Before being released from prison, I worried that the world I would be returning to would be a scary place. On my very first day outside, I noticed that most people walking down the sidewalks of LA were looking down at their phone or some type of device that connected them to social media. People didn’t take time to look up and acknowledge one another. Nobody was paying attention to what was going on around them; or next to them; or who was behind them at the checkout line at the grocery store.
In prison you learn very quickly to notice EVERYTHING. “Keep your head on a swivel” are words to live by. Paying attention in prison will save your life. Even when you’re on the yard playing sports or chess— your attention is never fully on the game. You’re scanning the yard from end to end as a lifeguard would a swimming pool, looking for signs of danger. If you see someone digging in the dirt it’s likely that he’s burying a weapon or pulling one up. If they’re digging in their waistband it’s likely they’re pulling out a weapon or putting one away. You learn to look for the signs. Most of the time the people you’re watching are watching you watching them; and the correctional officers watch us all. There is a lot of eye contact in prison, acknowledgement of one another. You really feel noticed. It is even a sign of disrespect to walk past someone without taking the time to acknowledge them in some type of way—a nod of the head, a smile, a hand shake, even a simple hello.
When I joined the Council program I learned about “reading the field” and paying attention to body language and things that were unsaid. What got me the most is that I had already mastered these skills. So when we learned about mindfulness and paying attention to the present moment without judgement, these teachings only reinforced and put into words what I was already doing. After I became a Council facilitator I was applying these tools in a more positive way, to really benefit myself, and they stayed with me for the course of my time in prison. Council enhanced these skills for me, my awareness of what was happening around me deepened. I was NOTICING more. And the more I noticed about the world around me, the more I noticed about myself. What began as a means of survival became a way of life for a different purpose: the bigger picture, the third consciousness, the reason why we do Council, and that has carried over to the way I interact with the free-world.
What I have been encountering out here, though, is that people don’t live by the same rule of thumb: sometimes I get weird looks when I say hello, or good morning. Other times people seem shocked to receive a friendly smile or help from a stranger. But then there are the ones that seem to be as alert as I am. There is a familiar look in their eye; they have the look of someone that has been on a prison yard, having to play by the rules as a means of survival. Usually they can be spotted by the tattoos they wear, their piercing eyes, or the weathered look of someone that has spent a little too much time in the sun. I may not personally know this individual, but with the simple nod of the head we have a connection. It feels good to be seen.
Everyday I wake up and I set the intention to acknowledge the world around me in all of its forms. It may be a random stranger that needs to be heard like a guy I met at a gas station that just wanted to congratulate me for having such a beautiful family. He didn’t even know that I was just released from prison only hours before. Or it may be a cashier at a Walmart that wanted to talk about her brother that was released from prison after serving twenty-nine years. Or even a homeless person on the sidewalk that asked me for a cigarette. Or the police officer that helped me find the train station. In all of these encounters we shook hands and introduced ourselves, and walked away with a smile and a sense of humanity. In all of these encounters I walked away feeling refreshed and relieved to find that the world isn’t such a scary place after, all as long as we take the time to see one another.
"I never knew what would come of me joining the Inmate Council Program, but when I saw what it did for me and my family I was convinced that this is something that I want to do for the rest of my life." – Sam Escobar
Sam Escobar was introduced to the Council practice during his time in Salinas Valley State Prison. Skeptical of the Inmate Council Program at first, Sam spent many sessions watching other men in the circle speak honestly about their lives, often unearthing emotions and offering up a vulnerability previously unseen within the prison setting. Seeing this unfold within the circle, Sam realized that Council was a space where people would leave their comfort zone, speak openly from the heart, and let their guard down—something that, growing up in gang culture, Sam was vehemently warned against. Sam says he came to see that the authenticity and vulnerability he was experiencing was a result of the unique quality of nonjudgmental listening that the program participants brought to the circle.
It took Sam a little while of observing how the group held space and what others were sharing before he was able to get out of his own comfort zone and open up. In a story for ATTN, Sam writes:
“For someone who was once involved in street gangs and prison gangs and who participated in race riots and prison stabbings, letting my guard down was a big turnaround. I no longer saw other inmates through the lens of the gang, as the enemy, but as a prospective member of the Council, someone who could fill the symbolic empty seat in the circle. I see them as someone waiting to be heard, listened to, understood with compassion and empathy, potential links in this chain of peace and human kindness.”
Over the next few years, Sam became the Chairman of the group and helped expand the program throughout the prison, and even introduced Council to interested officers. Earlier this year, Sam was released on parole. His Parole Commissioner made special note of the transformation Sam had undergone due to his participation in the Inmate Council Program and his leadership of Council circles within the prison community.
We are thrilled to welcome Sam back into the Los Angeles community and even more excited to announce that Sam is now an official member of the Center for Council team! As Center for Council’s new Outreach Associate, Sam will help us present future programs to agencies and individuals and work with our team in visioning new program opportunities. We are honored to have him speak about his unique and impactful experience working with Council and how it has the power to transform individual lives just as it did his. In addition, Sam will be lending his voice to our Center for Council narrative, contributing stories and articles about his time transitioning back into the community from prison and how he continues to integrate skills he learned practicing Council in the face of both challenges and new opportunities that arise for him. Keep an eye out for Sam’s stories in the coming weeks!
The Department on Disability is one of the 15 organizations currently participating in our third round of the Social Justice Council Project. The Department on Disability ensures that all city programs, facilities, and services are accessible; supports people with disabilities and those impacted by them; and provides prevention and education programs for those at risk or impacted by HIV/AIDS.
Center for Council recently spoke with the Department on Disability’s Chief of Staff and Public Information Officer, Nicole Willett, to get a sense of the impact that the Social Justice Council Project has had on the agency and its staff members. Nicole reported an experiential shift in their organizational culture; one both unique to the Department on Disability and simultaneously echoed in the experiences of so many other organizations who have participated in our Council Training Program. Nicole talked about how staff members have extended the practice of Council past the circle and into the office, noting that Council circles have encouraged collaboration between departments and created a warmer, friendlier environment for staff to work in. Read her interview to learn more about how Council can create a cultural shift within a professional environment.
Center for Council: Was the staff at the Department on Disability open to the practice, did anyone have any reservations going in?
Nicole Willett: One of the important things for us was that I was able to personally vouch for the training and trainer. We have trainers come in a lot for other programs and other trainings that aren’t aware of cultural pieces around disability or aren’t comfortable addressing contexts of race or gender. I really wanted to know we would have a trainer that would be inclusive.
I coordinate all of the trainings in our department and it’s the only training I’ve never gotten a complaint about. Everyone felt that it was very inclusive and that the trainers were open to shifting language as we asked them to. That was a really key part for us.
Did you notice a shift within your organization?
People enjoy the slowing down and the coming together. We’re a small department, we have a huge mandate, and it’s go-go-go all the time. A lot of time it’s not go-go-go all together.
