talking circle reflections
chris at springbranch.net
Sat Feb 3 17:34:51 PST 2001
Here is a story of the use of talking circles for storytelling the evening
before an Open Space Technology meeting.
I am aware that Birgitt conducts a training in "Process Facilitation" that
shares a storytelling circle practice. This has been described to me, but I
have not taken the training. I have had a number of teachers in talking
circle practice, all Native people who work in the Seattle area. What I did
tonight was my own application, drawing on these experiences.
Tonight's meeting was the first part of my work with the Playback Theatre
company this weekend. In pre-meetings with the sponsor, I became aware of
the need for storytelling, in light of our discussion of the grief cycle.
There are two large types of letting-go happening, both of which I approach
with a great deal of reverence. The first is that a number of members of
this group have expressed to me a sense that a large, six-year chapter of
their intense work together is coming to a close. They feel that something
is ending, but they are not clear about why or how, or about what comes
next. The second reality is that one of the founding members of the company
is in the advanced stages of cancer. Her friends and Hospice workers
anticipate that her death could come at any time now.
Birgitt has described to me the use of stones in a storytelling circle, for
what Chris Corrigan has called a "transfer in exercise." Thursday morning I
gathered stones from the cold water of North Mills River in the Pisgah
mountains. The elder member of the theatre company is a potter. I asked
her to bring a favorite bowl for tonight, which she did.
Something about gathering the stones from under the water of the river
suggested to me that I should place the stones in water. I put them in the
bowl tonight and covered them with cold water. The twelve participants and
I formed our circle in a living room after eating supper together.
My brief opening set the intention to honor the past in order to be more
fully conscious of the present, to prepare for our co-creation in Open Space
tomorrow. I invited the people to choose a stone from the bowl, to return
to their chair, and to reflect on: "What story is the stone telling me
about the theatre company?" I suggested that we use the bowl of water in
the center as our talking object. People chuckled. The bowl was big and
heavy. "Are you sure?" asked our host. "I have a good talking stick." I
said, "Let's start this way and see how it goes."
I shared the teaching I received from my Elder Ken Jackson, that it is good
to use the voice and breath to acknowledge each speaker when they have
finished, by saying "Aho," accompanied with a hand-gesture from the heart
opening outward, palms up. I bounded a few minutes of silent reflection
time by sounding a Nepalese singing bowl.
In the first round, everyone spoke once, in self-organizing order. I did
not plan this, or that we would have multiple rounds, but it happened
naturally. Holding the bowl of water in their laps, people spoke in a
careful, heart-felt, and nurturing way. A lot was shared about the company
member who is sick. It was a good round. The stones helped. It took about
We took a five minute break, and I asked the host if she would bring her
talking stick. She brought three things: a wooden stick, a large bone, and
a spiral seashell half-decayed by the elements. I opened the second round
by acknowledging the usefulness of bringing latent conflict to the surface,
while still indicating that the space was fully open.
>From the first words of the second round, when the bone was picked up, the
energy was completely different. Vigorous and risky. A number of people
chose to speak about times of injury and brokenness that had happened in the
group. Many deep emotions came forth. People spoke in a spirit of
directness and honesty. Some people chose to speak several times.
After about 75 minutes, the energy shifted again, toward thank-yous and
gratitude. I felt it was time for a closing circle, and that this called
for a defined form. We took another short break. A plant and a lighted
candle were added to the center. I was grateful for the balance the flame
and green leaves brought to the water, stones, bone, wood, and shell.
I opened the closing circle by acknowledging that we were now in the middle
of our work, which would continue tomorrow; and that the purpose of the
closing circle was not to put anything in a neat package or to strive for a
false harmony, but simply to say whatever needed to be said at this time.
We used an Alaska Native carved stone bear from the mantle, and I indicated
that we would pass it once around, and that it was fine to choose to pass
It was a good closing circle. Several people expressed a deep sense of
readiness for tomorrow.
I share this with y'all tonight in a storytelling spirit. And to borrow
again from my Elder Ken Jackson, as I heard him complete so many stories
told to young people:
That's how it was,
And that's how it is.
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