“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” — Aristotle

One of the most ancient and universal symbols, the circle is used to express unity and wholeness. Our ancestors gathered in circles around the fire to tell stories, solve problems, seek the common good and celebrate the joys of life. Today, small groups that meet in circle-like formation are gaining popularity — particularly self-support groups, or wisdom circles.

A wisdom circle comprises a group of people who have decided to gather together to speak on a topic of great value and interest to them. The circle is a place of safety, where we can speak what is really in our heart and know that we will be respected. Within a wisdom circle, no one is interrupted, ridiculed or bullied. We don’t give advice or exchange dialog. We face each other in trust and appreciation, creating a safe, sacred space where we are all encouraged to listen to the “still, small voice within.”

One of the things that makes a wisdom circle different from an everyday discussion is the Native American custom of a “talking stick,” or talking object. Only the person who is holding the object may speak. Most importantly, he or she must speak from the heart. The rest of the group is attentive and engages in active listening. When the speaker finishes talking, s/he passes the talking object to the next member of the group. The actual purpose of the talking object is to focus our attention on listening to the individual who is speaking. In everyday conversations, our minds are easily distracted when someone else is speaking – often we are busy thinking of a response.

Often a wisdom circle begins with a few moments of silence to center us. Silence is refreshing and healing and it helps us tune in to our inner guidance. In addition, we establish and maintain a code of confidentiality within our wisdom circle, so we are all comfortable expressing ourselves freely.

The guidelines are simple and supportive:

    • Only the person holding the talking object speaks
    • We speak honestly from the heart
    • We listen patiently and empathically
    • We allow and respect silence
    • We keep personal information confidential

With these guidelines in mind, the wisdom circle is a powerful tool for our personal and spiritual growth.