Celebration and Mourning Circle
OWS Mourning and Celebration Circle - Facilitator Notes
Background and purpose
We live in a world where we have been dehumanized by the systems that we live in. One of the primary ways we have been dehumanized is how we have been educated to suppress the feelings we label as “negative” (i.e. sadness, fear, anger, despair, shame). We have been taught to view these feelings as a burden to ourselves and others, rather than as a normal and valid part of being a human being. We have also been taught to understand these feelings as problems that need to be fixed, and thus have been made vulnerable to exploitation by corporations and media who promise happiness and a return to normalcy through purchase and use of their products.
Tragically, we have participated in this dehumanization of ourselves and others through how we have responded when those feelings came up in ourselves or others. For example, whenever we have put on a “good face”; tried to “be strong” and “brush it off” or “get over it”; only focused on “getting things done” without making time for feeling and getting to know whatʼs here; tried to make ourselves or others “feel better”; gave advice to someone on how to “solve” their “issue”; separated ourselves from someone elseʼs pain by labeling them (i.e. theyʼre an “angry person”; theyʼre “needy”).
This suppression also extends to displays of celebration. Weʼre taught not to acknowledge or receive gratitude for our own actions and words. Weʼre told that thatʼs “selfish”, being “full of yourself”, or “egotistical”. We have participated in this suppression through shrinking from others expressions of gratitude to us; through saying words like, “itʼs nothing” (in other cultures: “de rien”, “de nada”); through withholding our own gratitude for ourselves, and through expressing it only as a brief afterthought to others (i.e “thanks”).
The purpose of a Mourning and Celebration circle is to restore our humanity. We are coming together to welcome and appreciate what each of us feels, with the understanding that this in itself has deep value. We donʼt have to be better people first, nor do we have to do anything more to earn this value. We are supporting each other to Occupy Our Life, creating a space which canʼt be exploited by the domination system - nothing can be taken from us when we know that we already have everything we need in our own body, mind, and spirit. The Mourning and Celebration circle honors that no one else has ownership over that, that no one else has the authority to deny the truth of what you feel. This kind of circle strengthens communities and the commitment to nonviolence.
Setting the space
Choose a space where vulnerable sharing can take place, safely and with a level of presence and focus. We want all participants to be in a setting where they feel safe to share their heart and trust that they are being held with full presence by everyone else there. With this in mind, at OWS, we reserved the conference room at Charlotteʼs Place rather than holding the circle in Zuccotti Park/ Liberty Plaza.
We recommend forty minutes to 3 hours as the scheduled length of the circle, depending on the number of participants. At OWS, for a group of about 35 participants, we scheduled two hours, and it went 15 minutes overtime.
All sit in a circle. Everyone who is present participates, including the facilitator - there are no “observers” or people who stand outside the circle “just watching”. This also contributes to the quality of safety and presence, because all are equally invested.
For these same reasons, we generally ask that everyone stay for the whole time, and that people not join after the first ten minutes. That said, we recognize that in some situations, itʼs good enough if the majority of the people are willing to stay the whole time.
Space is clear of tables, etc. - nothing is physically in-between the people there. Note that if you use the conference room at Charlotteʼs Place, please check with Jen before moving the rolling chairs out of the room. Optionally, you may want to set needs cards in the center of the circle of participants (a printable set can be downloaded from http:// worldempathy.org). This helps to connect everyone to a sense of shared humanity. At OWS, many participants commented on how much they appreciated looking at the cards.
How it works
Introduce yourself and let everyone know what the Mourning and Celebration Circle is for (see “Background and Purpose” above), and how it works.
- The Mourning and Celebration Circle is run council-style, where
- an object called a “talking stick” is passed from person-to-person around the circle.
- whomever holds the talking stick is the only one who is speaking, while everyone else listens and brings their presence to the speakerʼs expression. A round isnʼt complete until everyone has held the talking stick at least once.
- There is no cross-talk or dialogue - speakers arenʼt commenting or responding to the words of other speakers. Rather, each speaker is expressing whatʼs alive inside of them, in relation to the topic.
