Inmate Council Program receives the American Correctional Association's 2019 "Innovation in Corrections Award"
The American Correctional Association has awarded Center for Council's Inmate Council Program its 2019 "Innovation in Corrections Award." This prestigious award honors the powerful work C4C has done building programming for the state's incarcerated population, now reaching 22 of the state's 35 prison facilities. The Inmate Council Program is a six-month intervention where participating inmates are trained to facilitate Council sessions for their peers, empowering them to become positive agents of change, on the prison yard, and in their lives. The program contributes to a shift of culture within prisons and equips participants with tools for successful reentry and reintegration into their communities upon release
The award was presented on January 14, 2020, in a ceremony at the end of ACA's Convention. The award was presented to Center for Council "For its outstanding efforts in reducing recidivism and promoting future success for offenders" and was accepted by Sam Escobar and Jared Seide.
ACA President, Gary Rohr, and Chair of the Awards Committee, Vicki Myers, presented Sam and Jared with the award. The American Correctional Association is the oldest association developed specifically for practitioners in the correctional profession. The ACA provides a professional organization for individuals and groups committed to improving the justice system. The annual "Innovations is Correction Award" is intended to broaden the knowledge and familiarity amongst the membership of the ACA of successful rehabilitative program interventions and to recognize an outstanding correctional program.
We are very pleased to announce the launch of our newest program: the Organization Wellness Project! Formerly called the Social Justice Council Project, the Organization Wellness Project is designed to serve and strengthen those working on the front lines of social justice in Southern California. This year’s project will engage the staff of 10 dynamic organizations from across the region, representing powerful and diverse work within the social justice sphere.
Our new cohort includes these participating organizations:
Esperanza Community Housing Cooperation
Los Angeles Black Workers Center
Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance
National Council of Jewish Women
Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice
Community in Schools of Los Angeles
We are thrilled to be partnering with these 10 wonderful non-profits to help integrate the practices of attentive listening and heartfelt dialogue into their critical and much-needed work. The Council practice has been proven to enhance communication and strengthen connection between individuals, supporting more resilient, creative, and collaborative work environments.
Though the evolution of the Organizational Wellness Project, Center for Council continues to support mindful communication and authentic, non-judgmental dialogue, helping build internal cohesion within staff, as well as more dynamic engagement with the communities that organizations serve. Non-profits selected for this cohort will participate in a series of on-site community-building experiences, coupled with immersive Council training for a select internal team. Center for Council will also provide mentoring and hands-on support as the site team integrates the practice of Council into each organization’s culture and operations.
“We’re so excited to be partnering with a diverse group of remarkable organization in this round of the program,” says Executive Director, Jared Seide. “We’ve learned so much about really listening to our participating sites’ needs, and customizing our work to their unique culture, ethos and approach. The practice of Council truly strengthens Center for Council as an organization--and it’s inspiring to see how nourishing the practice can be for our partners!”
The Organization Wellness Project is made possible through the generous support of The Angell Foundation. Click here to learn more about the Organizational Wellness Project.
Center for Council is partnering with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the University of Southern California to host a series of public screenings and panel discussions exploring ways to build bridges between seemingly disparate groups. Bringing together international peace builders, policy makers, formerly incarcerated individuals, and law enforcement officers, these events will focus on rising above the polarizing views of “us and them” to create a healthier and more compassionate society at-large.
The first event in the series, hosted at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on March 14, 2019, 6:30pm, at 6505 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048, will begin with a screening of Center for Council’s short documentary: Cops and Communities: Circling Up. The film, an insider’s look at the organization’s most recent project of the same name, documents a gathering of law enforcement officers, community activists, and formerly incarcerated individuals, meeting for the first time, searching to find commonality amidst their diverse backgrounds. As the participants share stories from their lives and listen to the stories of those around them, labels and prejudices yield to a recognition of our shared human journey, former adversaries become allies, and new, deep connections emerge.
