Circle Facilitation Model

Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle.

BLACK ELK, Black Elk Speaks

The Circle Sanctum Group Facilitation Model is based on several other powerful and effective group facilitation models, including The Center for Courage and Renewal’s Circles of Trust, Christina Baldwin and Anna Linnea’s The Circle Way, and Robin Carnes’s book Sacred Circle. Most, if not all, of these models themselves draw inspiration from Indigenous community decision-making practices as well as the Quaker Business Method in the Religious Society of Friends.

Good group facilitation is essential to the success of A Mighty Kindness and is the backbone of our program offerings. We believe that we deepen our transformation and growth as individuals and strengthen the influence and health of a community when we can sit together in a circle—either virtually or physically—and learn together. Our ability to listen to each other, to be intentional with our words and deeds, and to reflect light into our individual and collective shadow is essential for growth and healing.

Following are the principles and values for the Circle Sanctum Group Facilitation Model as well as those that govern the House of Belonging.

We believe:

  1. Circles should be welcoming and a sanctuary for all. We each come to circle with our own different experiences, realities, gifts, and even different areas of familial, cultural, and societal wounding. We are a resource-rich community committed to doing no harm and continually listen and educate ourselves so that we may remain that way.
  2. We cannot presume to fully know or understand another’s experience. We speak in “I” statements versus in generalized “you” or third-person statements since we cannot fully speak on behalf of another person or group of people. (Note: there are some exceptions to this, in particular when it comes to institutional or systemic wounding of entire populations to which the member belongs.)
  3. We must listen deeply—without agenda—to not only hear each other but to learn from each other. The power of witnessing others and of being witnessed is one of the most transformative experiences a person can have in community. As Robin Carnes says in her book Sacred Circles, while we may not always agree with what is being shared, “attentive, nonjudgmental listening provides the supportive, encouraging environment needed to coax people out of their fear of judgment and their self-protective armor.” 
  4. When holding space for another, pay attention to what is being said—or not said—versus preparing what you will be saying when it’s your turn to share. An easy question to ask yourself at the moment is “Am I truly listening or am I just waiting to talk?” Trust that whatever needs to be said will arise from your presence in the moment.
  5. In the transformational power of paradox. The ability to hold two seemingly opposite ideas as being both true at once leads to spiritual maturity and to a deepening of self-compassion and compassion for others. Growth happens when we can hold our beliefs lightly and are open to other possibilities and outcomes. 
  6. Laughter is a sacred and holy practice. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote, “​Humour is, in fact, a prelude to faith; and laughter is the beginning of prayer.  Laughter must be heard in the outer courts of religion, and the echoes of it should resound in the sanctuary.” That goes for our sanctuary as well.
  7. A teacher and a light exists within each of us and there is a leader in every chair. While a member of the AMK faculty will be acting as an experienced facilitator and teacher (aka Lantern Keeper) for every circle, each community member is also encouraged to act as Lantern Keepers for their fellow community members through their presence and participation in the group. At a practical level, each person is encouraged to share a poem, meditation, prayer, or blessing at the opening or closing of the circle at some point. Regardless, every member’s mere presence in the circle is an opportunity to teach others.
  8. It’s important to leave space for spirit when in circle together. Popcorn-style conversation is allowed only after everyone has had a chance to share but this is deep work and so a sacred pause between sharing is often essential.
  9. Silence is an acceptable response. In fact, not having an answer is not only natural but sometimes essential. While everyone will be given a chance to share, sharing is not required to be considered a group participant. That’s because…
  10. Quiet, solitude, self-reflection, and honoring the cycles of our lives is essential to circle work. Sometimes our learnings are not “speech ripe” and we need time to process internally before sharing. There will be times that circle members are in a cycle of deep introspection and other times when we are ready to speak up. 
  11. Work is invitational. Our culture places too high a value on hand-raising: allowing thoughts and emotions to rise more naturally means we are listening not only to others, but to ourselves. We invite others into the work but do not require it.
  12. We take care of our own needs. Members are responsible for asking for what they need rather than presuming our fellow circle participants are able to understand or anticipate them for us. As such, there is no fixing or solutions in circle unless specifically requested by a group member.
  13. Innovation is achieved as a group through holding the tension of conflict for growth. We will not always agree with each other when in circle and sometimes another person’s contributions or style may be triggering for us. We encourage members to stay present in uncomfortable situations—as long as it’s not at the expense of your own health and well-being—to help transform as a group by asking for what they need and listening to their fellow circle members. 
  14. Confidentiality is essential to the sanctity of the circle. In fact, we honor double confidentiality, which means that not only are you not allowed to share what happens in circle with others, but if someone shares something in circle that you would like to discuss with them outside of the circle, you must request if it is okay for you to do so. (e.g., “Jessica, you shared something about your experience as a child during our last circle. Are you open to discussing that further with me now?”)  Sometimes a circle member shares something very personal or tender and once the circle is opened, they are not ready to discuss it again, even with members of the circle. We value each other’s own authority and autonomy and respect the power of “no.”

