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Wisdom Group Leadership Training by Bill Redfield

Wisdom Group Leadership Training – by Bill Redfield

This is a four-part series of articles by Wisdom leader and teacher Bill Redfield offering some of this thoughts and ideas for the Wisdom Group Leadership Training offered November 29 ~ December 3, 2017. This practical training in skillful post-holding, including ‘embodying the wealth of Wisdom’s vision’ and developing group skills for greater integration, will take place at Hallelujah Farm in Chesterfield New Hampshire.  The event is currently full and has a waiting list. If there is continuing interest, however, the training may be repeated in 2018.  Full details for this event available HERE

The following series of articles was originally posted by Northeast Wisdom. Our gratitude to Bill Redfield for permission to re-post.



Wisdom Group Leadership Training Part I: Skilled Leadership Perspective

– by Bill Redfield

Before I begin my pitch, allow me to introduce myself and our team to you. The Wisdom path started for me when I met Cynthia 27 years ago and when I began a practice of Centering Prayer. As an Episcopal priest and clinical social worker, I have long been interested in the intersection of spiritual development and psychological development.  I reconnected with Cynthia ten years ago and since then have been a participant in her Advanced Wisdom group. Having spent a chunk of my adult life leading groups of various kinds and teaching group process and group development in several graduate social work and graduate education programs, the upcoming training in leadership skills for Wisdom groups represents for me a confluence of life interests.

I have had the great good fortune of being able to work with two dear friends over the past four years. Sister Lois Barton is an experienced spiritual director and teacher who has lived in community for almost fifty years. A gentle spirit, Lois is a steady loving presence who brings grounding to our team. Lois also has participated in Cynthia’s Advanced Wisdom group. Deborah Welsh is a skilled Dance/Movement and Body/Breath sensing and awareness practitioner and teacher. To this work she brings decades of experience as a therapist and trainer. Deborah is the principle creator of the Wisdom of the Body portion of our Wisdom work. While the three of us also work separately, we have deeply enjoyed our partnership in leading Wisdom Schools over the past several years, and we look forward to working together in this upcoming training. Let me also, then, say a word about that.

Because there are some who, as a result and response to their own training and growth in Wisdom Schools, want to organize and lead Wisdom practice groups in their home communities. To equip these “Wisdom post-holders,” we will be offering a training at Hallelujah Farm in West Chesterfield, NH from Wednesday, November 29 through Sunday, December 3, 2017. The details of this training can be found here.

How wonderful it is to gather with a small group of spiritual seekers to share silence and spiritual practice. Like a lush and verdant oasis in a parched desert, participation in a Wisdom Practice Circle restores the depth of our spiritual life and sustains us on our path. And from the outside it may seem easily done, right? Find a quiet and out of the way room, arrange the chairs in a circle, and have your bell bowl at the ready to signal the beginning and end of periods of silence. If you want to get a little more complicated, you could add a chant or two and/or introduce a little lectio divina.

And while I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from doing just that, I would want to suggest that leadership of a Wisdom Practice Circle is actually more than that. It affords the opportunity to skillfully guide participants to and through a life-changing transformational process. And, yes, while there are certainly contemplative practices that can be taught and shared (and these will be introduced in our training), the most skilled leadership will place these practices in a Wisdom context that will illuminate both their purpose and their implications. This skilled leadership perspective will be, therefore, both vast and deep; leaders will thoroughly understand not just the means of an accumulation of various contemplative practices, but also embody the wealth of Wisdom’s vision; and leaders will have a quiver-full of group skills that will deepen group formation and participation.

This residential experiential learning event will present both the contextual underpinning of the Wisdom practice movement as well as a thorough presentation and practice of specific leadership skills for leading Wisdom circles and practice groups. While we will begin with a suggestion of what human Wisdom development might be in this current age and how the Wisdom movement directly addresses this present human challenge, this training will then move directly into the practical demands and realities of Wisdom group leadership. Not only will we catalogue some of the current expressions of Wisdom groups (e.g., chanting groups, Gospel Thomas groups, book study groups, and, of course, Wisdom Schools), but we will also present, demonstrate, and practice some of the specific group leadership skills that will be demanded in each of these groups. Besides setting forth a unique perspective of the Wisdom post-holder as group leader and delving into some of energetic realities subtly present in this work, this training will also suggest a marriage between Wisdom spirituality and more traditional group dynamics theory.

While many present iterations of Wisdom practice groups are nearly exclusively experiential, eschewing nearly all discourse or conversation, I will be arguing that actually it is the right mix of experience and reflection of that experience that provides the necessary ingredients for the deeper integration of Wisdom into the self-system. Otherwise we encourage the collection of preferred states without building enduring stages. But how do you open the doors to group interaction and conversation without losing that sense of present moment awareness? That’s where skilled leadership comes in…

In the next few writings I will highlight some of the issues that we will be sorting out and practicing in this training. Stay tuned!


This is the second in a series of four articles by Bill Redfield about the Wisdom Group Leadership Training he is offering with his colleagues Lois Barton and Deborah Walsh.

Wisdom Group Leadership Training Part II: Preferred States? Or Enduring Stages?

