Wherever we look, there have been circles… informally when people gather at one another’s homes, back into prehistory around the fire or at the well, in indigenous cultures worldwide. Around the turn of the 20th century, middle-class suffragette groups often grew out of sewing circles, while the consciousness-raising movements of the 1960s and 70s also ‘circled up.’
Out of this rich fermentation grew greater awareness of circle as evolutionary process as well as guidelines for that process. We are aware of several lineages of contemporary circle practice and there are undoubtedly more.
Below please find below what we have written about circle awareness in the Guide to Heart Knowing, pp. 54-59, followed by recommended resources that have been important input along our path
Guidelines for a Heart-Knowing Circle Conversation
Arrange yourselves in a circle so that you can glance around easily and see everyone’s eyes. (One circle description suggests that your hearts be at approximately the same level for best alignment.) There are four main steps to follow in circle protocol:
1.Begin by doing a centering or attunement. This can be a prayer or a poem or any sacred text that helps everyone settle comfortably into her seat and feel the spaciousness and safety. Attunement (tuning into our wholeness) is an important aspect of any circle because it brings the group together in resonance. This is a key word for harmony and being in alignment.
2. Next each person offers a check-in. This provides a perfect occasion to let go of extraneous thoughts and tensions in order to be truly present. Unguarded descriptions of recent personal experiences can help each person ‘arrive,’ but more essentially, the check-in allows space for what is in your heart to be expressed, while others simply offer an unconditional listening space. Keep the check-ins between 1-3 minutes. Using a timer can be helpful.
Try to stay away from telling stories here. Check-ins are intended to help people move into authenticity, receptivity, gratitude, and transparency (openness to being seen). Honesty is important. Sacred listening is the gift we give to each other in mutual exchange.
3. After check-ins, the group shifts its focus to the main purpose… what brings everyone together and your responses to that purpose, e.g., reviewing significant moments in the film The Heart to Lead. Please continue to practice deep listening within and to each other throughout the conversation. This honoring and listening practice is like training for a marathon because you accrue a new kind of stamina by being still, yet conversant and deeply honest. (See more about Circle Etiquette in the section below titled The Experience of Circle).
4. Finally, when it’s time to close the circle, do so consciously reaffirming connections by expressing appreciation. It is like giving thanks at the end of a meal! Expressing gratitude for specific phrases or insights gives momentum toward your next gathering. But remember that everything shared in circle is confidential. Do not discuss people’s lives outside the group.
Miscellaneous Hints: Allow between 1-2 hours for the group gathering. Having a bell close at hand provides a gentle tool to use kindly, with discretion. It can redirect a fragmented conversation or one that is drifting. Anyone can pick up the bell and ring it when necessary; this is a way to ask for a pause and a moment of silence, no questions asked.
The experience of circle
There are at least 3 aspects to our awareness in circle: Speaker, listener and witness. They correspond to taking the perspectives of oneself, another person, and the whole of the collective. These 3 perspectives are capacities within us that we can develop and expand.
*Speaker: We bring our authentic and unique points of view forward. We speak from our own lived experience and knowing, rather than from our pre-conceived ideas. This is a practice in deep listening within ourselves, expressing what is on our hearts, what feels right to speak in the moment. Circle Etiquette: Move your attention inward, maintain focus on your inner voice, say exactly what you want to say without judgment or censorship and stop speaking when you are complete.
*Listener: We listen deeply to others with an open heart and open mind. We encourage ourselves to listen and be ‘in-formed’ by the experiences of others. This is more practice in deep listening, as we do our best to fully receive the energy and words of another person. Our listening and receiving acts as an invitation to the speaker to express fully and become more aware in the process. Circle Etiquette: Focus on the speaker; maintain loving, accepting energy toward her; listen without judgment or interruption or talking-over the end of a person’s sentence. Relinquish personal agenda and refrain from mere politeness or courteous responses. Move slowly into a speaker role only when the previous speaker is clearly finished.
*Witness: We expand our awareness to the whole, everyone a contributor. We initiate this by placing something beautiful and/or significant at the center and speaking our common intention. When we focus together on a common center, we are conscious of the whole circle and the interconnected living beings that we are.
This capacity is a practice in paying a soft-focus attention to the whole circle and taking responsibility for its life-affirming and loving quality. Circle Etiquette: Become aware of the energy in the circle as a whole, a sort of peripheral awareness, like peripheral vision. Notice, not only what the mainstream speaker is conveying, but also other feeling states or concerns that arise. Be slow, but brave to share with the group your discomfort and/or upliftment. This is a fine discernment between ego and authenticity, as we cultivate our responsibility to the whole.
If you are in a life phase of self-development, circle process may demand a certain relaxation from your habitual self-presentation. If you are engaged in other-oriented activities, you may feel natural in circle, but need to move further toward the center of your own experience. All of us have developed ways in which we ‘see’ ourselves that will need to be ‘seen through’ in order to reach our deepest authenticity. When we pause, take a breath, and courageously intend our truth, we can learn an immense amount about ourselves in circle, as well as gain a deep compassion for one another.
A practice for becoming whole
Sitting in circle cultivates a ‘whole system’ point of view. It invites the many perspectives we have as individuals to come together in a better understanding of the complex world we live in. And it fosters each person’s potential, as well as the capacity to work together for shared goals, to take everyone’s gifts and viewpoints into account, and to make better decisions.
Even more precisely, a circle conversation is a practice that encourages wholeness at every level, including the level of self. This is not the traditional idea of stand-alone wholeness. Instead, it is actual wholeness, like our cells live embedded in our body, playing their full roles as themselves AND as part of the greater body. We, too, are learning to be whole as ourselves in service to something greater.
When we follow circle guidelines, we remain open to the transfer of energy that is true learning. We recognize ourselves both as a whole being, sharing who we are, and also as part of a greater collective and understanding. We do not feel lessened in any way by someone else’s beauty or wisdom. Instead, we feel the fullness that they offer to the whole system, and we, too, feel the more of That.
We also recommend:
- www.millionthcircle.org (brief guidelines)
- www.peerspirit.com (more comprehensive 2 page view in many languages)
- www.gatherthewomen.org (thoughtful researched discussion and guidelines)
- The Co-Creator’s Handbook 2.0 (by Carolyn Anderson with Katharine Roske which as an earlier version, offered the evolutionary context that guided our Santa Barbara Conscious Evolution core groups)