By Tenneson Woolf
Originally Published, Human to Human, at

I count on center a lot these days, though I think it’s always been true for me, even before learning about The Circle Way. A center in self, a source from which the rivers of perception and wonder might flow. A center for a group, a third space accessible to all, a lake, figuratively, for the the mixing of the tributary waters of experience and important questions. Center holds us. Center connects us. Lately, I’ve been involved with big, and needed big, centers.

The photo above is from recently co-hosting Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC) with Quanita Roberson in OOC’s All Staff Retreat. This center grew over the days together. It is my experience generally, and specifically that week, that the center transform a room from “just a room” to a hearth from which a pile of important things can happen.

Included above:

In preparation: The cloth, brought by Quanita. Gives it beauty. And some history with stories of other circles — if cloths could talk (which perhaps they do). The plant, a “work with what you’ve got” center. It’s living. I needed something to center my arranging of chairs. The plant became that, and stuck, propped up slightly on top of another upside down bowl.

Round 1: The candles, one for each participant. These are the 8-inch jar candles from The Dollar Store. Decorated with oil-based paint pens by each participant upon first arriving in our meeting space. “Make it your own; make it beautiful,” we tell them. It becomes a kind of ritual to light the candles when we start each day, and to blow them out when we leave each day. Getting ourselves to the center. And letting it go.

Round 2: The photo cards, again, one for each participant. This set comes from colleague and friend, Carla Kimble, who started collecting her photos, printed on 4 x 6 cardstock. We invited each person to choose a card (from a bigger selection) that represents an intention that they want to carry with them in the week of learning. I love having one of the access points be an image.

Round 3: Objects that represent something important to each participant in why they do the work that they do. Stones. Poems. Pouches. Photos. Necklaces. Placing an object in the middle comes with invitation to tell a story, which of course connects the group even more. It adds to the lake. It adds to the fire.

There’s other stuff in there. The lines of blue tape were used for a few exercises. The juggling balls that I put in there, just because. The bells to be used for a pause.

Centers matter. Centers hold us. Centers give us a channel to be connected with the group. They give us the transformational shift in awareness, that perhaps beyond the moment of the retreat, we are, in fact, connected. In beauty. In story. In purpose. In energy.

A Participant’s Reflections

A Participant’s Reflections

Thank you to Jim Strader-Sasser, an Episcopal priest and recent participant at The Circle Way Practicum held August 2018 on Whidbey Island, for sharing his reflection on his practicum experience. There were 24 of us together, from varied backgrounds. As Jim describes, we were in a full field of learning and practice.

A Participant’s Reflections of The Circle Way’s Purpose and Practice upon his Pilgrimage

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.” - Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

“The circle way is a practice of reestablishing social partnerships and creating a world in which the best of collaboration informs and inspires the best of hierarchical leadership. ... The ancient ways of circle are waiting for us to remember and activate a true experience of collaboration.” (Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, 2010, p. 11) 

Photo by    Amanda Fenton

Photo by Amanda Fenton

I attended The Circle Way Practicum on Whidbey Island WA from Aug. 15 - Aug. 20, 2018 on Whidbey Island, WA. The learning group was comprised of 22 practitioners and 2 highly skilled hosts, Amanda Fenton and Tenneson Woolf. The group was very diverse. Attendees traveled to this circle from a vast array of cultural, generational, professional, and geographical contexts and disciplines. I was amazed at the quality of each participant’s authenticity and competencies – as people and as community members.

The event happened at Aldermarsh - a beautiful sustainable environmental retreat center. Whidbey Island is a paradoxical setting. The island is home to a military naval air station on its northern shore as well as to natural sanctuaries such as Earth Sanctuary, Whidbey Institute, and Aldermarsh on southern shores.  It is in this puzzlingly holy space (fields to use Rumi’s terms) where The Circle Way gathers and flourishes, despite and because of such contradictions.


