The Circle Way- The Basics
INTRODUCING THE CIRCLE WAY
The greatest number of problems facing us are caused by us and could be eliminated by us at once, yes, this very moment by simple agreements that all of us could comprehend by paying attention to each other.
The few problems not caused by human beings, such as natural disasters, diseases, congenital disabilities, aging and death, may all be greatly ameliorated by our massive cooperation and attention. The other problems, individual and personal, social, or as a species, are problems we have created and for which the solutions are already known.
Problems like hunger, poverty, homelessness, ill health, ignorance, loneliness, depression, violence, war, crime, drug abuse, abuse and destruction of other species environmental degradation, or domination and oppression of smaller or weaker persons or groups by large or stronger persons or groups, all of these are caused by human beings.
So the enemy is us, you think? Well, not exactly. The enemy actually is not being us. The enemy is what is keeping us from being us, who we truly are.
The cause of all these problems we have as individuals as societies, as a species, is basically only one thing. It is isolation
The cultures in which we have all grown up have the effect of isolating us from one another, of keeping us apart from each other. Not by the design of evil genius, but by fear. Some of us figured that out long ago. Wisdom and compassion, said the Buddha. Truth and love, said the Nazarene. Awareness and respect my grandfather said, in the traditions of our indigenous peoples of North America, from whence my heritage derives. Understanding and caring, say the experts of today.
The social organization of our ancestors which fostered human beings was a circle of equals who came together for mutual help and protection. The circles were large enough to be sustainable but small enough for all to know each other well. This social system of a circle of equals continued among some indigenous groups into the modern era, although much battered and broken by the conquering European cultures. In my nine decades of life I have spoken to elders of our first nations whose own elders had lived before that conquest, who knew and transmitted the knowledge of the old ways which they called the Original Instructions.
Because of the conquest by the domination cultures and its oppressions both external and internal, the society we and our children currently inhabit is one of separation by social barriers and isolation born of fear and loss of trust and love. Confronted with greed and power this society can only find security by force of arms.
For over four decades I have been exploring how to take the truth of the circle and reconstitute it in the contemporary world. There can be no going back and we should not want to abandon the marvelous accomplishments of civilization despite its oppressions and our isolation. Our task is to encourage and develop connection and closeness in our social organizations, in family, community, and all our systems, political, economical, educational, medical, legal, spiritual – of any kind. We have been working at this project in workshops, seminars and camps, and in family and community work, and we have gathered from varied sources ways that quickly begin to create and enhance that closeness, tools that anyone can learn to bring people together, create trust, and unfetter our inborn desire to help one another.
One of the very best ways we can learn to do this is through our caring for children because they bring us such joy, and because, as one of my elders said in a circle long, long ago, they are already in the place we are trying to get to. That is why we devote so much attention to the children, to our family work. And it is why I consider my recent book, The Joy of Caring for Children in the Circle Way, to be the most significant contribution I have made in my lifetime.
I see by the experiences of our Circle Way camps that when people become exposed to and begin to practice the tools we teach it completely transforms their lives, their understanding, their relationships, their visions, hopes and dreams for the future.
THE CIRCLE WAY BASICS
From the ancient wisdom carried by elders of many indigenous cultures we may distill three basic instructions for a good life, a good society, and a good world. When followed they will maintain human happiness and well-being, benefiting all of life.
THE FIRST INSTRUCTION IS RESPECT. Respect reminds us that everything in Creation is one piece, that it is all connected and we are related to it all, that when we touch any part of it we are touching ourselves, when we harm any part we are harming ourselves, and when we heal or help any part we are healing and helping ourselves.
