Council: Thirty-Eight Ears Speak With One Mouth

Rob Dreaming

“...what you know you can’t explain, but you feel it, you’ve felt it your entire life. That there is something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it is there...”

Council is an ancient and modern practice that is finding increasing use among groups that want to move from power-over structures to a model in which initiative, responsibility and leadership are shared by everyone – a method to support group processes and personal development, for vision and clarifying purpose, decision making, honouring achievement, for reflection, conflict management, peace and reconciliation work, celebration and for discovering the deeper, often unexpressed needs of individuals and organizations. Council is our common heritage and therefore not owned by anyone, copyrighted, certified, trademarked etc. One can find cultural variations throughout the world, from using drums, singing and movement, to talking and of course listening. Practice of council usually forms a circle, acknowledges a common centre, uses a talking/listening piece and marks the opening and closing of a ‘special time’ with some ceremony. E.g. lighting a candle, pouring water, opening a box or book, uncapping a pen etc – something appropriate to the common or intended culture. There are some basic agreements, e.g. WOC uses the intentions to listen from the heart or centre, express from the centre, be lean and to the point, spontaneous, and mindful of confidentiality. Not interrupting who holds the talking piece and using “I” language are also guidelines. “Way of Council” is a particular thread which originates from Ojai California as a synthesis of gifted teachings from indigenous elders and leading-edge thinkers more than 35 years ago. Way of Council (WOC) is carried worldwide by a growing community of carriers, facilitators, trainers and elders who pass on the teachings by way of an agreed path of steps, mentoring and peer recognition. (Source: and

The world was not well, neither was I. Then 9/11 happened, no work, separated from a long-term relationship. I had almost literally lost my mind but was slowly recovering with help. In between panic attacks, ME symptoms and general malaise, I made a list of what I was experiencing. Part of me is always witnessing. It’s like hearing or seeing, a faculty that is there all the time but mostly not used deliberately or to its full advantage. This time, it truly served. I studied the list, I walked up and down my house and realised –

I’m depressed! Wow, this is what depression is… OK…

So I self-realised a label, which in this case helped, gave me a lead. Right away I entered a counter-set of words on the right side of my list. Something like;

I need to get out of here, being useful with and for other people, use my hands, have fun, be in a natural environment. Seems obvious. But if you are sick, you don’t see it.

A simple stick was passed through each set of hands bidding one to speak or not, neither be interrupted but listened to

I was fortunate. The next day the universe conspired to help me. A brochure dropped through the door with a place on a work-camp in Greece. A few weeks later I arrived into a new venture holistic education centre at the edge of a mountain chestnut forest. Eighteen other people sat in circle every morning and shared before working. Not the chit-chat, conversation, or debate common to my experience; this was a something more ‘primitive’. A simple stick was passed through each set of hands bidding one to speak or not, neither be interrupted but listened to. This was not therapy nor just for entertainment, but something extraordinary and beyond the words shared that started making sense. These people, strangers, were telling the truth, telling it like it is or at least, were attempting to. Bypassing the usual social moires, there was a match of what they were saying and what I could sense was true.

I definitely felt better. I noticed stuff like; Wow, I’m not the only one… thanks for saying that, that’s what I would have said, only you did it better… that just gave me permission to say what I was feeling… I can see you, even I didn’t know you from before… I’m feeling like I have a place here… This is way better than telly..! I hear myself through your story… now I get why you did that!

What was wrong with the world was that everyone was playing the same game, including me

This continued for some weeks. The rare experience of having a group actually pay attention to what I was saying, was a common experience here. As an ‘ordinary’ person I’d missed this fundamental importance for most of my life. What was wrong with the world was that everyone was playing the same game, including me. Not really listening, not really giving meaning to most of my words, judging, box-ticking, competing, categorising, comparing, filling the spaces from fear of awkwardness or looking stupid etc. But now, even my best friend sarcasm was being pushed aside so that I could listen back the way I received from others. Yeah, sometimes it was challenging, but I could see the practice working through me, through people over time, the trust deepening, relationships growing, the work getting done faster and with more pleasure. Even the Austrian engineer who was pretty challenged by the ‘wasting time talking’ started smiling and joking, having a holiday.

This practice literally changed my life, giving me direction, purpose, community and a job for life. It’s not therapy but heals me slowly of disconnections in myself, others and the natural cycles. It’s brought me to offer such space to others and to witness time after time the recognition found in a basic humanity, welcomed at the watering hole of council.

Who really listened to you and why?

When you listen, do you confine it just to the ears?

How do speed and efficiency balance with taking all views into account?

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Innovative approaches in learning for Sustainability
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