What Is The Source Of The Energy For The Circle Process?

Introducing Circle Processes

A circle process is a structured form of group communication designed to create a safe space for sharing. Participants sit in a circle, often around a centerpiece, and take turns speaking or passing around a talking piece. There is no cross-talk or interruption; each person has the opportunity to speak without judgment or interjection.

Circle processes originate from indigenous and spiritual traditions around the world, including Native American talking circles. These practices center on deep listening, community building, conflict resolution, and healing. Circle processes began emerging in Western contexts in the 1970s and have become increasingly popular in schools, organizations, justice systems, and community settings.

The basic elements of a circle process include a talking piece, which is passed from person to person to signify whose turn it is to speak, and a centerpiece to focus attention. There is typically a keeper or facilitator who opens and closes the circle, offers prompts, and ensures the process is honored. Participants sit in a circle, with no hierarchical arrangement. Values like confidentiality, compassion, and openness are often invoked. The format follows structured rounds, giving each person the chance to speak without interruption.

Core Principles

Circle processes are guided by a set of core principles that promote psychological safety, connection, and community building. These principles include:

Voluntary Participation

Everyone is free to participate at their own comfort level. No one should feel pressured to speak or share.

Equality and Inclusion

All voices and perspectives are welcomed. Hierarchy is leveled in the circle so everyone can contribute equally.


Participants take ownership of the process by adhering to the principles and guidelines.

Authenticity and Honesty

The circle promotes openness and truth-telling. Participants aim to speak their truths without judgment.

The Talking Piece

The talking piece is a meaningful object that is passed around the circle to designate who has the right to speak. Only the person holding the talking piece is allowed to talk, while others listen in a spirit of respect. The talking piece encourages deep listening, reflection, and consideration of what participants want to say.

The talking piece is integral to circle processes as it slows down the pace of conversation and ensures everyone has the opportunity to speak without interruption. It allows all voices to be heard, not just the loudest and most dominant. Passing the talking piece around the circle gives each person the space to share what is on their mind and in their heart.

The talking piece can take many forms – a stone, crystal, feather, stick, shell, or small sculpture. It should resonate symbolically with the values and intentions of the circle. Natural objects are often selected to represent interconnectedness and shared humanity. The talking piece is treated with great care and respect as a sacred object during the circle process.

The Keeper

The role of the Keeper is essential to facilitating an effective Circle process. The Keeper guides the flow of communication and holds the integrity of the process. Their core responsibilities include:

– Welcoming people into the Circle and explaining the purpose
– Introducing any ceremorny or ritual elements

– Presenting the talking piece and outlining guidelines for its use
– Maintaining the rhythm and pacing of the process
– Ensuring all voices have an opportunity to speak
– Protecting participants from interruption or crosstalk
– Guarging against domination by any one voice

– Redirecting the conversation as needed
– Sensing when it’s time to move to closing

The Keeper embodies the core values of respect, inclusion, empowerment and equality. They model deep listening, patience and compassion. Their neutrality allows the wisdom within the group to emerge organically. The Keeper’s ability to hold sacred space allows the Circle to go deeper.

The Centerpiece

The centerpiece is an important visual focal point that anchors the values and intentions of the circle. It is placed in the middle of the circle, and participants gather around it as a reminder of their shared purpose and connection. The centerpiece often has spiritual or symbolic significance that reflects the theme or purpose of the gathering.

Typical centerpieces include objects from nature like stones, crystals, feathers, seashells, flowers or fruit. Images, candles, Native American talking sticks, spiritual symbols like a bowl of water or a mirror may also be used. The centerpiece should create a feeling of harmony, beauty, and reflection to encourage openness, trust, and mindfulness within the circle.

For example, in a circle focusing on Native American traditions, the centerpiece may incorporate culturally significant objects like sage, sweetgrass or a talking stick carved from wood. In a peacebuilding circle, the centerpiece could include elements representing unity like interlocked rings or a dove. The centerpiece provides a visual reminder for circle participants to connect with each other respectfully and authentically.