A typical day began, for me at 5:30 in the morning for mediation and preparation. Attendees communed for breakfast at 8am. The Circle met for morning, afternoon, and evening sessions, with some time off for reflection and relaxation on one evening and one afternoon. Formal sessions usually ended before 9 pm. The exception to this rule was an especially emotional and bonding “Story Council” on Saturday evening. Small groups often gathered for reflective and refreshing conversations after the evening session. I was normally asleep by 11:00 pm.

 My initial purpose was to learn more about The Circle Way for its tools and techniques. How might I incorporate them and use them in my ministerial and consultative practices? However, what I have crossed the threshold with is something much, much greater. I have gained a cohort (circle) of beloved peers and friends. And, I now possess a much deeper insight about what types of questions, reflections, and conversations hold holy capacity for creating true communities. The Circle Way creates immense capacity for motivating transformation in communities such as mine, Christ Memorial Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. It is here where my transformational Circle Way work will be born.

The birthing point of The Circle Way practice values a foundational fact that human beings have gathered in circles for hundreds of centuries. Beyond this reality, the circle is one archetype for understanding basic human motivations as well as our shared collective unconscious. (Neill, 2018) We have gathered this way for millennium. We should gather around shared fires again.

Photo by    Amanda Fenton

Photo by Amanda Fenton

Today, we live in contexts when and where most people and organizations have lost their understanding of communicating in circles. Instead, especially when under stress or contending with confusion, we choose to debate/argue/deliberate with one another in dyads, triangles, or squares. These conversational choices frequently lack shared purpose, consensus toward addressing and acting upon a common need, and shared desire to maintain healthy relationships with one’s self and one’s neighbors – friendly or otherwise. 

I appreciate that The Circle Way process invokes some of my faith tradition’s core tenets. What we share at the center of our conversations yokes us into deeper communion. The center of such offerings is an altar of sorts. What we share of ourselves there is sacred, vulnerable. It is on such circles with a shared grounding where God invites us into deeper covenant with God and one another. Spiritual synergy happens in such space, provoking shared purpose and flourishing.

Photo by    Jeremy Nash

Photo by Jeremy Nash

The Circle Way Practicum was without a doubt one of the most transformational experiences of my life as an Episcopal priest I invite prayers, ideas and participation as to where we may begin and continue this transformative work. I hope that your Circle Way experiences provide your renewed purpose for your pilgrimages.

Photo by    Tenneson Woolf

A World Increasingly Void of Context -- Reclaiming Story Through The Circle Way


By Tenneson Woolf
Originally Published at

Many of us live in a world that is increasingly being stripped of its context. Headlines captivate more attention than the article or report. Even the article or report captures more attention than the story of what actually happened and it’s many meanings. Facebook is loaded with oodles of good shares, but they too tend to be snippets, ultimately skewed to the delights-only aspects of people’s lives, scrubbed clean of real-life challenges inherent in the every day. Twitter has us not only sharing, but thinking in 140 character messages. The every-day requires a bit more space.

Make no mistake, I value clarity and brevity immensely. It is a skill of maturity, I think, to be able to find the essence of a story, or the principle of a paragraph. It is mad skill to be able to identify talking points rooted in principles or key questions that center a complex situation.

The problem isn’t the skill of summarizing. The problem is when the summary is so often taken out of context and without enough connection to the stories from which they originated. We human beings are starved of context in most of our environments as we continue to spiral ourselves further into a love affair with speed and efficiency that trumps pace and depth.

Let’s just interrupt that, shall we. Let’s just reclaim more of the expectation for context.

One of the things that I love about The Circle Way, is that it gives us a container to reclaim the need and hunger for context. It’s one of the ways that I’ve been introducing Circle lately, and then inviting people to tell a story. The Circle Way can be expressed and invited in many time frames. It won’t always be an hour or two together (this is what people often fear with circle, isn’t it) — sometimes the spirit of circle is practiced and enacted with two people in two minutes. Circle, however, regardless of time choice, gives us a way to paint more than just the edges of our lives and of our learning with one another.