– by Bill Redfield

In my last post, I introduced our upcoming “Wisdom Group Leadership Training” event to be held at Hallelujah Farm late in November and introduced you to my teammates—Lois Barton and Deborah Welsh.

In setting forth the usefulness of leadership training, I suggested that Wisdom Circles are more than just sharing contemplative practices. While it may appear to require only a bell-bowl and a circle of chairs, there are leadership skills that can bring the right balance of experience and reflection on that experience. In fact, I ended the last posting by saying that it is the right mix of experience and reflection that provides the necessary ingredients for the deeper integration of Wisdom into the self-system. Otherwise we encourage the collection of preferred states without building enduring stages. But how do you open the doors to group interaction and conversation without losing that sense of present moment awareness? That’s where skilled leadership comes in…

While many of those involved in Wisdom Practice Groups may only see the ways in which these practice circles are very different from all other kinds of groups, their conclusion may separate them from a body of knowledge and methods of leadership expertise that would be extremely helpful for them in leading practice groups more effectively. But bringing this other body of skill and knowledge into the Wisdom camp has been a bit of an uphill hike. Part of that has been the long established division between spirituality and psychology (and by psychology I would include group dynamics and group theory). In the training of spiritual directors, for example, there seems to be a firewall that has been placed between guiding people spiritually and engaging in anything that remotely looks like psychotherapy. For the most part that hard and fast division makes perfect sense. And in corresponding fashion many might want to place a similar division between Wisdom Practice Groups and most any kind of psychological growth group. Indeed, there are some very specific differences between the purposes of these two ways of looking at groups, and Wisdom leaders must be acutely aware of these differences.

But it is also true that a Wisdom Practice Group, a psychotherapy group, and a human relations training group are all groups, and as such they share certain attributes and dynamics with all other groups. Currently, I am not aware of any other efforts to apply basic dynamic group theory to Wisdom Practice Groups in order that organizers and post-holders of these practice groups might better understand and steer the purpose and function of such groups. My own insistence is that Wisdom Practice Groups, when they utilize the component of directed reflective discussion, aid the integration of Wisdom and amplify the transformational process. And in order to achieve this purpose it is advantageous that Wisdom group leaders have a full complement of theoretical and practice skills gleaned from many different directions—including from group dynamic theory. Thus, the amalgamation of skills from more than one direction—from the spiritual practice direction as well as the group theory and group dynamics directions—will better prepare Wisdom group leaders to skillfully lead the participants of their groups.

I am aware that presently many Wisdom Practice Groups lack this interactive component. I certainly do not want to convey that they are in any way faulty or inadequate. There is great value in a group coming together on some sort of regular basis to experience silence or chant, as two specific examples of targeted practice groups. I am contending, however, that the experience becomes all the more powerful and transformational with this processing element. Through the reflection and sharing of the experience, a passing state can more likely lead to the transformation to an abiding stage. And, again, that is because a carefully and deliberately directed conversation can provide the means by which the participants’ experiences can be integrated into the fullness of their self-structure and self-understanding.

Why is this important? While experience may provide the raw material for change, real transformation necessarily requires the integration and assimilation of experience in order for the self-structure to be modified. Without that integration, we simply collect really awesome states and experiences that we shall soon forget. A stage, on the other hand, is a brand new platform on which to stand, to see the world, and to live out one’s life.

I will have more to say in the next post.


Wisdom Group Leadership Training Part III: Digesting Experience, Reflection and Understanding

– by Bill Redfield

This is the third in a series of four posts that are introducing our upcoming “Wisdom Group Leadership Training” event to be held at Hallelujah Farm late in November and led by Lois Barton, Deborah Welsh, and me. 

In the first post of this series, Wisdom Group Leadership Training Part I (see above), I enumerated some of the reasons why, along with Wisdom practice experience, group leadership skills are necessary in guiding participants through the transformational process. I also indicated some of the territory we’ll be covering in the training. In the second post, Wisdom Leadership Training Part II: Preferred State? Or Enduring Stages? (see above), I recognized and acknowledged how and why Wisdom Practice Groups are often characterized as eschewing conversation of any kind. I challenged this portrayal and touched on the reasons why group interaction is so vital in the process of integration. In this post, I want to continue in this vein and focus specifically on the value and use of speech and language.

At least in contemplative circles, it seems as if speech has gotten a bad reputation. At all costs in our culture we hope to avoid being “all talk and no action.” In fact, we have just lived through a presidential election in which speech was not only cheap, but also often very far from the truth. Indeed, in our post-modern age there seems to be no common denominator or fundamental frame of reference that can be agreed upon. We have entered the relatively new territory of “fake news,” the proliferation of propaganda that dresses up as truth and veracity. Post-modernism has seemingly blossomed into post-truth.

This negative appraisal of conversation in our culture seems to have helped to color the current disdain in Wisdom and contemplative circles toward group dialogue. In reaction to the wordiness of the world in which we are living, many Wisdom and contemplative groups keep conversation to a minimum or ban it altogether. Utilizing a strong preference for only silence and for specific practices, it is not uncommon to attend a Wisdom group and not be introduced to anyone or to have any conversation within the group. While this might be an understandable reaction to our culture, it may well end up missing one of the most powerful group components of transformation.

