This visioning circle template was developed by Eleanor Hancock as a SURJ-DC Resilience Events (monthly gatherings designed to allow white-identified people in the DC area to caucus with one another and build our emotional capacity for engagement, activism, and long term social change work). Eleanor drew on principles of neuroplasticity inspired by her work with Dynamic Neural Retraining System to create an experience that would help participants bring the nurturing qualities of joyful memory and positive visions into their work for racial justice.
Part of the practice involves spending time re-living a positive memory. The point is not to remember clearly every detail, but to get the feeling of that memory into the body. The act of recreating the feeling of the memory creates changes in the brain and releases positive chemicals. From this positive mental state, participants begin to create a vision of something that they want, or a way that they aspire to be in the world. By stepping into the vision from the positive mental state created by the positive memory, participants are able to create a detailed vision that is fueled by both cognitive and emotional elements.
The overall goal of this circle is to help activists reorient to themselves, their work, and the world around them in more positive ways. For a group that meets over time, this visioning exercise could be done at regular intervals to nurture ongoing work.
Seating arrangement: Participants should be seated in a circle. If the group is large, the circle can be two or more people deep (preferably with cushions towards front, chairs behind, so the center of the circle is visible to all).
Welcome (10 minutes)
- Sign in Sheet (optional)
- Welcome and Context
- Introduction of Facilitator and Evening
- Introductions of Participants
- Preferred pronouns
- Short icebreaker? (e.g., 1 food you ate today)
- What is the Visioning circle?
- The invitation in this work is to think about how you are going to be in the world – not how the world is going to (or should) change. During this activity, each of us will be able to contemplate two key questions: 1) What is the world I want to see? 2) How will I show up in a way that makes that world possible?
- Applying principles of neuroplasticity: As you think about a possibility, your brain processes this thought as though it is happening in real life and strengthens the neuropathways that are associated with this thought. That’s why, as part of their training, world class athletes will often imagine performing at their best or having a positive outcome in a competition setting. The parts of our brain that make this happen – mirror neurons – are the same parts that get activated when we see someone else performing at a high level or hear someone else’s vision. In telling stories – and sharing visions – we are nourishing ourselves and one another.
- Share the schedule of evening
Warm up and Personal Sharing (15-30min)
- (Optional) Welcoming Physical Activity
- Milling with eye contact and smile
- Something else? It’s up to you!
- Whole Group Share: How are you doing? Why are we here?
- In the large group, everyone goes around and has 2-4 minutes to share what they are feeling, why they showed up, and what they hope to gain from the evening. Focus on talking about feelings and emotions. “I feel…”
- If the group is large, and/or time is limited, break into smaller groups to do this story sharing
Transition (5 minutes)
- In listening to the conversations within the group in the Warm-up/Sharing activity, the facilitator can provide simple reflections of the things they noticed (“What I’m hearing is….”) to name common feelings or themes that came up in the room
- Facilitator: “Now we are going to move into a space of nurturing positive visions by completely immersing ourselves in the memory of a joyful experience. By appreciating and savoring a positive experience from the past, we are able to feed our ability to stay in this work of activism and social change. Through this activity we will benefit personally and give to each other by sharing in these positive experiences and positive energy.”
Savoring Joyful Memories Together (15-20 minutes)
- Invite participants to close their eyes as they call to mind a positive memory. It may be a memory from the distant or recent past. You might frame this as thinking of a time when participants felt full, happy, comforted, or good. It does not have to be a peak experience, though it can be. Simple, pleasurable experiences are fine.
- Next, ask participants to break into small groups. For each session in the group, one member will serve as storyteller and another will serve as coach. The coach will be responsible for drawing out the details of the memory that the storyteller is conjuring. It is important for the storyteller to describe their memory in the present tense. Sample questions from the coach might include:
- Where are you? Who are you with?
- What are the sensory experiences in that memory – sights, sounds, smells, touch, and perhaps taste?
- What other sensations do you have in your body –heart rate, pace and depth of breathing, any sensations in the chest, throat or abdomen?
- Is there color, or a quality of movement, or a texture that goes with your memory?
- Try to draw each story out such that it lasts 2-3 minutes.
- After a story is finished, each person in the group will share one word that describes what they heard in the person’s story.
- Switch to another group member, and (potentially/as needed) a different coach, until everyone has shared.
Visioning (20-30 minutes / more for a large group)
- The facilitator brings the whole group back together (in a circle), and encourages each person to share one word that they felt was the essence of their own story. The facilitator could write down the words from each participant on a large poster or piece of paper for all to see. Or each participant could write their word on a smaller piece of paper, state it out loud, and then put the piece of paper into the center of the circle of participants. Once this is done the facilitator may reflect on commonalities between the positive memories (such as love, connection, etc).
- Once all participants have shared their word and the words are in the center of the circle – either on a large, single piece of paper or poster, or on several smaller pieces of paper – the facilitator can then instruct the participants to focus on the quality of these words, and the energy they have cultivated through memory, and begin to envision the world they hope for, what they are working for, and how they intend to show up in ways that could facilitate that world coming into existence.
- Invite participants to stand up and speak about the world they envision and their contributions to that world. Encourage participants to speak in the present tense so that they can experience visions as actually happening in this moment:
- “I am welcoming and open to others …”
- “I am in a protest, and I am standing up for those who are being oppressed … ”
- “I am putting my body on the line for justice … ”
- “I am connected to ancestors and people not born yet, working with them and for them in a way in which there is nothing to fear …”
Closing Out the Evening (5 minutes)
- Savor for a moment longer the feelings that have been shared
- Sit quietly in chair
- Make sure back is straight, legs not closed, close eyes or have soft focus, notice how you’re feeling in body, do a body scan, notice feet, legs, torso, etc. Take a moment to breathe and be with everything we conjured up in this space.
- Take three deep breaths
- Look at everyone in circle. Thank them for sharing in this experience and sharing their positive vision.
Photo credit: Rebecca Siegel