Deep in the countryside of the Welsh Borders, we came together from all walks of life and geographies with one shared wish; to slow down and give some serious time and thought to care, where it sits in the ecosystems that surround and enfold us and how we can, as individuals, give and receive more care.
Barbara’s retreat this weekend, was based on the thought-provoking work of Parker J Palmer, who has taught me much over the past two years through his words, which speak to me daily from the pages of his many books and also from his softly-spoken v-logs http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/
Care is not something that I feel can be rushed, even in the talking of it, and the linking of courage to care really intrigued me, so I prepared myself by spending a day walking in the rolling countryside around Knighton, to ensure I was relaxed, ready to join with others and learn from Barbara.
It was very different for me to be on the receiving end of a weekend such as this, instead of organizing and leading one and I did find myself ‘organising’, especially at mealtimes, but as the weekend progressed, I began to let myself be led and cared for and it felt wonderful.
This ‘letting yourself be cared for’ was a topic many of us reflected upon over the weekend and for myself, it was a difficult reflection, as I had to admit that allowing myself to be cared for feels uncomfortable. Accepting care involves taking a risk, extending trust and giving up some measure of control, difficult for someone who likes to be in charge.
The weekend was beautifully constructed and orchestrated by a wise hand; the layers of learning were woven together with thought-provoking pieces of poetry and quotations. The speed was gentle, the silences as important as the conversations and the way Barbara enabled the magic of individual reflection within a group context was wonderful to behold. A circle of trust was created between 14 individuals who didn’t need to know anything more about the person next to them other than that they were here as a willing participant to learn more about caring.
During the weekend, we walked, talked, shared if we felt we wanted to, painted each others stories and created with glue, coloured paper, crayons and leaves, it was wonderful to bring thoughts and reflections to life using craft and for many of us, it was the first time since school that we had expressed ourselves in this way.
The culmination of the learning was taking part in a Clearness Committee, the roots of which are based in the Quaker faith, although the process in this context is in no way religious. (However it is of note that Quakers do not have a clerical hierarchy and they therefore ‘invented’ this process to draw upon both inner and communal reserves to solve personal problems, which in some other religions, may have been discussed with a clerical leader.) A committee sounds somewhat formal, but simply put, this is a confidential and safe space in which an individual, with the help of gentle and open questions, can reflect deeply on an issue.
The function of a Clearness Committee is not to try to ‘fix’ people but to help them discover their own wisdom, from the inside out. This was deeply interesting to me because of my own practice of mindfulness, which has led to the discovery of my own inner teacher, (which I still don’t listen to enough!)
The Clearness Committee was a profound and humbling experience and I can honestly say that in all my years of mentoring and coaching, I have not experienced any other situation where such a deep connection was made in such as short space of time. After the ninety minute session we all said that it felt as though our circle was one being, sharing a profound flow of compassion and respect with just one aim, to cherish and hold the issue and gently allow the truth of the inner voice to rise within the silence.
Yes it was amazing but before you all rush off and try it, please don’t. The experience needed to facilitate a Clearness Committee is extensive. Barbara is a member of the Courage Collaboration, a global network of facilitators who have enhanced their years of life experience by undergoing a two- year programme of learning and mentoring, in order to share the work of Parker J Palmer and the principles and practices of his Circle of Trust ™ approach. Facilitators then use this learning to establish this approach in their own communities or ecosystems.
Which takes me back to the beginning of this piece.
Why do we need courage to care? Because caring involves integrity, respect, listening and acceptance. Whether that care is being given or received.
If we are able to give care, we must first find the space and silence to listen to our inner guide and accept that in some situations, we need care. Then, we must be courageous enough to ask for that care, from loved ones, friends, colleagues or others.
In this crazy fast paced world of instant connection, information overload, goal setting and material measurements of success, being the one to say “STOP”, this problem is too important to rush at, let’s really listen, let’s really engage, let’s really trust, is courageous indeed and bringing this level of care to both work and personal relationships can be profound, as I discovered this weekend when I learnt from a brilliant teacher about the courage to care.
I will certainly take forwards with me some very valuable learning from my weekend and will be ‘exploring’ with Barbara again, hopefully within some of our future Role retreats.