How to Form a Radical Feelz Circle – emmi

Trust is a hard thing to come by. Good support that is consensual and sustainable for all involved is also tricky. One way to transcend these difficulties is to form a radical feelz circle. Through a feelz circle radical community can deepen their relationships, grow as people and activists, and heal together. This can be done in an infinite number of ways depending on the needs and desires of a given network of people but there are three methods that I have found deeply transformative and warm: three P’s, council, and clearness committee.

Three P’s

This is the easiest one to kick off. You can do it with basically no preparation. You just get a few friends together in a circle. It’s best to have some kind of opening. If someone has a poem or quote they’d like to share that can be really nice. You can do a really brief meditation or something. Just something to set the space apart from normal life.

Then you go around the circle and each person speaks to the three P’s. The three P’s are Personal, Political, and Professional. Personal is just all the gooey stuff going on in your insides and life. Relationships, trauma healing, gratitude. Etc. Political is a space to discuss things you’re reading or thinking about politically. Or just the political climate you’re working in. This is a good time to discuss organizing things as well (of course this may overlap with personal and that’s all fine). Professional is the one that I think sounds the most out of place but I think it’s also really important. It’s basically just about surviving capitalism and pursuing your goals. After each person speaks they can also ask for feedback.

Norms about things like cross-talk and confidentiality should be collectively established either in the beginning or each person can just clarify if they specifically don’t want people discussing their shares inside or out of the circle. Once you have all gone around with whatever responses are desired, you have the option of having a meta round to just draw out any themes or you can just go straight to closing. A nice way to close can be to do a quick round of one thing that’s bringing each person joy lately followed by a short meditation or something. However you close it’s just nice to initiate the transfer back into normal life. Of course, none of this is mandatory. People can always pass and no one has to be anything other than where they are.

Council

Council is generally a bit more of a formal process and requires a bit more preparation but it’s also generally a deeper process. It’s a really powerful process with an uncanny ability to bring about depth, intimacy, and connection fairly quickly (given the right precursors). I’ve heard more people than I can count say that they’d actually never experienced the degree of closeness they found in council. Youth, even very young, can be taught council.  Different versions of this process have popped up all over the world, especially in indigenous North American communities and Sub-Saharan African tribes but also in Quaker communities. Council is an inherently anti-authoritarian process rooted in mutual-aid and mutual respect and in this way is very resonant with the values of anarchism.

Basically council is a circle of people all facing each other with some manner of shrine in the middle. It’s important that everyone can see everyone. The shrine is just composed of an object or two brought by each person that is important or sacred to them. Can be anything. Also in the center folks are welcomed to bring like snacks or anything sharable as a symbol of abundance.
The second important piece is the talking stick. The talking stick is chosen by the group. It can be any object that holds some shared meaning or at least neutrality to the group. Only the person with the talking stick can speak. Everyone else must listen.
Their are four basic rules to council and two additional ones. The rules are:
  • Listen from the heart
  • Speak from the heart
  • Be lean of expression (be concise)
  • Be spontaneous (listen, don’t plan your share)
The two additional ones are an agreed upon method of confidentiality (usually what you hear here, leave here unless you’ve asked the person whose story it is.) And the last one is acknowledge ripples, which basically means acknowledging that the work we do in the circle benefits the outer world and our inner worlds because the outer world is there with us in the circle just as we are with it. So in other worlds, we cast ripples from our work into the world just as it is influencing us.
Additionally a facilitator is chosen. They don’t really do much other than kind of the errata of keeping the process going such as reading the agreements and things like this. They shouldn’t actually have power over the group in any way although it is considered that sometimes they experience more of the emotional energy of the group than other people. Generally the size of a council process ranges from 2-7 people. Too much larger and it can get unwieldy but it’s still possible to do.
The process of council goes like this:
  • Planning (getting questions ready, setup, etc.)
  • Opening
    • picking of the talking stick
    • usually opens with something like a meditation and a poem or something else the group agrees on and someone presents
    • then often an invitation of the ancestors
    • If among settlers it’s a good practice to acknowledge whose land you are currently occupying
    • Intentions (set intentions for the practice)
      • This can be simple words (connection, trust, hope, love, kindness) or more complicated concepts
    • Invitations or dedications (people whose presence we want to invite or dedicate the practice to benefiting in their suffering)
    • reading of the four rules of council
  • Council
    • the facilitator asks the question the group decided on and then the talking stick goes around clockwise giving each person a chance to tell stories etc.
    • then there is a meta round where people describe their feelings and reactions
    • then a popcorn round (not clockwise just whoever wants the stick) drawing insights and patterns and applications
  • Closing
    • can be done however group wants but is usually something meditative and then something fun to kind of break up the energy and release the circle
There are a LOT of variations as well. One very interesting one is to have one person remain silent and observing throughout the council who has a special ability for creating consensus or picking up on themes or observing carefully. That person can take notes or just watch carefully and then in the final meta round they are just given the floor for an extended period of time basically to channel the energy of the group itself. This is specifically a North American indigenous variation although I don’t recall which tribe.
Other options are those used by restorative justice circles and various other circle processes. Council is often used to heal historical harms/traumas in an interrelated way to addressing conflicts. It’s a good way to get beyond the surface and develop trust with people who once were enemies. Many restorative circles begin with discussion of the values that we feel like we most appreciate in people and then a discussion of the values we most struggle to cultivate in ourselves. From this initial trust builder it is easier to move on to harder topics with the knowledge of each others humanity. Restorative circles are generally done over the course of many circles and a longer period of time. Restorative justice circles, although imperfect, are often put forward with transformative justice as pivotal pieces of the puzzle of abolishing the prison-industrial complex while destroying racialized mass-incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline.
This can also be used as a consensus decision making process. From my understanding there are some similarities to Arizona town hall meetings (no doubt owing to Navajo/Diné persons in the area among others).
Clearness Committee

A clearness committee is very different than the other two in that it focuses on one person who is at a crossroads and grappling with a difficult decision or complex deep question about their life. It feels really, really special to be held in this way. It also feels really powerful to hold someone else in this way. The question you start with may seem shallow (should I take this job or not?) but it often winds into very deep considerations quite quickly. The process is basically where one person is asked a predetermined question and then the other questioners in the circle help them dive deeper through a process of open-ended, non-leading curiosity.

Clearness committees show a type of deep valuing of one another that challenges the logic of capitalism and hyper-individualism. It invites us into a more collaborative and social form of individualism and centers the agency and autonomy of the individual and their knowledge of self.

Fundamental to a clearness committee is that everyone share the assumption that people do have the answers they need inside of them. This means that it is never the job of questioners to lead the seeker to an answer that they assume is correct. The goal of the questions is to just dig into the actual information that the seeker is sharing. The second people start to assume they know best, and impose their will into the questions, you can feel it and it corrupts the process. The most important value in a questioner is curiosity.

Guidelines (drawing heavily from here)

  1. The committee should be only about 4 people usually. One seeker (focus person), two questioners, and one note-taker is a common size.
  2. The Clearness Committee is not a cure-all. It is not for extremely fragile people or for extremely delicate problems.
  3. The seeker gives a concise statement of their problem, even if it is not clear—this process can work as well with murky issues as with clear ones. This part shouldn’t take more than about 10-15 minutes of the whole process;
    •    a recounting of relevant background factors that may bear on the problem;
    •    an exploration of any hunches they may have about what’s on the horizon regarding the problem
  4. The role of the note-taker is optional to the seeker. The note-taker can make charts, or formal notes. Whatever is most useful to the seeker. They turn this over to the seeker at the end.
  5. The meeting begins when the focus person breaks the silence, and gives a brief summary of the issue at hand. Then the committee members may speak—but everything they say is governed by one rule, a simple rule and yet one that most people find difficult and demanding: members are forbidden to speak to the focus person in any way except to ask honest, open questions. This means absolutely no advice and no amateur psychoanalysis. It means no, “Why don’t you…?” It means no, “That happened to me one time, and here’s what I did…” It means no, “There’s a book/therapist/exercise/diet that would help you a lot.” Nothing is allowed except real questions, honest and open questions, questions that will help the focus person remove the blocks to his or her inner truth without becoming burdened by the personal agendas of committee members.  I may think I know the answer to your problem, and on rare occasions I may be right. But my answer is absolutely no value to you. The only answer that counts is one that arises from your own inner truth. The discipline of the Clearness Committee is to give you greater access to that truth and allow you to have a personal dialogue with it—while the rest of us refrain from trying to define that truth for you or guide that dialogue.
  6. What is an honest, open question? It is important to reflect on this, since we are so skilled at asking questions that are advice or analysis in disguise; e.g., “Have you ever thought that it might be your mother’s fault?” The best single mark of an honest, open question is that the questioner could not possibly anticipate the answer to it; e.g., “Did you ever feel like this before?” There are other guidelines for good questioning. Try not to get ahead of the focus person’s language; e.g., “What did you mean when you said ‘frustrated’?” is a good question, but “Didn’t you feel angry?” is not. Ask questions aimed at helping the focus person rather than at satisfying your curiosity. Ask questions that are brief and to the point rather than larding them with background considerations and rationale—which make the question into a speech. Ask questions that go to the person as well as the problem—for example, questions about feelings as well as about facts.
  7. Normally, the focus person responds to the questions as they are asked, in the presence of the group, and those responses generate more, and deeper, questions. Though the responses should be full, they should not be terribly long—resist the temptation to tell your life story in response to every question! It is important that there be time for more and more questions and responses, thus deepening the process for everyone. The more often a focus person is willing to answer aloud, the more material the person—and the committee—will have to work with. But this should never happen at the expense of the focus person’s need to protect vulnerable feelings or to maintain privacy. It is vital that the focus person assume total power to set the limits of the process. So everyone must understand that the focus person at all times has the right not to answer a question. The unanswered question is not necessarily lost—indeed, it may be the question that is so important that it keeps working on the focus person long after the Clearness Committee has ended.
  8. The Clearness Committee must not become a grilling or cross-examination. The pace of the questioning is crucial—it should be relaxed, gentle, humane. A machine-gun volley of questions makes reflection impossible and leaves the focus person feeling attacked rather than evoked. Do not be afraid of silence in the group—trust it and treasure it. If silence falls, it does not mean that nothing is happening or that the process has broken down. It may well mean that the most important thing of all is happening: new insights are emerging from within people, from their deepest sources of guidance.
  9. From beginning to end of the Clearness Committee, it is important that everyone work hard to remain totally attentive to the focus person and their needs. This means suspending the normal rules of social gathering—no chitchat, no responding to other people’s questions or to the focus person’s answers, no joking to break the tension, no noisy and nervous laughter. We are simply to surround the focus person with quiet, loving space, resisting even the temptation to comfort or reassure or encourage this person, but simply being present with our attention and our questions and our care. If a committee member damages this ambiance with advice, leading questions, or rapid-fire inquisition, other members, including the focus person, have the right to remind the offender of the rules—and the offender is not at liberty to mount a defense or argue the point.
  10.  The Clearness Committee should run for the full time allotted. Don’t end early for fear that the group has “run out of questions”—patient waiting will be rewarded with deeper questions than have yet been asked. About fifteen minutes before the end of the meeting, someone should ask the focus person if he or she wants to suspend the “questions only” rule and invite committee members to mirror back what they have heard the focus person saying. If the focus person says no, the questions continue, but if he or she says yes, mirroring can begin, along with more questions if they should arise. Mirroring does not provide an excuse to give advice or fix the person—that sort of invasiveness is still prohibited. Mirroring simply means exactly what the word suggests: reflecting the focus person’s language—and body language—giving him or her a chance to say, “Yes, that’s me” or “No, that’s not,” though no response is required. In the final five minutes of the meeting, the clerk should invite members to celebrate and affirm the focus person and his or her strengths. This is an important time, since the focus person has just spent a couple of hours being very vulnerable.
  11. Remember, the Clearness Committee is not intended to fix the focus person, so there should be no sense of letdown if the focus person does not have his or her problems “solved” when the process ends. A good clearness process does not end—it keeps working within the focus person long after the meeting is over. The rest of us need simply to keep trusting that persons process.

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