I have mentioned the Taking Stick several times, and some of you have picked up on it. Potentially, it is much more than it seems. Here is a profound article by my friend Palden Jenkins , written in the mid-1990's, in which he examines some of the less usually understood things that you can do with the Talking Stick, alongside some of his extraordinary practical experiences in developing its use.
aka Xavier Hermes
We can fundamentally change many of our major world problems using wholesome and one-minded thought, moved by deeply-felt feelings. The 'power of the presence' locks on to us when sufficient people clearly focus together on a common purpose. The challenge ahead is thus to evolve sound ways of doing this. Here, we're talking about morphic fields and the Hundredth Monkey principle – aspects of the collective unconscious in which we all participate. Our future is looking pretty bleak, and the evolutionary clock is ticking: so it's necessary, I believe, to act on this frontier of possibility, to work at it.
This matter has preoccupied me since I was an LSE student during 'the troubles' around 1970: we students met the challenges of the time with innocent disarray and ineptitude – even though our message was sincere and genuine. This stirred me deeply, and since that time I have sought ways to bring people together into larger-scale social process. It took until 1983 to develop a prototype, which was then explored over the years in many circles involving hundreds of people. Now with some experience, we're re- applying 'circle-working' to world-healing, in the Hundredth Monkeying inner aid project (M100), started in 1995.
Here, I wish to share a little about using the talking-stick. This is one valuable means by which such social process can be activated. In my experience, this procedure moves far beyond the constraints of awakening-by-recipe, charismatic teachers and potted transformation trainings. It brings us to an edge, to a point where sensitivity, danger and genius meet. It also goes beyond democratic process.
Use of the talking-stick achieves many magic outcomes, all at once. It teaches us how to meld heartily with others while also managing to 'hold our own space'. Talking-stick is actually a misnomer: it is a listening-stick, empowering everyone to give full attention to everyone else in turn, bearing witness to their situation, their perspective and insight. It is a key instrument in world transformation, in all possible contexts. It's not the stick itself which does this – it's the procedure which it represents which unlocks social healing. Being heard, we step off our soap-boxes, our hobby-horses and past histories: a shared understanding emerges, encompassing all people. This heals conflicts, uncovering brilliant solutions and opening avenues to forwardness. Sounds unlikely, yet it works.
Use of the talking-stick is archetypal, as old as the hills. It is inherently remembered – indigenous to many cultures. I learned it from Maoist China, though many know of it from the native Americans. To my knowledge, it was not seriously practised in Britain until the now-fairytale Glastonbury Camps of 1984-86. It was then carried over to other camps and moots from 1987 onwards. We then called it pow-wow. At first it worked well – deep truths emerged, bonds were forged and frontiers crossed. However, from 1987 it went into a slow decline, much because of misunderstanding, disrespect and trust-breakdown, glared at by the self-interested miasma of Thatcherism, looming around us.
Everyone assumed they knew what the procedures entailed. This was not so. Consequently, pow-wow soon became a forum for gripes, projections and arguments – procedures became bent and eroded. It lost energy, hurting some people, invoking a genie of judgmentalism, manipulation and muddle, splintering the movement. From this I eventually learned that the atmosphere of such circles needed careful re-cultivation in the 1990s. In M100, an inner aid project dedicated to alleviating world crises, I instituted revised procedures and safety-valves, changing the name to AllTing – a Viking term meaning both 'open moot' and 'everything'. It paid off.
The talking-stick can be used by any number of people, though it gets really interesting when numbers top twenty. In our aid retreats, we 'work the circle' each day with some eighty people. I find this is a current maximum – larger numbers take too long. This will one day change.
The principle is simple. After preliminaries and a review of procedures, the stick is placed in the centre of the circle – our stick is of yew three millennia old. It's also possible to use a thinking-hat or, in darkness, a talking-lamp. The first person moved to speak may take the stick (hat or lamp) and make their contribution – speech, song, mime, drama or silence. While they bear the stick, no one else may speak – everyone listens and hears. When the first person is finished, they pass the stick to their neighbour, leftwards or rightwards. The next person contributes and then passes it on, in turn. The stick gradually proceeds around the circle, and each is given the space and attention to contribute whatever moves them.
The circle closes whenever one round is completed, or when an agreed ending-time is up, or when a contributor proposes and obtains unreserved agreement to end – it may go round more than once, as required. Essentially, that's it. There are some further nuances for dealing with awkward situations, but the procedure is simple and straightforward. This simplicity is important – procedural changes can rapidly undermine the circle's energy, creating confusion or partisanship. This is because the power of the circle arises primarily from hearing, not from speaking, and simple procedures optimise such hearing.
