|The circle became a way to move to a kind of world that I want to live in. --Kay Pranis|
Learning To Not Know--by Awakin Call Transcript, syndicated from awakin.org, Aug 30, 2015
Preeta( host) : Good morning everyone, or good afternoon or evening depending on where you are. Welcome and thank you so much for joining us. The purpose of this call is to share stories and to tell stories and to hear stories. Stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society, while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this, by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life, who inspire us through their action, to live in a more service oriented way. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of Servicespace volunteers, whose invisible work allows us to hold this space every week.
Today our special guest speaker is none other than Kay Pranis. She has been holding space for so many people for so many decades. She embodies our theme of holding spaces and supporting the emergence of collective wisdom through circle practices and by learning to not know. So thanks again for joining today's call. Let's start with moment of silence to anchor ourselves...
Today our amazing moderator, Molly Rowan, will engage in deep dialogue with our speaker Kay Pranis.
This week theme is really about circle practice. It's something that service space community and the Awakin community has been doing for many years, as a way of holding safe space for people and to let group emergence and collective wisdom come out and also individual wisdom to deepen .
Kay Pranis is really one of the original people who has made circle practice a prominent feature of the justice system in the US or a piece of Justice system in the US. She learned it from the Indigenous people. And I think there is really no one better, to talk to us about this than Kay.
I actually had the pleasure earlier this year of siting in on circle training session that Kay led in Boston. I was just really, really moved by her capacity to really hold space and deeply listen to others and let the group work through the discomfort of it's own processes and not to try and insert herself and really let the group go through what it needed to go through. And I was really struck by her self-restraint and as I said her sense of compassion and her deep art with which she engaged in circle practice. So I am really excited to hear from her and to lead the conversation with her we have an incredible person to do that.
Molly Rowan herself has been very involved in Restorative Justice. She is the founder of the Restorative Justice On The Rise, which she started as a response to her own witnessing up close and in person, the devastating effects of the punitive justice system. She has spoken about how her mother was incarcerated with mental illness close to 15 years in the state of Idaho. She brings her passion to this incredible work on every level, and she is also inspired, as Kay is, by the global traditions and movements by the people on the periphery of societies and practices of Indigenous people in particular, who have shown the way over time to help us gain clarity, by Restorative Justice practices including circle practices.
So with that I am going hand off to Molly who will more formally introduce Kay and kick of the conversation
Molly: Thank you Preeta. Very blessed morning to everyone wherever you are calling in from. Wonderful to be with you here. I would just like to set the intention right away that this is a circle itself. Even though virtual one of sorts, we are here together connecting as people level as possible. It's an honor to be with each and every one of you.
That was a beautiful introduction, Preeta, of Kay and words are hard to suffice for Kay's presence. I would like to just augment what you already have shared about Kay Pranis. I see her as so many of us do, as a deeply visionary being with the ability, as you so beautifully mentioned Preeta, to set up spaces and help to create a container that helps support a field of honesty and vulnerability in those present. Something is tapped from inner space in each of us by that presence. It dives into our collective human spirit and it patiently lifts them on multiple levels to the needs of the present moment.
Kay is an amazing author and co-author of books such as " The Little Book of Circle Processes" and also " Heart Of Hope", which she co-authored with Carolyn Boyes- Watson. And most recently, published and launched in February of this year, "Circle Forward", also co-authored with Carolyn Boyes-Watson. That is supportive of an inquiry and implementation process for restorative practices. Kay’s work can be found at the publisher, Living Justice Press and you can find her across the web. I believe that Kay has devoted her wisdom and acumen of both her heart and skill in facilitation and teaching to help us remember individually and collectively, who we are at core. She elicits the angels of our better self in how she contributes so humbly to the old-new movement of peace making circles, circle processes and Restorative Justice. And she helps to revaluate how we see and feel conflict in our lives on every level. So without further ado, it's really such an honor to be with you today, Kay on this Awakin call. Welcome!
Kay: Thank You!
Molly: I am just going to dive right in with the question for you Kay, about the seven core assumptions. As we go in and start unpacking, of what circle process values and what energy field of the circle process might we be journeying towards, even though it's not a destination, what are those seven core assumptions? And how to set a deep foundation for our circle practice?
Kay: The seven core assumptions are set of beliefs that Carolyn and I, when we were writing "Heart Of Hope", decided that we should let readers know where we were coming from. Where we saw as sort of fundamental beliefs of our practice and this way of using circle. So we tried to just get really clear about what all of this is grounded in as we understand it.
So the first assumption is that the true self in everyone is good, wise and powerful. Circle for me is very, very rooted in this idea that every one of us is born with a fundamental inclination to be in good relationship with others. And that's genetic because we've evolved in community and so our genes have to carry the information for how to be successful in community. So that we are born with powerful impulse to be in good relationship with others and that we are also born with knowledge of what it takes to be in good relationship with others. We talk about that as the true self, the core self or the best self in everyone that is good, wise and powerful. That's not to deny that we are capable of other kinds of things, but that we always still do have that in us. This assumption is that, no matter what happens to you or what you do, that's still there, though it might be deeply buried.
