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Australia, March 2013 • Discernment Workshop at Silver Wattle Quaker Centre

Discernment Workshop at Silver Wattle Quaker Centre 13-16 March 2013
We are grateful to be welcome here on Ngunnawal Land.
The Discernment Retreat explored how individuals in community make positive choices in life and how we support each other in making those choices and living by them. It seeks to harness the collective wisdom of everyone and focusses less on how to make a specific choice here and now in the workshop and more on how to seek direction and make the best decisions every day for ourselves and as a community. We gathered from Wednesday evening through Saturday mid-day. Nadine Hoover and John Michaelis facilitated with Brendan serving as resident elder, Trish and David Johnson serving as support, James cooking and a dozen friends participating.
We all learned a great deal about how rushing to seeking direction and settling disputes misses a rich territory of living with and into that source of life which was before names and will be after, of tendering and tempering our outward lives to reflect our inward experience of the great mystery and creation. Our own practice as Friends calls us to trust love and truth in our homes, communities and societies, that being convinced that being persons and a people of conscience is possible and desirable and asking for this of ourselves, those close to us and our communities.
Our time together included:
WEDNESDAY
Welcoming 5.00 – 6.00p We gathered in silence, then received an orientation to the land, facilities and rhythm of the day at Silver Wattle, followed by singing, introductions and a light supper at 6:30pm.
Community 7.30-8.30p We named as many positive adjectives as we could think of as we selected ones that began with the same sound as our first names. As people living in a violence world, we lose our vocabulary, especially our positive vocabulary, so making an effort to use many positive words is an antidote. We did the opening talk when we brainstormed principles by which we wanted to gather: experiential, reflection, trust, honesty, openness, deep listening, intention, allowing feelings their full expression, safety, vision, participation, equality, mutuality, we’re all teachers and all learners. Then we explained:
Roadmap
Friendship & Agreements
Affirmation & Safety
Communication & Remembering
Cooperation & Reconnection
Convincement & Conviction
Experimentation & Feedback
Direction & Dispute Resolution
Cooperative Agreements
Respect and affirm self and others
Listen, don’t interrupt
No put downs of self or others, even in joking
Be authentic, teachable and changed by learning
Speak simply, audibly, succinctly, without fear of mistakes
Physically discharge pain and distress
Express emotion directly to someone in words
Ask for and give feedback and help
Use what I need and share the rest
Speak from my own experiences, not others’
Use my right to pass, privacy & consultation
Volunteer myself only, not others
Take care of myself and the group
Work together to develop each person, community and culture
We closed by writing in our journals. This work is grounded in a personal commitment about dedicating the way we live. There are many ways to state this commitment, including: “As Friends, we have experienced the living spirit that speaks to our human condition and we choose to yield to it to shape and guide our lives.” Each person wrote the commitment in their own words. The journal is not to be shared with anyone.
Our closing epilogue for the day was to sit at the Sacred Fire at 8.30pm and hear the story of the young people who built the fire and how ashes were brought from the fire at the Tent Embassy in Canberra. We each took two gum leaves to smolder on the fire, putting up smoke to announce our arrival on the land.
THURSDAYAfter breakfast at 7.30am:
Convincement 8:30 – 12:00 began with meeting for worship, noticing our stopping and opening to the great force of life. After Silver Wattle staff departed, we went around the circle to share our affirming name and names I use personally for that which is beyond naming. Then we visited with ourselves, noting when we feel most ourselves, least ourselves, what obstructs us from feeling ourselves and how we can help others feel most themselves. We then laid out pictures on the floor to select one that represented this transforming power of life, described it to one other person, selected one between our pair, then described it to another pair, then selected one among the four. Then we shared a lovely dinner of stroganoff on rice.
Conviction 2:00 – 6:00pm began with a connection: Name and someone who loves me and why…Then a gathering for sharing: How I experience Living Spirit is… After which we got into pairs to practice being a good companion offering relaxed, non-anxious attention representing the goodwill of the presence of the living spirit while taking turns remembering a difficult situation, feeling it in the body and releasing or discharging the emotion through crying, moaning, trembling, sweating, heaving, sighing, stomping, shouting, laughing, and so forth. We then selected pairs or groups of three to four to share time equally: experiencing the Spirit in hard times, when I am inadequate, broken, fall short, am the perpetrator. Then we shared a lovely soup and bread supper.
Gathering for Sharing: How I Experience Transforming Power
Emotional Discharge:
- Emotion
- Discharge
- Grief
- Crying, sobbing
- Fear, heavy
- Trembling, cold sweat, urinating
- Fear, light/ embarrassment
- Laughing, cold sweat
- Anger, heavy
- Sharp voices and movements, hot sweat
- Anger, light
- Laughing, hot sweat
- Physical pain
- Yawning, scratching, stretching
- Boredom
- Laughing, non-repetative conversation
  • Discharge is natural sign of healing for all human beings, not the pain
  • Balance present and past, inside and outside, contradict the distress
  • Return to the present time and place after discharge
Good Companions
Storytelling 7.30-8.30pm Nadine Hoover told the story of why there was a war in Aceh for thirty years and then about the Friends Peace Teams’ experience in North Aceh last month and Rosemary Epps told the story of how she has begun to yield to a calling to visit women in Afghanistan where she and Julie will visit next month. The both described the importance of silaturammi, the Arabic word for hospitality or visiting, which is a religious requirement in Islam, the people of faith to build the faith community. We closed the day with an epilogue at 8.30pm.
FRIDAY After breakfast at 7.30am:
Experiment 8:30 – 12:00 Opened with a gathering for silence: the journey from stopping, letting our selves fall away to opening to the power of the living spirit present, to returning to the edge of our selves, listening for how this great power within and beyond would shape or guide us. After the staff departed, we went around the circle: Name and open to whatever one would like to say… This was exceptionally rich. Nadine spoke about how experimenting with the divine in our lives has stages, like in picture sharing, don’t rush from one stage to another, but take each step slowly. First pay attention and make yourself available by noticing what you need to bring into your life or let go of to stay aware of the life force in every moment, then make yourself prepared by experimenting with love and truth in every aspect of the day, take one at a time, but lift up things small and big and ask if they are in accord or not. She put on the wall:
Friends formed companion groups of two to four people to share time equally to talk about what truths were working in them.
Visiting Companions
Questions that guide Visiting Companions were provided, but in this workshop now, we are attending to one question: “How I experience and trust transforming power when I’m wrong, inadequate or fall short?”
Questions for Visiting Companions
Then we shared a lovely dinner of lamb and the most exquisitely baked potatoes and pumpkin.
Experiment 2:00 – 6:00pm We wrote in our journals, focusing on: What I need to have or let go of to stay aware of or connected to the Spirit is…  We returned to write on a card: A problem I face experimenting with the divine in my day-to-day life is… In a small group of three we traded problems and spoke to what the problem would look like in my life, if I were to face it personally, and how I would face it. Then handed the problem around the circle for each person to speak to.
After that we gathered in a circle for a fishbowl. One person volunteered something they felt clear about: What I know and am clear about–what I need to bring into my life, let go of or how I’m being changed… They came forward to the center of the circle with their companions and said it out loud to their companions, who in turn listened and responded to whether or not they could feel it “rang true” for the other, not if they liked it, agreed with it, understood it, but if it felt “true.” If not, it was returned to labor with some more; if so, it was written down and recorded with their name. If something was written, we could ask if it were true for one, some or us all.
Gathering for Feedback 
What choices do I make in my daily life to experiment and live in accord with the Living Spirit? 
  1. Is it clear?
  2. Does it spring forth from conscience and “ring true”? …for the person bringing it forth? …for yourself too? …for all of us?
  3. If yes, write it with the name of the person bringing it forth or the name of the group in your journal.
  4. If not or not yet, invite the person to labor with it some more.
Tests of Discernment

