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Courage & Renewal Interview with Dan

Posted previously on the Center for Courage & Renewal blog:

Interview by: Alexa Strabuk May 22, 2018

Center for Courage & Renewal: How did you first hear of Parker J. Palmer, the Circle of Trust® approach, or the Center for Courage & Renewal?

Dan Hines: I was working for the Anglican diocese here in British Columbia as a traveling ministry, congregational developer. I was mostly working in smaller congregations but I realized that I didn’t have as much knowledge about how to facilitate a small group of leaders together. Parker’s name kept coming up in some of the literature around small-group facilitation and the work he’d done on the Circle of Trust® approach. I read A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer and I realized that it was very relevant to the work that I was doing.

I started incorporating some of the Touchstones and some of the practices that he outlined in that book into my own work and at the same time, I shared it with some friends here in the city I live in. They were interested, too, and we began to gather together to do our own soul work together, our own exploration of the questions we were carrying and the inner wisdom we wanted to try and access. And then, that grew to beginning to offer some workshops in local congregations.

From there, I was able to go to a Courage & Renewal retreat facilitated by Rick Jackson and Mardi Tindal and out of that experience, Rick really encouraged me to enter into Facilitator Prep (FPP). That’s how I got launched into facilitation.

C&R: What was it exactly about Courage & Renewal work that you found relevant to your congregational work?

DH: Well, I think there were two things going at the same time. One was vocational. I was finding that there was a need for a greater discipline than I was trained to provide in small group work. A way that allowed people to really talk honestly with each other and to hear one another in a way that they could hold a safe space for one another, trusting the process until they were ready to trust one another. That was true even for groups that had known each other over decades of church life. But in a lot of ways, they were still strangers. So I had a deep interest in that.

The other was in my own life. I was in the midst of the end of a 20-year marriage and I had two daughters that were moving into their teen years. So I was re-calibrating as a father to them in the midst of this relational shift that was going on, too. I was also realizing that I was ready for a change from ordained ministry, restless for something else that I wanted to do.

I was attracted to begin my own work in the circle of practice to really hear my own heart about being a dad, being a partner, and being a priest. It was a time when I was reconsidering, looking at my own life with a longing to see what else was going to show up for me in the next chapter now that certain things were coming to an end. I just really needed to hear myself, to do my own work. So I think there was a professional thing going on as well as a deeply personal thing, too.

C&R: You mentioned the Center’s co-founder Rick Jackson really encouraged you to become a facilitator. Can you share more of what he said to you?

DH: So I had this great three-day experience with Rick and Mardi and at the end of it, Rick just said to me, ‘You know, I really think that you’d be a good candidate for us to consider for Facilitator Prep.’ And then, that conversation came to an end because I was already past the deadline to apply so I had to look at it for the next year. That really attracted me, to really dive deep into the work itself, to be prepared by Rick, Parker, and others.

I got a phone call out of the blue a week before the Gateway Retreat from C&R co-founder Marcy [Jackson], saying that there was actually an opening. I changed my plans, came, and went right into the program. I got a chance to get to know Parker — in FPP, we’re assigned to one of the team members and I was assigned to Parker. I got a chance to spend quite a bit of one-on-one time with him and out of that, I got a chance to lead some programs with him, some clergy work through Habits of the Heart with him and John Fenner. That was great.

Since then, I’ve worked with a lot of different colleagues in the community. For me, it’s not just about the work; it’s also about the community. The facilitation community has really been an incredible tribe to be included in and to get to know. I deeply resonate with the group.

C&R: Would you say that community or that kind of network is part of what drives you to continue doing this kind of work?

DH: Yeah, definitely. I find that it’s a great synergy between the experiences that I have being able to facilitate others that come from all sorts of walks of life, really from around the world. I’ve been so exposed to an international community now. And also to have colleagues who are doing incredible work in their own fields and their own contexts. That’s been an incredible part of the story.

C&R: Can you speak to the differences between being a participant and being a facilitator?

