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The Circle Way

The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea

Here are a few of my notes…

To understand the power of circle as a collaborative conversation model and the kinds of insights that can pour into this group process, it is helpful to understand that when we circle up in a ring of chairs, we are activating an archetype. Archetypal energy tends to make our experiences seem bigger, brighter or darker; our words become imbued with shades of meaning, and our dialogue, decisions, and actions take on a sense of significance. This is part of the attraction to circle process: the archetypal energy can magnify issues among the group and help transform them.

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Circle functions best in an environment where people feel socially safe and have the time to make authentic, thoughtful contributions to the process. How to foster that social safety is a major purpose of this book. Circle invites contribution—particularly for problem solving or insights from unexpected sources (the janitor who solves a managerial issue, the child whose comment shifts a situation for teachers and staff). Circle provides a social container in which all voices may speak and be heard.

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By contrast, hierarchy functions best in an environment where tasks need to be clearly delineated and carried out quickly with little or no debate, where authority requires clear boundaries, and where leaders have the time, space, and education to make good judgment calls and set directions for people who have different responsibilities (the paramedic handling triage, the skipper directing a crew through wind-whipped seas, the platoon leader on military reconnaissance). Triangle provides a social container in which safety depends on each person doing his or her part.

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After expounding on the need for “one pilot, one decision,” and the sense of responsibility he felt flying these magnificent machines, he mentioned that the research on plane crashes and other in-flight disasters had caused the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate communications training between the cockpit and the cabin crews so that they would better understand each other’s skills and roles in moments of crisis. “Oh,” Christina smiled, “like being able to call a circle in the air?” The two of them came to agree that he led with hierarchy and accepted circle, while she led with circle and accepted hierarchy. It was a five-mile-high dialogue of balance and partnership.

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People appreciate clarity. A verbal or written invitation addresses the questions For what reasons are we coming together? Who will be or needs to be present? What kinds of contributions are expected of me? (And if circle process is being introduced for the first time, Why are we using this approach, and what does it look like?)

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A friend of ours, a community college president, always begins her staff and faculty meetings, and even college assemblies, by reading a poem. “Poetry, recited aloud in settings where that is no longer common,” she says, “calls people to a kind of listening I find useful. The cadence of poetry offers a sense of calm, prepares people to interact differently, and often inspires a metaphor that shows up later in the day.”

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In modern settings, where clock time is always a factor, it is helpful to suggest a time frame for a round of the talking piece. Do “time math” for the group: “We are X number of people. If we each speak for two minutes, that means . . .” In the first round of a new circle, check-in may take longer than at later meetings. Typically, people become quite skilled at checking in with both meaning and brevity.

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It is as important to the long-term success of a circle to spend as much time honing the intention as it is spending time crafting the agreements. Intentions can be made clearer by including a time frame. For example, in gathering to save trees and create a park, the group may agree to meet for six months and work toward that goal and then revisit their progress. Softer, more loosely defined intentions also benefit from a time frame: “Let’s have a monthly breakfast meeting to talk about neighborliness and then check if we are being personally nourished by the conversation and want to continue it.” The clearer the intent of the people in circle, the more focused the dynamic of the circle will be. Reworking intention can save a circle that’s floundering or help a group understand how to set itself back on track.

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Circle process functions under three principles of participation: rotating leadership, sharing responsibility, and relying on wholeness.

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Rotating leadership means that every person helps the circle function by assuming increments of leadership. This is evidenced in the roles of host and guardian (and scribe, when that function is needed), and every person is invited to interact in circle with a sense of self-determination, volunteerism, and tending to common needs. “I could do that, let me take that on.” Rotating leadership trusts that the resources to accomplish the circle’s purpose exist within the group. If no one is interested, that lack of interest becomes the next topic of conversation, an exploration without blame or judgment.

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Sharing responsibility means that every person watches for what needs doing or saying next and makes a contribution. Sharing responsibility breaks old patterns of dominance and passivity and calls people to safeguard the quality of their experience, to jointly manage the allocation of time, and to notice how decisions arise out of group synergy. “Guardian, could you ring the bell? We’ve veered off topic here, and I want us either to get back or to make a clear decision to digress.”

