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Siren Songs explores a Feri/Reclaiming witch's experiences with the Divine.

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Deep Witnessing

I recently went away to a weekend intensive hosted by Expanding Inward.  It was a wonderful weekend, full of revelations and tears...and not once during sessions was I hugged by another participant.

I was not hugged because I didn't ask for a hug.

I was not hugged because one of our ground rules for the weekend was to allow others to feel all of their emotions without moving to hug, or say a kind word, or offer comfort in another way, unless there was a specific ask for that kind of help or support. It is my personal belief that in moments when we give a hug or kind words without asking or being asked, we are really attempting to comfort ourselves, trying to move away from the pain of watching someone else's pain.

And so, I was not hugged. I was not comforted. And I did cry a fair bit, and I felt very deeply. I was glad for it. Having my peers listen deeply to me, without attempting to define or to fix what was going on inside of me, was very freeing. I felt witnessed.

How do you witness others? As Oriah Mountain Dreamer asks in her poem "The Invitation": Are you able to "sit with pain,  mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it?"

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I have been working in the Reclaiming and Feri witchcraft traditions since 2000. Originally from Chicago, my home is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I am a piece of a growing coven and work in partnership with Boneweaver in the Bone and Briar line of Reclaiming/Feri. My passions include: the search for Truth and Desire, co-creation and manifestation, ecstatic ritual, poetry, divination and the power of good reading material. I am experienced in leadership training, small group facilitation, tarot, trance techniques, and ritual arts. I believe at the core of my being that transformation can be blissful if we surrender to it. It is my privilege to tempt seekers to their transformations. I specialize in: - Community Building - Magical Training - Officiating Sacred Rites - Ritual Creation (personal and public) - Spiritual Exploration and Mentoring - Tarot and Divination Training Credentials: - Initiated in the Reclaiming (2010) and Feri (2012) traditions
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  • Susan Harper
    Susan Harper Tuesday, 15 April 2014

    Thank you for this. I am in the midst of doing some writing on what I call Radical Witnessing, or the act of holding space and making space in which people can tell their stories. I am now very excited to explore Expanding Inward!

  • Amoret BriarRose
    Amoret BriarRose Wednesday, 16 April 2014

    Expanding Inward is a wonderful group! Maybe I will see you at their next weekend in Cedar Falls, IA :)

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Wednesday, 16 April 2014

    This is so important. When I am told stories of sexual abust (I have heard more than anyone needs to) I always say: "This should not have happened to anyone. This should not have happened to you." In other words, it could be true that "nothing good comes out of it." This is the tragedy of life and denying it is denying reality.

    Recently on Melissa Harris Perry, black people were commenting on the fact that white people cannot hold the double reality that racism still exists and that there has been progress on racism. Nor can they hear that racism still exists without feeling it is their own personal fault.

    The ability to see and hear that bad things really do happen is sooo important.

    One more thing. Studies of female conversations vs male conversations suggest that women are more likely to hear and men more likely to try to fix. Which is why men have a hard time hearing women's conversations if they can't "fix it" right away.

  • Amoret BriarRose
    Amoret BriarRose Wednesday, 16 April 2014

    I hear you on the fixing and the denying of reality, Carol. It is interesting to me that if someone hugs me while I am telling a painful story, or if someone offers me a tissue, I feel like I need to "wrap up" my emotions: I have taken up my piece of the time and space, I now need to wrap it up, get a grip and stop having an emotional experience. And that isn't necessarily what people are trying to convey to me, but that's what I hear. So even those small gestures feel like fixing gestures to me.

    My friend Laurie Dietrich wrote an amazing piece on "making space for whatever is needed" in response to intense emotional situations - I really loved it:

  • Shauna Aura Knight
    Shauna Aura Knight Thursday, 17 April 2014

    Like the Expanding Inward, folks, I also trained at Diana's Grove and I've taken the similar approach in my work of asking ritual and workshop participants to not try to hug or "fix" each other. I also have begun to look at it as a consent issue--people should be asked before they are hugged, or given advice.

    When I host rituals/workshops, if we do a round of checking in, I ask that people just listen to what people are saying instead of jumping to offer advice.

    If we're doing something in a workshop or ritual where people begin to cry or have some other emotion, I ask people to let that person have their emotion. And if they want a hug, if that's what they need to feel comforted in their processing, they can ask for it. However, it is very much about consent. And it's also about being aware of how often we try to "fix" someone.

    Like you, if you try to hug me or comfort me while I'm having an emotional process, I'll shut down because I'll realize, you're probably hugging me because I'm making you uncomfortable and I should stop crying, stop talking.

    And what I actually find is that many people who rush to hug someone who is making distressing sounds (crying, etc.) that's actually what's going on. When we cry, we make other people uncomfortable.

    One of the most difficult pieces of leadership work for me was getting used to just sitting there and holding space while people cried. Getting ok with just sitting there and being uncomfortable. But, I've found it opens the way for a lot deeper healing, which is why I use it in my own work. :)

  • Amoret BriarRose
    Amoret BriarRose Friday, 18 April 2014

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, Shauna. I know that my time at the Grove has deeply impacted my ability to witness others.

    I think that I was able to transition into being a witness that didn't move to comfort because I have such a strong response to being comforted when I am having an emotional moment - it really hit me at my core that I could give that space to others, offering up my sacred wounding around emotional expression "to the altar of life," as I have heard it said. :)

  • Paola Suarez
    Paola Suarez Friday, 18 April 2014

    Thank you. Personally I find that conversations about consent even when it comes to "innocent" interactions like hugs isn't brought up enough. I love the idea of allowing someone to be with their emotions and honoring that they will ask for what they need when they need it. Thank you.

  • Amoret BriarRose
    Amoret BriarRose Friday, 18 April 2014

    You are very welcome, and yes, consent is something we can be more aware of. It takes practice, but it is a worthwhile endeavor.

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