Wisdom Circle Charter

For the mission, definition and inspiration for creating the wisdom circle, please see:

For the original letter of invitation to the circle, please see:
To join our email list, please see:

    First, let us say that this charter is living, evolving, group-consensus based document.  It is also the ideal to which we aspire, rather than what is practiced 100% of the time.  Please feel welcome to attend, even if you're not yet comfortable sharing your heart with new people, or if anything you read here sounds challenging.  (It's challenging for us all!)  All that is asked of any circle attendee is to listen compassionately...and to withhold verbal judgment, cross-talk, analysis, and the common compulsion to "help" or "fix" the person speaking.  (Tremendous and magical things happen when someone trusts that s/he can express whatever s/he chooses and that it will be heard deeply, but neither commented on nor discussed.)

"Our most precious relationships appear when we are fully met.  When we hide nothing, distort nothing, justify nothing, protect nothing, hold back nothing, there's the chance that someone we encounter will accept, treasure, celebrate the us that is then touched by them.  At this moment we can fully relax, trust--and consequently all anxiety and frustration drop away.  We find ourself by being wholly received.  Reciprocation by us opens the other to deeper reception, and on and on without limit the individual and mutual depths embrace us."  ~ James Flaherty on "Meeting Others"

Circle Specifics

    Each month, the circle will be hosted by a member who graciously volunteers a space for us to meet, somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area.  S/he may add some personally meaningful touches to the format below, such as choosing a theme and an activity in alignment with that theme.  (This "rotating leadership" model also provides the opportunity for each of us to experience leading in a safe atmosphere of supportive acceptance, while "adding our own juice to the collective pot" of the evolving community.)  The times given below are guidelines which may be modified by the current circle's host to meet his or her own personal needs/desires (or the needs of the space) for that day.  The circle has requested that the times fit into a half-day, so typical start times are 1 or 2pm, 9 or 10am.  Past circles have averaged 4 hours.

    The door will be locked after one hour of social time, so that a sacred ritual space may be created.  Out of respect to ritual, spirit and the circle, no one will be admitted to the circle after this time.

    Wisdom circle meeting details will be announced monthly through the email alias.  A quick "I'll be there" reply to this invitation is greatly appreciated if you do plan on attending.

    You can plan to meet on the first Sunday of each month.  Sometimes, when there are conflicts, we will reschedule.  Rescheduling or polls for other changes will be done via the email list .  A prompt reply when your input is sought regarding the circle, such as for rescheduling, accomplishes several important things:  First, it honors your commitment to the circle by putting your energy and intention into its continuing evolution.  Second, it is an expression of gratitude which will both remind the organizer of the importance of the circle in your life, as well as honor the time and energy s/he has put into creating and maintaining it.  (It shows them you care.)  Third, it facilitates the timely execution of whatever specific change is being contemplated.

This is the basic outline of a circle:

1 hour social gathering, arrival, optional sharing of munchies
          Open of sacred ritual space by sitting together in a circle and lighting a candle in the center
              Reciting of a welcome greeting and/or invocation for spirit to enter, smudge, pipe ceremony, etc.
              Focus shifted from "I" to "We" and circle "powered up" by joining of hands and group chant
              Group check-in by passing of the Talking Stick
                       10-30 minutes of sacred silence (time for personal reflection, meditation, prayer, thanksgiving) or activity
           Sharing of meditation/activity experience by passing of the Talking Stick
        Close of sacred space by closing ritual and extinguishing of the candle
       Open discussion about upcoming circles, announcements, etc.
Break circle
Social, private conversations, personal exchanges, munchies

    The current circle's host may wish to augment the "welcome greeting/spirit invocation" and/or "opening chant ritual" with something special to him/her (past examples: drumming, sage smudging).  Some hosts have also chosen to add a pipe ceremony.  Further, the current circle's host may wish to frame the "sacred silence" with a theme, question, activity or reading of his/her choosing (past examples: [November] "For what or to whom in your life do you wish to give thanks?", [January] "What would you like to put to rest or say 'good-bye' to now, and to what would you like to give birth in the year to come?"  Each person received two pieces of paper, a pen, and a plastic egg; we burned our "put to rest items" together and took our "give birth to items" home in our eggs.  [February] Host-led Shamanic journey to drumming.)

