The Power of Gathering

It’s always been part of us, this alchemy of groups. Something, bigger than the sum of its parts, happens when we gather. Together is a word that resounds with the feeling of connection. To-gather, a doing word full of intention and anticipation; a longing for the profundity and sacred nature of a group. 

In over 20 years of birthwork, I have been privileged enough to have been part of many groups. I have both facilitated groups and been a member. Some have been formal, others have happened organically, as though each individual just happened to be there at the right place and time, often bringing a need or a pain, sometimes a gift. 

When I am in a group that is gathering for the first time I am often aware of what people bring into the circle. A certain brittleness of anxiety, a holding of oneself separate. Polite, light chitchat is a social must. Hopefully, there will be someone with the skill to ease the passage, to illuminate the journey as this gathering of individuals morphs into a group. This one person will have the gift of generosity, or “spiritual hospitality” as I heard someone say recently. 

The way the transformation to unified group happens is often different and always profound. Sometimes something big will happen; the heavy baggage that one person has brought into the space will be dropped and spill out everywhere. Tears will be shed and empathy will flow from everyone towards the one showing their wound. But sometimes it’s merely a series of small words and gestures. A making or receiving of a cup of tea, a touch on the arm, a deep listening, a joke mutually enjoyed, something beautiful said or seen.

It truly is an alchemy; something precious is made when people gather to share their hearts and create connection. There is a magic made when we delineate out a space from which judgement and hostility are banished. There is medicine inside this circle we have drawn. 

And it has always been so. Every time I watch strangers part as friends I am reminded of how long we have been doing this. Since a group of Neaderthals gathered in a cave in Spain, 64,000 years ago, and made a red hand stencil mark on the rock, we have been gathering in the hope of transcending the brutality and mundanity of life. We have been seeking truth and beauty together all this time. It is a necessary medicine, a spiritual tonic.

Today, scientists understand that the pleasure of human connection registers in the brain the same way as physical pleasure. We are hardwired to gather, forever seeking to return to the profound, formative experience of connection with the one who birthed us. Our species is deeply social; subtle body language, complex facial expressions, tones of voice and sensitivity to touch are our stock in trade. Deep in our DNA we know that alone we are vulnerable, but together there is the possibility of returning to the all encompassing sense of ease and safety we experienced as newborns. 

Doing a doula course is about so much more than learning some things. It’s a time for deep connection, a time to help create a safe space, a brave space, to share and receive with grace and gratitude. It’s an opportunity to receive the loving support that you will mete out in your turn. And just like our forebears, it’s a time to create something beautiful and meaningful.

Because when we sit around our literal or figurative fire, making sense of the past and plans for the future, holding hands and raising voices together, what is created is strength. It is a power we carry with us, even after the circle is broken. The hospitality of the group becomes spiritual scaffolding, holding us up through good weather and bad.

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