The Way of Council is a core practice of the Zen Peacemakers, along with meditation, the Three Tenets, and social action. It is a staple practice in our Bearing Witness retreats.
Council, as it is referred to in short, is a modern practice derived from indigenous traditions, most importantly Native American, and developed by the Ojai Foundation.
The Circle invites individuals to come together in a dedicated and sacred space, to tune into one’s personal and collective truth, and to the land and nature taking part in the circle. Council is conducted using a set of guidelines, a center altar, and a talking piece which is passed around to indicate a single speaker. With these forms, council enhances our practices of deep listening, bearing witness and empathy. Council focuses our intention and energy on the common stories, values, fears, and aspirations that make us human; it reminds us that we are more alike than we are different. Most importantly, Council is a powerful container to experience the Three Tenets with others, entering the moment of the circle by Not Knowing, Bearing Witness to oneself and others, and Taking Action, relating from the heart.
The intentions of Council are:
1. When listening, listen from the heart, without analyzing, agreeing or disagreeing;
2. When speaking, speak from the heart, naming what is alive right now; Silence is welcome;
3. Be lean of expression, going to the essence of what needs to be spoken;
4. Be spontaneous, trusting what comes, rather than what one has rehearsed or what one thinks should be said;
5. Confidentiality, with deep respect for people’s privacy and the transiency of the moment, participants are encouraged to not engage with other participants on things that came up during council, and not to share its specific content with others.
These guidelines are not rules. They are practices, inviting us to appreciate the immediacy of the moment, the faith in ourselves and others. Each council is opened by an invocation – participants invite that which they would like to be witnessed by, invoke a state of mind, or others. It is closed by a dedication and prayer.
Council has been evoked around the world and during all Zen Peacemakers retreats, street retreats and plunges.