Here’s a recent example, from Circle, Song, and Ceremony, an event with 26 people that I co-convened with Barbara McAfee and Quanita Roberson (pictured on the right above, along with Katie Boone, a wonderfully skilled practitioner based in Minnesota). Our opening evening, in which I’ve come to feel that the real job is to say hello to each other, to make the transition from “out there” to “in here” and being available to each other, had several exercises. Beautiful song. Some recommended agreements and commitments. Some questions that each of us brought to the weekend gathering. An exercise to express six words to describe the state that we were arriving in. The six words were spoken out loud. It’s a good exercise. It was a good exercise that night. These words, and the spirit in which they were spoken, helped to introduce us to each other. “Tired. Curious. Happy. Nervous. Ready. Lonely.” Great teasers for depth, right.

The next day, we invited more context to be spoken in the container of the 26 of us. Not six words, but maybe six paragraphs. In circle. “Who are you? Why did you choose to come to this gathering? Give us a bit of your story.” This circle got big quickly. In time. In content. It got full. And honest. We’d planned on it going for 60-75 minutes, and it did. Deliciously. Because, we had the weekend together, this was not time getting away from us. This was essential weaving together.

There were four things that I learned (relearned) in that circle.

  • One, people are hungry to share context and to be heard in their context.
  • Two, we learn who we are by sharing our story — as well as learning more of who we are by hearing other people share their stories.
  • Three, the desire for story is in our DNA — it has been cultural practice for generations gone by, and even without direct experience, we recognize the need for context and story in the deeper places of our psyche and memory.
  • Four, as Quanita referenced, one of the reasons that circles get big when invited to share story is that people are so starved of the opportunity. It’s rare. In that scarcity, many of us feel that we must say everything (more than even the six paragraphs permits) because this is our only chance. Argh!

I love Circle. As a form of meeting. As a way of being. As a container to re-insert context and honesty into these many encounters we humans have with one another, while trying to do good with the things and people that we care about.

Context matters. Essentially. The Circle Way gives us format to welcome it.

On the Absence, Basics, and Deep Dive of Check-in

From The Components Wheel of The Circle Way:  What Happens Without Check-in, The Basics, and The Deep Dive of Using It

Tenneson Woolf
Excerpted from Blog Post, April 2017

A key structural distinguisher of The Circle Way compared to other forms of circle and other participative leadership forums is “The Components Wheel” above. It’s the basic structure that defines the practice that is The Circle Way, originating from Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin and their teachings over the last 25 years. As Christina has shared with me, “we wanted the lightest structure to help correct what goes awry in most contemporary forms of meeting.”

What I really enjoyed in yesterday’s preparation (for an online Deep Dive class on The Circle Way) —  was playing with each of the components and creating a bit of inquiry: 1) What is it like without this component — what tends to happen? 2) What is the basic and essential definition, practice, or todo of the component? And 3) what is the deep dive importance of this component — what is the nuancing of it’s practice that can transform the experience from a meeting to a moment-maker?

As example, consider the component of a Check-in. A Check-in is a beginning. A chance for each person in the circle to speak a bit to the whole group (or to a partner or small group if the number of participants is significantly high).

Without a check-in, when it is absent, what do we tend to get in meetings? Often it can feel like a jarring start. Bam! Right in to the content. Right in to the first third of the movie without setting the scene. No real attention to the people that are showing up in the room and how they are. No welcome of the unique circumstances that may be influencing people who are about to work together. Absence of check-in often leads to absence of people showing up and being more fully attentive together — rather, we are all more distracted, less connected.

The basics of a check-in involve giving each person a chance to respond to a question, whether a sequential passing of a piece or in popcorn style, speaking when ready regardless of order. My teaching colleague and friend Amanda Fenton recently posted a piece on Questions for Check-ins — she includes many important simple choices for how to begin (and how to see the deeper dive of this component). Check-in gives you a kind start that is much more likely to lead to the things most of us are looking for in our meetings — fulfillment, productivity, and appreciation. Good, right.

