From “Utter Anxiety and Fear” to “The Smile of Relief”

Transformed from utter anxiety and fear through to the smile of relief – sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

But I have watched it happen in front of my eyes and I have experienced it myself a few times, so I know that it is possible. It is such a simple process yet so hard to describe and even believe.

I have mentioned Robert Ged Hewitt in my previous blogs. He is the facilitator of what he calls “Circling”. In a small group of people, we all get to practice presence. Each of us gets 20 minutes or so to share and we get the full attention of the rest of the group. Something really magical happens in this group as we learn to accept and be with whatever is going on with each one of us at the time.

I like how Robert describes it:

The essence and the engine of Circling is compassionate curiosity. We try (very hard) to drop our normal, habitual way of relating. We suspend our judgments and our need to give advice. We listen to the unhelpful rattle of our minds and choose to ignore them. Instead we turn our attention down into our bodies, to the rhythm of our breath and the beating of our hearts. These things reside exclusively in the present moment and by attending to them, rather than to our thinking, we also become present.

The very act of becoming present has a power of its own. When the person being circled is surrounded by a room that is sitting in presence they feel safe. They feel safe because the usual hum of judgment is absent AND THEY CAN TELL! In this safety they will feel brave enough to ask themselves questions that they would otherwise avoid. They will be prepared to delve deeper into themselves and to be more vulnerable in their expressions of every aspect of themselves.

You can imagine that this is very unusual. In our lives, many conversations simultaneously happen whenever there are groups of people around. I cannot tell you in words but I am profoundly affected when I am being listened to and when I am listening to others.

Today, there are six of us in the room and we have a new person join us today. He comes in and before the circling starts introducing himself as Vincent. Robert then, as always, introduces us to the circling process. Meanwhile, I notice that Melissa looks in a state of complete pain and paralysis. Her eyes are heavy; she keeps rubbing her neck and she looks distraught as if she is not really there.

When she starts to be circled. I can see how hard it is for her. She finds it hard to say words. Her body is in a contracted position and she is looking down and inward. We are quiet and being there for her. There is no pressure for her to say anything at all. Her circle is her own creation – whatever she chooses, we support her. After a few moments of silence, she says that she is completely triggered by the name Vincent. She says that her neck is completely stiff and her eyes and head are very heavy.  She says that her neck hurts and her whole body is in a trauma response state. We ask her where in her body she feels the pain; this gentle prodding encourages her to be present to her state. Her courage and willingness to be uncomfortable inspires me.

Vincent responds really well to this. He knows that this is not about him so he allows her to be, and stays present to the process.

There is an immense amount of space in the group for her to be with her feelings; for her to be present and not try to suppress her pain or try to create a story around it. So she goes deeper into her pain; she allows herself to cry, and she allows her body to contract, to freeze and every other way it expresses the pain…

For a moment, it feels like this pain would linger forever but suddenly the air changes in the room; Melissa looks at all of us and smiles.. and her face lights up. I am amazed. She broke the barrier of the pain; she is still shaken but she went through it and somehow it transformed… True magic.


I have tried to understand this; I find it amazed that true surrender to the pain transforms it. It feels counter-intuitive and yet, works every time. In my blog Owning my Trauma, Owning my needs, I have gone through a similar process myself and have transformed what felt like a near-death state into a smile of relief myself.

The problem is that we live in a society that teaches us to avoid pain so it feels very hard to do this but I can tell you that resisting pain is worse because it keeps the pain lingering.

Do you surrender to pain?

Do you allow it to transform?