Workshop Introduction: an overview

(See transcript of John’s introduction for more details.) Some of the important points to include are:

* History of the Council of All Beings
Brief explanation of deep ecology, ecological self
Joanna Macy – despair and empowerment
John and Joanna created new workshop from combination of deep ecology and despair/empowerment; 100s held around the world; book ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’ translated into 8 languages
* Your story. How you came to be facilitating the Council. Why you think it is important.
* Importance of ritual. Community.
* Don’t need to be a skilled facilitator to lead Councils. Encourage people to hold more workshops. Can be held on any scale (even just getting a group of 4 or 5 friends together).
* This workshop should be the beginning of a series of events.
Research conducted by Eshana has shown that the Councils have very powerful effects in creating ecological self, but that these effects are not retained over time. These experiences of ecological self need to be practiced, like regular festivals, holding more workshops. Also, the research showed that environmental action doesn’t automatically follow from workshops (celebration, feelings of connection, ritual, etc.). Therefore, more workshops are not enough. Participants need to make concrete decisions to act in more environmentally responsible ways and to invest time in strategising for action. (We will have a small amount of time towards the end of the workshop to begin this process.)
* Defining characteristics of the Council of All Beings workshops (all potential workshop facilitators need to know this): 1. In order to use the name ‘Council of All Beings’, a large proportion of the proceeds from the workshop must go directly to environmental projects. Introduce what project/s this particular workshop is funding. 2. Intention to heal separation between people and the Earth (i.e., any processes can be used).

Include a short time of silence to help people get in contact with their personal intention for this weekend.

Ritual opening.

Depending on the facilitators and participants present, any type of ‘non-intellectual’ beginning is great – any kind of song, dance, drumming, chanting. The important thing is making a fun, strong energy start, announcing the beginning, helping us move from our ordinary reality into sacred, safe space. This can be done before or after the introduction and intention-setting.

A smudge of sweet-smelling smoke (e.g., sage, cedar, eucalyptus – something local and meaningful is good) can be passed around the circle to ‘cleanse’ each person’s energy and mark the entry into ritual space. An alternative to smoke is the shamanic use of a drum, rattle or didjeridoo, again around the whole circle, but played by one person.

Another type of ritual opening to be performed by a number of participants and facilitators (and thus to be organised beforehand) is one held in a circle, where each of these elements are honored, invoked, welcomed, thanked:
honoring the 4 directions (or 7)
welcoming our ancestors (right back to the beginning of time)
welcoming all species to the circle
thanking the spirit of this place
(naming hills, rivers, mountains, situating us in the bioregion)
honoring the indigenous people of this place
welcoming men and women, young and old to the circle
inviting those we have left behind into the circle
(our families, communities, others supporting this work; then open this to the circle for anything or anyone else they would like to bring in)

A ritual after the introductions etc might involve focussing on each of our intentions, or the group intention, by dancing, drumming or singing it.

Participants introduce themselves.

The ‘sharing circle’ is the basic form of this workshop, and so if the group of participants is not familiar with this process, it is good to introduce some basic principles:
– talking stick/object – the person who holds the object has the right to talk uninterrupted
– sharing feelings, what you’re thinking and feeling right in that moment, try not to rehearse (if you find yourself rehearsing as the talking stick gets closer, just say that quickly first and then get onto how you really are in that moment)
– listening with respect to each person’s sharing, try not to make judgments, and if you do, then don’t communicate them in your next sharing. This is a time when people have a chance to express themselves without comment from other people – positive or negative. The only feedback given from the rest of the circle are sounds and words of affirmation (e.g., “Yes!”, “Ho!” or “I hear you.”).

In the first sharing circle of the workshop, ask participants to say their name, and then introduce themselves saying something about their relationship with nature (not their usual social or economic identity – e.g., their job). Examples of questions to ask the group include:
“Tell us a bit about a place in nature where you feel most comfortable / your favorite natural place.”
“Tell us something about your connection with the Earth.”
“Share with us, in essence, what your specific intention is for this weekend.”

The name game.

We use a really simple process to help the process of learning each others’ names which involves throwing a cushion (or a ball, or any other soft object) across the circle towards another participant. As we throw the cushion, we shout the person’s name, and if we don’t know it, then we ask “What’s your name?” as we throw. This process also helps to enliven the group, get a bit physical and have fun. It warms people up (physically and emotionally), and creates the laughter which helps us move towards intimacy.

In the evening of the longer-form workshop, it’s good to just have some free time, allowing people to talk with each other, or maybe have some drumming and chanting, etc. Another idea is to show an inspiring activist video. Before closing in this evening, suggest that people pay attention to their dreams tonight, as some important messages and images may come from the intention which they have made this evening. Also ask if any of the participants would like to facilitate a pre-breakfast process (e.g., yoga, meditation) the following morning.

Early in the morning, before breakfast, it’s good to have some sort of yoga, tai-chi, ritual or meditation outside in nature. This is a good exercise to invite participants to facilitate. (Including participants as facilitators is empowering for the whole group.) In the last sharing of the evening on Friday, ask if people have anything suitable which they wish to for both mornings, and then organize a gentle way of waking people early which lets others sleep if they wish (e.g., someone playing guitar, meditation bell).

After breakfast, have another sharing circle. This is just a short check-in, to express how we are each feeling in that moment. Encourage people to share something about a dream which they had last night.