Shredding & Honoring

This blog entry is dedicated to our magnificent office manager and colleague, Debbie Dix, who has been the third peer spirit in our office for 16 years, fully occupying her leadership chair.IMG_4406

 Ann Linnea and I arrived on Whidbey Island in March 1994, with two book manuscripts in progress, her two children, my first corgi, a small amount of savings and child support, and the idea that this circle process we were experimenting with was a gift we wanted to refine and offer the world. A mission actually, a sense that we had come together to deliver this gift, to make space in the world for circle. Ann rented a house for herself and her children, I house-sat up the road. I wrote the first version of Calling the Circle and tried to find a publisher interested in buying it.

A few months later, Ann’s book, Deep Water Passage, sold and the money helped us stabilize a way forward. That fall she bought a house with a little shed in back and rehabbed it into office space: 10 x 20 feet, two rooms: a back room for book storage and a mailing station, papers, files, and the growing accumulation of equipment for this work—from markers and flipchart paper to camping gear for wilderness experiences, boxes of collage materials, and three computers for our technological interface with the world.

In March 2000, Debbie Dix showed up seeking flexible work while raising her (then) toddler son and supporting her (then) high school math teacher husband. We hired her in 20 minutes and have thanked our lucky stars over and over and over. We could truthfully say, “We are a small, local educational company with global outreach.” There is a more detailed version of this progression in the preface to the book.

Twenty-two years have gone whizzing by. And now, having spent the past three years transitioning our circle training and consulting into the capable hands of dozens of colleagues and onto the new website www.thecircleway.net, we are taking the PeerSpirit office apart. (We will continue teaching writing and leading quests.)

Two four-drawer filing cabinets, six plastic storage bins of archived files, teaching scripts, remaining booklets inventory (as they are now transferred to e-booklets available on The Circle Way site and Amazon), and 20 hula-hoops used to demonstrate personal space at the rim of the circle. We are recycling all the office supplies we can. We are giving away the circle accessories we’ve accumulated on the journey. We are shredding the file contents that need to be safely discarded.

Sorting and shredding is actually quite an emotional process.

Shredding raises questions about what it means to carry a body of work that is basically invisible (the synergy of the space between people), and to let go of the documentation of that journey. There is no university archive waiting for “the circle papers.” We have little empirical evidence, just change of heart evidence.

Shredding requires that Ann, Debbie, and I handle every file, and in the midst of sentimental recollections, let it go. “Oh look, here is where we met Sarah, David, Holger, Linette…” or “Remember St. Pat’s church, 2003? The speech we gave at Brescia University?” Hundreds of consulting jobs, Circle Practica, phone notes from negotiations that seemed promising and stalled out, surprise connections: a life-time of work.

We three carry the experience and story of what it took to bring the circle into the world as we did. And as the boxes pile up, we witness that story, recite bits of it to one another, and let it go. Nobody wants all these details. Nobody but us could decode them into sense-making.

There is a moment when I wonder if we should be making a list of this history—but for whom? And why? Everyone engaged in teaching and practicing The Circle Way is accumulating their own experience and story. Circle is about interaction, not archiving.

The impact of circle will speak for itself in how lives shift. This is the great magic. We are sitting in the round. The circle pattern is called into place. A talking piece starts hand-to-hand. People speak heartfully. There is an energetic opening, often felt as a tiny “ping” in someone’s awareness. A bell rings. The group breathes, moves on. But that ping is morphing inside someone’s mind and heart. Checking out, s/he says, “I don’t know what it is about this circle stuff, but I’m going back to my office to interact differently to my staff. I going home to ask my family a meaningful question and see what happens at the dinner table.”

That’s the circle’s archive. That’s the proof.

A few weeks ago Ann took 10+ boxes to Island Recycle and put the contents through an industrial chomping machine.

 

 

 

Talking with strangers

I was raised by two gregarious parents who felt entirely comfortable engaging total strangers in conversation, thereby changing them from strangers into acquaintances, and sometimes, into friends. I have no particular memory of this as a child, no moments of great embarrassment, no squirming in agony wishing they would just “come on…” I assume this social pattern was deeply engrained in my childhood into a sense of normalcy, because I am often in the company of these two vibrant people, now aged 92, and they are still talking with strangers. And there are very few “strangers” within earshot of wherever they are.

