I am fascinated with how people gather in spaces that are important to them. More to the point, I am drawn to the circles that people gather in. As a teacher for 25 years, I have long found it very difficult to teach in a room where desks are in long straight rows, all facing one direction. There is an implicit message there: the many matter less than the one, and the many are there for the one. The one speaks and the many listen. The one is in control and the many are controlled.
I try, as best I might in the crowded classrooms of today, to create circles in my classroom. Often, the circle one can creation with 35 students in a room requires imagination, but it’s the effect I am looking for. I want a space where with some ease, everyone in the room can see everyone in the room. At any given moment, everyone is the focus and no one is the focus. I want a space that suggests that we are working together and that our work is very much like a conversation where people take turns speaking and listening. I want a space where everyone there feels safe, accepted, and welcome.
Circles imply that to me. Circles, however we configure them, create the experience of sheltering walls. They create intimacy. They create a mutuality that cannot be escaped unless one leaves the circle. Herein is the spiritual challenge of circles, as I see it: only when human beings gather themselves in circles can we offer each other the experience of sheltering walls, and when we do, we begin to face into each other’s eyes, hearts and persona lives. We cannot sit in circles and remain anonymous, even if we all agreed to. Facing into each other, be not only become for each other sheltering walls, but we become more visible to each other, more vulnerable, and as a result, more fragile. As we create sheltering walls, we actually find in each other what is in need of shelter. As circles gather us up, they, quite powerfully, tear us open.
That’s the promise and the risk of creating circles, of becoming sheltering walls.