Second assumption is that the world is profoundly interconnected. This is one of the most important things that I came to understand more clearly working with Indigenous people. This understanding of everything as so interconnected that you CANNOT disconnect. It's not possible in the nature the universe. Once we understand that, it has huge implications for everything that we do, because then we understand that everything we put out also comes back to us through all of this connection.
The third one is this idea that all human beings have a deep desire to be in a good relationship. That's a part of human nature.
The fourth is, all humans have gifts. Everyone is needed for what they bring. That means that it's not about some us are more important than others. That we are all needed and not just humans, but every other aspect of the universe brings it's gift. Everything has a purpose and a role.
Fifth, everything we need to make positive change is already here. We have it. We have the wisdom ourselves. We have the knowledge. We can find ways to access that together.
Sixth, Human beings are holistic. You just cannot work with the mind, or just with the body. Human beings have these other aspects, the emotional side, the spiritual side. They are always there and when we are not paying attention to those, they always impact us sideways and we don't really understand what's going on. Then we have to work with the whole human being.
The seventh is this idea that in order to live from this core self that represents the best in us, we have to practice. Practices are really important and that circle is a practice. If you don’t practice it, it's harder then to use it when you need it. All of these things build on each other and can become habits of how you show up in the world. But only, if you practice. Those are the seven assumptions.
It's interesting because, when we first wrote the book " Heart Of Hope", we just tried to frame what was in it and then we discovered that lot's of people took those seven core assumptions and adapted. I know someone who has created laminated sheets and puts them in the center of every circle. And someone else created training exercise where they out people into seven small groups and each one is assigned seven core assumptions and each group does a little circle to deepen their thinking about that particular assumption and then they come back and present to the whole group. So it’s been interesting to watch something we put out there, and see how other people grew it and did something with it that we had not even imagined.
Molly: Kay, in your extraordinary journey, one of the people that you have worked with very closely is Howard Zehr. I think one of the books that he has written is called "Changing Lenses." I wonder if you could share with us what it means to see life from a lens, in particular to the values that you just described. How do we walk in our lives, individually as well as in the system from the lens of a circle?
Kay: Basically your lens is your paradigm, right? Your mental model for what's true about the nature of the universe. And for me all of this work represents a very, very deep shift in paradigm in world view, in the assumptions we are making about the nature of the universe and therefore our own nature as well. So for me it colors and shapes everything in having gotten into this work and having the opportunity to practice very frequently being in circle and thinking about interconnection. It just keeps evolving for me in terms of my own depth of understanding, my own sense of what this means for me. I think it's about how we build our social institutions, how we operate those social institutions. The implications of this work are for profound change and all of the structural relationship we have of the social institutions. Because, if we take those seven core assumptions, those are not core assumptions of our institutions. That includes families and faith communities and soil services, schools and the justice system. Basically all of our institutions, in general, there are always exceptions, are built on a very different set of assumptions. So that's the lens. Those assumptions describe the lens through which you are making decisions everyday about what you do and don't do and how you see others, how you relate to others and the judgments that you make about yourself and about others.
I think that's why this work turned out to be even more challenging than people thought at the beginning. The shift it represents is much deeper than many of us originally understood
Molly: Kay can you share, may be one or two vignettes, what you might have seen in your own processes with people across the country and where ever your work takes you, specific to people here in the western world so to speak, and how they might be having epiphanies of shifting from this paradigm of isolation and retribution to one of interconnection and resolution. Do you have any snap shots that you would like to share?
Kay: I mean, the way I think that this can really help us, some shifts that I have seen… I did a training very recently, where there was high consciousness in the room around racial equity. A man who has done a lot of diversity work, African American, clearly very, very immersed in that work and very knowledgeable about approaches and as we went through the three day training, It was just amazing to watch how something that's been troubling him in the diversity work shifted and things fell into place in a way that's going to be transformative for him.
For example, we were talking about the importance of stories. That story telling is a source of wisdom in circle process. It's not about advise, not about our usual intellectual rigor. Not that you can't bring that, you can bring that, but ultimately the knowledge in the circle comes primarily as a story, as our understanding from our own lived experience. We were telling about the story telling as an important component of the circle process. He raised the question that he was really concerned about story telling. And I realized that he was kind of challenging the idea of story telling. And I realized that in his experience in diversity work, the story telling is sometimes used as a bludgeon, right? The story is used to beat up in this case white people. And the story is very, very important. Question is, how you tell that story. And how you are holding yourself up in relation to the person you are offering that story to or pushing that story on. So I said, " Oh yes! Absolutely. It's not a free for all, where everybody just puts their story out in a way that might be inducing huge shame and paralysis in the listener." What you do in circle is you first establish a value-based container. When you create a container, then you want the truth to be told and that truth might be extremely painful around these stories of harm. But they are going to be told in a value-based container, in a way that's not about shame and blame. But is about a deep understanding and sitting with the truth before we try to figure out how we go forward.
And so there were pieces like that, where he has been doing diversity work and feeling like we are not getting where we want to be, although deeply well intended and people working very hard at it. I used the term that I learned from Brenda Morrison called ‘ontological security’, which she defined as knowing who you are and where you belong, and so the conversation about the story telling and that term ontological security, for him gave exactly what he needed, to be doing the diversity work that he wants to do, without it escalating to shame and therefore distance, because of out of shame comes distance.