THE SECOND INSTRUCTION IS THE CIRCLE, to add to this respect as much connection and closeness as we are able to make with any part of Creation, and to come together in circles in order to support each other. We want to learn as much as we can about the universe we live in and the other beings that inhabit it with us. We think of this in terms of a circle in which all are connected, all are important, interesting, necessary and sacred. The closeness of our connections, to ourselves, our families, our neighbors and colleagues, to strangers, the plants in the garden, the trees in the forest, the animals, the waters, the winds, the stars, to any and all part of this Creation, fills us with love and joy. This circle extended in time becomes a spiral that enhances the positive evolution of humankind to ever greater understanding and bliss.
THE THIRD INSTRUCTION IS CELEBRATION. To be continually aware and give thanks for the wondrous gift of this life and the consciousness by which we are able to perceive it. We can, and often do fail to perceive the wonders about us, but if we make a practice of regular thanksgiving and celebration we remind ourselves that choice is always ours to make every moment.
HUMAN NATURE - also basic to our closeness is our understanding of our nature: how good, how compassionate and kind we all are naturally, how we like to have fun and enjoy each other, when we are not confused by old hurtful patterns getting in our way. How we all want to be helpful, and how the best help we can give others is to listen to them, be a mirror to their true selves and an ally in seeing and discharging negative patterns.
We became human (homo sapiens sapiens) through a process in which our distant pre-human ancestors learned from each other, learned to come together to cooperate for safety and well-being. We seem to have learned that better than other hominid species because they became extinct while our species thrived and lives on in us. Those ancestors developed complex languages that broadened the scope of their brains and their thinking. The full development of our brains takes years, perhaps a quarter of a century, and it takes half of that time for the immature child to be able to survive independent of adults.
This became possible as human beings had learned to stay together, to support each other for survival, in larger than extended family units, in tribal units. For perhaps a hundred thousand years human life developed in these close tribal circles of mutual support.
When a baby was born it was a joy and a gift to the whole tribe, a cause for celebration. Everyone cherished the little children and took pride in their growth and achievements. The whole tribe welcomed and celebrated their coming of age as adults, the unions they made, and the children they bore, and all attended and honored the elders they became.
Of course that model is the one I have learned about from elders who grew up in those traditions in North America. There have also been other tribes in the world where practices that are oppressive and hurtful developed that we would call inhuman, practices growing from hurts and imbalances, from superstition and fear and domination. These tribes appear not to be the norm and certainly were extremely rare in North America.
I am not recommending a return to any of the older traditions, only that we learn from them what was best for human life and see how we may adapt those principles to the world of today.
CLOSENESS. It seems that closeness to other human beings is essential to our humanity. That closeness needs to be supportive and caring, accepting and affirming. When children are respected and guided with unconditional love and appreciation this is the way they will interact with others.
The social environments in which we struggle for our survival today are unhealthy, not caring or supportive, not loving or affirming. They are powered by vast economic and political institutions controlled not by love or service to people, but by materialism and greed. Those are, fixed and entrenched, and can be influenced only slightly and only by stirring massive movements for change.
People say to change the world we must first change ourselves. Well, yes. But people have been making very positive changes in themselves for several generations now with very little effect on the dominating cultures of the world. It’s not that we don’t have enough power, it’s just not enough to exercise that power in the way we are doing.
Nevertheless there are many who are making big changes at this time. Right now as I write there are thousands all over the world who are building their dreams together. In places like Tamera, Damanhur, Findhorn, The Farm, Christiania, Auroville, and thousands of other communities, newer communities, people are coming together outside of the dominant cultures to make lives that may be better for themselves, for their children, for the Earth and the future.
It is not so easy, since we carry with us many of the problems of the cultures we grew up in. The biggest problem we carry, since it affects all the others is our isolation – from each other and from ourselves.
I’ll say that again, since it affects all the others: the biggest problem we have is our isolation – from each other and from ourselves.
Because of that isolation, because we have not known how to get close enough to each other, we have missed the essential truth of our own power, of our goodness, our love and compassion, our creativity and intelligence, our playfulness and joy in living. By not finding it in others we don’t find it in ourselves. We need others not caught up in our distress to be mirrors to us of our true powerful, loveable, and excellent selves! The most effective tool we have developed in that work is what we call Supportive Listening. Through that process we build trust and closeness and are able to discharge our negative hurts and patterns and come to our full power – our authentic selves.