There has been a greater understanding among all of our staff members. Council’s fundamentals of attentive communication, in that there is no interrupting and an encouragement to listen without judgement, has allowed people to feel comfortable in sharing their stories.
Have you noticed a shift in how your organization operates?
People are more willing to assume good intent among their co-workers and there’s much more communication about personal things like, “how’s your son doing?” around the office, which generally helps to boost the mood. I have noticed more willingness to collaborate across divisions, where before if staff members didn’t know one another that collaboration wouldn’t have happened. Across our department, there is an increased ease of collaboration.
Did you notice a personal shift, or was there anything that came out of the training that surprised you?
My boss, our Executive Director, has really taken to the practice and wants to use it in every aspect of our department as well as personally. He has commented numerous times about how it has changed his life. And, you know, he was very open to it already, but it was really cool to see how he embraced the practice of Council so fully.
The Social Justice Council Project is made by possible by a generous grant from The Angell Foundation.
For the first time ever, Center for Council has begun working with Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers. The Wellness and Resiliency Skills Training is intended to teach mindfulness techniques and the Council practice to mitigate on-the-job stressors and enhance performance, cultivate awareness, and improve community relations. Currently taking place in the LAPD South Bureau, our program is led by Center for Council Executive Director Jared Seide and Richard Goerling, a police Lieutenant who regularly brings mindfulness workshops to police agencies around the country. Center for Council’s program focuses on enhancing skills for wellness and resiliency that support self-awareness, self-regulation and situational awareness, leading to a healthier culture of policing, more adept stress management, and more skillful relations with communities.
The Wellness and Resiliency Skills Training format includes an immersive training workshop, followed by weekly mindfulness and Council practice assignments for small groups of participants. The six-month program is comprised of four modules with exercises and readings that explore physical, mental, emotional, and energetic awareness. The curriculum offers a deep exploration of the science and experience of mindfulness and compassionate communication as it relates to stress, resiliency, performance, and community building. Unlike other mindfulness programs, the Wellness and Resiliency Skills Training presents an interactive, engaged, and on-going series of workshops and activities that provides participants with the tools and skills to integrate this work into their professional and personal lives. The Council process is a flexible and peer-led format for integrating the material covered over the course of the program and is intended to offer an ongoing and sustainable resource for deepening individual skills, building community, and strengthening team support. The response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive and engaged, with participants reporting that they have been “sleeping better and being more mindful” and are more easily able “to decompress at the end of the day.”
For Center for Council, this program has been years in the making. "We are deeply committed to building compassion-based practices to foster individual and community health -- and a critical priority for us is supporting law enforcement officers in an effective and holistic way," explained Center for Council Executive Director Jared Seide. We are thrilled to expand our reach to law enforcement officers working in our Los Angeles communities.
For the first time in the festival’s history, SXSW broadened its 2018 programming to include a series of workshops and panels exploring spirituality in the 21st century. With topics ranging from spirituality in political activism to the challenge of creating spiritual communities online, the inclusion of the series represents a shift in the traditionally arts- and tech-focused festival to include a wider audience, and demonstrated a willingness to tackle deeper cultural issues of inclusion, connection, and meaning.
Center for Council Executive Director, Jared Seide, spoke on a panel, “Finding Spiritual Community Both On and Offline,” as part of SXSW’s new spirituality series. Seide, along with Rabbi Neil Blumofe, explored the triumphs and challenges of community building in the digital age. The discussion shed light on a multitude of ideas and challenges we face in our technology-heavy world, one in which we are increasingly connected to our screens, but not each other, and the information we receive about our world is carefully curated, particularly through the algorithms engrained in the social platforms we use. Much of the information that comes to us is intended to confirm our biases, and sometimes stoke our fears, in service of the agendas and platforms that want to keep us engaged.
Seide explained at the panel, “Our brains are designed to process complex, non-linear, environmental information. We orient to and depend on a diversity of input to understand community, to figure out how we feel about safety, about belonging, about compassion. We depend on sensations and micro-expressions and body language and that mysterious sense we get when we feel ‘some kinda way.’ That stuff doesn't come to us through technology, at least not yet. We really need to show up, with other humans, face-to-face, in real time. We need to convene. We need to connect. And I'm worried that our over-reliance on our screens just reinforces our diminishing experience of real relationships; it diminishes our relational skills; it diminishes community. We crave connection, and human contact, but that's not what we get from screens. Online interactions, and now VR, can extend some experiences, and maybe extend our reach, but these things cannot replace human connection."
Center for Council is thrilled to be at the forefront of these exchanges. In a time that favors advancing technology, how can we hold on to practices that reinforce human connection, build community in the physical realm, and foster compassionate relationships between individuals?
Just recently, Mathew was released from prison and is reintegrating back into his former community. His story is similar to many inmates who participate in the Center for Council Inmate Council Program. For three years now, Center for Council has provided programs inside prisons across the state of California, teaching inmates to practice and facilitate this work. Council programs have been proven to decrease aggression, heighten one’s sense of empathy and compassion, and help those who participate to find their voice. All of these skills benefit both the individual and the community at-large.
In September Mathew spoke about his experience with Council and how important it was for him to participate in and facilitate Council circles for fellow prisoners. Mathew opened up about the difference between Council and other rehabilitative programs and how, through learning to work with Council and listen and speak from the heart, he was able to experience meaningful rehabilitation.
Randy has been the warden at both Correctional Training Facility and Salinas Valley State Prison, in Soledad, California; he is currently a Commissioner on the Board of Parole Hearings. After learning about the practice of Council and witnessing the transformation and shift in attitudes of the prisoners who participated in the Inmate Council Program, Randy facilitated a circle with his correctional facility staff. It was an informal circle, around a small conference table in his office, but the effect of that single practice was no less profound. In a working environment where being vulnerable is discouraged, where the traumas and stresses that one is exposed to while on the job can be overwhelming, Randy knew how important it was to create a space for his employees to be able to be open and honest.
Correctional staff and officers who work within prisons are experiencing very high rates of work-induced anxiety and stress, often resulting in symptoms mimicking those of soldiers returning from war zones. Randy was struck by the openness and candor of his staff during their Council circles. Council provided a space for them to individually and collectively process some of the things they had witnessed on the job, as well as to reconnect with one another in a supportive and uplifting way.
Center for Council is now beginning to work with law enforcement officers, training them in the practice of Council so they will be able to facilitate circles themselves. Council is an adaptable, generative practice, serving all communities and circumstances. Through the transformation of individuals who participate, who share their stories and listen deeply to the stories of others, the entire community can feel the effects of the change. In September, Randy spoke about his experience with Council and how important it was for him to facilitate Council circles for his staff.
Edward encountered Council for the first time at Ironwood State Prison. He was one of the first participants to sign up for the Prison Council Initiative there and became a leader within the group after completing both the Council 1 and Council 2 training workshops offered by Center for Council trainers.
Edward was incarcerated for 27 years before being called for an interview this summer before the Board of Parole Hearings. That interview led to the granting of parole and Edward is now in the process of reintegrating himself into the San Diego community. Edward credits the success of his rehabilitation efforts, and the granting of parole, to skills and perspectives he learned in the workshops and practice groups offered by the Prison Council Initiative.
