The Power Of The Circle
“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 … Everything the Power of the World does is
in a circle.” Black Elk
Christie thought that the opening line for BOFAW should have been, “Form a Circle.” It might also have been a good title. It was probably the single most important logistical and operational factor of the class. There was often something profoundly simple by standing or sitting in a circle which often raised physical, mental and spiritual visions to a higher level of awareness. Especially when we discussed difficult topics, they could easily read the joy, sorrow, pain, anger, frustration or countless expressions on their classmates faces. But it wasn’t just the circle that was powerful. The students had agreed to make an effort to enhance sensitivity by approaching each topic without criticizing, condemning or complaining. We were not perfect, but often able to tackle difficult concepts with a minimum amount of collateral emotional damage.
Black Elk believed that “the white man” would die of a great loneliness of spirit because he lived in rectangular houses that lacked the energy of a round tepee. He had attended white man’s council meetings and noted that they lacked energy because they were not sitting in a circle. I don’t know if he attended any white church services, but he most certainly would have found them to be spiritless because people were sitting on benches, all facing one man (or woman). “Surely,” he must have thought, “one man or one woman could not have the wisdom to think for the whole tribe.” Not only that, it was customary for a chief or elder to frame all discussions and decisions based on the simple caveat, “Will our actions benefit the ‘seventh generation?’”
On Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the Americas he encountered Caribbean peoples who held tribal council meetings in a circle, with both men and women having equal voting rights.
Although I may have been the leader, students hopefully discovered that anyone could be “the leader.” There were many times when they generally agreed with me, but there were also times when they vigorously disagreed with me. Some of those disagreements proved to be ungrounded, but some proved to be greatly important. They taught me many things that I could not have discovered on my own.
Typically, discussions would dart around the circle like a pinball ricocheting off the bumpers of a pinball machine. The classic example of this was Matthew blurting out, “Wait a minute! What the Hell do we believe anyway?” That simple question radically changed all following Biodesign Classes. Amazingly, millions of people go through their entire life without questioning what they believe and why. I know this personally because I was of that mindset before the Biodeisgn kids started my real education. BOFAW readers know that I once thought that memorizing all the parts of a fetal pig was more important than “creative thinking” and exploring Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the Mendocino Coast of California.
The circle rule applied especially on the trips, where we sat at Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Mendocino in magical circles. The classic example here was Heather’s candle light service on top of Half Dome. The campfire circles often proved to be the most dynamic. There was something, almost palpable, that often lifted conversations to a higher level. Many students have contacted me with sad stories that they have searched in vain at colleges or universities for another “Circle Experience.” They are not alone. Despite all that we know about the power of a circle, we ignore it as quaint or obsolete. I am guessing that less than 1% of the U.S. population will ever have a circle experience.
How tragically ironic it will be if Black Elk was correct and we do die of a loneliness of spirit because we lost the power of the circle.