Soul Matters Sharing Circles
What is it?
Each month, we gather to share the stories of our lives. A resource packet based on a monthly spiritual/theological theme is emailed to all the participants ahead of time. It includes spiritual exercises, questions to live with, quotes by authors and thinkers, podcasts, videos, book suggestions, and more. The packet is not “homework,” but rather collection of material to spark your imagination and your memory. They are a great resource for any spiritual journey. [You may view the packets below.]
What is the purpose?
We aim to create a circle of trust in which each participant can share their lives and their feelings, knowing that they are safe with – and held by- the others in the circle. Each of us has our own best teacher inside of us. But we don’t always take the time to listen deeply to what our inner teacher is trying to tell us. We aim to create an environment in which we are able to do that listening.
How does it work?
We follow a specific format for the sharing: We light a chalice with an opening reading. Each person has a few minutes to check in, with no questions or comments from the rest of the circle. Then each person is offered 4 or 5 minutes to share something about how the theme touches their own life story – their own spiritual journey – sometimes as a response to something from the packet, sometimes as simply a part of their lives. Again, no “cross talk”. Just deep listening. Anyone who wishes to may “pass”. There is no pressure to share. When everyone who wishes to has shared, the people in the circle are invited to ask others open, honest questions, or share a response they had to something someone else said.
But, the mantra is always: “no fixing, no saving, no advising, no correcting.” Here are the touchstones for our experience, as outlined by Parker Palmer’s Center For Courage And Renewal.
Circle of Trust Touchstones for Safe and Trustworthy Space
• Give and receive welcome. People learn best in hospitable spaces. In this circle we support each other’s learning by giving and receiving hospitality.
• Be present as fully as possible. Be here with your doubts, fears and failings as well as your convictions, joys and successes, your listening as well as your speaking.
• What is offered in the circle is by invitation, not demand. This is not a “share or die” event! Do whatever your soul calls for, and know that you do it with our support. Your soul knows your needs better than we do.
• Speak your truth in ways that respect other people’s truth. Our views of reality may differ, but speaking one’s truth in a circle of trust does not mean interpreting, correcting or debating what others say. Speak from your center to the center of the circle, using “I” statements, trusting people to do their own sifting and winnowing.
• No fixing, saving, advising or correcting each other. This is one of the hardest guidelines for those of us who like to “help.” But it is vital to welcoming the soul, to making space for the inner teacher.
• Learn to respond to others with honest, open questions. Do not respond with counsel or corrections. Using honest, open questions helps us “hear each other into deeper speech.”
• When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. Turn from reaction and judgment to wonder and compassionate inquiry. Ask yourself, “I wonder why they feel/think this way?” or “I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?” Set aside judgment to listen to others—and to yourself—more deeply.
• Attend to your own inner teacher. We learn from others, of course. But as we explore poems, stories, questions and silence in a circle of trust, we have a special opportunity to learn from within. So pay close attention to your own reactions and responses, to your most important teacher.
• Trust and learn from the silence. Silence is a gift in our noisy world, and a way of knowing in itself. Treat silence as a member of the group. After someone has spoken, take time to reflect without immediately filling the space with words.
• Observe deep confidentiality. Safety is built when we can trust that our words and stories will remain with the people with whom we choose to share, and are not repeated to others without our permission.
• Know that it’s possible to leave the circle with whatever it was that you needed when you arrived, and that the seeds planted here can keep growing in the days ahead.