Leading Circle Facilitator Andrea Bendewald explains how the spiritual practice of Circling can help banish negative stereotypes of women during midlife and instead provide empowerment through connection, support and shared experiences.
Why is midlife a great time for women to circle?
I think it’s probably the most important time to circle because culture and society would have you believe that your value is coming to an end. But the opposite is true! You’re more valuable as a 50-year-old woman because of the life you’ve led, what you’ve experienced, traversed, earned, and survived. You have so much wisdom but there’s no real place for you that is highlighted and celebrated.
Circling is where you experience your beauty and your value, and see yourself in other women who can hold each other up because society is like, ‘We’re kind of done with you’. So, it’s an incredible time to experience circling and help you stay youthful of spirit. I love being 51. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, and I’ve lived a pretty fun life! But I was always struggling with my self-worth and self-esteem.
Now, I own it a little more and that’s through circling and sitting with other women of all ages and seeing how incredible they are. I don’t know everything, but I know a lot more about myself than I did back then. And I see myself in you, I see how much I know through listening to other women and what they’ve gone through.
What challenges and common themes do women in their 40s and 50s join your circles to help with?
The biggest theme is that they’re at a crossroads and looking for guidance. Many are going through a change. It could be menopause, a relationship, marriage or divorce, empty nest syndrome, or the feeling that ‘I want to be doing something else, like leave my job, and I know there’s something else but I don’t know what’. They’re looking for the, ‘How do I know?’
In circles, we share the taboo things which give more women permission to share and feel empowered because they’re not alone. We’re taught that we should deny our age, hide the fact that we’re ageing, hide all of the issues that affect all women – what happens to your body after childbirth or during menopause. We were taught to not talk about it. Then all these products were created to capitalize on making women feeling really bad about themselves. So companies thought, we can sell them all these products to make them feel good about themselves. When what would really feel good is if I could share with you my truth, my story and nobody is going to judge me for it. Instead they’re going to find it be of value? My story has value if I share it with you, what has gone on with my body as a 51-year-old is of value to another woman of a similar age.
In the circles I did with you, I was surprised how the words of other women I didn’t know resonated, and how listening to their similar experiences gave me clarity and took the weight off my shoulders.
You are becoming your own best guide. When you and I met, nobody else was telling you how to experience or hold your grief about your mother. You were getting to experience through other stories what you needed to hear. Circles are designed to give you exactly what you need, but no one person can do it. It comes from the entirety of the circle. I guarantee that you will hear at least one thing that was designed especially for you in each and every circle – one thing that shifted something for you for your benefit. Maybe a lot more!
Your circles are multi-generational. How does that help?
We don’t share information like we used to back in the old days, where we would gather as a community, a village, a family – sharing the wisdom from the elders. I want to know about menopause from women who have already gone through it but we don’t talk about it. It arrives, we’re confused, and we go to a doctor to find out what’s happening to us. What about a woman who is 10 years older than us who has gone through it, finding out from her? That’s what we can learn from circles.
I love hearing from the younger ones, and I love hearing from the elders who have a wealth of information. But with contemporaries like yourself, you may be tripping up on something that is exactly what I need to hear.
We don’t come in to a circle to change anybody but if I’m sharing my struggles with a certain family member, it can give you a sense of, ‘Oh, I’m not alone, I’m going through the same thing. I never thought about it like that,’ or ‘She’s coming at it from a different angle and look at what she said, or the boundary that she set up. I’m going to try it.’ But nobody has told you what to do. It’s away from gossip, the ego and out of that the voice that keeps you shitting all over yourself.
What element of religion is bought into a circle?
We connect to the sacred, whatever that means to you – God, the universe. The circles I lead invite us to create a sacred exchange by actively listening and helping one another connect to a deeper part of ourselves. Everyone is valued beings rather than just one person up top who’s telling us how to connect to spirit. It doesn’t go against anyone’s religion or lack of. You sharing your story and me recognizing our shared humanity to me is an act of spiritual connection. Me learning from you just by you sharing your story.
Can you circle with strangers?
Absolutely! It could even be easier. I’ve led hundreds of circles with people who are meeting for the first time. A circle provides a more authentic way to meet new people because you’re meeting on the soul level and not the personality level. When we meet new people socially it’s all about: Who are you? What do you do? What’s your social identity, your status? What car do you drive, where do you live, who do you know? But in a circle, nobody knows what you do for a living or how much money you make. We’re all equal in the circle, even the facilitator. The social mask is left outside the circle and we’re invited to just share what we want to share and that’s where we’re meeting and connecting.
You talk about how circling reduces ego. Please explain how.
Ego stuff is left outside the circle. We’re not showing up with all the things we use to enter the collective. If I come to your house for a cocktail party, I’m going to dress up and I want to show you upon entry who I am – with my social graces, maybe a gift, but I’m going to make sure how I look, how expensive are my clothes. In a circle you get to bypass all that and you get to meet heart to heart, soul to soul. The practice is to disengage the ego, and the opposite of that is spirit.
You offer many virtual circles by Zoom, which last 90 minutes, but please tell me about your free community circles.
I also offer a free or donation-based Community Connection circle on the first of every month for up to 40+ women, which last one hour. I have a guest friend who gives a talk that they feel will be of value. Then I separate attendees into break out rooms, into mini circles, for the purpose of connecting with other women. You can decide to exchange numbers or emails afterwards if you choose, so you can have accountability partners who can hold you accountable for something you’re really ready to do in your life. I’ve been doing the community circles for the past year and they’ve been wildly successful because of the connections women are making through the circle, which they then get to deepen and expand on.
How rewarding is it to facilitate the circle?
Connecting to other women is like a cold glass of water – it’s so refreshing. It fills my soul and my emotional bank account. If I’m holding space for you to share and unload as a woman in your 40s or 50s – a mother, a career woman, to be seen, heard, valued and supported… Oh my gosh, it’s amazing. And I get to unpack where I’m at, too. It’s radically transformational!
Click here to read how Andrea discovered Circling and how her close friendship with Jennifer Aniston has lasted 37+ years.
Main photo credit: DenAnywhere.com