Circle Buffet

Lupines are one of my favorites. These particular lupines growing in my garden are about three feet tall, the top one foot of which flowers. Where I live the flowered top comes in early May and lasts for about a month. I do my best to encourage these lupines to grow and to give them room to reseed themselves. I post this picture here mostly because I love the lupine beauty in it. I also post this picture here because it’s not a stretch to admonish for beauty in groups of humans in varied task, production, and adventure together. “Beauty” is one of the narratives that deserves more attention and intention.

I’m convening several online classes on circle these days. One group is a client system I’m cohosting with Quanita Roberson, a system that works in some very tough and challenged settings. Two groups are open enrollment participants that I’m cohosting with Amanda Fenton, participants that also work in a variety of settings in which thoughtful listening and speaking are becoming more imperative. I would suggest that we are all trying to create more beautiful spaces together.

Quanita Roberson and I recently recorded a podcast, 23 minutes worth that we called, Circle Buffet. I was really hungry to follow a few threads of learning about circle as methodology and as way of being. The podcast has a bit on emergence. It has a bit on the importance of being circle and doing circle. It has an anchor in the importance of creating connection.

So, here’s to cultivating beauty amongst human beings in dialogue, learning, and connection. Here’s to making room to reseed. Here’s to reclaiming the tone and possibility of beauty, even in difficult and challenging circumstance.

Five Key Clarifications for Circle

It’s true that I like these flowers for their roundedness. They are a type of hydrangea (snowball). The ones in this picture grow on bush near my home. I think there are near five hundred blossoms now. It’s impressive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about rounded things over the last weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot about circle. That’s not particularly new, but there is a new clarification that feels like it has been on the tip of my tongue in my circle teaches. I also have a group I’m working with that has asked for a four-week online program to learn circle. So, yes, roundedness.

It was for this four-week program, and with my colleague Quanita Roberson, that I began thinking about some clarifying points for circle. I was seeking one sentence on a few aspects of this beloved process methodology that goes so much beyond methodology into ways of being. I’m giving myself permission to dwell with the short descriptions that I shared with that group, and that became quite a powerful invitation for us all learning together.

1. The what of circle is connection. People relate too connection. With a good friend. With family. With an idea. These are good stories to surface that create doorway into the essence of circle that is more than technique.

2. The “how” of connection (and circle) is container. There are some structural aspects of circle that are intended to help to “do” circle. It’s more than just moving the chairs. But it doesn’t have to be a lot more. The container is for growing presence that both comes from, and contributes to, a connection.

3. The “why” of circle is health and vitality. Healthy self. Healthy team. Healthy community. And sometimes health is synonym for learning. In the spirit of, “if you want a system (a group of people) to be healthy and in learning, connect it to more of itself.”

4. The “where” of circle is where you are. That may sound a bit cheeky, but I don’t intend it that way. I continue to learn that I can be circly anywhere. It is often in subtle ways. For example, I can be circly just by my orientation to a figurative center, that most often I will reference indirectly, or not at all.

5. The “when” of circle is, whenever. OK, that is a bit cheeky. In more detail, the when is when it is important to shift from social interaction to a more deliberate kind of listening and speaking that isn’t cross-talking banter.

I believe we live in a time when we must all get better at having difficult conversations. Or at having important conversations. Who are we now? Who to we choose to be now? What does that begin to look like in our shared behaviors?

I believe the times call for us to cultivate more kindness and consciousness together, to cultivate more flow and harmony with life itself. Yes, that is inherently messy. Yes, a pandemic has a way of surfacing these kinds of questions.

I believe we live in a time when we need to get more rounded in our instincts and in our expectations.

I’m glad that hydrangeas and good friends remind me of this.

On Circle — Three Things

One of the things that I love about hosting people in circle, and teaching about circle, is that I continue to learn things about circle and we people who come to it. Yes, it’s a practice. Yes, these are things remembered — “oh yah, that again.” These are bits of nuancing that I would suggest help improve the strength of the practice — circle as group process methodology, and, circle as rather healthy way of being.

From hosting and teaching yesterday, here’s some of my list that I scribbled into my notebook.

  • Tears — are welcomed and need not be apologized for. It remains interesting to me that the default as cultural meeting pattern is to apologize for having tears. Like it’s wrong. In this gathering, my cohost Quanita and I said what we tend to say when someone sheds a few tears and apologizes. “No need to apologize. The unlearning / relearning here is to bring more of ourselves into the room, not less.” That doesn’t mean every aspect of a complete meltdown — that’s a bit different. I’ve loved the skills that I’ve seen in people to be honest about how they are (or transparent, or vulnerable), yet, a bit contained within their own emotional hoop. Oh, and with tears — because we are emotional beings — we encourage people not to rescue the person in tears. What it looks like is people getting their own tissue, or asking for it, rather than a default, yet often unnamed norm of “clean that up.”
  • Rim — is what all of us in a circle hold with one another. We each have a job to help hold our part of the container. It’s a bit like forming an edge to keep what is being spoken — stories, questions, wonderings, musings, vulnerabilities — in the circle. Most contemporary meetings are rather bipolar in role descriptions. You’re either the one in charge doing and seeing everything. Or, your are a passive participant not needing to fully engage (and often engaging through phones about other things). The shared responsibility of all in a circle is contribute to holding a rim. Or to hold our part of the bowl, if you will.
  • Making it up — is a good skill in circle. It’s what it sounds like when the talking piece comes to us and we don’t know what to say. “I thought I was going to talk about this, but now I feel inspired to share this.” Or, “I forgot to bring an object for the center of this circle, but what I can offer is this scarf that I’m wearing.” Making it up isn’t about bullshitting. It isn’t about telling lies. It isn’t “fake it ’til you make it.” Rather, I’d say that making it up is about a more keen ability to be in the present moment, and share what arises from within us. We’re all learning this. I would suggest this is a non-performative aspect of “being” in circle rather than “doing” circle.

Yes, one of the things about hosting and teaching in circle is that I feel hosted and taught. It’s what a circle tends to gift back to us that sit in them, and that lean in to the possibility that some mystery of being together as humans might just come to the surface for the betterment of who we are and how we are together.


It’s a couple of the most basic shapes.

In the background, a circle, this time for 50 people. It is the hearth to hold us turned to one another. For four hours. In view of each other. In some heart. In some intention.

In the foreground, rectangular tables with groupings of four chairs at each ends. These are pods, with paper and markers. To again hold us turned to one another in smaller groups with deliberate questions that will invite possibility.

On this day, yesterday, it is a school system and community. I’m cohosting with Quanita Roberson. We are helping to gather faculty. And parents. And board members. Spaces readied for those who want to be involved in the imagination of a next layer of strategic plan, sourced by wondering together. For their school. For their families. For the broader community. For the broader field of education.

These are two of the most basic shapes I use. That ready us. To go together, in better ways. In head, heart, belly, and hands.