Circle Etiquette

Each of us had ancestors who sat in circle together, perhaps around a fire...drumming, singing, dancing, telling stories, praying to the spirit of the sacred place on Earth that they knew as home.  In those circles people found solutions to their problems, they laughed and they played, celebrated and grieved together.  In those circles people honored one another, and the ritual power of sitting in circle, by speaking from the heart and by listening from the heart.  In order to create
a safe container for full participation, deep truth-telling, intimacy, healing and both individual and group growth/evolution, we agree to do our best to follow these guidelines of Circle Etiquette:

  1. We allow the person holding the "Talking Stick" to speak without interruption or cross-talk
  2. We keep everything confidential: What happens in the circle stays in the circle
  3. We give each other the rare and extraordinary gift of compassionate, nonjudgmental listening, while being completely pleased with the speaker at all times
  4. We notice when our attention is distracted, on ourself, or in our mind/ego (evaluating what the speaker's saying, mind wandering to something/someone/somewhere else, rehearsing what you want to say next, perceiving a "problem" in what you're hearing--ie, something or someone that needs help, fixing, consoling, etc).
  5. We build the muscle of consciously shifting our attention back, over and over again, to "just listening" with heart-felt compassion (ie, focus/attention on the person speaking, complete acceptance of the speaker and his/her way of experiencing this moment in his/her life, genuine curiosity about this person's experience--what it might be like to be living what they're living, the story beneath the story, observing/witnessing rather than evaluating, looking for your soul's reflection in him/her, being open to receiving a message that you need to hear in your life via this other soul's experience).
  1. We speak with genuine authenticity, in full honesty, and only from direct personal experience
  2. We challenge ourselves not to edit, filter or rehearse:  We speak spontaneously of what's true inside us during the particular moment we have the Talking Stick
  3. We are lean: We leave space for others to share what they need to by giving just the "bottom line" of what we need to say.  Before speaking, take a moment of silence with the Stick and inquire inside: "What do I really need to say right now?  What has the most emotional charge for me?"  I do by best to hold this inquiry in my awareness as I speak, pausing silently as required to revisit this inquiry, keeping a constant pulse on where the emotional charge is and trusting/following this inner, non-verbal, non-mind wisdom.
  4. During my time, I speak my own truth (rather than responding to others' sharing, going into a discussion, etc.)  Rather than talking politics or about "things out there," I challenge myself to go deeply into how I feel inside about whatever topic has charge for me: How topic X affecting me right now?  (Consider taking the risk of showing the circle you as affected by topic X, rather than talking about topic X.)
  5. We honor the sacredness and power of silence and wait for deeper feelings and wisdom to arise.  We then speak what's real for us, in that moment, in our own heart:  I challenge myself to share from that heart/feeling place, rather than from the mind/ego place.  (The mind/ego wants us to speak concepts, to tell stories, to espouse philosophies or abstract "truths," to "take a stand"/discuss/debate, to "teach" or disseminate "wisdom" or advice to others, etc.  The heart/being is experienced more as bodily sensations, pure emotions or raw energy flowing through us, etc.  Sometimes just making a sound or a motion--without any words at all--can be the most powerful and authentic expression of what's real/true in our being in that moment.)
  6. We keep it real: The only thing that's truly "real" is what's happening right here, right now, in this moment.  The more "real" we keep our sharing, the more intimacy is created and the more powerful the circle experience is for everyone, especially the speaker.  (For example, what happened last week is not real: it's just a memory trace in my mind.  How elated or sad I'm feeling right now about what happened last week, however, is real.  Something that may happen tomorrow, next month or next year is not real: it's just a fantasy in my mind.  The just-can't-wait anticipation or the worry/dread that I'm experiencing right now about what may happen in the future, however, is real.
         Sometimes we
    may need to sit in silence for a few minutes while holding the Talking Stick, or to tell a bit of the story of what happened or might happen, to get in touch with what's going on inside, of course.  This is fine.  (In fact, anything you do while you have the Stick is fine!)  The magic and power of the ritual space ignites, however, when we keep the focus of "what's real in this moment" in our awareness as we express whatever we choose to share.  We invite each other to play with this "keep it real" focus and see what impact this more conscious/real way of sharing has on our own experience, on the energy of the group, and on the experience of the those seated around us.
     Again, anything you end up saying/doing while you have the Talking Stick is fine.  If you're feeling that you're "not doing it right" or you're feeling "judged" for what you are saying, feeling or doing, please "keep it real" and make that the focus of your sharing.  If you have feelings about these guidelines themselves, then please "keep it real" and speak your truth, without blame or judgment, about these feelings during your turn.  It can be especially challenging, but also especially powerful, to speak about how you're feeling in the circle surrounded by these particular people, while you're actually sitting in the circle surrounded by these particular people.