So, it was a thrill to me to watch the stuff that I have been working with, become pieces that helped him put together some things that weren't quite fitting for him. He wasn't really satisfied with the way a lot of the diversity work is happening and theta that he had, and it was like, this, was the missing piece. And you could just watch all of that, click. And interestingly enough, we had somebody in the training who was saying, "I could see why it's really good for people to share their feelings and to talk about these things, but it wouldn't be a good way to make decisions right?" Because, decisions have to be made in this logical, linear way, right? And the other guy who was in diversity was the one making the case to the person who couldn't see how you make decisions in this way!
It's just that we've got this idea that the only way the decisions could be made is linear. But that in fact is not the reality. When you sit in this space, it increases the capacity to make decisions. So I am watching people take ideas that are surfacing in the space, we have to gather, and begin to fit them into their own work and lives and break out of something that felt like straight jackets to them. That's really what I saw with this guy, it gave him a way to break out of hos straight jacket, in terms of certain aspects of his work that didn't feel good.
Molly: Thank You! So Kay, what you were just describing reminds me of a process that you probably know quite a bit more than I do, because of your extensive work with indigenous people and wisdom, and that's the process of holding the story, I believe , that nonlinear decision making that you were describing ,that was the basis, I believe, for everything that they knew to be true. They needed to go into that nonlinear space in order to be able to move forward and in making the important decision. And even went to the extent of inviting their so called "enemies" into that process with them. I guess that sets into part of our theme: Creating those safe spaces and what it means and of course learning and growing into not knowing. I wonder if you might share your own understanding and meaning of not knowing. And how this might support a safe space? If you could also talk about what a safe space means?
Kay: This idea, the importance of being able to not know, has really been intensifying in the last couple of years. This is not something that I saw originally around what was happening. I think I was there may be intuitively may be in some way.. really What I see happen, and it's because of me watching it over and over again, that in order for collective wisdom to emerge, you need to enter not knowing the answer. Because, as soon as anyone of us thinks we know the answer, we will try to drive the process in the direction of the answer. With the best of intentions, absolutely the best of the intentions. If we have the answer we think this is what needs to happen, this will be good. And we exist in a culture where our status and our sense of worth, our deep sense of worthiness to be, is tied to knowing. We have been told since we were born that to know is good. And that to know more is better. And to know is to be valued, to be worthy, to be paid well, to have power. We have so much identity. Identity in this culture is very tied to knowing, having answers and that these processes, especially circles, ask us to not know. That's so, so deeply counter cultural.
The wonderful thing is that, it's a huge relief. If we can get there, it's like freedom. It's amazing freedom. "You don't have know?" We have to release so much social conditioning to begin to open up. If we can sit in the space not knowing, the words that help me think about that are curiosity and wonder. I always quote somebody and I don't know who it is , but that person describes wonder as- not knowing, experienced as pleasure. I think these ideas of curiosity and wonder, that's what we are aiming for. But I think it is important to understand, because those are positive frames, to understand that we are asking for that at a level that's way beyond what has been culturally acceptable in the past. That opens the space for that which cannot be predicted to emerge out of the collective. I have no idea how this happens. I do not understand at all how this happens, but I have seen it happen so much that I have a lot of confidence in human collective wisdom, where the space is safe enough for people to be really speaking their deeper truth. So that depends upon this, that to be able to access collective wisdom depends very heavily on being able to create safe space. Safe enough for people to not know and not feel stupid, right? That 's the problem, to not know has been equated to being stupid and we have to undo that hook. So there are very specific things that are part of the circle process that contribute to creating that kind of safe space. As if gets safer, as a facilitator you are safer too, and you can release control and let the group take responsibility for itself and allow it to work through some really uncomfortable things. But right from the very beginning the circle, the very first thing you do beyond welcoming people is an opening ceremony. And that is very deliberate. Like your minute of centering when you start your call, it makes the difference to slow people down, have them pay attention to being present, to orienting toward that best self in them. So beginning with an opening ceremony is a very important part of safe space.
And then, I think the very structure of circle.. geometry matters, geometry makes a difference. And the geometry of circles is for human beings, what the "V' is to geese for flying. That particular alignment helps them to fly farther and faster and circle is the equivalent geometry for human beings. I think for number of reasons. One is the sense of connection and common focus. Another is the equality. There is just no head to a circle. Equality is really implicit in the process. The other thing that is very powerful that I became aware of, didn't think of initially, but there is a kind of accountability in a circle that you don't have in other ways of people arranging themselves together. Because, at the tables, everybody can see everyone else and can see their body language as well as hear their voices. It's much clearer if people are texting, or having side conversations. Very different kind of accountability in a circle, but at the same there is a tremendous sense of support because you are held. Because circle geometrically is the strongest form in terms of forces on the perimeter. So that helps to create the safety as well, if you feel like you belong, right? It could feel like a trap if it's not safe in other ways.