My check-ins tend to invite response to two questions — “Is there anything you need or want to say that helps you be more present in this meeting together?” Responses are always interesting. From “I need a cup of coffee” to “my babysitter was sick today and I had to juggle child care.” Regardless, they create a glimpse into who is sitting next to us or across the table. The second question is usually about the work at hand — e.g., “What have you seen in the last week (or day, or hour) that further amplifies the need for what we are doing together?” This kind of question really elevates purpose in the room. Presence and purpose together — even a taste as one of the first things we do in meeting — wow!

The deep dive is more than giving each person a turn to speak. It’s definitely more that being nice together in the democracy that is dialogue. The deep dive is more than using a talking / listening piece. The deeper dive of check-in is about getting present and showing up to give full attention to one another and to the task at hand. In a rather multi-tasked population, most being pressured to squeeze much into short periods of time, paying attention only to what is in front of us has become difficult, right. Gotta think about the next meeting while I’m in this one. The deep dive of this component, check-in, is about welcoming a moment of wholeness for individuals and the group, that interrupts contemporary meeting patterns of fracture and distraction. The check-in, for the moment, forms the flock, so that we can go differently together.

I’m looking forward to encouraging all of us in the The Circle Way Practicum and retreat that Amanda and I offer together this August to notice what happens when the component is not in place, and also to give keen attention to what is going on in such simple, and yes, I would say, liberating structure that changes how meetings happen and how human beings come alive in them.

Join us August 23-28, 2017 for The Circle Way Practicum Whidbey Island, Washington

Playing with Talking Pieces

By Amanda Fenton

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.
— From John Fox’s poem, When Someone Deeply Listens To You

Listening and circle go hand-in-hand, and many aspects of The Circle Way are designed to bring forward a deeper quality of our listening. It is in the check-in, where we listen to each voice at the beginning of the circle. It is in the practices of circle, “Listen with attention”. It is in the agreements, “We listen to each other with compassion and curiosity”. It is the form of council known as “talking piece council”, 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. Talking pieces can be anything – a pen, a watch, a leaf that travels around. They can be created in the moment when we need to slow down and listen to each other, “Let’s send this pen around and hear each person’s reflections on what we should do next”. Or they can be thoughtfully planned in advance to support the purpose of a circle. I sometimes think of them as “listening pieces” as they are so effective at shifting us into a pattern of better listening.

I’ve been experimenting and paying attention to the use of a talking piece. Some of this paying attention has been in the movement of the piece. Sometimes it gets passed from each person, flowing around the rim of the circle like a ribbon weaving us all together. Sometimes the talking piece is in the centre and people take it to speak and then return it to the centre, ready for the next person anywhere in the circle to pick it up next, creating a random pattern of who is speaking around the rim. Sometimes, when it is a light, softer piece like a koosh or stuffed toy, we toss it across the circle to the person who wants to speak next. Sometimes the host starts and it travels sun-wise from there. Sometimes the host invites whoever is ready to begin by reaching in and picking up the piece. Sometimes the guardian goes first so they can focus on ‘guardianing’ the rest of that round. Sometimes, particularly in story councils, the piece travels around from the host, stopping with the person who is ready to begin. Each of these has a different impact on the overall timing, the pace, and then also on our listening.

Where I have gotten particularly curious lately is with the specific objects used as a talking piece. At a recent circle, with a team working to transform their patterns of conflict and communication to new, healthy practices, I went in with the idea that, after our check-in, we would use the same talking piece to create the synergy of the same piece travelling around the circle, connecting each person during a difficult round. After a couple of people spoke, the next person asked if they could change the talking piece. I answered from my intuition – what felt right in the moment – Yes. They chose a different object from the centre, one that helped them share their feelings. A few people later the piece changed again, this time to a heart to help that person express what was on their heart, and so on it went with people changing the piece as they needed to. I observed how allowing the ability to choose the piece helped each person take care of themself (ask for what you need), and also helped them contribute to the purpose of the circle. It also helped us collective tend to the emotion and energy of the circle – a release of laughter when a playful object was picked up, or quiet strength sent to the centre when the heart was picked up, or shifting the energy into to a new direction with the choice of another piece.

