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Engaging Impasse:

Circles of Contemplation and Dialogue®

Since 2003 most Circles have been held at the River’s Edge in Cleveland, OH. In 2008 we held a Circle at the Divine Compassion Spiritual Center in White Plains, New York; in June 2011 at St. Michael Retreat Centre in Ontario, Canada; and in November 2011 at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in Aston, PA; to make the experience accessible to more people. Originally the Circles consisted of three 3-day gatherings during a year. Beginning in 2009 the Circles have been offered in a concentrated 7-day experience. See Upcoming ICCD Programs for information on current and future Circles.

These pictures capture the spirit and the process of the gatherings that are part of Engaging Impasse: Circles of Contemplation and Dialogue®. The movement develops from creating the safe space in which to tell one’s story of impasse, to learning and using the skills of dialogue to engage the impasse, to sharing the vision of new ways to be and act together. The importance of doing all of this within a context of communal contemplation and dialogue is symbolized by the many ritual moments that are part of each gathering.

It is clear that something powerful happens in the Engaging Impasse process. We are learning that something shifts in the way the participants begin to view their engagement with impasse.

The process invites persons to a personal transformation of consciousness within the communal context. People express what they have experienced as being more open to paradox; to seeing that they must change how they approach impasse; to living with tension; to desiring to find alternative ways to expend their energy or to withdraw energy if need be; to experiencing a greater freedom within themselves and with speaking their truth; to living with integrity during these transitional times.

Something happens to the participants that loosens their hold on the stories that they tell and hear about their experience of impasse within our church and world. Entering into contemplation they surrender their expectations and ego driven approaches and open to new possibilities. And it happens communally through socializing their insights through dialogue or deepening conversations.

This process prepares people to approach impasse differently. It is a process of preparation, inviting people to do the spiritual work that invites a transformation of consciousness.

These reflections are a small representation of the insights we gathered from the participants in the Circles.

I found the circle to be a profound personal experience that enabled me to be more friendly and peaceful with the experiences of impasse in my life. The circle conversations would often shift my perspective ever so slightly, but it often was a shift that enabled me “to be” with the experience more graciously. The periods of contemplative silence and dialogue were rich containers of wisdom and grace.

For me, it brought healing to a ten year old wound and also helped me to gain new perspective on my experience. I found it a deeply prayerful and bonding experience – one that will stay with me probably for the rest of my life. I find myself really using the contemplative prayer process to hold difficult situations. At our recent Chapter, I used both contemplative sitting and breathing to help me listen with greater care, particularly to those who differ from me, to keep myself open and to hold viewpoints more lightly, to hear the pain in others and their sense of alienation. I step back more often to wait and listen for wisdom. I am less apt to give up and write people or situations off.

I appreciated the experience—through it all became aware that the energy in me was to engage life—of which impasse is a part.… I am more convinced that the real point is personal transformation which then spills into systemic transformation—maybe the “and then” is not quite right—the two are the same in some way.

I am more conscious of the signals indicating an impasse situation. I try to be more alert to my role in these impasses and more deliberate in my responses. I found especially helpful the skills we learned and practiced in the second session about the different types of dialogue.

I am far more aware of the need to meditate, hold in contemplative prayer people, situations, and emotions I cannot control/contain on my own. This feels rich and useful. I have come to accept with peace but not acquiescence the evil that pervades this world. During these war years, with unspeakable atrocities in abundance, I find myself better able to reject violence in a peaceful way. I still struggle with the rank injustice of the Catholic Church, its pitiful role in perpetuating ‘kyriarchal’ ways. However, even that fades to its rightful place in the graceful light of our feminist efforts to be church in new and inclusive ways.

Throughout the sessions, I wrestled with my own fears, found space to clarify my own response and to see more clearly what I needed to do to both be true to my little piece of the truth and to live from a place of interior peace. This has been the on-going struggle but the circles gave me insight into to my struggle and reinforced for me the road I needed to travel. Interestingly, the most important learning was that I could live with the “aloneness” of the road that I have chosen. Having the opportunity to listen, learn, pray and celebrate with women who believed another way is possible has been a well that I have drawn from many times. It helped me to trust my own experience of God and how that challenges me to live.

Click here to see the current schedule of Circles.

The Institute is considering additional ways to make this experience accessible to more people. If you are interested in applying to be part of a Circle please write us at iccdinstitute@aol.com and put Circle Inquiry in the Subject line.