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.