After the screening, noted international peace-builder John Paul Lederach, State Senator Holly Mitchell, and Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman will speak on the power of celebrating our common ground and shared humanity. RSVP for this event here.
On March 28, 2019, at 7pm in USC’s Ray Stark Theatre, 998, 900 W 34th St, Los Angeles, CA 90089, Center for Council will again screen Cops and Communities: Circling Up. The panel discussion following the film will feature Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, along with Samuel Escobar, a leader of Center for Council’s programming during his incarceration in state prisons, and LAPD Lieutenant Gena Brooks, supervisor of a cohort of officers who have been participating in Center for Council’s officer training program. RSVP for this event here.
Each panel will be moderated by Jared Seide, Executive Director of Center for Council.
Bios of panelists:
State Senator Holly Mitchell, was described by the Los Angeles Times as "the legislature's moral compass." Senator Mitchell has proven to be a social justice champion in the state legislature. Her many successes include improving human services, expanding access to healthcare, defending the civil rights of minorities and the undocumented, and reducing the numbers of children growing up in poverty.
John Paul Lederach, Professor Emeritus of International Peacebuilding is an acclaimed author, scholar, and pioneer of Restorative Justice work around the world. Lederach is known for his work in conflict transformation and conciliation work in Colombia, the Philippines, and Nepal, and countries in East and West Africa.
Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman is the Director of Youth Learning and Engagement at Temple Beth Am, providing organizational, educational, and spiritual leadership. As a community activist, he serves as a rabbinic adviser, activist and outreach expert for issues related to LGBT inclusion, Women's issues, and education.
Father Greg Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. He has received the California Peace Prize and been inducted into the California Hall of Fame. In 2014, the White House named Father Boyle a Champion of Change. He received the University of Notre Dame’s 2017 Laetare Medal, the oldest honor given to American Catholics.
Lt. Gena Brooks is Lieutenant in the South Bureau of the Los Angeles Police Department. She was introduced to the practice of Council as part of Center for Council’s Wellness and Resiliency Skills Training for law enforcement officers in 2018.
Sam Escobar was introduced to Council as a member of the inaugural Inmate Council Program at Salinas Valley State Prison. Having witnessed the impact of Council in his own life and in the lives of his fellow inmates, as well as in the lives of his family members, he has become passionate about carrying this work into a world in need of connection.
This year’s Social Justice Council Project Celebration honored our non-profit partner organizations participating in the Social Justice Council Project. Held at the LA River Center and Gardens, this day-long program explored the impact that Council can have on an individual and a community. It also celebrated what happens when we take time to simply listen to one another without critique and speak from the heart without worrying about how we might be perceived.
Center for Council was thrilled to have so many partner organizations there to celebrate. Staff from participating organizations exchanged stories and ideas about how they are implementing Council into their organizational culture or using it personally, as a way to cultivate compassion for others, find a greater sense of clarity, strengthen their communication skills, and develop a more rooted belief in themselves within the day-to-day.
Hearing how organizations are using Council was an uplifting reminder of how significant the elements of Council truly are, even when practiced outside the circle. Many reported that sitting in Council with their coworkers had brought them immensely closer, and that they are more apt to collaborate with one another on professional projects. One of the most basic elements of the Council practice is the circle in which participants sit to tell their stories and listen to one another. The circle’s shape enables each participant to see and be seen, neutralizing normative hierarchies of gender, race, or job title.
It was an impactful day for all of us at Center for Council, to be able to witness our friends—old and new—coming together to share in our mission of fostering individual and communal compassion and empowering heartfelt, honest dialogue to promote collective understanding and resilience.
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?
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.
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, 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)
A powerful new website highlights innovative programs at the
forefront of prison reform.
