Spiritual Practice: Quaker Clearness Committee
Last time we talked about discernment using the Ignatian method of Examen over a period of time, looking for themes of joy and life to guide us to our true selves. This week I will discuss bringing a discernment question to a group in a Quaker Clearness Committee.
In the same way that you don’t have to be Catholic to try the Ignition practice, you don’t have to be a Quaker to try the clearness committee. I am neither and have used both very effectively.
Of course, there are wonderful online resources to read more about this practice in depth, so I will do a short summary here.
When you have a difficult decision, and you need some wisdom and guidance, you can try this with some trusted friends. You will be called the “focus person,” and you will come with your question written out as clearly as you can, even if it is not a fully formed question. Some questions might be: Should I marry this person, should I take this job, should I go to college…any big question will work.
The goal of the clearness committee is not to give you an answer to the question, but rather to help you listen to your inner voice, your own wisdom, to find the answer.
When you gather, make sure you have two hours of time set aside to really listen well.
Appoint someone to be the leader or clerk and keep everyone else on target. The target for the committee members is to listen well and ask ONLY open ended, honest questions. That is the hardest part right there: No advice giving, no pointed questions or leading questions or judgments. At the “Alive Now” site they said this about the process:
Typically, the meeting begins with a period of centering silence. The focus person begins with a fresh summary of the issue. Then committee members speak, governed by a simple but demanding rule: Members must limit themselves to asking the focus person questions-honest, caring questions. This means no advice (“Why don’t you…?” or “My uncle had the same problem and he…,” or “I know a good therapist that could help.”), only authentic, challenging, open, loving questions. Members guard against questions that arise from curiosity rather than care for the person’s clarity about his or her inner truth. The clerk dismisses questions that are advice or judgment in disguise.
The last fifteen minutes, the leader can ask the focus person if they’d like to suspend the questions only rule and at that time, and if the focus person wants to, the committee members can reflect back what they’ve heard. Still, no advice is given. The focus person is not expected to have an answer by the end of the meeting, but the process of unpacking the focus person’s inner wisdom will continue to unfold over time.
Of course, all that is said in a Clearness Committee is confidential and all notes taken during the meeting are given to the focus person at the end.
I did this once, with some wise women friends and I found it very helpful. I was going through a major transition at the time and I felt lost about what to do next. The main idea that stayed with me from the clearness committee was that “when you are journeying through the wilderness you can’t carry a heavy load, you have to decide which things you want to keep and which things you need to let go.” This began an important season of letting go of some old things and making room for the new.
I’d encourage you to read more on this idea and to try it with some friends. You never know what your inner wisdom is waiting to tell you.
If you’re interested in a fun way to learn more about Spiritual Practices, check out my eBook, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It’s fiction but you will learn many new formation techniques along the way, and you will get to know some quirky new characters as well.