By Barbara Belknap
Podium. Noun. A platform raised above the surrounding level to give prominence to the person on it.
On a recent foray into hundreds of digital photos on our computer, I found several of me making speeches standing behind a podium or in front of a microphone. My hair was short in some and mid-length in others. In most of the pictures, I am smiling. In one, I am singing the Ed McCurdy song, “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream”, at a big peace rally in downtown Juneau.
Since I became part of Gather the Women, I have not used podia (yes, there is a plural form) or microphones, because I am always just one woman in a circle of women. Nobody is talking at anybody. We are sharing together using Circle Principles as stated by PeerSpirit’s Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin. I may be the one who called the circle so the venue, the set-up, etc., is my responsibility, but ever afterwards responsibility is shared by the participants.
It’s such a novel concept, but when done with love and care, it works every single time. The Gather the Women website has terrific photos of circle practice from our 2012 GTW annual gathering in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
The third principle of circle is: “Center is held by reliance on wholeness or spirit.” This piece is critical. Without it, things can go haywire pretty fast. It only takes one person to bring a “shadow” to the circle and change the dynamic from one of love and compassion to discomfort and negative energy. PeerSpirit has a very helpful booklet called “Understanding Shadow and Projection in Circles and Groups”.
Other PeerSpirit booklets (all just 10 pages) on my shelf are “Understanding Energetics in Circles and Groups” by Cheryl Conklin and Ann Linnea, “PeerSpirit Council Management in Businesses, Corporations and Organizations” by Christina and Ann, and a 36-page booklet called “A Harvest of Years – A Peerspirit Guide for Proactive Aging Circles” by Cynthia Trenshaw, a teaching colleague at PeerSpirit.
Quoting from “Calling the Circle” by Christina Baldwin, “Relying on Spirit means that people perform simple ritual and consistent refocusing to acknowledge the highest intention of the group. The center of the circle literally and figuratively serves as sacred space, a place where everyone’s commitment to cooperation dwells. And when we don’t know what to do next, in circle it is appropriate to stop the action and create an environment in which people, each in his or her own way, commit themselves to asking for guidance. We grant ourselves permission to slow down, watch for what is needed, and see how we might do our part.”
Christina and Ann were presenters at the 2009 Gather the Women annual gathering at the University of Washington in Seattle. Due to the size of the group and the shape of the room, we sat in a kind of oblong. After a bit, Christina said that it was difficult for her to focus because the center of the circle was not in the center. It was off-center. I remember her saying, “Every woman in the circle should see the center when she looks straight across to the woman on the opposite side.” The center also had a grouping of objects. Christina suggested that just one meaningful object makes a good center, even in a big venue, and is less distracting. Circle practice is a part of her DNA.
I cannot recommend the PeerSpirit books enough, and, if you’re feeling that total immersion would provide you with a deeper knowledge, you can get more information on their workshops at http://www.peerspirit.com.