Most importantly we have not fully understood that our failures to make a good society are not our fault. We have not understood that our confusion, our feelings of hopelessness and frustration and depression and all the negative feelings that keep us from knowing and being ourselves, confuse our thinking and our ability to create better environments for ourselves. To create in particular better social environments, ones more conducive to our loving, creative, playful natures.
In creating such an environment we must be sure to be inclusive and considerate. If we start treating anyone or anything badly we will only re-create the conditions we are trying to escape. Instead of badmouthing people, let’s practice goodmouthing them. Let us notice and appreciate what others are doing. Let’s congratulate ourselves for our successes, our creativity, and our positive contributions. Let’s praise not only the beauties of nature but also the beauty of our own natures.
For that third instruction it is very, very helpful to remember to appreciate each other and ourselves often. We all get stuck in patterns sometimes, get discouraged, confused. We can all use support and encouragement. Let us remind each other – please remind me – how perfectly wonderful and loveable we all are – and celebrate!
In The Circle Way we take time often to celebrate. We start our circles with giving thanks to all of Creation. We make ceremonies of celebration. We celebrate the seasons, we celebrate our lives and the lives of others at important times: birth, the onset of puberty, partnership, receiving an honor, honoring an elder, and departure from the circle of life.
We celebrate people on their birthdays. We ask them to appreciate themselves to us and then we tell them what we appreciate about them. We celebrate teachers and leaders in this way to thank them for their thoughtful service to us and the world. At the end of our camps the clans have celebration circles for each one to appreciate himself and be appreciated by everyone else.
To those who feel to use the designation The Circle Way for their activities: if these instructions of our elders are a part of your activities it would seem entirely appropriate to call what you are doing The Circle Way. When you are together spend some of the time
listening to each other and appreciating each other, reporting your successes, sharing your needs, your struggles and your troubles, your plans and hopes for the future, and having fun.
In the interest of our extending the connection and closeness of the second instruction I hope that everyone using that Circle Way name would stay close to each other and keep all of the others, and me, informed of how things go.
SUPPORTIVE LISTENING AGREEMENTS
We agree to split the allotted time into equal parts taking turns listening to each other. We agree that whatever we may reveal to each other is considered to be confidential, and we will not speak about any of it outside of the session.
In each part the subject, whose turn it is to be heard, decides what s/he want to focus on. The listener’s job is to pay attention, and give support and encouragement to that person.
PASSIVE LISTENING. Listening only, without interruption, is helpful and healing, as there are generally not any other opportunities for anyone to be listened to without interruption or comment. It is empowering for us to be able to express ourselves without being judged or advised.
We agree that all human beings are born innocent, and good, curious and intelligent, joyful and playful, wanting connection and closeness with other human beings, caring and wanting to be helpful to other human beings, and that is the basic nature of us all.
PATTERNS. We understand that this basic human nature is sometimes obscured, occluded or confused by hurts we have received and for which we have feelings not fully discharged or understood. We understand that no one is to blame for those feelings, for their not being yet fully discharged, or for the patterns of behavior they elicit.
ACTIVE LISTENING. A more active role in listening can often be helpful as well, since, as listeners, we are not caught in the distresses and patterns of the subject we are listening to. We are then able to provide a more accurate picture of the reality of the situation and of our subjects’ goodness, loveableness, intelligence, helpfulness and worth, and encourage the discharge of feelings, the identification of patterns, and decisions the subject may make to act in contradiction to those patterns.
At the end of the session as listeners we may wish to remind the subject that the hurts and feelings are now in the past and no longer a part of the present situation, and that the subject possesses all that is needed to take charge and take care of everything and have a completely wonderful life. It can be useful to ask the subject to notice the environment and her welcome presence in the moment, and perhaps inquire what s/he is looking forward to.