Tests of Discernment (not posted)

We returned to our same companion groups, although a couple people had left early, so some groups were disrupted: Practicing listening for what is true and offering feedback on the easy, light clear matters of how our lives may be transformed by the living spirit. We shared a light supper of soup and bread at 6.30pm.
Discernment 7.30-8.30pm We went around the circle sharing our experience so far and then Nadine noted how hard it was to do this work with Quakers. We have ways in which we have come to understand this work, particularly seeking leadings and directions that suit us well. Yet truth is seldom packaged to our size, it is typically small and embarrassingly petty or huge and overwhelming, but yield none the less. She told the story of the Upward Spiral, where a small hand trowel making horizontal lines for headwaters to spread out saved a hillside from erosion and how this taught her that it is the small flows of how we spend our time, attention, funds and so forth that truly matters. Are we funding the companies who are raping the earth? Are we buying the timber that is deforested? When we put our lives in order, we are available when called, but it is God’s work to do the calling. We settled the day with an epilogue led by the Resident Elder at 8.30pm.

 

SATURDAY After breakfast at 7.30am:
Closing 8:30 – 12:00 We met in meeting for worship: Stop, open, listen, the yield to truths working inside and be changed by them. For our connection in the morning we expressed how we felt in terms of a weather report. Then we explored personal transformation of what I need in my life, what I need to let go of or what is changing in me, writing alone, then testing in threes, writing items on post-it notes and taking one at a time from each of the groups of three we put them together on a board to see what “we” looked like as a community. We put on the wall: give stuff away, stylish living, thanks and joy for another day, notice the different types of energy that are alive in me during the day and act in accord, re-design for small flows of resources to match the work, learn to love individuals as they are/need, walk barefoot each day contemplating earth connection, endure more impatience, joy of “playing the martyr, notice when I lose my heart connection and stop, trust it’ll be there when I need it, do what I am doing reverently, bake bread mindfully, sharing, sex, dwell in my heart, play music from the spirit, prepare and have a meal with dear ones, spend time in silence and in community daily, meditate, love myself-self care, love myself-restraint and moderation. If we were testifying to how we were being made available and prepared, how we were shaping our outward lives to reflect our inward experience, then we would be affirming each other’s discernment, but also discovering corporate testimonies. We went around the circle for a closing: What I’ve learned that changed me or what I’m taking home is… A couple people had to leave at that time. The remaining group reflected on the retreat as a whole. We departed after a lovely soup and bread lunch.