Our longtime funder, Kalliopeia Foundation, has created a new website called "Beyond Prison," that highlights the work that Center for Council is doing, along with that of our colleagues at ArtSpring, Insight Garden Program, Insight Out, Mind Body Awareness Project, Prison Mindfulness Institute, and Rehabilitation Through The Arts. We're thrilled to be engaged in this coalition of like-hearted organizations, promoting transformative work in prisons, communities and organizations, and we're grateful for the collaboration and mutual support of this powerful group of organizations.
"Beyond Prison" explores innovative approaches to rehabilitation and offers a new vision of what prison could be.
Take a moment to read the chapter on Center for Council's Inmate Council Program – as well as the compelling introductions to work that our colleagues and partners are innovating. It's an honor to be collaborating with such powerful allies and exciting to be recognized and celebrated in this moment of innovation.
Read the powerful article now.
This article was originally published by ZCLA.org
by Jared Seide
In a time of unprecedented challenges to economies, socio-political structures, ecological systems, anxiety is widespread and suffering is deep. How is it possible to provide effective interventions to individuals, and communities, rather than the preconceived notions of “experts.” How do we bear witness to the unique characteristics of the situation, rather than inflict external theories which we presume will fix things? For me, Council provides a dynamic and generative space for easing suffering, interconnecting, and flourishing together. I’m so grateful to have found a path that enables me to support this work in the world.
Throughout my life, I’ve been captivated by storytelling. As a teen, I was a semi-professional actor and, after Brown University and a variety of drama schools, was led into directing and producing film. Some years into a Hollywood career, I was introduced to an innovative program unfolding at my daughter’s elementary school.
After the Rodney King riots, the school was rife with racial tension, frustration and conflict. I watched as the practice of Council was introduced to the students and to the greater school community, and I observed a radical transformation of the campus into an empathic, cohesive community of stakeholders. The school community became engaged and unified
It was clear to me that the Council program had precipitated this shift and was leading to a deeper sense of social connectedness through the simple act of sharing our stories. The impact on the children and their engagement at school was similarly transformative and, on a personal level, I believe Council inspired my daughter to find her witnessing and participating in that process changed my life. I became a student of the Council process and began to devote more of my time and energy to the work. I studied the practice intensely and was mentored by Jack Zimmerman, author of "The Way of Council," with Virginia Coyle. I became a practitioner and then a trainer, at a time when Council programs were expanding rapidly in Southern California schools, and found myself training teachers and coordinating school-based Council programs.
As Council’s popularity grew, and the necessity of interfacing with systems beyond schools became apparent (government, corrections, veterans affairs, corporations, health care), we came to recognize the need for an outward-facing organization that could collaborate with these systems. In 2013, Center for Council was launched as an independent organization, fiscally sponsored by Community Partners.
As director of the Center for Council, I have been responsible for developing and supporting Council trainings and programs locally, and throughout the world, in prisons, hospitals, community and environmental groups, social-profit organizations, social service agencies, and businesses. By sitting in quiet and contemplative sharing, Council participants report that they feel “more heard and seen” by peers, co-workers, families and friends. They discover a greater sense of community and empathy for those around them, as well as an increased sense of self-esteem and empowerment. They report that they find their voice, discover what truly matters, and take a stand for themselves, their values and their dreams.
I have found Council to be a strikingly effective tool for developing and strengthening interconnectedness through storytelling, as it offers experiences that are engaging, empathic and dramatic – experiences I’d hoped to find working with theatre and film. When trained in this practice and these tenets, the Council facilitator can offer a powerful upaya to individuals who are suffering and a way to celebrate our commonalities and interconnection.
Working with the Zen Peacemaker Order has been dynamic, provocative and deeply nourishing. It is extraordinary and intense to step into a Council after bearing witness to the Childrens’ Barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, or the horrific remains of the massacre at the church at Ntarama, outside Kigali. The dehumanizing realities of prison life in California are also profoundly challenging to face. And when we listen completely to what is manifesting in our hearts, and in the hearts of those with whom we sit in Council, we become more intimate with the situation at hand.
