Three Principles, The Circle Way

Later today I’ll be teaching a short segment for The Circle Way, An Online Class to Introduce and Nuance The Components Wheel, a four-week class that I cohost with Amanda Fenton. We’ve had an overall plan for this class each of the five times we’ve offered it in the last three years. I like it that, in addition to our plan, Amanda and I bring ourselves bring forward our current learnings, nuancing, and questions. Today’s short segment that I offer will be on Three Principles: Rotate Leadership, Responsibility is Shared, and Reliance is on Wholeness. Three R’s.

A few teasers:

Rotate Leadership

  • Imagery: “more hands make light work”
  • Connected Principle: “people support what they create”
  • Nuance: “not about just being nice; it’s about contributing to the health of a system”
  • When Absent: “lots of pressure for the regular leader; can unintentionally reinforce a hierarchy; missed opportunity for inclusion”
  • When Present: “shared contributions; builds kindness; builds attentiveness”
  • A Practice: “rotate the roles of host, guardian, scribe so that more people can build and offer their leadership”

Responsibility is Shared

  • Imagery: “when cleaning the kitchen, until all of us are done, none of us are done”
  • Connected Principle: “who we are together is different and more than who we are alone”
  • Nuance: “helps create the ‘us of us'”
  • When Absent: “unintended detachment, distractedness, fragmentation”
  • When Present: “ownership, attentiveness, integration”
  • A Practice: “pay attention as if you were leading the next part, needing to integrate with what has already happened”

Reliance on Wholeness

  • Imagery: “sometimes the truth depends on a walk around the lake”
  • Connected Principle: “I don’t know, but we do”
  • Nuance: “circle creates a composite being, not just a sum of the participants”
  • When Absent: “circle comes off more mechanical”
  • When Present: “more likely to experience an emergence of awareness”
  • A Practice: “pass a piece to invite what people are noticing is arising from the circle now”

Circle remains at the root of so much group work and facilitation. In the story I tell myself, circle helps restore the ability to turn to one another, so that we might find connection, learning, and practice in the “us of us.” 



Grateful this weekend for some rich and thoughtful discussion and learning on center. I’ve been on Whidbey Island, cohosting The Circle Way Advanced Practicum with Amanda Fenton (we think of it as a gathering on “advancing practice”). Very glad for the group of participants that could nuance and share inquiry about what center is. Hearth. Alter. The heart.

Several of us have been in some conversations for a while about center. About developing a relationship with center. Which sometimes means silence. Which sometimes means source. Which sometimes means a relationship with something very non-static, that catches importance, and invisible threads, and contributions from participants. Sometimes it’s just the being together that can animate unique learning.

I loved the part of our conversations that have added to the notion of a circle, and thus a center, being a container to help be in relationship with what is unresolved, yet so desperately needs attention.

Gratitude to the 13 of us that spend the last five days together in learning, connection, and centering.

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.

Courageous Meeting

Today begins Courageous Meeting: The Circle Way. There are 28 of us. At an Episcopal Center, Transfiguration Spirituality Center near Cincinnati. There will be lots of big and small circles. To lean into detail and to soften hearts to bigger picture. To remember the feeling. To improve practice. To grow and lend courage.


People everywhere seek
and accomplishment.

We do it as individuals.
We hope for it as groups — teams, organizations, families,communities.

Being and belonging
requires courage from all of us.

Circle guides us.
​In meetings and in community.
From inner to outer.
From now to the longer arc.

This workshop is about growing new culture as individuals and groups.
It’s a culture remembered, and, imagined into being.
It’s creating enough space to get to meaning and emptiness.
It’s creating enough structure to get to order and practice.

“All life is meeting.”
Martin Buber, 20th Century Philosopher