Please note that circle work is not a substitute for therapy. Given the intimate and open nature of group discussions, things may come up where you will want to seek the support of a professional counselor.

“In this culture, we know how to create spaces that invite the intellect to show up, to argue its case, to make its point. We know how to create spaces that invite the emotions to show up, to express anger or joy. We know how to create spaces that invite the will to show up, to consolidate effort and energy around a common task. And we surely know how to create spaces that invite the ego to show up, preening itself and claiming its turf! But we seem to know very little about creating spaces that invite the soul to show up, this core of ourselves, our selfhood.”

—Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness

What to Expect in Circle

When you join a book circle, creative circle, or inner sanctum circle, we want the experience to feel sacred but not overly precious. While the core beliefs outlined above will always be a part of our circles, following is a general outline of what to expect when we gather.

  1. Every circle has a center, a neutral space where we invite the spirit of the community to join us. In virtual circles, the center will be virtual but is still present. Your facilitator will light a special candle for the circle on their altar or on a small table for the duration of your time together. You are encouraged to engage in this ritual in your own home or private space, as well. 
  2. Every circle has a beginning, middle, and end. The circle opens with ritual at the beginning, moves into content, conversation, and sharing in the middle, and ends with a closing of the circle and a blessing to send each circle member safely back into the world.
  3. The facilitator will open each circle by ringing the singing bowl for a minute of silence as an invitation to center ourselves, to land in the present moment, and to invite the spirit of the community into the circle. You may close your eyes or softly focus them during this time.
  4. During the ritual opening of the circle and after the moment of silence, a circle member is invited to contribute a brief reflection, poem, meditation, passage. (Each circle’s invitation to share during the circle opening will vary. Your group facilitator will let you know how.)
  5. When so moved after the reflection, poem, meditation or passage, the facilitator will then ring the singing bowl three times to move the group out of the opening ritual and into the circle content.
  6. Depending on a circle’s format, size, and duration, circle members may be invited to share a one word or one phrase check-in. We encourage people to keep it to one word or brief phrase.
  7. Once the circle is underway, the following are best practices to ensure an open, safe, and equitable environment for all:
    1. During the circle, we engage in compassionate listening, that is listening without agenda and without an attempt at solving or fixing.
    2. We speak  in “I” statements to help increase intimacy, authenticity, and trust.
    3. During a typical circle, it helps each member feel heard by leaving a “space for spirit”—that is a pause or a beat—between different circle members sharing. Limit banter and cross-talk. The circle facilitator will let folks know when we’re having a “popcorn-style” group discussion vs. individual sharing and contributions.
    4. During a circle, one person talks at a time without interruption. There may be times when a facilitator lets the circle know when we need to move a conversation along but will do so as unobtrusively as possible.
    5. Sharing is invitational. The facilitator may call on you to create space for your voice but silence/passing is an acceptable response.
    6. We honor Double Confidentiality by not sharing with anyone outside of the circle and by asking for permission to ask someone about something they shared in a circle.
  8. We close the circle by summarizing any invitations or reflections that came up during our gathering, reminding people to stay in touch between circle sessions via their private House of Belonging group, and with a brief blessing. 

“By its simple shape, circle includes everyone without distinction, welcomes and invites all to participate, and creates equality among those gathered.” 

― Christina Baldwin, The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair