With its roots in ancient and indigenous cultures, The Way of Council is a intuitive relational model of group communication that supports authentic expression, generosity, compassion, equanimity, and courage, reminding us that we are all connected to and touched by each other’s experience. As a Bearing Witness model of communication, the practice of Council creates the space for us to ground, presence, and resource ourselves and each other as we hold space for sharing stories, different perspectives, and individual and community distress and grief. It’s practice of authentic expression, compassionate speech, and deep listening invites those present to gather their awareness, recall intentions, become attuned to self and others. Reflecting on what best serves allows collective insight, wisdom, and healing to intuitively emerge.
Developed by Roshi Joan Halifax for the Ojai Foundation, the Way of Council draws upon Native American, classical Greek, and Quaker practices of sitting in circle and using a talking piece to listen and speak from the heart. Halifax shared the Way of Council was shared with Ven. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who wove brought it into the Sangha practice of the Order of Interbeing. It has also been written about by Zimmerman & Coyle (“The Way of Council”).
The Four Principles of the Way of Council are to:
- Listen from the Heart. (Not listening to for a response.)
- Share from the Heart (Not to impress or “know.”)
- Be lean of speech (Practicing generosity and allowing space for others.)
- Spontaneity (Responding in the present moment, without pre-writing our comments.)
We also practice:
- No cross-talk: comments are kept general and not personally-directed
- Speaking from personal experience. (Not teaching others).
Someone opens the Council by light a candle and dedicating the Council.
In addition to the above guidelines, a Talking Piece is used to hold space for whom is speaking. When we are holding the talking piece we know that we will not be interrupted, that we can be in silence, shed tears, or sing and that this will be listened to and witnessed by others in the circle.
Council is concluded by blowing out the candle.
More intuitive and interpersonal, without the formulaic language guidelines, the Way of Council is also flexible and can be adapted for a wide variety or purposes, settings, and group sizes, from small groups to very large groups.