Stories of Courage

On June 30th, we will be holding our first day-long Courage Reunion Retreat at Bishop Booth Conference Center in Burlington, Vermont, inviting back everyone who has been in a Circle of Trust retreat over the past 18 years in Vermont.  The day will include reflection, small group sharing, time on the land and in community, inviting us to pause and align our inner voices with our outer lives. In the spirit of this gathering, we share three voices of participants over the years as they reflect on the impact of their Circle of Trust experiences:

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Jeanie Philips:  Courage Cohort Participant (2010-2018)

I am not a very good listener, or at least I didn’t used to be. You may not have noticed. I nodded my head, said “uh huh” at the appropriate times, and answered your question. In fact, I loved the answers! While you were talking I was composing my answer, constructing a response, waiting for you to stop talking so I could start talking. This mostly sort of worked.  Deep down I knew I was hearing but fully.

So what changed? Courage & Renewal offered me the space to deliberately practice and value listening and it is this deliberate practice that has changed who I am as a listener.

In a Courage Circle, "touchstones" (core principles) serve as norms for engaging with one another.  The two Touchstones that guide me as a listener are: “no fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting people straight” and “learn to respond to others with honest, open questions.” These two guidelines ask me to slow down my reactive brain and encourage me to listen more fully, to listen for understanding. Being listened to in this way is rare and countercultural and profound; it inspires me to give others the gift of deep listening.

When I hear my brain whirring- formulating solutions and answers and comebacks- I dig deep and remember how profound it is to be really listened to and I try to give that same gift to the speaker.

So how do I know I’m a better listener now than I was before? How do I know that all of this practice has paid off? The quality and character of my interactions with others has changed.  When a teacher comes to me now I listen, I ask clarifying questions, I probe further until I fully understand his learning goals for his students. Only then do I begin to think of ideas and solutions. When a student comes looking for a good book I start with questions. What was the last book you loved? What did you like about it? What was the last book you read that you didn’t like? Why didn’t you like it? Mostly I know I’m a better listener because now, instead of loving the answers, I love the questions.


Kimberly Waterman: Courage Cohort participant (2010-2017)

Courage work provides a framework for the way I have come to think, process, and conduct my life.   In conjuction with my Goddard coursework, I have been doing a lot of reflecting and writing about my work in Courage circles. I decided to pursue the Expressive Arts Therapy concentration (for my master’s degree), and have felt this energize me in a familiar, yet surprising way. I am integrating an expressive arts piece into each of my four courses and I have all of my Courage materials- binders, journals, poems, writings, and artwork - strewn around me in my living room for inspiration.

Even before my graduate work, Courage work has been ever-present in my life. I keep exploring the relationship between rituals and practices as I seek to "live courage" as a part of daily life.  

As I began this degree, I was looking for a meaningful daily practice that I could sustain each day of my graduate program. Poetry? Making something each day? Intentional writing? This brought to mind Carrie Newcomer's song, Every Little Bit of It, which has been with me for a long time now. Each phrase strikes me every time I listen. One phrase gave me an idea:

"the face was always in the stone, said Michelangelo,

sometimes you have to chip and clear to see what was already there.

There it is, just below, the surface of things..."

With my love of linoleum block carving, I decided to create a simple etch in a piece of linoleum daily. One intentional etch. Etching away at the surface, going deeper. I started this particular project on day-one of my graduate work. It's really hard to have the patience to make just one etch. It's hard to let go of control and just do it intuitively. It's super interesting to see what's emerging. Etching away. It's the simple practice that I can commit to each day. It is enough.

I endeavor to carefully consider how I spend my time and life and how those things nourish or drain me, or something in between. Hopefully it's affirming to know that the ripples of Courage continue on and on.

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Luke Concannon: 2015 and 2017 Circle of Trust participant, and 2017 Living Courage Call member

I attended several WholeHeart retreats. It’s counter-cultural to take time out to go on a learning journey. There are so many pressing items on my to-do list, such fear of running out of money, and yet the reminder was coming up in me: If you had a year to live would you take this retreat? Yes! In that place where silence and solitude are welcomed, I got my glass filled up with fresh rain water as it were. Courage is a place where one can be filled with a quiet kind refreshment and where that playful wise inner voice can emerge.

As my sense of the shape of the iceberg that is my life (my gifts and limits, my dreams yearnings and fears) has gotten clearer, I’ve started to feel a sense that I am living my life. I’ve found that making time and getting the right help to hear my words, and then planning and living in accordance with them, has really brought the sun out. 

I went through some hard conflict recently. Really volcanic painfully frightening stuff. At some point, in the midst of it I had a reflection day, and a nonviolent non-attached solution came to me. I walked home feeling tenderness and open-heartedness, caressed by the wind. I discussed this option with friends I trusted, and they warned me against being a doormat. I followed their advice and took a more ‘pragmatic’ course. It resulted in more pain and more time in the wilderness of fighting.

After months, I came back to the solution that had sat so well with me earlier.. If I had been brave enough to listen to that Yes! in me at the time, less damage would have occurred. Can I do the right thing even when it’s risky and unpopular?  

I’ve been running down to Spy Pond in Arlington, Mass. most mornings and writing songs. This came to me recently:

This girl is

A lantern

On the isle

Through the wind

And the rain

Now I smile

You gave me a wild fire inside

It took hours to get the lyrics, and I’m fairly happy with them. But that’s the point, isn’t it? To take something great on, and fail and fail in the trying until we have sharpened ourselves with the song. Until our sinews are strong, our cheeks rosie and we can laugh together over rice, beans and hot sauce!

Being in learning relationships with great teachers, and with myself, is the point. Retreat, reflection and dialogue have led to wide new pastures. May you get the reflection time and support you need.


Gratitude to these voices of courage!

How might you fuel your own courage, voice and heart?

Jeanie Philips:  Former high school librarian and current Professional Development Coordinator for the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education.

Kimberly Waterman: Early childhood educator currently pursuing a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Expressive Arts Therapy at Goddard College.

Luke Concannon: English Singer Songwriter who is beginning his life in America.