The Woman Sitting Next to Me



By Roshi Barbara Salaam Wegmüller, Spiegel, Switzerland

Tala is three years old. A year ago she arrived out of the war in Syria to Switzerland. Her mother brought her to our women circle. The first time some weeks ago, Tala sat for two hours in the circle, holding the talking piece when it was her turn, looking in our faces, smiling. Tala loves it, as we all do, our sitting in the meditation room around the candle in deep listening of what our one heart wants to share and to the sharing of all the hearts in our circle of women.

Yesterday evening she laid down on the black zabuton and slept during all the rounds of our sharing, but at the end she woke up to blow off the candle. It is a good way – to share in council – about the pain and the joy we hold in our hearts. We invoked the presence of family members who are gone in the war, we called their names and accepted the deep pain of the loss. I often hear in Switzerland people hope not to meet their parents too often because their relationships are not always easy. In the circle, we listen to the pain of loosing everything, home, work, culture, friends, brothers and sisters — and out of this, came to me the idea to write poems in Arabic and work together on translation, to share it in a book. Later when I expressed this idea, I saw light in the sad eyes of the woman sitting next to me.

After the council we had tea and sweets together. Every time the Swiss women come to the circle, or to the meditation, they bring bags full of beautiful outfits and shawls for the others or for their friends or families. The field is filled with love and respect for our different lives as women, all with the wish to be happy and live a precious life.

Later, I wrote to Jared Seide a dear peacemaker friend and director of the Center of Council, asking if he knew anyone who would have Council guidelines in Arabic language. The same day, I got it, with warm wishes from Jack Zimmerman, Leon Berg and Itaf Awad, founder and head teachers and editors of the book “The Way of Council.” I am deeply moved of their generosity and kind support.

They generously shared — this is the essence of council, a wonderful practice to make peace in bringing all the pieces together. I feel deep gratitude to all who invited me in all the years, again and again, to be part in the circle, to practice it in letting my heart learning how to listen and to share.


Roshi Barbara Salaam Wegmüller is a grandmother, a dharma successor of Bernie Glassman and a founding member of the Zen Peacemaker Order in Europe and the development of the Zen Peacemaker Circles. She and her husband Roland are Zen teachers offering weekly Zazen practice in Spiegel, Switzerland. They are involved in various socially engaged activities around the world and are actively supporting Syrian refugees in their area.



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The Woman Sitting Next to Me

7 Responses

  1. I wish for all the refugees around the world they back to there home in there country live safety and have Peace withe there children.

  2. The story of your work in the women’s circle is inspiring, Barbara. I too am in a women’s circle here in San Francisco. We are currently discussing how we might expand our activities together into the wider world, perhaps via a tutoring program for refugee children. After reading about your work, I’m thinking, Why not women too? and poetry?! Love to you and many blessings for continued peacemaking.

  3. Wonderful to read your sharing of Council in Spiegel, Switzerland Barbara. Poetry is a bridge between cultures, you hit the nail on the head. Take good care,

  4. Such depth of heart, action, support, love and respect. Thank you, Barbara, for sending these ripples of hope through humanity. Your being is a beautiful example.

  5. Deep bow Barbara for the inspiring bringing together of these women and creating a space and place where they feel welcome.

  6. I sincerely hope all these “pieces” come together and stay together forever,united in love and deep understanding.

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