Introduction to the Council of All Beings and Finding our allies.
Briefly introduce the next exercise, which is where we will speak for a non-human being in another sharing circle called the 'council of all beings'.
Key points to include in this introduction (see John's transcripts for details) are:
* Being a medium for wisdom to speak through unusual in our culture, but easy to remember. Similar feeling to the following our partners' hands in the milling exercise.
* Any non-human beings are welcome (animals, plants, features of the landscape).
* Why humans are not part of the council (this is a very important point to stress). Humans have been so dominant and talked so much, that it is now time for the voiceless ones to be heard.
* How to find an ally.
* Mask-making instructions.
Try not to create unrealistic expectations for people. While allowing the possibility of amazing shamanic experiences to occur (feeling the human self disappear and the spirit of the ally speaking through them), also allow people to see it as a 'role play', an 'exercise in moral imagination', simply practising what it would feel like to see the world from another creature's perspective. Assure people that it's okay if they feel themselves coming in and out of their human selves during the council. It's important that participants are not distracted by anxiety that they're "not doing it right"!
There are many ways in which we can find our allies, the non-human beings for whom we will speak in the council. Depending on the time and place available, these are some suggestions:
* Vision quest. Ask people to take a walk through the garden/hillside/forest (whatever natural area is available) for about an hour or so. Suggest that they be very playful with this and allow themselves to walk wherever they are drawn, not to think too much. Just wander about and invite a non-human being to contact you in some way, who wishes to speak through you in the council. Sit down and meditate somewhere and let anything happen. Keep an open mind. (I find this process to be the most effective.)
* Shamanic drumming/sounds - e.g., drums, chanting, rattles while people sit silently. This helps people enter an altered state of awareness where it is easier for our ally to contact us. The being often 'appears' in a dream-like vision to participants. (This process takes less time and is a good night-time process, but I don't think it is the most effective. If it is long, people can easily fall asleep if they are lying down.)
* Shamanic dancing. Have someone play drums or use some recorded drum dancing music (something very Earthy and danceable is essential). This can be done outside or inside, night or day. Start by having people standing, eyes closed, focusing on their breath and feeling of their feet on the ground, etc. As the music builds, ask them to feel the energy moving up from the earth into each part of their body (start with feet, knees, hips, belly, etc. moving up the body). Encourage them to move each part as the energy reaches it until they are fully dancing to the music (by this time, it is good for them to have their eyes partially open so that they don't bump into other people!). Then ask them to invite the spirit of their ally into their being, and to dance that creature. To end the process, get people to silently thank their ally for identifying itself, and agree to speak for it in the council the following morning. Slowing down the dance, release the ally, and slowly open your eyes.
Remind participants that if nothing chooses them in these processes, they can just actively choose an ally themselves.
People can spend as much or little time making masks to represent their creature (including the time when others are out wandering about contacting their ally). Just tell people by what time the masks have to be ready (usually after breakfast on Sunday morning).
Supply people with a minimum of cardboard (from old cardboard boxes); crayons, textas or other coloring materials; wood-glue, sticky tape and stapler (for attaching natural materials); scissors and utility-knifes; and string.
This is always a wonderful time of creativity and fun, where people return to a child-like focus. Encourage participants to do this in silence as it is a time to reconnect with their ally. (It is okay though if people talk a bit, but just not about their everyday lives and other things.) It is important to tell people to make a large mouth-hole in the mask so that others can hear them easily.
If the decision is made to do the council process the following morning, then mask-making can continue after dinner if people like. Nice to have a fire outside if possible with drumming, dancing, chanting, singing etc.
The following morning start with meditation, yoga, ritual in nature - whatever anyone has offered. Then have a sharing circle after breakfast, just to check in with everyone, share any dreams, etc.
The council of all beings.
Briefly introduce the council process with the following instructions:
* Use the 'first person'. Introduce yourself as your ally - e.g., "I am snake and I live close to the Earth....."
* Refer to humans as "they" or "the two-leggeds" etc. That is, don't talk to the other creatures in the circle as if they were human - this is very confusing for them.
* Feel free to let your ally express itself in any way - including movements and noises which it likes to make.
