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  • Maren Van Nostrand

Circle of Gratitude

As the wheel spinned, our energy and stories commingled and rose together into the air like one long continuous outbreath. It was in the wake of Covid, just before Thanksgiving of 2022. Up to that point, my collaborator, Kylee Geis, and I had been brainstorming themes for our next circle. We felt there couldn’t be a better time for gratitude: a time to help people remember how to exist peacefully in the company of others, how to occupy space with others, how to be open and accepting. What better place for practicing gratitude than within the most time-tested tool of convening gratitude known around the world–the traditional circle. In my view, circles are the very embodiment of gratitude itself!

Circles and gratitude have a lot in common. On the most basic level, they share a foundation of “the expectation of nothing.” They also can’t be forced…if they are to work. One can’t command, “be grateful!” or, “sit here and get along with others!” It’s rather more of an unfolding in our energy and expressions. A softening of our edges. With both gratitude and circles, we slowly become easier to sit next to and more able to sit next to others.

Our Circle of Gratitude took place in the yurt at Sacred Dwelling where Kylee offers Creative Grief Support and many other healing opportunities with a variety of collaborators. Thoughtfully built by Kylee and friends, the yurt stands at the far end of a long footpath underneath cedars and firs–just long enough to clear your mind for circle time.

On the day of the Circle of Gratitude, we invited participants to come early and mingle, have a cup of tea, and find a seat. I began the circle with a welcome and an acknowledgement of the human history of the land. Then, after touching on concepts of gratitude as one of the purest forms of connection, I initiated the first round, inviting everyone to share what’s on their mind.

For the second round, I drew attention to the center: an empty white ceramic prayer wheel painted with birds and feathers that appear to fly when it spins. Made by my friend, Chris Moench of Bellingham, Washington, this work of art stands about the size of a large vase atop a heavy base and spins easily with one gentle swipe. Similar to the prayer wheels of ancient Tibet and Nepal, each revolution of the wheel can represent a prayer or generate an intention. For our purposes, I invited everyone to think of a moment that changed their life, then write it on a piece of paper to eventually place in the prayer wheel. After giving everyone the time they needed to write, I suggested that we each take turns describing what we wrote in terms of any quality that might have come out of the experience. The sharing and spinning of the wheel held us all captive in a long moment of communal enchantment!

In the concluding round, we all expressed gratitude for the deep human connection, and for the opportunity to share the magical community moment. The need for practice was clear–our flaws and foibles real and visible–but the circle held us like gratitude itself.

© 2023 Maren Van Nostrand

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