Scents of sweetgrass and sage hang in the air after our women’s circle. I replace the rattle and other objects back into my basket. There is one thing I cannot pack away.

Circles are always touching. Today’s is. We listen as two women tell us about their grandmothers who died recently. Tender tears roll down cheeks as they re-count special shared moments in their grandmother’s arms and homes. Another woman shares her feelings about the recent loss of her mother. We silently listen and work to keep our hearts open to their grief.

The purpose of the women’s circles is to honor all of each woman’s story. Nothing needs to be left out. Some days it is laughter. Some days it is tears. Always we are stretching to speak our truth and celebrate our unique way of being in the world. We long to continue this deep authentic connection in all of our relationships.

Sharing shifts from painful goodbyes to that exploration. How do we create relationships that foster deep authentic sharing? Whether you’re in a circle or not this is something each of us must answer. That question stays with me after we say our circle goodbyes.

It can’t be neatly packed into my basket.

Author and researcher Brené Brown points out that there is a difference between belonging and fitting in. Too many of us have become chameleons. We have learned to fit in and sacrifice a connection to our core self. There is a palpable difference between these two ways of being. We can often feel the difference in our bodies. Stress can be a signal that we are are ignoring our essential self.   

That tension is our teacher. When it arises, it may be telling us that we are trying to fit in rather than staying true to who we are. There is nothing easy about the journey of forming authentic relationships.  And yet, there is nothing more rewarding. True belonging does not ask us to deny who we are. True belonging encourages full self-expression.

Somewhere in childhood we begin to see the cost of belonging or not belonging. When young, we were too afraid to test relationships. We need others. We need parents for our survival. As adults we can risk searching for relationships that embrace all of who we are.

A while back, I told Don that there’s a part of me that I’m not fully expressing. His eyes widen. In all earnestness he says, “You mean there’s more of you?” I am an intense and energetic woman. By some definitions I am a “too much woman.” He has found a way to embrace all of me. I am so grateful. Sometimes I think he does a better job of it than I do.

Next month I will unpack my basket for each circle. Sage and sweetgrass will once again fill the air. We will continue to explore belonging. It is a worthwhile inquiry. There is a lifetime of possible discoveries to be made. Can we celebrate and embrace all of who we are? Can we create relationships that fully embrace us? Will we let tension be our teacher? Will we notice the difference between fitting in and belonging?

It is hard work.

It is so worth it.