You know in your heart the answer to your deepest questions.
For questions you may have about the twists and turns of life and the important life decisions you are called to make, you will find the answers in your own heart, coming from your own soul. That belief is the foundation of the Quakers’ tradition of Clearness Committees.
In its simplest terms, a Clearness Committee is a group of friends who only have your own best interest at heart and who will sit with you to help you listen to your own soul and to find your own answers. This isn’t about getting or giving advice. In fact, giving advice in a Clearness Committee is discouraged.
A Clearness Committee is really about helping to identify open ended questions that will cause the seeker’s own wisdom to rise above the confusion and clatter of the mind. Just consider for a moment the sense of empowerment, the sense of dignity and value this implies. The answers aren’t outside; they aren’t within the province of gurus or of people with special knowledge. They don’t rest in the hands of the Clearness Committee members. The answers are from within, emanating from the very being of the one seeking clarity. As Parker Palmer notes, there is an inner teacher in each of us and one needs only learn to listen deeply for their answer.
I was involved in two Clearness Committees recently; one as a seeker and the other as a committee member. Both experiences were humbling and empowering. I am basically a shy guy and having a group of people sitting down with me as the focus was at first uncomfortable. But as the time grew on and I lowered my innate barriers, I realized that the questions I was being asked forced me to clarify in my own mind the reasons for the direction I was seeking. No one tried to “guide me” through leading questions. No one recommended a book to read or a course of action I should consider. All in the room demonstrated their commitment to only one goal: to help me delve deeply into my own understanding of the path I was considering.
This isn’t magic and often, clarity doesn’t happen in a single two-hour Clearness session. What it does is put the onus of the decision back on the person seeking answers. It also places the process of decision making in a prayerful state, asking both the seeker and the committee members to be grounded by the light and wisdom each has within. In fact, committee members are asked to discern whether the questions they want to ask are self-motivated or do they arise from their own heart and are posed in the best interest of the seeker.
There are two basic criteria needed to make the Clearness Committee process work. 1) All involved must have a deep faith that each person has an inner teacher whose wisdom can be tapped and 2) There needs to be a level of supreme trust and confidentiality between the seeker and the committee members.
A Clearness Committee is not an answer for everyone and for every question. Those tender persons who are fragile or who need professional assistance are not good candidates for Clearness Committees.
Whether or not a Clearness Committee is right for you is something each person will have to determine. What is important is that we begin to believe that we can seek and find answers bubbling up from the wisdom of our own soul. As Thomas R. Kelly notes, “Deep within us there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Devine Center, a speaking voice to which we may continuously return.” Or even more profound is this quote from C.S. Lewis, “You don’t have a Soul. You ARE a Soul – you Have a body.” And that, is a topic for a future discussion.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.