a copy of The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes.
I read a lot of books! Perhaps I’ll share those in a separate post!
I recorded an episode of @knotworkpodcast with Marisa Goudy (you can find on Substack) I loved our conversation; perhaps the greatest gift was hearing Marisa reflect back that my work is about “relationship and invitation”. I’m holding those words close to my heart. My episode will be available next year.
I created The Circle School Grove and opened founding memberships yesterday as my own unusual way to celebrate the Solstice. This has been a long time in the dreaming and imagining and now in the making. As I write this, 10 brave women have crossed the threshold to join me and I am planning some celebratory surprises for all those who join before the end of the month (when the founding membership rates close).
I had a much needed period of therapy, finally made the necessary appointments and am now on the orthopedic pathway to treat my hip. Apparently some people with my level of degeneration can hardly move; I’m very grateful that I am continuing to swim and walk and stretch. One of the biggest learnings from my body has been to embrace all that I CAN do with deep gratitude and reverence because each year I am in more pain and can do less. So I may be slower and need my trusty stick but I am savouring my walks and unsteady dips in cold water, and when the time comes, will welcome a new hip as a potential life changing wonder!
Thank you so much from coming on this reflective journey through my year! It is an interesting process; I found I had to go through my photos to jog my memory! This year I have experienced and created so much more than I initially recalled. And what I have shared here are those things that feel like the “big stones”; there are of course hundreds or thousands of tiny pebbles that fitted in around those.
I have a list of questions that I previously shared in a Winter Solstice Circle, and so to complete my review process, I’d like to share my responses with you:
What has been stripped away from me this year? (Beliefs, illusions, myths)
One of my guiding questions this year was “how can my circles be a form of activism?”. And through seeking to answer that question I have dedicated time to contributing to causes and movements and finding what my form of activism looks like. Through that process, I realised that I still believed that something or someone would somehow save us; that everything would work out in the end! The illusion that despite it all, our systems will somehow right themselves and governments and corporations will ultimately do what was best for people and planet has been stripped away. Weirdly, this has actually sparked more hope in me as I’ve seen how much strength there is in collective action, thoughtful collaboration and willing co-creation when we release the expectation that the solution is someone else’s responsibility.
What am I still holding on to, that needs to be released (like the last leaves on the tree)
I am still holding on to the belief that our life in Australia was “better” and we should not have returned to the UK. This continues to be a swirling, anxious making, regretful thought pattern that continues to trip me up. All the reasons we returned are valid and true and yet, the last few years have felt very hard for many reasons (!) and so it is easier perhaps to romanticise what we left behind, rather than let our roots take hold here. I have undertaken many rituals and ceremonies of release and gratitude and it is loosening it’s grip. The landscape here is continuing to claim me and I am finding a path of belonging and meaning.
When I remove the layers of all my stories of who am I, what is left?
I sense that this is a truely unanswerable question! Sometimes in Circle, I do get a glimpse of who I am without all my stories but I’m yet to have clarity on that!
I feel the paradox of holding the truth that my life is the collection of my stories, and those stories influence who I have become and I have more stories to live which will no doubt continue to change how I see and know myself; and yet, I still exist without my stories!
Yesterday I was listening to a random podcast and the women speaking were explaining that all the successful 7-figure women in business they worked with had one thing in common: they knew themselves absolutely. And I had a visceral response that this is untrue; we can never really know ourselves because we are changing all the time, and often in ways we cannot perceive.
I was reminded of this quote from André Gide*:
A caterpillar who seeks to know himself would never become a butterfly.
So, for now, I choose to live with curiosity, to question my beliefs and what I think I know about myself, to notice the story patterns and archetypes alive in my current narrative, and to keep unravelling and becoming through the layers of my stories.
(* this quote is from Autumn Leaves published in 1950. I don’t usually share quotes where I haven’t read the source of the quote, but this one has been in my quote notebook for a while and it seems valid to include it here)
If there was a symbol or an image that represented this year, what would it be?
I love this question. If you are joining me for our Release and Renew Circle you will be asked to think about this question in relation to your circle work, before we gather.
The symbol that represented this year for me, is the Yew Tree. Yew is a living representation of the ongoing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. They have an incredible (and sadly often misunderstood) capacity for regeneration and adaptability; they reproduce themselves as ever widening circles and if left alone will grow together in ever-connected groups, communicating over large distances through their root systems and ancient mycorrhizal networks. These have been the themes of my year and I am grateful to Yew as a symbol, teacher and companion during these times.
Seeking Meaning in (R)evolutionary times
For as long as I can remember I have been seeking to make meaning of my life. From exploring what it means to live a meaningful life to what gives a life meaning, it has been an ongoing and convoluted exploration.
Although I don’t believe there is one answer to this, it seems to me from my own experience and many conversations with others that it helps if:
we feel we are necessary,
we believe that what we are engaged with, matters in some way, and
we are contributing to something that we feel has a higher purpose.
I feel that the last few years have shown us that seeking meaning in our lives is valid and urgent in these (r)evolutionary times.
