The Format: Starting A Wisdom Circle

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 To encourage and facilitate the use of circles, Wisdom Circles has formulated a set of guidelines that we call the Ten Constants.  The constants have been inspired by councils of indigenous peoples, informed by support and dialogue groups, and drawn from our own experience.  The Ten Constants create a safe container that allows participants to tap their innate capacity to relate to each other in a context of wisdom and compassion.



Honor the circle as sacred time a space  by doing simple rituals to mark the beginning and end.  A ritual creats a shared sensory experience and a demarcation from ordinary life.  Light a candle, for example, or take a moment to breath deeply.  Share a brief period of silence, or burn some incense or sage.  Listen to a selection of evocative music or to a guided meditation.  You can be as creative as you want with this.

Create a collective center by mutually agreeing upon a topic or intention.  This might be visioning the future, healing wounds, going within to learn more about ourselves, making decisions or planning actions that sustain and enrich life for ourselves and others.  A group may choose a focus specific to its needs.  A question is usually a useful way the frame the topic.  Make a physical center in the middle of the circle.

Ask to be informed by our highest human values such as compassion and truth, by the wisdom of those who have gone before us, and by the needs of those yet to be born.  You can also invoke mythical or historical figures who symbolize desired values.  One person can speak for the group, or each person can do a personal invocatioin.

Express gratitutde for the blessings and teachings of life.  Acknowledge and honor our interdependence with everything in the Web of Life.  In silence, or by taking turns, give thanks for those things great and small whose gifts enrich and nourish you.

Create a container for full participation and deep truth-telling.  Allow each person to speak without interruption or cross-talki.  Use a talking stick (or any object that has symbolic significance).  The object may be passed around the circle or taken from and returned to the center.  Respect a member’s right to silence.  Keep everything confidential.

Listen from the heart and serve as compassionate witness for the other people in the circle.  To be an effective witness requires paying attention to what’s being said without interpreting, judging, or trying to “fix” or rescue the person speaking.  It also means a willingness to discover something about yourself in the stories of other people.

Speak from the heart and from direct experience.   When you are moved to speak, do so thoughtfully and with care.  Avoid abstract, conceptual language, and stay in touch as much as possible with your feelings.  As this capacity develops, you may be moved to share those feelings and to say difficult things without self-judgment and without blaming others.

Make room for silence to enter to allow for reflection, for meditation, for feelings to surface and for a sense of the sacred to emerge as the group proceeds.

Empower each member to be a co-facilitator of the process.  If possible, designate a different person to be the circle-maker each time.  This person readies the physical setting, initiates the opening and closing rituals and facilitates consensus on a topic.  Encourage each other to give voice to feelings of satisfaction or discomfort with the group’s process.

Commit to an ongoing relationship with each person in the circle so as to engender trust and caring among members.  Extend that caring to other people, to the Earth and all her creatures by practicing the capacities developed within the wisdom circle in daily life.


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 Usually one of two people initiate a circle.  Make your intentions and hopes for the group, and the fact that you will be using this format, clear to everyone invited to partipate.  We recommend a circle of 3-13 people, meeting monthly or more often.  Length meeting affected by number present (1-3).  A common opening ritual is to have each person light a candle and ask to be informed by our best human qualities.  Expressing gratitude and putting out the candle is often used as a closing ritual.  It’s best to pose topics in a question form.  Rather than “Let’s talk about relationships,” ask: “Why do relationships fall apart?” or “What can you do when one person in a relatioinship is changing and the other isn’t?”  Ask hard questions such as:  “What’s the most challenging thing you’re facing right now?”  Finish one round before you begin another question.  Each person needs to feel safe from embarrassment or criticism in order to risk deep truth-telling.   The constants are meant to be guidelines.  There’s no need to be stiff or solemn.

When a wisdom circle meets regularly over an extended period of time, amazing things happen.  People lear to trust the process; the circle itself becomes the teacher.  Participants both received and contribute to the group’s collective wisdom.  Indiviual visions emerge and coalesce into a shared vision.

Those initially reticent to speak find their voice.  Those facile with words discover a deeper, more authentic source to speak from.  You learn how to listen nonjudgmentally.  Tears fome as you recognize yourself in another person’s story.  Healing occurs when you laugh at yourself.  Your body deeply relaxes when you dare to speak your truth and you feel truly heard.  There is a relief in knowing that you are not alone in crisis or in marking a rite of passage.  And it is profoundly satisfying to see your conscious behavior within the circle translate into a healthier way of being in the world.