Council Process (Peer Spirit)
One of the core leadership principals that we base our decision making upon is called “Peer-Spirit Circle” method. The circle, or council, is an ancient form of meeting that has gathered people into respectful conversation for thousands of years. The circle has served as the foundation for many cultures. While we are not a strictly a consensus based group, we honor all voices and rely on the wisdom of community and spirit to guide our work.
What transforms a meeting into a circle is the willingness of people to shift from informal socializing or opinionated discussion into a receptive attitude of thoughtful speaking and deep listening and to embody and practice the structures outlined here. This type of gathering is not just for hippies! This can also work in top down organizations that are seeking peaceful, creative, empowering and productive solutions.
- Welcome Start-point
- Center and Check-in/Greeting
- Three Principles and Three Practices
- Guardian of process
- Check-out and Farewell
Intention shapes the circle and determines who will come, how long the circle will meet, and what kinds of outcomes are to be expected. The caller of the circle spends time articulating intention and invitation.
WELCOME OR START-POINT
Once people have gathered, it is helpful for the host, or a volunteer participant, to begin the circle with a gesture that shifts people’s attention from social space to council space. This gesture of welcome may be a moment of silence, reading a poem, or listening to a song– whatever invites centering.
ESTABLISHING THE CENTER
The center of a circle is like the hub of a wheel: all energies pass through it, and it holds the rim together. To help people remember how the hub helps the group, the center of a circle usually holds objects that represent the intention of the circle. Any symbol that fits this purpose or adds beauty will serve: flowers, a bowl or basket, a candle.
Check-in helps people into a frame of mind for council and reminds everyone of their commitment to the expressed intention. It insures that people are truly present. Verbal sharing, especially a brief story, weaves the interpersonal net. Check-in usually starts with a volunteer and proceeds around the circle. If an individual is not ready to speak, the turn is passed and another opportunity is offered after others have spoken. Sometimes people place individual objects in the center as a way of signifying their presence and relationship to the intention.
SETTING CIRCLE AGREEMENTS:
The use of agreements allows all members to have a free and profound exchange, to respect a diversity of views, and to share responsibility for the well-being and direction of the group. Agreements often used include:
• We will hold stories or personal material in confidentiality.
• We listen to each other with compassion and curiosity.
• We ask for what we need and offer what we can.
• We agree to employ a group guardian to watch our need, timing, and energy. We agree to pause at a signal, and to call for that signal when we feel the need to pause.
THREE PRINCIPLES: (The circle empowers each and all of us.)
- Leadership rotates among all circle members.
- Responsibility is shared for the quality of experience.
- Reliance is on wholeness, rather than on any personal agenda.
- To speak with intention: noting what has relevance to the conversation in the moment.
- To listen with attention: respectful of the learning process for all members of the group.
- To tend the well-being of the circle: remaining aware of the impact of our contributions.
FORMS OF COUNCIL:
The circle commonly uses three forms of council: talking piece, conversation and reflection.
- Talking piece council is often used as part of check-in, check-out, and whenever there is a desire to slow down the conversation, collect all voices and contributions, and be able to speak without interruption.
- Conversation council is often used when reaction, interaction, and an interjection of new ideas, thoughts and opinions are needed.
- Reflection, or Silent council gives each member time and space to reflect on what is occurring, or needs to occur, in the course of a meeting. Silence may be called so that each person can consider the role or impact they are having on the group, or to help the group realign with their intention, or to sit with a question until there is clarity.
The single most important tool for aiding self governance and bringing the circle back to intention is the role of the guardian. To provide a guardian, one circle member at a time volunteers to watch and safeguard group energy and observe the circle’s process. The guardian usually employs a gentle noisemaker, such as a chime, bell, or rattle, that signals everyone to stop action, take a breath, rest in a space of silence. Then the guardian makes this signal again and speaks to why he/she called the pause. Any member may call for a pause – the guardian takes point on this for the duration of the gathering.
CHECKOUT AND FAREWELL
At the close of a circle meeting, it is important to allow a few minutes for each person to comment on what they learned, or what stays in their heart and mind as they leave. Closing the circle by checking out provides a formal end to the meeting, a chance for members to reflect on what has transpired, and to pick up objects if they have placed something in the center. As people shift from council space to social space or private time, they release each other from the intensity of attention being in circle requires. Often after check-out, the host, guardian, or a volunteer will offer a few inspirational words of farewell, or signal a few seconds of silence before the circle is released.
Our circles are great teachers and places to rest on our journey together.