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Reliance on wholeness means that through the act of making individual contributions, people in circle generate a social field of synergistic magnitude. Reliance on wholeness reminds people that the circle consists of all who are present and the presence of the circle itself. Wholeness is an animation of circle process beyond methodology; it acknowledges the archetypal energy of circle lineage. Things happen that we do not expect, and we discover in ourselves the capacity to respond brilliantly.

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The practices of council invite circle participants to speak, listen, and act from within the infrastructure in place.

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Attentive listening is the practice of focusing clearly on what is being said by someone else. In circle, listening is a contribution we offer one another. There is too little actual listening in the world; too often we are waiting for our turn to insert our own thoughts and stories. Listening through the center of the circle allows us to receive people’s thoughts, feelings, and stories and stay separate from them, stay curious, look for the essence, seek a place to connect even when there is surface disagreement. Attentive listening is a kind of spiritual practice that shifts us out of reactivity and into deep inquiry.

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Intentional speaking is the practice of contributing stories and information that have heart and meaning or relevance to the situation. It comes from the patience of waiting for the moment when we each really understand what to contribute and when receptivity is alive in the group. Intentional speaking does not mean agreement; it means noticing when the piece of the truth that is ours to say may be received and then to say it, avoiding blame and judgment—to speak in neutral language. It means that attentive listening is in place and that each person is able to make a contribution while still tending to the well-being of the group.

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Attending to the well-being of the group is the practice of considering the impact of our words and actions before, during, and after we speak. It is important to take time before speaking to inquire of ourselves what it is we want to contribute. Typical questions to the self might include the following: What is my motivation or hope for sharing this? What is my body telling me about tension or excitement? How do I offer my contribution in a way that will benefit what we’re doing? How do I need to consider what I say, before I say it, and still speak my

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The guardian observes both practical and spiritual needs and tries to be extraordinarily aware of how group process is functioning. To employ guardianship, the circle needs to supply itself with a small brass bell, chime, or other object that makes a pleasant sound loud enough to be heard during conversation

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The guardian has the group’s permission to intercede in group process for the purpose of calling the circle back to center, to slow down conversation that has speeded up, to focus on the group’s intention or task, or to return to respectful practices as outlined in the agreements. The guardian also works with the host to stick to the time frame of the meeting or agenda and to call for breaks when necessary.

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A pair of Tibetan cymbals, called tingsha, will resonate in human ears for fifteen seconds—time to take an elongated breath.

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“What did you hear today that you take away as your primary learning?” is a harvest question.

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There are basically three forms of council: talking piece council, conversation council, and silence.

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Silence has not usually been considered a form of meeting except in meditation settings. However, silence in circle is an important way to support deepened thoughtfulness. Silence provides time for members to write in their journals together or respond in writing to a pertinent question. It can also be a time for inward centering that is shared collectively. A host might say, “This is an important moment for us as a group. Let’s take a moment of silence to be thoughtful. Guardian, would you ring us in and out, tending to time?” A few minutes of silent council can be an incredibly effective centering tool before or after a longer talking piece council.

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When silence occurs spontaneously in reaction to something that has happened, it is helpful to have it named and welcomed. The host might say, “It seems we don’t know what to do or say next. We’ve fallen silent, so let’s welcome this pause and hold our peace until the way forward is clear.”

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One way to signal consensus is to institute a thumb signal: thumb up = “I’m for it.” thumb sideways = “I still have a question.” thumb down = “I don’t think this is the right way for us to go.”

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A common circle closing invites a brief check-out so that every person has a chance to speak briefly what he or she has learned, heard, appreciated, or committed to doing. The circle may want to designate the host for the next meeting and pass along certain duties in order to maintain coherence. Final closing may then be offering a quote, poem, or brief silence, followed by the bell.

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We can check in and check out with each other in almost any environment, and doing so will improve the quality of our connections. We can begin to shift our engagement at work, at home, and in community organizations from competition to collaboration simply by how we show up and contribute and the things we acknowledge about what’s going on. We can live the agreements, principles, and practices—whether or not they have been introduced to the group we’re in. When we show up differently, different things happen.

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Practicing is the key. Circle is not a succeed-or-fail environment: it is a constantly shifting, imperfect, self-correcting learning field. “What if I mess up?” is a common concern. Well, the guardian is there to pause the process and invite the group to inquire with curiosity: What’s not working here? Why isn’t it working? What are we willing to do about it? What’s our wisdom?