Then within the process before we ever talk about any difficult issue we spend on talking about what are the values we want bring? And basically it's a way helping people remember, who they want to be in their best self before they want do any work together. And that's enormous in helping to begin to increase the safety in a group of people. And again before getting into any difficult issues that we may want to discuss, we spend time in sharing stories from our lives that help us to see ourselves in one another. That helps with empathy. Even though we might think that the person we are in conflict with has nothing in common with us, if we share stories about being an adolescent and feeling like we didn't fit in, that will completely change my sense of that other person. The number of elements in the process that are continually trying to deepen the sense of safety, so that people can just be who they are, and the circle has a lot of faith in people at their authentic self level. That if we can be authentic with one another, we can always figure out how to move forward constructively. Can't necessarily undo harm that happened , but we can move toward healing and we can move toward being more constructive with one another, if we can be authentic in a space that's grounded in these values of who we want to be at when we are at our best. And there are lot of people who never experience a safe space. There is no part of their life that has that kind of safety so hat if people experience it in a circle it's a real revelation, that such a thing is possible. And it begins to shift peoples conception about what is possible, when they experience that with others.
Molly: On that stream that which we have just been in, of creating a safe space, I was reminded of sometimes I spent when we with Little Bear and Glenn Aparicio Parry’s seed institute language of spirit dialogue, that were extraordinary three day affairs, where a circle process of sorts was created. And Leroy would always open circle and talk about listening and the subtle and more finer points of listening and the Bohemian idea that we do have the tacit infrastructures, so to speak, especially in the western world perhaps, when we approach a process of dialogue. Now, if you could describe your own meaning of what deep listening really can be and what are the properties and subtle aspects of deep listening and how to support that safe space?
Kay: Deep listening is one the major characteristics that circle process supports. The talking pieces are really big part of that. The talking piece is being able to regulate the dialogue. The piece going in order around the circle only the person holding the talking piece speaks. That basic characteristic of this process that I use, that engenders a deeper listening, without people thinking about it or talking about it. I actually don't spend time talking about that when I start a circle, but it pretty much happens organically. Once they get the hang of it and get accustomed to the idea of that they won't be interrupted, then they realize that they are not going to be speaking right away and so they don't need to be thinking about what they are going say. The big things that distract us from deep listening is our concern about what are we going to say, as soon as that person stops speaking, right? That could be something we urgently want to put out there or it could be just something, "Oh dear, I am expected to respond. What am I going say when that person stops. When people get a sense that," Oh! Ok. I can't say anything now anyway. So I can let go of these things that are popping through my head about what am I going to say. Then I am much more able to put my energy into the listening. So that's one piece of it. I also find that the physicality of the talking piece, peoples eyes follow the talking piece. So people are looking at the person who is holding the talking piece, sometimes looking at it in their hands, and that creates, I think, sort of energetic alignment that impacts the way we listen. It's like the lines of energy go from each person in the circle to the one who is holding the talking piece. Because you can't speak without it, that energy is listening energy. And because you know that when you get it, you get to say whatever you want to say and you can take the time to put our words together. When it comes to you then you are less distracted by your own thoughts. It was interesting, when I began to see this: the talking piece quiets people down internally which allows them to listen more deeply to one another. Before that can happen actually, the thing that precedes that in circle that really helps is, like the opening ceremony and the conversation about values, that's the presence. The letting go of stuff that happened before you came into the circle or the stuff that you have to do after you leave the circle. One of the techniques of the circle is helping people to release the other stuff and helping people to focus just on whatever it is that the circle is about. All of those things contribute to deep listening. Particularly I think that the sense of respect that you create in the circle so that, when people feel they are deeply heard, they are more willing to deeply listen. So it's another piece of why there is a capacity for deep listening in circle, is because people feel deeply heard. And when you feel deeply heard you are much more willing to allow to open yourself. So deep listening is really listening with your heart and mind open. Not trying to, again it's that thing of not knowing, right? Not trying to figure out what was right or wrong about what people are saying or what it is that they are supposed to do next or what the answer is. So it's listening from this place of not knowing where it goes next. Wonder and curiosity and open mind and open heart, and there is a lot in the structure of circle that helps us to do that. I listen better in a circle than I do outside of circle. But then, the amount of time I spend in circle has helped me listen better outside of circle. Sometimes I am conscious of reminding myself to just wait till it's my turn.
Molly: I would definitely feel remised, if I didn't bring to the surface the amazing work that you and Carolyn Boyes- Watson have been doing at the concerned youth in our schools here in the United States and probably beyond and of course the books I mentioned earlier , "Heart of Hope" and the most recent edition " Circle Forward", I guess it could be considered a part two. Is it true Kay?
Kay: Circle forward is more specifically focused on schools and covers a wider range, pretty much the gamut of ways that you might use, circle process and school contacts, including circle for staff, circle with parents and obviously circles wit students in class room. So the "Circle Forward" is focused on schools and more complete and has broad range circles.
Molly: I happen to know that these books are flying off of the shelves and I wondered what your sense of this is, in that - How might it be telling us something about the collective desire to change how we conduce our system and what are you seeing?