The content of conversation in a Wisdom Practice Group is about processing ephemeral, experiential states and delicately putting words, understandings, and implications to them. In our training event, I will be arguing that, first, the integration of the higher stages of consciousness rests on the differentiation of these higher stages from the ego. But I will also be making the case that, second, linking them together is essential in order that that they might become more deeply grounded in the individual’s self-system and cognitive structures. But there is also another way of understanding this.

In the powerful and unique book, “Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism,” the author describes, in twenty-two letters, the significance of the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Each is a treasure of spiritual wisdom which is important to know. The second Arcanum, characterized by the High Priestess, is that of the reflection of the pure act of the first Arcanum, up to the point where it becomes “book.” It shows us how Fire and Wind (numinous spiritual experiences) become Science and Book (integrated and understood). Or, in other words, as the author expresses, “how Wisdom builds her house.” Here, thus, a distinction and then a connection are made between experience and understanding of that experience.

The pure act in itself cannot be grasped; it is only its reflection
which renders it perceptible, comparable, and understandable,
or, in other words, it is by virtue of the reflection that we
become conscious of it. The reflection of the pure act produces
an inner representation, which becomes retrained by the memory;
memory becomes the source of communication by means of the
spoken word; and the communicated word becomes fixed by
means of writing, by producing the “book.”
(Meditations of the Tarot, p. 30)

Here we are led to an appreciation that it is not just the experience that is important—that is the piece that Wisdom spirituality has rightfully elevated. But it is also the reflection through word and concept of that experience that is necessary as well. Indeed, it is the reflection of the Wisdom experience that integrates it and gives it a home. And while it is true that experiences of the unitive and the nondual seem to leave language behind and even defy conceptualization, nevertheless their integration through word and concept is crucially important. And it is particularly through skillfully guided conversation in a group that insights and illuminations can get stimulated and generated and then digested and absorbed.

In this Wisdom event in November 2017, we will be describing and practicing the specific leadership skills that can best bring about this quality of participatory reflection.


Wisdom Group Leadership Training Part IV: Grounding Wisdom’s Deeper Surrender of Self-Giving Love

– by Bill Redfield

This is the fourth and last in a series of posts that are introducing our upcoming “Wisdom Group Leadership Training” event to be held at Hallelujah Farm late in November. This event is being led also by my teammates—Lois Barton and Deborah Welsh.

Because Wisdom is often referred to as that underground stream that feeds all the world’s great spiritual traditions, it seems assumed by many that Wisdom requires a religious container for its fullest and deepest expression. And that may be so. I have certainly seen firsthand what the infusion of Wisdom programming can bring to the growth and vitality of a parish. Indeed, the present challenge to the Church and to other religious institutions is to develop the means by which, through specific Wisdom and contemplative practices, people can begin to access these deeper levels of being. Actually, this can be accomplished with a minimum of resources. Indeed, in our November Wisdom event, we will be presenting specific programming possibilities that participants can bring back to their churches and religious institutions.

But what about reaching those who are not connected to a church or other spiritual community…?

I recently led a retreat for a dozen self-selected faculty members from a small college. The purpose was to introduce contemplative practices in order to deepen their writing. From many different departments, the faculty were also from several diverse religious backgrounds, but most were presently unaffiliated. Although not self-identified as such, perhaps they could be considered in that growing category of “spiritual but not religious.”

Besides some basic Wisdom teaching and the introduction of Wisdom practices, they were given stretches of time to work on their writing during this four-day retreat. On the final night in a sort of recital, they shared with the entire group what they had been working on. Although the writings were of various forms and of diverse subjects, I was completely blown away both by the heart-quality of them all and the warm generosity by which each shared piece was received. I found myself wondering anew if the seeds of Wisdom could be planted in an educational institution in a similar way that they had been planted in the church that I had served…

I love how Wisdom practice fits so seamlessly and so effortlessly into the greater depths of the Christian faith. As compared to the contemporary more “mental” expressions of Christianity of our time, I love how Wisdom practice gives grounded substance to our tradition. Christianity’s deepest identity in self-giving love tends to keep Wisdom practice securely situated in a deeper surrender. And, while beyond my own direct experience, I have the hunch that this is true in other spiritual traditions as well.

But what about those outside any religious tradition? Can Wisdom find a home in the hearts of those without such a grounding? These questions are especially poignant since so many secular expressions of mindfulness and contemplative practice today seem to be so easily and so unconsciously used to bolster the ego’s perceived advancement.

So, can Wisdom’s deeper surrender of self-giving love be conveyed to and then practiced by those outside the container of a spiritual tradition? While once I had serious doubts, both my recent experience and the desperate needs of our world are encouraging me to take a second look.

Our Wisdom Event in late November will explore all kinds of contexts within which Wisdom programming may be placed. This, in our time, is a very fertile issue with which we are being called to grapple.


More information about Bill Redfield and Lois Barton can be found on Northeast Wisdom ‘Our Teachers’ page .








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