With the assistance of the attention of a listener or listeners, it is helpful sometimes to think about our successes, what is going well, what we may need some help with, review our goals, assess our needs, dream new dreams, and make new decisions.
In six decades of teaching, this system is the best I have found to help us all to learn and grow, and get close, making mutually supportive relationships and a more human society. Of course, after struggling with our hurts and patterns for most of our lives, we cannot expect to heal them all utterly in one session, or even in a few, but the speed in which we recover our fundamental nature is proportional to the time and attention we give to this process. The quality of our lives and relationships deserves our best efforts. And if I discover an improvement on this, or a better system, I will let you know.
We make our circles to help each other. That was the purpose of the first circle ever made by our ancestors. We make circles in order to help each other.
That is why we are together, and in that we are also helped. The elders always instructed us never to speak disrespectfully of anyone in the circle, never to criticize or denounce another person. Those things are harmful not only to the person at whom they are directed, but to the circle and to the person doing the criticizing or denouncing. They create a disharmony that extends beyond the persons and small circles involved and increase the separation and negativity everywhere they touch.
AGREEMENT. Members of a circle must agree to this instruction of the elders, otherwise it is not The Circle Way. And if they slip and forget they must be gently and fondly reminded by the others. If we find we disagree with something they are doing, we can discuss our disagreement and why we think it may be incorrect and listen to them and work on coming to an understanding without being critical, blameful or judgmental of each other.
NON-AGREEMENT. But what about the criticisms and denunciation of people who are not part of a circle, who do not agree to The Circle Way and to our need to be helpful to each other? Unfortunately we can have no influence over what they do except that of our love and understanding. Our love teaches us that they are us, that they are completely good and valuable as all human beings are, only they don’t know that, and our understanding teaches us that they (like us and all human beings) are afflicted with negative patterns, derived from earlier hurts (for which they are not to blame and which they do not understand) but which may add to their present hurts and confusions and obscure their true loving nature, their desire for harmony and to have fun with us.
I am convinced that if we were able to devote the thought and the time and energy for it, our own caring would eventually slip past those patterns to the person inside who really doesn’t want them but needs connection and closeness. If time and opportunity for that are presented, it would certainly be worth a try. If not, it doesn’t help to feel bad about it, or to let it bother us even though it makes us sad. We only must continue on our paths of unconditional loving, connecting, and getting as close as we can wherever we can.
In the tradition of the Circle Way, the older traditions of all people everywhere, the children were the center of the circle, the clan, the village, the tribe. It was for protection our ancestors came together to help each other, especially to protect the children, the most helpless among us. Creating language for our cooperation developed our minds, but caring for the children during all the years of their immaturity developed our hearts – our caring and compassion and a deep sense of joy.
We need to keep the children at the center of our circle, for the sake of our compassion and our joy, lest our humanity wither and fall away as we evolve. The dominant culture does not treat its children with full respect. People shaped by that culture will respect adults more than children. They speak regularly to children in critical, demanding, harsh, often angry tones that they rarely use to other adults. So to begin we must agree to respect all children, their bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits. We might then recognize that even as we guide them we have much to learn from them. Their joy and excitement in life infect us, helping us to play and laugh and bring more fun into our lives. A hug or a kiss from a child warms our being like the blessing of a holy spirit.
And then we notice that the attention and the care we give our children, the patience, the listening, the appreciations and the hugs, are also excellent medicine for all our adult relationships, with our partners, our parents and siblings, with neighbors, colleagues and strangers. What a gift!
The whole lesson we receive to make our lives with children and adults better and better can be summed up in two words:
Listen. And hug.