At another circle with a group from an architecture and design firm, where circle is a newer format for them, we were using a story council to reflect on what they had been learning from some recent projects. The talking piece I brought for this circle was a small Hoberman sphere, which is an isokinetic structure that resembles a geodesic dome and is capable of folding down to a fraction of its normal size by the scissor-like action of its joints. It helped to break the ice of using a talking piece and because of the kinetic nature of the piece several people played with it as they told their story, helping to release some nervous energy.

At a quarterly circle, each person brings an object that they place into the centre during their check-in. A tradition was created spontaneously where during one circle a person asked for their object to be used as the talking piece for a round of council. Now each time, before our two rounds of council and check-out, we ask who would like their object to be the one that travels around for that round.

So simple – the idea of using a talking piece. But also so much creative possibility, experimentation, and learning how it helps create the conditions for listening with attention and speaking with intention.

Join us August 23 - 28, 2017 for The Circle Way Practicum Whidbey Island, Washington

Men in Circle

By Tenneson Woolf

It starts with a drum beat, often. Eleven of us, all men, aged between late 30s and mid 70s, standing together around a three foot diameter drum suspended before us. We each have a drum stick, which we begin to use together in simple, collective beat. The drum itself has a story of where it came from, just as we eleven each have a story of where we came from, that we are eager to explore in this semi-annual retreat. “We” includes those that work in regular 9:00 - 6:00 jobs. Some are retired from 30-40 years of career, and wondering what is next. Some now volunteer with local communities. Some are fathers, and sons. There is ceremony in this drumming together, in this beginning. It feels natural and potent. We are gathered for men’s work, which will have many aspects to it. Circle and it’s premises will help us shift from social connection to a deep listening group of men together.

Circle will help us find our stories together. Get past an initial not knowing what to say with each other. A bit like an oxygen mask restores what our autonomous nervous system knows to do — breath and restore circulation. We will pass a talking piece. Many times over three days together. Each of us will have opportunity to share, to think out loud. Each of us will have opportunity to witness and do what is long forgotten for many, yet so needed. We will debunk a pervasive mythology that we are alone in our stories, and that we should carry them in separateness. Alone in our suppressed emotions. Alone in our not knowing how to return to what American poet and author, Robert Bly calls “original radiance.”

From many experiences over the last twenty years (in most, 25% men and 75% women), I have learned that men want to be thoughtful together. Whether in men’s work, or in the contemporary lives of leadership as doctors, lawyers, government officials, educators, mechanics, plumbers and such. It’s just a story that men don’t want to share, or can’t share. Men want to share openly. Men have much to contribute. 

My friend and colleague Quanita Roberson started a project a few years ago that demonstrated this yearning that men have to contribute. Her project started as a a few bits of advice to gift to a thirteen year old boy, but then turned into a book. She asked me and 65 other men, “What do you wish someone would have told you when you were 13?” The men she asked ranged from their 20s to 70s, were born and raised in eleven different countries, and were from diverse stages of life, artistry, spirituality and sexual orientation. 

Says Quanita, “What struck me most in their responses was how generous and thoughtful they were in sharing their wisdom with me, and therefore with Jason, a boy that only one of them knew. In the questioning, and their answering, I realized that we [as contemporary society] are asking men for everything but their wisdom, and that they are desperate to share it. There is something in them that knows this wisdom is needed now. There is something in them that knows our boys are lost without it. Maybe some of them have been lost without it as well.”

Wise together. It’s different than wise alone. There may not be a drum in the room. But there will always be the possibility of a circle. Men, joining with women, people joining together, to be wise. Many men, but gladly not all, have just forgotten form in a way that many woman have not. We’ve forgotten how helpful it can be to slow down to listen with ample pauses. To include silence as part of our speaking. To just feel, not fix. To elder each other into a presence and ability to stand in today’s complex world.

The circle is for men too. Never doubt it. This is a call to men. Men, please hear it. Join in circle. Make it part of you. Make it part of your leadership. Be part of an evolving and available healthy masculine. Listen. Share. Discover. Be moved. Be moving. 

