Voices in Chorus: The Circle Way



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Voices in Chorus: The Circle Way

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If ever you had an opportunity to watch a pack of wolves trek through a snowy woods, you would see them moving as one body, winding around trees and over hills as smoothly and sinuously as a snake. They would be attuned to each other’s rhythms to the degree that they were of one rhythm. If you were at a distance where you could not make out their individual forms, their impeccably choreographed movement might have you believing you were watching a single long, slender animal.

The wolves can walk as one because they talk as one. From each of their hearts comes a voice which creates the voice of the pack. Imagine a group of singers, each with rich and diverse baritone, alto, and tenor voices, joining to form one glorious chorus and you have a picture of how the many voices in the pack come together to speak with one voice and move in one movement.

When wolves can walk as one and talk as one, they can hunt as one. The chase, with the lead wolf running the prey and someone ready to relieve him when he is winded, along with a couple out on each side to corral the animal as she zigzags in an attempt to escape, is well coordinated and skillfully executed not only because the wolves talk as one, but because they think and feel as one. They have circle consciousness.

If they did not trust in their circle--their pack--and place it first, they could not feed themselves, care for their pups, or defend their territory. In order to hunt efficiently, they must rely on the signals of their packmates, and that takes trust--trust first in that their packmates' voice is coming from the heart: the seat of circle consciousness, rather than the head: the seat of self-centeredness.


When One Voice Becomes Many

Imagine a drought: the grasses have withered, the streams have dried up, and the deer are starving. The wolves grow hungry and must range farther out from their established territory to find food for their pups. They run into the neighboring pack, which is just as desperate as them. Neither pack can back down; it is either do or die.

The first pack is solid: each individual is dedicated to the pack’s welfare, which is shown by their posture, the way they stand solidly next to each other, and the united energy that emanates from them. The other pack senses this, which throws them into even more disarray than they already are. A small clique hovers off to the side and two haughty individuals maintain their separate-but-equal stances while the core pack members do their best to show strength and pack consciousness.

Which pack do you think will dominate the show-down and get to expand its territory? Which pack will get to feed its pups and pass its genes on to the next generation --traits of harmony that that encourage walking and talking as one? Of course the disjointed pack is the likely one to be eliminated from the gene pool, and not only because they ran into a more together pack, but because they were already a pack in crisis and would continue limping along in a crisis state.

When individuals in the pack choose to function from their egos, they make ego-centered (i.e. independent) decisions, and they often form factions which fall out of sync with the pack. Individuals find themselves stressed and unfulfilled. Pride (the way the ego) becomes a virtue; and humility (the way of the heart) is seen as a character flaw. Tension mounts and fights break out. The pack’s movements become disjointed--if they are even able to decide on functioning together. More and more they return empty-handed from their hunting trips. Rather than moving silently and gracefully in each other's shadows and executing the hunt with the deftness of fingers on a hand, they crash independently through the woods and spook animals before ever getting near them. Even when they do chance upon one, they bumble the effort because they have forgotten how to listen to each other. The circle of one voice has degraded to a hodgepodge of individuals with many voices. These adults raise dysfunctional pups, who grow up to be like their parents and further erode the pack’s integrity.

When a pack walks its talk, members can be so in sync with each other that they step precisely in each other’s footprints--so precisely that ten wolves can go by and leave only the track of one. The track is a metaphor for their disturbance: ten animals thinking and acting as one create the disturbance of little more than one animal, whereas ten animals functioning independently create the disturbance of ten animals.


The Return to Oneness

A Circle can be only as strong as its weakest member. If an individual does not place the Circle first, the Circle cannot support the individual--not because it does not want to, but because it cannot afford to. There is no choice in the matter: the individual must either banish herself or the Circle will banish her.

As cruel as Banishment may sound, it is actually the most kind and just thing that could happen. Without this individual, the Circle has a chance to survive; and the individual without her Circle has an opportunity to discover what really matters in life. Her kin, who view her Banishment positively and supportively, send her on her Journey with celebration and their blessing.

When she walks down the trail, they will turn their backs on her and go on as though she never existed. They know she needs to Journey alone and free of familiarity's complacency. And she will turn her back on them, not to abandon them, but to find herself.

She might have come to realize on her own that she is engaged in a battle she cannot win, because she is not fighting with the pack or any individual in the pack--she is fighting with herself. For the good and welfare of her kin, she knows she must leave, so she will banish herself. In time, she may discover that in order to not only exist, but to be happy and healthy, she needs to be part of something greater than herself. Perhaps then she will see the need for--and she will cherish the privilege of having--the support, nourishment, and trust of her kind. And perhaps she will see that her kind need, and will cherish the privilege of having, the same from her.

