We've all heard that for humans to thrive, we need four things: food, water, air and shelter. We tend to define shelter as walls and a roof, but there's far more to shelter than that. At The Porch, we're exploring the idea that shelter also includes three components that most of us lack: a sense of purpose for the common good; an elder wisdom figure or mentor who can help advise, inspire, and offer feedback; and a close circle of friends who share stories, gifts and needs. Some of us have been meeting in such circles, and are finding that they help heal the epidemic of loneliness, spiritual emptiness, and the general heaviness that seems to dominate public conversation these days. Want to try it for yourself? We invite you to form a Porch Circle, wherever you are, and to use the simple format below to build it.
For the circle, we encourage the following:
Gather at least two other people, and no more than eight in total. It's great to have some age diversity in the group if possible - especially to invite the presence of wise elders as well as enthusiastic people who are earlier on their journey. Invite them to meet once - just once - with the following format:
Pick a time to meet for lunch, or coffee, or dinner at someone’s house; or if you’re meeting virtually, to do so by Skype or another video call. Make the food simple - potluck is great.
Have someone facilitate by leading the questions - and you can rotate this from week to week.
Open with words like:
“This is a Porch Circle, in which we seek to build community, deepen our life’s purpose, share our needs, and live better. Everyone is welcome. We’ll have two rounds of simple questions, and everyone is invited to speak from the heart. We honor confidentiality in this circle - what is said here, stays here, unless we have received the consent of the person to share their story. We use “I” statements - speaking about our own experience, gifts and needs. We don’t interrupt each other, and we also respect each other’s time, by seeking to be concise in our responses. We commit to the common good, to learning the ways of love, in the spirit of sitting on a porch with a wise elder, knowing that we are not alone, someone has already been where we are, and that kindness is waiting around every corner. All it takes is for someone to go first."
Now we will have our first round of questions. Everyone is invited to respond to each of the first three questions, with each person responding to all three before moving to the next person. We invite a response of up to two minutes for each question. (Agree someone to be timekeeper, and to offer a gentle nudge when the time is up. You can take longer if it works for the group, especially if it has a smaller number of people in it.)
1: What is bringing me life?
2: What is challenging, draining, or deadening me?
3: We are intrigued by the story that the purpose of life is to devote ourselves to love, and to do to and with others what we would like them to do to and with us. We are awakening to the reality that there is no "them and us", there is only us.
In light of this, what is one opportunity I have had since we last met to live this story, and what did I do with that opportunity? What did I learn from it? What would I like to do differently next time? What is an upcoming opportunity I know I will have to live this story, and what would I like to do with it?
After everyone has had the chance to respond to each of the three questions, ask the final question of the whole group:
4: Having heard what we have heard, is there anyone who would like to ask for something from the group, and is there anyone who would like to offer something to anyone in the group?
(This can be as practical as “I need a babysitter”, as profound as “I am having an existential crisis and would like someone to go for a walk with me once a week for the next month”, or as radical as “I can’t pay my rent right now, could the group help support me until I get on my feet?”)
The rest is up to you. We'd love to hear how it goes - so please contact us to let us know if you're interested in starting a circle where you live. Thanks!