Seeing With the Eye of the Heart: Participants Reflect on the Wisdom Group Leadership Training

“What do you do when you’ve attended a Wisdom school and you want to continue the practices that strengthen your capacity to open and ‘see with the eye of the heart’? There is a yearning to continue the practices with a community creating accountability to the path. But how do you do that?”

Those are the words of Rebecca Parker, who attended the first Wisdom Group Leadership Training led by Bill Redfield, Lois Barton and Deborah Welsh at Hallelujah Farm in November 2017. She goes on to say:

“Sounds simple in one way – repeat what you encountered at the Wisdom School. Not bad, but as time goes on there can be diminishment of energy. It requires more than will and memory to sustain the work because it is about holding space for encounter with the Holy. There are specific skills and practices that support a group and assist in the continued transformation we have tasted in Wisdom gatherings. There are materials to offer, an understanding of group life, ways to hold and share the post of leadership, and practices to assist accessing the Wisdom of the body.” 

Ever attended an “instructed Eucharist”? If so you will have an idea of what we were up to at the Wisdom Group Leadership Training. This was the teaching model used to experience how to hold the post for a practice group: you do centering prayer, and then step back and assess; participate in lectio divina, step back and assess and observe what was done by asking self-observation questions: What worked for me? What were the sensations and energies my body experienced? What was the energy in the room? How is this applicable in my setting?

RoseThe joint love of commitment to the work of Wisdom practice and the desire to give it away to others permeated the gathering. We taught each other, held each other’s stories, used our observation skills, and through centering prayer, worship, conscious work, dance, movement, laughter, listening, and sharing, we left affirmed in our desire to ‘pass it on’. The hope of the workshop was to learn the ways a Practice Circle contributes to creating a container for the transformation of consciousness – we not only learned about it, but we left with a taste of its power and generosity.”

 The ‘how’ of the training began at the door, offering an immediate opportunity to participants to begin pondering how their experience would be integrated within them, and what they would bring home to their own communities of Wisdom practice. John Heermans spoke to this:

photo courtesy of participant Laura Copeland

When I arrived at the farm, Bill was waiting at the door and offered me a very warm welcome and showed me around Lower Farm and directed me to where I would be lodged at Upper Farm. He did the same for every person who arrived… including a dog. Thank you, Bill, for that. Throughout the training, Bill returned to the theme of welcoming not only at the beginning of an event but throughout an event. A question for our group at home: How do we assure that “welcoming” is robust and consistent for all activities?

In addition to postholding experience and observation, there were large and small group teaching sessions dedicated to the elements of Practice Circles, from group dynamics to essential content. Each session was infused with Wisdom teaching, as the leaders met the group in the immediacy of the moment and from the heart, becoming mirrors of the path of Wisdom and “creating a container for the transformation of consciousness,” an unfolding process in the here and now.

Preparing for Conscious Practical Work
photo courtesy of participant Marcelle Martin


Circle Dance
Circle Dance and elements of movement:
“flow, time, space and force”

Bill and Lois invited people to experience their Wisdom School teaching trio, where Deborah Welsh’s Wisdom of the Body, has been developed to deepen the work of Wisdom. Break out groups explored the vital practices of Lectio Divina, Wisdom Chant and Wisdom of the Body. John expressed his gratitude, saying:

We were lucky to have an experienced and loving movement teacher who led us through a variety of dances and movement exercises with prayer that brought us out of our minds and into our bodies and souls …

The work of transformation was evident in Bill’s leadership, as he opened his heart and led the group artfully into territory that can be challenging to articulate. A taste of the depths of what is being asked for, both as post holder and participant, is reflected in notes from John:

“Something has to die. Begin to see with the eyes of love. Trust what is inside you. There is a cost. Build a container of trust. Three-centered knowing. Transformation process is love… The fruit of centering prayer is found in life. A place for silence leads to listening…Hold the forum. Bring mind into focus. Listen to your body. Be still and know that I am…

‘Now is the time for the world to know that very thought and action is sacred’ (Hafiz).”

That reminder deeply relates to the essential nature of a core theme that John heard echoing through our time together:

“‘Less is more’ is a phrase that we heard several times during the training. The tendency is to try to cram too much into a Wisdom Practice Circle, which could result in not having enough time to do anything in-depth and with stillness.”

Lois spoke to the growing stillness inherent in her own process as both student of Wisdom and Wisdom leader; a deepening of the silence, that can inform us in our own process of becoming. Her faith, encouragement, and sense of wonder at all that is possible, resonated in the training. John reflects on another core theme, beautifully articulated throughout the training by each of the three postholders, in this way:

“Bill continually reminded the group that everyone there had the potential to be a leader …He encouraged people to ‘trust’ in themselves and in something higher. Self-confidence begins with the courage to ‘risk’ being vulnerable. It helps to remind ourselves that we are, as Thomas Merton says, ‘all beginners’ … We need to listen to each other with respect, dignity and attention.”