It was one of the other men, Chandu, whom I have met now at two weekend events, who summed it up nicely for Quanita’s book given to her 13 year-old friend. “Remember perfect doesn’t mean infallible; frail doesn’t mean weak; strong doesn’t mean right. Start with empathy; love will follow.” That’s what men have to contribute, and remember in circle.

A footnote: I read a draft of this article to my 11 year-old son. I think I wanted to share it with him to seed an idea and alertness in him, perhaps more for his future 21 year-old self. He was working on a picture puzzle when I read it to him, moving the orange colored pieces around at that moment. I asked him if it would be ok for me to read to him what I’d been writing. His response surprised and delighted me, which he added without blinking. “I have one more thing to add. Men have been mean, you know. Like not letting woman vote. And they have been told to protect their families and told not to cry. But men have feelings too. They’ve just been taught to keep them inside and not share them. But we need to because if we can’t it can hurt you for the rest of your life. And now women are acting like men used to act. Some are being mean. That’s not right. We all need to be who we are. And let it out. It’s awful not to. We all have things to say, but we are scared of being judged.” Maybe Quanita’s next book might be asking a bunch of 11 year-olds what they want to say to grown men.

Join us August 23 - 28, 2017 for The Circle Way Practicum on Whidbey Island, Washington

From Weird to Wyrd

From Weird to Wyrd: Shifting Meeting and Societal Culture through The Circle Way

by Tenneson Woolf

Empty circle Nov 2016.JPG

I want it to feel more normal to gather in circle. 

By normal, I mean expected. Anticipated. I mean, the norm, what we know instinctively to do. And by where this would happen, I mean almost everywhere. In project team meetings. I mean, in government committees. I mean, in every form of staff meeting. I want circle to be met less with a groan and a derogatory Kum ba yah reference — did you know that “Kum ba ya" was originally a spiritual song invoking God to help those in need, literally, “come by here.” I’m glad to see that, in an increasing number and range of places, circle is a key practice methodology of leadership. It’s not the only way to meet. It’s just often one of the most important ways to meet to be smarter together, and more honest, and to help those in need, including ourselves.

I want it to feel really weird to not gather in circle.

By weird, I mean being in a meeting that doesn’t begin with some gesture of hello. Some genuine acknowledgement of meeting for a specific purpose, and that requires full attention with one another. Not just plowing into the agenda, or the solutions being sold rather than the problems and opportunities being explored. Not just racing to get done as fast as possible, so as to move on to another plateful of additional meetings. That’s weird, right. Isn’t there some part of all of us that has us girdering resolve, rolling our eyes figuratively and literally, to get through these formats.

Contemporary culture is searching, increasingly so, for more meaning and wisdom together. Desperately. I believe this and see it with so many that I work with. Yet, so often, it is our own habituated behavior and thought, doing more of the same, that blocks us, impedes us, and renders simple alternatives unimaginable.

The Circle Way, from my now 20+ years of experience, helps to remove the weird and replace it with “wyrd.” In old English, “wyrd,” from which the word “weird” has evolved, had a very different meaning and usage. It had connotation of being able to see “an invisible connection in all things,” or to see “the thin lines between the lands of the living and the ancestors.” Wyrd, was a word that connoted wisdom. “Weird” in contemporary use, is far from that. Not listening well together in today’s meeting culture is weird. Use of The Circle Way, well, that is really wyrd.

It is my experience that learning some of the basics of circle really matters. And repeating them. And repeating them often, again. And then from the basics you learn even more about simplifying or innovating that enables you to practice anywhere. One of my sons did a lot of karate from ages 6-13. It always impressed me that even the most skilled, multiple black-belted students at his studio, still gave real attention to the the first form, kata, that they learned. When you get circle, you may not always use a bell, nor a talking piece, but you will recognize the most basic form, and become quite skilled at invoking the discipline of circle to almost any human encounter.

My point isn’t to evangelize the benefits of circle — I suppose it is just a bit. My point is more to remember out loud what most of us already know, and to acknowledge more openly what we crave. Most of us have instincts to turn to one another. Particularly when the chips are down. We listen to or with a friend. We hold a family council. We instinctively reach for one another in crisis and tragedy, in joy and exhilaration.

