Thursday, December 29, 2011

Creative Circles

I have found that creating Mandalas is complimentary to Circle work, in the way the creative process helps one to listen more deeply to one's self and become more 'open-hearted' to what surfaces from the heart. In Circle, we are asked to 'speak from the heart' about what matters most to us, yet in order to do so, we must first know what this means and how put 'heart speak' into practice. It is possible that creating Mandalas can help to teach us this.

While undertaking my master thesis, I created Mandalas – as another means of personal journaling and reflection to deepen the learning process and to empower a richer personal understanding of Circle and its significance for Environmental Education. I would begin each (thesis) work week with “Mandala Mondays” and go from there. Each Mandala would draw out a theme or concept of Circle which I would then spend time writing about that week. I used a variety of mediums (paints, crayons, cloth material, pens, etc.) to make my sacred creations. For example, this Mandala entitled “My Ecological Identity” (below) was a reflection on perceiving the Earth and all life forms as an extension of self.

I challenge anyone and everyone interested in enriching their experience of Circle to create a Mandala or two… and/or take up my Mandala Monday Challenge – a commitment to begin each week with a Mandala creation to open up more fully to what your heart is saying, and trusting in this message to be the very thing you need to enrich your soulful learning direction in the week ahead.

Here’s how to participate:

1.      Create a ‘contained space’ in which you will communicate from the heart through creative artwork.  Find a piece of paper or another kind of blank canvass - on which you will draw, trace or cut out a Circle - in which you will create your Mandala masterpiece.
2.      Choose your medium of choice. It doesn’t matter what you use to draw/paint with – go with whatever you feel like – this may change from creation to creation. Mix it up. Be color coordinator or chaotic – use one or a variety of mediums - it doesn’t matter.
3.      Let whatever surfaces manifest in art form. When you speak from the heart you are not thinking from the head – nor should you critic or judge what you are creating – it is what it is. Go with the flow, trust in what surfaces, allow it to manifest in creative form, don’t judge the finished product.
4.     Learn from the process. Learning is not so much from creating a finished product, rather it is in the process of creating itself, the thoughts and feelings that move through you as you create. Also, you may have no idea what it is your heart is saying until you reflect more deeply on the process, and on what you created.
5.  Believe that Mandalas are all about heart.  Some people think that Mandalas should be symmetrical in design, with repeated shapes & colors throughout the circumference of the art form to be considered a Mandala. This is not true, although there are many beautiful Mandalas that are like this.  If you open up to what your heart is saying and allow whatever shape, design, color that manifest within the circle canvass space - this is what creating a Mandala is all about. Creating Mandalas are about moving out of the head and into 'heart' space - a meaningful meditative creative expression of sorts.
6.  Enjoy the creative process. It is far easier to get the creative juices flowing, to undertake a creative task, etc. when one is "in joy" ("enjoy"), that is, when you engage in what it is you do from a place of joy and gratitude. Creativity and joy flow from the same place - the heart.
7. Reflect on the process. Opportunity to gain more insight and learning can be found when you take time to reflect more deeply on your work through creative writing (journal, freestyle, poems, etc.). Start with giving your Mandala a "title" and go from there.

Facilitating Circle by Ear

I play piano by ear and sing harmony to almost every musical piece and anyone singing, so Stefon Harris' TED talk presentation really struck a chord with me and revealed how to best facilitate (and participate in) Circle. In fact, I didn't really think about the relevance of what it is I do when playing the piano by ear or harmonizing to music - until seeing this video. Now I understand more deeply how facilitating Circle alike 'playing by ear' is about listening deeply, paying attention to the subtleties going on, and creatively guiding what is taking place into something harmonious and/or desirable. It is also about trusting the process, opening oneself up to what the heart is communicating, and making space for creativity:

When I sit down to play the piano, I never know what it is I will be playing or what direction (tone palette) my fingers will take me, or the emotions that will lead them - I just sit down and channel a direct link from my heart to my fingers and go with it. I play until my soul is satisfied with what has been communicated, and I find this experience often healing, cathartic, and energizing. It is the process of 'creating' that I am referring to, rather than the actual musical score that manifests. In fact, I can often be self-critical of my musical creations, after all I am no Mozart. So I appreciate Stephon Harris' message that 'there are no mistakes on the bandstand', meaning there are no mistakes while creating music, only opportunities. Opportunity to create something meaningful from a diversity of tones and silent spaces between these tones, whatever musical composition or sound manifests. 

