Many of us wake up to the experience that aging in community creates a way to build connections that help us tend to increased vulnerability of later life with friends and neighbors who care. At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card I have to say that I have seen great tenderness and care shown between friends when the challenges of later life increase our vulnerability. Love and respect from those who know us, see us clearly and stand by our side during challenges is critical if you wish to age in community until you need to call hospice for end of life care.
Building community is an ongoing learning process. One of my favorite advisors is thought innovator Parker Palmer. He speaks of many strategies for building a community. I recommend his book to you as leaders of Village programs. When working with local faith communities on building deeper connections with older members and neighbors one of the resources I have found to be helpful is guidance from Parker Palmer, PhD. , specifically his book, A Hidden Wholeness. ( Center for Courage and Renewal)
Since many Village and similar Aging in Community neighborhood programs work with each other on coping with the challenges and bumps in the road that emerge in later life strengthening relationships is essential. This level of connection is essential for neighborhoods and Villages that are working to develop a Master Aging Plan for each member to be better prepared to face challenges on the journey of aging. In my work with programs we find the circle of trust approach to be very useful.
Principles of the Circle of Trust Approach (adapted)
If we are willing to embrace the challenge of becoming whole, we cannot embrace it alone—at least, not for long: we need trustworthy relationships to sustain us, tenacious communities of support, to sustain the journey toward an undivided life. Taking an inner journey toward rejoining soul and role requires a rare but real form of community that I call a “circle of trust.”
- Everyone has an inner teacher.
Every person has access to an inner source of truth, named in various wisdom traditions as identity, true self, heart, spirit or soul. The inner teacher is a source of guidance and strength that helps us find our way through life’s complexities and challenges. Circles of Trust give people a chance to listen to this source, learn from it and discover its imperatives for their work and their lives.
- Inner work requires solitude and community. In Circles of Trust we make space for the solitude that allows us to learn from within, while supporting that solitude with the resources of community. Participants take an inner journey in community where we learn how to evoke and challenge each other without being judgmental, directive or invasive.
- Inner work must be invitational. Circles of Trust are never “share or die” events, but times and places where people have the freedom within a purposeful process to learn and grow in their own way, on their own schedule and at their own level of need. From start to finish, this approach invites participation rather than insisting upon it because the inner teacher speaks by choice, not on command.
- Our lives move in cycles like the seasons. By using metaphors drawn from the seasons to frame our exploration of the inner life, we create a hospitable space that allows people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives to engage in a respectful dialogue. These metaphors represent cycles of life—such as the alternation of darkness and light, death and new life—shared by everyone in a secular, pluralistic society regardless of philosophical, religious or spiritual differences.
- An appreciation of paradox enriches our lives and helps us hold greater complexity. The journey we take in a Circle of Trust teaches us to approach the many polarities that come with being human as “both–ands” rather than “either–ors,” holding them in ways that open us to new insights and possibilities. We listen to the inner teacher and to the voices in the circle, letting our own insights and the wisdom that can emerge in conversation check and balance each other. We trust both our intellects and the knowledge that comes through our bodies, intuitions and emotions.
- We live with greater integrity when we see ourselves whole. Integrity means integrating all that we are into our sense of self, embracing our shadows and limitations as well as our light and our gifts. As we deepen the congruence between our inner and outer lives we show up more fully in the key relationships and events of our lives, increasing our capacity to be authentic and courageous in life and work.
- A “hidden wholeness” underlies our lives.
Whatever brokenness we experience in ourselves and in the world, a “hidden wholeness” can be found just beneath the surface. The capacity to stand and act with integrity in the tragic gap between what is and what could be or should be—resisting both the corrosive cynicism that comes from seeing only what is broken and the irrelevant idealism that comes from seeing only what is not—has been key to every life-giving movement and is among the fruits of the Circle of Trust approach.
-Carol Cober, Member of the Maryland Community of Practice