Circles of Life | Zoë Gameau, Wellbeing Coach & Founder of How We Gather
As an actress and author, Zoë Gameau was accustomed to a life in lights. Now, her passion project ‘How We Gather’ is helping others find their own light and sense of community in a world fractured by disconnection. Here, she reveals the transformative power of gathering and Circle Work.
We’ve been wanting to speak with you for such a long time...where to start! Firstly, how are you loving living life in Byron Bay and what inspired the move here?
Sunshine! We were living in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria and my husband and I both missed the sun and the ocean. Both working for ourselves or on collaborative projects that we can do from anywhere allowed us to make the move.
Byron is a community of true creatives & influencers, has the sea change been transformative for you?
Certainly, it has. People visiting have a perception of Byron Bay being laid back, yet when you live here you realise that those working and living here are mostly very self-motivated & entrepreneurial. Not in a self-centred way though, in an egalitarian way with a lot of consideration for the whole and by that, I mean peoples wellbeing and also the planets. I’ve met so many who have moved up here and chosen a more meaningful life, one with values and a lifestyle they actively uphold and adhere to for the good of themselves and their families.
To many you’re known from previous work as an actor and with fellow actor & husband now turned film director, Damon.
Yes, our former lives. We were both ready to move on from acting and ready to explore new ways of contributing through our work. That Sugar Film was a project that really helped us both move on from our old careers and start exploring other options and realising they were viable and very rewarding for a host of reasons one of which was making a direct positive impact on peoples’ lives.
Recently you have created a new project called How We Gather. Can you share with us what How We Gather offers & how it came to be?
How We Gather speaks to the question of our time around how we are interrelating as human beings and what we want the future of that to look like; what connects us, how do we find shared meaning in those connections, how do we cultivate greater understanding and compassion for one another as a whole. Fundamentally we are wired for connection and yet there is so much disconnection even in quite densely populated areas or workplaces. The issue here is the quality we bring to our relating and that’s what I hope to help transform with this work.
How it came to be… well I suppose through my own explorations that largely consisted of participating in transformative group work and quite simply sitting in a lot of circles. Circle has been in my life since I was 18 and I have sat in all kinds for all sorts of different purposes; so, when I brought How We Gather into being (the name came through in a dream) it was really for me a way of sharing the spaciousness and ‘beyond the mind’ quality of that experience. There’s a spiritual yearning that these spaces fulfil that is secular in nature and goes beyond religion or any kind of dogma, it’s a natural sense of connectedness to a larger whole.
When we spoke last you used the most amazing word “undoing” to describe what you do. Can you illustrate for us what undoing means to you?
Yes, thank you for picking that up. The simplest explanation is that it’s the opposite of ‘doing’. We do so much currently and rarely do we cultivate spaces for ‘being’ outside of meditation and sleep. So, for me the ‘undoing’ I refer to in my group work circles as well as my one to one work, comes through exercises that unravel the tangle of thoughts and experiences we carry day to day so that we have more space, emotionally, mentally and physically. The work I’m most interested in is that which creates a quality of relief, permission, allowing, accepting and receptivity because in these states I feel greater harmony between us flows naturally.
We love the selection of events you offer. Gathering Circles, Nights at the Round Table& Community Creative Dance Gatherings. They all sound so inviting, which have you found people gravitate to for their first gathering?
They are drawn to what they need. The dancing is one for fun & play which I think we all need more of, people generally love anything that brings joy because it’s easy to access as a state, and certainly in our sedentary adult worlds we could use more movement, but it’s not as vulnerable necessarily as simply sitting in circle which can be very raw for people their first time. It’s quite common for people to come to a circle and feel uncomfortable or just cry the moment they sit down because their whole lives they’ve never been in a space with others where they can just be, without feeling they need to prove anything or do anything. That’s such an honour to witness and really shows peoples thirst for this kind of experience. There’s a softness in circle that’s warm like a hug. The Nights at the round table are probably a great introduction for those who are foodies and like their connection a bit more casual. The dinner conversation menus extend usual day to day conversation transforming it into broader minded and expansive communication with people who we may not know so well. Different needs suit different group settings so it’s fun to curate those according to what peoples’ passions & curiosities are.
You offer both closed & open groups, what do you feel are the unique benefits of the different styles of groups?
Closed groups are great for creating a sense of safety for people to share more vulnerably and honestly within a held space usually of people you already know and share a bond with such as family, friendship or work groups. If you start a closed group with relative strangers you’ll come to know them very well, maybe better than some of their friends. When you sit in a closed circle over a period of a weekend or a series of sessions over 7 consecutive weeks (which is my usual cycle for this work), patterns and themes come up that can be explored in greater depth with real safety. It becomes a space of solace, for sincere resolution, clarity and lasting transformation as well as shared experience which creates inherent bonding.
Open circles are fantastic for reconnecting with that still point in ourselves and also widening our networks to include broader community. Open circles are a chance to dip in and dip out, with processes that are more catered towards internal work that you can take at your own pace, revealing as little or as much as feels appropriate to you when sharing with the group.
Of course, one consistent factor is that confidentiality is respected in both open and closed circles. It’s ok to talk about and share from our own experience but I always emphasise that we respect the privacy of the other participants.
Today, it’s unfortunately common to feel worn out or disconnected from self. What can you offer to someone or a group who may be feeling out-of-touch with themselves or their community?
