The Circle Way as a simple, elegant form for social activism

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

The Call to Act

Last July, after being overwhelmed by the daily news of multiple tragic and turbulent incidents around the world, I came across The Circle Way co-founder Christina Baldwin’s July 15 post on our Facebook practitioners’ page:

"Okay, my dear circle practitioners... how can we get circle closer and closer to the heart of the matter? I remember several years ago in Spain, in the midst of unrest and demonstrations over the extremely high unemployment of the young who felt like they couldn't start their adult lives without employment and the chance to make their lives, they drew chalk circles on the sidewalk, put the question in the middle and sat down and just started doing it. As people tried to step around and over and through their group process, they invited them to join in the question…"

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This clarion call impelled me to use my circle skills to create a safe space to help me and others in my city make a bit of meaning and find a bit of peace with the world’s madness.  

A few days later, at a café table in my city’s downtown plaza, I imagined aloud with my circle sister and hosting partner, Beth Sanders, the possibility of circling up in this public space like those young Spaniards had done.  How to navigate logistics? How to make it safe?  Then the recognition this would be too big an undertaking for me in that particular space.

A few more days later at a wedding reception, I blurted out my wondering to my friend Nancy, the minister who had officiated at the ceremony, forgetting momentarily that she was on sabbatical. Would she meet with me to explore further? Would her church host the space for such a gathering?  Smiling, she let me know her sabbatical would conclude that next week, and she’d be more than happy to help me, to meet with me to explore when, how, where and who? 

Wavering Commitment
In the interim from that first blush knowing that I needed to offer what I could, to when Nancy and I met, my commitment wavered many times, and became diluted with those insidious voices of judgment – Who did I think I was? – cynicism – What difference would a simple talking circle make in the face of such extensive, pervasive suffering? – and fear – “You’re going to do what?”  

OK, and what do I need to keep moving, to trust the goodness of that first impulse, to heed that call?

Ask For What You Need
Given this would be an open invitation to the city, I knew I’d need help to hold the circle’s rim as I’d have no idea who would come.  While I knew Nancy had much experience in circle and is a presence of wise compassion, I needed a strong guardian sitting across from me, so I asked Beth. Through our multiple shared circle teaching and hosting experiences, and sitting together on The Circle Way board, we’ve developed the requisite trust in self and other, and a comfortable complementarity.  Maureen, a participant at our most recent Circle Practicum, became the third, stabilizing point - making the triangle within the circle - and I invited two members from Nancy’s congregation, both of whom I knew had experience in The Circle Way. 

The Intention
Grounded in The Circle Way components, we would host an open circle conversation for two hours on a Sunday evening, in a warm, comfortable and intimate meeting space.  We’d welcome twenty into the circle, in addition to the five or six of us holding the rim, so there would be ample time for thoughtful speaking and listening.  We’d provide light refreshments and create an inviting centre.

The Invitation
I crafted the following invitation embedding our agreements, which Beth, Nancy and I then used in social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Eventbrite) and our respective newsletters and networks:

Finding Peace in the Terror and Tragedy of Our World
Have recent global and local events of tragedy and terror left you overwhelmed and despairing? 

Do you wonder how it's possible to see all that is good and true and beautiful when suffering is so prevalent? 

Would your hope and personal capacity for weathering this turbulence be restored by having occasion to talk and listen with others who, too, are deeply concerned for the well-being of our precious world?

If so, you are invited to a circle conversation to explore these and other questions. A space where:

  • our stories are safe and sacred
  • we speak with intention
  • we listen with attention and curiosity
  • we offer no advice or critique
  • any answers and insights we might come to are our own

The Circle
Twenty-three of us settled into our chairs that cold winter November night.  Beth, Maureen and I met for dinner before hand to “weave our energies,” create a simple design, and clarify roles:

  • Welcome and Why Here, Why Now? – my personal welcome and intention
  • Start Point – a reading 
  • Check In – WHAT about the invitation brought you here tonight?
  • SO WHAT are you noticing in your world now?
  • Check Out – NOW WHAT has been the value of our time together tonight, and would there be value in meeting again?

This light touch of design, with attention to time and considerate, reminders from Beth as guardian, resulted in a deeply touching experience, where each person felt heard, where each person spoke what was on their mind and in their heart.  Perhaps it was the timing of our circle (November 20, 2016) but I was struck that here in central Alberta, Canada most everyone spoke to the results of the US election as impacting their state of being.  And while most knew this was not the space for giving advice or arriving at answers, each expressed appreciation for circle as a place to be together in troubling times, to share enough about what mattered.  There was unequivocal support for a “next time” in the new year.  We each departed feeling less alone, more together for having braved the winter elements to sit together in this timeless way.

Closing Reflection
I recently participated in an international conference call with circle practitioners including Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea.  We talked about the necessity of creating intentional spaces for deepening our practice, for building courage as we recognize the depth of the world’s need for this timeless form and practice.  

Every time I use my skills and practice of The Circle Way, I deepen my practice, and grow in the confidence and maturity to continue to offer myself up in this way to respond to that deep need. As a result of this first experience, I’ve been invited to host a similar circle for another community in a few weeks’ time.  Once again, I’ll have Beth and Maureen sitting with me around the rim. 

This is the circle’s way.  This is The Circle Way…a simple, elegant form for social activism, from our first to future culture.

Read Katharine's tips for using the circle for social activism.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can each do small things with great love.
— Mother Theresa

Katharine Weinmann is an established practitioner, teacher and board member of The Circle Way.  Skilled in the artistry of deep listening, she notices and names elements of the emotional and shadowed fields so energy is freed for new possibilities and deeper connections.  As “companion,” she holds an unwavering appreciation for the inner life as a valuable and necessary source of creative and wise response to perplexing complexity.  A writer of life’s rescued moments, a lover of an evocative poem, with a new impression gleaned from travel or a “deep breakfast” conversation, Katharine brings appreciation for each of us making our way, to make a better way.  Oh, and she’s also a wicked cook who specializes in creating one-off “silk purses” from leftovers in the fridge!

Footnote on the quote "We are the ones we've been waiting for": While many contemporary references attribute this to Hopi Prophecy, other sources are cited, including American poet June Jordan, and late activist, Lisa Sullivan.