When CDCR’s Office of Public Communications arranged for Center for Council to videotape inmate testimonials about the impact of the program, we were struck by Edward’s extraordinarily clear and insightful perspective. His articulation of the power of the work of Council remains a highlight of the short film on the Prison Council Initiative (find the link below). Center for Council caught up again with Edward recently and asked him to share his thoughts on the reentry process and how the practice of Council has helped him transition back into the world outside the prison gates. Edward’s passion and positivity is contagious; it is apparent that he doesn’t take a thing for granted.
Center for Council: Edward, could you tell us about your experience in general with Council and what it has meant to you?
Loren: I work at a non-profit youth center called Heart of Los Angeles, or HOLA. I’m Senior Program Director, head of the Leadership Department, and I help to coordinate summer programs here. I’ve been with HOLA for 16 years, and I came to this work with a background in theatre, so I started off incorporating a lot of theatre games that I’ve noticed, in the world of Council, are also commonplace: ice breaker games, team-building activities, etc. I used those activities to build communication skills, connection between the kids, and jumpstart some self-reflection.I was first referred to Council from a friend at Crossroads School who recommended the book, “The Way of Council” -- and it felt familiar to me right away. I started incorporating aspects of it, and started implementing Council to the best of my ability, without any training, here and there in the organization’s programming.
I think it was about two years ago, our Executive Director told me we had an opportunity, through Center for Council’s Social Justice Council Project, to train the HOLA staff in the practice of Council. I enthusiastically supported that idea and helped to organize training of our directors and coordinators, around 30 staff members total, in January of 2016.
The Social Justice Council Project experience was great, for me personally, to get that depth of understanding, but also for the rest of the staff to learn how to be in circle with each other. Our staff meetings are pretty Council-like to begin with, so it felt really right for us to have this as a practice within the organization. There were a few of us who formed a Council committee and, with support from Center for Council, we were convening monthly Council sessions amongst the staff. It kind of faded a bit over time due to people changing jobs and moving around. But when I joined Center for Council’s Trainer Leadership Initiative, I started again offering a monthly Council session and invited anyone who wanted to participate. I’ve been doing that for about three months and those circles have been really deep and meaningful in terms of the quality of sharing. I think having that foundation with the initial training, and a little bit of time, and a bit of new energy has made those circles really powerful.
I think especially among some newer staff members, having that regular practice has given them a sense of the possibility of sharing that can happen both with staff and with the youth that we serve. In a space where everyone is activity-, task- and goal-oriented, where interactions can be somewhat superficial in terms of just coordinating tasks and getting things done, offering the staff members a space where they could slow down and really be with each other, and share a little bit of their inner lives with one another, has had an impact on the staff members. Their sense of what’s possible has grown, through the work that we’re doing and the depth of connection that we can have with the students, as well as with each other. And the strength that we gather from connecting with each other and hearing each other’s stories, really seeing each other, the depth of humanity that we can see in each other when we slow down and spend time with each other…
Center for Council: After you’ve participated in Center for Council’s Trainer Leadership Initiative, have you continued to introduce the practice of Council or aspects of it in your programming with youth?
Loren: Yeah, absolutely. That was part of the reason to reignite the Council practice with the staff. There were a number of staff members that were using Council within youth programming but they had moved on, so we wanted to give newer staff members the opportunity to experience Council so that they too could implement it in the programs they run for youth. One of our newer staff members who has been a regular participant in our monthly staff Council, took it upon herself to lead a Council circle with parents of students in our elementary program, co-facilitated by someone who was a part of the original Social Justice Council Project training. That went really well and was pretty special. It was the first time we had Council with parents.
I’ve been incorporating Council in the programming that I run for many years, and will continue to do so. In Play for Peace, I conduct Council with the youth facilitators on a regular basis. It enables them to get to know one another better, to practice being in Council, and gives them the opportunity to lead circles with my assistants when they lead their activities with younger students. Which they do. And it is really cool to see high school students in circle, co-facilitating Council for younger students.
Center for Council: It’s very much in line with one of Center for Council’s main principles of training the trainers and creating a practice that is constantly evolving and adapting to fit the people that are practicing.
Yeah! I was actually able to participate in one of the Inmate Council Program trainings over the summer, as an intern. It was there that that idea sank into me a little deeper; how, when a group of people gets trained, the facilitation then belongs to that group rather than to an “expert.” You know, Council belongs to you. I could see that in the way that the inmates were being trained. That was kind of an “aha” moment for me. That was what was given to us as a staff in the Social Justice Council Project: when we received our training, we no longer needed Center for Council to come out here and tell us how to do it. That was the impetus for me to revive the monthly staff Council circle here. I thought, if we’ve got a core group that has already been trained in the Council practice, and we could develop a new group here, I would no longer need to be the expert. I would love to hand off facilitation to someone else. It develops the sense that we are all on an equal level, especially within the circle. I would love for the circle to take care of itself. I want to see that the youth facilitators feel empowered to own that process, and they’re not just answering questions to an authority figure, they are responding to inquiries from their peers. I feel like that level of circle-sharing is the deepest, where we really level the playing field.
3 Minute Storyteller Sits Down with Center for Council Director Jared Seide to Discuss the Need for Compassion in Today’s World
“We have a responsibility to step up to the enormous suffering that is caused by buying into this illusion that we are not profoundly interconnected and interdependent.”
– Jared Seide, Center for Council, in an interview with 3 Minute Storyteller.
Click below to view video:
Shannon Mannon, founder of 3 Minute Storyteller, sat down with Center for Council director Jared Seide to discuss the critical need for Council practice in our challenging and increasingly-polarized world. Shannon relates her own introduction to the power of empathy-based practices like Council and how the simple act of listening attentively and sharing authentically can transform a community and foster compassion and alliance:
I was first introduced to Council one June afternoon at the Spirit, Mind, Body Institute at Columbia University and it impacted the trajectory of my life in ways it’s taken years to understand. This summer, I found myself back in that same city with JARED SEIDE, Director of Center for Council, an L.A.-based nonprofit that trains individuals and communities in the practice of Council, an age-old practice that involves bringing people together in a circle for candid and heartfelt conversations. It was an extraordinary opportunity to not only explore this age-old practice with a visionary leader, but to finally get a handle on this elusive, transformative experience.
That June day, I took my seat in the Council circle with no prior knowledge and no expectations. Looking around, I was part of a motley crew of about 50 strangers. Folks of different colors, ages, faiths, nationalities, sexual and gender orientations, criminal histories, education and income levels—a Benetton commercial of diversity only possible in New York City—sat side by side. We were given basic instructions, and encouraged to offer everyone in the circle our full presence by not rehearsing our answers while others spoke. Nervously squirming in my seat, I wondered, could I trust that when it was my turn to speak to a big room full of strangers, the right and perfect story would just come?
