The Practice of Council
Speaking and Listening from the Heart
By Pippa Bondy
You think your mind is your thoughts and concepts, but really it is the trees and grasses
I had been told that Council was a practice of speaking and listening from the heart. I had absolutely no idea what this meant – all I was aware of was that I had a lot of life experience and few fixed ideas and opinions about things. (or so I thought).
My first experience of the way of Council
The first time I sat in Council I was frightened. I had always felt a weight of inadequacy in “formal” situations – a fear that I wouldn’t know what to say, or didn’t have enough knowledge about things. But this is different……in fact I don’t have to know. If I can leave all this thinking outside the circle and just be here, I start to really hear what you are saying and I start to feel where you are coming from.
I hear your voice, your way of speaking, your way of expressing your self, your story. I’m told that I don’t have to respond directly, I don’t have to answer your questions, I don’t have to fix you or make everything alright, all I have to do is listen, listen without reacting from my thoughts, ideas and concepts. I’m asked to allow my heart to take in what you are saying. Nothing more is needed from me.
When you have finished speaking, you hand the talking stick to the person next to you in the circle. My heart jumps, what am I going to say? I have this idea and that thought. I don’t know what I can say. My heart jumps again. If I keep thinking about what to say, I can’t listen to you, I’m not here with you. I’m away with my thoughts and concepts, not taking you in and not listening to you.
Now the talking stick has arrived to me. I receive it and pause – I’ve been asked to speak from my heart. I notice the talking stick helps; it’s listened to many stories. In the moments of silence I feel the urge to tell of an experience I once had. It feels appropriate to say in this circle, along with what has already been said by others.
As the talking stick completes the round of the circle it is placed back into the center. Silence prevails; I am left with a sense that we all have a piece of the truth, we all have contributed to the question proposed at the beginning of our round of Council, and it is very different to what I might have thought, I even feel a sense of my connection to others in the circle with who I thought I had nothing in common with. I notice the birds flying in the sky, an airplane too, I hear children playing in a distant park. I realize that the environment and surroundings are all part of our Council. I’m touched; my heart feels more open; compassion has arisen within me.
What does the practice of Council offer today’s world?
Now, many Councils later, I’ve come to know what it means to sit in Council, to open my heart to my self and be intimate with my own thoughts and feelings. This is the first step for me, to speak from my heart; only then can I start to hear others from my heart. I’ve come to see that although I do have allsorts of judgments and opinions, there is a space behind all this, which includes what my body feels, what my emotions are saying and what the land and environment is saying also. This is listening from a more whole, Inclusive and embracing place.
Attentive listening is very powerful and healing. I’ve sat in many different types of Council – youth and elder, male and female. I’ve sat in Councils with different nationalities and in Council with Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. At times differences have been huge and polarization, division and pain have been huge also. It’s taken tremendous courage for all peoples involved to stay present and listen in this heart felt embracing way. But things did move, something magical does take place that seams to be in-between the words and in the silence.
My original fears and inadequacies are still within me – they are part of my nature, but they don’t have the same weight. In fact, I’ve come to realize that they teach me to sit on the edge of my heart and be ready to jump. I’ve come home – home to a way of communicating and being that feels safe and accepting – safe because judgments are left outside the circle, and accepting because the set-up seems to create a non-hierarchal power.
Embracing Council as a form on communicating in our modern day, we are nurturing and nourishing the spirit of the old ways. It’s very simple. Council is always in the unknown, always unique and always a new beginning. It’s a practice of truth and a path towards peacemaking, which invites the phenomenal power of the vulnerable heart, in the name of love.
Council invites empathy, stillness and honesty.