Kathe Schaaf is a founding member of Women of Spirit and Faith, organized in 2010 with the intention of exploring, nurturing and celebrating women’s spiritual leadership. She is one of the editors of Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power, an anthology of women’s wisdom. Kathe serves on the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, where she co-chairs the Women’s Task Force.
At a panel at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2010, I heard a global activist say “It is not enough that we have earned a place at the table. Now we need to change the shape of the table.” Such profound wisdom … experienced as I sat in a large auditorium with all the chairs bolted to the floor in straight rows focused on the ‘experts’ on the stage. I was surrounded by grassroots women leaders from all parts of the world who have pioneered creative programs to address the basic human needs of women and children, and if we had somehow managed to actually “change the shape of the table”, all of those women would have been sitting in small circles; the panels would have been followed by an opportunity to dialogue with one another in those circles; every voice would have been heard; inspiring wisdom would have been exchanged; best practices would have been shared; new relationship would have been birthed; and every woman in the room would have been validated as a leader.
Such is the power of circle.
Circle is a simple yet sophisticated technology that multiplies creativity, invites inspiration and builds community. My experience is that individual passion and confidence is often awakened, at the same time that the collective wisdom leads to creative new ideas and solutions. It is a win-win for both the individual and the organization, the heart and the head. Circle technology can be used in any setting, with groups of any size and to explore any topic. It does not require costly equipment or even training; it does require commitment to the process, dedicated time and a basic understanding of circle principles. There are many circle resources available to help you get started, including those collected on the Women of Spirit and Faith website .
My favorite circles have been those built around a sacred center, inviting the presence of the Divine among us to inspire and inform our work together. I love the process of creating a simple altar in the space at the center, with flickering candles and a small object contributed by every member of the circle. This sacred practice honors the diverse faith perspectives of everyone in the circle and creates the space for grace. We all need a little more grace.
I have seen circle principles used in large gatherings with thousands of people by inviting everyone to find a partner and explore a question together for 10 minutes. I have spent days in circle at planning retreats, using circle principles to make big organizational decisions and develop strategic plans through shared leadership and deep listening. At Women of Spirit and Faith, our Alchemy conferences are always structured around circle dialogues; the ballroom stays set up with round tables and the wisdom arising at those tables is valued as a precious gift.
And I have participated too often in conferences and events where the room was set up in straight rows; the only acknowledged leaders were those on the stage; and the incredible wisdom of the people in the chairs was never harvested. My reaction is a keen disappointment at yet another missed opportunity. We no longer have the time to miss those opportunities.
This collaborative blog is a virtual circle and an opportunity to harvest women’s wisdom. We’d love to hear about your experiences with circle (or with missed opportunities), your ideas and your questions.