How we got started at Healing Circles Langley feels like a miracle—outside of any norm we could have conceived. The right people showed up time and again to co-create, serve, and stretch us to do more. Capturing that process in ten tips seems silly, but I offer them merely to stimulate your thinking. Whether you use them or not as you get started with your own healing circles center, we’ll be rooting you on!

1. Connect to purpose.

  • Listen to what you are called to do.
  • Discover where it fits within your life.
  • Set a healthy boundary.

Every healing circles center started because one to four people approached it from a very deep heart space. They were just compelled. As Jerry Millhon describing leaders of Thriving Communities says, “They can’t not do it.” That’s the core and the beginning of the offering.

2. Find your core team.

  • Two to four people
  • Fiercely compelled and dedicated
  • People you love working with

You’re embarking on something that will give you life and purpose. Who are your life-giving people? Don’t partner with anyone who doesn’t bring you joy along the way.

3. Agree on your basic model.

There are many free business plan templates online to help guide your thinking. Or you can ask yourselves these basic questions:

  • Why are you doing this together? What is your deep purpose?
  • Who will you serve?
  • How you will serve them? What will you offer?
  • Who will serve them?
  • Where you will serve them?
  • How will you fund it?
  • How will you start?
  • How will you measure your success?

You just need to agree on a mission, a place to begin from. The rest will unfold—and you’ll be surprised. You’ll need to ask questions around money, place, and affiliation, but the bigger question is whether you’re willing to open your hearts to the process you’re about to go through.

4. Build a thought circle or advisory group.

  • People with heart, experience in what you’d like to offer, influence in the community, and personal wisdom.
  • The goal is to help you frame your healing circles center and to connect to those who can help you launch it.
  • Have no expectation of them other than sharing wisdom,
    • They don’t have to commit to being on a board, commit time, or money.
    • They just need to want you to succeed.

It helped that the people who were in the thought circle for Healing Circles Langley had started organizations before, had deep expertise in some of the parts of what we hoped to offer, and had influence with other organizations in the community. But it also mattered that they were creative and willing to help us create something entirely new.

5. Move at the pace of guidance—and respond.

  • Begin with the volunteers that show up.
  • Reach out to partners who are similarly excited.
  • Respond to the needs of the people who present themselves.
  • Listen within regularly for guidance and trust your intuition.
  • Practice saying “yes.”

In her slender book titled “Seven Whispers: A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These,” Christina Baldwin wrote “Move at the pace of guidance.” At Healing Circles Langley, we realized that guidance came in the form of who walked through the door. What were they asking for? What were they offering? Our attempt to understand that and listen deeply was our guidance. (We just didn’t know that guidance would come at the speed of a firehose.)

6. Start small—and learn incrementally.

  • Practice: turn your team meetings into circles.
  • Get a teapot.
  • Try an invitation.
  • Hold a circle of two with someone you know (or don’t know).
  • Prepare for a circle of more.
  • Hold a circle of more.
  • Hold a larger gathering.

When we started, we tried one thing at a time. First, a circle of two (for which we needed only a talking piece and something to represent a center.) Then, a circle of eight (for which we needed a center, a candle, a bell, eight mugs, and eight chairs). Then a dinner for partners (for which we needed all the above plus food.) After we completed each of these steps, we said ‘Hurray, now we have chairs! Hurray, a tea pot!” We didn’t try to get it all done before we started.

7. Practice self-care.

  • Put yourself first.
  • Make sure that volunteers know they shouldn’t come when their personal health needs are better served elsewhere.
  • Start each circle or meeting with a personal check-in before any “business” starts. People first. Brake for life. It’s OK if you don’t finish your agenda.

We’re all volunteers at Healing Circles Langley and have lives beyond the center. Our service here has to be nourishing. We tell our volunteers “If your health and wellbeing needs are better served elsewhere today, don’t come in.” Typically, our volunteers reply, “What? But I signed up. I have an obligation to our community.” And we answer, “Yes, but how much help will you be to someone else if you don’t know how to take care of yourself?”

8. Grow organically.

Bringing on volunteers

Seek out people:

  • With the presence to hold others with kindness, respect, and a deep reverence for each individual’s healing capacity
  • Who show up and do what they say they will in skillful ways

Bringing on circles and programs

  • Establish a boundary around the kinds of topics you’re interested in.
  • If someone with an other-centric focus wants to offer something within those limits, we typically say yes to them offering a one-time introductory circle or community conversation. If there’s interest and the host is a respectful and capable host, let the circle continue.
  • Listen for what your community is asking of you.
  • Wait to pair the need with the right person to help.
  • Partner with others if needed.

Our plans bore little resemblance to what actualy happened. Our imaginations couldn’t have conceived of it. Growing organically has not only removed stress and expectation, it has a resulted in much more vibrant and dynamic offerings.

9. Partner with other organizations.

You may choose to partner with others in your community. Look for organizations that have:

  • Shared values
  • Shared goals
  • Shared constituencies
  • A means of providing services (volunteers/place/funding/ease of reaching a constituency)
  • May be able to serve as a fiscal agent providing non-profit status

This has been Healing Circles Houston’s strategy. They have partnered with St. Paul’s Church, the Jung Institute, and a coalition of Houston non-profits who helped those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. For ideas, see their website.

10. Build in sustainability.

  • In yourself
  • In others
  • In the organization

When you’re ready, people will start walking in your door. Welcome them. Listen to them. Learn from them. It will be enough. Rest. And wait for the next arrival.