“Once upon a time, fire led our ancestors into the circle. It made sense to put the fire in the center and to gather around it. A circle defined physical space by creating a rim with a common sense of sustenance lighting up the center. These ancestors needed the circle for survival—food, warmth, defense—and they discovered that the circle could help design social order.”
—The Circle Way, A Leader in Every Chair
Under the glowing light of the Topanga Library Meeting Room, with a warm cup of tea in hand, you can sit in council as friends, new and familiar, are uplifted each month by the deep listening and storytelling of Topanga Talking Stick.
I first discovered council when I was teaching an after-school program for LAUSD middle schoolers with Inside Out Community Arts. The goal of the program was to build confidence, self-expression, and conflict resolution skills through theater arts. Every bit of working with the Inside Out award-winning curriculum and team was exquisite, but what drew me in were the rare times when we gathered into ten-person circles, passed a talking piece, and listened. Put simply, council is an age-old practice that involves bringing people together in a circle to bear witness and share authentically. We agree to speak one at a time, sharing personal stories and listening non-judgmentally.
Later, when I was offered my first professional development, I jumped at the opportunity to explore more about this “council thing” and signed up for facilitator training through the Ojai Foundation (ojaifoundation.org). I’ve since become a Level III trained Council Facilitator, to submerge into multi-year council studies through Council Heart (councilheart.com) in Venice, CA, and bring council to various businesses and organizations, including Skirball Hospice, and student groups following the Parkland shootings.
In May 2018 I, along with two other Topanga Elementary parents, Summer Scott-Sexton and Michelle Butler, launched Topanga Talking Stick as a forum where parents could practice the tools our students were learning around Restorative Justice. As fire season came to a close with the devastating Woolsey fire, many Topanga residents were drawn to the Talking Stick as a way to bond over the stressful period of loss. Today, our community includes many seekers from inside and outside the canyon. This safe space meets an important unmet need during this challenging historical moment of urban isolation,” says Topanga resident Dr. Alisa Land Hill.
Each month brings a new theme for sharing, created and delivered by a rotating body of facilitators, many of whom are canyon residents. Recent Talking Stick themes include Forgiveness & Gratitude, Vulnerable Presence, The Healing Power of Kindness, and Masculinity in the Modern Age.
You are welcome whether you are new to council or whether you have been practicing for many years. If you are someone whose work as a practitioner, teacher, activator, light worker or social engineer finds you facilitating circles, join us in co-leading a circle. Current facilitators include Kamakshi Hart, Shawn Berry, Scott Vineberg, Andrea Shreeman, Summer Scott Sexton, Magalie Bonneau, Jane Faulkner, Candice Pereira, Wendy Haines, Stefani Valadez, and Niki Schmid.
Topanga Talking Stick meets on the third Tuesday of each month from 6 to 7:45 p.m. Members of the Topanga Library staff provide a welcoming space and Craig Fisher delights in curating all the best books on our rotating topics to check out. Library Manager is Ashley Adams
We lit a flame (metaphorically of course; safety is always first in Topanga!) 19 months ago and continue to hold space each month for whomever is called to join.
The final 2019 Talking Stick Council is December 17. Council dates for 2020 are January 21, February 18, and March 17. For more information: TopangaTalkingStick.com. Please send questions, suggestions, and interest in facilitation to: info@TopangaTalkingStick.com; and on Facebook.
The Topanga Public Library is located at 122 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. For more information: (310) 455-3480; colapublib.org.
By Andrea Shreeman