I remember what she said in Circle. "I have never spoken of this to anyone before..." I can still see the Celtic cross by the window behind her, highlighted by the blue of the sea outside. The cross somehow seemed like a supportive hand holding her up, giving her strength while at the same moment she dissolved into tears. "I have never been able to speak of this before. It is only because of the unconditional honoring and listening, that each of you here has offered one another, that for the first time I can trust enough to speak this about myself." Through her sobs and gasps for breath, she slowly labored to find the words. "I am a woman who has lived with the guilt of having killed someone... taken a life... committed murder." And so her story finally burst forth. It was the second to last day of our weeklong retreat when Janice opened the pages of her heart to us. Now I understood. The week of struggle I had endured in coping with this woman's fear, hostility and difficulty in blending with the group, now all made sense. So also did that inner voice and intuitive prompting from deep within myself, which had said... there is a reason for her to be here... there is a reason she has chosen to stay... there is a reason she was called at this particular time, to this particular group. Trust. Trust the spirit. Trust the circle.
In the holy silence which filled the room after she spoke, she allowed herself to be embraced and held and lovingly rocked by everyone present, bathed at last in forgiveness for an act committed in youth, done in self defense. The cloud that had veiled her was lifted and her face became radiant as one reborn. As I saw her in this new light, I was brought back to my first encounter with Janice five days prior. She had just climbed off the bus that had driven her to the ferryboat which would carry us across the channel to the island - our home for the next week. I walked up to her and greeted her, introducing myself. She took one look at me and then one look at the island in the distance. "I have made a mistake in coming" she said. "I want my money back". She was like an animal that had suddenly become trapped. She was panicking. She wanted out.
I had to gently explain that while she certainly did not have to attend the retreat and that her money could easily be sent back to her, we had another problem. All transportation had ended for the day, it was almost dark and there was no guarantee she could find accommodation except on the island. Also there were few places for her to stay this late in the day, given there was a wedding and all the inns and hotels were booked. Plus it was cold and a storm was approaching. Would she consider staying one night with the group and then depart the next day if she still wished to cancel? Little did I know the journey that was about to begin. Under any other circumstances I would have arranged for her return journey and said goodbye. But a synchronicity of events had conspired, in that Janice had come this far with no other place available for her to stay than with our retreat group. On numerous occasions in the days that followed, I questioned why I had not just left Janice where I had first met her to fend for herself... why I had let her come to the retreat house... why I ever let her stay another day. Despite her obvious dislike of me and resentment of being trapped on the island, the retreat group nonetheless tolerated her negativity and scooped her into its folds. Her lone walks along the shore during our group sessions became fewer and fewer, as she chose instead to join our circle and listen to the stories being told by the 13 of us gathered. Granted, the wild weather drove her indoors, but I noted it was into the hearth of the circle she came, and nowhere else. As I held the deepening field for the group, I also had to learn to hold myself in the extreme discomfort of having no way to connect to Janice or make the obvious strain between us diminish. Nothing I did to try and 'fix' the situation was working.
As the 'retreat facilitator' I was rendered helpless in smoothing it all out - in making the shadow stuff disappear. I was being asked to simply surrender to sitting in the fire of the tension and let it be... and burn. And to my surprise as I did this, so it was that the group - as each honored the guidelines of the circle and stayed true to themselves and their own experience - were also willing to step in and hold the tension along with me. Somehow, through this shared holding of the discomfort, we together made our way into new territory...into a quality of embodied presence and being present to the fullness of one another that moved us to a beholding of each others deeper nature. We had truly crossed a threshold beyond authority and judgment, labeling and assumptions of right or wrong, to where we were able to trust and reveal ourselves to one another in a different way. The healing possibility that opened as a result I had never experienced before, especially amongst those who a few days earlier were strangers. And then Janice spoke... I will always be grateful for that week , the extraordinary men and women who showed up for the retreat and to Janice... Janice for teaching me what conditions it takes in order to speak of what is sometimes hidden so deep within our souls... that which has never been spoken before... yet once spoken into the sacred well of circle, will heal us and set us free!