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From Conversation to Connection: An Interview with Anne Fitzgerald

8 November 2007 No Comment

Anne Fitzgerald is a Peace X Peace volunteer, organizational consultant, and founder of ~Spirit at Work Global~ in Waltham, MA. She uses circle process as the container for her work with clients, integrating her years of expertise as guide in visioning, planning, decision-making, and action as well as her decades of experience in circles. She invites all involved to hold the space for what needs to emerge, and encourages a deep listening that unfolds a “letting come”.

Anne,we talk a lot at Peace X Peace about Circle principles, and a great deal has been written about them. What have been the most important elements in the Circles you’ve known?

Anne. In my growing understanding of being in Circle, the most important element is to identify and claim a sacred center of shared intent. In this kind of Circle there is something greater than the sum total of the stories and experiences and ideas we share. It’s the space that holds these things. People call it spirit or alchemy or the energy of the whole. From time to time we can rest in this space, with this spirit, and call on its wisdom. The members become the rim of the sacred Circle and intentionally hold the space. This can make a Peace X Peace women’s Circle different from other groups and organizations we belong to. The choice to do this is up to the participants, but in my experience, Circles are flat without it.

How can Circle members become aware of this, and stay aware?

Anne. They can put a symbol of their intent at the center of the Circle. It might be a candle. If you are responding to the women of Iraq, it might be pictures of Iraqi women and children. If partnership is at the center, it might be a sculpture of joined hands or joined hearts. One Circle has a box with small objects that represent each member. These become reminders of our intent; they tell us this is sacred space.

In traditional cultures the places where women gather have elemental significance: a village well, or a fire that provides light and warmth and cooks the food. People depend on the blessings of the natural order in a primary way. But I don’t think about water as life-giving when I turn on the tap. We are detached from viewing ordinary things as sacred. These special objects can remind us that we rely on something greater than ourselves. They can deepen our Circle experience. Do you know what I’m saying?

I do indeed. What other principles flow from this one?

Anne. Sometimes we talk about sharing leadership, but what’s really important is to rotate leadership. This is a Circle. At any given point, one member will lead because she has a richer lived experience in a particular area, more knowledge, more expertise, or more of the simplicity the subject needs. The group acknowledges that she is the leader for this time.

Sharing responsibility is about tasks: You do these two and I’ll do the others. Rotating is about knowing who expresses the vision, wisdom, approach that the group needs now. She may do it by asking for a pause to breathe and hear something powerful that has just been said. We notice, recognize, and acknowledge, then we go on. We don’t get off track.

Circle leadership may shift from moment to moment. We are all paying attention to who is leading and making sure the group notices and pays attention. It might be as simple as pointing out that everyone hasn’t checked in. It might be naming a feeling or experience that amplifies what we are sharing. That’s paying attention and honoring the intent of the group.

In a Circle, we speak with intention, we listen with attention, and we self-monitor our impact on the whole. When we speak intentionally, we speak to what has relevance and meaning in this circle now, from our hearts and our experience in this moment.

Christina Baldwin describes this process in Calling the Circle. I have learned so much from being with her!

Where does the self-monitoring come in?

Anne. A person who disrupts a group, pulls it away from its intention, and is unable to rotate leadership is lacking full awareness of her impact. To deepen our experience, we can introduce that practice explicitly and remind each other of it. We can ask ourselves: Is this my wisdom or just my ego, my need for attention, my need to have my own way?

What other qualities are important for deep sharing?

Anne. At some point, if you pay attention to your intention, you’ll see a shift from conversation to connection. Sometimes this takes place spontaneously among women. The shift happens when we reveal our vulnerabilities and our curiosities and when we’re willing to deepen our disclosures. It also happens when there’s laughter and fun in the group. The grounding for all that—and also the result—is safety. Women in meaningful Circle connections often say, “I feel so safe here! I don’t have to do anything or defend anything or explain anything. I can just be who and what I am.”

This is where it takes you when you practice all the principles. There’s a sense of being heard and valued and a tremendous sense of well-being even in difficult times. Someone will say something that requires me to re-assess, that invites me to another level of knowing or being known. This is where all our differences of culture and race and spiritual traditions edge us onward. It’s not your action; it’s my experience of being in relationship with you that takes me further. I am changed through our relationship.

Then, if we’re clear about our intention, we come back to the group and ask, “What are we learning from each other? What do we notice that we didn’t notice before? What surprises us?” For me, it’s about discovering the similarities over and over again. It’s about a deepening sense of gratitude: for what we have that others struggle for, but also what they have that may be deficient in our own experience. For me, I often discover a deep sense of community and generosity.

What you’ve said so far mostly applies to the home Circle. How do you hold sacred space in the place between matched Circles?

Anne. Sending some small objects to each other as physical reminders is one way to start. What we really do in a Circle, though, is raise that sacred space so that each one is holding the rim of the whole connection. In a match, the challenge is to take another step back so that each one of us is holding the larger rim of a new sacred space: a sacred circle of the whole. The matched Circles become a new we instead of just us and them.

In that space, women who allow themselves to be known have a natural inclination to honor the relationship through action. Their actions demonstrate that each woman friend is valued, cared for, and safe in the connection. The actions just flow, in each of the matched Circles and in the sacred space between. They provide support to their members in all kinds of practical difficulties, from being without water to being in a relationship that hurts you.

Thank you, Anne!

You’re welcome. I have had many teachers, including Christina Baldwin, Jean Bolen The Millionth Circle and the Peace X Peace Advisory Board and Ann Yeomans of Women’s Well. Perhaps I have learned most from the women of the Beads Circle. Being in that relationship, especially with Naba from Iraq, has made me richer, wiser, more tender, more courageous, more urgent and less complacent, even in a deep way more beautiful than I had ever imagined I could be. That is the power and the beauty of the sacred Circle.

You can reach Anne at afspirit@comcast.net.

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About the Author

Mary Liepold is the Editor-in-Chief at Peace X Peace. To reach Dr. Liepold, email maryl@peacexpeace.org.
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