Open Circle got me out of bed

by Stevie Garnett, Open Circle student

First term of university was a really challenging time for me. New classes with heavy workloads and high expectations, navigating an unfamiliar campus, dealing with feelings of isolation due to a lack of friends, and a variety of personal crises and trials on top of all of that and it’s enough to make you want to give up. Open Circle has been a life saver for me. I had gone to a few Circles throughout the term, and found them a welcome break from my constant anxiety and overthinking. Then I had a really bad week. Couldn’t go to class, didn’t want to leave my bed sort of bad. But I remembered Open Circle and the positivity I felt while I had been there before. So I decided to go to all of the Circles that week, as an act of self-care and preservation. This fall I made the decision to overcome my mental illnesses, and start taking steps to living the life that I want to live. Open Circle has been crucial to my success with that. Even in the depths of my personal despair, these circles were moments of peace and light for me. Going to reflection circles helped me to integrate meditation into my regular life, as well as taught me what mindfulness is, and how to practice it in my day to day life. For that, I am forever grateful.

When I heard about the retreat, I decided to attend, despite my anxieties about being around so many unknown people for so long. I still was having no luck making friends at McMaster, and had a brewing identity crisis going on, so I hoped that the retreat would be helpful for both of these issues.

From the moment we arrived at the retreat, I had good feelings about it. A beautiful little house in the woods where we would all try to learn more about ourselves and one another. I was amazed by how quickly it felt like a home away from home. Despite the fact that I am a very introverted individual, I soon found myself relaxing and socializing alongside everyone else. Despite not knowing most of the people there, I felt welcomed and accepted from the moment I walked in the door. I found myself opening up to people at the retreat much quicker and easier than I would ever have expected. It was a very interesting experience, for I had never spoken to anyone there about musical tastes, hobbies, etc. like one usually does upon meeting someone new, yet I was able to speak about some of the deepest parts of myself with ease. We were all on the retreat, living in a small house for the weekend, with the common goal of getting to know ourselves better, as well as helping others recognize their place in their own respective journeys. While many groups try to be a “safe space” and accepting of everyone, I often do not feel truly safe and accepted. The retreat and reflection circles are some of the few environments where I have genuinely felt entirely safe to be my true self. This atmosphere allowed for conversations about our deepest desires, fears, and identities to develop and flourish. This retreat offered an opportunity for me to drop my inner shields and bare my soul amongst strangers who did the same, in a place where I felt safe, respected, even appreciated. While on the retreat, and at all Open Circle events, I never feel an obligation to fill the silence; it fills itself naturally as those involved feel the desire to open up and share parts of themselves. It is a completely unique experience to learn and grow spiritually with people you might not otherwise get the opportunity to know, and I am so grateful to Open Circle for offering me this opportunity.

“I felt welcomed and accepted from the moment I walked in the door…” Open Circle is truly a safe space for students from all backgrounds.

Right: writing “warm fuzzies” (notes of affirmation and appreciation) at our Winter Retreat.