Forming ‘Islands of sanity’ practice circles
Basic structure of meetings
Group size: 5-8 people (Start with 9-12; Some people always drop off)
Regular meeting components
— 20-25 min: Silent meditation/somatic practices/Chanting (to attune to each other)
— 30-35 min: Check-ins with wholehearted listening without interruption
— 60-90 min: Discuss (or prepare for) “Third pillar” strategic actions or scheduled sharing circles on our relationship with money/reparations, race/religion, gender/patriarchy and class system.
Commitment period: 10-12 months
Reason: It takes time to form trusting bonds, to form a strategic goal for the group or for each individual to find their vocations and to execute their plan.
Meet Weekly for at least 2 hours (or fortnightly for 3.5-4 hours).
Reason: If the group doesn’t meet consistently enough, the relationships don’t solidify and most of the time is spent just in meditation and check-in without any time to think of actions.
Both practicing meditators and those new to meditation welcome as long as one of the two catalyzing conveners understand the importance of contemplative practice
In a healthy group, the catalyzing conveners do not remain the only facilitators or decision-makers. The actual facilitation is done by those who love facilitating and are really good at it. Any empowered group should learn to appreciate each others gifts/skills and vocations.
Action commitment: Two options
— Working/intern (15 hours/week) or volunteer (5 hours/week) for a social justice or climate organization. If the group chooses this option, we should give the group resources to identify where and how patriarchy and white supremacy “expert” culture can operate within mainstream organizations. The resources we share should help the group stay empowered (help heal our trauma and regenerate our ecosystems in the long term).
— Developing group’s own plan for grassroots level action and commitment to take two big actions every month as a group. Actions should be rooted in interdependence and interconnection, and understanding of the depth of the climate crisis and also how white supremacy and racism infects our culture.
Monthly daylongs with a mentor + weekend retreats at the start and end which include discussion of
1. Exercises to understand our individual and group’s gifts/needs/passions/vocations
For personal agency and empowerment. Learning to contribute to the movement based on what we truly love doing.
2. Grief/rage work with outside experts for processing trauma to deepen group trust
We haven’t systematically taken care of VAST and DEEP trauma. Dealing with this requires connection, intimacy, vulnerability, friendship and deep listening.
3. Importance of strategy + understanding of strengths/needs of the movement ecosystem in our city
What is the theory of change, who will you pressure to take action, how does it scale up, do you have marketing and social media help? We need to either trust someone else’s strategy and leadership or if the options don’t satisfy us, we need to go deep ourselves.
4. Clarity wrt Information flow
How many emails from whom? Use of facebook/slack/text for communication?
5. Decision-making options
Do we take time to convince each other of our views or do we simply vote? How do we prioritize listening and relationships while at the same time not compromising on the need to take bolder and bigger actions? Does the group want to decide based on consensus, majority or sociocratic discussion? Who will mentor the group? What will be their level of involvement in day today communication between group members so that the group develops its own agency and doesn’t remain dependent on the mentor?
6. Learning through feedback
How to celebrate each other and reaffirm some behaviors while redirecting harmful habits among group members. We often don’t tell each other what we really loved about what they just shared or what hurt us. We won’t grow as a community without feedback which is so common in natural systems.
7. Restoring conflict
Most activist groups suffer due to conflict instead of using conflict as an opportunity to deepen the relationships. We can compost conflict to deepen our relationships with each other.
8. Relationship with money
In context of job loss or job insecurity and the sheer importance of gift economy to reduce our footprints. This is very important if groups form their own goals as opposed to joining an existing organization.
9. Learning to stand in solidarity with oppressed
Practices for decolonization.
10. Learning from social permaculture
Gives a design lens to how we get the greatest yield for the smallest effort
Who should be in your group?
It helps to find people who can meet in person at a later date even if you have plan to meet online at the moment (because of pandemic): Connection, friendship, belonging and ability to show up for each other are very important. Group members need to be able to trust each other. Please put the word out in your friend/activist circle and try to find 8-10 people who like the idea of integrating inner transformation/healing with activism. Interview each other. Over time, the group size will thin down to 6-8 people which is an ideal number to meet regularly with. In addition to finding local people/neighbors, it helps to find people who share a worldview and like to take similar actions or who have the same theory of change. For example, joining 350.org or Sunrise Movement is one kind of action (perhaps everyone wants to work on divest-invest). Deciding that the group will work on electing an progressive government that will then deal with climate crisis and racial violence is another. Please also see if you like the Yet to be named network zine below. What doesn’t help is this: Two people believe in working for elections but other two believe in grassroots work of blocking pipelines and other three want to work on spreading veganism. We want to take actions together and help each other stay on our growth edge of inner and outer work. See resources below.
— Slide deck on “Composting trauma/grief is important for composting climate crisis and racial violence“. This explains the need to address the depth of trauma that exists in our communities. We all have to deal with as we plan our actions.
— Here is the core article “Three pillars of sanity” in which I describe what I envision as three main components of such practice circles.
— Here is article that describes nature of relationships between people in a practice circle: “Island of sanity friendships“
— “One unified movement” explains how we are part of the bigger whole and our work and our intentions matter regardless of what we choose to focus on.
— Zine of Yet-to-be-named network for when you want to become more radical with respect to the third pillar. Over time I can share more details from this network.
— Complete handbook of Yet to be named network will be released in first week of October 2020
Over time, it will be important to start a group of facilitators of such practice groups to keep each other supported by using a framework of social permaculture. The practice circle facilitators have to work at keeping the circles non-hierarchical and horizontal such that the role of facilitators is to keep the energy moving and container safe/wise but not become a teacher/leader so that everyone can step into their power more and more fully. This requires humility, confidence and trust in the group.
(These guidelines are based of years of experimenting with practice circle models in Boulder and draft handbook of YTBN network. The initial format was guided by Kalyana Mitta model)