The Values

A key component of circle processes are the values that the group decides to uphold during the session. The facilitator will often guide the group in establishing shared values at the start of a circle. Common values that groups adopt include trust, respect, honesty, listening, openness, and courage.

By setting group values together, participants get on the same page about how they want to interact with each other during the process. Values set the tone and container for the circle. They allow people to feel safe opening up and engaging in vulnerable dialogue.

Some examples of establishing values include:
– The facilitator may propose a list of sample values and the group decides which ones feel right for them.
– The group brainstorms values together and comes to consensus on which to adopt.
– Each person names 1-2 values important to them, then the facilitator synthesizes the common themes.

The values are often written down and displayed visibly throughout the session to remind the group of their commitment. Referring back to the values helps maintain a space of trust, respect, and openness.

The Ceremony

The ceremony is an important part of setting the tone and intention for the circle. It bookends the process, with an opening ceremony to begin and a closing ceremony to end. The opening ceremony may involve lighting a candle, ringing a bell, saying an invocation, or observing a moment of silence. Participants are welcomed and invited to bring their full selves into the space. Guidelines for respectful communication may be shared. The intention or purpose for the gathering is articulated. This allows participants to align on why they are there and what they hope to gain. The opening ceremony sets the stage for deep listening, authentic sharing, and wise council.

the opening ceremony sets the intention and energy for the circle

The closing ceremony provides closure after the circle. Appreciations may be shared for what was gained. Commitments moving forward may be stated. The talking piece is passed around for final reflections. The candle or centerpiece is extinguished to signify the circle has ended. Participants are reminded to embody and carry forward the spirit of the circle as they return to their regular lives. The closing ceremony enables people to transition out of the sacred space while retaining the insights they’ve gleaned.

Whether elaborate or simple, ceremonies shape the energy of the circle. They enable intention-setting, reflection, appreciation, and integration. The opening aligns participants to the purpose and process of the circle. The closing allows people to harvest insights and ready themselves for continued growth and implementation.

The Circle Format

The format of a circle process is designed to create a sense of connection, equality and community. Participants sit in a circle, with no one at the head or center. This arrangement symbolizes equality and interconnectedness.

Communication occurs in rounds, with a talking piece passed from person to person. Only the person holding the talking piece may speak, which prevents crosstalk and interruptions. Everyone is given the opportunity to speak without interruption or judgment.

Decisions are made by consensus. The circle seeks to reach unanimous agreement through deep listening and discussion. The focus is on finding solutions that address everyone’s core needs, rather than on debate or winning.

This format fosters reflection, connection and collective wisdom. Each person’s voice is valued and participation is expected. There is no room for silencing, minimizing or domination by one voice or viewpoint.

Psychological Safety

A circle process fosters an environment of psychological safety, allowing participants to open up and share authentically without fear of judgment. This is enabled through practices that encourage:

  • Vulnerability – Participants are invited to speak honestly from the heart, letting down their guards and masks.
  • Speaking from the heart – The talking piece enables deep sharing without interruption, the focus is on listening rather than reacting.
  • Listening deeply – Participants practice presence and deep listening without judgement, allowing speakers to feel truly heard.

By creating a psychologically safe space, participants build trust, empathy and connection. This allows for issues to be raised, diverse views to be shared, conflicts to be resolved and collective wisdom to emerge.


Circle processes have several important applications in various settings:

Restorative Justice: Circle processes enable healing and reintegration for both victims and offenders in the justice system. They provide a space for victims to express the full impact of the crime and for offenders to take responsibility. This can lead to reconciliation and reduced recidivism.

Community Building: Circles bring people together across divisions, facilitate connections, and build understanding. They can strengthen communities, empower marginalized voices, and lead to collaborative action.

Conflict Resolution: Circle dialogue allows people in conflict to speak and listen to each other with compassion. Circles surface underlying needs and pave the way for mutually-beneficial solutions.

Education: Circle processes cultivate emotional intelligence, social skills, empathy, and leadership in students. They create more egalitarian and participatory learning environments aligned with restorative principles.

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