To deepen the council, some warm-up exercises beforehand can help. For example:
* A long silent walk, with drum, to another area of the venue
* Silent time to reconnect with the allies (just move a little way away from others in the group, and sit with your mask)
* Practise speaking for your ally in pairs with eyes closed (don't put the mask on, just have it nearby). Take a couple of minutes each while the other listens ... just let anything come out, don't think about it too much.
* Creative movement meditation, moving the Earth energy up through feet and legs, bringing Sky energy down, dancing with drums and other percussion, building the energy up and shaking and jumping, then moving and sounding like our allies. Ground the energy by touching the Earth, then move silently into the Council itself.
A ritual opening and closing is very important for this process, to move back and forth from humans to non-humans and back again. A simple way of doing this is by using the 'gateway' of sweet-smelling smoke and sound (rattles, drumming, chanting, etc.) which can be made by two facilitators. Ask participants to put their masks on the outside of the gate, but as they one-by-one enter the gateway into the council of all beings, they invite their ally into their body. On the other side of the gate, they begin to make the noises and move like their ally and slowly form a circle.
When the circle is fully formed, as primary facilitator for this process (decided beforehand), your being welcomes everyone else to the Council of All Beings, and is first to introduce yourself and how you see life on planet earth at the present time.
Remember, every council is different. There is no set thing which needs to happen apart from the experiences and expression of non-human beings' perspectives on life. Don't be afraid as facilitator to sit back and let it happen.
If the process is really getting slow (sometimes caused by it being held late at night, or if it is too cold or too hot), some ideas you might like to introduce through questions to the group by your ally include:
*Ways we can help the humans stop harming us (ways to contact the humans)
*Gifts, skills and teachings we can pass onto them (This is often good to introduce near the transition into the human world.)
Another task of the facilitator in this exercise might be to introduce a little negativity towards humans (if this seems to be being by-passed by the group).
If a human appears in the council do not panic! (This has been known to happen.) The group as a whole usually deals with this situation in some creative way (e.g., in a recent council in Chile, Tool introduced himself to the circle, which responded with some fear and mistrust , but then ritually transformed him ... he 'rusted' back into the earth). Humans are often bothersome at the council - not simply because they are uninvited, but because they tend to talk a lot (and in a really 'heady' way). They tend to take up far more than their fair share of the talking time and do not listen well. Often, the creatures in this situation end up compromising by allowing the human(s) to stay, but promising to be quiet and listen.
If it doesn't spontaneously arise from the group, find a smooth as way as possible to move into human form (i.e., to take off our masks). The way we usually do this is to suggest that we move amongst the humans in human-disguise, "putting on human masks". But be creative ... try anything! Once the primary facilitator has indicated that he or she thinks it would be a good idea to wind up now (e.g., by suggesting that maybe we should take on human form), then the other facilitators should assist in the transition by adding further comments in the circle-sharing.
Closing the council process with a ritual is important. Sometimes, spontaneous rituals occur in the group (e.g., the transformation of Tool), and this can often be a good time to end the process (it naturally and organically finds its own ending).
However, it is still important to close the circle as it was opened: through the ritual gateway. It is best to (i) have the 'gateway' in the same place and use the same instruments (e.g., drum, rattle, smudge); and (ii) have people exit from the circle into the outer area where they were before the council began. It also seems more powerful if the creatures don't take off their masks until moving through the gateway, so the transition from non-human to human is clear. This is also a good time for the creatures to state clearly and concisely what gift they will bring, or what they will teach the human world.
Ritual burning of the masks.
This is a final release of the spirit of everyone's allies back into the world, and a chance to thank them for the specific gifts they have brought to us and that we will carry on into our everyday lives. One by one, we place our masks on the fire and speak our thanks.
Some groups have decided that they don't want to burn the masks but have passed them on to a pre-school or other group of children for them to use. The masks are also very useful for direct actions. and can be given to an appropriate environment group The ritual burning, however, is powerfully symbolic of transforming the magic of the council into reality, and 'grounds the energy'. An alternative is to burn a piece of the mask.
This is a good time for lunch or at least some kind of break. In the new format which John and I will be experimenting with, this will be the ending of Saturday. Maybe followed by dinner, and then by drumming, singing, dancing etc.
Continue on to next workshop process: Grounding
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