Discovering Council

The Way of Council is an Illuman practice that has been introduced to us through The Ojai Foundation’s Center for Council. It is their “central and foundational practice, representing a rich blend of age-old communication practices that had been brought to The Ojai Foundation from an array of wisdom traditions.”
Council practice is a way of engaging ourselves and others more deeply “by fostering attentive listening, authentic expression, and creative spontaneity,” building “positive relationships between participants and neutralizing hierarchical dynamics fostered by inequality of status, race, economic stature or other social factors.” The Ojai Foundation describes Council as allowing “participants to communicate in ways that lead to a heightened sense of common purpose,” offering “effective means of working with conflict and discovering the deeper, often unexpressed needs of individuals and organizations,” providing “comprehensive and powerful practices for co-visioning, learning, healing, community building and decision-making in a group context.”
Center for Council provides regularly scheduled trainings in Council practice throughout the year. Visit their web site for a list of upcoming Council Trainings and links to register.
One of the best sources for introducing Council is, The Way of Council, by former Ojai Foundation Directors Jack Zimmerman and Virginia Coyle, published in 1996 and revised in 2009. The authors introduce Council practice to for-profit and non-profit organizations—schools, businesses, healing centers, spiritual and religious communities—throughout the world.

Council is a modern practice derived from many ancient forms of communicating in a circle. Sometimes referred to as “Listening Circles,” Council utilizes a center, a circle, and a talking piece to create an intentional space in which to share our stories.

The practice of deep listening without judgment fosters an atmosphere of respect for ourselves and for others and promotes empathy, dissolving barriers to cooperation, understanding and community.

Guiding Principles

Sit in a circle.
Use a talking piece.
Listen deeply.
No crosstalk or interrupting the speaker.
Speak honestly from the heart.
Speak succinctly being aware of time and size of group.
Speak spontaneously and avoid rehearsing.
Everyone participates as peers.
Seek a collective truth—more than any individual truth.

Basic Council Elements

The Circle
(Non-hierarchical, equal)

The Center
(The center of the circle and a place to focus our attention)

Marking the Beginning
(To indicate that this time is set apart and unusual ~ a dedication)

A Prompt
(A question to allow for the whole spectrum of human response)

The Talking Piece
(A tool to indicate our authority to speak)

Four Intentions

Speak from the Heart
Listen from the Heart (“with the ears of a rabbit”)
Be Spontaneous (not rehearsing what we’re going to say)
Be Lean of Expression (not exactly short, but cuts the fat)

An Expectation of Confidentiality permeates the entire process of Council.

Closing the Council
(To indicate transition to normal time and confidentiality)

Role of the Facilitator

To safeguard the integrity of the process.
To hold the container.
To establish and clarify the ground rules for Council.
To “read” the “interactive field” and encourage the flow of group energy.
To deflect any transference away from leaders and return it back to the circle.
To assist the circle in clarifying its needs regarding goals and logistics, especially including confidentiality, time frames, breaks, ending etc.
When necessary, to invite or input any “voice” or perspective that may be missing.
When in doubt as to what to do next, to ask the group.

Council Formats

Basic Council

The talking piece goes around the circle, clockwise; ideal for assuring that everyone who wants to may speak. Good for opening and closing group processes and for assessing the group “mind.” Often used when time is a constraint.

Web Council

The talking piece(s) are in the center. A participant picks up the talking piece when appropriate and speaks his/her truth. Afterward, the talking piece is returned to the center. Others are welcome to do the same.

Response Council

The person holding the talking piece may empower a brief dialogue with others in the circle. Asking short answers to questions or during improvisational moments. This can be done without shuttling the talking piece back and forth.
If there is time and space, a person might choose to do more extensive work or exploration by holding the talking piece and asking for input or response from as many people as desired (e.g., from one person to the entire circle).

Dyadic/Couple’s Council

Two people sit in council and pass the piece between them, working on an issue, exploring a vision, etc. One or two Witnesses may be present and offer their comments and perspectives, either during or at the end of the process as pre-arranged. If working in a group, as during relationship intensives, Witness Seat/s may be left open for people to enter intermittently. This form is good for connecting with the essence of the relationship, the “Third Presence,” the bigger picture.

Play Council

Form a circle. A ball is introduced and thrown to anyone across from the facilitator. The person who catches the ball is instructed to throw it to whomever he chooses and so on. The ball is thrown successively in this way to a new person in the circle until each person has received and thrown the ball. The group is asked to repeat the process (remembering who threw the ball to them and who they threw the ball to) several times. As they do this, various things will occur. After they seem to be doing okay with this process, introduce more balls into the circle.

The Way of Council, Jack Simmerman and Virginia Coyle.
The Center for Council: HYPERLINK “”
The Ojai Foundation Center of Council Practice: HYPERLINK “”