DH: I think one of the distinctive parts of this work is something that maybe came out of Parker’s intuition or his experience, and then passed on to the rest of us: it’s the idea that we’re doing work in the circle alongside others. We’re accompanying people while also being attentive to our own soul work and to what is being revealed in the circle.

So while we’re holding space for others to ensure that these guidelines, methodologies, soul technology, the nature of the work itself, and the boundaries that we hold are upheld in these gatherings, we’re also just another person in the mix of a lot of conflict and storm activity and confusion out there in the ocean. We’re doing our work alongside everybody else.

We’re accompanying people while also being attentive to our own soul work and to what is being revealed in the circle.

I agree with Parker that it grants us authority because we’re authoring our own story while also witnessing others do the same work. With other methodologies I’ve been trained in, I’ve really been outside the experience as someone who’s above it or really empowered to be responsible for it so I can’t participate in it. But I think the intuition here is really actually quite true. We’re best when we are authentically living what we’re talking about.

It’s not just a methodology; it’s kind of life and death for us in the circle. We want to be life giving instead of death dealing. We want to be true to our own story as well and that changes the nature of the community quite a bit. It makes it much more trustworthy for others because now they know the person who’s facilitating is real, no tricks up their sleeves, and doesn’t operate from a different agenda. That’s a gift.

C&R: How long have you been a facilitator?

DH: I’ve been guiding these sorts of experiences for seven years but I’ve been in FPP and officially facilitating for the last five years. I’ve been doing the work full-time for the last four years as a freelance leadership consultant or whatever you want to call me. I have no idea what to call me. Maybe ‘The Dude That Shows Up to Where He’s Been Invited’ — that’s a more accurate title! It’s really varied quite a bit lately. I’m taking the work now to China for a little more than four months.

C&R: Doing what?

DH: I’m facilitating in a personal development center a few hours north and west of Beijing. I’ll be bringing Courage & Renewal work and this type of practice into a leadership opportunity with a lot of corporate and professional leaders coming out of Beijing for their own learning. That opportunity came up through a whole series of a lot of other work I was doing.

C&R: Yeah, how did that come about?

DH: I met one of the directors, kind of a talent scout for these centers in China and they sent a team over to vet one of my programs in Quebec. I’ve also done some work for an international gathering of holistic centers so I’ve brought the Touchstones and the Circle of Trust practices into that community. They extended an invitation last year but with the election, I couldn’t agree to anything.

I held a few months open this year and so it got extended to about four months of actual time. I’m just in the midst of getting my visa and my flights and all of that stuff. This is funny, they were trying to translate my work into a title that would work in China and one of them was ‘Metaphoric Healer’ because I work in metaphors quite a bit. I teach mostly from a variety of different visual images and particularly the Wayfinding tradition.

C&R: What is that?

DH: I spent time in Hawaii with the Polynesian voyaging community and so this is open-ocean navigation that’s a part of this renaissance of learning that’s been going on the Pacific since the 70s. They’ve been re-building these traditional catamarans, these large crafts, and then sailing them without maps or charts or any kind of navigational instruments between the islands and the Pacific, rediscovering through oral tradition and chant tradition.

But primarily, it’s a way of doing navigation through deep awareness and presence, maintaining a deductive reckoning of location based on wave action and star formation and being deeply attentive to where you are in the ocean. And then, basically conjuring up the next island out of your vision that you maintain in the form of a bearing based on these deep swell patterns as well as re-fracturing reflection waves off islands and bird activity and different things like that. I use that as a teaching metaphor around presence and deep awareness.

C&R: Do you have a favorite Courage-related memory that stands out for you?

DH: Yeah, I can think of several Clearness Committee experiences where people have that intensive time to hear their voice over a couple of hours of internal conversation happening on the outside, being witnessed by others in this non-invasive, non-judgmental form of practice.

All of my memories are blending into one, but the essential experience has been that people begin with what they think is the situation that’s presenting itself and a question or a decision that they need to make only to discover that it’s actually a much deeper set of questions and other decisions underneath that they haven’t had the courage to name yet. There’s nobody left to fool except himself or herself.