In the case of the Mourning and Celebration Circle, there are two rounds. In the first round, the topic is Mourning; in the second, the topic is Celebration. At OWS, we used the “Mourning” need card as the talking stick for the first round, then the “Celebration” need card as the talking stick for the second round. This helped to give a focus, reminding each person of the topic they were speaking to.
Before each round, introduce the topic of the round. At OWS, for the first round, we asked everyone to share any mourning or despair that was present in them related to living in the park, working in their groups, and the movement. For the second, we asked them to share any celebration or gratitudes that were present in them related to living in the park, working in their groups, and the movement.
Let everyone know that each person is being invited to give full space to whatever wants to be expressed through them on the topic, AND at the same time, with consideration of leaving enough time for everyone else to have a chance to speak. In short, “donʼt rush through what you have to say if the energy is still within you to express, and donʼt drag it out if the energy has moved on.” At OWS, we also shared the perspective that each personʼs expression can also be seen as speaking for many others - often many will share the same sentiment. So, rather than thinking of it as separate individuals sharing, consider that we are all speaking the voice of the community, so every individual expression of that is precious, including our own.
Speaking isnʼt limited to words. Mourning and celebration could also be someone sharing without words or in silence - as long as theyʼre holding the talking stick, itʼs still their share.
Everyone always has the option to “pass” when the talking stick comes to them. We suggest that if there is the urge to “pass”, to first take a moment to hold the talking stick in silence, check again to see if thereʼs something there that wants to be expressed, and if not, to then pass the talking stick on.
Choose a person to hand the talking stick to first. Sometimes weʼll start it at the person who we sense is most ready to express. Sometimes, as a way to model how to share, weʼll be the one to start. At OWS, we started with the person who had called the circle.
After the first person is done speaking, they will pass it to the person on their right. The talking stick will continue, from person-to-person around the circle until it reaches the first person again. At that point, depending on time and your sense of the group, you might choose either to continue the Mourning round, going around the circle a second time (i.e. if it seems like most of the group still has a lot of energy for mourning) or pause to introduce the Celebration round, and start the talking stick going around the circle with Celebration as the topic.
The Facilitator Role
As facilitator, youʼre considering the groupʼs needs every step of the way, from choosing and setting the space, to your words of introduction, to what and how you express when itʼs your turn to hold the talking stick. Consider safety, trust, respect, belonging, inclusion, and connection in your choices. Often the best contribution you can make is to share deeply and vulnerably from the heart when itʼs your turn to Mourn or Celebrate, so others feel the trust and safety to go there (which is why we sometimes choose to be the ones to start).
In general, once the talking stick is going around, we donʼt interrupt unless something happens which is outside of the agreed upon structure (we assume that once weʼve explained to everyone how it works, anyone who chooses to stay has agreed to the structure). At OWS, there were a couple of times that someoneʼs mourning or celebration sparked other people to comment - at those moments, we interrupted simply to remind people to bring their presence back to the person who has the talking stick, and not to crosstalk. Also, in another moment, a participantʼs sharing went on so long that we started to become concerned that others wouldnʼt have enough time to speak (we had 5 minutes left on our conference room reservation and about 10 more people to go). In that moment, we interrupted to express our concern and suggest that the talking stick be passed, in the interest of everyone having a voice. This kind of interruption is like a mindfulness bell, reminding everyone to help hold the whole picture.
At the end of the Mourning and Celebration Circle, bring the energy to a close in some way which honors the belonging, community, and connection that has been created. At OWS, we took a moment to speak to the level of connection we were seeing in the room, and to reaffirm the value of celebration and mourning as a revolutionary act in this society. We also invited everyone to take home a need card from the middle of the room - a need which they would want to be reminded of after they had left this space. Finally we expressed our gratitude for being a part of the circle, offered hugs and information about how to keep this level of connection alive in their community. In other contexts, when we have had more time, we have also taken time to hear from the other participants how that was to celebrate and mourn, and how it was to hear their community membersʼ celebration and mourning.
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