The Talking Circle
by Larry Merculieff
Summary: Being present is the key to being part of the solutions needed today. The talking circle has been used in all indigenous cultures in different forms as a way to come together as a people to practice being present, welcoming communal wisdom and unburdening oneself to be able to think clearly. Merculieff gives nine key rules of engagement for trying this at home.
The talking circle has been used in all indigenous cultures in different forms. Among the Yupik, they have the Qus’iaq. Tlingit used the long houses. Aleuts used the men’s and women’s house. Rita Blumenstein, a very respected Yupik elder and healer, says that “Unless we unburden our hearts, we cannot think clearly.” The talking circle symbolically represents a place where everyone is equal. It is a time to let go of feelings and thoughts that burden you and to do it in front of witnesses. It is a time to speak your own truth in a safe place. As it is said, “The truth shall set you free.” Others in the circle are to simply listen without comment or judgment, knowing that we all carry emotional burdens and we all struggle and suffer in life.
It is a time to witness another human being with the understanding that to share what is in one’s heart in front of others takes courage, and we can recognize this courage. It is a time to witness another human being, in their struggle, heroically work to release what is heavy on their hearts and to recognize that we too carry our own issues, no different than any other human being. By being present and witnessing, you help another human being to heal. Sharing what is in your heart and mind in front of others helps you and everyone to open their hearts that were kept closed because we were hurt by others in our past, or where it was not safe to open your hearts because others might judge you. A closed heart causes suffering and pain in oneself and can hurt others, especially those we love and care for. The talking circle gives everyone an opportunity to “let go” of things we need to let go of and to do it in a safe setting where everyone is doing the same.
A talking circle is not a counseling session. It is simply a time to give anyone an opportunity to speak what is in their hearts and/or on their minds in the presence of supportive witnesses.
RULES OF THE TALKING CIRCLE
- What is said in the talking circle stays in the talking circle and is never discussed with anyone outside the circle. Confidentiality is very important and everyone is expected to be “on their honor” in keeping confidentiality.
- Everyone is expected just to listen to what another is saying, without thinking about responding to that person. No one should try to comment on what someone else shared without the express permission of the person involved.
- Everyone is expected to be respectful of other people in the circle at all times. This is not a place to criticize or say negative things about others in the circle.
- The person holding the “talking feather” or some other object is the only who has the right to talk. The person with the talking feather is never interrupted. Even if it takes several minutes to think about what they wish to say or if there is a pause in the conversation. Whoever has the “talking feather” has the floor. You are not required to say anything when you get the “talking feather,” you can pass it to the next person if you don’t feel ready to talk or simply don’t want to talk.
- When the “talking feather” comes to you, you may talk about whatever is in your heart or on your mind. There may be an overall topic that the Talking Circle is discussing but you are in no way limited to discussing something related to anything anyone has said. A talking circle is not limited in topic content. You are free to say whatever you desire, without limitation or fear. Talking circles are safe environments and you should feel comfortable knowing that no one will interrupt or criticize you.
- The circle can go around several times or until everybody has had at least one opportunity to talk. If the group is large, time constraints may be placed beforehand, although remembering that interruptions are not allowed. The “talking feather” can be passed around once again to give everyone the feeling that they have left nothing unsaid. There are at least two rounds of the talking circle. The first round is to introduce yourself to the group and tell a little about yourself, like where you were raised, who raised you, what kind of work you do, where you went to school…whatever you want to share. The first round is not a round to talk about what is on your heart and/or mind. The second round is to begin sharing what is on your mind/heart. After the group is finished with the second round, the talking feather will be passed around a third time to see if there is anything else the person wants to share.
- Usually talking circles do not have observers, only participants. Even the talking circle facilitator is a participant.
- Participants should not try to comfort someone who may express pain or cry unless the person talking asks for such support while they are sharing. If the person who is sharing wants such support he/she can say something like “I would like some support”. The person giving support can place a hand on the back, behind the heart of the person sharing. Or, if the person sharing wants, they can hold out their hand so that the support person can hold it. Sometimes a support person simply stands behind the person with their hands on the shoulders of the person sharing. Sometimes two people can provide support…one to hold a hand, the other to place a hand on the back of the person sharing. It depends on how deep the person who is sharing is going in their process.
The whole point of this is that the person sharing can ask for what they want and are in complete control of the way they are sharing and what they want to share. Nothing is forced or required.
- These rules can be changed or added to if someone suggests changes or additions and the group agrees.