Kay: In the last eighteen months, we have seen an amazing shift in schools. Suddenly zero tolerance became embarrassing, where as, for two decades it had been waved like a flag of pride. Everybody claimed that they did zero tolerance. Suddenly, I should say, not sudden in the sense that it took people a long time too. It was the School-to-Prison Pipeline movement, Dignity in School campaign, a lot of organizing by young people in various places, and also the work of Michelle Alexander around racial disparities, that crescendoed to a point that it became embarrassing to all the major cities. The data around disparities and discipline and the terminology like the School- to-Prison Pipeline was so visceral. That movement finally gained significant traction. But what was amazing to me was how quickly then it shifted from the schools using suspension with no sense of responsibility or accountability around that to all the major big cities suddenly telling the schools in their system that they had to reduce suspensions and in some cases telling them they couldn't use suspension anymore. When it finally came, the change happened very rapidly. So we were very fortunate, we had the book far enough along that when we saw this happen, I knew that the timing was right and we had to get it out as quickly as we could. The problem that there is now a widely expressed desire to reduce suspensions and there is very little skills in our school about what do you do instead. You can't ignore behavior that's causing harm to other students or to the classroom as a whole, but kicking kids out is not the solution. And so we sit in a place where there is a great deal of talk about restorative practices in school and great deal of interest and a lot of places where people have no idea what that actually means. So we are hoping that the book will help fill that gap for the people who really want to the right thing and don' really know. How do we do this differently because, people used know more, because they didn't always kick kids out at that rate, but for two decades they just used suspension as their way to manage behavior in schools and they lost some of the other skills that you need to be using. It's a long road back, rebuilding those skills, the work coming out of the Restorative Justice movement is essential, I think, to us to changing the nature of how we manage collective groups, in a building, which we call a school.
Molly: Kay I noticed that, way back into "Heart of Hope", you offer different applications of circles. I was really struck by the masking grief circle and the resiliency circle and of course you have quite a few others. Could you talk about, just briefly, may be one of those processes and what kind of application and meaning that might have, and what you are seeing around that?
Kay: So the resilience helps us to shift from our constant deficit analysis into a more strength based approach. So it's a very, very critical part of us moving forward in our social sciences or social work. This culture is very problem focused and there is a constant analysis of problems and what lot of people now believe is, that is actually energy draining and what you want to be doing is not constantly talking about the problem but actually talking about where you want to be and how do you get there from where ever you are. Acknowledgment of where you are, I'm not talking about putting on rose colored glasses, and deep honesty about where you are is important but then we don't spend a lot of time in analysis. And resilience, recognizing strength, recognizing good things that can come out of that experience is one of the most important aspects of shifting from deficit analysis into strength based work. And everybody who is alive has resilience. That circle emerged around working with young people, who have struggled with lots of different challenges, often, some that are very personal for instance, about their own families and some that are much more systemic, things like racism. They suffer from trauma on both of these levels. But then, we don't need to be defined by our trauma, we can look for what is it, that has allowed us to survive this long and be who we are. Because, even the people who are messing up a lot, are not messing up all the time. There is nobody messing up all the time. So you look at the places where we are not messing up. So in a circle like that you ask people to talk about times in their lives when they made lemonade out of lemons. Times, when something was really difficult and it made them stronger in some ways. This is where you start accessing your own wisdom. People start looking at their own stories where they have been strong in the face of difficulty, where they've have survived form a situation where you think, "How does anybody even get up everyday?". That's where the wisdom lies, it lies in our own lived experience, particularly round our strengths and what gets us through.
Molly: Beautiful! Kay, do you have anything else that you would like to add to our conversation thus far before we move into our question and answer conversation?
Kay: No, I'm interested in hearing the other voices.
Molly: Okay! Great! It's just been wonderful and an honor to be with you and I'm going to hand over to Preeta.
Preeta: Thank you so much. Thanks Kay for an amazingly insightful conversation. I'm going to use the host prerogative and ask one question before we jump in the queue, Kay.
This talk of circle practice, I think anyone who has participated in knows how incredibly powerful and healing it can be for groups of people who come together. This came up in a pre call question- How do you get a community to come together to sit in practice? And what kind of preparatory work you do before the circle?
Kay: Well, it's very contextual. Because it's not familiar to people, and they may be a little weary. And sometimes it's a little hard to get started. Sometimes it's crisis.
There was a neighborhood in Minneapolis a number of years ago that experienced an armed robbery of local business. And that was unusual in that neighborhood. Around that crisis, it's easy to get people to come to talk about safety in their neighborhood and we put them in circles. So that they can experience that and know what it is and think about how this process be useful to us as a community. So sometimes it's around a crisis that you get opportunity. This is happening right now around police. The training that I did recently, one of the participants was an African American woman, a police officer. And within the training, she decided to design a circle for new recruits, in the training of new police officers. Have them sit in a circle with community members so they would start building better relationships with community people. I'm now running into this at different places, where police are willing to come in to circles now with community people, because they are desperate to rebuild relationships and trust. It is often around a crisis that you will find a willingness for people to come into the space, which is so strange to people.
