We enter into the common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.
What is a Story Circle?
Human beings live in community. Human beings are solitary; we are born and die alone. This is our paradox; we are forever separate yet bound together.
Much of the depth journey into one’s interior is a solitary exercise. However, there is a communal dimension to all depth seeking. It is this communal aspect of the journey into the deeps that the Story Circle addresses.
We all already know what a Story Circle is.
The Story Circle is something human beings have been doing since the beginning of time whenever we have gathered to share our personal and collective stories with each other for guidance, support, education, nurture, counsel, celebration, and comfort. Participation in a Story Circle is one of our most fundamental needs.
Many of us experienced our first Story Circle as a parent reading with us at night prior to some sort of bedtime ritual.
We have shared in Story Circles our entire lives: the small and large family units that nurtured us; the classrooms in school where we received our education; the social and athletic groups into which we have invested our life energy—all of these have provided structures within which we have connected. Throughout history our species has gathered around campfires in the evening as elders imparted wisdom and guidance to the emerging generation. Today, as we gather around electronic campfires which impart information and news that can masquerade as wisdom, the personal connection and the depth quality is often missing.
We all hunger for authentic depth community. We all hunger for a forum and a structure by which we can encounter our peers and reflect upon the meaning of the actual experience of our real everyday lives and the greater journey of which they are a part. We all hunger for a Story Circle in our lives. Many of us are gifted to share a Story Circle dynamic with our life partner or family members. Often best friends, co-workers, or teammates can provide a Story Circle community. These fortunate connections may be more or less intentional, more or less conscious. The single unique factor distinguishing a Story Circle from any other surface-level social connection is that of coming together for the primary purpose of intentional depth-seeking. A Story Circle comes together to explore and share at a profound level.
In the past many depth-seeking traditions have provided institutions and structures to support this kind of connection and gathering for the purpose of personal and collective transformation. In the emerging 21st Century planetary, quantum scientific, inter-connected world, many of these institutions and structures have become impotent, irrelevant, or have simply ceased to exist. Yet our need for personal and collective transformation endures. It is becoming clear that no single depth-seeking tradition of the past has the global or scientific currency to become the shared mythos or depth poetic framework for our common future. It is into this vacuum that the structure of a single neighborhood, community, or village-based Story Circle has relevance.
The Story Circle is not a new idea; it is present in the fabric and structure of every depth-seeking tradition and community since the first campfire of our common ancestors long ago. A Story Circle is simply a small group of mutually supportive individuals who intentionally gather on a regular basis to share personal journeys with one another in a context of collective depth reflection and meaning exchange. Within this context, from time to time, transformation may happen.
One of the primary functions of this website is to provide curriculum materials and direction in support of Story Circle groups.
How Do I Organize a Story Circle?
Deliverance from the distress of our times can come only from small groups with the courage to remain small, at first, so as not to be burdened by unsuitable elements. …….. In the new foundations the waters of mysticism are again beginning to flow. - Walter Nigg
There are currently many experiments with small Story Circle-type groups taking place around the world under many different names. The lessons gained from some of these experiments are included here as guidelines which may be helpful in starting a Story Circle. These are “guidelines,” not absolutes, and there are clearly exceptions to all of them.
Commitment is important when establishing a Story Circle. Most busy people are not inclined to commit to a project that has no end in sight. Therefore, there is wisdom in establishing a beginning and an end to any group program. It is recommended that a Story Circle group agree to gather at regular intervals for a period of one year. After a year, it is our recommendation that a Story Circle call itself “out of being.” The Story Circle has the opportunity to re-configure again for another year if there is a will within the group or any of the individual members. This cyclical path preserves the option for individuals to depart in good stead in order to pursue alternative groups or other journeys more in line with their personal interior evolution. The underlying principle supporting the practice of annual group completion and renewal is that Story Circles do not exist for themselves; they do not exist for the sake of existing. The authentic Story Circle has no interest in “institutionalization.” The intent of the Story Circle is to provide a context for a specific period of time for those who gather to share the experience; the structure of the Story Circle then goes out of existence just like all other “things” and all human institutions.
Frequency of Gatherings and Timeframes is another important consideration. Gathering once-a-month is a safe and non-threatening frequency in our current busy culture. However, many groups experience once-a-week gatherings as more sustaining, providing continuity that can be lost when meeting less often. All of this can be balanced with the length of time within which the group decides to gather. Less than 60 minutes is probably not enough time to allow full participation from those gathered. More than two hours becomes impractical for many active members. 60 to 90 minutes seems to be an optimal amount of time for gatherings. Therefore, assess within the group what works and do that.
Experimentation is a key factor in evolving any Story Circle. There are no absolutes in such human designs and a Story Circle is always a work in progress; always a matter of mutual discovery within the group.
Recruitment is a fundamental requirement of starting and sustaining a Story Circle or any group. The appropriate size of a Story Circle, in most instances, is between 5 and 12 members. Clearly there are many exceptions to this guideline. However, with less than 5 members the exchange possibilities are not as vital and with more than 12 members all may not have an opportunity to fully share and participate.