The action that arises from entering into a situation with not-knowing and bearing witness is necessarily aligned with love and care; when we choose not to turn away, but we allow ourselves to care and act, we manifest compassionate action, we “do good for others.” As Roshi Bernie suggests, doing good in the world must be grounded in rigorous practice, clarity of vision, and generosity of heart. This is deeply aligned with the practice of Council and is the underlying essence of Council’s intentions to “listen and speak from the heart.”
In January of 2013, I was asked to lead a five-day Council training workshop in Kigali for a group of Rwandan peace-workers participating in the ZPO Rwandan Bearing Witness Retreat and committed to healing their country, post-genocide. The training was a powerful inquiry into deeper intimacy with our wounds, an experiential exploration of the nature of healing, and a witnessing and celebration of the emergence of a practice intended to foster community resilience.
This group organized, practiced together, and brought Council into their lives, families and communities, gaining recognition as the “Rwandan Center for Council,” a certified, official Rwandan NGO.
Similar to the prison system in California, Rwandan prisons are overburdened and rehabilitation services are stressed beyond their capability. The Rwanda Council Program provides services to genocidaires reaching the end of their incarceration, as well as to the communities to which they will return. The program interacts with civil society to support successful reintegration of former prisoners. The goal is to promote practices that will help both offenders and their victims heal from their individual and collective traumas while developing resiliency.
The Council program is grounded in the understanding that the most effective intervention begins with an open space, a pause, the opportunity to be with things as they are now, not with an ideology or a “cure” or a sense of knowing. The overall intent is to spur a more compassionate and restorative system of justice that supports rehabilitation for the world’s incarcerated offenders.
Closer to home, Council programs in California correctional facilities have resulted in tangible and meaningful shifts in behavior in prison yards, including collaboration between ethnic groups, inmates taking steps to be accountable for their behavior and seeking forgiveness, as well as improved regulation of impulsive and reactive communication styles, which has led to reduced incidents of violence.
These results have been quite striking, and the Center for Council has received support to broaden its Inmate Council Program to include twelve maximum-security prisons in California. One of the ripples of this program has been an invitation to offer Council-based programs to correctional officers, designed to shift the culture from stress, burnout, denial, and untreated trauma to more healthy self-management and self-care, emotionally and socially intelligent communication, effective stress and conflict management, and overall staff wellness and safety.
While the focus is different for staff and inmates, Council-based programs address the dehumanizing that impacts all who interact with dysfunctional systems – including, but not limited to, corrections. Council programs are providing skillful means of fostering wellness and resilience on the individual, community and systemic level. The Center for Council envisions a world in which every voice is heard, no one is invisible, and all have the opportunity to connect to community.
CP: How do you personally define the “Local Peace Economy?”
JS: I think there are some profound “fundamentals” that are shifting – that must shift – in order for our culture and our world to be sustainable. The immense imbalance amongst us in resources and access has created unhealthy and corrosive conditions for a great many… and systems seem to be breaking apart under the strain. Any read of political, economic, health-care, educational, correctional systems reveals much to be concerned about. And it feels to me that underneath it all is a fundamental, fear-based sense of separation. It is simply impossible and unbearable to continue to pretend that we are not deeply interconnected. The story of the “other” is unsupportable. As we pay attention, we see that what happens to you, impacts me; what emerges in me is about all of us. And in our fast-paced lives, driven by all these systems and efficiencies, it sometimes takes a backward step - a slowing down - to pay attention. Systems that dehumanize in the service of efficiency are unsustainable. I see a great need to bear witness, lean in, grieve, celebrate and embody the re-humanizing evolution at hand. Many of us are engaging in practices that enable us to embody and enact this inter-being – and I am sensing that this shift is finally mobilizing broad-based support from across the cultural and political spectrum.
Molly Rowan Leach of Restorative Justice On The Rise interviews Center for Council Director Jared Seide about the practice of Council and how it sets the stage for restorative justice interventions, establishing a sense of community and a ground for restoring relationships after harm is done.