We are always saying to people, if you can, for instance in schools and in families, we say try to do positive circles first. Circles around birthdays or graduations so that people experience the process and get to understand what it means to sit in circle and how it works, without it being high tension and or high conflict. Sometimes the opportunity is around crisis, but if you can, you want to introduce circle to people, around a positive celebratory kind of event and have them experience what it's like to sit in the space. Because what will happen in that space, even though you would think, "well, if we are celebrating, it's already very positive and very nice", you will get a much deeper conversation of honoring or of good wishes when you pass a talking piece than you will just in an ordinary interaction.
If you are using circle for difficult circumstance, typically you will have to do some preparation of people beforehand. If you have two sides that you want to bring together to have dialogue in circle, the best approach is to do separate circles first, so that those sides experience and get familiar with circle process in a safe space with the people they trust and also to get some clarity about what their actual concerns are with the other group and then bring two groups together. It is very important to think about what you have to do to help make it safe when they come together. So that's a part of building the safety. If you are coming into a completely strange process, with some people that you hate or deeply distrust, you have a double barrier to get over. So you can separate that over by having people get familiar with circle in a group where they feel relatively safe and then at least that barrier you don't have to overcome when you bring people together with someone that they don't trust or in conflict with.
Aryae from Half Moon Bay: Kay, it's great to hear you. Thank you for all the experience that you are sharing with us. As someone who has been involved in convening circles in some of my own communities, I really appreciate hearing from you and what you've been doing with some very difficult situations. As a matter of fact, what I've been doing recently on my birthday is doing a circle. Asking people to share some stuff about wisdom. I'm glad to hear that you do that in situations where you work. My question is, would you be willing to share a story of two from your life about how you were led to doing this work that you do.
Kay: Okay. My journey to this work is completely accidental in the sense of any conscious intention on my part. It's part of why I've learnt to really trust not knowing, because it has worked so well for me. So I have university education, but it has nothing to do with the work that I do. I have no formal training in any related filed to the work that I do. I wanted to have my children young. I was married young. I stayed home raising my kids for 16 years. I was very involved in my community and served on local school work for 9 years. I did a lot of work on school reform in the 80's. My kids are very close together in age. As they were entering high school it dawned on me that they were going to leave 1,2,3, really quickly, one after another. I thought I have to build some other center in my life. I've been doing a lot of volunteer work in the community, and really enjoyed that and learned so much! So I wanted work to be meaningful. And, I couldn't get a job. I didn't ave credentials for anything in particular. All the volunteer work that I've been doing didn't give me credit for anything. So I had really hard time finding a job. I worked different places and I was only looking for jobs that were meaningful to me. So didn't even get interviews. I finally got opportunity to work for an agency in Minneapolis that did criminal justice work. I knew absolutely nothing about the criminal justice system. But the man who was the head of the agency was the husband of the superintendent in the school district where i was on the board. He knew I was intelligent and he trusted me to work with his board members, which this particular job required. I guessed soon that, I would learn what I needed to learn about the justice system on the job and that's what happened. I started there part time and pretty quickly grew to a full time. And in '89 I ran into a pamphlet on restorative justice by Howard Zehr and Dan Van Ness and that resonated to my own sense of the world. There was an article that I read by Kay Harris, a feminist vision of justice. That really resonated for me. But I knew you couldn't formulate public policy with feminist term in it in this country. There's just no way! Didn't know where I would go with that. But when I read the pamphlet by Howard Zehr and Dan Van Ness about restorative justice, I realized, "This is the same thing and I know how to market this." So I read everything I could get my hands on about restorative justice and began weaving those ideas into the work that was doing, because my job was about advocating good public policy in the justice system. So then in '94, Department of Corrections in Minnesota created a full time position. So, I was interested in Restorative Justice but couldn't focus on that all the time at the non-profit. I knew that I wanted to work on it full time. So when Department of Corrections in Minnesota created a full time position in '94 I went there. It was in that job that I learned about sentencing circles in Canada. And of all the restorative practices it was the sentencing circle process that most deeply captured my spirit. And partly because, from the beginning, in the restorative justice work, my thing was about community. Not so much about individual reconciliation. It's been community and larger questions of social justice. So my interest has been much more at the community level than at the level of working out individual crimes or individual reconciliation.
But none of this anything I could ever have dreamed of. I could not have imagined that path that I've had.
Aryae: Well, what a great example of the power and wisdom of showing up without knowing!
Kay: (Laughs) That's how it turns out. I don't understand myself how I ended up where I am. I don't understand often, the impact that the work I am doing seems to have. I don't think I work alone. I've become convinced that there is some kind of energy forces that find me as a useful channel. From the beginning, I was like, "It could be gone tomorrow."
This is not something that is in my control and I want to just keep showing up and hoping that I can continue to be useful to whatever those forces are that are operating through me.
Aryae: Do you have an inner spiritual practice other than the circle practice for tuning into those forces?