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There is an inner core of preparation that serves us in this work. The more we are each able to listen for a sense of guidance, rather than pulling our responses to situations out of our habitual thinking, the more readily we prepare to receive the wisdom that lies waiting in any gathering of people.

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When composing an invitation, the host may want to consider the following questions: What is the topic to be addressed or the experience into which people are invited? What will be the major focus, expectation, and activity? Who needs to be present, and why? (This personalizes the invitation to different essential participants and helps them determine if they wish to send an appropriate substitute if necessary.) What time commitment and potential follow-up commitment are required? What does each person need to know about circle process when considering the invitation?

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In a cooperative environment, personal intention (what I hope to contribute and gain) and group intention (what we can accomplish by being together) are held in balance. However, since we live in an atmosphere dominated by competition, people often come to circle carrying an internalized competitive edge, even if they don’t mean to. We often speak of circle as a process of remembering how to behave differently—switching from acculturated competition to voluntary cooperation. One way to help this shift occur is to acknowledge that everyone has a personal intention and to name it as part of group process. Perhaps everyone completes statements such as these: I joined this group because . . . I most want to contribute . . . I most need to receive . . . I’d like to look back on this experience and see that I . . .

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“It is not my job to control this group. It is the job of the group to learn how to function as a collaborative circle. This is a training session. In any training, we wobble toward confidence and competence. Tomorrow we are scheduled to do more agenda-based work with shared leadership from your colleagues.

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The scribe negotiates with the host and guardian regarding what is needed as a record of the process. The scribe is looking for essence, not trying to provide a transcription. The scribe uses writing tools as appropriate to the group: notepad, journal, laptop computer, or flip chart. A standing scribe and flip chart may be included in the rim of the circle, or a group may choose to hire a graphic recorder to create a chronology of words and images. The scribe keeps what is recorded confidential and ensures that this agreement is scrupulously observed.

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“Holding space in circle means staying engaged and present with one another while we undergo a process of self-inquiry. We are listening and noticing each other’s contributions deeply, with empathy, and managing our own judgmental stream, bringing ourselves back to presence. This is a form of love—and it doesn’t have to be personal; it often occurs with strangers. When we love others in this way, we provide a space in which they can simply be able to feel what they need, to speak without worrying about how they will be perceived. It is a true gift. In some ways, it is seeing not only through someone else’s eyes but also in a way that transcends this. Perhaps a great example of this is in the video of the Three Tenors—the original from 1990—when Placido Domingo is singing ‘No Puede Ser’ and Zubin Mehta is conducting the orchestra. When I watch and listen closely, I notice how by ‘holding space’ for Domingo, Mehta is able to call out of the performer more than he dreamed possible. It is amazing—and at the completion of the song, there is deep recognition between them of how they served the other.”

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Near the end of one school year, the principal invited a group of parents, teachers, and students to meet over the summer months to address these issues. The group pared down hours of conversation into three stated agreements, intended to reinforce the kind of environment that would foster mutual trust and respect: Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of this place.

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We have helped other organizations incorporate the symbolic empty chair to represent employees or staff nurses or clients, just as the Wheaton Franciscans held this space for community members during their circles.

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Start-points can be as simple as reading an inspirational quote, poem, or a meaningful paragraph from a book. Or they can be as elaborate as inviting people into a ceremony, such as filing into a hall. A start-point fits easily into the informality of the chamber board meeting. The culture of the Wheaton Franciscan sisters invited song and procession—not a common practice in organizational settings. Whatever is offered for a start-point, it serves to assist participants in shifting from social chatting into focused listening and speaking.

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In our neighborhood association, the year Ann was president, she called in the annual meeting by announcing, “What organizes us into a community is our shared water system and neighborhood maintenance, so I’d like to start by reading a poem about water—and I’m going to put this vase filled with our shared water and Louise’s beautiful flowers in the center of our table.” People stopped chatting and listened to the poem, and then she introduced check-in by saying, “I’m not sure everyone knows everyone else here, so let’s go around the room, say your name, how long you’ve lived in the neighborhood, and one thing you like about living here.”

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Crafting questions is an art form. The choice of an opening question for check-in is a significant piece of preparation for whoever is calling the circle—the first time and every time. The question is like a flower that beckons to the bee, and the responses pollinate the ensuing conversation.