Hear about the history of Center for Council and some of the new arenas throughout the justice system where Council practice is emerging.
"When we change ourselves, we change the people around us."
- Therapist Marie-Josee Ukeye, Butare, Rwanda
It takes unimaginable will and courage to move ahead after trauma. For many of the women of Butare, Rwanda, there has been much to survive. Many of those who lived through the genocide lost family, friends and children. Countless numbers were victims of rape; some went on to raise the children born of those rapes, and many live with HIV.
Therapist Marie-Josee Ukeye has been using the practice of Council for the past 2 years in her work with the courageous women of Butare. She will be one of the participants of the training being held by Center for Council at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
Council Trainer Siri Gunnarson reflects on visiting the Murambi memorial site, where 50,000 Tutsis were killed in one morning in 1994:
"We saw the mass graves and hundreds of preserved bodies. Our guide asked if we were doing some kind of yoga, noticing how we entered each room in silent awareness. How to be fully present with this history? ...Here I am, looking at room after room of bodies contorted with fear, bullet holes and machete wounds."
She quotes Bernie Glassman:
"In the Zen Peacekeeper Order, we stress bearing witness to the wholeness of life, to every aspect of the situation that arises. It means being each and every element of this situation."
Center for Council is honored to be partnered with Zen Peacekeepers, the Rwandan National Commission on Reconciliation, and local NGOs, bringing the practice of Council and of bearing witness to this community.
"There are such extraordinary moments emerging in many of these compassion-based programs in prisons and communities. In this season of abundance and thanksgiving, I am reminded of an amazing and moving council I got to participate in at Lancaster State Prison with a group of inmates who had such incredible stories about food. One shared that he has spent decades wondering about pomegranates... so curious about their taste and feel, and their prevalence in mythology and poetry, and his longing to know a pomegranate, and his realization that a sentence of "life without the chance of parole" meant he's probably never get to taste one.
"That night, as I walked past a large stack of them at Whole Foods, I felt my heart race. Was it mine to sneak one in next time? Should I petition the authorities to allow it? Or take a picture? Or maybe just to bear witness to the longing and so deeply appreciate my life and the profound teaching these incarcerated elders have for all of us about memory, meaning, longing, grief and renewal...?
"This is such meaningful, sacred work and there is so much of value to be done to integrate folks who are for the most part invisible behind so many concrete walls. These are sons and daughters, in many cases moms and dads, poets and athletes, artists and nerds, violent bullies and kindhearted friends. Many have been there for decades - some are far different men from the knuckleheads who did something stupid years ago. And most of us just chose not to think about it. I think how we regard and make sense of all this says so much about who we are. Sharing these stories creates such intimacy with the suffering, the longing, the compassion, the humanity of our fellow community members.
"These stories open our hearts and shift the way we view the system. When we bear witness to these stories we are changed, profoundly. We get to really feel the impact of a dysfunctional system that has real consequence on real people. And it's about all of us..."
"We can't heal ourselves or other people, unless we bear witness."
Center for Council is part of an extraordinary movement that is bringing reconciliation and healing to the sites of some of the worst atrocities of our time.
This April will mark twenty years since the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda, in which over one million people were killed. Women who were victims of the mass rape used as a tool for war, now live with and care for the children born of those rapes, and many were also left with HIV.
And yet, despite the unfathomable capacity for human cruelty, we see also the limitless capacity for forgiveness. In the community of Butare, Rwanda, a courageous group of women is working to move beyond the trauma, transform their suffering, and have together formed a successful farming cooperative providing abundant fresh vegetables, consistent income and deep relationships.
Center for Council is partnering with the Rwandan National Commission on Reconciliation, Zen Peacekeepers and local NGOs in training local organizations to continue the healing process through Council-based community programs.
Here, Center for Council Director Jared Seide and Certified Trainer Siri Gunnarson with some of the extraordinary women of Butare.