talking circle reflections

Barbara E. Sliter besliter at
Mon Feb 5 08:49:55 PST 2001

talking circle reflectionsDear Chris,

This is a beautiful story of healing and I thank you for sharing it. 
 I am wondering if anyone has used something similar in dealing with racial issues?  or with community police issues?
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Chris Weaver 
  Sent: Saturday, February 03, 2001 5:34 PM
  Subject: talking circle reflections

  Dear OSLIST,

  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 90 minutes.

  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 without words. 

  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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