There is Nothing so Wise as a Circle

There is nothing so wise as a circle.

What is the power of sitting in a circle, of breaking our very Western demand that one person be the focus of all the others?

From insisting that all the kids face the teacher, kindergarten classrooms have Circle Time, when community is emphasized and any issues that affect the group can be brought up.

From our face-front world, retreat center events conduct their events frequently in circles, and people jet or speed home, feeling they’ve communed with kindred spirits.

From the antagonistic, one against one (or many against many) world of street crime, young people may avoid incarceration in part by entering restorative justice circles, where they learn the power of speaking and being heard.

Even much leadership training breaks executives’ reticence down by placing them, too, in a circle formation. Despite their white-hot grip on their cell phones (which they may think invisible in a speaker-forward, kid-at-the-back-of-the-class formation) they must bare their hearts to the group … not through anything they say, but through their very positions, literally exposing the heart area to the whole group at once.

There is nowhere to hide in a circle.

There is also no way to dominate.

The circle demands that you show up, remembering that, as the saying goes, “You are not better than anyone, and no one is better than you.” The circle demands both radical courage and radical humility, the enactment of the noble belief that the singular human being is simultaneously everything and nothing.

In THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, whether our participants are facing the computer to participate with family or support group members from afar, or they are at bedside around a patient, in a traditional support-group circle, or around a dining or coffee table, the trained THJ® Conductor ensures their even participation, softening and equalizing the inevitable power plays, accreted baggage, and habitual ways of relating. With their skill (and yours with just eight hours of small group training), the power of the circle can bring its wisdom as they chart the future they want to have together.

In another post, we’ll share how the eternal form of the labyrinth — a very special kind of circle — found its way into THE HUMAN JOURNEY® … and how participants get themselves into … and out of it.

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It looked as though it was the women’s job. To talk to me, as a visitor.

In a southwestern suburb of Chicago, the patriarch of the family, close to 80, and his broad-shouldered son-in-law did most of the talking through dinner, largely about matters of sports and engineering. He had fixed an elegant salmon, while his wife—the kind of mother you don’t refuse when she tells you this Sunday dinner a visitor is coming over and you had better do what she says—had prepared the wholesome side dishes, including a crunchy raw broccoli salad. All good brain food. The women made small talk with me.

They hadn’t needed to ask me to dinner in addition to having me over to test THE HUMAN JOURNEY® with them those years ago.

But they were a religious family and hospitality, I guessed, was part of how they do things. We would have dinner and then we would settle into the living room to dig in, to see how the structure of THJ® would take a family of a second husband and wife close to 80, her three middle-aged daughters, two single, one married, and their son-in-law, on a journey of discovery of the ingredients that had formed them prior to birth, the choices they had made in adulthood that had carved out their characters, and the will they had to scythe out a new path into a shared future.

Why were the four women slackjawed by the time the evening was over?

Did it have anything to do with what their laconic octagenerian—perhaps not one for therapy, long intimate talks with his wife or stepdaughters, or extended out-loud reflections—was sharing?

How, when he was grieving his first wife, still having to go to work each day in the greeting-card shop he owned, he was able to heal by helping others select the right card and, at the register, to be a patient listener to the tales of love, relationship, and, occasionally, loss they wanted to share with him?

Or was it the how he was sharing it, seemingly without concern for the time he was taking, the personal discoveries he was making, or the rapt engagement of his family?

The structure of THJ®, the ground rules of the experience, and the presence of an outside “Conductor”—a stranger to him—of the Journey opened out the way for him, I was guessing—and for his family. I suspected there would be further questions posed to him as he and his wife got ready for bed that night or as he and his daughters cleared the table together the following Sunday evening.

That Sunday night was the beginning of a new way for the family to see him and each other, the start of new questions and fresh answers, and a different way of walking together on THE HUMAN JOURNEY®.

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