     The above guidelines are not "just rules for the sake of rules."  (In fact, they're not even rules, they're just guidelines!)  Nor are they meant to restrict us.  Quite the contrary, actually.  Years of experience with many different people, from teen to adult, in several different environments, has taught us that the above "Circle Etiquette," while challenging and a bit uncomfortable (at first) for almost everyone, does indeed create a safer, more intimate, more liberating, more healing and more transformational sacred space.  Similarly, despite their "strangeness" (and even "discomfort") to us today, these are the guidelines that our ancestors used for millennia to honor each other and create community and a powerful, sacred, transformational and healing ritual space.  (
And, if you go back far enough, each and everyone one of us had ancestors that met in circles, honoring each other in this way.  For more on the history of circles and what makes them powerful, see the books "Wisdom Circles" and "The Way of Council".)

We are also here to create a safe space for us to learn/grow/evolve ourselves and each other.  The most significant learning/growth happens outside one's comfort zone.  (If something's already easy/comfortable for me, then I already know how to do it and, thus, there's probably not much learning/growth for me in repeating that way of being.)  We strive for that balance between accepting and honoring each other exactly as we are today, while holding the space--even challenging each other lovingly to stretch outside our comfort zone from time to time--to grow, heal and learn new ways of being as we move forward in our lives.  The Wisdom Circle can be a safe place to take risks and practice new ways of being and interacting, so that we may live in bold new ways in the rest of our lives.

     Again, these guidelines are not "cast in stone," nor are they meant to measure or restrict.  They are meant to challenge, liberate, strengthen and deepen the circle experience and community.  We respectfully ask your support in holding them thusly.

** Further discussion, hints, etc. to have a more powerful wisdom circle experience can be found below and at wisdomcircles.org.

New Members

    If there's someone who you'd like to attend, please take responsibility for calling that person and extending a warm, personal invitation.  Out of respect to the active members of the circle and the person whom you invite, please make sure that person reads this charter.  If you've found this page on your own and would like to learn more, please call the circle organizer, Rich Raffals, at the number below.  We have few rules (most of our circle members hate rules!)...and it is required that each new person both read this charter and then have a specific conversation about it with Rich before attending their first circle.

Here's why...
     We have learned through experience that bringing a new person into the group without first preparing both that person and the group is a disservice to both.  We do not wish to exclude anyone.  Quite the contrary!  Yet, for several reasons, neither do we wish bring in someone unfamiliar to the current circle members and ceremony who has not been properly prepared for this unique and sacred experience.  It has been our experience that the more time and energy one puts into preparing for any given circle (especially their first!), and the fewer unknowns s/he walks into, the more comfortable s/he will feel, the more comfortable others will feel in his/her presence...and the richer everyone's experience will be.
     New members are encouraged to come early and use the social time before the opening of the circle to meet as many of the other circle members as possible.  Existing members are encouraged to come early to circles when a new member will attend, and to step outside their personal comfort zone to connect with the new person and make him/her feel welcomed.  Obviously, the more safe and comfortable each member feels with every other member of the group, the deeper and more intimate everyone's sharing will be...and, thus, the richer the experience for all.  For further discussion of this, click here

    If you're considering coming for your first time, but aren't sure, you are invited to call the circle organizer for that month, and/or whomever you know in the circle, in addition to speaking with Rich, to get a better sense of the atmosphere of the circle.  If "things aren't going well for you" or you're "not in a good space," we especially encourage you to come and let someone know that so we can support you.  (WhatEVER space you're in will be honored and welcomed by the circle.)
    If you're still unsure, for whatever reason, please come anyway and allow your experience to guide your decision on whether this type of community is something you'd like to have as part of your life.  You may be surprised at how comfortable you feel when you're actually sitting in the energy of the circle: You may find the confidence, courage, inspiration and safety to reach deeper inside and share more of your true self than you'd ever have expected.  You may also be surprised at how magical, healing and wisdom-inspiring this simple (yet difficult) act can be, and how accepted and supported you feel in the process.  You may discover yourself saying things you didn't know you knew, even finding new insights or solutions in your own words.

