Communication connection

I’m starting to see a connection with all the classes I’ve been taking on my own, the art I’ve been making, and the tutoring I’m doing. It is all about communication – in as many different ways as possible. It is about giving other people permission, as well as different ways, to express themselves.

Pastoral care, the Circle Process, Dialogue in Diversity training, the Remo Healthrhythms Facilitator training – they are all classes I’ve paid for. Tutoring and the classes I’ve taught in prayer bracelets – that has been without pay (mostly) and taken my free time. This is all in addition to working a full-time job.

Something has driven me to take these classes, but I didn’t know what the unifying theme was until now. At the heart of it, all conversation is about communion – our connection with each other, with our own selves, with the Divine. If that sounds too out there, I can say it is about connection to yourself and others.

And that is part of it too. I want to include as many people at once. All races, all cultures, all levels of understanding and ability. This involves learning about different ways of learning, different cultural norms, different myths and legends that shape us. This involves leveling the playing field for everybody – nobody is higher. We are all working together.

I also want people to be able to express themselves not only so they will feel understood, but so that they will understand themselves. Just because English is your native language doesn’t mean that you feel comfortable communicating in it. You may write well, but don’t like speaking out loud. You may speak well, but are embarrassed about your handwriting. Or you can’t spell because you are dyslexic.

I want to remove all of these barriers between people. I want to learn as many tools as possible to get people not only talking with each other but also listening to themselves. Dance, singing, drumming, fingerpainting, puppetry, beading – whatever. I want to learn as many ways to communicate as possible.

It is critical to get out feelings. I believe that unexpressed feelings are the source of all addiction and many diseases. I believe that giving people different ways to communicate is as important as providing equal access to buildings by making them handicap accessible.

We are all handicapped in one way or another. Written and spoken language is artificial. We aren’t born speaking or writing our “native” language. It is an arbitrary system of sounds and shapes assigned to the things around us. It is symbolic, and often difficult to use.

Rings and drumming

If you are going to play drums it is important to not wear rings. Wearing rings can damage your hands but can also damage the drum. Repeated exposure of the ring to the side or the head of the drum can slowly weaken it to the point of breaking. Or if they hit very hard it can damage it very fast.

If you were lucky enough to have replaceable drumheads this isn’t horrible. They are expensive and it will slow down your ability to teach drum classes, sure. You’ll be slowed down because you have to go get a new drumhead or order one. Or you may have to wait to raise the money to be able to buy the drumhead. If you weren’t lucky, you’ll have to buy a whole new drum.

While you can ask people to take off their rings, this can cause other problems. Some people may never have taken their rings off. From the time that they got married to today that ring has been on their finger. Sometimes they have gained so much weight in that time that they can’t get their ring off. Or they have arthritis and it is equally difficult. They also may feel uncomfortable about taking a ring off for fear that they will lose it.

One way around this is to bring Band-Aids. You can offer Band-Aids so that they can put one around the ring. This will soften the impact. Put the cushion side towards the bottom. Or you can bring ball chains. That way, people can take the rings off and wear them around their necks. They are inexpensive and will help people feel comfortable that their ring isn’t going to slide out of their pocket or get lost on the floor.

Drum class notes.

These are ideas I had after the Remo Healthrhythms drumming class, and thoughts on creating circles of people in general. This is a work in progress.

Create a safe space. Comfortable chairs, temperature is moderate. Have choices for chairs so different bodies can fit. Flat cushions, zabuton, rugs. Chairs. Or all the same? Do you want people all at the same eye level, or options?

Ask about any issues, sensitivity. Loud sounds, noise, crowds.

Be considerate of food and water needs. Supply choices.

Remind people that they can take care of their needs – bathroom, water, snack. They don’t have to wait for the group to take a break.

Plan for a variety of breaks so people can stretch, talk, decompress. Have a venue with a lot of different spaces for people to go to, including outside.

Vegas rules – what happens here stays here. Get all to agree. Confidentiality. Don’t talk about what someone says or does – good or bad.

A couple of questions to start – What is your favorite kind of ice cream? How do you fold a towel? These are ways to show that we all have individual ideas, and just because they are different doesn’t make them wrong.

Ground rules – have the group create the list. Discuss. Ask – Does anyone have a problem with anything? Is everyone able to abide by these rules? Don’t proceed until you get an agreement. The discussion during this part alone is part of the experience. How do we work through conflict?

Ask everyone to turn off cell phones so we can be fully present with each other.