If she then comes back to her Circle, it will be with humility and openness, i.e. with heart. She will come bearing the greatest of gifts: the gift of self. And her Circle will greet her with a welcoming reserved for the return of a long-lost child.

On the other hand, if she is so self-absorbed that she has completely lost her circle consciousness, she will be forcefully banished (I witnessed such a Banishment, and it was gruesome. The big male known as Earth Thunderer left only after he was completely thrashed.) If she persists in her head-set, one of three things will likely happen:


  • She will self-destruct.

  • She will find other Circle misfits like her and they will form a renegade gang.

  • She will reawaken alone in a far land after a long journey of many teachings. Thirsting for the Circle Way, she will either find a pack or join with others to form a new pack.

Only in a faceless society where I am not directly connected with the means and ends of my existence do I have the luxury to remain reactive, self-absorbed, and prideful. Only in such a society would my kin stand by and watch me sink into nonfunction and depression.



The Way of the Heart

Imagine that we are playing a team game and everything is clicking: we're sharp, tuned into each other, and we're putting our hearts into it. We flow synchronously across the field, completely absorbed in the bliss of the now. We are in a state of circle consciousness: all our thoughts and feelings are wrapped up in the game and we feel so high that we'd be happy if the game went on forever. Win or lose, we win because we played our hearts out and our team has grown stronger.

Living from the heart, like playing from the heart, is the Circle Way. When I can trust in the strength of my Circle, I know I will be cared for if I am injured, and I know my children would be in good hands if I were to die. The clans of our ancestors lived the Circle Way, which is why they survived and why we are here today. All social animals function as the circle, ultimately because they have to.

I live the Circle Way when I bring my full self into my life with others. My immersion is my Circle's lifeblood. Aloofness breeds mistrust--I cannot count on my Circle when individuals are not fully engaged. Self-serving breeds mistrust--the one who feeds his ego, starves his Circle. Equality breeds mistrust--I need to know the person best qualified for the task is in charge. Dysfunction breeds mistrust--a person caught up in her behaviors cripples her Circle.

The cornerstone of trust is Truthspeaking: coming clear on my heart's voice and stating it clearly to my Circle. To trust in someone, I need to know her heart; and for my Circle to trust in me, it needs to know my heart. The talk in the saying Walk your talk is the heart's voice, and walking my heart voice engenders the trust of my Circle.

When in a state of trust, I naturally and spontaneously speak from my heart. Trust opens me to hearing and embracing others' heartvoices. When I listen and speak from my heart, barriers between you and me, and between us and the natural realm, dissolve. With ease and grace, I can play and love and grow and hunt together with my Circle. I feel comfortable immersed in the Circle of Life with my plant and animal and mineral relations, because we all speak the same language. My kin and I can genuinely say:

"What is good for the circle is good for me."

"I am but a fool: there is so much I do not know, see, or understand--I wish to listen."

"Let us all speak our hearts, that we may know the heartvoice of the Circle. And let this be our voice."
When We Lose Heart

My heart tells me what to do and my head tells me how to do it. When I lose touch with my heart, my head tries to take its place. Unfortunately, the head is not designed to perform the tasks of the heart. Communication becomes labored, time consuming, and ineffective. The best the head has to offer in place of the Heartvoice is rationalizations and patterned behaviors. Where my heart brought me to one voice with others, my head highlights our differences.


In our culture, many people view separation as strength. We admire the lone comic book superhero, the rebel, the self-reliant pioneer, and the film star who single-handedly saves the day. Although separation could give an edge in a survival situation, most of the time it is a sign of weakness.
The ego, the head-function responsible for self-awareness, exists to assure my survival when I am at risk (and I am truly at risk without my heartvoice). The ego is the lord of separation: while the heart's goal is to draw me into relationship; the ego works to distance me from relationship. When I feel threatened, my ego marshals me into a defensive position by detaching me from my surroundings and having me look at everything with suspicion. I need to detach from others in order to do what is needed to survive. This is a normal self-preservation behavior inherited from our evolutionary past.

When I function from my heart, I am calm, centered, and trusting. When my ego yanks me out of my heart and into my head, I become scattered, fearful and mistrusting: scattered because my mind is racing to strategize and discover response options; fearful to keen my senses; mistrusting because when the ego’s in charge, it’s all about me.

The more extreme the threat, whether real or perceived, the more the adrenaline pumps and the more I react instinctively--it's "Act now, think later." The head is fully in the service of the ego, doing everything it can to aid in my self-preservation. The ego has no conscience, no values: everything and anything is kosher in the game of survival, including--but not limited to--lying, cheating, and even killing. Honor and respect are tossed out the window—unless they’re advantageous to survival.

