Circles of Sound, Silence and Sentiment

Photo by Derek Liang on Unsplash.jpg

There are some parallels in the idea of creating space and creating a ‘story’. Both are invisible, both kind of exist even if you pay them no attention or awareness, and both come into their own and are enormously powerful if they are brought to consciousness and with skill and experience are deliberately made. They also both respond to and depend on listening; being fully present, and really listening enhances the depth and quality of both stories and space.

‘Create space’, ‘hold space’, ‘come into a sacred space’, ‘be in a safe space’ - these are all phrases I’ve been comfortable with for a long time, but I also know that for some people, these ideas are abstract and foreign.

So I’m going to draw an analogy to sport.

When we participate in a sporting game, there is a whole series of parameters that enable the game to be played. There is the field, its size and dimensions, the various parts with the field, the goals and how they are set up, their size and location and the rules around how you score. Then we go to the number of players and their roles, what they can and can’t do, the rules of play etc. All of this creates a space out of nothing, a space in a time and place and with a purpose.

So how do we come together as humans and interact when it’s not a sport? We have a full spectrum from the unspoken, unwritten rules of social engagement, like in a casual conversation, through to the parliamentary rules of procedure. Somewhere in this spectrum, with a light but firm touch, is a process that enables all voices to be heard, that equalises the opportunities to participate and that weaves a net strong enough and safe enough to hold the full range of human experiences. 

It is called the Circle. It has a long, long, long history, and is still used in most traditional first nations cultures. It has been structured and authored for modern western participants by a number of authors, most notably by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea in their book ‘The Circle Way, a Leader in Every Chair’.

Sitting in circle is such a simple yet different way of relating, I find it hard to explain and I am always worried it will be critiqued before it has a chance to be experienced, because at heart it is something that needs to be experienced, rather than studied. It has at its core relationship, spiralling a group of people to connection, understanding and hearing.

Circle is not perfect but it is a great counter to the imperfections of the triangle, the heirachy and power over types of relating.

Circle uses a few key tools. The first is of course to sit in a circle, with no table between people. Then the next most important tool is the use of a talking piece. This is a physical item that is hopefully meaningful to the room, that is passed around the circle. Whoever has the piece is the only one to speak, although you don’t have to speak if you have it, you can just pass it along, or you can sit with it in silence. In fact anyone can call for a moments silence and a bell will be rung by whoever has the bell.

Another significant part of a circle is the centre. The centrepiece should be something visual, that represents the reason the people are coming together and sitting in circle. It enables people to talk into the centre and not at each other and so the container of the circle holds what is brought to it. The sum becomes greater than its parts.

Circle is a brilliant tool because its structure is so simple anyone can operate it, which means groups can easily be self managing, there is no need for a professional facilitator, and overtime groups create their own ways of being in circle, their new language and process that works for them. Or it can be a brilliant tool to use on occasions, or as needed.

It is my starting and finishing point with any group I work with and is an excellent way to make it safe for those little furry story ferrets to come out.

How do you feel about holding space? What tools or processes do you have?