Circle Working with a Talking Stick - Paldywan Kenobi's place

Palden Jenkins
Retired author, photographer, webmaster, historian and humanitarian
Palden Jenkins
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Circle Working with a Talking Stick

Talking Stick
Hot-housing global issues
A 1995 article by Palden Jenkins
AllTing was a name used at M100, the Hundredth Monkey Project, for a talking-stick circle

We can fundamentally change many of our world problems if we so wish. This involves entering into wholesome and one-minded thought, moved by deeply-felt feelings. The ‘power of the presence’ locks on to us when sufficient people clearly focus together on a common purpose. The challenge ahead is thus to evolve sound ways of doing this.

Here, we’re talking about morphic fields and the Hundredth Monkey principle – aspects of the collective unconscious in which we all participate. Our future looks rather bleak and the evolutionary clock is ticking: so it’s necessary to act on this frontier of possibility, to work at it.

This matter has preoccupied me since I was an LSE student during the ‘Troubles’ around 1970: we students met the challenges of the time with innocent disarray and ineptitude – even though our message was sincere and genuine. This stirred me deeply, and since that time I have sought ways to bring people together into larger-scale social process.

It took until 1983 to develop a prototype, which was then explored over the years in many circles involving hundreds of people. Now with some experience, we’re re-applying ‘circle-working’ to world-healing, in the Hundredth Monkey inner aid project (M100), started in 1995.
Here, I wish to share a little about using the talking-stick. This is one valuable means by which such social process can be activated. In my experience, this procedure moves far beyond the constraints of awakening-by-recipe, charismatic teachers and potted transformation trainings. It brings us to an edge, to a point where sensitivity, danger and genius meet. It also goes far beyond normal electoral democratic process and discussion.

Use of the talking-stick achieves many magic outcomes, all at once. It teaches us how to meld heartily with others while also managing to ‘hold our space’. Talking-stick is actually a misnomer: it is a listening-stick, empowering everyone to give full attention to everyone else in turn, bearing witness to their situation, their perspective and insight. It is a key instrument in world transformation in all possible contexts.

It’s not the stick itself that does this – it’s the procedure which unlocks social healing. Being heard, we step off our soap-boxes, our hobby-horses and past histories: a shared understanding emerges, encompassing all people. This heals conflicts, uncovering brilliant solutions and opening avenues to forwardness. Sounds unlikely, yet it works.

Use of the talking-stick is archetypal, as old as the hills. It is inherently remembered and indigenous to many cultures. I learned it from Maoist China, though many know of it from native Americans. To my knowledge, it was not seriously practised in Britain until the now-fairytale Glastonbury Camps of 1984-86. It was then carried over to other camps and moots from 1987 onwards. We then called it pow-wow.

At first it worked well – deep truths emerged, bonds were forged and frontiers crossed. However, from 1987 it went into a slow decline, much because of misunderstanding, disrespect and trust-breakdown, glared at by the self-interested miasma of Thatcherism, looming around us.

Everyone assumed they knew what the procedures entailed. This was not so. Consequently, pow-wow soon became a forum for gripes, projections and arguments – procedures became bent and eroded. It lost energy, hurting some people, invoking a genie of judgmentalism, manipulation and muddle, splintering the movement.

From this I learned that the atmosphere of such circles needed careful re-cultivation in the 1990s. In M100, an inner aid project dedicated to alleviating world crises, I instituted revised procedures and safety-valves, changing the name to AllTing – a Viking term meaning both ‘everyone’s meeting’ and ‘everything’. It paid off.

The talking-stick can be used by any number of people, though it gets really interesting when numbers top twenty. In our M100 aid retreats, we ‘work the circle’ each day with some eighty people. I find this is a current maximum – larger numbers take too long. This will one day change.


The principle is simple. After preliminaries and a review of procedures, the stick is placed in the centre of the circle – our stick is of yew, three millennia old. It’s also possible to use a thinking-hat or, in darkness, a talking-lamp. The object is not important – a wooden spoon will do. The first person moved to speak may take the stick (hat or lamp) and make their contribution from where they sit or using the space inside the circle – using speech, song, mime, drama or silence.