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Sometimes when we’ve been invited into a situation where tension and conflict are present, we’ll surprise people by starting with a check-in question that invites them to perceive the difficulty in a new way, such as the following: What about this current situation can you imagine being grateful for in the future? How is this situation maturing your leadership capacities? What is one shift in attitude or action you could take that could potentially improve the situation?

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Our Danish colleague Toke Paludan Møller says, “If I can only have two tools going into a room, I choose a good question and a talking piece.”

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Check-out can be as variable as check-in: closing with quotes, readings, or poems; removing check-in items from the center of the circle with a brief thought, sharing a round of appreciation, or simply ringing a bell for a closing pause. A commonly used closure is to ask people to “share one thing you learned from our meeting today.” If the meeting has been scribed, use the opportunity to harvest insights and to thank those who have stepped in to take on tasks or leadership roles.

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We had hosted conversations on resilience in the midst of unrelenting change.

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We conducted a brief review of the year, offered a few journal-writing exercises to ground them into their strengths as teachers, and offered the invitation—this time for checking out: “Choose one story of success you’ve had with a child this year.”

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“One of the skill sets I bring to the nursing community is how to convene people in a different way. Even if we don’t formally call it a circle, I always use check-in and check-out. I tell people, ‘Check-in convenes us and check-out releases us.’

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One of the primary programs CHCM has developed is a three-day seminar called Reigniting the Spirit of Caring that focuses on caring for self and others and is designed to help care providers find renewed commitment to their work. Colleen Person, vice president and consultant, who was introduced to PeerSpirit through the Center for Nursing Leadership, brought her circle training into the heart of the Reigniting experience. She and cofacilitator Susan Edstrom understand the importance of circle in this program. “Self-awareness is an essential component of a nurse’s ability to reignite her caring—to revitalize herself and her commitment to nursing,” Susan explains. “Circle fosters self-awareness as it enables people to see others as individuals and to be seen by others as individuals. This may not sound revolutionary to outsiders, but there is a subtle culture of anonymity in nursing.” Susan notes that the generic roles in health care (patients often call out “ Hey, nurse!” or “Hey, doctor!”) can lead to a diminished sense of individuality. “This acceptance of anonymity can pervade units so that nurses know surprisingly little about each other and communicate only about clinical details. Their lack of story and broader communication contributes to a nurse-specific form of workplace exhaustion that this seminar addresses through the circle practices of listening with attention and speaking with intention.”

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A universal statement from all the circle hosts was that the success of their circles was at least partly dependent on the fact that quality child care had been available during circle meetings. “No woman can relax into any kind of story sharing or listening if she is concerned about her child’s well-being. This was crucial to the program’s success,” said Judy Mladineo, program director for Catherine Place.

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Story has a character—one or more persons who are the focus of the narrative. It has chronology—a beginning and an end. It happens in a particular place: the scene. And it offers an insight or lesson.

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In the Story Council, we send a talking piece around the circle three times. Something different happens in carefully held circles when the talking piece is passed around more than once. There is a stretch break in silence between each round, and a different guardian serves each round. The group hosts itself through the question, usually an open-ended invitation, such as “What story is on your heart right now that you would like witnessed in the safety of this particular group?” or “Now that you’re here, what is the story you’d like to speak to this fire?” Sometimes a common theme emerges; sometimes we notice our eclecticism. Always the sharing has been profound.

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A Story Council takes time. It is a donation of presence to one another. The experience of being heard does not come from direct response or advice; it arises from the pure act of having one’s story received and held in the center. Someone speaks of a hidden joy or a terrible burden he or she has been carrying, and as the person lays it down, it is as though the heart of the group—residing in candlelight, residing in a vase of flowers, residing on the placards of their intention statement—receives it respectfully and does not interfere with the speaker’s journey toward insight. The circle provides a kind of alchemy—to transmute sorrow, to highlight joy, to open empathy where there had been enmity.

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This is the key: people want to be included in the story. We are much more likely to find ways to support disappointing outcomes—of which there are many in the world right now—when we have been included as much as possible in the story of how information was gathered, what conditions leaders have faced, and who and what were taken into consideration. When people understand how choices were made, they can become carriers of story able to explain the character of the characters, the scene behind the scene, the chronology of events, and the insights of the process.