Unless agreed otherwise, no theme is necessary. At M100 retreats, we do use themes: in 1995 we worked with Bosnia, Israel, Nigeria, China and with French nuclear testing. Contributors may spontaneously raise whatever moves them – the nowness of the moment is crucial. It's important to give the process plenty of time, sometimes many hours – yet it is compensatingly riveting. However, participants must learn to get to the heart of the matter quickly. Use of a talking-stick is not for reaching decisions or achieving specific outcomes – a chaired meeting is good for this. However, deeply defining outcomes do arise – often not what is expected. Neither does it work for the stick to be returned to the centre, for people to take it when they wish – it sets everyone back into the customary struggle to compete for air-space and prove one's point. As a tool of collective social resolution, this method only works if people clearly receive everyone's attention, without judgement or a point-scoring mentality.
This forum can become super-charged, magnifying bottom-line truths. History is made: it feels as if all of humanity is present. It is a space for quantum social evolution, which ripples out far and wide. If participants are all clear about why they're there, if they're willing to 'sit with spirit' for as long as it takes, this becomes a meditative miracle-council, a focused circle of power which allows complementary diplomacy – the sorting out of issues by ordinary people at people-level. It's also free: if fees exceeding organisational costs are charged, it loses potency, and someone is abusing the situation.
There are several stages to this process. In the first 'running in' stage, people express how wonderful it all is and what's going on for them. This is a necessary stage – it 'grounds the circle'. How long this takes depends on how 'ready' people are. At some point, deeper and wider truths start emerging – this is the second stage. As people open up, starting to feel truly human, this stage often achieves a marked poignancy and pathos. Raised integrity and a shared vulnerability grow, as people begin to realise what's possible. All statements must be owned if they are to be truly heard – this is an important learning-process.
At stage three people start empathising with each other, experiencing transpersonal commonalities and tribal bonding, awarely standing 'on the edge'. Yet we also grate against our attachment to individuality: things can get touchy – people feel their boundaries rubbed, their sovereignty infringed. A circle can get stuck here, since unconscious resistances cause people either to break apart or to believe they have 'got there' – yet, they are experiencing expanded individuality only, the beginning of society.
Breakthrough comes when enough people realise this brink is just the beginning: to go forward, they must take charge, come together and emerge out of hiding. This involves overcoming fears of being singled out, judged, exposed before their peers or banished from the circle. It becomes necessary to entrust oneself to others, crossing boundaries and sitting with the process until completion. No protective authority- figure shows the way or provides neat answers. No longer a talk-shop, the process becomes a living meditation demanding sharp awareness, as well as 'second awareness' of underlying threads and symbolism, as well as a sense of real virtual reality.
Then comes a big shift. In stage four, things get archetypal and transpersonal – 'fourth dimensional'. People find others speaking their message, and a magic flow intensifies, reaching far beyond selfhood and opinion. Time warps, people start seeing things, feeling compassion and deep understanding, digging to the roots of the human condition, even loving their enemies. This can go anywhere, yet every moment is meaningful. The circle is setting itself free, beginning to fly as one being. It's deeply moving, and it comes to completion in its own time. By now, no one wishes to break the circle – it becomes compelling, electric.
Insights abound and doors open: at M100 we have seen a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian hugging and humming together in our midst, blessing each other. We have seen a white man bow down to and dance with a black man. We have seen a bottled-up woman find her voice and speak out giant truths – she thought she was 'processing her stuff', yet the theme concerned women in China whom she, in that moment, represented! She glowed thereafter, changed.
This zingly, rich collective state isn't all. In 1995 we became aware that we had attracted a convocation of spiritual beings – a convocation unique even to those beings. Even avowed non-psychics sensed an enormous presence. This is stage five: collective channelling. Here we connect into a deeper 'fifth dimensional' reality: people find themselves speaking for the soul of humanity, for nature-kingdoms, devas, ETs, God-Goddess, for human history, for the future and the universe – you name it!
Every nuance, every microsecond, every puff of wind becomes significant. We find ourselves at a gravity-centre, a cosmic telephone-exchange, connected to all times of history and points in the universe. We stand at the 'heart of the world' which the Kogi Mamas speak of, holding and working with universal unfoldment itself. We have by now crossed an unforgettable threshold, beyond words. Many people describe this as: "this is what I'm alive for" – a close encounter of the ultimate kind. This stage takes time, 'hard sitting' and perseverance to reach. It isn't guaranteed.
