Days of The Circle Way

I have many gatherings in the next six weeks that are deliberately focused on The Circle Way. That makes me quite happy — The Circle Way is such a grounding and core methodology that underlays a way of being. There is The Circle Way Practicum August 23-28 on Whidbey Island, teaching with Amanda Fenton — Amanda and I have picked up a twenty year tradition of teaching in Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea’s home teaching space. There is a workshop and a practicum in September in Australia, again with Amanda. This is new territory for both of us, and delightfully partnered with Penny Hamilton from Brisbane. There is a new weekend leadership retreat in mid September in Minnesota with Quanita Roberson and Barbara McAfee, who are both people that I love to laugh with.

I’ve been reviewing this morning some of my notes from the practicum workbook. It gets me quite excited. I love the feeling of added nuance that arrives when it feels like I’m on the on ramp to those events. I get excited to teach. I get excited to play off of what these really skilled teaching companions bring to the table themselves.

One of my favorite learnings about The Circle Way came earlier this year in conversation with Christina. She was framing intent that she and Ann felt very deeply in offering The Circle Way. “We wanted a culturally neutral, light structure to correct what goes awry in so many contemporary forms of meeting.” I’ve always loved the way that Christina can take a deeply spiritual practice and bring it down to the everyday. I’m a pretty natural question catcher. From this statement it makes we want to engage a group around questions of what goes awry in so many meetings, and, what is possible in these meetings?

Circle creates a container for so many of the important conversations needed in the ongoing weave that is humanity. It’s a container for the challenging conversations, the ones that we are often afraid to take on. It’s a container for some of the exciting conversations also, to give them more depth and reach. Wisdom-based change arises from people together. That’s pretty cool. It just needs some support and structure.

I’m grateful for wise people that have guided me. I’m grateful for imaginative and kind teaching companions. I’m grateful to further immerse myself in teachings and practices from The Circle Way over these coming weeks. Because, well, they feel like home in how they animate realness together.

Without, Basics, and The Deep Dive

Tomorrow I’m teaching and co-leading the first class of a four-session virtual series, The Circle Way: A Deep Dive. I’m doing so at the invitation of my friends and colleagues Rowan Simonsen and Amy Lenzo. Together we’ve been meeting and creating this series for the last three months. Rowan is a deep soul. His pace and skills are very grounding. Amy is the sweet spot between genius and deep caring human. We’ve known each other for years, initially through The World Cafe community.

Yesterday I was sorting through my notes and scribbles from these three months to clarify what I want to share in the class. I was facing the challenge of having a lot to share — a deep dive welcomes this — but needing to be quite discerning about how much to share and how to knit it into a simple narrative that can help people make sense of many important nuances of The Circle Way. The teachings will be in 20 minute chunks, followed by an essential engagement in smaller groups.

A key structural distinguisher of The Circle Way compared to other forms of circle and other participative leadership forums is “The Components Wheel” above. It’s the basic structure that defines the practice that is The Circle Way, originating from Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin and their teachings over the last 25 years. As Christina has shared with me, “we wanted the lightest structure to help correct what goes awry in most contemporary forms of meeting.”

What I really enjoyed in yesterday’s preparation was playing with each of the components and creating a bit of inquiry: 1) What is it like without this component — what tends to happen? 2) What is the basic and essential definition, practice, or todo of  the component? And 3) what is the deep dive importance of this component — what is the nuancing of it’s practice that can transform the experience from a meeting to a moment-maker?

As example, consider the component of a Check-in. A Check-in is a beginning. A chance for each person in the circle to speak a bit to the whole group (or to a partner or small group if the number of participants is significantly high).

Without a check-in, when it is absent, what do we tend to get in meetings? Often it can feel like a jarring start. Bam! Right in to the content. Right in to the first third of the movie without setting the scene. No real attention to the people that are showing up in the room and how they are. No welcome of the unique circumstances that may be influencing people who are about to work together. Absence of check-in often leads to absence of people showing up and being more fully attentive together — more distracted, less connected.

The basics of a check-in involve giving each person a chance to respond to a question, whether a sequential passing of a piece or in popcorn style, speaking when ready regardless of order. My teaching colleague and friend Amanda Fenton recently posted a piece on Questions for Check-ins — she includes many important simple choices for how to begin (and how to see the deeper dive of this component). Check-in gives you a kind start that is much more likely to lead to the things most of us are looking for in our meetings —  fulfillment, productivity, and appreciation. Good, right.

My check-ins tend to invite response to two questions — “Is there anything you need or want to say that helps you be more present in this meeting together?” Responses are always interesting. From “I need a cup of coffee” to “my babysitter was sick today and I had to juggle child care.” Regardless, they create a glimpse into who is sitting next to us or across the table. The second question is usually about the work at hand — e.g., “What have you seen in the last week (or day, or hour) that further amplifies the need for what we are doing together?” This kind of question really elevates purpose in the room. Presence and purpose together — even a taste as one of the first things we do in meeting — wow!

The deep dive is more than giving each person a turn to speak. It’s definitely more that being nice together in the democracy that is dialogue. The deep dive is more than using a talking / listening piece. The deeper dive of check-in is about getting present and showing up to give full attention to one another and to the task at hand. In a rather multi-tasked population, most being pressured to squeeze much into short periods of time, paying attention only to what is in front of us has become difficult, right. Gotta think about the next meeting while I’m in this one. The deep dive of this component, check-in, is about welcoming a moment of wholeness for individuals and the group that interrupts contemporary meeting patterns of fracture and distraction. The check-in, for the moment, forms the flock, so that we can go differently together.

I’m looking forward to encouraging participants in this virtual class, and in the five day practicum and retreat that Amanda and I offer together this August to notice what happens when the component is not in place, and also to give keen attention to what is going on in such simple, and yes, I would say, liberating structure that changes how meetings happen and how human beings come alive in them.

Please join us. Not too late for the virtual class. And this summer’s practicum is starting to fill with really good people.