What is Council Practice?

Weaving Earth

Weaving Earth

Council is an ancient way and modern practice whose roots are within the natural world, spanning diverse cultures and religions. This practice elicits an experience of true community, recognizing that each voice needs to be heard, that every person has a gift, a story to share, a piece of the whole. How do we remember all our relations, embrace differences, and find our own voices, while opening to others? It seems more than ever an essential time in our nation and around the world, to awaken this deep relational heart-mind.

Council offers a way of communicating that encourages attentive listening, as well as honest and compassionate expression. It makes room for new insights and understandings, wisdom in decision making, and healing. As a personal practice, a group process and a life-pathway, council is an intrinsic ingredient of our education at any age and especially important for families, guides, teachers, therapists, caregivers or any anyone whose work involves groups.

We have been drawn to the practice of council out of appreciation and respect for the wisdom tradition of First Nations and indigenous cultures that invariably included strong circle practices that were a seamless part of their life and relationship to the earth functionally, culturally and spiritually. We have been drawn to council because of its roots in these cultures, and the magic and healing that non-hierarchical circle communication can bring when practiced devoutly. In addition to appreciation for council’s timeless roots, we are drawn to council because it works. Speaking and listening from the heart can connect people authentically in a way that strengthens relationships, actually deepens relational consciousness and builds stronger communities.  We have found that conflict exploration, co-visioning and decision making flow more productively in the council environment.  Communication between intimate partners and in families flourishes more readily when council practice is embraced.

We have introduced and gradually expanded the use of council in a variety of settings—intentional communities, educational settings from kindergarten through university, business organizations, hospitals, professional groups, prisons and restorative justice settings, municipal organizations, inter-and intra-cultural settings, rites of passage, intimate relationship, clans and family groups.  As the need for authentic and heartfelt communication has grown in our heterogeneous world, the invitation to implement council has grown with it, more rapidly in recent years.  Council practitioners steeped in The Ojai Foundation council practice are now active in many parts of the US, Europe, the UK, the Middle East, Africa and Australia.

  “…Whatever life you wear, it will become you.”  (e. e. cummings)   

 “I remember sitting in circle out in the woods when I was a child, talking with everything around me. I remember bringing special objects to first grade and passing one around for all to hold in “show and tell.” I remember how only then did my peers listen with the ears and heart of my grandmother. I remember praying with tobacco as a teenager, because the plant told me to use it in prayer to turn into my fear of cancer. I remember fasting in the wilderness and thinking that the connection and sense of belonging we long for as human beings is quite similar, what we learn in a relational world with nature tends toward common ground, similar feelings arise, similar healings emerge, and council ways are available to all of us if we open and listen.

My discovery over the past 40 years has been a coming together of both ancient and new ways, whether sitting within a co-existence project in Israel or with a family exploring reconciliation. The spirit and intention of council always holds steady, healing, communicating, learning, leading through the wisdom of the whole, growing in trust with the sacredness of all life.

I remember having the sense of “coming home” during my first council in the wilderness. It was as if my very beingness knew the practice and honored the devout listening that council inspires.

I remember many councils, over the years, with native people, who were so grateful to participate in council at the Foundation.  It is a forever memory, familiar, sometimes forgotten, recreated, and remembered.  I wonder how far back we would have to go to ask permission?  Who could claim originating or owning listening and speaking in a circle? We honor and are grateful to our teachers, and acknowledge the lineages and the teachings within the process itself.  At some point, you become it and it is part of you, belongs to you.

~ Gigi Coyle