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At these times, we step aside from busyness to remember that surrender is part of strength, that stopping is part of going forward, that disintegration is part of reintegration, that giving up an old story can be the source of the next story.

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People are responding to two things: the container, which is physical, and the containment, which is energetic. These two aspects create the field for interaction and the invitation for synergy.

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When we step into circle, we are bringing our personal energy into collective energy and creating the weather of the circle. The interaction of energy between people is as natural and normal as weather. There’s one difference: not only are we watching the weather—we are the weather.

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All living things emit a subtle electrical field that emanates into the space around them.

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Weather rises in us and moves through us. Sometimes we use this metaphor as a check-in question when we want to get a quick understanding of the energy in the rim. “What’s your personal weather?” and around goes the talking piece. People respond in a word or phrase: “I feel partly cloudy.” “Sunny and breezy.” “Overcast and hoping to clear.” “High-pressure zone, looks good on the outside, churning at high altitude.” A lot of information and diversity emerges through this one question.

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When convening a circle in a new place, especially when we’ve flown in to offer preconference training or a seminar in a corporate setting, we try to enter the room while it’s still empty. We want to notice what the space feels like without people in it and have a chance to adjust the seating and lighting to be as conducive to circle practices as possible. We clear away clutter around the edges—piles of papers, dirty dishes, or distracting boxes. We have been known to throw tablecloths over the whole mess when necessary and to commandeer plants and floor lamps from the halls or lobby. We raise the shades and let in natural light if we can. We open windows or doors and create a flow of air before people arrive. If we are alone, we stand in the center of the room and clap our hands a few minutes to release stagnant energy and make space for the energy we want to call in.

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We ask ourselves, What would make us feel welcomed and relaxed in here? Then we prepare that kind of space for others. Surprise is fun: bringing flowers into a sterile environment, offering bowls of fruit and nuts for refreshment, putting on music—upbeat to generate energy, melodic to calm energy down. We work with the chairs or seating arrangement—making the shape as circular as possible and finding something the right size to serve as the center of the energetic wheel.

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The first impression of circle is important. We create a kind of interior design of chairs, flip charts, coffee table and talking piece, and possibly a beverage cart at the edge. Once we have the rim in place and the backdrop beautified, we focus on establishing a meaningful center. We carry with us a number of objects that can be placed in the center and ask our hosts to bring things that are meaningful to this particular group. We are thinking about focus—something beautiful and authentic to look at—and we are thinking about the amount of energy that will soon be channeled toward and through the center space. These elements create the physical level of rim and center. What makes a circle a circle is the energetic level of what’s about to happen. The circle is created by everyone’s relationship to self, to the center, and to the rim.

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Most human conflicts arise from a passion that has not had space to be fully expressed or witnessed by the other side. The father and son cannot change their relationship until they have heard each other out; conservatives and gay people cannot let go of their differences until they have each been listened to; the Catholics have to be heard by the Protestants and the Protestants have to be heard by the Catholics; and so on.

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Imagine that everyone on the rim has an arrow—not a weapon, but a pointed view—as in Figure 8.1. As people speak, they throw the arrow far as their intention extends. So if they are energetically speaking to the center, their arrow lands there; if they are speaking to someone on the opposite rim, the arrow flies across the room. The goal is to fill the center with arrows—not to fill people’s laps. In the center, arrows feed the fire and build like-heartedness—the sense that we can disagree yet still be respectful of one another.

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Because the archetype of circle is present, language that comes from this lineage can communicate the essence of the center’s power. “Speak to the fire,” “Don’t cross the fire with your anger,” and “Feed your story to the center” are all phrases that will work when the circle is energetically hot. These reminders help people direct emotions, opinions, and declarations toward the center and each other.

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The core practice of conflict resolution in circle is our ability to anchor our individual reactions in our personal hoops and anchor our intentions to the center. “I don’t understand my son, and I will listen.” “I don’t understand how the Israelis can build a wall through my village, and I can look for something that allows us to reach across that wall.”

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The host is volunteering to tune in to the larger, invisible hoop, using the personal filter of his or her own experience as a test for the collective experience, and to test these perceptions verbally: “I’m thinking we’re done with this topic. Do you agree?” “I need a break. How about you?” Or, as is modeled in Chapter 4, the host may openly ask the guardian or the group for assistance when stymied by group process: “I’m not sure what to do next. What do you think?”

