Deep gratitude for some very courageous EmpowR Transformation circle participants and community members for offering their consent and time to record a reflection circle for The Circle Way. This video was recorded as an experiential learning tool with EmpowR program participants Becky LaFavor, Eric Ext, Jared Parker, Madeleine Blythe, Mitch Pauley, and Rae Carter.
An almost 300-year old Black Cherry Tree stands with deep roots and open arms on her namesake—Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary located in N’dakinna, the ancestral homeland of Abenaki People in what is now known as the mountains of Vermont.
Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary is stewarded and cared for by myself, my partner Mitch, and a growing community of cocreators. A safe haven for a diversity of people, plants, trees, animals, and unseen beings, the sanctuary serves as the land base for EmpowR Transformation—an incubation container for co-creating cultural conditions of belonging, equity, and collective liberation. We design and facilitate programs and practices to support transformative justice through pattern shifting and behavior change for the just and liberated world humanity and our Earth kin are calling in.
I first began working with circle process while facilitating health and wellness programs following a cancer diagnosis in 2018. What spiraled into a debilitating health crisis also launched me into an acute awakening and transformation experience, setting me on a path of healing and being the change I want to see in the world.
In 2020 I began practicing in The Circle Way which was recommended by Layla F. Saad in Me and White Supremacy. I wove The Circle Way into facilitation of physically distanced community circles at Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary and advocated for circle process in Vermont business community spaces. In 2021 I began a relationship with an emerging EmpowR co-creator to deepen practice with The Circle Way, and designed and offered a statewide anti racism accountability program.
In 2022 Mitch and I piloted gender specific programs to address the toxicity and harms of whiteness and masculinity and lean into culture building that embraces more feminine energies, somatic abolitionism practices from Resmaa Menakem, and animist relationship with the Earth. This experimentation led to two specific programs offered in 2023 with the support of a grant from The Circle Way.
White Women Accountability Circles for Collective Liberation offered a space for white-identifying women (cis/trans), femmes, and non-binary/trans people who were socialized as women to learn from each other and build support systems to stay engaged in racial justice. Circle process supported the design and facilitation of a container for participants to integrate equity commitments and process emotionally charged racialized situations without putting labor on People of Color. The call for holding white accountability work has been at the request of many People of Color I work with in Vermont and has not been without criticism, which is a risk I have been willing to navigate to be in integrity to the complexity of addressing the behaviors of white people that perpetuate white supremacy culture.
Circle agreements shared ahead of time and reviewed at the start of each circle set the tone for practicing non-judgment and equitable communication which created a safe space from the beginning. People arrived ready to participate fully and appreciated the call-in from the beginning to listen and share from the heart, be present in the body, and stay away from debating, advice giving, and other tenets of white supremacy culture.
Sharing in circle with spaciousness, pause, energetic release, and somatic experiencing supported participants to listen deeply, share fully, and build the muscle for discomfort. Participants were invited to contribute to the altar center, which supported dialogue from being directed at each other, to a center point that also released the energetic charge of our work as an offering back into the Earth, with many seen and unseen beings bearing witness at Grandmother Cherry Sanctuary.
Facilitation prompts were pulled directly from themes and trends taking place in Vermont racial equity challenges and were also informed by an opening question which asked participants why they were attending. By practicing emergent facilitation (with so much love and gratitude to adrienne maree brown), the circles were timely and relevant to meeting people where they were at and created a fluid and open flow which allowed space for deeper discussion and an embodied experience. Participants really appreciated when singing and engaging with animals broke up challenging circle rounds as a way to somatically experience and release the build up and charge of uncomfortable conversations.
Men’s Community Evolution Circles, facilitated by Mitch, were offered during the same timeframe (on different days). These circles offered an opportunity for men to practice healthy forms of masculinity, community building, and ripple positive change for personal health, relationships, and society. Men practiced deepening their listening and sharing skills—without judgment—and to build capacity for self awareness, emotional intelligence, personal and collective responsibility, and creating new behavior patterns.
Circle agreements were sent ahead of time which helped participants prepare, supporting several men to arrive in very vulnerable spaces, ready to share and be witnessed. Outside components included walking and setting the circle center together which helped participants ground and feel an energetic connection with the land so that when the circle opened, they were ready to talk. Thank you Richard Rivera of The Circle Way for the suggestion!
The men really appreciated working with a talking piece which helped them minimize the common cultural norms of cross-talking, validating, and problem solving. This was at times very frustrating for some participants who were uncomfortable and wanted to give advice when witnessing some of the challenges other men were experiencing. Mitch gave context as to why this can be a dominating behavior and would invite leaning into consent culture and sharing emotions about the process and circle agreements.
I am often challenged by trying to communicate the experiential learning impact of the work that I do. Offering this blog post back to The Circle Way feels like one of the best ways I can share the learning forward.
This blog post was originally written for The Circle Way and published on The Circle Way website and newsletter on November 1, 2023.
Program design and delivery was supported financially by The Circle Way. Program participation fees were given to the Vermont ReLeaf Collective.
Learn more about getting involved in the EmpowR Community to explore new ways of being in relationship with ourselves, each other, and the planet and embody values for collective liberation.