Their social ease gave me a sense that I could create an engaged and friendly environment around myself. As a girl, despite a certain shyness, I also had enough confidence to reach out to someone I didn’t know, ascertain their basic friendliness or not and ask for help navigating my world—getting to piano lessons and back on the city bus, finding my way to a new classroom, etc. This is a skill that has carried me in good stead for many years, and around the world. As we travel and work, Ann Linnea often remarks to me, “You only know a bit of German and French, but you are so willing to just get in there and try to communicate… and people respond to you favorably because you are so genuinely interested in communicating.”

“Thank you, yes,” I say, “I am interested. And I’m willing to play, to be the fool, to mispronounce and muck up the grammar and let myself be corrected… just to keep the story going until I figure out what we’re saying to each other.”

Ann and I are just home from our latest working trip—three weeks in eastern Australia: Melbourne, Port Arlington, and Warrambool, in Victoria, Townsville, in Queensland, Cradle Mountain, in Tasmania. And it occurs to me that Ozzie society is like my family: constantly playing with one another in public. People tending verbally to one another in public space is the social norm.

Here are some benefits as I see them:

Much less social offense: people are more likely to break into a grin when interrupted by someone else, instead of scowling or walking away. Curiosity replaces judgment.

Children, elders, and unescorted women seem to move about with greater sense of safety: chatting with one another, chatting with others around them, inquiring: Where are you from? How is your hike? Do you understand which train to get on? Would you like a coffee? Need a bit of help, there?

(Even their usual greeting relates to this casual tending of the social field: “How going?”—they ask one another, and so everyone has the chance to say over and over throughout the day, “Going good…”)

A consistent compilation of stories emerges from this gregariousness that reminds me of decades ago when people chatted over the back fence and on the front porch rather than spending time texting, Facebooking, blogging, and wired into our private sound systems. And instead of being chuffed to have this private techno-isolation intruded on, they constantly reassured me, “No worries.”

Even a wombat comes up to say "g'day..."

Even a wombat comes up to say “g’day…”

Hand-held technology is happening in Australia’s cities and towns, but they have not lost their cultural extravagance for public check-in. I hope they can retain it because it offers them, and we who visit, an experience that feels supportive, a bit watched over, noticed. And it was a delight, American accent and all, to reach out and offer all this back.

In the coming weeks, I will continue to hear the lilt of the Ozzie accent in my head and to see an array of faces in my mind’s eye: people we walked with, talked with, called into circle, and passed along the Overland Track.

I put this out to remind us that talking with strangers is perhaps a really good thing—especially when we pause long enough to listen to strangers.  That having social radar for one another is a skill we don’t want to lose. That we can all take little social risks that re-knit the safety net inside which we wish to conduct our days.

“How going with you today, mate?”

Maybe it’s not just vernacular: maybe it’s an admittance of interdependence that we’d all be wise to tend to.

Hosting team in Queensville--all good mates

Hosting team in Queensville–all good mates

 

Rebirth of the Village

Upon our arrival in New York on November 1, our friend Nancy Fritsche Eagan, a circle and Art of Hosting colleague, took us over to visit Occupy Wall Street. It was a stunning experience, particularly from a group process perspective.

Zucotti Park, now dubbed Liberty Park, was doing its best to operate as a self-organizing “village.” It was a tent city, one block long, 100 feet wide, with council-based governance, a multi-faith chapel (Sikhs were chanting there when we walked past), their own security team, library with hundreds of books organized in plastic tubs that could be closed up in rain, a cook-tent for serving the community free food (which had just gotten an A-rating from the NY Health Department), and wired for the world of the Internet.  The local “newspaper” was cell phone tweets. At that time police presence had pulled back to a presence that seemed nearly normal for a big city neighborhood.

This statement, from their website states their sense of identity: Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

There was a general assembly starting. The person hosting a topic stands on the steps that rise up at the end of the park, anyone attending gathers either behind the speaker (think very eclectic and randomly organized choir) and others gather in the clearing—the commons space—in front of the speaker. No amplification is allowed so the speaker says a line, “We need to talk about (whatever real topic is being brought forward)…” The chorus, known as the “Human Microphone” repeats the sentence and, if needed, another line of speakers about 50 feet deep into the crowd passes it back down the block.

Hand signals were employed to show approval/question/disapproval—and voices of dissent invited to speak first, along with women and minorities—white males, even these disenfranchised versions of often scruffy and dread-locked young men—spoke last. There were signals for question, and point of clarity. Someone was making a “stack”—taking names and order for speaking… We were watching the next generation of group process come into being. And this level of radical democratization has been common in the Occupy Movement in all the major cities I’ve been hearing about.

