The need for listening circles
For many of us, it is a clear reality that the institutions of the traditional human civilisations are falling apart, and human consciousness is looking for new ways in which we can relate to each other. Love relationships, friendships, family, community, nation – these are all being called into question and re-constellated.
When my parents were children in the 1940s and 50s, their relationship to their own parents was marked by the parents embodying authority and direction. The parent-child relationship had been similar in the generation before theirs. As these children grew up and became parents, they realised that a healthy relationship with their children in contemporary times cannot be pivoted on authority, but rather on a feeling of equality, engagement and dialogue, even if in such relationships the younger ones may still experience a regard and care for those who have lived longer than them and have experienced more vicissitudes of life.
Similarly, all around, one sees marriages, love relationships, sexual relationships being re-imagined.
For the psychologist Carl Jung, such change is not just routine change that occurs in every generation. Rather, ours is a time of upheaval in the human psyche and in society, as old structures crumble and we endeavour to create new ones, often going through painful rites of passage, and often failing to find such structures of comfort and growth, as the writings of existentialist authors amply illustrate.
Therefore, the notion of a listening circle arises in the awareness that for many of us, there may be few places, and sometimes none, where our unique experience of life can be listened to, respected, and given the emotional space it needs to grow and be understood.
If the true measure of a relationship is how well it helps us connect with our own deeper self and live authentically, rather than deny our unique selves and mould us according to the expectations of others, then a listening circle is an endeavour to create such a relationship between a small group of persons who meet once a week to reflect on their lives, particularly on their emotions.
Listening circles and psychotherapy
A listening circle is similar to psychotherapy, but not identical to it. The primary intention here is not the resolution of psychological difficulties, although that may be an effect of being in such a place, but the capacity to experience oneself as part of a small group that allows for listening, care and reflection. It is expected that over time, the members will develop the capacity to practice listening, care, and reflection by themselves, for their own selves.
For many persons, being in a listening circle may address their need for emotional care, and prevent psychological distress from reaching unbearable proportions, when medical or other forms of professional attention may be needed. In this way, a circle may play the role that traditional social institutions have intended to play but often fail to do so.
There are no fixed topics to be spoken of, although we may, sometimes, consensually decide to talk of one theme in a particular session.
There is no pressure to speak, or to not speak.
We simply meet, and one person, usually the facilitator, invites everyone to talk about anything they would like. As the session proceeds, the facilitator tries to ensure that anyone who speaks is given enough time, and is met with a certain degree of compassion and interest. The facilitator or anyone holds no authority over anyone else. We meet and engage as equals, with all the joy and anxieties of such a relationship.
The ethos of the circle is based on the writings on human relationships, particularly group and community relationships, of Carl Rogers, Irvin Yalom, Martin Buber, Eberhart Arnold and J. Krishnamurti, among others. This does not mean that the circle is a place to study these writings, but rather, that the facilitator, being shaped by them, will try to embody some of their concerns in the circle.
The duration of the session is 2 hours. We can end earlier if the group feels that it is done for the day.
There are five members in the circle, and one facilitator, who also shares his feelings and thoughts like any other member. We prefer that the five persons remain the same for every session, but in case one or more decide to not attend, others can be brought in. In this sense, the circle is different from a therapy group where group dynamics usually require that the membership of the group remains the same, in service of building a sense of consistency and trust.
The members pay a fee of Rs 700 for each session. This amount is negotiable for those in a difficult financial situation.
If you are interested in being part of a listening circle, please mail me at email@example.com .
As of now, the sessions are online, but if the group wishes, they can be conducted offline in a therapy space.