While they bear the stick, no one else may speak – everyone listens and hears. When the first person is finished, they pass the stick to their neighbour, leftwards or rightwards (their choice). The next person contributes and then passes it on, in turn, in the direction with which it has started. The stick gradually proceeds around the circle, and each is given the space and attention to contribute whatever moves them. They should address the centre of the circle, not individuals.

The circle closes whenever one round is completed, or when an agreed ending-time is up, or when a contributor proposes and obtains unreserved agreement to end. It may go round more than once, or as long as is required. Essentially, that’s it.

The Drift menhirs, West Penwith, Cornwall

Pistyll Rhaeadr, Wales
There are some further nuances for dealing with awkward situations, but the procedure is simple and straightforward. This simplicity is important – procedural changes and rule-making can undermine a circle’s energy, creating confusion or partisanship. The power of the circle arises primarily from hearing, not from speaking, and simple procedures optimise such hearing.

Unless agreed otherwise, no theme is necessary. At M100 retreats, we do use themes: in 1995 we worked with Bosnia, Israel, Nigeria, China and French nuclear testing. Contributors may spontaneously raise whatever moves them – the nowness of the moment is crucial. It’s important to give the process plenty of time, sometimes many hours – yet it is compensatingly riveting.

However, participants must learn to get to the heart of the matter quickly. Use of a talking-stick is not for reaching decisions or achieving specific outcomes – a chaired meeting is better for this. However, deeply defining outcomes do arise, and sometimes decisions are implicitly made even if not discussed.

It doesn’t usually work for the stick to be returned to the centre, for people to take it when they wish – it sets everyone back into the customary struggle to compete for airspace and prove one’s point. As a tool of collective social resolution, this method only works if there is no tension in the circle and if people clearly receive everyone’s attention, without judgement.

This forum can become super-charged, magnifying bottom-line truths. History is made: it feels as if all of humanity is present. It is a space for quantum social evolution, which ripples out far and wide. If participants are all clear about why they’re there, if they’re willing to ‘sit with spirit’ for as long as it takes, this becomes a meditative miracle-council, a focused circle of power which allows complementary diplomacy – the sorting out of issues by ordinary people at people-level. It’s also free: if fees exceeding organisational expenses are charged, it loses potency, and someone is abusing the situation. With the ‘magic hat’ principle, however, it’s possible to state the costs (or not, if preferred) at the beginning and the hat goes round until those costs are covered.


There are several stages to the talking-stick process. In the first ‘running in’ stage, people might perhaps express how wonderful it all is and what’s going on for them. This is a necessary stage – it ‘grounds the circle’. How long this takes depends on how ready people are to move further.

At some point, deeper and wider truths start emerging – this is the second stage. As people open up, starting to feel more human, this stage can achieve a marked poignancy and pathos. Raised integrity and mutually-assured vulnerability grow, as people begin to realise what’s possible. All statements must be owned if they are to be truly heard – this is an important learning-process. (Example: Instead of “People keep criticising me”, “I experience that people keep criticising me”.)

At stage three people start empathising with each other and as a collectivity, experiencing transpersonal commonalities and tribal bonding, awarely meeting each other on the ledge. Yet we also grate against our attachment to individuality: things can get touchy – people feel their boundaries rubbed, their sovereignty infringed. A circle can get stuck here, since unconscious resistances cause people either to break apart or to believe they have ‘got there’ and need go no further – yet, they are experiencing expanded individuality only, the beginning of society.

Breakthrough comes when enough people realise that crossing this brink is just the beginning. To go forward, they must take charge, come together and come out of hiding. This involves overcoming fears of being singled out, judged, exposed before their peers or banished from the circle. It becomes necessary to entrust oneself to others, crossing boundaries and sitting with the process until completion. No protective authority-figure shows the way or provides neat answers. No longer a talk-shop, the process becomes a living meditation demanding sharp awareness, as well as ‘second awareness’ of underlying threads and symbolism. This is real virtual reality.

