We are lonely and lost in our hungry transparency. We desperately need a new and gentle light where the soul can shelter and reveal its ancient belonging. (O’Donohue, 1997, p. 4)
When my students and I embarked on the journey of reading the “transcripts of our civilization” (Townsend, 2015) freedom stripped us of our skin color, our cultural backgrounds, and even our socio-economic status. All we were left with was a text and us sitting around a table in what I like to call a Circle of Freedom. While dwelling there, we allowed the light of the texts, our lives and personal experiences to unveil new places of understanding. No papers, no worksheets, no red pens to mark answers right or wrong. There was only “us” and the texts and we did as Townsend (2015) implores us to do in his tribute to Thoreaux’s Walden, “…to live free, you must learn to read as you have never read before.”
By abiding in our Circle of Freedom, we became bonded together. A bond, that has remained even after graduation. The bond is so meaningful that the participants in the study have even struggled with feeling alone because there are no peers to enjoy the same type of dialogue with. The Circle of Freedom is powerful like that. We became as O’Donohue (1997) has said, each other’s Anam Cara— “soul friend.” O’Donohue says:
When the human mind began to consider the next greatest mystery of life, the mystery of love, light was also always used as a metaphor for its power and presence. When love awakens in your life, in the night of your heart, it is like the dawn breaking within you. Where before there was anonymity, now there was intimacy; where before there was fear, now there is courage; where before in your life there was awkwardness, now there is a rhythm of grace and gracefulness; where before you used to be jagged… (p. 6)
As we traversed the books, questioned them, questioned ourselves and questioned each other, an intimacy grew between us, that freed us to explore the truth about ourselves. I recall Sophia having doubts about Christianity. She mentioned this in the study and how she realized I was giving her the space to go through that process. She was allowed to voice these questionings in our discussions, in a Christian school sitting around a table, discussing a text (many times the Bible), in the Circle of Freedom. The bond that was forged has remained over the years so that when her mom died suddenly after she graduated, when she saw me at the funeral, she hugged me tightly, held my hand and we stood together to view the body. The Circle of Freedom does this to those who allow themselves to dwell there. It draws us closer together, students and teacher, in an Anam Cara relationship, as we explore our humanity through the humans who have gone before us and written about their human experience.
The word “circle” originally comes from the Latin circul which means “a group of persons surrounding a certain interest.” Our interest was exploring the Great Books together and seeing how those texts speak into our lives today. Although it initially was a required class, students found themselves reading the texts sometimes in the privacy of their bedrooms, outside of the assigned readings. They came in to class ready to ask a question or to talk about a perspective they gained in reading. This brought us together and soon it did not seem to feel like a class to me or to them. It evolved into our Circle of Freedom, a free space to become illumined within ourselves. Henry David Thoreau, expresses the heart of my renderings thus far in his short poem below:
Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find
A thousand regions in your mind
Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be
Expert in home-cosmography.
(Thoreau, 1954/1992, p. 300)