In the early days of founding Project Compassion, a community-based end-of-life care non-profit, a few of us realized we needed a format for people who were grieving to share their experiences in a confidential and safe way. We wanted this new way to be different than a traditional support group.

Martha Sorensen, a therapist who was living in Chapel Hill at the time, suggested we facilitate Wisdom Circles, a small-group model which had been adapted from the Native American tradition.  That was 16 years ago. The lessons that Martha, the initial group, and the members of the hundreds of circles I have facilitated since, have been some of the most formative in my adult life.

I have been transformed by listening to the stories of others and sharing my own in sacred and safe space.  I believe others have been transformed as well. To be transformed is to be willing to humbly let go of our own agenda and make space for the wisdom of the “other”–be that “other” God, a friend, a perceived enemy, nature, or an experience.  

Over these next few posts, I will endeavor to provide insight into the mechanics of, and my experiences with, the Wisdom Circle format.

I offer this series as a way forward for us to listen “with the ear of the heart,”* to our lives and to one another.  I offer this as a counterweight to a culture mired in “echo chambers” that reinforce our own beliefs.  I offer this as a way to follow Eli Pariser’s lead and begin “seeking and finding folks who don’t think like me who I’m genuinely interested in, as people and thinkers.” I offer this as a way for me to teach what I need to learn.

Frequently we read or hear people say that we are the most polarized we have ever been–as a country, as a world. This observation is frequently made in a passive tone, as if we are separate from the polarization. I am sorry, you and I, we are contributors to this environment of polarization when we surround ourselves with those who look like us, think like us, believe like us, and spend like us.  

In my next post I will outline the guidelines for a Wisdom Circle and then in subsequent posts, delve more deeply into the essence of each of those guidelines and how they can shape our listening to our lives.

Thank you for coming along for the ride. I live in hope that with God’s help, you and I can transform the world, one blessed heart at a time. Most likely, the first heart to turn will be our own.

*From St. Benedict’s Rule of Life