A Place to Discover & Connect

by Shahan Tariq, Open Circle student participant

Open Circle gives me a place where I am able to meaningfully reflect and even discover who I am and how important community is to me. It’s funny — I’m now in my last year, about to graduate, and it doesn’t feel like it’s been 2 years since I joined Open Circle.

I still remember the first time I showed up to one of the potluck introductory dinners, way back when. I was a bit more of a wallflower then and I can remember that moment when I thought this was something I wanted to get involved with. With food in our hands, we had split up for a small group discussion and I was with a group of strangers in a room not knowing what to expect. I forget most of the specifics but somehow the conversation turned to bullying and it jumped from there to more generally about what it feels like to be isolated and on the edge looking in, or to use a more cliché phrase, feeling like you don’t belong anywhere. The emotional charge in the room was palpable and there were a few tears shed. Now that was something that just hadn’t happened to me before. I mean you share things that have meaning and that are important with people that are closer to you, but this was a room of people who for the most part were just meeting for the first time. By society’s rules we’re supposed to talk about the weather and movies and our days, not bare our vulnerability and soul for everyone to see. It was almost magical and since then I’ve realized it wasn’t a one-off thing.

The key is in the spaces Open Circle creates, and it doesn’t matter whether we’re volunteering out in the world or playing board games, or discussing our life’s journey. Wherever the circle forms, it’s like something happens. All of a sudden, this room with people, amazing glorious human beings, becomes this inclusive, welcoming, non-judgmental space, where for an hour, just a few drops of time in the big bustle, you’re connected to each other, and you learn and you grow, and just become better through that connection. And in this space, it’s okay to just be you. No more, no less, with all the myriad of things about yourself you deem flaws, and simply the act of being in this space is enough of a contribution. You can talk as much as you want, or stay silent, or dance, or rant, or pass, and your presence itself is received as a gift. And that feeling, the feeling of being enough — and this might sound a bit paradoxical — it’s a powerful thing, powerful enough to change things inside and outside. And in my experience, that is how you begin to discover and explore and reflect on all the things that make you up, how you find your place in a society that constantly berates you for not being ‘something’ enough, and how you learn to walk a path that is true to who you are, learning and growing and definitely stumbling.

In Open Circle this journey, and these spaces, are shared with others, and that’s how a community is formed.