It was 1994, and a colleague had invited me to Bretton Woods, a gathering of leaders, consultants, authors, musicians, change agents, and Elders focused on spiritual leadership and synchronicity. The gathering was held at a rustic retreat center several hours from my home in California, not far from the Monterey Peninsula. I love sunrises and sunsets, and that Sunday afternoon, a deep golden orange dusk spread over the sky, alerting me. Something magnificent was going to happen!
A traffic accident created my late arrival, and I tried to slip in like the invisible woman. It didn’t work. Settling, I noticed a candle illuminated in the center, quietness, and the eyes of strangers focused on me. Curiously uncomfortable, I immediately received the “welcome,” and was asked to stand and be greeted by everyone present. My inner critique started yakking away, judging the invitation, before I could stand. But my feet moved obediently, and there was no turning back.
We encountered turbulent waters over those next three days. I don’t remember how it began, but a spark flew from someone’s mouth; suddenly we were sharing thoughts about privilege, prejudice, stereotypes, isms, and being an ally. Emotions were raw and people lined up with their opinions. It was a moment in time. With all our education, experience, and spiritual intent, we were still ordinary people with our egos, ancestry, and history.
But as the strong opinions of segregation, integration, shoulds and oughts fell from lips, I noticed a mysterious quality. The Elders periodically called for silence. The pace of sharing slowed down. We respected each other, speaking one at a time with the aid of a speaking object. We advocated our positions, and there was a willingness to stay open and hear the other side. But what was most impressive was the attention given to everyone that wanted to speak. It was magical!
On the last day, everyone reflected on the experience, gathering the wisdom, like gold nuggets. In truth, four days talking about isms and inclusion wasn’t what the group had expected.
For weeks afterwards, I wondered about the glue that made those four days possible. And, slowly over time I came to recognize, it was the way we began – the heart connection, and incredible discipline of circle practice, that held us together. To this day, it is sketched in my memory, because from that day forward I was a believer. A convert, embraced by circle.