“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
“The circle way is a practice of reestablishing social partnerships and creating a world in which the best of collaboration informs and inspires the best of hierarchical leadership. … The ancient ways of circle are waiting for us to remember and activate a true experience of collaboration.” (Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, 2010, p. 11)
I attended The Circle Way Practicum on Whidbey Island WA from Aug. 15 – Aug. 20, 2018. The learning group was comprised of 22 practitioners and 2 highly skilled hosts Amanda Fenton and Tenneson Woolf. The group was very diverse. Attendees traveled to this circle from a vast array of cultural, generational, professional, and geographical contexts and disciplines. I was amazed at the quality of each participant’s authenticity and competencies – as people and as community members.
The event happened at Aldermarsh – a beautiful sustainable environmental retreat center. Whidbey Island is a paradoxical setting. The island is home to a military naval air station on its northern shore as well as to natural sanctuaries such as Earth Sanctuary, Whidbey Institute, and Aldermarsh. It is in this puzzlingly holy space (fields to use Rumi’s terms) where The Circle Way groups have gathered over the years. These groups will continue flourishing, despite and because of such contradictions. It is only in such cauldrons that true alchemy occurs.
My beloved friend, Gil Stafford is someone I’ve sat in many circles with over the years. He writes:
We must identify what’s hiding in the shadows of our community & then we must accept some responsibility for our work on these denials and repressions. Second, we have to look into our own shadow. What do we have in our personal DNA that feeds into this corporate shadow? Third, we must ask ourselves how we are going to work on our own stuff in a way that will positively affect the collective? In other words, how do we share our inner world with the outer world in ways that are not “all about me,” but instead for the collective health.” (Stafford, Changing the World Without Words, Peregrini June, 27, 2018)
Circles become cauldrons when the paradoxical forces in the shared space beckon participants to come out from behind themselves and enter in the center of the circle’s shared learning and wellness.
A typical day began, for me at 5:30 in the morning for mediation and preparation. Attendees communed for breakfast at 8 am. The Circle met for morning, afternoon, and evening sessions, with some time off for reflection and relaxation on one evening and one afternoon. Formal sessions usually ended before 9 pm. The exception to this rule was an especially emotional and bonding “Story Council” on Saturday evening. Small groups often gathered for reflective and refreshing conversations after the evening session. I was normally asleep by 11:00 pm.
It was without a doubt one of the most transformational experiences of my life as an Episcopal priest.
My initial purpose was to learn more about The Circle Ways tools and techniques. How might I incorporate them and use them in my ministerial and consultative practices? What I have crossed the threshold with is something much, much greater. I have instead gained a cohort (circle) of beloved peers and friends. And, I now possess a much deeper insight into types of questions, reflections, and conversations holding holy room for creating true communities. The Circle Way creates immense capacity for motivating transformation in communities such as mine, Christ Memorial Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. I’m now home with a pallet of activating questions to share with my neighbors and peers.
The birthing point of The Circle Way practice roots itself the reality that human beings have gathered in circles for hundreds of centuries. A circle is one archetype for understanding basic human motivations as well as our shared collective unconscious. We come to meet with one another in circles because we cannot exist without one another. (Neill, 2018)
We live presently in a time and contexts when and where most people and organizations have lost their understanding of communicating in circles. Instead, especially when under stress or contending with confusion, we choose to debate/argue/deliberate with one another in dyads, triangles, or squares. These choices are typically reactive than responsive. Such conversations frequently lack shared purpose, concurrence toward addressing and acting upon a common need, and desire to maintain healthy relationships with one’s self and one’s neighbors – friendly or otherwise. What works and why The Circle Way is core to my practice is that the process beckons us and human beings to cross thresholds of assumptions and difference much like a participant must cross to and from the threshold of Whidbey Island and enter its paradoxes.
I appreciate the way that The Circle Way process invokes some of my tradition’s core tenets. What we share at the center of our conversations yokes us into deeper communion. The center of such offerings is an altar of sorts. What we share of ourselves at the altar is sacred, vulnerable. Who we are on boundaries of the circle we are participating in invites us into deeper covenant with God and one another. There is spiritual synergy that happens in such space that is transformational while provoking shared purpose and flourishing. (The Circle Way, 2018).
Tenneson reminded me yesterday that the essence of our work, play, and being with one another lives most graciously in the context of friendships. Early Christians would describe such friendships as “agape“. Circles create such agape when the people around the center share wholehearted opportunities to be close to one another while being ourselves, in our own bodies, and souls. In this Spirit,
I now re-envision that Jesus’ Last Supper and The Church’s First Communion did not occur at a long rectangular table. Rather the disciples sat with Jesus around a common table with their fears, loves, hopes, and doubts embodied in the shared sacramental bread and wine. Such communion opens us up to betrayal and sacrifice. Letting go in order to live anew is unquestionably more likely when we don’t have barriers between us. Such meetings and the conversations that happen there may be, as the First Communion was, life-changing for everyone in the room and beyond the community’s walls too.
I invite your prayers, ideas and participation as to where we may begin and continue this transformative work. Would you join in a Circle with me?