Solace & Reconnection: with ourselves, with each other, with the planet and something greater than us all, whatever that is. When we are feeling saturated, our capacity to even discern our true needs is at a minimum. We are in survival mode and have no additional resources within us to care about others let alone our surroundings, we become fixated on minutiae and numb ourselves often with consumerism, devices, addictions and drama in our relationships. So, our first port of call is to at least recognise that, then we can start to address it. In a practical way, I start by offering people space through deep relaxation techniques usually guided creative visualisation, so we can still ourselves enough to uncouple from some of our habitual patterns and hear ourselves deeply again. We then explore processes together that help unpack ideas, emotions, feelings and any obstacles we may be feeling that inhibit us from feeling connected. One example of this is deep ecology work such as that conducted by Joanna Macey which is about understanding our own social dysfunction through the lenses of our relationship (or lack thereof) to nature. A lot of people need more connection to nature and miss it I believe on a biological level. Other types of processes that facilitate connection have their foundation in the arts, toning, singing, physical play, empathy work, positive psychology and coaching. It’s really important to work with the needs of whoever is in front of me and understand what will work for them. I’m also very mindful of making sure I honour culture, so there is no cultural appropriation in the work I do. I strip it back so that it’s relatable and respectful to indigenous or spiritual communities of any sort and make no claims to practices that don’t have roots for me. In this way, the work is inclusive of everyone.
How does the work you are doing now make you feel?
Grateful. Honoured in fact. I’m curious about everything to do with how to help people make shifts in their lives that change them and help them feel the magic of existing. I’m also so curious about the nature of our potential and I believe that connects to abilities we are yet to fully understand that have their basis in para-psychology and spirituality. I love my current work with my whole heart and being. It’s expansive. To feel the vastness that exists in people, to sit with strangers, friends and family and feel so connected to one another. It makes me realise how much we have in common, beyond our judgments, ideologies, vocations, beyond what we identify ourselves to be, our masks and our foibles. There is such resonance between us. When people first come together it can be like listening to music that’s out of tune the discord between us can be so palpable. After a while though, through the simple creative processes we do people tune themselves. We are still different notes and chords but now we are playing in concert, we are in harmony.
Mother to daughter Velvet, what do you hope she can benefit most from the work you are doing today?
This is a big question… the word freedom comes to me. When I unpack that I mean freedom from the dominant discourse about who we are; greedy, consumerist, self-serving, destructive, competitive, exhausted, sick. You know, the media narrative. We are so much more than that; we are these incredible, whole, caring, courageous souls who mostly, I believe, want to share in the beauty that surrounds us, preserve it, leave legacies of meaning, take care of each other & the planet and live lovingly with good will & health. I hope she grows up perceiving that through my work. I hope she knows in her bones the power we have to help one another to see beyond our surface selves and draw out the best in each other. To stand for something different even when it’s not common to or popular. I hope she sees me working to transform the lives of those around me for the better and is proud of that. I hope she knows that with the simplicity of her being, she can do the same in whatever ways she chooses.
Do you feel like motherhood has changed you in anyway?
Irrevocably for the better. The magic began in earnest when I became a mother. I couldn’t go back to my former work or life, it’s like a switch flicked in me and I could no longer do things that only made me feel only partly engaged. I needed work that was meaningful enough and I loved enough for me to take time away from the people who are most important to me. That’s a big ask but that’s how I felt and feel. My family and friends are first and foremost in my life. Without quality and care there, my words would be empty and I couldn’t stand in integrity with the work I do.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about motherhood?
I don’t know. I’ve been given so much advice but I can hardly remember any of it. That’s the thing about advice often, isn’t it? It’s so much about the giver and their version of what works, or what happened. ‘Do what works for you’ might be the best advice though maybe I just made that up in my own head. Oh, I do remember, the best advice I got on a practical note was to get a midwife or another woman in the room as you birth as it’s been proven to significantly reduce the risk of intervention, that certainly was the case for me. I wouldn’t have had the amazing birth I had without the midwives who shared with me their wisdom and care.
What keeps you inspired in everyday life and which are the moments you are most grateful for?
My husband Damon keeps me inspired. He’s my dearest comrade and understands my visions & ideas before anyone else does. He knows me so very well and holds me to account in perusing my hearts calling as opposed to the easy road when at times that would make life more convenient for both of us and I do the same for him. He supports me to do work I truly believe in above and beyond any other considerations. I’m blessed to have found a love like his.
Velvet keeps me inspired everyday with her purity and her play, she’s my light and being with her fills my heart to overflowing.
I’m most grateful for our moments altogether with each other and with our friends. Camping, sharing meals, by the ocean.
My friends are also a reason I stay on track with what I do, they are such diverse, brilliant humans and I love them to bits. The company I keep, keeps me honest.
A note to your younger self?
Relax, it’s all going to be ok.
For our own curiosity, and as an on-going source of inspiration, we always like to find out as much as we can about our featured guests, can you humour us with the first thing that comes to mind for each the below?
Currently I am:
Planning A Holiday
Wearing Not much
Watching The birds
Reading Too many books not often enough, piled very high in a stack beside my bed.
To hear Florence Sing in a Stone Circle in the UK one day.
To see My great Grandchildren
To hold Hands
Thank you, beautiful LOVE MAE, for these stirring questions and your generosity in including me on your blog. I am grateful for YOU, Zoe xox