Andrea Bendewald is a mindfulness coach, actress, and founder of The Art of Circling: An interactive mindfulness practice that uses ancient rituals in a modern setting. After moving from New York to Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, she fell in love with circling and has been advocating for its purpose and power ever since. In our conversation, Andrea introduces us to circling and its benefits. She also shares who inspires her, her love for acting, and some advice to improve your wellness physically, spiritually, and mentally. We also had the chance to experience a circle (respecting physical distance and wearing masks) with Andrea in her private circle studio. After the circle session, you feel at peace, relaxed, in the present moment, and connected to your inner voice. A unique experience everybody can benefit from!
Andrea Bendewald: I’ve actually had to describe circling to 5-year-olds because I’ve led circles in both my daughter’s and son’s kindergarten classes. Basically, we sit in a circle formation, we share something that is in our heart and we listen with our whole body to the one person that is sharing.
We also go into the agreement that this is a special time for us to be together. It’s not simply playtime, academics, or chores time. But the time for us to be together in a much more meaningful way. We are here to be ourselves, share our stories, and be a witness to our friends and family. The only reason we are there in the circle is to spend time together and practice being our most authentic ourselves.
I like to think of circling as an “interactive talking meditation.” When I am sharing in the circle, you are holding space for me. You’re being mindful, as you listen to me, and vice versa. The circle does the same for you. We practice being fully present and we try not to be in the past or the future, but in the present moment with each other for each other. Our ego and thoughts may become very active while someone else is sharing, but the invitation is to be a good listener, to hang on to that person’s every word, and to not rehearse what it is you are going to say next. Sounds easy! But it is a profoundly effective way for a group to deepen their connection.
Meditation, we do on our own. We close our eyes, we observe our thoughts, and we try to quiet the mind. In a circle, we are doing that, but we’re doing it together. We try to access a deeper truth in a circle, not just our version of the truth. But we’re interested in the collective wisdom that comes through the circle.
In a meditation class, the teacher is usually guiding me and I’m having my own meditation experience. But we’re usually not talking about it afterward. We are not exchanging ideas of how that was for you. So that’s the main difference between meditating on your own and sharing in a circle.
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” – Rumi
“What time is it?” That’s the first thing on my mind! “Can I sleep a little longer? Should I get up?” Those are the first three. I’m not a morning person, even though I aim to be. I have suffered from depression most of my life and mornings used to be really very difficult. They are for a lot of people who are clinically depressed. Chemically your serotonin levels are low and depression can be at it’s worse in the morning.
I would have to do a whole list of things to get me out of bed. I call them mental gymnastics. It would take hours! Now I’m am so grateful that the only simple thought in the morning is, “What time is it?” And not, “What’s the meaning of life?” Today, I’m in a place where I know that it is going to be a good day, as soon as I wake up! I understand that I can choose to have a good day. Both meditation and circling have helped me tremendously with depression.
Oprah. She is my hero and has been forever. I talk about her in circles when I use the example of what it means to “own your shadow”. Owning the thing that is your darkest secret or the worst thing that someone can say about you. While Oprah is one of the most, if not THE MOST successful women in the world, she shares every story about her struggles, about being told she was not “pretty or glamorous enough”, every obstacle, every mistake. She never stops evolving.
Oprah owning her shadow would mean that there was nothing anybody could say about her that she didn’t already say about herself. There is nothing about her past, nothing about her weight or her relationships that she doesn’t talk about for all of us to see. She lets everybody in on everything so that nobody can hold anything over her.
I love looking at our shadows, especially in circles. There is a great exercise, write down “What’s the worst thing somebody could say about me?” We then explore it, lean into it, and then begin the practice of owning it! It’s an empowering experience, and to do it in a circle where it is sacred, safe and held. Beyond powerful.
Owning your shadow enables you to own your light even more.
I see The Art of Circling as a spiritual practice that people can use at home, at school, at meditation studios, just like a yoga or meditation practice. Even though I’ve been participating and leading circles for many years, the fact that places, like The Den Meditation offer circles, just shows you how mainstream it is becoming. Even this interview!
