Every group of people meeting with the intention of being together in deep inquiry & listening in service of the well-being of its members, humanity or planet earth is potentially a circle of wisdom and healing.
In 2015 I started inviting people to be part of a series of Circles of Wisdom on a regular base. Each cycle consisted of 5 meetings. We met in person and literally sat in circle. The lockdown in spring 2020 had us move online for the first time. We made the experience that the online version also allowed us to have deep and inspiring conversations. So, as I was scheduling new dates for the second half of 2020, I decided to offer both an online and an offline cycle. This offered people who do not live near Witten (Germany), but had heard about the Circles of Wisdom the opportunity to join. People from other regions in Germany, as well as from Switzerland, Austria and Romenia have since joined. Offering an English-spoken online format seemed to be the next logical step.
In a Circle of Wisdom you will meet people who are motivated to look at life from a spiritual perspective. Ideally people come from different spiritual and/or religious traditions, which creates the necessity to do without their own vocabulary and concepts and really be present and connect with their own understanding and wisdom.
We start with half an hour of silent meditation. And also during the rest of our meeting there is time and space for inner listening and silence. We use a virtual talking stick to slow down the conversation. We keep the principles of collective presencing in mind as they were formulated by Otto Scharmer and Ria Baeck: an open mind, an open heart and an open will. Trust as well as a consciously cultivated heart connection create the foundation for an inspiring and uplifting exchange. Each meeting is centered around a theme.
A few days after the start of the global lockdown, Gerriet Schwen invited some facilitators to an online brainstorming session, focusing on the question how the power of community and sharing can support people in times of Corona. It seemed helpful to offer online spaces where people speak from the heart, listen to each other, and formulate what is important to them. Michael Hoenninger and myself joined Gerriet to combine the powerful tradition of circle work with the current possibilities of video conferencing.
CoronaCircles is a free, open source platform in English and German, with a simple method and structure that encourage mindful sharing & listening. Someone invites to a Circle; up to four others join. The host can invite people from his or her own network or wait and see who shows up, thus getting the chance to get to meet and listen to people from other regions or countries, with other backgrounds and experiences.
The CoronaCircles team would appreciate it if people who have some expertise concerning hosting step in first, so as to offer others the opportunity to experience mindful sharing and listening, gradually empowering them to host circles themselves. Information about the process is available in text and video format on the website and will also be sent by email after registration.
After this long phase of staying at home and social distancing, it seems to be time to talk about what changed for us and within us, as well as sharing our intention and hopes for the future.
“We-Space” refers to collective practices that generate deep conversation. In October 2017 a five-day online We-Space summit was presented and helped making such approaches more visible. More than 150 hours of interviews, panels and practice sessions were made available for free during 5 days. The event was organised by Olen Gunnlaugson, who co-edited with Michael Brabant the book “Cohering the Integral We Space: Engaging Collective Emergence, Wisdom and Healing in Groups”, which was published in 2016.
The Collective Presencing practice emerged and took its first form during a period of 6 years (2006 till 2012) within the context of Women Moving the Edge, a project initiated by Judy Wallace and Ria Baeck. The material that can be found on the Collective Presencing website and in the book that describes the story of Collective Presencing as an emerging new human capacity is based on the experiences and learnings during those women gatherings.
As mentioned in the previous blog “The World is your Small Group” several tools for sharing and listening in circle have been taken online. The Council website offers a page where dates for online Council or Circle meetings can be found. The facilitators mentioned in the entries can be contacted for more information.
One of the effects of the present situation is that we realise how interconnected humanity is. Never before have we so obviously been affected worldwide and simultaneously by such an unexpected, global challenge. Never before were such severe measures taken on such a large scale within such short notice.
Not everyone is affected in the same way. As Damian Barr formulated it: “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.” We learn to see that as Humanity we are One. What troubles one human being, does have an effect on others even miles away. What is happening now can be heard as a wake-up call not to return to that which we had come to accept as normal. Change is needed.
There is a lot of potential for transformation in small groups. Although it is not always easy to get along with one another as we are co-creating something new, we can feel encouraged and inspired in our ups and downs by what the anthropologist Margaret Mead pointed out: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Since the beginning of time, people have been coming together in circles to share about themselves and their concerns. Over the past decades several self-organizing communities of practice have emerged that are based on the principle of a group of people meeting in circle. The methods being used vary according to the needs and purpose of the meeting. A large tool box for sharing, deep listening, and accessing wisdom is available by now. Just to give you a taste and name a few, I pick some that I have been using in different settings: Circle of Wisdom, Council, Collective Presencing, Open Space, World Café, The Circle Way, Case Clinic, Systemic Constellations, and the Flow Game.