There’s an invitation for deep self honesty and they’re able to uncover that which underlies what looks like an A-B-C decision, but actually is much more complicated and paradoxical. So that’s been deeply rewarding and meaningful and it keeps happening. That’s one of the gifts of the work. It allows people to name what they can with the courage that they have in the moment, but then they have much more bravery and honesty than they ever thought at the start. To watch that unfold time after time is an honor.

C&R: How have you applied this work to other parts of your life?

DH: It’s dramatically changed the way that I parent my daughters, they can attest. I just ask better questions. I’m able to listen to them on a far more profound level than I used to. I catch myself drifting into advice giving… and realizing that as a dad with these wonderful young adult daughters now, the more complex the situation, the less my advice is going to be helpful. So just to hold space with them and to be able to ask them a few open questions, to listen and be present, and to have that opportunity for silence at times.

It’s made me much more willing to not assume too much or to not presume that I have something to offer aside from my presence to others. I’ve learned to really trust what is coming up without rambling to fill silence.

At first, they would kind of say, ‘Dad, you’re being weird. You’re kind of freaking us out. You’re doing that thing again.’ But now they know that it’s actually kind of cool that dad knows how to sit and listen and doesn’t assume to know anything. They’re essentially a mystery to me, a growing awareness. It’s changed all of my relationships. It’s made me much more willing to not assume too much or to not presume that I have something to offer aside from my presence to others. I’ve learned to really trust what is coming up without rambling to fill silence.

C&R: What advice might you give to a first time Courage-participant?

DH: One thing that I find helpful is that we call it a Circle of Trust. Not because we presume to that people come into a community and trust everyone in the circle because that’s not always possible. Often we may have been in a place where someone tries to therapeutically solve our problems so the idea of a Circle of Trust is that the trust is in the practice, not in the other individuals in the room yet. It’s in the practice.

As people authentically show up and as we keep these very clear boundaries and disciplines that are named in the Touchstones, if we actually live them and they’re embodied in the facilitators, they become embodied in the group and then people become trustworthy. They are real. They’re not playing games and they’re doing their own work… and then the circle becomes trustworthy because the practice was trustworthy first.

The other is that everything is invitational. I always say to newcomers in the circle, particularly if you’re a fellow introvert, you’re safe here. You will not be named or asked to share anything that puts you in the spotlight or on the spot. You enter at your own pace. You can introduce yourself. Or not. Speak into the large circle. Or not. Go for a walk if you need to. Or not. Do what you need to be doing. That makes it a much safer environment for most of us by having that knowledge. I always affirm that to newcomers. They will be respected for doing what they need to be doing; nothing will be coerced from them.

C&R: What would you want someone who has never heard of this work to know about it?

DH: I just think it’s a really essential human belief. We know more than we let on to ourselves. We know more about our situation than our apparent confusion or our momentary amnesia. We know a fair amount of where we’re going and what we’re deciding and what we’re going to do.

So I think with Parker’s work and the Center’s work, what it comes down to is helping us to know what we already know and then helping us to realize it in a way that we can take courageous steps forward to actually then do what we know to do. That’s my elevator pitch about the practice. There are incredible societal advantages to doing what you’re called to do because it’s deeply personally ethical. There are huge net gains. It’s filled with integrity and authenticity. When begins to happen in a handful of individuals, that’s a profound societal shift.

In the movement model, those same individuals become the catalyst for transformation because they refuse to be silenced in the face of power.

I’ve got a daughter this morning who strapped herself to the Burnaby Terminal to protest the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline project. She’s a part of an activist group and she’s a good example of what is possible when people refuse to accept what’s going on. They do these incredible acts of civil disobedience. It’s a bit scary as a dad but she’s a model for me in bringing about change. That’s what I’m noticing comes out of these circles.

C&R: If you could describe this work, Courage work in one word, what would it be?

DH: Hopeful. I think it’s hopeful work because it believes something profoundly optimistic about human nature and the capability of an individual to be an active part of their own calling, to be a part of something larger in a movement toward change.


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