As I write this, my life is strangely on hold for three months. I can’t say I am comfortable with the feeling. It comes down to May 9, 2017: the day that the province elects a new government. In these past months, I have become a BC Green Party candidate for one of the Kamloops ridings in the British Columbia election. How does a priest become a politician? From where might a new calling emerge?
For me, it was in quiet circles of self-reflection with friends and participants in programs. I have been facilitating these past years as a freelancer in a lineage of ‘Circles of Trust’. These circles are distinguished by principles and practices intended to create a process of shared exploration. It offers a rare chance for people to find safe space to nurture personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it. I find that this approach has the power to transform individuals, families, workplaces and communities.
In rich collaborative learning, our growing network of facilitators has been prepared by our mentor and friend Parker J. Palmer. Parker is the founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal and is an American writer, speaker and Quaker activist whose work spans education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. He has reached millions worldwide through his nine books.
I have deeply benefited from a profound circle of colleagues these past two years. We have been meeting at the activist/spiritual center on the Appalachian Trail: Kirkridge Retreat Centre. Any movement requires a space where private language can be tested until it is ready for public exposure and criticism. This thoughtful community has served me well and I hope I served others nearly as much.
In all of these experiences, I became aware of a strong emotion denied the light of day. I awakened something I had suppressed. It is anger. I can more clearly name it now as indignation, sorrow, and heartbreak. It is an experience of the tragic gap between my realism and idealism: an inescapable reality of the human situation… if we dare to love. As I faced into it, it just felt awful. I could not shake the vision of what I had avoided: the tragedies of dying species, fading employment for so many, rampant injustice and consumerism, the futility of war, a warming planet, growing income inequality, and a failing social system. I could not shake it. It liberated something in me wanting to be free.
Circles of Trust call for attentive awareness. We try to gently face eye to eye what we are feeling, thinking and sensing in the present moment. We sense the wave action rocking the boat that comes embedded with navigational information. One of the touchstones of these circles:
“Attend to your own inner teacher… as we explore poems, stories, questions and silence in a circle of trust, we have a special opportunity to learn from within. So pay close attention to your own reactions and responses, to your most important teacher.”
I continue to deeply value the individual work of transformation in these circles. I love the remarkable people who show up seeking some connection with inner wisdom and a revelation of truth. Yet, I noticed another longing linked to the anger. It was a yearning to share with a larger active movement for societal transformation.
I’m responding to that calling, and I carry no judgement of the work I have been doing. I still feel a strong pull to be in these circles. I sense I will return to my facilitation role when this phase of life has been fulfilled. When will this be and how will I know it? I have no clue.
I trust this strong motivation to travel ‘up the river’: to the place upstream where government legislation, regulatory power, and community decision-making happen. It is a guarded realm. It is the place from where much of the ‘down river’ issues continue to be created – for good and for bad. I wanted to show up there and try to affect what I can. I did not hear an inner voice. I wish I did. I do have access to what I call a low grade sensation of direction. It is a prompting to pray and play in this active way for these next years of my life.
A gift appeared along the way, in the form of a poem by the late Bill Stafford. I have only made use of this inspiring poem for one program to date. At that program, the poem spoke to me in the way that only an honest poem can. The words of the closing stanza are the ones that most resonated:
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
-an excerpt from William Stafford ‘ A Ritual to Read to Each Other’
My lovely friend David was a close friend of the late poet Bill Stafford. He introduced me to Bill’s poems which continue to reveal truth to me. Reading this poem aloud in a small circle of seekers, I recall a distinct awakening. A truth came from my remote important region. It remains the humble giving of a proper and clear signal about what I believe. I return to this poem when I doubt my decision to run.
All this is a tapestry that weaves into grief. Most serious life changes do. Two important men in my life died within a few weeks of each other. I said goodbye to my mentor and spiritual director, Jim. Days later I touched the warm and dead figure of my father. I dream of them from time to time. Their deaths activated a latent energy that is carrying me now, a year later. Grief arrived with a surprise of clarity.
Jim charged me near the end of his life to speak up. ‘Dan, it is time.’ I was no longer a young fellow with potential, as he chided me gently. I was a wisdom-speaker in the community. Chutzpah arrived with Jim’s words.
So begins the next generational shift of my life. This next phase I understand to be essentially generative. It is co-creative activism in this Green movement of societal change by political process. I don’t know how it will transition in three months. I do not know why it has taken this expression. It has. I trust. It feels right.
All photos courtesy of Dan Hines.