We have such poor examples of leadership in our world and history that we tend to reject the whole idea of leadership and attempt to do all for ourselves alone. All our needs and all our dreams are better fulfilled when we have help, when we work together on our common needs and dreams. But to do that best we want organization rather than chaos. Every project works best with an organizer. For instance, if we want to make a circle, a seminar, a camp, a community, or whatever, it is best to have an organizer who lets people know when and where it will happen what it will cost and so on. Then a list of coordinators who might be helping with organizing transportation, food and cooking, places for sleeping, and others might provide literature to distribute or sell, technical help like audio or video recording, accommodations for people with special needs, greeting new arrivals, registering them, information, problem solving, child care, announcements, beauty and order, ending clean-up.
All those things, every job that needs to be done, should have a coordinator. That is leadership. Leadership does not mean doing everything yourself, by yourself. It mans thinking about all the needs of the project and how they can be met. Since “none of us is as smart as all of us”, it can be useful for a leader to have one or more others to think together and to share the doing of what is needed. In the dominant cultures political leaders are concerned with getting and holding power, which creates separation and competition rather than closeness and cooperation. The concern of a true leader is not with power but with service. We are here to help make everyone’s lives more wonderful.
Leadership is complex, difficult, a bit scary. So many depend on us. So we must welcome and honor those who are willing to take leadership roles. If we disagree with anything they do or how they are leading, we can discuss it and come to a clear understanding and agreement – remembering that among rational human beings there cannot ever be a conflict. When we listen to each other and attend to all our needs, we will discover how to work together in harmony. It is very important that we support leaders and do not ever criticize or attack them. Personal attacks (known in debate as ad hominem, against the person) are always destructive and never correct.
It is always a good idea to appreciate a leader after an event or a completed project. Appreciate teachers, coordinators, helpers – they are making our lives more wonderful.
Sometimes, after a project is completed, or periodically in a long-term project, it is useful for a leader to conduct a self-evaluation with some of the project’s constituents. The leader might evaluate all the things that are going well, the accomplishments and contributions her or she has made to the project. Then he or she might evaluate the things that have not yet been accomplished and perhaps things that he or she might want some help with. After that the people can offer their evaluations of what the leader has accomplished and offer both appreciation and help.
Changing human society to make it or human, creating a new culture, is such an immense undertaking it will take all of us functioning together at our best, helping each other, cooperating and caring for each other. To that end I exhort everyone of us to think of our self as a leader with a very important role in transforming society. Let’s all be leaders and do a part, appreciate every one, and have fun as we do it.
SPREADING THE WORD
One place where you could decide to take leadership on your own to realize the dream of a human culture could be to engage in spreading the word about what we are doing. If w were a wealthy multi-national corporation we would have a Public Relations Department, devoted only to bringing The Circle Way to all the people of the world. So we can create that department for ourselves anyway and enjoin everyone to take a small part. Just a little of your time and thought and energy, maybe one a week?
I held a job in a large public relations agency in New York while creating my theater as a young man, and I learned a few things. I’m no expert – I’m hoping an expert will join a circle some time, but for now I can offer a few suggestions, projects that people could take on.
The immediate thing that everyone could take on is the promotion of our books. Tell your friends about them, tell your libraries to get them, suggest discussion groups about them, reading groups at schools, libraries, churches. Ask book stores to display them, arrange with them for me to come do readings and book-signings.
Write reviews of the books. On amazon.com, search MANITONQUAT or MEDICINE STORY and write a reader’s review of any of our books you have read. It can be a line or two only, like “I love this book and keep it by my bed and read a bit every day to give me hope.” Or it can be a longer detail of the contents and what it offers. You can write to newspapers in your area and ask them to review or offer them a review of our books.
Many have told me they have bought copies to give to friends and libraries. If you buy many books you can get a seller’s discount – usually that’s 40% off. You can also sell them, make a bit of money for your efforts.
