It's difficult to explain what happens in a Circle of Trust ... it's an inner journey in community; one accesses an inner source of truth; metaphors, poetry, music and art are used; paradoxical tensions are held.

The Circle of Trust® approach to creating a deepened inner, personal journey - to rejoin your "soul and role" through building a community of trustworthy relationships - was developed by Parker Palmer. According to the Center for Courage and Renewal (CCR) website, this approach "is distinguished by principles and practices intended to create a process of shared exploration - in retreats, programs and other settings - where people can find safe space to nurture personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it."

I spent my first retreat as a skeptic. My default is the head, not the heart. Eventually, the process worked its way into me. Something dormant and undeveloped deep inside gasped at the offer of air. The seemingly non-productive retreat became intentional, purposeful, even productive!

Self-reflection and renewal are not typically talked about in social justice and activism work. What I now know is that it should be. An unexamined life is a recipe for intercultural misunderstandings. Inner work is critical to sustaining ourselves for the long haul.

In a Circle of Trust, we speak from our center into the center, each individual truth creating a tapestry of universal truth greater than the sum of its parts. There is no space for judgment, fixing, advising - only invitations to explore "the intersection of the universal stories of human experience with the personal stories of our lives," again from CCR.

In my first retreat as facilitator, I was grateful to have university colleagues present. Most were unsure what it was, but signed up because of experiences with my other trainings. The theme of the retreat was "Identity and Integrity: Renewing the Heart of a Teacher." A rich tapestry of diversity and perspective was present. Collectively we explored what it meant to have an individual identity in the context of our role as educators.

We were from five different countries, all shades and sexualities. A commonality was the need to check our identities at the classroom door. We left knowing that our own souls as educators need and deserve our "hidden wholeness" to join us in the classroom. And our students need that, too! Merging role with soul is a key concept. The personal is the professional, as well as the spiritual essence we each bring to the circle.

Paula J. Pedersen is an educator and trainer in equity and inclusion at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.


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