Kay: I've been inspired over the years by a lot of native practice, but I don't subscribe in a structured way. I've also been inspired by Buddhist writing particularly western Buddhist writers. These understandings about interconnectedness and sitting with the question rather than looking for the answer, I find the to be resonant both in ancient cultural understandings and in things like Buddhism. But for me it's jus kind of my own homegrown understanding. Because, the concept of God doesn't work for me. So creator doesn't work for me. The problem with that is hierarchy. It feels like hierarchy. My sense is that profound interconnectedness, that which is bigger than me I'm a part of and we bow to each other. I don't bow to something above. And So it's kind of just my own homegrown. I have rejected the faith that I grew up with. I was raised catholic. I rejected that as a very young adult. I decided that the purpose of life was to love and be loved and that was sufficient to motivate the right kind of behavior. Beyond that, I didn't know and I was okay with that. I guess may be I could sit with the not knowing lot earlier than I realized. I thought I was an atheist or an agnostic. I didn't know which because I didn't know the difference and I didn't bother to look it up
Then I was raising my children I began to feel that spirituality was important. Couldn't tell you what it is. And then when I got into this work it was very clear to me that spirituality has meaning to me, but to doesn't fit into any particular structure or discipline.
Aryae: Thank You Kay!
Preeta: Thank you! That's a great segue into one of the questions we got from the live stream. This comes from some one in Sebastapol, California, who said she is a restorative practice educator, trainer and training designer. In our discussion a little bit earlier on ceremonial opening ceremony and kind of how you discuss that. She mentioned that she is getting a little push back about the ceremonial opening especially. But the ceremonial qualities in general that this type of circle works, can create barriers for participants of various religious and spiritual orientation. She said she has been asked to tone that down in order to not turn folks away. I'm a believer myself, but want to meet the people where they are, communication being the most important element. What are your thoughts?
I guess may be to supplement that, I would just say, if you have examples of working with may be some conservatives religious community that may be turned off by some of the Native ceremonial things. Are there ways in which you communicate with different communities about the practice?
Kay: Yes! I was trained by First Nations People who always opened with smudging, burning of sage. But as soon as I began to practice, I knew that it was not something I could do in most places. I loved it myself. But it would not be appropriate in most of the places I would train. First of all I could be seen as coopting another culture or secondly, I could be seen as imposing another faith system. So what I did is, think about what is it that we are achieving with that ceremony? What is that ceremony about? It's about cleansing, it's about the pause, it's about orienting toward the positive, taking deep breath to let go and release the unrelated tensions and then began to think about what other things can you do? So I think it's absolutely essential that you not throw up barriers to people with what you do as an opening ceremony. And I think it's absolutely essential that you do an opening ceremony. So you begin to look for what would work for this group of people? Sometimes it's a little bit of breathing, it could be silence. In training I do a thing called group juggle that's playful, but definitely achieves all those things I talked about in terms of beginning to connect people, and helping people bring themselves to be fully present and to be centered in the space, release other distractions, pause right? Big part of circle is slow down. So few deep breaths.. Readings, poetry, inspirational readings you can find. So if you are working with conservative religious group, in fact, if you working with a group that's all from the same religion, you can draw from their religion because that will be the most meaningful to them in terms of achieving those things that you are trying to do with an opening ceremony. The thing is that you really have to pay attention. It's a question of safety. If you are doing something that's uncomfortable for people you are actually making it less safe. That means that you have to do more work in the oracle to try to regain that sense of safety. It's really about designing opening and closing ceremonies. We have a lot stuff at the back of both Heart Of Hope and Circle Forward on terms of reading , few activities. If it's an ongoing group you can involve the group in designing opening and closing. you can even use a different word than ceremony. You can say openings and closings. If it's the term that's turning people off, change the language. But it's really, really critical, I believe to create the transition, this pause, it's beginning to help the group get their energy in alignment together before you move into whatever you are going to do.
Michelle from San Jose: I'm very grateful for your work. I'm fascinated by it. I have been exploring what I call transformational global leadership for number of years. I'm looking at how we can create alignment at the global level of humanity. I have no clue but just exploring it. I have some familiarity with the circle practice and creating a group consciousness. I'm wondering what thoughts you have about how we can take that? You said that you are focusing on the community social justice and not just the individual. Do you have any thoughts about taking it to communities of communities and may be apply this to global level as we are trying to deal with global issues such as climate change, which requires participation of very diverse communities from all over the world with very different backgrounds and thought processes, and yet we need to be able to do that to deal with some of our global issues?
Kay: Exactly. I talk about this as taking it to scale. Because I also talk about circle as much more fundamentally democratic. In the process I use, decisions are made by consensus, which means everybody has to be able to say I can live with it. I see it as much more fundamentally democratic than majority rule. And that it would be wonderful if we could begin to expand our understanding of democracy and make more decisions like this because, no one can be run over in a consensus decision making process. It's not a question of numbers. So I think often about how to take it to scale. I can see how you do that in a group of 25 people making a decision together. Gets more difficult when you are talking about a thousand people and some kind of city planning process. Although we are exploring and experimenting with that in some places, how to do you take this process into public decision making around municipal planning? I am pretty sure that if we keep practicing at the local level, we will figure it out. So one piece for me is, we start practicing this, making decisions in our families, making decisions in our organizations, work places, making decision in lots of different places, we start practicing sitting in circle as a way of making sure all voices are included and heard and all the stories are understood at some level in order to understand where people are coming from. As you do that, we will figure out how to take it to scale in a more structured way. But in the meantime, the other thing that we are doing, overtime you sit in circle you are practicing all the social, emotional literacy skills. you are practicing listening, you are practicing paying attention to what's going on inside you, you are practicing awareness of others emotions, because emotions are welcome, we are practicing all these things about listening, not jumping to conclusions , not making judgments. And in the end, the point is not to get good at doing those in circle for the sake of circle, the point is to develop those skills so we can take them out into every other arena of our lives. So that, we can listen to the news and try to be with a more open heart and more open mind. That's the thing that annoys us so much.