We shared simple stories: meaningful gifts given and received, favorite childhood toys.
Relaxing into the practice, the stories flowed naturally. A surprising alchemy was at play. Being so present and engaged in the stories being shared allowed me to access to deeper truths. These truths were unconscious and unknown even to me until the exact moment that I opened my mouth to speak, and my story tumbled out.
On it went: listen to someone’s story, share yours. Hear and be heard. See and be seen.
As we wrapped up, I stood and realized I was shaking. Leveled. Blown wide open. Listen, I’m no novice to stories. And I’ve had more than my fair share of personally transcendent experiences, momentary glimpses of the oneness of creation. In my more pretentious moments, I even fancy myself a professional listener.
But this was totally new to me.
What in the hell had just happened?
Through our conversation, beloved Jared, equal parts statesman, teacher, and healer, held space for me to find clarity.
Inside that circle years ago, 50 willing strangers wholeheartedly turned ourselves over to this experience. We tried our best to be present, to listen, and to share our stories. That pure, collective intention ignited an indescribable, intangible but unmistakable electric current. You could feel the thread of our interconnection activated. It coursed and pulsed between us transforming 50 distinct me’s into one we. Jolting us into a new state of awareness, the current itself grew stronger, enlivening each of us as it flowed.
That current? It’s ALWAYS there. Accessible to us at any moment. To You. Me. Your boss. That loud mouth on social media, and kid that bullies your kid on the bus. It’s our birthright. Every last one of us has the potential to sit in the circle and plug into the current.
We just have to create the spaces to do it.
Jared and his mighty band of Council trainers are leading the charge in our public institutions to plug into that current.
But Jared will be the first to tell you, Council isn’t the only answer. Dr. Joan Halifax was at Ojai Foundation when she sensed a common thread in wisdom traditions throughout the world spanning thousands of years. Pulling together strands of these ancient practices, she wove Council to be a modern interpretation. Council is but one of many generators of the current.
There is no time to lose creating new spaces where, as Jared says, our illusion of separation can be challenged. What we’re seeing in America today, is the rampant polarization when our reptilian brains go unchecked. Our default software is an “other-making” machine—constantly scanning for trouble, judging quickly, and dividing each situation into “us vs. them.”
As Jared laments in this video, he knows the dark side of the human potential well, having worked in witnessing and reconciliation in Auschwitz with Zen Peacemakers, in Rwanda, and in Bosnia. He minces no words: the othering that created the conditions for genocides and holocausts is here. The soil that allowed for that hate to take root is here. In our United States. Today.
At the end of our intimate, hour-long, meandering conversation, Jared said he felt the intensity of my longing for the connection that containers like Council bring. Feeling momentarily exposed, I shrugged it off. But he’s exactly right. I’ll own it: I have an unquenchable longing to plug into this current with you. It breaks my heart that more of us don’t remember what the current feels like...
(Click the link above to watch the edited interview.)
We are so pleased to announce the launch of the third round of our Social Justice Council Project! Designed to serve and strengthen those on the front lines of social justice work in Southern California, this year’s project will engage with 15 organizations from across the region.
Program participants include: Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network, Brotherhood Crusade, Community Health Councils, Los Angeles Department on Disability, The Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), My Friend's Place, Para Los Niños, Project ALOFA, Proyecto Pastoral, Rosemary Children's Services, Social Justice Learning Institute, Safe Place for Youth, and Youth Action Project.
For the first time, two law enforcement agencies will also participate in the program, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. We are eager to include officers in this round of the project, acknowledging their critical place in the social justice continuum, as well as the enormous challenges they confront managing stressful situations and cultivating positive community relationships. Council can be a powerful new resource in this environment.
Through the Social Justice Council Project, Center for Council provides customized Council training for each organization’s staff members. Learning and practicing mindful listening, and authentic, non-judgemental dialogue, helps support both internal cohesion, as well as engagement with communities served.
“Organizations working to promote social justice play such a critical role in our world today. Yet, their staff is so often over-stressed and under-resourced,” said Jared Seide, Center for Council’s Director. “We are so excited to ally with these 15 dynamic organizations to help integrate Council into their professional culture. Council creates an opportunity for staff to find common ground, to celebrate shared values, and to develop tools together for improved emotional health and well-being. It provides a generative space for healing and a tool for developing compassion and resilience. We’re thrilled to be adding to our growing network of partners and allies in this work!”
Center for Council welcomes these dynamic organizations into the Social Justice Council Project. We are eager to begin to work with their diverse staffs to integrate the practices of attentive listening and heartfelt dialogue into their very critical work.
The current round of the Social Justice Council Project is made possible through the generous support of The Angell Foundation.
Immediately following the Council training workshop that Center for Council’s Director Jared Seide led for the NGO Dejusticia in August of 2017, Dejusticia staff traveled to southwest Colombia to hold a conference with human rights activists from around the world. Council practices and perspectives were incorporated into the conference, as Dejusticia’s Executive Director César Rodríguez Garavito shared in the email he sent to Center for Council, excerpted below.
We’re still recovering from the exhilarating workshop with 19 human rights activists from around the world last week. One of the first things I wanted to do post-workshop was to thank you kindly on behalf of the Dejusticia team and the community of fellow activists that was established last week, thanks in no small part to your teachings and generosity during the Council training.
As you both suggested, we went ahead and used Council in several of our end-of-the-day sessions, and it turned out to be a transformative experience, both for Dejusticia as a collective and for participants individually. Council provided the personal connection and ties of solidarity that we suspected the workshop could provide but hadn’t found a way to nourish. Several participants said that the Council component was their favorite part of the workshop, and we all were touched by how much we learned from and about each other in those sessions.
For the Dejusticia team, this was a very positive and encouraging first experience with Council facilitation, and we all left immensely encouraged to improve our facilitation skills as we plan for future trainings and events. So, we’ll definitely be picking up on your generous offer to talk with us about the lessons and the challenges that the workshop offered.
For now, as a small way to express our huge thanks, I wanted to share with you the group picture we took in Cali (Southwest Colombia). This was a couple days after our first Council session, and one day before our second one in Bogota. We opened the last day of the workshop with a final Council, also in Bogota. Most of the people in the group are young activists dealing with serious threats to their human rights work in countries ranging from Egypt to India, from Venezuela to Russia, from Kenya to Bosnia. The empty chair on the left is in memory of one of the instructors from Turkey, who could not make it because he was imprisoned last week for expressing criticism of the Erdogan government.
I very much look forward to having a chance to continue to learn from you both.
Center for Council Director Jared Seide recently traveled to Bogota, Colombia, to consult with and lead a Council training workshop for the human rights organization Dejusticia. Below is a reflection on his experience there, and the tremendous importance and applicability of Council in today's world.