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Roq’s clarity is important here: the host’s focus is to preserve the intention, and sometimes for that to happen, the weather has to shift. If a group has been stormy, it needs some calm; if a group has been languishing in the sunshine, it needs a lightning bolt to wake it up to purpose again. Hosting at the energetic level requires a willingness to shift moods, to detach from comfort and help the energy attach at the center and flow at the rim.

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The purpose of the pause is to give all participants a little time and space to inquire what is happening inside themselves at this very moment. It is an invitation to regulate one’s own nervous system: Am I agitated or calm? Withdrawn? Paying attention? Taking responsibility for myself? When the bell stops action, we have time to check in with our personal hoops, to recenter the self and then recenter with the center.

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The time to normalize and support the practice of pausing is when the circle is moving along smoothly. To establish this, we often ring the bell during a check-in or other round of talking piece at the quarter turns and say something like “We’re a quarter (half, three-quarters) of the way around. Let’s take a breath, hold the center, and prepare to hear the remaining voices.” In this little ritual, people learn not to react personally to the bell.

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If you’re on the water in a kayak, there are times to paddle and times to rest.

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First Diana and Doug took their arrows from the center and threw them at each other. When Diana exploded, all the others took their arrows and threw them up in the air. Mike and Susan have caught their arrows and reattached them to the center. Susan’s instructions invite each participant to catch his or her own arrow and reestablish the stability of the wheel. Diana’s arrow is broken in her lap; Doug’s is behind his back—he’s not sure he’s coming in until he knows he’s not the scapegoat.

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Circle didn’t cause this eruption: it is simply dealing with it openly, and something important is being cleared in the moment.

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People are learning to be present during another’s volatility and not get into the drama, not take it on. As they integrate their experience in the circle this morning, they will be able to apply it in other areas of their work and lives. Diana blew up: nobody fought back. Diana crumpled: nobody tried to fix her.

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The host and guardian did not immediately know what to do—and that’s all right. There is no formula. Slow down. Pause. Focus on the center. Make a helpful gesture. Discover the way forward by trusting the wisdom in the room.

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In PeerSpirit, we define shadow as any covert energy residing in the group—in other words, the undiscussables. Covert means “covered”: things that are in hiding. So when looking for shadow in circle process, helpful questions include these: Are topics being avoided? What assumptions or behaviors are not addressed? What power issues are not explored? Who does not own their power, avoiding invitations to shine in the shared leadership of the group? How am I involved in these behaviors or reactions?

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The purpose of addressing shadow is to make it overt. Overt means “open”: things that are fully revealed. So as we acknowledge shadow, helpful questions include these: How are we expanding our courage to speak authentically with each other? What do we already know about trust, and what do we want to preserve about trust? How am I willing to show up and be fully myself ? What infrastructure of circle process needs to be called forward so that we can address this together?

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The issue of discernment arises here because in projection, there is a grain of truth. Someone is being a healthy leader—and we are challenged to consciously support the person by taking our own part in leadership. Someone is being competitive—so how do we restore his or her cooperative spirit and take our share of leadership without slipping into competitive behavior ourselves?

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Shadow tending is not so scary if we do it regularly and use the infrastructure of circle to hold the conversation—speaking to the center, using neutral language, making “I” statements, sharing responsibility, and trusting the spirit of the group that is already established.

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According to Jungian theory, shadow accumulates as children put away aspects of themselves that they cannot make fit in their families or cultures.

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Doing shadow work begins with converting our own covert thoughts and behaviors into overt thoughts and behaviors. The first aspect of shadow work in circle is to ask ourselves, What’s showing up in me that might be shadow?

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The first step in leadership is to know our own vulnerabilities and strengths—what causes us to slide into our own emotional potholes—and what we have learned works to help us get out of them.

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Shadow is not a failure of group process; on the contrary, it is integral to group process. No matter how focused a group may be on a task or how foreign a concept shadow may be in a particular setting, when people come together, the drive for wholeness and healing is always a subcontext in relationships, circles, organizations, and communities. We cannot avoid it. Part of leadership in circle is to know that shadow sits with us and to develop healthy ways to name, respond to, and work with shadow elements that will inevitably show up.

