Council Practice

Tuesdays 7pm- 9pm. Council is a free event and is open to anyone who is interested, meditation practice is not required to participate. Council is an important aspect of training at SWZC. In zazen we bear witness to thoughts and feelings as they come and go. In council we bear witness to each others’ thoughts and feelings, get to know each other and experience powerful group connection. This can be an intense experience (as zazen can be.)

Note: Once a month (close to the full moon) we hold Fusatsu (Day of Reflection) which takes place on Tuesday instead of regular council. Please visit the Fusatsu Schedule for more information.

Recommended Books:

  • The Way of Council by Jack Zimmerman, Virginia Coyle
  • Non-violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg

  • Council is group zazen. In zazen we bear witness to thoughts and feelings as they come and go. In council we bear witness to each others’ thoughts and feelings, as well as our own. During council we have a collective zazen experience with all the pitfalls and clarity of our individual zazen experience. Just as, in zazen, there is a powerful experience of this moment and insight into our True Nature, in council there can be the same kind of experience of True Nature.

Jack Zimmerman and Virginia Coyle in “The Way of Council” write: Participating in council teaches us how to let go of personal expectations and become fully attentive to others. The practice fosters compassionate response and provides a continuing source of wisdom. Compassion arises naturally when we listen with respect and express ourselves honestly with an open heart, whether it be in words, song, movement, or silence. Wisdom flows from the wholeness of the circle and reveals itself as the “truth of council.” The expression of this truth can come through anyone in the circle or through the silence. Listening to the voice of council teaches us that the circle’s knowledge is greater than the totality of its members’ individual knowing.In this state of collective awareness, diversity and disagreement do not lead as readily to polarization and hostility. Learning to hear the voice of council can help people transcend even the most deeply ensconced cultural, racial, and personal identifica­tions. Feeling part of the circle’s wholeness reduces the fear and despair of isolation, which allows disagreement to become the bridge to greater mutual understanding. Witnessing the truth of the circle emerge from a cacophony of diverse views can be a remarkable experience. Some have described it as a feeling of unseen voices supporting the group—a spirit circle that meets concentrically with its earthly counterpart, guiding it towards greater mutual understanding and right action.

  • Circles can heal addiction, codependence, toxic shame or any behavior with roots in misconceptions about ourselves.

John Bradshaw in “Healing the Shame that Binds You” writes: The excruciating loneliness fostered by toxic shame is dehumanizing. As a person isolates more and more, he loses the benefit of human feedback. He loses the mirroring eyes of others. Erik Erikson has demonstrated clearly that identity formation is always a social process. He defines identity as “an inner sense of sameness and continuity which is matched by the mirroring eyes of at least one significant other”. .. In order to be healed we must come out of isolation and hiding. This means finding a group of significant others that we are willing to trust…Since it was personal relationships that set up our toxic shame, we need personal relationships to heal our shame. This is crucial. We must risk reaching out and looking for nonshaming relationships if we are to heal our shame. There is no other way. Once we are in dialogue and community, we have further repair work to do. But we can’t even begin that work until affilitive relationships are established. 12-Step groups have had far and away the greatest success in healing shame-based people. Remember, that toxic shame is the root of all addiction. 12-Step groups literally were born out of the courage of two people risking coming out of hiding. One alcoholic person (Bill W.) turned to another alcoholic person (Dr. Bob) and they told each other how bad they really felt about themselves. I join with Scott Peck in seeing this dialogue coming out of hiding as one of the most important events of this century. 12-Step programs are always worked in the context of a group.

  • Be on time. Due to the confidential and intimate nature of council, the group may decide not to open the circle for you if you are late.
  • Use the three tenets. Listen and speak from not-knowing. Bear witness to all that is going on. Allow the healing process to occur.
  • Speak from your heart. Avoid lectures, expressing ideas, doing others inventory. Passion and a focus on personal revelation rather than philosophical reflection helps everyone stay attentive and honors the circle further by showing a willingness to take risks. Remember “no fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting each other straight.”
  • No cross-talk. The person who holds the talking piece has the attention of the circle. The only time someone else can speak is in the rare occasion that the facilitator feels that it is absolutely necessary to maintain the integrity of the circle. The person who is speaking may feel moved by someone else’s speech and could mention that but not for cross-talk. No fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting each other straight.
  • Speak using “I” statements rather than “you” statements. We express ourselves in terms of our own experience. Marshall Rosenberg”s model of Non-violent communication is wonderful training in this way of speaking.
  • Listen from the heart. Listen without judgment. Don’t prepare what you are going to say when you listen. Develop empathy. The success of council is largely determined by the quality of listening in the circle. When it is “devout” (as the Quakers would say), the speaker feels empowered and is more likely to rise to the occasion. If you find yourself growing restless and bored in council, you’re probably not listening devoutly. Listening from the heart is energizing even if the speaker is inarticulate, dull, or the topic or story is not “your cup of tea”.
  • Be lean. Say what needs to be said. Avoid tangents. Avoid repetition. Do say everything that needs to be said. Give everyone a chance to speak. Notice if you are speaking more than others. Notice those who aren’t speaking and make sure there is space for them. Being lean is an art. Council is an excellent arena in which to improve one’s ability to be concise and to find words and images that enliven our stories and statements. An ally in the quest for leanness is the willingness to give honest reflection to those who ramble. If anyone in the circle feels someone has gone on too long, been repetitive or unclear, they always have the option of saying something about it when they get the talking piece.
  • Spontaneity. Don’t rehearse. Let the intuitive voice speak. Find the voice of the circle. Will speaking this serve me? Will speaking this serve the circle? Will speaking this serve the greater good?
  • Confidentiality. If an appropriate level of confidentiality is not maintained, everyone has to spend a lot of time repairing damaged feelings and getting the council going again.

Honoring the Integrity of the Circle

from The Way of Council by Jack Zimmerman, Virginia Coyle

The maturity of the group, its intentions, the frequency of meeting, and the human environment in which it functions are all-important in determining an appropriate confidentiality agreement. Here are a few general guidelines.

Determine the need to know. If a person outside the circle asks you questions about council business, ask yourself if he has a need to know. Perhaps he is a member of the community in which the council functions or the results of the circle’s deliberations affect what he does. If the person has an authentic need to know, talk about the general conclusions the council reached. If there is no need to know, be direct and tell the questioner that the Council has an agreement about confidentiality and you’d prefer not to talk about its proceedings. Explain the difference between secrecy and confidentiality, if that issue arises.

Examine your motivations. If you find yourself telling someone, who has no clear need to know, about a recent council, ask yourself, Why am I talking? Am I motivated by self-importance? Am I gossiping? Is my integrity intact?

  • Talk about topics, not personal stories. Identifying the topics and issues that have been discussed in a council is rarely a problem. However, if you suspect it may be, follow the first two guidelines. Retelling specific stories or comments and identifying the source is almost always a breach of confidence.
  • Stick to your own experience. If someone with a need to know asks you about a council, summarize your own experience, not another another’s. If you have a desire to describe a council to a nonmember, stick to your own stories and comment.
  • Invite the curious. If a person expresses a lot of interest in the council, invite her to witness the next session, as long as that is appropriate and the rest of the group agrees. Don’t get into the habit of being someone’s source of information, even if she has a legitimate need to know.