Two days before our Bogotá Council Training began, FARC guerillas handed in their remaining guns. The historic Colombian peace accord, agreed to in the Fall of 2016, stipulated that all arms be surrendered between June and August of 2017. And while the peace process has been hailed as a success, some signs of trouble have appeared. In a referendum intended to demonstrate public support for the negotiated agreement, the vote was very close – with “NO” votes garnering slightly higher number than “YES” votes. Underlying this ambivalence were some profound cultural issues that may prove a real hindrance to a lasting reconciliation and peace. As coalitions mobilized to advocate for a political solution, issues of religion, economics, gender, as well as forgiveness and justice, were activated and in some ways played out just under the surface of the public relations campaign around the referendum. Cultural issues touching on “traditional values,” economic disparity, environmental degradation, and political corruption seem to have corollaries to the American political landscape.
Dejusticia is an organization based in Bogotá working at the intersection of justice, academia and community, devoted to research, legislative advocacy, and human rights. The organization plays an important role in the design, promotion and implementation of laws and policies that will shape Colombia’s future. Their scholarly publications, journalistic editorials, legislative work and community engagement has been focused on creating a more equitable, humane and harmonious civil society, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment. While the legislative process surrounding the end of hostilities between the government and the so-called “rebels” has been successful, ostensibly, true reconciliation and unity remains elusive. Questions linger around the effectiveness of the justice process and whether the sentences for those found guilty of lawlessness and violence will be widely accepted. What happens next? Are communities ready to make peace, to forgive the deeds and transgressions of the past, once justice has been meted out? Are individuals ready to see one another as compatriots, to trust and rebuild communities that move beyond the antagonisms and resentments embedded in years of violent conflict?
The staff of Dejusticia is dynamic and eager; their intelligence, passion and commitment clearly evident. We found them to be candid, articulate and compassionate; the warm camaraderie between them was infectious. And the stress of working with deep and painful issues of violence, exploitation, resentment and extreme economic disparity is apparent. Staff we encountered seemed to have a profound commitment to justice and to advocating for those whose voices have been silenced. They seemed both energized and enervated by the urgency and complexity of the issues they are confronting. And they are navigating the personal impact of the trauma they are encountering and the effect that has on their health and wellbeing.
The recent introduction of staff “wellness support” (yoga, meditation, dance classes) was the idea of Dejusticia’s Director, César Rodriguez Garavito. César first encountered the practice of Council at a “Bearing Witness Retreat” to Auschwitz and he had the thought to explore how this practice might be of benefit to his staff and their self-care, and perhaps increase their engagement with each other and the diverse stakeholders they serve. César asked Center for Council to offer a workshop to core staff, in Bogotá, just prior to Dejusticia hosting an international conference of human rights workers.
Our Council training workshop began in a format this academically-inclined group was accustomed to: rows of chairs were arranged facing the front of the room. The trainers commanded the attention while participants sank into their chairs, ready to receive some value. Their expectations of us were high, but their sense of engagement, with the material and each other, was clearly on hold. After a few minutes of this, we asked them to “press pause” and reflect on this dynamic and the challenges it presents to true engagement. We then shifted the configuration to a circle, and offered a center; there was a palpable shift in energy, as if a new circuit was turned on, a new possibility emerging.
Participants remarked that it felt like something unique and interesting was happening, one observed that she sensed “magic” in the circle, another asked if we were all going to cry. As Council was introduced and invited, participants dropped quickly into the practice and shared elements of their personal narratives and aspects of themselves rarely seen at work. Many remarked on how exciting it was to find out things about colleagues they’d worked with for a long time and had never really known. All were grateful for the opportunity to open more of themselves in this “container.”
As Day Two of the training commenced, César admitted he’d had some trepidation about introducing Council to his staff. While he had a strong sense of the power and the value of the practice, he was unsure that the organizational culture at Dejusticia would be conducive to the vulnerability and open-hearted communication that Council invites. He was pleasantly surprised, he said, by how enthusiastically his staff embraced the work and how quickly they understood its value to staff-culture, as well as to the work they do. They began to riff on how Council might be used internally at Dejusticia, how to introduce it to staff that had not been able to attend the workshop, and how it might be incorporated into their upcoming human rights conference.
Conversations also emerged around the inflection points in the peace process that were in great need of spaces for real human connection and sharing. In particular, their work with judges and legislators – who seldom have the opportunity to reflect on the impact of the work they do on themselves and others – and the communities struggling to implement reconciliation at the grass-roots level – where sensitive conversations and having important stories told and heard seems a critical step in rebuilding effective and lasting relationships and a solid sense of community.
Post-training, we were grateful for some time to reflect with our hosts on what had been accomplished and what our time together exploring the practice of Council might support, moving forward. Issues of fear, distrust, resentment and inequality are undeniable, alongside real optimism at the prospect of stepping into a fruitful and cooperative chapter in the life of a country that has known much discord and strife, a history of colonialization, oppression and exploitation of natural resources.
The smart, eager, passionate staff of Dejusticia are an indication of tremendous potential and commitment. Their recognition and embrace of the importance of self-care, and the integration of their compassionate hearts, as well as their impressive minds, bodes well. Gandhi’s words resonated as we ended the workshop: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” May the practice of Council provide nourishment and resources to these dynamic agents of change, both in their personal lives and the critical work they are doing to promote social justice and human rights in Colombia and the Global South.
Center for Council Director Jared Seide delivered a talk at the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago (ZLMC), on June 4, 2017, during an "Introduction to Council" workshop for that community. In this talk, Jared speaks about the practice of embodying compassion through Council, the way in which Council can intervene and reintroduce the human touch in systems, and the context and history of Center for Council.
ZLMC is a community committed to promoting social justice and the "Three Tenets" of the Zen Peacemakers: Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Compassionate Action. Jared describes the way in which the practice of Council encourages "listening from the heart" so as to open to the fullness of the human experience, the celebration of our "common ground," and the collective wisdom of community.
"Allowing ourselves to preference 'not knowing' for a little bit," he says, "opens this world of connection – and our capacity to recover our innate human goodness in community."
Click the link below to view a video of Jared's talk.
The California Correctional Peace Officer Association (CCPOA) has taken an important step in addressing officer stress, burnout and dysfunction. Recognizing that a negative correctional environment is damaging to the mental, emotional, and physical health of correctional officers and inmates alike, is damaging to the quality and efficacy of rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism, and is costly to local governments as well as the state, CCPOA hosted a by-invitation policy convening on Officer Behavioral Health and Wellness, March 27-28, in Sacramento.
A cross-section of individuals were invited from the corrections, healthcare, curriculum and training, research and policymaking communities. Presentations and discussions touched on the way a stressful workplace and career can cause adverse health issues and how the toxicity and dysfunction often found in the corrections environment impacts everyone involved.
Officers spoke compellingly about how the job had impacted them: “You have to become somewhat shut off – unfortunately that leads to being jaded and mistrustful because you see ulterior motives in everyone…” Union leaders spoke on their behalf: “We want our members to hear that it’s okay to feel, it’s okay to care,” said one.
A recent survey presented some striking preliminary findings: 1 in 3 correctional officers have people in their lives who have expressed concern about their mental/physical health; 30% binge drink on a regular basis; 1 in 9 have considered or attempted suicide and 69% say they would "get out of corrections" if they could find a suitable job in another arena. Interestingly, 88% of correctional officers want more “stress management training.”