Tell people to ask questions – if you are thinking it, there is probably someone else who is thinking it too. You may answer someone else’s question or fix someone else’s issue.

Don’t say “beat” the drum. It reminds people of abuse.

Don’t make it like musical chairs where somebody will be left out. Always have extra instruments so everybody has a choice.

Before the event – send out info to participants about needing to wear comfortable clothes – especially pants. It is difficult to play some drums wearing a skirt. If they are going to use their hands to play a drum (not a mallet) they need to not wear any rings because it can hurt your hand and hurt the drum head.

Assure people that there is no right way to play. Mistakes are where the magic happens.

Ask for what you need.

In the shaker pass icebreaker game, say it is ok to drop the shaker. If you drop it, let it stay. Model this in the first round.

Circle reading list

Interested in the Circle process for conflict resolution? Here’s a list of books that are helpful.

Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture. Christine Baldwin.

The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair. Christine Baldwin & Ann Linnea.

Doing Democracy with Circles: Engaging Communities in Public Planning. Jennifer Ball, Wayne Caldwell & Kay Pranis.

The Millionth Circle: How to Change Ourselves and the World. Jean Shinoda Bolen.

Peacemaking Circles and Urban Youth: Bringing Justice Home. Carolyn Boyes-Watson.

Heart of Hope: A Guide for Using Peacemaking Circles to Develop Emotional Literacy, Promote Healing & Build Healthy Relationships. Carolyn Boyes-Watson & Kay Pranis.

Wisdom Circle: A Guide to Self-Discovery and Community Building in Small Groups. Charles Garfield, Cindy Spring & Sedonia Cahill.

The Little Book of Circle Processes. Kay Pranis.

Peacemaking Circles: From Crime to Community. Kay Pranis, Barry Stuart & Mark Wedge.

Circle in the Square: Building Community and Repairing Harm in School. Nancy Riestenberg.

Building a Home for the Heart: Using Metaphors in Value-Centered Circles. Patricia Thalhuber, B.V.M. & Susan Thompson

The Way of the Council. Jack Zimmerman, in collaboration with Virginia Coyle.

List gotten with permission from Tracy Roberts at http://www.TheCircleCenter.com

Do you stay or do you go?

It is easy to stay in a job, a friendship, a marriage when things are good. But it isn’t always good. What do you do then? Do you stay or do you go?

There are different ways of going other than actually leaving. You can stop participating. You can “go along to get along”.

You can write out your rebuttal and then say at the end that no reply is expected, and even if there is a reply it won’t be read.

That too is leaving, that too is running away.

But how do you stay? Staying is hard. It is being willing to listen to the other person. It is being willing to engage in dialogue.

Nobody likes a fight. Nobody likes to disagree. I’ve heard some people say that they are “conflict adverse”. Of course they are. Normal people don’t seek out arguments.

But arguments happen all the time. We see things differently. We like to be right. When someone speaks their mind and it differs from your mind, what happens then?

That is “where the rubber meets the road”. That is where things get real.

Do you stay, or do you go?

In part, it depends on your investment in the situation. Can you afford to leave? How much time and energy have you put into this relationship?

It is ok to cut out. It is ok to leave. It isn’t ok to do that all the time. If you make a habit of leaving when things get hard, when things get real, then you’re making a habit of leaving.

A life filled with leaving isn’t really a life.

Stay. Stay with it when it gets hard. Stay with it, because staying with it is all that stands between you and anonymity. Stay with it because to always leave is to disappear, to dissolve.

What is this thing?

Halfway into the second day of Circle facilitator training, one of the three ladies who were there involuntarily finally said “What is this thing we are doing?” They were sent there by their boss. They’d never been through the Circle process. They had no idea what it was all about, and they were sent to learn how to do it.

Learning how to do it when you already have been through it is still crazy-making. It is hard enough for me and I’ve been in a lot of Circle experiences. I feel like I’ve just been given my driver’s license and now I’m expected to take a vanload of kids to Memphis to see Graceland. I don’t have a map. I don’t have a van. I don’t even know where to get gas. But I’ve taken a class, and I have a certificate – so off we go, right?

No, not really. But it is a start. Just like with driving, you really can’t learn how to do it until you do it. And then you do it some more. And you’ll probably get into an accident on the way. You might have a fender bender. You might run over a curb. You might hit a squirrel.

Hopefully nobody gets taken to the hospital – and that includes you.