Our new book, The Joy of Caring for Children in the Circle Way, or It Takes a Child to Raise a Village, will first be published in Italian, next March or April. I have not an English language publisher yet, so perhaps if many of you wrote to major publishing houses in America and the British Isles it might stir their interest. They have so many marketing resources that small houses do not have. Look for the publishers of your favorite spiritual or child care books. I will be glad to send a copy of the book by email to any of you who request it.
Another way to promote The Circle Way is to teach it. You may not consider yourself a teacher, but the fastest way to learn anything is to teach it. And The Circle Way is very easy to teach. I have written this pamphlet as a guide and encouragement to every one of you to stretch yourself, to be bold and teach it. It can start with suggesting to a friend or acquaintance to try out this wonderful new tool that you found, that it has been changing your life and you want to share it with other friends. You say it is called Supportive Listening, and it is different from ordinary conversation.
Ask them to listen to you from their hearts without interruption or comment for 10 or 15 minutes and then listen to them for the same period of time. It’s so easy to begin to do passive listening. Tell them to speak from their hearts and express what they feel. Later
You can tell about the natural goodness and caring of people and about the patterns that get in our way, how discharge helps peel away those patterns, and how we can keep choosing smarter and more loving ways to treat ourselves and others. As you do it you are always learning how to do it better and teach it better. You can start a circle, hold a weekly class, organize workshops to introduce the process to new people. I will help, by phone or email, maybe come to give a talk or a one day workshop to help you get going with your own workshop and classes.
Eventually you could spend your life as Ellika and I do. Imagine how wonderful it is be for us to travel and see the world, fall in love with hundreds of people who all love us and want us back, look forward to being with us. Imagine spending your life in circles of loving and hopeful people who want to change the world.
As we get more and more people aware and involved in listening to each other making circles and camps, we move closer to our dream: making Circle Way villages where we live full time in a culture we have created for ourselves, the kind of culture we create in every camp. But one that does not end, where you don’t have to leave but can stay and build and so much more is possible.
I want to start Circle Way pre-schools, kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools. I want a Circle Way University where people come from every culture to learn and work together at building a new world culture, a culture that is better for women as well as men, better for elders as well as for youth, better for our children and for their children. A culture not based on money and profits, but on love, closeness and caring, on creativity and curiosity, on beauty and health, on fun and playing.
I can visualize Circle Way Villages growing on every continent, networking, trading, and learning from each other and from other ecovillages and networks, becoming a separate economy, based on giving instead of getting. I can see this culture growing stronger and replacing slowly the withering old culture of fear and greed, of isolation and hopelessness, of violence and meanness.
At the age of 84, I naturally want to see the promised land appearing in my life time, though, like Moses and Martin Luther King Jr, I probably won’t get to live in that world except in my dreams. I want it to be there for my grandchildren and their children.
Therefore I encourage everyone to use the social media such as Facebook and Twitter, to take photos and send them out, to let folks know, make videos for YouTube, write articles for spiritual and environmental magazines, write letters to the editors of newspapers, get on radio or TV talk shows, pass out leaflets, write stories, books, novels, poetry about The Circle Way, compose songs, make drawings paintings, sculpture and hold exhibitions, make an area festival, talk about it, sing our songs and dance – let our Circle Culture be known through greeting cards, T-shirts, caps, pins, bumper stickers. How about a huge festival with music, celebration, entertainment, food, playing games with children, with talks and instant clans and minis? What can we think of to make everyone’s life more wonderful, that will make the world better and better for ourselves and our children?
Our power is in the power to choose. We are creatures not just of our genes, but of our environment. We have the power to dream, to plan, and to create an entirely different social environment from the one we live in now. The one we grew up in seems to trap us by isolating us from each other and limiting our dreams.
Remembering that TOGETHER THERE IS NOTHING WE CANNOT DO, let us come together. Let us dream together of how we want our world to be for ourselves and our children. Let us plan it together. Let us roll up our sleeves and build it together.
And let us not forget always to celebrate!
-Manitonquat, September 2013