David Palmer was moved by how we worked with this potential in the group, saying:

“The training offered many experiences aimed at skillful post holding when leading wisdom circles. In her sharing on this time, titled Creativity in Community, posted on Breaking Ground January 2, 2018, Laura Copeland beautifully expresses the ‘freedom to experience, create worship, share from our minds and hearts and try something completely new.’ Our daily worship times flung open wide the possibilities of this freedom.

These worship gifts arose spontaneously from the participants and our experiences together. Nothing had been assigned or preplanned. Rather, offerings were invoked through an unfolding spirit of participation and love.  

Our time in worship allowed a shift from the practical learning about wisdom’s message of God’s presence to experiencing being in that presence. Creating an openness and “yes” to head / heart / body awareness, these experiences led us to ways of seeing the Divine in all things.

The gifts that were shared arced broadly from Centering Prayer, to Quaker meditation, musical instruments, movement, singing, chanting, nature, poetry and humor. To bring spontaneity to worship, try starting with a joke – there is nothing quite like holy laughter coming from a place deep within. Our worship experience was also grounded in the traditions of lectio read scripture, praying the Lord’s prayer – and grounded even further in tradition by hearing the Lord’s prayer recited in Aramaic. The sharing of flute and harp brought forth yet another prayer language. Embodied meditation, walking meditation and dance also gave our physical selves a chance for expression and celebration.

Gathering on the cusp of late November / early December the beauty of the natural world at the beginning of Advent came forth in adorning the sunken, circular altar with evergreen boughs, pine cones and fox berry. The totality of our worship experiences evoked the Advent realization of Emmanuel, God being with us.

 As a new grandparent, I have seen how our three-month old granddaughter completely relaxes when being held in the warm waters of our exercise pool. She is perfectly at ease, afloat in a way that is intimately familiar to her young being. Worship, as we experienced it at HF, brought us too, to an intimately familiar interior place, where God’s abiding presence resides. The timelessness of this kind of experience was expressed for us in Mary Oliver’s poem:

Truro, the Blueberry Fields

Not far from where I start to gather the ripened berries
I begin, as usual, to slow down.
Then, pretty soon, I am
doing nothing. I am just sitting in the little bundle of leaves.

In the distance, a sparrow is singing over and over
his serene and very simple song. Oh,
to hear him within the
enclosure of nothing else!

Friend, I am becoming desperate. What shall I do? How
quickly, if I only knew by what remedy, I would turn
from the commotion of my own life.

While on and on and on, the sparrow sings.

The next Wisdom Group Leadership Training will take place April 25 – 29, 2018 at Hallelujah Farm (and will be offered again in late November 2018). If you are interested in attending, or have any questions at all, please contact Laura Ruth. Join us! In a report on the training that John wrote for his transitional community of practice at home, he opened with these words:

“‘Life is about discovering the right questions more than having the right answers.’ The training was awesome. I cried every day which is always a good sign. More important, however, is that by the end of the training, I felt one in spirit in a deep and meaningful way with every person in the training. Thank you Thank you Thank you.”                 

photo courtesy of Laura Copeland

posted January 29, 2018 by Laura Ruth

Laura Ruth attended the Wisdom Group Leadership Training in November, and with Kerstin Lipke worked with Sandy and Roger Daly to facilitate the hospitality and life of the community at Hallelujah Farm during the retreat.

Many thanks are due to Rebecca Parker, David Palmer and John Heermans for their willingness and readiness to share their reflections about their experience at the first Wisdom Group Leadership Training. Thank you! It helps it come alive to hear your voices.

photo courtesy of Rebecca Parker
John Heermans
photo courtesy of John Heermans
photo courtesy of David Palmer and Pam Overstrom

Laura is one of many who are grateful to Bill Redfield, Lois Barton and Deborah Welsh for their teaching. Thank you, Bill, for that initiatory impulse to address a need you perceived in the Wisdom community. Thank you Lois. Thank you Deborah. And thanks to all who came; our wholehearted participation together was a joy. There was a sense during the retreat that the training was meeting a call to dive more deeply into the essence of postholding in the Wisdom tradition; grounded in the lineage and responsive to the currents of the times, that is, what is wanting to be born into a new fullness out of the transformed heart.

At the Wisdom Group Leadership Training,
Laura in the dining room with Marcelle,
photo courtesy of Marcelle Martin


Hallelujiah Farm
photo courtesy of Marcelle Martin

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1 thought on “Seeing With the Eye of the Heart: Participants Reflect on the Wisdom Group Leadership Training

  1. I am so deeply moved by this beautiful review of our first ever Wisdom Leadership Training retreat at THE Farm. Bill, Lois, and I were truly stunned at the participation, gratitude, generosity, shared beauty, and interest in what we’d created. We had no idea it would be received as it was, and best of all, we had such great faith in the end that the sharing and learning would most definitely be taken back to where everyone came from like a pebble in a pool — all of it extending into the wide, wide world. Thank you all so much. My heart is so profoundly open today especially, as Bill and Lois and I enter into our own in-person retreat to review and plan for April! The timing of this post couldn’t have been better! Bless you all.

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