Day Two began with the surprise arrival of Governor Jerry Brown, who spoke passionately to the group about the critical importance of wellness, especially in an environment as stressful and challenging as corrections. The Governor applauded the initiative and committed to support innovation in improving correctional culture before his term in office ends. He promised to direct his staff to collaborate with stakeholders in order to generate bold solutions to this pressing need. CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan also was present and discussed his personal commitment to supporting new initiatives that impact officer health and wellness.
Center for Council is eager to play a role in the creation of a healthier, more resilient correctional culture and to collaborate in visioning and innovating with compassion-based practices for fostering greater presence, more skillful communication and more wholesome relationships among all stakeholders in this challenging arena. We are grateful to be included in these initial convenings and look forward to piloting council-based resiliency skills programs for officers that are impactful and sustainable.
Our team of veteran and prospective Council trainers spent a dynamic and energized day with Detective Lieutenant Richard Goerling, of the Hillsboro Police Department in Oregon. In addition to his experience in the Coast Guard, Richard has worked in civilian law enforcement for over twenty years and has extensive experience in patrol operations and criminal investigations. He has developed a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training for first responders focusing on resiliency and performance/leadership in a policing environment.
Over the last decade, Richard has spearheaded the introduction of MBSR-based training into policing in the United States and is a leader in the greater cultural transformation toward a compassionate, skillful and resilient warrior ethos.
Richard anchored a critical conversation around the experience of law enforcement officers and the enormous stress and challenges they face. This professional development session was part of Center for Council’s emerging programming geared for law enforcement. This new work brings together mindfulness with Council practice and emphasizes practical skills for recognizing and managing stress, reading behavioral cues and strengthening interpersonal relations to create a more positive, healthy officer culture and to improve performance. Our Social Justice Council Project trainers have had a great deal of experience with community-based organizations that grapple with complicated relationships with local law enforcement. The session focused both on Richard’s work on internal police culture and on how mindfulness and Council can create more wholesome and healthy community dialogue and relationships.
Center for Council’s emerging work with both local law enforcement and with correctional officers (in California prisons where our Inmate Council Program has been initiated) will go a long way toward bringing self-regulation and resiliency skills to officers, as well as Council-based convening practices. We are also developing programming that builds officer/activist co-facilitation teams intended to deepen community dialogue about healing historic wounds and improving police-community relations.
Read more about our Wellness & Resiliency Skills Training for Officers – and, for more on Richard’s programs for stress reduction for law enforcement, check out this from CNN's Fareed Zakaria’s “Last Look.”
Center for Council's programs and initiatives have been featured on a variety of podcasts and radio shows, including the following, which aired from 2015-2017, and are archived below:
"Restorative Justice on the Rise" - 10/11/15
"A Congruent Life" - 9/2/15
"The Lawyers Guild" - 9/5/15
"Shifting Gears" - 9/2/15
"The Sunny Chayes Show" - 9/1/15
"Think Outside the Cage" - 9/7/14
Center for Council has recently received word that we have been awarded funding to bring the Inmate Council Program (ICP) to eight more California State prisons. Three of these new sites will be funded for three years of ICP programming. Council is now being practiced and taught within 22 CDCR institutions around the state.
The ICP offers council training as a "rehabilitative resource" and teaches inmates how to independently facilitate Council circles on the yard for other inmates. Our preliminary research with RAND Corp and University of California has demonstrated that our Council programs "lead to reduction in anger, aggression and hostility and better communication, cooperation and pro-sociality." And we know that the work is profoundly shifting prison culture in a positive direction.
We are thrilled to expand this work and eager to support an ever-growing circle of incarcerated carriers of Council as they find their way into the practice and bring it to others on prison yards around the state.
We hit the ground running in January with the launch of our Trainer Leadership Initiative. With the generous support of the Angell Foundation, this brand new program will provide intensive yearlong Council mentorship and professional development for 30 dynamic individuals, many of whom are alumni of our Social Justice Council Project.
The new cohort of prospective trainers will receive an immersion in the skills and knowledge they need to lead their own programs and trainings and to extend the work of Council within their own organizations and communities, growing a more robust network of Council leaders throughout Southern California.
We are so energized by the range of experiences and objectives of these 30 unique and diverse men and women, and we think you will be too.
Check out our website for intimate profiles of some of these dynamic emerging leaders!
Center for Council Director Jared Seide recently traveled to Auschwitz to coordinate daily Council circles at the annual Bearing Witness Retreat in partnership with Zen Peacemakers.
Read a detailed description of this incredible, invaluable, and powerful work.
Center for Council Director Jared Seide with Bernie Glassman
and Ann Murray, in Krakow, Poland en route to Auschwitz.
In these heartbreaking times, we feel grateful to have the means to come together with open hearts to bear witness, take stock, deepen community, and to celebrate our common humanity.
We want to share with you a little of what we've recently been up to.
Each year, Center for Council's Social Justice Council Project provides a select number of community-based, social service and arts organizations with individualized Council training and with resources to support their missions, help enhance and deepen their work, and bring folks together in Council. On June 24, 2016, Center for Council was so pleased to host the Social Justice Council Project Gathering and Celebration at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens. At this event, all of this year's Social Justice Council Project participants came together to share how they're integrating Council into their important and unique work in the world.
The day featured circles and activities led by participating organizations, cultural performances, a special phoned-in presentation by one of our incarcerated Council leaders, and lots and lots of Council. It was truly a day of festivity and a special chance to bring together a new and growing coalition of like-minded organizations working to empower their communities through the practice of listening and storytelling.
In the midst of so much suffering in the world right now, this event was a much-needed reminder of all the good that exists--and of all of the big-hearted people working hard within our local communities to support compassion, peace, and wellbeing for all. It was also a powerful confirmation of Council's potential, in any setting, to ease pain, increase engagement, and enable us to flourish together at a time when it is so needed.
Check out Sam Escobar's powerful and inspiring essay on leading Center for Council's Inmate Council Program at Salinas Valley State Prison, recently published online!
Center for Council, in partnership with Zen Peacemakers, offered a Council training workshop in Sarajevo for a group of Croat, Serb and Bosniak peacemakers, organized by two dynamic Imams.
Three participants in last year’s Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreat to Auschwitz had come from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). They arrived in Poland with some trepidation about just what the plunge would be like. They left shaken and pretty raw. When Jozo and I met them this month in Sarajevo, they were eager and energized. “I’ve missed you guys so much,” Boris said, “and, seeing you here, I’m starting to realize what the trip to Auschwitz was really about and why I’ve been feeling so unsettled these past months.”
