Guidelines for Circles

With thanks to Christine Baldwin and Ann Linnea of PeerSpirit; used with permission

The Center -- The Realm of Spirit

The center is the heart of the circle. This is where the group mind and the group spirit reside. Set a table for them here -- offer light, flowers, incense or whatever beautiful thing you might think of. You may add to this altar something that represents you -- an item you bring specifically for this purpose or something of the moment -- a piece of jewelry, scarf, photo from your wallet, etc.

The center also represents the hearth or the fire pit around which humankind has gathered in a circle for hundreds of thousands of years. A candle placed in the middle represents life-giving fire, warmth, safety, home.

The center acts as a filter for what is spoken. We do not address a specific person when we speak from our hearts. We speak to the center, to the group mind and spirit. The center receives our words and allows them to pass through blessed and enhanced by Spirit.

The center is the open vessel waiting to receive. It is a dancing floor, a threshing floor, a stage, a portal, all open and waiting for whatever might manifest. This is the place of mystery from which synchronicity, magic and healing arise.

The Rim -- The Realm of the Interpersonal

People hold the rim, forming a perfect circle in which each face can be seen by every other face. Holding the rim means coming into the community consciously in agreement with the intent of the circle. Around the rim, thoughts are spoken, things get decided, action is deliberated and initiated.

Intent

A circle, even an impromptu one needs to know why they are coming together. This process can happen very quickly, when one person articulates and the others agree. Or, it may involve a lengthier process in which, for example, everyone writes down what they perceive the intention to be and the group discusses it until consensus is reached. What is important is that everyone is holding the same conception as to why the group is meeting.

Principles

Reliance on Spirit

Each person places ultimate reliance in the center and takes their place on the rim. Through simple ritual and constant refocusing, the center, literally and symbolically, becomes sacred space- a place where everyone's willingness-to-listen dwells.

Rotating Leadership

Every person helps the circle function by assuming small increments of leadership. Leadership may shift from moment to moment and task by task. Rotating leadership trusts that the resources to accomplish the circle's needs exist within the group and that the group is willing to accept and learn from the different leadership style each member brings forward.

Shared Responsibility

Each person pays attention to what needs doing or saying next and is willing to do their share. Responsibility shifts moment-to-moment and task-by-task. Shared responsibility trusts that someone will come forward to provide whatever the circle needs: helping each other take action, calling for silence, offering the next meeting space, etc.

Practices

Attentive Listening

To focus clearly on what is being said by someone else

Intentional Speaking

To contribute what has heart and meaning to the present situation.

Conscious Self-monitoring

To consider the impact of our words and actions before, during and after.

Guidelines

What is my body telling me?

Am I pulling energy -- asking for attention energetically?

Will what I have an impulse to do or say benefit the group?

How can I consider what I say, before I say it, and still speak my truth?

Am I willing to be taught as well as to teach?

Am I willing to wait for the sense that Spirit is speaking through me?

Agreements

The circle must make some basic agreements between themselves about how the circle will operate. Of course these can be tailored to suit the needs of the group. There are some basic agreements that have proven themselves useful if not necessary in order for the group to manifest its intention.

  1. Confidentiality -- What is said in the circle stays in the circle. Confidentiality allows people to take verbal risks and to speak from a place of vulnerability or hope.
  2. Non-confrontation -- The circle is a place of discernment, not judgment. (Discernment is the ability to listen, sort and speak without having to be right, or to be in total agreement before other people's opinions and views can matter). Everyone listening takes whatever is being said by the person holding the talking stick, to be the truth as the speaker sees it. No one argues, refutes, expands on or sympathizes with the speaker. One simply listens.
  3. The speaker agrees to use "I statements." That is, they speak in specific terms about their own feelings and thoughts. These are not philosophical abstractions, rants, or accusations. The speaker addresses the center not a specific person in the circle.
  4. Each person takes responsibility for asking the circle for the support they want and need. Asking for what you need allows you to stay on the rim and avoid power struggles or personal dramas to get attention. There are times when your request may not be responded to in the way you expected: this is learning not failure.
  5. Each person takes responsibility for agreeing or not agreeing to participate in a specific request. This is the corresponding half of the above agreement. Circle requires a fine attention to how time and energy are used in group process. If members are practicing these two agreements the circle will continually self-correct itís course.
  6. At any time a member, or the group guardian can call for a moment of silence, a song time-out, or ritual to reestablish the focus on the center and remind the group of the need for spiritual guidance.
  7. Agreements are updateable. Agreements define how the intent of the circle is carried out. If something is not working, maintain your process and revise the agreements.
  8. Amnesty -- Circle members forgive each other in advance for mistakes, unintentional slights, misspeaking , etc.

Roles

Guardian

Someone designated by the group to watch the energy and care for practical matters i.e. bathroom breaks, relief of heightened tension, implementing a request, etc. The guardian helps the circle to fulfill its social contracts: timeliness, focus

The guardian is granted ceremonial authority, by the circle members, to interject silence, to remind the group of the task on hand, or to gently remind the group of the agreements.

Timekeeper

This role may be taken on by the guardian or by another member of the circle. The timekeeper is used when the group agrees to limit the speakers' time. The timekeeper can use an instrument or hand signals to designate time up or warn that time is running out.

Back-up

Anyone on the rim can call for back up. Whether a person is speaking or listening they may sometimes feel extremely emotional or vulnerable. In that case they may call for someone in the circle to come sit or stand behind them, either touching them or not, who silently supports their intention to stay present and speak or hear something difficult.

Tools

Talking Stick

The talking stick can be any object so designated from a decorated ceremonial piece to a fountain pen. It is a physical object held in the hand and passed from speaker to speaker. It signifies that the person holding it has the floor. They may speak or remain silent while holding it but while they hold it no one else speaks.

Rattle, Ting-sha, Bell or Drum

The guardian and/or timekeeper use these to stop verbal communication in order to recenter the group, diffuse energy or rest.

Timer or Watch

Altar Cloth, Candle, Flowers, Etc.

Objects to mark and define the sacred space at the center of the circle.

Scrapbook

Some groups like to keep pictures of altars, records of meeting themes, photos of circle members past & present, particular rituals, or significant celebrations.