With Nancy, we walked over to an indoor courtyard, during the day the kind of place that, ringed with deli stalls, provides affordable lunch options for office workers. This evening, about a dozen small circles of quiet and intent conversations were occurring. Working groups seated on the floor or around planters, were engaged in developing structures to keep the movement evolving and the “village” organized.

In our PeerSpirit work, Ann and I often find ourselves proclaiming that circle is the basic unit of democracy. It is a great treat to actually witness this so clearly. Circles. Self-organizing. Civility in public group process. Earnest young and mixed ages, mixed races—doing the hard work of discovering what to be “for,” not just what to be “against.” We were standing in the midst of evolution. In the midst of something happening—the determination to OCCUPY our lives in radical ways. I’m for that!

Is it clear? No, but becoming more so.

Is there a plan? Only for the next step, then sitting down and understanding the implications and complications and deciding what the next step is, and then the next.

At 1:00 AM on the morning of November 15, the neighborhood cops turned back into storm troopers and cleared Liberty Park, 2 days before a large protest march commemorating the two months anniversary of the movement was planned. The reports are varied as to what will happen next. In terms of the physical requirements, the “villages” in New York, Portland, Oakland, Seattle, and other major cities is not yet sustainable—deliberately so, with authorities refusing to install sanitation sites, and other basic necessities of human habitation. Winter is coming—and living in tents without heat is nearly impossible. Police have said that protestors may gather in the area, but not live in the park. It’s complicated… and it’s too late to stop it. OCCUPY has gone global, gone viral, and become a marker in time, in action, that we will look back on and say, “finally—we the people got going again…”

I heard a young man speaking from within the Seattle group on the radio. He was preparing to meet about their reaction to potential eviction from Seattle Central Community College and said, “Well, we’re a leaderless group… so we’ll have a meeting, listen to each other, take a vote, and decide what’s next. That’s how we are—“ I’d only change one thing—it’s not a leaderless movement, it’s an ALL LEADER movement, with every participant taking responsibility for their own interactions.

If you’re not tracking—get online and start reading. Go to http://occupywallst.org. Google around the mainstream media. Look at the BBC. Read the progressive articles on http://www.commondreams.org and watch the Livestream videos.

Does it make sense? Sometimes—and perhaps that is how a new world begins.

Now, collectively, it’s our work to believe that OCCUPY is an emergent action whose time has come.  Now, collectively, it’s our work to figure out our ways to engage and support and challenge and shape the conversation.

The circle invites us to sit down, share the stories, clarify the patterns that emerge, and rise to take up wise action. Let’s go.

The wisdom we need is in the room!

I wake at 4:30 AM from a dream in which a film crew is taking down the Europe “set”— dismantling canvas facades of the streets of Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam, carefully putting the architecture into storage.

Ann and I have just come home from three weeks teaching circle practice within the European Commission, the Art of Hosting and community leadership groups, and German consultant network. The dream seems to be my mind’s way of letting go of “there” and getting “here,” though those are concepts that blur in the midst of our current teaching schedule. “Here” is wherever the circle is, wherever people sit down and gather around a question and a form that fosters speaking and listening from heart-integrated space.

While I watch the film crew in my mind dismantle the cityscape, I am remembering the people of this trip and the delights and challenges of language and culture in the global circle.

Working first in Brussels, with internal facilitators at the European Commission, and then with a broader group, we often had people from 8 or 9 countries in the room, each of us filtering our learning and conversation through the common language of English. Because English is the official tongue of the European Commission, and Belgium is a country with two resident languages and now thousands of people working at the EC, those who came to the Circle Intensive expressed gratitude that we could learn together and hear each other’s stories.

Brussels circle

Brussels circle

We detoured by Paris—just to enjoy ourselves a few days and to visit Ann’s cousin and her husband—and Paris shone in the late summer weather. Then we went off to Oberusel, a small town outside of Frankfurt, Germany, where we spent a week at the Akademie Gesundes Leben (School for Healthy Living).  It was our second visit to this very pleasant retreat and conference centre, and the second time we have worked with Matthias zur Bonsen and Jutta Herzog who called in a group of 20 German and Swiss consultants—all native German speakers—except us.

