The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog: Chapter 4 – Opening Circle

By Healing and Cancer Foundation March 10, 2015

HealingCircleBookJoin us by reading one chapter per week of our book The Healing Circle which includes inspiring true stories and teaching from the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. Each week we will post the next chapter of our book, links to related video, and a blog about the chapter. Learn about recent scientific advances in the body-mind-spirit connection, updates of the people featured in our book, and our reflections on each chapter. Read the whole book for free by accessing the previous blog posts. Please send us your comments and questions! Deep peace and healing,Rob Rutledge, MD and Timothy Walker, PhD.

Read chapter four:  Opening Circle

Watch the Video:  Opening Circle  During the opening circle we ask the attendees, both those with a cancer diagnosis and their loved ones, to say a little about their diagnosis, what has been most difficult on their cancer journey, and their hopes for the weekend. Warning: Listening to so many stories at once can bring up many emotions. However, like the participants, we encourage you to stay with whatever emotions come up as this is an essential step in the healing process.

Dr. Rob RutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

After fifteen years and 43 retreats, the opening circle remains a mystery to me. The design is simple enough. Tim and I create a safe atmosphere by sharing our stories, speaking from the heart, and asking the attendees to be authentic to themselves and their deepest emotions. After our introductions and a short group meditation, we ask each person to share what’s been most difficult on their cancer journey. We are deliberately going to the darkest places, where people are suffering most, because this is the ground where the roots of profound healing begin to take hold. We know the attendees will be stretched to the edge of their tolerance listening to forty strangers sharing intimate details of their lives, many crying through their sentences, releasing grief they have held for too long.  We are purposely creating a very intense bonding experience to begin the weekend retreat.

But there is something more happening here. When we as individuals slow down and just listen closely to another human being talk about their greatest difficulties, an inner warmth automatically begins to shine from within. When forty people open their hearts at the same time, it’s as if a glow from each person begins to meld with the spirit of every other person in the room.  Within an instant of the first person speaking on Friday evening the circle seems to be enveloped by this vibrant and loving energy.

But what is this energy?  How is it related to our spiritual life or our higher consciousness?  Is this a doorway to experiencing the presence of a higher power?  Is this the energy into which the remarkable cancer survivors release themselves that facilitates the deepest healing in their lives?

I don’t know the answers nor do I feel a need to explain this mystery. However, I feel that there is a shift happening in our human evolution. We are becoming more conscious of the ‘spiritual’ aspect of our lives.  Even within the cancer world over the last three decades I have seen the medical system go from focusing exclusively on conventional physical care, to promoting healthy life choices, to addressing the emotional impact cancer has on most everyone’s life.  But we now are on the cusp of a new revolution. We are collectively beginning to experience something bigger. Something that can hold all of our experience in a warm and loving embrace. The light we can see in the opening circle is shining through, showing us the way home.

Dr. Rob Rutledge is a Radiation Oncologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

In 1999, Rob co-created the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. These weekend support groups teach a powerful and integrated approach to the cancer diagnosis and ways to heal at levels of body, mind and spirit. To date, more than 1,600 people have attended the retreats in over 20 cities across Canada and abroad.

Rob also leads the Healing and Cancer Foundation, a Registered Charity, that freely offers educational videos, documentaries, and webcasting seminars – and he is co-author of a book called The Healing Circle, which captures the teachings and inspirational stories from the weekend retreats.

In 2010, Rob received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Award for Excellence in Patient Care and, in 2006 Doctors Nova Scotia presented him with the Health Promotion Award in recognition of his contribution to physician health and health promotion in cancer patients.


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