This month we feature Amy Lenzo’s Hosting Circle Online, as a cross post from her blog on her site Beehive Productions. Here, Amy relates her experiences from The Circle Way: A Deep Dive, a global online learning event she cohosted in April with regular collaborator, Rowan Simonsen, and Tenneson Woolf, board chair-teacher-practitioner of The Circle Way.
This is our second story exploring the online application of The Circle Way. Amy references the first story, written by Heather Plett.
Hosting Circle Online
We’re going into the last week of The Circle Way Deep Dive with Tenneson Woolf now, and it’s been a fabulous ride. Last week our focus was on subtleties, and the group was all over it. Part of our conversation centered (ha!) on how to host circle online, or in other environments where you can’t actually SEE the circle. Time restraints made it challenging to really go into anything but the most immediate ideas then, so I’m bringing the overflow of my response here where we can keep talking if there is interest.
First, looking at circle as a shape – a round or circular form with a center and a circumference – reveals some interesting patterns that map across spatial limitations.
The circle is probably the oldest form know to humans – it’s been with us since before the beginning of recorded history. It occurs naturally in the shape of the moon and the sun, and in the circular movement of the sun around the earth and seasons, the arc of the lunar cycle from month to month.
From the micro level of atoms and molecules, to the macro level of planets and their orbits, circles and spheres are found in every aspect of our experience. It’s the shape of the Medicine Wheel for Native Americans, and circle of protection for the ancient Celts, a universal symbol representing wholeness, completion, unity.
Every point of the circumference is at an equal distance to the center. So, in groups of people, the circle is symbolic of equality, where no person is more prominent than any other person.
The Center (or Centre when we’re wearing our British skins)
Buddhists use the wheel or circle as a way to talk about life, and the Buddha taught that identifying one’s self with any point on the wheel was to become entangled in suffering, but the center is the place of liberation, of observation without observer. The Center remains still while everything else turns around it.
Another way to look at the Center is as the place of “witness.” Of neutral observance, simple awareness. It’s the part of us that is aware of everything – just noticing, just being present, here now – witnessing as a state of complete acceptance, without personal bias or need to alter anything or judge it.
So, speaking to the center, or listening from the center is a way to access that place of witness, of neutral observance. It gives us a kind of liberation from ourselves as individuals, and a doorway into a collective experience that is both non-personal and deeply human.
Or, as Tenneson says, BUST THE MYTH THAT IT CAN’T BE DONE.
So…Circle as a form, a pattern that manifests externally as circumference and a center, in this case the circumference being the people and the center being a focus of attention or awareness in the middle, but that same form also has an internal dimension.
Both these patterns can be embodied – externally when you are literally sitting in circle, or internally when you are together with the intention to embody them, even without a particular form.
When you’re online you can use visuals to help the group imagine they are in the external form, and that can be helpful but it isn’t the same as embodying the form internally.
Working online, where groups may not be as comfortable with their footing, the Host has an important role. What the host is experiencing can amplify out of the group for good or for not so good, but I digress. As a host, you can embody the form internally, and – through your words, the tone and cadence of your voice, the pattern of your breath, etc. – project it out and invoke it in your group, either explicitly or more subtly.
In Waldorf Schools, a teacher reads the names of her students each night, to imagine each one and create a psychic circle of love and energy around them as she takes each one into her hands. As a host, you can do the same thing, or something like it, to prepare for your group.
Externally, you can invite the creation of circle through your check-in. If the group is small enough, inviting each voice to speak and create an auditory circle works really well. But in larger group when you might use a written form like Google docs, it’s important to bring the individual voices into a whole in some concrete way, like we do when we invite the group to read each other’s words and pay attention to the patterns in them, or when we as hosts reflect out loud on what we are seeing, or invite that from the group.
When I am hosting another kind of circle I might evoke the imagery of stringing the beads (in what other participatory practices might call “checking in”) as a powerful way to bring forward the experience of circle – in this image each of us is a unique bead expressed in voice or silence, that when strung together by the needle of talking piece that passes between us, creates a whole, a necklace of beautiful beads.
Online the center is often a candle – Heather Plett talked about that in her excellent blog post Hosting Circles Online (found on The Circle Way website.) I, too, light a candle every time I host online – sometimes explicitly and sometimes I’m the only one who knows it’s there. It still works, even if no one sees it because it gives me a center, and as a host or a guardian I find I can often hold that for the group.
But I have also used visual cues like sharing my screen with an image of an altar or something beautiful. Sometimes I use a background cloth, or blanket to serve as a visual focus of attention. And if I’m explicitly hosting circle online, I invite everyone to bring and activate their own center - a candle or small desk altar or some piece of beauty they can focus on themselves.
Two more points…
One of the most powerful tools we have when we are working online is imagination, evoking the imaginative capacity in the groups we are hosting. Not imagination in the more modern sense of making something up that isn’t real, but in the older sense, which is to “image,” from the Latin verb, imaginari, to ‘picture to oneself.’ The Romantic Poets used imagination in this way to give image to what they felt was most important about life - the life of the Soul or Spirit – something very real, but otherwise not visible. So we can use words and images to evoke the experience of circle for our participants.
The other is not to underestimate the power of this kind of experience. There have been some fascinating studies done on this and they show that the impact on our neural systems is remarkably similar whether we are experiencing something physically, or experiencing in in our imagination.
So, what happens between us online is as real as what happens when we meet in a room. Remembering that and evoking it in the groups we host in an online environment is perhaps one of the most revolutionary things we can do.
Amy Lenzo, wedialogue.com, is an online host who is passionate about the natural world and using the language of art to communicate our essential connectedness with all life. The goal of her work is to create “hospitable space” online – environments that “call to the mystery” and connect us to our bodies and spirits, as well as to whatever else the task at hand may be. Her passion for this work comes from a deep appreciation of the natural world and its power to provide the ground for transformation. For many years her work has been dedicated to bringing the transformative power of beauty and our relationship with nature into the online experience.
An artist, designer, writer, and photographer, Amy blogs in a number of places including weDialogue.com, BeautyDialogues.com, Beehive-productions.net, and Earthplusdigitalwisdom.com. Her current thrill is tending to the flowers in her cutting garden.