Then comes a big shift. In stage four, things get archetypal and transpersonal – transdimensional. People find others speaking for them and a magic flow intensifies, reaching far beyond selfhood and opinion. Time warps, people start seeing things anew, feeling compassion and deepening in their understanding, digging to the roots of the human condition, even loving their enemies.

This can go anywhere, and every moment is meaningful. The circle is setting itself free, beginning to fly as one being. It’s deeply moving, and it comes to completion in its own time. By now, no one wishes to break the circle – it becomes compelling, electric.

Insights abound and doors open: at M100 we have seen a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian hugging and humming together in our midst, blessing each other. We have seen a white man bow down to and dance with a black man. We have seen a bottled-up woman find her voice and speak out giant truths – she thought she was ‘just processing her stuff’, yet the theme concerned women in China whom she, in that moment, represented! She glowed thereafter, changed.

This zingly, rich collective state isn’t all. In 1995 we became aware that we had attracted a convocation of spiritual beings – a convocation unique even to those beings. Even avowed non-psychics sensed an enormous presence. This is stage five: collective channelling. Here we connect into a deeper ‘fifth dimensional’ reality: people find themselves speaking for the soul of humanity, for nature-kingdoms, devas, ETs, God-Goddess, for human history, for the future and the universe.

Every nuance, every microsecond, every puff of wind becomes significant. We find ourselves at a gravity-centre, a cosmic telephone-exchange, connected to all times of history and points in the universe. We stand at the ‘heart of the world’ which the Kogi Mamas speak of, holding and working with universal unfoldment itself. We have by now crossed an unforgettable threshold, beyond words. Many people describe this as “This is what I’m alive for” – a close encounter of the ultimate kind. This stage takes time, ‘hard sitting’ and perseverance to reach. It isn’t guaranteed.

The sixth stage in this process is a form of loaded no-form silence. Within this space, universal evolution is contained. Accelerated evolution grows from it: ‘God’ is here. In two decades, I’ve experienced this several times – unforgettably.

The seventh stage involves going ‘home’ to the ‘real’ world! That’s the hardest bit.

Is it worth it?

It has been an honour and gift to participate in circle-working. The power of a circle grows in exponential proportion to participants’ commitment and to the clarity by which the process is set up. In our week-long retreats we worked the circle daily, starting with a meditation connecting with a world crisis-zone. We also had smaller groups and sub-projects exploring wider techniques and nuances of inner aid, from drama, dowsing and debate to psychic work. Everyone teaches and learns together – there are no authorities in this field.

There’s a responsibility and gravitas to all this. In AllTing at M100 I set clearly-stated procedures, establishing the role of a moderator, who sets the starting-tone and then remains silent, holding group energy until the group holds energy itself. After a time, the group starts becoming increasingly self-regulating, as people learn how to operate in this context by attending to group dynamics as well as to their own positions and contributions.

The moderator may intervene on three counts only: broken procedures, timings (if necessary) or deadlock situations – never on content, opinion or things said. The moderator stabilises the circle and stops it falling into disarray at tricky moments.

The joy of circle-work arises from its laborious intensity, the risks involved and the potency unveiled when people break through into greater mutual understanding and multilogue. It is hard work yet it’s exceptionally rewarding – people frequently report that they move further in such processes than they have ever experienced before. It’s like re-joining humanity and reawakening to our planetary purpose, interweaving spiritual and mundane realities.

However, here are a few health warnings: leave all expectations at the door; never undertake this lightly or with unclarity; keep procedures simple and unbent; don’t get over-excited when you stand on the edge; forget the unhelpful judgements of light-dark and right-wrong, and… keep faith in humanity at all costs!

If these are observed, the light of the holy spirit falls upon everyone, radiating outwards to exert a benign homoeopathic effect on humanity as a whole, through the collective unconscious. And that’s what it’s all about.
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