This reminds me of the often shared words from Báyò Akómoláfé about urgent times and slowing down. I suspect that many of us raised and living in western capitalist cultures misunderstand the meaning of these words and quote them without context or true understanding. I found his explanation of what this idea could mean in his conversation with Sarah Wilson on her podcast Wild very helpful. (You can can find her writing and podcast on Substack at)
the times are urgent; let us slow down
I have come to understand urgent to mean that I acknowledge that things are changing quickly and I don’t wish to waste time bogged down in perfectionism or self-doubt or binary-thinking or needing to be right! Urgent times call us to be willing to be braver, take more risks with our ideas and have less attachment to the outcome.
I will finish today’s letter with some books from my shelves which have helped me on my seeking of what a meaningful life is and also in my role as a Circle Holder. This is not presented as an exhaustive list, or recommended reading, rather as suggestions for you to explore. As always, just because I include a book does not mean that I am familiar with all of that author’s work or agree with their views on everything.
So, in no particular order:
first, we make the beast beautiful and this one wild and precious life by Sarah Wilson
I loved both of these books. First we make the beast beautiful was incredibly helpful in understanding my own journey with anxiety and how to show up “with” instead of “despite”. This one wild and precious life was informative, engaging, questioning and suggesting. The front cover asks “Will you sleep through the revolution? Or are you ready to wake up and reclaim your one wild and precious life?” Sarah Wilson’s work helps me to be braver in mine. I also love her podcast as I shared above.
I heard Jay Griffiths on Martin Shaw’s podcast, Smokehole Sessions in which they discuss her book, Why Rebel, and I immediately ordered it. It is described as a “poetic manifesto for urgent rebellion”. It’s a little book with a big hearted ripple. In the introduction she says:
Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars, and they are lining up now to write rebellion across the skies. Why rebel? Because nature is not a hobby. It is the life on which we depend.
A brilliant collection of essays on an inclusive feminism described as “urgent and revelatory”. Or read anything else by Rebecca Solnit!
An uplifting little book drawing on the power of stories and listening to each other for a kinder and wiser world.
In The Tiger’s Mouth by Katrina Shields
I don’t think this is still in print. My copy was published in 1994 and it was the first book I bought on social change work and activism and it has travelled everywhere with me. I think it is also the book that taught me what it means to “listen” which has of course become such an integral element of my work. I think the content is just as relevant today as it was when it was published. Joanna Macy wrote the forward, which is how I came to her work.
emergent strategy and pleasure activism by adrienne maree brown
Emergent Strategy is a brilliant book and essential reading if you facilitate anything! I am still reading Pleasure Activism and I’m not sure why I’ve left it on my shelf for so long; who doesn’t want social justice to be pleasurable and for it to impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life?!
How Shall I Live My Life by Derrick Jensen
In 2020 I decided that going forwards I would only read books by women! That hasn’t quite worked out for reasons I may expand on in another letter, but this book was one of them! It was published in 2008 and is a series of interviews (mostly with men but also Carolyn Raffensperge and Kathleen Dean Moore) sharing how to undermine the dominant culture and the forms that resistance can take.
This is one of the newest editions to my shelves after watching Sarah Corbett’s Tedx Talk on activism for introverts. I love the premise of contemplative activism with a focus on conversation and collaboration. And not only is it a beautiful idea, the movement that Sarah has initiated has changed laws and business policies - it works!
A brilliant book on incorporating activism into our lives and exploring:
…..how we can maintain energy and determination in the face of enormous barriers, and how we can adopt activism as a philosophy for life, rather than seeing it as a few pitched battles.
Thank you Thank you Thank you
This letter has taken me far longer than I envisaged and is much longer than I intended! It is nearly midnight as I prepare to send this and then I have to finish packing; we are driving to Scotland tomorrow for a holiday with Simon’s father.
I won’t include a Circle School update except to invite you to consider joining us in The Circle School Grove; founding memberships start from £10 per month (you can choose what to pay) until the end of December. Since memberships opened on the Solstice I have had the honour of welcoming in the most incredible wellbeing practitioners, creatives and community organisers who hold Circles. My deepest hope is that The Grove will be a space filled with interesting, creative, courageous and rebellious feminists, and together we will find our own wild community.
Thank you so much for being part of the Circle School village. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to write these letters and love received your responses both in the comments and by email.
I hope that whatever this time of year holds for you, you are able to tend to your needs with compassion and courage.
With you in these (r)evolutionary times
A little extra note:
I love books and I love small, indie bookshops. At this moment in time, lots of small bookshops are struggling. After surviving the lockdowns, rising prices and lower footfall in the winter are pushing more bookshops to the brink. If you can’t drop in personally, the links I share go to bookshop.org. There you can select ‘choose a bookshop’ and nominate your local indie to get a share of the profits from your sale. If you use the links shared, they may also be affiliate links meaning that making a purchase through these specific links also helps support my work with Circle School. Thank you x
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