Dangerous Compassions

holding hands in a circle

holding hands in a cirlce

Hello, reader.  How are you today?  I was thinking about hippies.  A defining characteristic of hippies is holding hands in a circle.

At the community where Ming and I live, we share house dinner four nights a week.   The nicest tradition here is circling before dinner.  Supposedly this community has no spiritual basis.  But I don’t know how to understand holding hands in a circle in any way other than spiritual.

That type of love–I don’t know how to read it other than divine.  Whatever differences we have, any holding back–whatever discomforts, frictions, deep wounds, reenactments of family pain–I can stand here in circle with you.  I can hold your hand.

Pandemic meant we were standing in a circle touching elbows for some time.  When someone in our house got sick, and two others got sick.  Now we are back to holding hands lately.


We don’t pray together.  But I feel circling as a physical prayer.  Prayer without words–just the energy.

Circling is sacred–the silence, the shape.  I get a deeply grateful feeling.  For this moment, we are together.  In silence, we pause.  This specific configuration of people on this unique day–we will never be these people again.  Even if tomorrow night these exact same folks show up, we will be new.

To feel my community member’s hand holding mine is sacred.  I hold Ming’s always, if he’s home.  He grounds me and stabilizes me, my family member, on one side.  Then on the other side could be anyone.

I learn something about my community member by feeling what their hand is like in mine.  Thin, slight, shaky?  Solid and matter-of-fact?  Substantial and strong?  Medium?  Reticent, hesitant?  Dry and large?  Gentle and respectful?

It’s only a few seconds, but it’s my honor to touch another human being.  And not just anyone–someone I live under the same roof with, make decisions with, share a kitchen with, and form reality with.  We pee in the same places.  We can feel any which way about each other, but we’ve chosen to come together for this time.

I look down at our feet, and I savor the moment.  I feel my breath moving in my body.  In my head, I thank Mother God for these people.  My prayer is like, “These sacred, beautiful people.  I’m with you.  I love you more than anything,” as gratitude surges in my body.

The one who cooked dinner makes a slight squeeze that travels around the circle.  When it comes back to the cook, the circle is complete, and we can eat.  They announce the dishes, and the eldest dishes his food first.  I wash my hands in the kitchen.

Sacred Peace Walk

I must have circled when I was a kid, at school.  There was a game we played, at least.  But the first place I can think of where I circled as the hippie that I am is Sacred Peace Walk.  I did the Sacred Peace Walk for many years, and other events in the desert that involved circling also.

We circled before all meals.  And we circled before and after peace vigiling at Creech Air Force Base.  It was important to ground as a group, doing that intense emotional work.  Holding hands in a circle was a way of being there for one another.  We enacted solidarity.

I remember one vigil at Creech–not during the Sacred Peace Walk, but during a Code Pink event.  I was called on by an organizer to lead the group in song.  It was a pivotal moment for me–I felt I was finally an adult.  To be called on to lead a song in circle, I felt respected in a group way.  Like I had arrived, seen as someone who holds valuable knowledge and can help bring a group together.

I can’t remember what I immediately started belting out.  Maybe “Vine and Fig Tree.”

circle up

“Circle up!” was the cry, when people had been conversing by the roadside during Sacred Peace Walk, and it was time to eat.  The person herding us cats would make the circle request, and we’d gather to hold hands and quiet.  There would be announcements, and someone would pray.

Usually the Western Shoshone Spiritual Person would pray, and there was water offering and food offering.  He would say words in English then pray in his Native way.

I will always remember that.  It was a rhythm of our days.  I see dancing as the antidote to talking.  Holding hands in a circle is that way also.  We can do many activities together–make food, plan, chit chat, risk arrest, speak truth to power, walk, make signs, sing.  Holding hands in a circle is like a reset.  It’s the antidote to talking also.  Or it’s the antidote to something–I can’t say what.

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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