I wakened early this morning, feeling a pressure to write and make final preparations for my departure into a retreat to experience and practice the art of convening circle. Since at least 2004, I’ve held intention to learn from Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, the two wise women whose life work has been centered on codifying and bringing this most ancient way of gathering into mainstream. Right before I left on my solo pilgrimage to Europe last year, I fired off an email of inquiry, “Would they consider coming to Edmonton to host a circle practicum?” And upon my return, I began to co-weave the energies of my desire into the reality that manifests later today, when twenty women gather at Strawberry Creek Lodge, to make, learn, practice and be in circle together.
Since last Friday, I’ve sat in circle at least once every day. The weekend found me rather unexpectedly sitting in the quiet sangha of a vipassana meditation retreat. I’d received a last minute email midweek saying there was space in a retreat I’d earlier checked off my list as I’d anticipated hosting the first of the season of intuitive process painting workshops. A small, sweet, inner delight as I realized I could easily attend, at least for a few hours. “Have you closed off all the exits?” asked retreat leader Howard Cohn, whose kind and relaxed style made the teachings accessible, sparkling with humour and words from my favorite poets. My exits were keeping open the possibility of attending Friday evening and maybe for a few hours on Saturday, but NOT the entire weekend as I had lots of important stuff to do. When I sat on my cushion Friday night, amidst the seventy or so earnest others, and faced his question, really an invitation to be still with myself in community, I began to close the exits by pre-paying for lunch both days, arriving both mornings and staying until we said goodbye.
Monday I sat in three circles, starting with a virtual Skype call with colleagues to consider convening an Art of Hosting training in Alberta next year. At noon, a face to face circle with two from the morning’s call, to sense into and design the hosting for our monthly community of practice gathering. Later that night, the monthly circle I co-host with my friend for women leaders in education. Tuesday morning, six leaders removed their circular work table to sit without that prop’s safety, and risk to speak “that which is asking to emerge among them,” tentatively and vulnerably inviting the beginning shift to true shared leadership, while closing off their own exits. Last night, my community of practice, where fifteen or so of us re-examined why we come, what flows among us, what flows out with us when we leave, and what are the practices, patterns and protocols that serve and strengthen our container. And today, for the next five days, a deep dive into the nuance of circle, by living and being it.
So what about this pressure? Last night I talked about my evolving understanding of and need for a community of practice. Originally in response to the isolation of working counter-culturally, the need to be among kindred folk for support to grow my skills as a facilitator-coach. “Practice” then was about work and how I earned my livelihood. Over time, it’s shifted to being a place with those same kindred folk, in which I practice being and bringing the fullness of who I am there and out there, how I live my livelihood. Whether in the silence of the sangha, or the conversation in circle, I asked to close off the exits to more deeply encounter and host myself, and to learn how to do this with truth and tenderness, clarity and compassion. I’ve been heard and I’m feeling and facing fear as I know the “inner critic on steroids” (thanks for this one, Julie Daley) waits in the shadows.
Yes, the exits are closed. And I have the practice of one breath, one step, one circle.