An ego-based relationship, then, is shrouded in a cloud of mistrust. My ego replaces zeal for the well-being of my Circle with self interest. My "Circle"--if I even have the semblance of one--can be hardly more than a motley assortment of self-serving individuals. With mistrusting eyes, I am a poor tracker, because I struggle to have faith in what I see. It takes great effort for me to become invisible on the stalk moving with the shadows because I am wary of the shadows' sources.


Most of us are awash in ego-based relationships. We know far too many people to relate on a heart level, and we have been conditioned all our lives to act from our heads rather than our hearts. Perhaps the reason for the narcissist plague, and for the mistrust and lies that infect so many of our relationships, is that we are attempting the impossible: head-based relevant, nourishing, and lasting relationships. How can trust be born of fear, or calm from scatteredness, or circle consciousness from self-centeredness?
Survival becomes all about me: the only person I can trust. This is called greed. My heart knows intuitively that security comes from giving. My ego, on the other hand, says "Hoard." My kin might starve, but I will eat.

At least until my stash runs out.

If I had shared from an open heart, I would have nurtured heart relationships and strengthened my Circle. Now in need, I would likely find myself provided for in greater bounty than I ever gave or could give. And if I were open to learning from the experience, I would now know that greed runs contrary to the Circle Way, the way of abundance, which is why it inevitably turns to need. Self-sustaining Natives like the James Bay Cree consider greediness to be a great character flaw, because they cannot afford to take a chance with it.51, pg.38

Why, then, would we ever turn to greed? Because the ego knows no better and is capable of nothing more. Remember: the ego is a survival specialist, trained to drum these mantras into us:

I can make my own decisions--I know better than my Circle what's best for me.

I'm more important than the Circle --I come first.

I am first and foremost responsible to myself.

The upshot: I have torn myself out of the Circle, just as a heart could be ripped out of a person's chest. Yes, the heart now has its autonomy: it no longer has to answer to the lungs, or the liver, or the brain. But the heart will die. And along with it, so will the Circle.


How to Speak with One Voice

A. Listen

“The silent man was ever to be trusted, while the man ever ready with speech was never taken seriously,”3 said Standing Bear, and Oglala Lakota from the1800s. Kaili’ohe Kame’ekua, a Hawaiian elder woman from the same era, said she strived "to be humble; to listen.”8

Without one voice, there is only the illusion of a Circle. To become of one voice, we listen to the voices of all and take them to heart. The heart, the seat of relationship, is designed to find common ground; whereas when we listen with our heads, we can end up with as many voices as there are people.
B. Keep it short

William Penn wrote that the Lenni Lenape spoke little, "but fervently and with elegancy;" He said their speech was short, deliberate, to the point, and interspersed with silence.wp, pgs. 43-45 Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce said: “It does not require many words to speak the truth.” Chief Luke of the Teaching Drum said: “It requires many words to keep from speaking the truth.”

My heartvoice is my truth, and the more words I use to speak it,


  • the more I dilute it,

  • the farther I stray from it,

  • the more listeners struggle to keep their attention,

  • the more heart speak becomes head speak, which hearts find unintelligible,

  • the more I risk becoming defensive or accusatory,

  • the more chance of triggering someone's ego,

  • the more I risk trying to convince others of what should be in their hearts.

To prevent straying and verbosity:

  • Keep to one topic.

  • Be clear, quick, and direct.

  • Quit speaking when I lose clarity.

  • Use "I" rather than "You" statements.

  • Focus on my truth rather than myself.

If someone challenges my truth or tries to get me off topic, I repeat my truth--the plain truth and nothing but the truth. I do it only once, as any further engagement could feed the behavior that prevents the person from hearing.

When I speak my truth by the above guidelines, ears perk up, hearts are touched, and minds are stimulated. It has nothing to do with what I say, but with the fact that we are wired to key into another's unadulterated heartvoice like a hummingbird drawn to a nectar-filled flower. Like begets like: the more I speak my truth, the more it will tug at the hearts of others and have them speaking their truths. If I can aspire rather than sink to least common denominator--even if I am only a Circle of one--the odds are good that I will soon be joined in chorus by others seeking to live the Circle Way.
- - - - - ---- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

151. Regina Flannery, Ellen Smallboy: Glimpses of a Cree Woman’s Life by. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Buffalo 1995



Quoted excerpts are by Ellen Smallboy, unquoted excerpts are by Regina Flannery.
wp William Penn's Own Account of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians, edited by Albert Cook Myers, Middle Atlantic Press, Moorestown, New Jersey, 1970.
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