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“What you said—that the only way ‘out’ is ‘through’—sure became obvious. At the end of check-in, I was sitting in the pause of the bell wondering, Now what? We are at such different places. I remembered you two saying to trust the process, so I just thanked everyone for being so honest, noted that we were not yet clear, and asked that we commit to another round of talking piece council. I kept reminding us that the wisdom we need is in the group. We will know it when it arrives. Our job is to be patient, to listen, to have compassion for Larry and one another, and to trust the process.”

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Visioning is actually a powerful tool for gaining perspective on shadow. How would I be if I weren’t stuck in this place? How would we be together if we weren’t afraid to talk about Larry’s dying, our own dying, the planet’s dying? Carl Jung posed a paradoxical question about shadow: “How do you find the lion that has swallowed you?”

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When the request is reasonable and the reaction is unreasonable, we’ve got shadow.

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We have the opportunity in circle process to heal our old stories and to make new stories that lead to different actions and create a different world. This is the essential task of our times!

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After introductions and the mention that they would be developing their own version of PeerSpirit Circle Process, they were given a small note card and asked to write down something from their own life experience that at this moment they could not imagine sharing with the other people in the room. They sealed these statements in envelopes and held them close. The first shadow shift: people carry stories into circle that they do not intend to share. What we share and how we share, what we withhold and how we withhold, are choices that build or diminish shadow in a group. People continually assess their levels of comfort and risk and whether they are willing to commit themselves to authentic interaction.

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In traditional meetings, they adopted the host-guardian configuration, sitting across from each other holding the energetics.

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For all humanity’s brilliance and creativity, for all the graces of art and craft and ingenuity, for our ability to make consciousness and religion and science and technology, we are the only species on the planet capable of premeditated and carefully designed cruelty.

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In preparation, the group read two PeerSpirit booklets, PeerSpirit Council Management in Businesses, Corporations, and Organizations and Understanding Shadow and Projection in Circles and Groups.

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“We met twice a month at 7:30 A.M. in the basement of Mercy Hospital in Portland, Maine. Parallel growth processes were going on in many of our lives. There was such tremendous energy in those early meetings; we knew that even if we only checked in, our workdays would be different.”

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The key to unlocking the apparent polarity between circle and hierarchy was the idea that the circle and the triangle (hierarchy) were meant to work together. Hierarchy separated from circle leads to isolated leaders making decisions with limited input. Hierarchy combined with circle establishes a collaborative environment where input concerning impact and consequences is gathered, and leaders feel empowered to act by the whole organization.

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Each of the existing nine circles at True North now has a designated circle connector. Circle connectors are point persons for questions, insights, concerns, and communications. Each of these individuals belongs to a connector circle. A connector at True North may belong to anywhere from two to eight of these circles, which meet anywhere from once a week to three times a year, depending on their function.

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“‘What do you need me to know right now so I can love you better?’

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Jim set about trying to rectify the situation by designing a series of three circles, one for each of the three primary special-interest groups: Individuals who owned land adjacent to the trail, who would be most affected by the decision Hikers Motorized vehicle users

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“In each preparatory circle, we established a center that reflected the shared vision for the community as a town of neighbors helping neighbors. The center point was an antique bowl (representing the long and colorful history of the village) that began empty to represent a ‘fresh start.’ After checking in, we spent a little time role-playing some of the behaviors people might expect to see in the large circle as they addressed this emotional issue (quiet anger, rage, protectiveness of more frail residents, and so on). The role-plays gave people a chance to put the behaviors they were concerned about out front, ham it up, laugh a little, and become more able to recognize these behaviors and then practice calling for the bell.”

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At a gathering to address the future of a local landmark, Christina was standing against the back wall in a large crowd. At one point, there were many community members talking over one another. To gain the attention of the moderators, she loudly rang the tingsha bells she carried in her jacket pocket. People were so surprised at the high resonating sound that everyone stopped talking for a few seconds. The pause gave her a chance to say, “I rang the bell because I can’t hear what anyone is saying when everyone is talking at once. Could we go back to raising hands and waiting for the moderator to call on us?” People complied, and order was restored. The moderator looked relieved.

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Twenty minutes later, the energy in the room had again increased, and people were interrupting one another to get their opinion or question expressed. Someone from the audience called out, “Where is that lady with the bells?” Obligingly, Christina rang them again.

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Positive Futures Network (Yes! Magazine): http://www.yesmagazine.org/

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