When a musical group works together, there is something musically delicious hearing a melody paired with perfect harmony. I more often than not choose to harmonize with others when singing together rather than taking the lead with the melody. This requires 'having an ear for it', listening deeply to the notes that others are voicing and singing a complimentary tone palette. Believe it or not, this also requires TEAMWORK. It can be tough and almost impossible to harmonize with one leading the melody if he/she goes all over the place with no mindfulness for harmony. Also, in my experience working with other singers, I find it most enjoyable when the role of 'center stage' rotates: one person takes the lead vocals and switches off to the next person, and so on - so each person can share their authentic singing voice, and each person alternatively takes turns listening more attentively. When jamming with other musicians (singing or playing instruments), no one likes a stage hog -  everyone brings something to the musical experience.  There needs to be room for each person to have a 'play' ('say') when jamming together. In fact, each person (and instrument), adds something unique/different to musical composition which manifests, that would be different otherwise if that person/instrument was not participating. Imagine how music changes when you add or take away a tuba, a clarinet, drums, violins, etc.  A desirable musical composition is diverse and creative in: what sounds (voices) are drawn out and how often; how these sounds (voices) blend with other sounds (voices) or stand alone; the timing of sound (voice) and the spaces of silence in between; and having an 'ear' for this all, to make a musical score manifest.

Understanding Circle facilitation/participation alike musical creation has given me much to meditate on. I find a sense of peace and comfort knowing I can lean on my experiences of playing the piano and singing harmony to help edify my skills as a Circle facilitator. That being said, I think I'm going to go and play the piano now...I have a craving for creativity and Circle tonight.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Even "Gabby-Gabbertons" Can Listen Well in Circle

I like to gab. I have several girlfriends who also like to gab some so much in fact that we have mastered the art of gabbing at the same time, equally hearing what the other person is talking about. But this ability to talk and listen at the same time is exclusive to a few people I know - everyone else doesn't understand the flow of these dual conversations - especially my life partner.  In fact, just the other day I confronted him saying, "I bet you wonder how someone like me, who loves to gab a lot, can be a Circle facilitator?" His eyes widened as I caught him red-handed in a truth, "Yes, I've often wondered that!" he exclaimed.  

The truth is, Circle has taught and continues to teach me to be silent and listen more. If you think about it, there is no way to be sure that anyone is actually listening, whether or not they stay silent as you speak (or keep up with the gab).  Circle however, assures us that respectful and attentive listening is to be at the forefront of our minds as we communicate with each other. In Circle, we can have a sense that people are being mindful of the way they are listening to us because of the guidelines set in place for meaningful speaking and listening - and as a Circle facilitator it is my responsibility to oversee that people are holding true to these guidelines and modeling them myself.

I actually enjoy the change of conversation pace and find that I learn more when I keep silent and listen more attentively to what others are saying. But I have learned that there is definitely a place for Circle communication as much as there is a place for the mundane. Circle can be a lot of personal work, requiring higher attention and focus and therefore can leave me feeling emotionally, mentally and spiritually drained after a while.  So while on one hand, it is valuable to be in spaces where you can practice heightened listening (so transformation and deep learning can take place); it is equally valuable to be in spaces where you can let your mind wander or gab your heart out so one can recharge and find balance. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Call to Circle for Canadian Political Leaders

Canada to Pull out of Koyoto Protocol Next Month” reports CTV News November 27th.  It is news like this that causes me to lose faith in Canadian leadership and stirs up within me a sense of hopelessness concerning the direction forward of our planet. As much as I try to keep my head up, whistling a joyful tune, and hoping for the best for all – I/we sensitive to matters of the Earth (which for me are also matters of the heart), are often faced with upsetting news like this. I wonder, how can we expect our children to be stewards of the Earth when our leaders can’t walk the talk. I could sure benefit from a Circle around this matter – to voice and be heard, to bear witness to others, to include everyone’s perspective/worldview on this matter, in order to grow in self-awareness, and empower hope and affirmative action. I am confident that the leaders of our country could also benefit from taking time to do the same. Now that would be heart-warming!

CTV News feed: