Friday, March 16, 2012

Learning from Our Elders

“A healthy community is one that shares their stories” I heard someone say.  Several speakers joined together to have a conversation about the state and stewardship of Cultus Lake, a major water body in the community, that the First Nations also refer to as one of their mothers.  This event included a traditional First Nations meal of elk and fish, hosted in their community longhouse. The purpose of this meeting as communicated by the host was to:

“Come into our home, eat our food, listen to what the family has to say, witness it and share it with others”.  

I was touched by the First Nation’s spirit of generosity and welcome.  Even after years of conflict with ‘white people’ they ask us into their home and said, “We don’t talk about the past or how long it took us to get to this place, but we are here now, so welcome!”  I recognized that there was a sense of vulnerability simply by asking people to come into their home. This sense of ‘open vulnerability’ made the space feel more safe and helped me to listen more deeply to what was being said – as I also felt vulnerable being in their space experiencing a longhouse dinner tradition for the first time.

There were several things that stood out for me that made me think about Circle work:

The event was ‘opened’ with traditional songs that the host later described as the ‘heart’ of their community. Even the woman next to me whispered, “Did you hear how the welcome song was to the rhythm of a heart beat?”  (Circle is all about heart).

Witnesses were called to take special care and attention to what was being said. I was told that the witnesses were given a gift (tokens) which connects and commits them to this role. (We are called to be witnesses in Circle).

Those hosting the conversation (opening speakers) wore a blanket across their heart. I am unsure as to why this tradition is practiced when speaking, although I am certain there is some significance here. (There is a relationship between the heart and speaking in Circle).

The longhouse consisted of a large dirt floor, surrounded by benches along the walls, making one giant circle. The crowd sat around the circumference. (We sit in a circle, when experiencing Circle).

It was communicated that, “We gather to hear real voices from a real floor (dirt), because this is how we have real conversations (versus the world of texting we live in)”.   (Circle is about getting back to ‘real’ conversations – effective listening and speaking).

* * * *  

The experience overall reminded that “A sense of community is found only through giving.”  Then I had an epiphany:  If story-telling is a kind of giving of our stories and selves, than it absolutely makes sense that healthy communities involve sharing our stories!!!