And further, my point is that the times we live in are increasingly raising tensions with far-reaching impact. The US presidential elections. Standing Rock. Eliminated health care and exponentially rising costs. Civil rights violations. Police and authority tensions with community. Millions of displaced refugees from Syria spread throughout Europe. Environmental degradation. It’s not hard to come up with ten fingers full of serious global and local tensions that have grown from processes of not turning to one another. Weird.

Times like these call for us, all of us, to mature the way that we are together. Yes, mature. We don’t always have to listen deeply to each other, but there are times when it is the only thing that matters. The individual and collective zeitgeist is really on a precarious ledge. To be clear, I’m not super hopeful that we can turn all of this around. I’d like to be able to say that, but I’m not being very honest if I do. What is honest to me is being able to offer something now, at scale, simple, that can make a difference. 

Now is the time. To reclaim our historic memory of listening and learning together. To bring to contemporary culture, whatever is in front of you, us, to remember a matured way of being together. To relieve ourselves from barking or whispered comments of weird, and to hold ourselves accountable for the thin lines and connections of the wyrd.

I want it to feel normal. Wyrd is up to all of us. The Circle Way is very valuable and a simple practice for making the shift.

An Elder's Reflections

Cassandra Carothers was a recent participant at the Whidbey Island 2016 practicum of The Circle Way. She wrote this piece for her writing class and we are delighted to have her permission to share it here as an elder's reflections on the experience.

“I have become who I have been”

I am a composite of all my experience; 
the positive/ the negative; 
the searching/ the knowing; 
senses deadened and numb to the world/ senses aroused while my pulse
  quickens because of it;
choices—some good—some not; 
hanging on/ letting go.
So many choices. So many decisions.

I’ve come to welcome these swings and contradictions. They cause me to examine where I am at any given point in time. Am I looking at the world half empty or half full? And, it is through this prism that I can feel the strength or the emptiness of life, within me. 

* * * *

This discovery is enhanced by a recent experience. Out of the blue an email arrived inviting me to attend a six-day practicum on Whidbey Island. I had attended my first one of the same nature and purpose eleven years ago. For whatever reason I do not know, it seemed to be timely for me to refresh the teachings I had learned earlier. What was different was that I would be the “elder” in a younger generation--or two. Hmmm, I was curious how that age difference might unfold. Would I be relevant? My first discovery was they were all familiar with “circle leadership” and hoped to deepen their understanding so they could apply these skills with their peers and working environment. 

We were a group of 22 including the two facilitators. Several attendees knew one another but generally we were a diverse group including age and gender   meeting for the first time. What transpired over the next 5 days was like observing a miracle taking place; strangers coming together and in the space of time we were together, I would have trusted every single one with my life. That’s how connected we became. 

It was such a revealing experience—what others were willing to share—and the freedom I experienced in being true to myself. It was refreshing and absolute as feeling swept away with all layers exposed. Our commitment to sharing was rewarding knowing we were within a ‘safe environment’.

After 5 days I elected to leave a day early. I was ready. Earlier I asked the two facilitators if that would be disruptive to the circle as a whole. They listened attentively yet the response came easily and lovingly. I would be missed but in my honor they would keep my chair in the circle with some remembrance placed on it so they would ‘feel’ my presence.

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   Cassandra, during the evening of mentor collage at The Circle Way Practicum

Cassandra, during the evening of mentor collage at The Circle Way Practicum

I chose to leave after lunch the following day. However, before we closed our circle that mid-day for lunch, Tenneson, one of the facilitators, announced my departure and asked each one—all of us standing in the circle—if they would describe in one word how they experienced me during our time together. I was utterly overwhelmed. I cannot recall a single event where I have felt such love and tribute. Selfishly I wish I had a recording of the single word each person chose to describe how they experienced me. The last description brought great laughter referring to me as a “bad ass”. I loved it!

More than anything, it affirmed I am relevant when I speak my truth and share my vulnerabilities in a setting where trust is established and protected. 

What a lovely thought to end a day, a year, even a life.  

The Circle Way Practicum — Looks Like This

by Tenneson Woolf

In short, I felt it a privilege to cohost The Circle Way Practicum, August 17-22, 2016 at Aldermarsh on Whidbey Island, Washington. I felt honored to pick up some of the tradition that has been carried by Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin over the last twenty years. I felt a welcoming exploration and clarity with co-host, Amanda Fenton. I loved the group. The connections. The maturity. The kindness. The sincere desire to learn together. This post is more about pictures than words. To help participants from August remember (a full set of photos is here). To encourage future participants to come in 2017. 

The grounds are beautiful. And really interesting. Like this low-laying morning watershed fog on a summer day. 

The primary meeting space is The Marsh House. Room for 22. It’s an octagonal building in a meadow. Deliciously spacious. And comfortable, whether on the floor or choosing a chair. 

The stewards at Aldermarsh are committed to beauty. This bowl was a last minute touch offered by Lynne, one who helped get the space ready for our group.

It looks like deep listening and being listened to. Sometimes knee to knee. Sometimes at tables. Sometimes in full circle. 

It looks like burning questions, created by participants, at the center of what we learn together. Making the questions visible helps us keep it real.

It looks like practicality. There deliberateness to support people learning and practicing The Circle Way in the communities and organizations from which they come.

The shade on a summer afternoon — pretty awesome location, right. This one is for a World Cafe exploring “shadow”in groups. 

It looks like working and exploration groups using Open Space Technology. Another participative, self-organizing format that is enhanced by Circle skills. This is the agenda, created by participants, that shaped an afternoon. 

There is lots of turning to one another. Learning The Circle Way together. Planning to take it home. 

I love this picture. It’s what playful looks like. It’s what spacious looks like. It’s what delighted learning looks like, in the home that is The Circle Way.

Respectful Disagreement and Moving Forward with The Circle Way

By Amanda Fenton

I have been reflecting on some recent experiences with a group of 10 people that are working on a grand experiment of transitioning a body of work from founder-led to community-held.

We’ve articulated some principles that guide how we work together, and here are a few:

  • We use The Circle Way as our primary way of working.
  • We each have roles from which we are each empowered to act.
  • When we want to do something (e.g. make a decision, pursue an action), we seek input from those who would be impacted by making a proposal and then, most often using a combination of talking piece council and thumbs voting, we harvest insights for a stronger proposal and wiser action.

Thumbs voting is: thumbs up if you support the proposal, thumbs sideways if you have some concerns or further questions, thumbs down for “no”. After the show of thumbs, if there are any thumbs down or sideways, invite those people to share why and what would improve the proposal for them.

In my recent experiences, a person shared a proposal for an approach to a dilemma and we had a round of talking piece council to speak our comments or clarifying questions. I had differing views and was able to share my thoughts and concerns, as well as listen to everyone else around the rim; sensing into the wisdom emerging from the middle of our council. When it came time for the thumbs vote my thumb was sideways (nearly everyone else was a thumbs up).

This wasn’t a stalemate or a failure. This is the beauty of The Circle Way and our principles. Our group isn’t working with a model of requiring unanimous agreement, but rather one that ensures every voice is heard, that the collective intelligence informs decision-making, and that no one person can derail the process.

I had the chance to speak my perspective to the centre and we heard from others around the rim. There was space for respectful disagreement and moving forward. It is as our friend and colleague Chris Corrigan wrote recently, “that doesn’t mean that everyone gets what he or she wants, because in a democracy you have to balance rights and interests.”

In The Circle Way, we gather together with our purpose and possibility in the centre and invite each voice to speak – welcoming the leadership and wisdom that is in each chair. And there is a dance: asking for what we need, offering what we can, while contributing to the well-being of the group.

I love that these experiences have taught me new depth to the principles and practices of circle. I wonder what new insights we will discover together when we gather on Whidbey Island for The Circle Way Practicum later this August!