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Council Practice

Even the simplest, most unsophisticated council practices are experienced
as revolutionary by people who've known little more than the hectic, banal,
adversarial or repressed communication modes typical of our mainstream
culture. *

*What is Council?*

We sit in silence. A stick (or some other object) sits in the middle of our
circle. Then for example, a woman who feels moved to speak picks up the
stick. She holds it as she speaks, and we all listen to what she says. No
one speaks unless they have the stick. We engage in no cross-talk or
conversation in the usual sense. When the speaker is done, she passes the
stick to the man on her left who ponders it for a moment before speaking.
After a few minutes he passes the stick to the person on his left and so it
goes. The stick continues around the circle, with each of us speaking in
turn and the rest of us listening. When our scheduled council time is up --
or when we pass the stick around the whole circle with none of us speaking
-- the stick is returned to the center and our circle is done.

That is the whole process. At its heart, it is that simple.

It helps to remember that the essence of council is listening and speaking
from the heart. Therefore, head-tripping, pronouncements, chatter,
posturing and run-on monologues of the sort that make up so much of
ordinary conversation only serve to disrupt the atmosphere of the circle.
On the other hand, *silence* -- so avoided in ordinary conversation --
often helps deepen the atmosphere.

*The main effect of council practice is in learning how to listen and share
from the heart.*

Speaking from the heart beings with being grounded in our experience of
what is -- especially being grounded in our feelings, values and in things
that are truly important to us. It means being honest, taking risks, being
real, allowing the vitality and emotion we feel to find its way into our
voice when we speak. It means finding ourselves saying things we have not
said before -- sometimes things we didn't even realize we thought or felt.
Industrial culture seldom welcomes this kind of openness and honesty, so
most of us need a safe space in order to speak from our hearts.

By "safe space" I mean a group that can really hear us, where we feel we
won't be judged or have to deal with negative consequences as a result of
our speaking our truth. Creating such a safe space is an important
challenge for most of us. Another important challenge is speaking from our
hearts even when we aren't sure how safe it is to do so. This courageous
act often opens the door for others to speak from their hearts.

*Council is a listening circle*

Sitting in a circle helps us to fully see each other as peers sharing
meaning, creativity, and a common center. I believe the most basic unit of
reflexive and intelligent social life is people sitting in a circle
listening deeply and speaking from the heart.

This is a different kind of meeting than most modern people are used to.
The focus is on dialogue -- on exploring and learning together -- not on
getting things done or completing an agenda.

*How to do a listening circle*

This form of dialogue is inspired by Native American councils. The
trademark quality of Council is in listening -- a deep listening to each
individual within the group, to the group mind and to Spirit, as well as to
each other. We can even listen deeply when we are talking: we can be aware
of the words we are saying as we say them, of the way our bodies feel, of
the stream of semi-formed thoughts and emotions out of which our words are
coming, and of the receptive group space into which we are sending them.

*Going around the circle*

To the extent we honor the stick (or other object) and its role, we don't
need chairpersons and facilitators; the stick, itself, in its journey
around the circle, shapes the structure and quality of our dialogue.
Sometimes, though, someone sets the tone and gets things started, and
someone signals the end of the meeting.

As the focus of our attention moves around and around the circle, it
spirals down into deeper shared understandings, richer shared meanings, and
a growing sense of a shared, evolving story. Although sometimes we go
around only once, our best circles result from going around at least 3 or 4
times, with people speaking briefly if necessary to permit more rounds.
Brevity can be very powerful. It is also important to sustain everyone's
attention. Sometimes we time our turns, often 1-3 minutes each, rarely as
long as 6-10 minutes. A well-functioning circle should help those who
usually speak a lot say less and those who usually don't speak up to say

*In conclusion*

You don't have to do anything fancy to use the council process -- just get
together as a group and take turns speaking from the heart as best as you
can; use a stapler as a talking-stick if that's what's handy. The important
thing is to just doing it.

Sat May 12, 2012 9pm – 10:30pm GMT (no daylight saving)
Liberation Plaza, Civic Center (map)