One of the best places to begin recruitment is to seek out those with whom you already have a relationship but would like to share a depth journey or conversation. Acquaintances with whom you do not have a significant relationship but with whom you believe you would like to share a depth exchange are also excellent prospects. The guideline here is to begin with your current, already existing, circle of relationships. It may or may not be the case that those you know best are the most promising members of a Story Circle. Sometimes it is most difficult to achieve depth interactions with those we “believe” we already know and conversely it sometimes most comfortable to communicate with those from whom we are more detached. Throughout history, the “bartender dynamic” has been a bond between strangers freely sharing depth concerns and reflections they would never share with someone in their daily inner circle.
Recruitment will continue to be a reality throughout the life of a Story Circle. Some members who begin the journey will soon find it incompatible with their needs or interests and others who learn only later of the group’s existence and its intent will wish to join. It is important to understand that recruitment is a vital and ever-present dimension of an existing Story Circle.
A Story Circle can be created in partnership or combination with other interest groups: an existing study group, book club, dinner club, tea group, women’s group, men’s group, athletic team, etc. However, for a gathering to take on the dimension of a Story Circle, it requires a depth focus at its center.
A spectrum of options exists for the structure of a Story Circle gathering. A free-form “bull session” represents one end of the spectrum with a “highly regimented, tightly choreographed structure” on the other end. We have found a balance in the middle of the spectrum to be a more accommodating structure. It is helpful to have a formal opening to punctuate the beginning of a gathering and a formal closing to accentuate the end. If the group has commonly accepted and meaningful rituals or poetry from a shared tradition, this can be helpful in highlighting the start or finish of a gathering. If such commonality does not exist, the group may choose to design its own rituals or experiment with new poetic rituals each time. A ritual can be as simple as “Welcome, I am grateful to share this experience with you today” to the recitation of some traditional depth poetry by the facilitator or by the group as a whole. This can be an area of meaningful exploration and experimentation. Formally beginning the Story Circle with a bell or resonant sound opening to 1 – 2 minutes of silence is also an effective ritual for starting a Story Circle gathering.
A time for Personal Sharing is an important element in the structure of a Story Circle gathering. During this time each participant shares a brief reflection on the defining events and significant experiences that have shaped their life experience since the previous gathering. This personal sharing becomes a backdrop for the depth curriculum reflections that follow.
A few minutes of written Solitary Journal Reflection over a few questions provided by the Facilitator (and available with many of the Story Circle Curriculum Modules on this website) is an excellent way to allow each individual to ground and process their personal interior journey regarding the focus material prior to discussion with the group.
A sample guideline for a Story Circle Gathering might include:
2 - 5 minutes Opening – Welcome Statement or Group Ritual
20 – 30 minutes Personal Sharing and Reflections since last Gathering
5 – 7 minutes Solitary Journal Reflections
30 – 60 minutes Curriculum Encounter/Study and Group Discussion
2 – 5 minutes Announcements and Closing
A Story Circle can be facilitated by the same individual each time or by rotating members of the group.
There is value in providing a written or video art form as the primary curricular focal point of each gathering. This website provides many such curriculum module options including Life Journey Video Art Forms, numerous short Stand-up Profundity Videos (which can be viewed in whole or in part through the Video Gallery), movie clip selections from popular Hollywood productions, many text selections organized for group discussion, as well as a Voices section providing quotes of depth in contemporary language. All of this is provided under the “Story Circles and Curriculum” Section. Group discussion questions are suggested at the end of many curriculum modules. When using a video clip as a curriculum focus, sample discussion questions might include:
What line or phrases, stories or images do you remember from this presentation?
Where did any of the material resonate with you? What experiences from your own life does this material bring to mind?
What is the message you believe this material conveys? How would you communicate this message in your own words or illustrate it with examples from your personal life experience?
What questions does the encounter with this material raise for you and the group may wish to discuss?
If we take the message of this material to heart, how do we practice to fulfill its intention? What would it look like to implement this lesson in our actual daily lives?
Another common curriculum practice is to choose a book to read as a group and reflect upon a new chapter in each gathering. Other options include sharing individual articles of substance or depth poetry selected by members. The important point is to provide a depth art form that allows everyone to talk through it to one another; the art form provides a meditational and depth-connecting medium.
Consider choosing curriculum material which rotates the focus of each Story Circle gathering or block of gatherings around one of the four foundational questions:
1) What is Reality?
2) What is the Inner Journey?
3) How do I live in Flow?
4) How do I Serve?
Why Start or Join a Story Circle?
There is only one reason to start or join a Story Circle: to transform the world.
If we are to transform the world, why not do so in the time and space we actually occupy and with those with whom we actually share life’s journey?
The fourteenth Dalai Lama reminds us: Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.
Today is a good day to transform the world.
[ii] Nigg, Walter, Warriors of God. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1959: 17.
[iii] Hanh, Thich Nhat, Peace Is Every Step, New York, NY, Bantam Books: 1992: p vii.