Photo by Ruthie Darling / Brokelyn

New month, new me is all well and good until you step outside of your apartment and onto the snow-saturated sidewalks. Then, new cup of coffee, new Netflix series seems much more appealing. 

This month I had made a decision to learn to love myself. Not my boyfriend, not my family, Me. A worthwhile pursuit certainly, but resolutions of this kind have a fatal flaw, the problem being that no one really holds you accountable to them. There is no line manager for resolutions. It’s up to you to make the salads, book the yoga classes, buy the journal. No one will do it for you and no one will notice if your decisions never really come to fruition. The get-out is just too easy and with a project as intangible as self love, I was already concerned that I was on a path to failure.

Unsure of where to start with this, I began by asking my friends if they had any suggestions. One friend replied by saying, “you know what I’m going to say and I hope you’ll join me this time, please look at their website.” Alas, I did know to what she was referring and so last Sunday night I braced myself for the face-melting chill to meet her at a Women’s Rejuvenation Circle I had been promising her, for months, that I would attend. Learn to love yourself, the website assured, by participating in their “co-created experience of women supporting women through guided meditation and an emotional check-in”. It had New Me written all over it. My desire to cancel was off the charts.

When I picked up my circle sister from her apartment, chivalrous friend that I am, she greeted me with “I’m so glad we’re doing this”, threading her arm through mine. “I’m just looking forward to the Chinese food I’m rewarding myself with on the walk home” I replied flatly. We trudged along the back streets of Bushwick, until we reached a warehouse building that was home to a local yoga studio for those enlightened of mind and bendy of body. Entering the studio (via a freight elevator of course), we were greeted by our circle leader, Susannah, who resembled a young Susan Sarandon with flowers in her hair and voice that was so sing-songy I wasn’t sure if she was joking or not. “Hello Goddesses, welcome, take a seat around the altar.” You could hear my eyes rolling.

When I saw the altar made up of candles and crystals, my British cynicism began to course through my veins. Sure, my resolution was self love through meditation, meeting new people and enlightenment, so why on earth was I here – at a place that offered me all three!? I wasn’t ready! I couldn’t do it! It was all too sincere. Sarcasm is my Sriracha – I put it on everything, I keep it in my handbag. How was I supposed to be honest and vulnerable in a room full of complete strangers for two excruciating hours? I feared I would expire! Any motion I made towards the exit however, was met with a sharp glance from my friend, so, defeated, I took my place in the circle. Why was my commitment to her so much easier to uphold than one to myself, I wondered.

Susannah lit the candles and that trusty yoga studio staple, sage, and began by asking us to sit with eyes closed. The first part of class was made up of a guided meditative journey through our chakras. I must report that I did find myself drifting in and out of this section of the class, which I am sure is more a reflection of my own levels of concentration than Susannah. My brain just could not stop its doubting, “My thighs look big on this mat….why am I always so closed-minded? No, Ruthie, self-love, self-love!”

Struggling not to berate myself for my meandering mind, we moved into the “check-in”. With eyes open and postures relaxed, we were told that we would now go around the room and, after sharing our names, would talk about how we were feeling in our hearts, heads and yonis (vaginas). Panic immediately set in. I barely talked about my “yoni” with my gynecologist, especially after a recent visit where he smiled and told me he was “at my cervix” and “dilated” to see me again. Nothing shuts down a yoni like a stand-up routine in a doctor’s office.

However, as a self-confessed nosy person, this section, I was sure, would not be beaten for finding out juicy details about the personal lives of strangers if nothing else. I was dying to know what kind of odd sexual habits, bad break up stories and nagging neurosis were lurking amongst my fellow “sisters”. If I’d had access to popcorn, this would have been the moment to open the bag. One of the younger members of the group, a recent New York transplant named Marie Claire, began with her check-in. To my amazement (and shame), what she talked about was not men or eating ice-cream in bed at 4am, but about her strength at choosing to follow her own dreams rather than submitting to family pressure. She talked about wanting to travel and not just wanting it, but actually doing it. She spoke about putting herself first, loving herself first. In fact, as we moved around the circle I learnt of a woman with an ambition to appear on Broadway, a Lebanese designer who was in New York to launch a fashion label, a freelancer who had just given up her day job to work for herself (and was terrified!) and a quietly spoken “heart-broken” woman who wanted to see the good in herself that others assured her was there. Before I knew it, I was talking about my own struggles as a freelance writer and actor, wondering how long I could continue this hand to mouth existence, if I was good enough, words I had never said out loud to anyone before, other than my partner. In response I saw eight women nodding back, understanding and sympathizing. I could not find a sarcastic word to say.

The final portion of the class was comprised of a Taoist breast massage. (Don’t worry, you massage your own breasts, no one else’s, but also, do worry because you do this part topless.) We were taking self-love into our own hands, literally. Now, I could tell you how incredibly liberating this felt and it did feel liberating, but what surprised me most was how comforting I found it to be in a room full of topless women. Sometimes you just want to know that you’re normal. Sometimes you just need to look at a roomful of breasts to see where you fit in in the world. I was pathetically grateful to realize that nobody looked like a model, nobody was symmetrical and nobody seemed to care.

Shirts back on and the candles dimly burning down to the wick, we closed the circle with a group mantra. With hands held, our full voices chanted to each other: “I am you and you are me! I am you and you are me!” The sound resonated around the lofty room and presumably out into the night to confuse bemused dog walkers idly passing by. Despite all of the sitting, I felt energized, happy and quite a bit better about myself. Everyone was recovering from something or someone. No one was complete.

We rolled up our mats and cocooned ourselves in our sweaters, ready to face the world beyond the circle. I walked out with the freelancer who had just left her job and as we parted on the corner she turned and said “See you next week?” “Um, yes, yes see you next week” I replied with a certainty that surprised me. Maybe that’s the key to self love: don’t do it alone. Instead, find a stranger whose breasts you’ve seen and secrets you’ve heard and make a commitment to her. After all, I am her and she is me and for heaven’s sake, it’s got to be better than SoulCycle.

To find a Women’s Circle to attend, take a look at these links:

Meetup – Various Meetings in Brooklyn

Maha Rose – Holistic Centre in Greenpoint

Daya Yoga – Yoga Studio in Bushwick

NY Shamanic Circle – Various outdoor locations

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