People who experience a circle find it beneficial to their spiritual life because there is a format that guides them to connect to spirit, to themselves, and to other people in their community. It is also a way to access the collective wisdom from the circle. So, I do see it as a brand that is evolving for other people to use. I’d love everybody to feel what I feel and experience from circling.
Meditating, circling, yoga, really good sleep, and supplements. That’s what I’m in the practice of right now.
My superpower is my capacity to listen without judgment and reflect back to people what it is they need to hear to support them. Not what I think they need to hear but how I feel I can support them. I just love listening to people. Every single time I sit in a circle I benefit. Even though I am facilitating, every single share feeds me.
There’s no I’m just giving to you for the sake of giving. There’s always something in return. It makes me feel good to give. That’s the return. I give but I get as soon as I give because it feels good to give.
Find someone that inspires you as a role model. That works for me. I have a lot of role models. Just look at how they think, live, and serve and how you can incorporate what they do into your life. Also, trust that you are your own best guide! Let’s say, someone, you admire is a great runner, that inspires you, but you have tried running and realize your body is not made for it. You listen to your own body and instead you can do power walking or you can hike for instance. You don’t give up but you take inspiration and incorporate it into YOUR life. Listening to your own body, your inner guidance system, that’s my best advice.
Then, for your mental wellness, the best advice that I could share is advice I take myself. When I’m feeling out of my body and when I’m feeling out of sorts, I shut off the news, technology, and especially social media. And I take some time to be with myself in nature. That’s the simplest and best advice I could give right now. Taking time to be WITH yourself, not BY yourself. Get to know yourself as a practice.
Alanis Morissette. Michelle Obama, all in the same group. I admire and love them both!
It’s a practice of trust, vulnerability, and intimacy. I had a wise teacher once told me: “Don’t talk to the persona, talk to the person.” So even though you may be a wonderfully famous person, you are still just a person, sitting in a circle with your brothers and sisters. And so if they are in a circle, they want to be there, and want to participate. They participate at a level at which they’re comfortable with. That is always the invitation for everyone in the circle.
There’s no guarantee that someone’s not going to be affected by the fact that they are famous, but that’s part of the practice. It is acceptance and holding sacred space for everyone. I’ve sat in circles with well-known people and it’s beautiful because everybody connects in some way. There is no above or below, in front or behind, everyone is equal in a circle.
The Morning Show on Apple TV is amazing! I am on it [whispers and smiles]. Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are “ama-zing”! I recently watched Hamilton on Disney Plus, which was a real treat to see the original cast. I can’t stop singing.
Right now, I enjoy writing. I love being with my children, family, and friends. I love acting and will be doing more in The Morning Show when we go back to work. I love acting. It’s one of the main things I’ve done with my life, so I’ll continue to act. However, I love circling even more. To me, the two stem from the same origin, storytelling. In circles, we sit and share our stories, and when acting, we create or recreate stories.
To my younger self, I would say it’s all going to be okay! You don’t have to work so hard. And follow your instinct. Your instinct is always right. It’s always been right. Follow it and have more fun.
We are lucky to be on the journey we’re on. There is a group of us that have been friends for many years. Jen and I have been friends since we were 14 and 15. And other friends we’ve picked up along the way. You know, we’re just sisters. We’ve been together for a long time. We’re chosen, family. We love each other, celebrate each other, and support each other.
My dad taught me never to show up to someone’s house empty-handed and I love that form of manners because it acknowledges giving and receiving as a sacred gesture. If I’m a guest at your house, I won’t start eating until you start. That’s old school! But I love it because I’m honoring where I’m at, your house, you’ve invited me and I’m honoring you. To me, that’s good manners. It’s about honoring a moment, a person, a tradition, and being authentic about it. Saying “Thank you” and really meaning it. Thank you. This has been an honor.
There’s so much great advice, an avalanche of good advice. I wouldn’t be here without all the good advice. The best one is to never stop learning, to always be a student. That is is the best part of life. I also love learning from my kids. They teach me something so profound!
I think you should interview Terra Naomi about her sound baths and her singing and how she’s merging those two gifts that she has into one experience. Afterward, you feel cleared out, energized, and relaxed.
If you like our story with Andrea Bendewald, our Editor recommends: Benefit from Meditation
Thank you sharing this great article, very inspiring story.