The Truth Circle is a community ceremony that was developed in former East Germany, on the second anniversary of reunification, as part of a workshop experience. It has been popularized by Joanna Macy, and is commonly practiced as a means of “Honoring our pain for the world” in the spiral of the Work that Reconnects.
The Truth Circle is designed to hold the space for collective grieving and bearing witness to one another’s pain. Bringing our grief and emotional pain to a shared space, via an embodied practice, has the capacity to build community, strengthen our ability to maintain emotional presence, and clarify our intention to work towards collective liberation.
The basic format can be adapted to specific purposes. Sometimes, depending on the function of the ceremony, it is helpful to substitute objects and/or meanings associated with objects such that, in addition to grief, fear, emptiness, and/or anger, there are place holders for hope and/or commitment. We give an alternate format below; other adaptations can be found via our Group Exercises page.
Objects used: stone, dry leaves, empty bowl, sturdy stick
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 (10-15 minutes)
- Sign in sheet
- Context – why we are meeting
- Begin by describing any relevant specific events, and some of the feelings participants might be experiencing in response to these events.
- Why do this in a white affinity context: It avoids burdening communities of color and frees us to speak from the heart without worrying about “saying the right thing.” We also need each other; What connects us is not our privilege; it’s the cost of that privilege.
- You may be feeling a pressure to feel “the right way;” However, whatever you’re feeling, that’s what we want you to share.
- There is no right way. We can only start where we are.
- Framing: Frame the context in which the facilitators came to be doing this work.
- Quick intros: share your name, preferred gender pronoun, and one word for how you’re feeling.
Warm up (15min)
- Milling: Walk around the room making eye contact with everyone you pass. When told to do so, freeze and partner up with someone near you.
- Asking questions in pairs: Face one another and ask if it is alright to hold the others hands. One asks the other, “What is on your heart?” The other responds for up to two minutes. The two switch roles and the same question is posed to the other person.
Truth circle (45min-1.5 hours or more, depending on group size)
1. Logistical instructions: Arrange the participants so that they are seated in a circle. In the middle of the circle place four objects: a stone, a stick, a bowl, and dry leaves. The instructions for the ritual are as follows:
- Each object in the center of this circle represents something we may be feeling at this time. The stone is a container for fear. The stick for anger. The leaves are sadness. The bowl is emptiness. (At the beginning or end of the ritual you can mention how each emotion also contains within itself an affirmation: anger is a product of the passion for justice; we are sad because we are connected, because we love; with fear comes courage; emptiness speaks to the possibilities that arise from the unknown).
- Alternate versions of the ritual: the classic version of the Truth Circle is very cathartic; it is a container for grief, anger, and loss that respects the need to not be told “it’s okay” or “it’s going to be okay”; sometimes, however, we need a different type of container; one that is not quite so raw; I (Eleanor, White Awake ED), have worked a Truth Circle in which I use a feather to represent hope; the stone to represent commitment; alongside the leaves (sadness) and stick (anger) of the original form. Now that we are living into the “Era of Trump”, I wouldn’t skip fear, however. I trust you will use your wisdom to create the circle best suited for your group.
- Each is invited, as you feel moved, to step into the center of the circle, take one of these objects in your hands, and speak to the emotion the object represents. Welcome to simply come to the center of the circle and speak without holding object. Can come to the center and hold an object without speaking; take one turn, multiple turns, or noe; and are free to hold and speak with more than one object.
- Unless you need to return to your chair for health reasons, please stay in the center when you share
- Folks on the outside: give person at the center our full attention. We can silently listen, or respond with one of these phrases: “I hear you” – “I am with you”. These phrases can give voice to our solidarity with one another.
- Clarifying questions?
2. Prompts for “how” we engage:
- Without judgment: Notice and set aside as judgement arises
- Brevity: Notice the number of people in the room, and share in a way that allows time for everyone.
- Speak from the heart: About your experience (not someone else’s)
- Challenge yourself to go to the core of the feeling, the experience itself, not the story or your thought about it.
- Sometimes we avoid emotion because we feel we can’t handle it. It is so big we might break if we feel it. it’s so big. We believe you will not break – you are strong enough to do this.
- There is a lot of diversity in this room; we have avoided the “race” trigger, but we know there are others. Encourage all of us to trust the container to hold these differences, and be able to focus on the experience of the person in the center of the circle.
- Show one another respect with our honesty and presence.
- Try not to turn too quickly to “comfort” one another – often a nonverbal way of saying “I’m not comfortable with your emotion.” Instead, trust one another. Trust that we are strong and that sharing increases our capacity.
3. Reiterate what objects stand for, open the circle
4. Consider opening through group sound:
- Explain clearly, with set amount of time (about 1 minute);
- “Make sound; tone, “aah”, sigh, sing, wail; experiment;
- Feel the vibration of your voice in your body; feel the vibration of all our voices in the room together;
- Have a clear cue to stop (i.e. a bell).
5. Hold space for circle
6. Close the circle with sound
Concluding the event (10-20min)
The Truth Circle can be a very cathartic experience. It is helpful to spend a little time together before participants leave the space, sharing something about the circle or how they are feeling afterwards, engaging in song or other simple activity together, and encouraging self care. Make sure everyone feels emotionally stable and safe enough to leave – offer individual support if needed while others are going home.
Examples of concluding activities and remarks:
- Make time for each person to speak to something that gives them hope, and something they can commit to.
- Leave unstructured time after the group working is done for socializing and mingling
- Go around the circle and give a one word check out
- Go around the circle and name something about the experience they are grateful for
- Encourage people to continue conversations with white people they’re close with.
- Sing a song; share a “pulse” around the circle through hand squeeze; create a cathartic sound together; stand up and shake …
- Encourage self care: rest; drink water; connect with a supportive friend; spend time outside; give yourself the quiet you need to feel, settle, process