Book Review: The Circle Way

“The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair” by Christina Baldwin & Ann Linnea, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. ISBN  978-1-60509-256-0

There is a simple methodology for sharing information and stories that has been around for thousands of years; it’s called the circle.

  Christina Baldwin studied the structure of the circle and developed guidelines, principles and practices that she outlined in her first book about the circle, Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture (Bantam books 1994, 1998). She and Ann Linnea, cofounders of PeerSpirit, Inc., an educational company that teaches circle practice, have travelled the world to sit in circle with people and show how this ancient form can be used in modern meetings.  

  In The Circle Way, Baldwin and Linnea share stories about the various groups they have worked with including nuns, nurses, families, neighbours and even couples who use the “circle way” to enhance communication.

  A ring of chairs in a circle activates an archetype and, as the authors say, “People who have experienced circle often refer to this archetypal energy as the ‘magic of circle’ that occurs when the best (or sometimes the worst) comes out of us and we find ourselves capable of responding with a level of creativity, innovation, problem solving, and visioning that astound us.”

  I have experienced that “magic” in circles in various settings, following PeerSpirit guidelines, with various groups such as writers, the mental health community, the women of a First Nations community, the gay community, seniors and teenagers. The circle aids communication and builds community. I can’t say enough about the value of the circle and the importance of the work of Baldwin and Linnea.

  There are components of circle structure that are key to equal participation: having a centre (a candle or something to represent your focus); a start-point (such as a poem to shift from social time to more focused listening and speaking); circle agreements (which can be added to by the members of the circle); check-in (at which time each person can respond to a question); intention; three principles; and three practices.  

  All of these components, and many more, are described in detail in the book. If it all seems overwhelming at first, choose a couple of aspects to introduce at your next meeting. Begin with a poem or an inspirational reading. Pass a talking piece so each person has a chance to speak and be heard. 

  As the authors of the book say, “Circle gives us space to sit down in our not knowing, to hear each other out, and to hold on to the story while taking the next step forward.”

Mary Ann Moore is a freelance writer, poet and circle facilitator living in Nanaimo.