But part of the Circle process is trusting it, and staying with it. Part of it is not rescuing other people either. Part of that was, for me, not explaining it to them in their frustration and confusion. They had to figure it out for themselves.

We kept coming back to a Guideline – “Trust the Process”. How can you trust something you don’t understand?

The process is about listening and speaking, and being real. It is an entirely different way to communicate – not only with other people, but with yourself.

It is really hard.

I felt I couldn’t tell them what was going on. I remember what it was like for me for my first Circle. It wasn’t called that. It was a Dialogue in Diversity class, and the topic was religion. Turns out, the topic was just an excuse. The topic was something to get us to learn how to listen to each other. We were there to learn dialogue versus debate. We were there to speak our truths, and listen to others speak their truths, and be OK with the fact that those truths didn’t match up. It wasn’t about consensus. It was about listening, really listening.

Maybe three classes in, I wanted out. I was so overwhelmed with the changes going on inside me. They hadn’t prepared me for this shift in my consciousness. They hadn’t told me it was going to happen at all. It was a big unspoken thing, and I thought I was losing my mind.

Maybe I was. Maybe I needed to lose my mind.

If I tell you how to do the Circle process then I’m shortchanging you on the Circle process. I’m making it easier for you to shortchange yourself by telling you how to do the Circle process.

It is like I’m unwrapping a present for you. In fact I’m keeping you from the present. I’m keeping you from discovering for yourself that just being present is the present.

That feeling uncomfortable and still staying with it is the whole process. That not knowing and being angry and confused is part of it too. It is a shift, an evolution.

The caterpillar doesn’t know when he is going to become a butterfly. It is a painful thing. And when he emerges, different, sticky, cramped, how does he learn how to fly, when all he has ever done is crawl? How does he know?

How do we know when it happens to us?

The fact that you don’t know what is going on when you are in Circle is part of it. It can’t be taught in a book and it can’t be explained. I can just let you do Circle with me and then the next thing we know you have that moment when you go “Oh, this is what we are doing. Now I get it”.

And then you don’t get it again, because you are still holding on to that chrysalis, and your wings are still wet, and your legs are wobbly and you have knees for God’s sake, what am I doing with knees –

And that is part of it too.

Circle – truth

The Circle process is about a lot of things. One of those things is truth. It is about speaking your own truth, and listening to every other person speak their truth. It is about knowing your truth. It is about being OK with the idea that your truth may change. It is about being OK with the idea that somebody else’s truth may be radically different from yours.

It is about listening to yourself and to others.

It is about sitting in that space, in that circle, and really being open to what is happening.

It is about understanding that we all want to be heard and seen.

Part of the Circle process is to create a sort of group mind. It is understanding that what you see and what I see are different sides of the same thing. Just like in the story of the five blind men and the elephant, we all are groping towards an understanding of “what is”. When we share our viewpoints and our understandings in Circle, we are opening ourselves up to a bigger understanding. We are essentially creating new eyes for ourselves.

But in order to have new eyes, we have to have new ears.

We have to listen, really listen, deeply.

And we have to know our own truths in order to share them.

And those are both really hard.

We come from a culture that teaches debate, not dialogue. We come from a culture that teaches us to sit down and shut up. We come from a culture that says you have to give up your own ideas in order to get along with others. The group is more important than the individual.

Consensus sometimes means that one person yells the loudest and everybody else goes quiet. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, after all. If you stick your neck out, it might get chopped off.

We are taught that if we are all leaders, then we are going to go nowhere.

Circle isn’t about anybody being the leader, and about anybody being a follower. We all contribute. We all share. We all listen, and we all talk.

One at a time.

And that is hard. It is hard because we aren’t taught this. It is hard because we are taught to just go along with the flow. It is hard because we aren’t allowed to have our own voice in our culture.

It is uncomfortable and unusual to be in a space where people listen to us for minutes at a time.

Half the time we don’t even know what our own truth is. Sometimes our truth changes from moment to moment, with every new voice that is added.

Sometimes the hardest thing is being able to say that something is black when everybody else sees it as white.

Circle is about staying in that process, even in the awkward bits, when you feel that nobody is listening to you and nobody understands you. Circle is about staying in that process, even when you feel like you aren’t listening to everybody else. Circle is about staying in that process even when you think that everybody else is wrong, or crazy, or just plain blind. Circle is about staying even when you want to run away, even if it is only in your mind.

It is about coming back, and staying, moment by moment.

It is really hard. It is really beautiful. It is a whole different way of thinking and being.

And it could save the world.