It comes as no surprise that several of these tools have been taken online and allow for all sorts of configurations: local, regional, national, international, global. They enable us to hear and learn from one another’s experiences.
As we are confronted with an existential crisis, there seem to be at least four phases or states that we move through. They are not necessarily linear-consecutive, as they can overlap and repeat themselves.
They might be described as: 1. Accepting what is happening – As we witness how systems, habits and certainties break down or dissolve, we allow ourselves to feel in shock, sense pain or grief, and express what is happening for us. 2. Sense-making – As we experience ambiguity and uncertainty, we try to frame our experiences and give meaning to them. 3. Letting new forms, attitudes, values, etc. emerge – We try to find ways to act in the unknown. As a result of break-down, chaos, pressure, sense-making, visionary power and/or inner alignment new possible ways of being and acting become visible. 4. Giving shape and form to those new ways
A few days into the global lockdown (March 23rd, 2020), Brian Stout published an interesting online article called “Turning toward: connecting under quarantine. On the transformative potential of small groups”. He poignantly concluded his reflections with the following lines: “Let’s reconnect. We can’t do so physically, so we need to find ways to use technology to build trust, deepen relationships, and collaborate together. Of necessity, we’re suddenly liberated from the boundaries of geography: the world is your small group.”
Sense-making and co-creating start by sharing our stories and concerns. A small group that I am part of has been developing a new platform called CoronaCircles. It intends to make it easier to come together online in local and global circles and listen deeply to one another in times of quarantine and social distancing. We hope to launch it sooner than soon. Stay in touch!
Highly recommended!!! A long, very beautiful and inspiring article including an extensive interview with Joanna Macy.
“We need to sit together, grab each other and be together as we even take in what is happening, let alone how we respond. Because alone you get overwhelmed, and it becomes traumatizing. But once people have tasted that they can, with each other, speak about what they see and feel is happening to our world, a number of things happen, in addition to the fact that they fall in love with each other. There is a trust and realization of, “Oh my god, I’m not alone.” There is a return to your own self-respect. I think self-respect has not been realized as such a source of strength in the individual psyche. I think people would rather see themselves facing an overwhelming foe with conviction of their purpose, than to be comfortable.
So that was the release. And the release would come, and as people began to break through their reluctance to suffer with our world, once they took that on and spoke to it, then they found their unity with our world. Often, not only did a sense of bondedness come, but a lot of hilarity. There is laughter and joking, and a shaking off of a kind of spell or curse. A feeling comes, of, “I can be here.” And that feels more liberating and true to you and brings you into the moment when you are less dependent on someone giving you a failsafe method to make everything fine, because no one can do that. (…)
What is called of us now, from the planet? What are we being called to do at this time?
To wake up together. That is actually the name of the movement in Sri Lanka that I went over to do field work with. Sarvodaya. Taking the Gandhian term, but using it in a slightly different way, but the same Sanskrit, which is “everybody wakes up together.”
It’s hard to wake up alone now. It’s scary to see even what is going on. But there is almost no limit, I’ve come to believe, to what we can do with the love and support of each other. There is almost no limit to what we can do for the sake of each other. This taps into the Bodhisattva heart. That’s that hero figure of Mahayana Buddhism, “the one with the boundless heart.” The one who realizes there is no private salvation.
If you are going to wake up, you have to wake up together. Never has that been more true than now, at this stage of late stage corporate capitalism.”
“You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.”
Nearly a year ago, on March 22nd, 2016 Kristin Verellen lost her partner Johan Van Steen when a bomb exploded in the Maelbeek Station in Brussels. In the first nights after the attack she met with friends to hold vigils for him. They sat in circle, holding space and listening to one another. Gradually more and more people joined. They kept meeting, including others that had in some ways been hurt or touched by what had happened. Kristin and a circle team that emerged out of these experiences goes on organizing circles in different places across the country. A first international online circle in English took place 2 days ago.
“Telling and listening to each others stories is very important to regain our strength. It helps to deal with our emotions and to face life with a new awareness and renewed energy.
By organising these Circles we want to give the opportunity to everybody who was involved or feels impacted in some way by the terrorist attacks and other forms of blind violence in Belgium and elsewhere in the world to take a moment to reflect. What impact do these acts of blind violence have on us, on our choices, on our society? And what do we do with our precious life and the time we have left?”