Great Plains Zen Center


Council Practice


Great Plains Zen Center periodically offers Council Practice for members and friends.  This practice affords us the opportunity to practice Right Speech in a deep and transformational way. We are grateful to Jared and Ann Seide and the Center for Council for the training and inspiration we continue to receive in integrating this ancient and highly relevant practice into various aspects of Great Plains Zen Center.  Announcements about Councils and Council Workshops can be found oon our Events Calendar.

“Council is a practice of open, heartfelt expression and attentive, empathic listening. It is a great ally in introducing meaningful change in our institutions, schools, families, relationships. Council has been practiced with young and old from many cultures, races and nationalities. Passing the talking piece with the intention of speaking authentically and listening attentively inspires deeper communication, intercultural understanding and the non-violent resolution of conflict.

Council is effective in organizations, communities and families that want to move from a hierarchical structure to a partnership model where initiative, responsibility, collaboration and leadership are shared. Through deepening trust, council supports the clarification of values, co-visioning and community building. The Way of Council has been explored, developed and adapted to work in schools, communities, businesses, service organizations, prisons, healthcare and end-of-life facilities, professional conferences, spiritual centers, family gatherings and private therapeutic practices all over the world.” – Center for Council

Council practices exist all over the world in many cultures and religions from Native American Iroquois Council and Talking Circles to Ibitaramo in Rwanda to Friends Meetings, to Sobhet in Islam to the Jewish Havurah.

Here are some Guiding Principles from Center for Council:

  • Sit in a circle (ideally on the ground); on the same level, “in the same boat.”

  • Use a talking piece so that the speaker is known and recognized

  • Listen deeply, between the lines, to what is said – and to what is unsaid.

  • Don’t interrupt, so as to respect the speaker; witness your internal responses and let them be until it’s your time to speak.

  • Speak honestly and from the heart.

  • Speak succinctly, aware of the time and size of the group.

  • Speak spontaneously, avoiding rehearsing.

  • See each other as peers.

  • Seek to reveal and understand positions and assumptions, rather than attacking or defending; avoid analysis and evaluation.

  • Seek a collective truth, viewpoint, wisdom – perhaps fuller than any one individual’s truth.

  • Consider everything that enters the group’s awareness as part of the process, including place, weather, interruptions – and what’s unspoken, in the silences.

  • Value inquiry over advocacy

  • Value curiosity over opinion

  • Value understanding over self-defense

  • Value building community over self-importance

  • Value being truthful over being right


The Circle

The circle is of great significance. It creates a sense of equality. We should be able to see every other face. All seats are equally powerful.  At the center of the circle, is a cloth with meaningful objects placed by those taking part in the council. When a circle member takes the talking piece, they can replace the one they were handed and pick up another item from the center of the circle that speaks to them. The center of the circle represents common intentions and values. The talking piece “is a tool for focusing attention and empowering the one holding it, on behalf of everyone.” We should only speak when we are holding the talking piece.

Council Intentions

It is important to be clear about when council begins. We are stepping out of our usual routine – and even our usual way of being together. We all step into this together. Although learning to listen and speak from the heart hopefully carries into other meetings and interactions that we have, it is important to be clear that council is a particular practice with a beginning and an end.

The council intentions are:

  • Speaking from the heart

  • Listening from the heart

  • Spontaneity (not rehearsing)

  • Being of lean expression

  • Not cross talking (responding to someone’s comments

  • Not speaking of what is said in council outside the council

When council ends, we transition and remember to honor our confidentiality agreement.

When we listen from the heart we:

  • Seek understanding (instead of agreement)

  • Accept others as they are (instead of fixing them)

  • Empathize (instead of criticizing or judging)

  • Read the field (the group energy and mood)

  • Stay centered (calming our monkey mind)

  • Stay present (instead of running away or hiding)

  • Witness our internal responses (and put them on hold)

  • Honor feelings (ours and others)

  • Find the gift in the wound

  • Listen for the soul of the circle

  • Practice not agreeing or disagreeing on any level

When we speak from the heart we:

  • Use “I” statements (instead of “you” – avoid characterizing others’ thoughts/feelings)

  • Tell our personal story (instead of philosophizing)

  • Favor feelings (over facts and opinions)

  • Reveal our process (how I got where I am) and our conclusions

  • Move toward vulnerability (instead of away from it)

  • Tell the fullest possible truth (instead of edited truths)

  • Talk leanly/cut to the chase (avoid “fill” or thinking out loud)

  • Express ourselves spontaneously (instead of rehearsing or editing)

“You have noticed

That everything an Indian does is in a circle,

And that is because the power of the world

Always works in circles,

And everything tries to be round,

And I have heard this earth is round like a ball,

And so are the stars.

The wind in the greatest, whirls.

Birds make their nests in circles,

For theirs is the same religion as ours…

Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing,

And always come back to where they were.

The life of man is a circle

From childhood,

And so it is in everything

Where the power moves.”

                                                       – Black Elk, Oglala Sioux Holy Man