When we checked in with the first round of talking piece at the beginning of our 4.5 day practicum, two things were obvious: one, that we had a marvelous, competent, sophisticated group of facilitators with a broad range of experience hosting circle and other collaborative processes; two, that we had about 1/3 of the group not very facile in English, and another 1/3 managing, and the final 1/3 able to offer some translation, at least to speak the essence of what was being said from English to German or German to English.

Forty years ago, Ann took German in college, as it was a standard in her botany major. She can still read and spell at a rudimentary level, but not speak. Forty-two years ago, I lived in southern Germany with an American professor and his family serving as research assistant to him and au pair to their children and picking up enough aural German to get around the village, shop at the local stores, trade a few pleasantries. Very slowly, and clearly, we spoke to their waiting faces. “It is wonderful that every one of you is here. We are honored at your courage and trust to enter this learning time. We will work together with the challenges of the language.”

World cafe notes in German

World cafe notes in German

That night my mind swirled for hours in a verbal jigsaw puzzle, piecing together every bit of German phrasing I could recall from the life of my 24-year-old self. And somewhere pre-dawn I realized that even if I recalled my entire vocabulary, it wouldn’t help. Knowing how to ask the vegetable stall frau, “How much costs the cauliflower?” is not useful when trying to explain the subtleties of circle energetics, the teamwork between host and guardian, the creative responses to shadow—all topics that deeply inform the practicum.

What we needed—and what we created—was an energetic field within the orb of the circle that helped us have insight and learning in whatever language that could occur. We simultaneously struggled with the challenges of the language, and bypassed language with a sense of direct transmission that was awesome. The practicum became “tri-lingual”—German, English, and energetic.

Ann and I taught in English, corralling our vocabulary into a narrow bandwidth that honored the sophistication in the room (we didn’t want to sound simplistic, to ourselves or others). People listened, helped each other with translation as needed, and when we turned the group into small practice Circles, World Café, and Open Space, Ann and I stayed out of the process so everyone could dive into learning in German. These small sessions were dynamic, thought provoking, hugely insightful. And we didn’t understand a word that was said.

Small groups speaking in German

Small groups speaking in German

On the third night of the practicum, once we are deep into the process of learning and experience, we traditionally hold an evening Story Council. The lights are low, the guardian rings the bell after every speaking, and the talking piece goes around three times. The purpose is to experience directly the power of story when it is offered in the listening container of circle and community. This night, half the stories were in German, half in English. Ann and I didn’t understand all that was said, and neither did some of the others. And it only intensified the sense of “ultimate reliance is on wholeness,” our third principle of PeerSpirit Circle.

Weeks later, we are still processing this experience: the balance of holding space and letting go of managing content, the chance to practice our belief that “the wisdom is in the room,” and our work is to help unleash it. We hear that the participants in this work, both the Belgian and the German sessions, are remaining in deep dialogue, supporting one another in opportunities to use what they learned. We move on in our autumn schedule with a profound sense of ongoing harvest.

Question of the week: What Just Happened Here?

Japan. We watch the ordinary present disappear in moments.  Whole towns become archeological digs–not pretty, not yet historical. Real people wandering through real-time chaos, horror and displacement. Earthquake. Tsunami. Radiation. The character of a people is shown to the world through the words and images streaming out of Japan. I bow a bow of deep respect. We are being given many lessons here–the world watching itself learning something.

And this evening comes this email–from someone I don’t know, my name on a list among names I don’t recognize, and the writer identified only as “…from a friend of a friend – from my cousin in Sendai, Japan where she has lived for the past decade teaching English.” This letter from the heart of a stranger says it all: the boldface emphasis comes from me–as I am so struck by the universality of the message the writer is sending.

Hello My Lovely Family and Friends,

First I want to thank you so very much for your concern for me. I am very touched. I also wish to apologize for a generic message to you all. But it seems the best way at the moment to get my message to you.?? Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to ?have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even ?more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share ?supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful. During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out sign so people can come to fill up their jugs ?and buckets.

Utterly amazingly where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in ?lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an ?earthquake strikes. People keep saying, “Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another.” Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens ?are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.??We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for ?half a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. ??But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not.

No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much ?more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of ?non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group. There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some ?places, yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun. ??People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking ?their dogs. All happening at the same time.

Other unexpected touches of beauty are first, the silence at night. No ?cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered ?with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled. ??The mountains are Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them ?silhouetted against the sky magnificently.??And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to ?check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, ?and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from ?whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking?to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they ?need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, ?no.

They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is ?a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is ?better off than others.  Last night my friend’s husband came in from the ?country, bringing food and water. Blessed again. ??Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed? an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world ?right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now ?in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I ?felt so small because of all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel a ?part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of ?birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent. Thank you again for your care and Love of me. With Love in return, to you all,

I don’t know who this writer is: the gender, nationality, or any particular of his/her life: but I know our connection. I know s/he is living through something with awareness on behalf of us all. For those of us watching from our relative comfort, it is our job to receive, to mirror, to bear witness, and to celebrate this wave of birthing. It is our job to prepare ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually for when it is our turn to be “the teacher” stumbling through the media eye of the world, stunned with chaos and starlight and the kindness we set out for one another like food and water.

What just happened here?

I cannot even name it yet, but my vow to Japan is to stay awake to what their suffering teaches, and to stay connected to our common needs. This is not fast recovery and the tale is not fully told.

Question of the week: What is trying to happen here?

February 17-22, 2011, Ann Linnea and I drove over the border into southern British Columbia in order to work with two Presbyteries of the United Church of Canada. We introduced PeerSpirit Circle Process as a way to conduct their church related business and support communities of faith in times when especially the rural congregations are more and more reliant on active lay leadership. The people were wonderful, the circle well-received, and the drive much longer and more strenuous than we anticipated—both in sheer distance, and in making our way over mountain passes in winter.

I think we were better “consultants” to these folks because we drove. The scenery was gorgeous, with sheer cliff faces sheeted in frozen waterfalls and forests of Ponderosa pine and Doug fir covered with shawls of snow.  We drove and drove, arrived and interacted with authenticity and depth, deposited the circle as a life-skill and storycatching space, drove on, and eventually turned toward home in a swirl of snow that followed us all the way back to Whidbey Island. That’s where we were when a new story broke loose in the United States.

We arrived home after five days of being entirely locally focused to global news of a severe earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, a city on the lovely south island where we had worked and vacationed in early December; to revolt in Libya where another population is willing to put their lives on the line to free themselves from dictatorship; and to Madison, Wisconsin, where a recently elected “Tea Party” governor finds his citizens in revolt against a bill that would strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Dare we notice that a stolid, stable, predominantly Caucasian and Christian, largely rural, blue collar, and farming state in the middle of the US of A has possibly been inspired to reawakened activism by the uprising of a Muslim nation?

Dare we notice that the principles that underlie the work of collaborative leadership that PeerSpirit offers through the medium of circle process are being expressed and lived in the occupation of the state capitol?

Yes. We notice—at least I’m noticing.

In a Reuters piece written by James Kelleher and published on 2/22/11, the reporter notes, “Like the people thousands of miles away in Egypt who set up a tent city in Tahrir Square…the protesters participating in the state capitol sleep-in here have quickly set up a little organized society—complete with its own simple rules…. Our principles: 1. The Capitol is our house! Treat it as such and clean up! 2. Non-violence: stay away from debates! Don’t hurt others. 3. No drugs or alcohol. 4. Keep noise down past 1am. 5. Have fun.”

The words transport me to dozens of times when I have participated with circles of people fashioning into their own words variations of the basic PeerSpirit agreements: 1. Respect each other’s stories—confidentiality unless permission to share. 2. Listen with compassion and curiosity—transform judgment. 3. Ask for what you need and offer what you can. 4. Choose a way to halt to the action and reflect, re-center, and then go on. We often refer to these as the “ancient laws of respect,” and when I read the similarities in the principles between circle and sit-ins, the commonality of respect absolutely delights me.  Wow—the global conversation movement and the methodologies of collaborative leadership are having an impact! The connection may be untraceable, yet emergent and self-organizing.

Twenty years ago, when Ann and I started formulating circle process out of the intuitive ways we had been teaching, we had a dream: that in moments of crisis when things were on the verge of breaking down or breaking open, someone would shout out—“hey, let’s circle up!” and others would know what they meant and would agree to this kind of dialogue, to “non-violence, staying away from debates and not hurting each other.” I know that cultural shift is made up of many complex factors, but it sure is a delight to feel a sense of connection between what we’ve devoted our lives to and what’s happening in Wisconsin.

May this truly be a turning point for our country. May we find in each other allies we never expected to meet. May “we” be entering an expanding experience of breaking out of the lies and lethargy that have bound us. May we awaken to radical activism on behalf of what serves the common good.

A local pizzeria in Madison volunteered to take orders on-line for pizza donations and deliver them to the protesters and orders came in from as far away as Cairo.

What is trying to happen here?