Luck or Healing?

2011-03-30 Luck or Healing?
Reflections on the Alois sharing circle.

Leigh and I sit in a coffee shop every few weeks, contemplating our next sessions for our sharing circle at the Alois Alzheimer Center. While we first began calling these sessions writing circles, we changed course, so as not to cause undue pressure on the participants to perform.

Sharing circle seemed appropriate in ways that date back to indigenous cultures who use the “sharing circle” to resolve issues for or amongst its members. These issues can often be contentious, emotional. The circle helps in healing by encouraging the opening of the heart, telling the small truths or the big secrets, unburdening themselves. Everyone is allowed to speak, with no particular time limit and no interruptions are permitted.

The elders hold the space, while souls spill out their deepest troubles. Men and women alike take part. Throughout the time of the circle, prayers are continuously offered up for the sufferer, to find relief from their emotional or physical pain.

This image comes to mind when we facilitate the sharing circle at the Alois. While roles are reversed, and we, the younger, take on the role of elders in the indigenous tradition, we recognized that we are not always the wiser.

Our most recent circle fell on St. Patrick’s Day, so we created a circle around this theme. The activities director directed the room be decorated with green balloons and a cake with a shamrock on it. I carried in a potted shamrock plant, which enthralled each participant, as they held it in their hands, said their name, then passed the “luck” on to the next person.

The poem for the day was The Shamrock, by Andre Cherry, written in the late 1700’s. How fun it was to read this poem to them with my fake Irish brogue. Several times I had to stop myself from slipping into an English accent instead. If I sang some of the words, the brogue flowed much more smoothly. My daughter Shannon, a petite red-hair, accompanied us that day. Dressed in green, she captivated the participants who commented routinely, “Boy she sure looks Irish.”

Following the reading of the poem, we always have a musical component. Sometimes, the residents sing along. Other times, they nod their heads in enjoyment. Danny Boy and Galway Girl streamed forth from my music player. For whatever reason, “I’m looking over a four leaf clover” did not make the transfer to my player. We warbled the words instead.

Then came our writing time. We offer a line or thought and ask them to write on that idea. We are somewhat specific, even not leading, as this helps them to focus. The residents are like me when I shop, less options make my life simpler.

The first prompt was, “I feel lucky because…” And many wrote to this beautifully.

The second prompt, devised after a few emails back and forth with Leigh, were, “At the end of the rainbow, I hope to find…” T. wrote, “my wife”, others included “my family” and yet another write, “peace and quiet.” While we had considered this an open-ended question, many of the writers had not. They were able to complete the sentence and put down their pens, with not too much thought associated with it.

I couldn’t help but wonder, how would they have responded, if I had utilized the other prompt we considered, “I feel unlucky because…” Leigh and I often joke that she likes to keep things positive. And she is the most uplifting person I know to be around. On the other hand, I like to dive deep, to push for more.

What words did the residents leave on the table that day because we didn’t use the “I feel unlucky” prompt?

I go back to the primal sharing circles. Members were encouraged to bring their deepest troubles, so that their hearts might shatter open and then heal. One of our regular “contributors” did not share that day. She pushed the paper away and kept repeating, “Its personal.” Would she have written, had she been asked to consider if she felt unlucky? Would she have found healing?

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