Turning toward suffering can take many forms. As a practice, it can seem counterintuitive and, to be wholesome, it demands skillful means, deep fortitude and compassion. The suffering of the Bosnian people is deep and profound and the events of twenty years ago are still tender and uncomfortable. Even now, excruciating memories are triggered by certain sites, uncorked stories, even turns of phrase. Despite the notorious “Bosnian humor,” an off-color and surprising proclivity for diffusing tension with dark jokes, there seems to be a longing for a real encounter with our common experience of suffering. So much there has gone unaddressed, unrestored, unmet… and a deep and embodied experience of coming together to grieve, release, celebrate feels emergent.
Or so we imagined, as we designed a 4-day Council Training with an assortment of peaceworkers engaged in the complex and challenging work of rebuilding. The Zen Peacemakers Order is deeply committed to building relationships and bearing witness in BiH. Last year, the ZP team visited BiH with Vahidin Omanovic and Mevludin Rahmanovic, two Imams who have created the Center for Peacebuilding (CIM), based in Saski Most, BiH. Their inspiring work is devoted to fostering reconciliation between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. As their website states: “The legacy of violence, particularly the heavy toll it took on civilians, informs the present climate of distrust. Bosnia’s social fabric which, previously embraced diversity and multiculturalism, must be rebuilt by individuals and their respective communities. CIM’s mission is to empower people to work through their trauma and transform the society’s conflict.”
The Zen Peacemakers administration decided to postpone the Bearing Witness retreat there to 2017, and to focus on deepening relationships and building capacity. One offering was to help CIM train a cohort of its members in the practice of council. The thought was that council could be a useful tool for CIM’s work throughout the region, as well as a way to equip a local team to co-lead council circles throughout the Bearing Witness Retreat next year. Both Mevludin and Vahidin had experienced council in Auschwitz but, like Boris, they were curious about its relevance and applicability to a culture that had created, and was recovering from, historic unrest.
As with Rwanda, I was moved and honored to accept the charge of dropping into the field and introducing the practice, in partnership with a group of folks who had lived through genocide and were committed to healing their country and its diverse communities. As with Rwanda, I set forth with a strong intention to share this practice of council, tempered by awareness of my profound ignorance of the culture, conditions, relationships and language. I was blessed with an extraordinary partner in Jozo Novak, who has been studying council for several years and had grown up in the region, immersed in the culture and speaking the language. Jozo has navigated a profound relationship with BiH and has looked deeply at the impact it has had on him and his peers. His ability to translate, both the language and the culture, was invaluable.
And so it was our intention to enter humbly and listen deeply and to invite our friends there to try on the practice of council and experience how it might engage them, and they it. I began the workshop with a bit of a gimmick, admittedly – partially to diffuse some of the tension of expectations and the onus of being an “outside expert.” Before the group arrived, we assembled chairs in rows, placed a podium at the front of the room and began the workshop in the style to which so many had become accustomed, what the participants called “frontal learning.” After a few minutes of presentation, I asked the group to pause and say what they were noticing, what their expectations were, how they were experiencing their body/mind/heart/spirit as a result of this format. And then we shifted the furniture.
Working in a circle is, of course, a common practice for reconciliation work, but the careful and subtle awareness of what it feels like to be seen, included, “on-the-same-level,” open and connected would be revisited throughout our days together, taking on greater depth and subtlety. The councils that followed and the teaching about the essential elements of this practice reinforced the power of creating a container for deep presence, offering an invitation to let go of our expectations and judgments and to celebrate the opening of our hearts. As the stories came, the participants began to let down their guard and shed armor they were mostly unaware of. They began to see the impact of engaging our narrative as a generative act that leads to healing. And they articulated the emergent awareness that intimacy with our personal suffering is the key to being effective working with the suffering of our communities.
In addition to experiencing the variety of modalities of council, we talked about neuroplasticity and meditation, attention and self-regulation. I shared some metta practices and the brilliant work that Roshi Joan Halifax is doing around teaching compassion; her GRACE model is powerful and easy to practice. We talked about the “field,” inside and outside the circle, and liminality. We spent a great deal of time on identity; aspects of ourselves we present and those we hide and how that impacts relationships (as well as the work of council). And we played with forms of witnessing each other and the awareness of things waking up in us. It was powerful to hear Rumi’s poetry recited by an Imam: “Beyond right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field; I will meet you there.”
The feeling of elation and inspiration by the last day was palpable. But the participant who, Jozo and I agreed, put up the most resistance throughout the first day described an extraordinary journey through this work, perhaps more dramatic than the others. She spent an hour in the bar after day one, expressing her confusion and frustration and had to be convinced by Vahidin to come back the next day. She was frustrated to not see the methodology laid out clearly, to be asked to experience a series of weird sensations that were uncomfortable and to be groping for a tool that didn’t seem to make sense. She went home that night, she later explained, and spent two hours relating her day to her husband. She talked about the unusual, puzzling sensations and this new approach that was really unaligned with the expectation she had of learning about a new technique. Something was stirring in her that was new, peculiar, but it had her attention. Day two began to open the floodgates for her. She had hardened herself to her pain and closed off the part of her that could engage both her own story and her empathy for others. As her trust grew, her resistance abated; the council circle was encouraging her to soften, to move the energy, to turn toward the suffering. That night, apparently, the debrief with her husband went on for three hours, until her husband asked her to stop talking. And her take-away at the end of our time together was a sensation that she explained to us all was like nothing she had ever experienced: a lifting of a huge weight from her shoulders and cracking of a hard shell that left her feeling joy and deep love for the group that had listened so deeply and heartfully that she was able to “come back to myself.” The day after the workshop she posted online that she missed us all dearly and that she’d spent all morning explaining the “amazing 4 days” to her NGO coworkers and had convinced them all to come to a council circle she would facilitate for them shortly. Three other participants related stories of initiating council circles with peers and family.
In the end, I was left with immense gratitude. The commitment of ZP to foster this work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the openness and embrace of the kind and caring Imams who run CIM, the passion and hard work of Roshi Frank de Waele of Gent Zen Sangha to organize and raise funds, the tender and powerful support Jozo brought to the circle… And what a blessing to experience the amazing and inspiring courage, rigor and resilience of this group of change-makers, living the healing that comes from a great intimacy with suffering and a devotion to opening the heart to serve themselves, each other and the healing of their community.
I am so excited to see how this work and this group continues to deepen. I hope you all will have a chance to bear witness with them in circle next year.
“How Simple the Answers Are”
Testimonials from Council in Bosnia/Herzegovina
In March 15-18 2016, The Zen Peacemakers, together with the Center for Peacebuilding and led by Center for Council Director Jared Seide (Read Jared’s report of the training here), conducted a four-day Way of Council training for 22 Bosniak, Croats and Serb women and men. This training is another step in the peacebuilding effort to address the deep suffering in the balkans following the genocide of the ’90’s.
