by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D

Religion does not heal. People heal people. They do it through love, generosity and acceptance.  Look. Listen. Heal.  Oh so simple yet so difficult to achieve.

For four days we were with a group out of Canton, Ohio who were conducting a conference called the Warrior’s Journey Home. It started with the interesting collaboration of a church pastored by Dr. John Schlup and a Seneca wise woman, Shianne Eagleheart.  Through Shianne’s sharing, she taught several members of the congregation the spiritual and physical healing of the Healing Circle. My brother, John, has been a living example of the power of Native American spiritual customs and blessings in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

 The purpose of the Healing Circle is to give an individual a safe, nonjudgmental place to be – to listen – to learn and to share his/her trauma experience(s).  Sharing is not an expectation like in many traditional therapy groups.  It is merely an invitation if one is inclined to disclose his/her words. The sharing is only for those in the circle to hear. Stories must never be disclosed beyond the circle unless given permission by the person speaking.

So here is the really cool part of the sharing, there is a hand carved stick that looks like a walking stick.  However, this stick is truly special because the only person who can speak is the person holding the talking stick. There are no time limits a person has to hold the stick and no one can get up and take the stick from that person. When the speaker is through disclosing  his story he will place the stick back in its place or hand it to another person.

Oh, and another powerful trait of a Healing Circle is questions are never asked of the speaker.  Wow, unlike modern therapy, there is no interrogation, advice, or “extra” comments. One may be given a hug or a small a glass of water by a listening member, but that’s it.  By moving through the circle an environment of listening and caring is generated.  Perhaps this is why the Healing Circle is such a special experience for veterans.

To make the experience even more powerful a drum and drummers may be present.  Shianne’s partner, Bob honored the group with his handmade drum.  Healing Circles often begin with native songs and drumming.  The beat of the drum mirrors the rhythm of the heart. This mimics the ancient ceremonies meant to simulate a mother’s heartbeat when the warrior was in her womb. It calms the thoughts and anxieties of the attendees, and gives each person a way to begin and end the Circle experience. Like the mystical poet, Rumi, advises, the circle empowers many thoughts:

“What you seek is seeking you.” 

“Most people guard against going into the fire, and so end up in it.”

 One of my favorite old Chinese proverbs says it all,

“You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.”