If we are willing to embrace the challenge of becoming whole, we cannot embrace it alone — at least, not for long: we need trustworthy relationships to sustain us, tenacious communities of support, to sustain the journey toward an undivided life. Taking an inner journey toward re-joining soul and role requires a rare but real form of community that I call a ‘circle of trust.’
Parker J Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness (adapted) The Circle of Trust
® approach, that is at the heart of Courage and Renewal retreats and used extensively by WholeHearted, is distinguished by principles and practices intended to create a process of shared exploration when people can find safe space to nurture personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it. See below for details of our principles and practices.
WholeHearted director, Greg Sunter, is a retreat facilitator prepared by the Center for Courage & Renewal.Learn more about the Circle of Trust ® approach from Parker Palmer: VIDEOThe following Principles and Practices are from the Center for Courage & Renewal
Principles of the Circle of Trust Approach
Everyone has an inner teacher: Every person has access to an inner source of truth, named in various wisdom traditions as identity, true self, heart, spirit or soul. The inner teacher is a source of guidance and strength that helps us find our way through life’s complexities and challenges. Circles of Trust give people a chance to listen to this source, learn from it and discover its imperatives for their work and their lives.
Inner work requires solitude and community: In Circles of Trust we make space for the solitude that allows us to learn from within, while supporting that solitude with the resources of community. Participants take an inner journey in community where we learn how to evoke and challenge each other without being judgmental, directive or invasive.
Inner work must be invitational: Circles of Trust are never “share or die” events, but times and places where people have the freedom within a purposeful process to learn and grow in their own way, on their own schedule and at their own level of need. From start to finish, this approach invites participation rather than insisting upon it because the inner teacher speaks by choice, not on command.
Our lives move in cycles like the seasons: By using metaphors drawn from the seasons to frame our exploration of the inner life, we create a hospitable space that allows people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives to engage in a respectful dialogue. These metaphors represent cycles of life—such as the alternation of darkness and light, death and new life—shared by everyone in a secular, pluralistic society regardless of philosophical, religious or spiritual differences.
An appreciation of paradox enriches our lives and helps us hold greater complexity: The journey we take in a Circle of Trust teaches us to approach the many polarities that come with being human as “both/ands” rather than “either/ors,” holding them in ways that open us to new insights and possibilities. We listen to the inner teacher and to the voices in the circle, letting our own insights and the wisdom that can emerge in conversation check and balance each other. We trust both our intellects and the knowledge that comes through our bodies, intuitions and emotions.
We live with greater integrity when we see ourselves whole: Integrity means integrating all that we are into our sense of self, embracing our shadows and limitations as well as our light and our gifts. As we deepen the congruence between our inner and outer lives we show up more fully in the key relationships and events of our lives, increasing our capacity to be authentic and courageous in life and work.
A “hidden wholeness” underlies our lives: Whatever brokenness we experience in ourselves and in the world, a “hidden wholeness” can be found just beneath the surface. The capacity to stand and act with integrity in the gap between what is and what could be or should be—resisting both the corrosive cynicism that comes from seeing only what is broken and the irrelevant idealism that comes from seeing only what is not—has been key to every life-giving movement and is among the fruits of the Circle of Trust approach.
Practices of the Circle of Trust Approach
Creating spaces that are open and hospitable, but resource-rich and charged with expectancy: In a Circle of Trust, we are invited to slow down, listen and reflect in a quiet and focused space. At the same time, we engage in dialogue with others in the circle—a dialogue about things that matter. As this “sorting and sifting” goes on, and we are able to clarify and affirm our truth in the presence of others, that truth is more likely to overflow into our work and lives.
Committing to no fixing, advising, “saving” or correcting one another: Everything we do is guided by this simple rule, one that honours the primacy and integrity of the inner teacher. When we are free from external judgment, we are more likely to have an honest conversation with ourselves and learn to check and correct ourselves from within.
Asking honest, open questions to “hear each other into speech”: Instead of advising each other, we learn to listen deeply and ask questions that help others hear their own inner wisdom more clearly. As we learn to ask questions that are not advice in disguise, that have no other purpose than to help someone listen to the inner teacher, all of us learn and grow.
Exploring the intersection of the universal stories of human experience with the personal stories of our lives: Guided conversations focused on a poem, a teaching story, a piece of music or a work of art—drawn from diverse cultures and wisdom traditions—invite us to reflect on the “big questions” of our lives, allowing each person to intersect and explore them in his or her own way.
Using multiple modes of reflection so everyone can find his or her place and pace: In Circles of Trust, we speak and we listen. We explore important questions in large group conversation and dialogues in small groups. We make time for individual reflection and journaling. We respect nonverbal ways of learning, including music, movement and the arts. We honour the educative power of silence and the healing power of laughter. Together we weave a “tapestry of truth” with many and diverse threads, creating a pattern in which everyone can find a place that both affirms and stretches them.
Honouring confidentiality: Participants in Circles of Trust understand that nothing said in these circles will be revealed outside the circle and that things said by participants will not be pursued when a session ends, unless the speaker requests it.
The Principles and Practices at Work in the World
Participants in a Circle of Trust return to their homes, workplaces and communities, taking two important resources with them:
Greater access to the inner teacher and a new depth of self-knowledge, often resulting in a clearer sense of guidance for their personal and professional lives and a resolve to live closer to their core commitments.
Principles and practices from the Circle of Trust approach that can be applied to their daily lives.
As a result of participating in circles of trust people report:
a stronger sense of purpose and integrity
expanded capacity to be fully present to others in ways that affirm and heal
increased skill in asking the honest, open questions that help others uncover their own inner wisdom
greater confidence to seek or create communities of support
increased understanding, appreciation and respect for human differences, based in deeper awareness of the identity and integrity of ourselves and others
greater capacity to build the relational trust that helps institutions pursue their missions
more courage to live and lead authentically
renewed passion for their work or vocation
a deeper commitment to leadership and service to others
What happens in a Circle of Trust — grounded in honouring the identity and integrity of each participant — flows out into the world as an authentic source of personal and societal healing and a power for positive social change.
For more about the principles and practices of the Circle of Trust
® approach in theory and in practice, please see Parker J. Palmer, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004). A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life