“When I think of Council… It is fascinating how many layers of prejudices and expectations you have to strip off yourself to enter into an honest heart-to-heart conversation. It is fascinating how even when you think you have reached that point, you get astonished realizing how far you have to go to get to the point of speaking and listening heart-to-heart. And it is fascinating how, when you think that nobody sitting there with you can surprise you anymore, you discover that you have not even started that conversation. It is fascinating to discover that everybody can go far beyond in sharing the pain we all have. But above all, it is fascinatinghow simple the answers are. All you have to do is to be there, to step in it and let yourself be… whoever you never had an idea you were.” (Nikica Lubura-Reljic)
“Last week’s training in council was an amazing opportunity not only to familiarize ourselves with the methodology a bit better, and more thoroughly, but also to see it work in Bosnian circumstances. It might sound funny, but during our Auschwitz councils I had only one thing on my mind: this will never work in Bosnia. The fact that our mentality is pretty closed and that patriarchy, as such, dictates emotional distance, added to the fact that we haven’t had any formal nor systematically organized support on psychological post-war issues, pretty much determined my pessimism. Therefore, there is nobody happier than me to share impressions on our work and process!
"Firstly, I must commend Jozo’s and Jared’s patience, which was needed to overcome all the mechanisms Bosnians use when somebody tries to open them and provide safe space for sharing their deep fears and emotions. As I anticipated, it took a bit more time to establish the container and include everyone equally. This experience has showed me that even though “my people” might seem tough and distanced, they can’t “escape” the power of council. In my opinion, all the singing, humor and hugging we tend to do in any serious situation are only defense mechanisms we use in order to cover our true selves. And council manages to defragment it, not to exclude it or make it forbidden but to infiltrate and include it in a completely reassuring manner. People truly heard each other, while overcoming the need to comment, to fix or to preach. They left council with much more faith in themselves and with the hope that its future use will help others to grieve, heal and laugh.
"This experience has given me such immense knowledge and confidence. It answered a bunch of questions, gave a completely new perspective on the use of council in our work and helped overcome obstacles I imagined we’d have in the “logistical” sphere. Bringing it to Bosnia showed it in a different light, as something palpable, possible and real, so I’ve decided to commit to it and practice it with my family and friends — which resulted in my first “solo” council. Having in mind that I would never do anything without being sure that I could lead it till the end, and that I take my work perhaps too serious, the fact that I decided to do it shows how successful our training was.” (Ivana Gospođa Tapisirović)
“The Council training which was organized in Sarajevo was a great experience for me. It was the second council training for me but the first time I really recognized and felt the power and beauty of this method. I am grateful I had the chance to be part of this great group and to be a student of a great teacher. Jared is a teacher who can feel and satisfy what the group needs, as well as being very experienced and flexible in his work.” (Boris Lovrinović)
“With Council, our work at the Center For Peacebuilding got a whole new meaning. We strongly believe engaging Bosnians and Herzegovinians in Council will help us build stronger and more honest relationships among them. Council is the way for building peace, not only in BiH, but in the world. Experiencing Council opened many more opportunities for peace building in BiH. (Vahidin Omanović & Mevludin Rahmanović)
“I had a wonderful first experience with the Council method. It was so good to have this opportunity to speak in front of people and have them all listen to you without their own opinion. After these days, I felt very open and powerful. I still have that feeling of openness and real improvement in my communication with my family, friends and colleagues from work. For me, this is a kind of new skill, to listen to others from the heart and to openly speak from the heart. The whole process for me was incredible. And a little bit mystical, because of the incredible openness in relation to others and the amazing connection. This connection, I realized, occurs when we hear and recognize ourselves in other people’s stories. I had a wonderful experience and I like these principles and methodology very much. And I’m feeling better because this has helped me to say some things that I realize I simply had to say at the moment. When I spoke from the heart, I felt relief and release, as if letting go of a burden that I carried. Council is definitely something I’ll try to do with my relatives, my colleagues and friends. (Helena Martinović)
“I had the privilege and big honor to attend the training workshop on Council, arranged by my friends at CIM. I am just today finding some words which can describe my feelings and the change that I have experienced in myself…
"The first day I was really confused and asked myself all the time: ‘What am I doing here???’ When I returned home, I found myself sitting with much passion and I spoke about all the work we did with my family, and started to try to convince them about how important Council was. I still don’t know what, but something happened with me this first day. Day by day, this wonderful and magical 4 days of training changed me, and it changed my attitude about others. The simple ‘rules’ push you to be careful with communication, to listen, to be open in front of people whom you are seeing for the first time. The facilitation was so nice and simple, charming, and in a subtle and easy way I was drawn into the process. I learned from what I heard and absorbed the words. I realized this workshop is different, you haven’t any paper, or material… it`s strange! But, step by step, this kind of thinking and communication with others starts to be part of you. Just today I saw things that are changing in me — in my every day communication with family, friends, on the job… When I found myself almost on the verge of aggravation with my family, because of the training, I realized that I was not really worried or angry. I really started to listen from my heart and talk from my heart.
I sincerely believe that this is the true path to understanding and to happiness for all of us. I strongly believe that Council is a way of communication, and conflict resolution, that must be part of everyday life for all of us. I would be so happy if one day this method could be included in schools, obligatory for all. I’m richer as a result of this experience, I have new people in my life who I value. It was an amazing experience that I recommend to everyone. We will try to expand it! Thank you for the opportunity to be part of this.” (Mira Mehmedović)
“When Jared asked me to assist him in Sarajevo I had a sense of excitement and deep resistance. Knowing my people, our recent history and its fallout, I presumed the workshop would be anything but easy. I also knew that I would have to dive into my old wounds, my personal hurt and be aware of the many trigger points that get activated when I am there. Day one was a true struggle. The level of mistrust and vigilance that has been build up is understandable, but I was surprised by the extent of the avoidance of intimacy and feelings which I observed. It took only a short while and couple of games before the atmosphere started to loosen up. As the days passed, we heard more and more stories how some who were involved in amazing peacemaking and reconciliation work have never been asked about their feelings, never been listened to or cared about. The joy and gratitude on their faces was beyond words.
"BiH, as all ex-Yugoslavia, is a very patriarchal society, something I experienced so deeply years ago. When Jared decided to do “fish bowls” with men and women separated, the subject would come up over and over again. It was astonishing to hear one young man say how he feels frustrated since he loves cooking but his mom would not let him do so, for that was not a man’s job. Or to hear others revealing that they had been taught that a man is not supposed to express emotions, to be tender, to be soft. I could recall, with sadness, growing up a country where boys don’t cry; I, myself, never shed a tear in 22 years (probably the reason why I can’t hold back my tears today). It was wonderful to see how council could soften the hearts, the gender weight and the bias.
"There were so many precious moments, stories, heart openings, laughter and joy, some I will remember for a long time: the woman whose heart came back to life, the woman whose husband, each night of the workshop, had to bear witness to her joy of deep transformation, and above all the last council we did in small groups of 4. By coincidence, mine was an all men’s group, each of us of different ethnicity. We did 2 rounds of deep sharing and then, as we reached the end of our time together, one man asked a favor: he wanted 4 of us to stand up and hug each other. So there we were 4 men in a circle holding each other in a deep hug for a long while. Not far from us, there sat a group of 4 women who, being deeply moved watching the scene, stood up and celebrated.” (Jozo Novak)