The sixth stage in this process is a form of loaded no-form silence. Within this space, universal evolution is contained. Accelerated evolution grows from it: 'God' is here. In twelve years, I've experienced this only several times – unforgettably. The seventh stage involves going 'home' to the 'real' world! That's the hardest bit.
It has been an honour and a gift to participate in circle-working. I say this even though I have been a key instigator of it! The power of the circle grows in exponential proportion to participants' genuine commitment and to the clarity by which the process is set up. In our week-long retreats we work the circle daily, starting with a meditation connecting with a world crisis-zone. We also have smaller groups and sub- projects exploring wider techniques and nuances of inner aid, from drama and debate to psychic work. Everyone teaches and learns together – there are no authorities in this field.
On 27th August 1995, we were given a daunting lesson: at the exact time we worked with Bosnia, Bosnian Serb soldiers bombed Sarajevo, killing many people. This led within days to NATO intervention and to massive changes. Our intent had been to facilitate progress in Bosnia – not specifically peace, since this can impose on free-will – but here we had a 'direct hit'! It was rather sobering. No one can responsibly say 'we did it', but the synchronicity was shockingly precise. Mature attitudes are needed!
There's a responsibility and gravitas in all this. In AllTing at M100 I have set clearly-stated procedures and established the role of a moderator, who sets the starting-tone and then remains silent, holding group energy until the group can hold energy itself. After a time, the group starts becoming increasingly self- regulating, as people learn how to operate in this context by attending to group dynamics as well as their own contributions. The moderator may intervene on three counts only: broken procedures, timings (if necessary) or deadlock situations – never on content, opinion or things said. The moderator stabilises the circle and stops it falling into disarray at tricky moments.
The joy of circle-work arises from its laborious intensity, the risks involved and the potency unveiled when people break through into greater mutual understanding and multilogue. It is hard work, yet it's exceptionally rewarding – people frequently report that they move further than they have been before. It's like re-joining humanity and reawakening to our planetary purpose, interweaving spiritual and mundane realities. However, here are a few health warnings: leave all expectations at the door, never undertake this lightly or with unclarity, keep procedures simple and unbent, don't get over-excited when you stand on the edge, forget the unhelpful judgements of light-dark and right-wrong and keep faith in humanity at all costs! If these are observed, the light of the spirit falls upon everyone, radiating outwards to exert a benign homeopathic effect on humanity as a whole, through the collective unconscious.
I have not done any of this work for quite a while - and never at this depth, I think. I have had that wonderful experience where a group doing some advanced spiritual music work have been joined by what I think of as the 'heavenly hosts', absolutely mind blowing. There were about 100 of us. A vortex opened above us, and we saw / felt / intuited layer upon layer of angelic beings, many with instruments - we could hear their music adding to ours. But I never saw this experience as potentially arising from circle work, an interesting new possibility.
Re-reading Palden's most evocative article has me wanting the experience again, to see just how far we can develop this 'group soul activation' and 'bringing in the hosts' experience.
Our task is to recognise our divinity as an immortal spirit: and to consciously manifest that divinity at the core of this physical incarnation.
Thanks for the information on the talking sticks. I knew little about it and liked its' concept,
but you have given me more understanding of how it is used.
Now can we as a group do this through skype? Or does it have to be in a circle with people
actively there in person?
Blessings and love
Bring the healing of our deepest self, giving what is endless
to those who believe their end is in sight, by brightening
The very same question occurred to me when I put up this post - can we do the same by Skype? What we already know is that other spiritual / higher consciousness gatherings are just as magical via skype as they are face-to-face, maybe even more so. It is as if the facade that we all wear, the 'mask' as psychologists call it, is absent when we work remotely.
I cannot conceive of how we might do circle work remotely - but that definitely does not mean that we can't do it. Perhaps we can have a screen representation of the circle, and an indicator as to who has the talking stick, perhaps another showing who has their hands up etc, etc. And automatically mute everyone except the talking stick holder - oh, and the facilitator, I guess. And easy to show a countdown clock on the screen for each speaker, too - relevant to a number of situations using the Talking Stick, like group introductions.
A bit of smart programming needed, I think. Or maybe someone has already done it... no, I rather doubt that! I shall discuss with Christa as my 'fount of all knowlege' when it comes to modern computing...next time her life stabilises, that is (as I think she may be moving house about now!)
I have another set of 'how to' guidelines somewhere on my computer, a little more prozaic than Paldens thoughts, but actually containing some functions he does not mention, too. Good case for a merger, I think. If I can find them I shall post them here.
Love to all,
aka Xavier Hermes
Our task is to recognise our divinity as an immortal spirit: and to consciously manifest that divinity at the core of this physical incarnation.
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