The more we have people sitting in circle, the more we can get people to think in those ways and begin to struggle with those larger global questions. because all of the global questions also are very personal. Specially when you talk about climate change stuff. None of us escapes that. Economic issues some people can feel insulated, but climate issues, there is no insulation for anybody. So I think it's practice. Practice and practice and practice. And introducing it any place that you have a potential platform... the other side of all of this for me that is really challenging is to hold compassion for those who are coming from a different placed a place I see is causing a lot of harm. To be willing to assume that they have the same best self as all these other people that I sit in circle with. And that they have a story that would explain... Because I got introduced to this process in the justice system, we were sitting in circle with people who were seen to have caused harm, sometimes a great harm. There is always a story that helps you understand how it came to be. It does not justify doing it, but helps you understand how it came to be. And the same thing we need to begin to apply at the political level, for instance for the people who are very attached to the confederate flag. Can we understand the story of how they came to be attached to that flag. And it's not necessarily the same thing we impute it to waving that flag around. How do we take these seven core assumptions in our thinking and begin to project something different than we have. Generally, certainly for myself in the past, for people who politically disagree with me, and try to look for the story, even when I deeply disagree with the conclusion that people have come to, out of their story.
It's that kind of sort of wrestling with our own demons that I think is going to be necessary. It's very personal and at the same time we need to be talking out loud about it because when we talk out loud, we can take it to another level. We can encourage others who may be are thinking the same thing but didn't see a way to bring it forward. Then we start to bring those energies together.
Michelle: I can see that this would be really useful to apply at a community of communities level. If you would be interested in furthering this conversation about how to take it global, love to be in conversation with you about how to apply it at a global level, how do we contact you?
Kay: My contact information is in the back of the Little Book of Circle Process. I am always happy to be connected.
Preeta: I love the way you responded, very true to Servicespace model: how to shift the world? First start with small shift within yourself.
Kay: And I want to say around that, that the kind of stuff that came for me through restorative justice and circle process, I see those same ideas in lots of different movements and it's part of what really excites me. These ideas not unique to circle. They are very ancient understandings, many of them. And there are lots of different impulses, and some of them very organized impulses that are happening around the globe, it is , for me, one of the signs that shift is coming. These wonderful ideas are surfacing independently in lots of different places at the same time
Preeta: How wonderful!
Jenelle from New York: This is not so much a question as it is a comment for Kay. I actually came to the same path of not knowing and then my path crossed with yours. We did a lot of foundational work in New York State, 16 years ago was looked at with a side eye. You know, like what's going on here. So I just wan to say thanks Kay for helping us to lay a really amazing foundation for the future of juvenile and criminal justice in Newark state, where I believe it is headed. A lot of work was done through your influence. So thank you Kay.
Kay: Thank you and so wonderful to hear your voice!
Jenelle: yours too!
Preeta: As someone who has read several of Kay's books and participated in one of her training, I would really encourage all of you and take a look at her rich and varied bodied of work, not only with respect to restorative justice but also school communities and also The Little Book of Circle Practices, which Kay mentioned is very much kind of the basic primer on how to hold circle. And all the other publications she has done give you specific suggestions about different aspects of it. I just found that to be incredibly useful and helpful
So as we wrap up Kay, one question we typically ask our guests is how can we as the larger Servicespace community support your work?
Kay: Hmm. (laughs). You've caught me off guard. I feel so lucky about my work... As it happened unplanned, I don't have any plans. And so that's a hard question to answer. For me it to do what you can do where you are with these core ideas, which are not mine. I think they emerge from our genes actually, the really core ideas we are talking about here, I think are in all of us. Part of my understanding is that we all have the wisdom, I have nothing new to teach anybody. But what we lack are the spaces where we can be in touch with our own wisdom and the collective wisdom. I guess the best thing would be to just, wherever you can to cultivate spaces where you can be in touch with your own wisdom and support the collective wisdom.
Preeta: That's so fantastic. I love everything you said, especially starting with the notion that we have everything we have within us as we are born and it's just a matter of tapping into it. I think you said at the start, the true self in everyone is good, wise and powerful.
Kay: And once we know that, we can relax and we don't need to control others and lots of good things fall from that.
Preeta: Fantastic. Thank you again. Really, really rich conversation. As always I'm so struck by your wisdom and your incredible work that you've done in so many communities. We will now close with a moment of silence.
This article is a transcript of an Awakin Call conversation. It is community of listeners, who start with the idea that by changing ourselves, we change the world.
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