   Still, there is value in attending even if you never say a word: Since most of us find it challenging to quiet our minds enough to truly listen to the story of another (and, thus, notice our own soul's reflection in him/her, gain a new perspective on life, etc), the circle is a opportunity to practice this unique type of listening.  Your compassionate listening is a wonderful service, too...one which will be greatly appreciated by those who do speak.  If you're still feeling hesitant, however, please call and/or click here.

    Attending is a commitment, however.  It is a commitment to creating a space in your life for your higher self, spirit and ritual, as well as taking specific time and space to honor your own growth, your nurturance, and the community of caring, like-minded friends.  It is a gift that you give yourself--when you're ready to receive it.  For some of us, it's like a second family, one that we've consciously chosen.  As with any community, please approach us with the attitude of, "What can I give here?" rather than "What can I get here?"...trusting that each of us will be approaching you and the others similarly.

When the Circle Doesn't Work for Me

     This is natural and expected.  There's likely to come a time, in any community, when it feels like the group's no longer serving you, is "no longer right" for you, that you "don't belong," that the people don't understand or have space for you, that the group's moving in a different direction than you are, that nobody cares, etc.  During these times, it's useful to remember that this is natural.  It's also useful to remind oneself that 90-100% of these feelings are actually "old" feelings from past experiences that have just been triggered by the present circle circumstances, members, leader, guidelines, etc.
     It can also be useful to remember that our ancestors, who lived in tribes, also experienced this.  Their choice was either to work it out within the community, or to face almost certain death by leaving the tribe and going it alone.  So, they worked it out.  They had no choice.  Given the way we've all been oppressed in this society with rules and being forced to do things we neither wanted to nor believed in, and how most of us have been hurt by the misuse of power in our families, organizations, and/or society, our resistance and difficulty often arises around the Circle Etiquette Guidelines, the person leading (ie, the perceived "authority figure in power"), etc.

     If at any point you're not experiencing these guidelines--or anything happening in the circle or wisdom circle community--in the positive ways intended above, you are expected to speak what you are experiencing, during a circle, when you have the Talking Stick.  This is the way the circle and the guidelines evolve to match the community they serve.  If I don't speak my truth (difficult as it may be for me to do so), however, and if I don't make specific requests for what I need when I need it, I've given away my power.  When I give away my power, I often "become a victim."  When I withhold my truth and/or withdraw myself from the group in victimhood, the circle and guidelines will not know how they need to evolve to keep in step with me, the community.  Further, it's much less likely that I'll get the personal support, attention or whatever it is that I'm truly wanting/needing, as those who care deeply for me are unlikely to know of my desires/needs unless I communicate these things clearly to them.

     We know it's easier to just judge/blame and leave.  To gossip and form "us-them cliques" outside the circle.  To walk away "in a huff," playing the victim.  We've all done it.  We've all seen others do it.  Our society teaches us well how to do that, and often even encourages us to give away our power, and to sabotage community by creating an "us-them" separation and in-fighting, with our blame, gossiping or leaving.  We may even carry childhood distresses from a time when our needs went painfully unmet, before we were capable of communicating them effectively.  Even though we may not realize it sometimes, or may not be good at it yet, we are now fully capable of knowing what we need and communicating it...even if what we need is the space to talk through what we're feeling in order to reach clarity on just what we need.

     We challenge each other in this spiritually evolved community to summon the courage (or ask for support, which may take even more courage!) to step outside our conditioned ways of being, to step outside our comfort zone, in service of the community and, instead, be the creator: To stay and speak our truths fully--with neither blame nor judgment.  To make specific requests for what we need and supply possible solutions (rather than just the problems/complaints).  To work lovingly with the rest of the community to discover or co-create the solution that works best for everyone, including ourselves.  (Interesting historical tidbit: Angeles Arrien teaches us that certain indigenous people considered it an insult to present a problem and not also present ten--yes 10!--possible solutions at the same time they presented the problem.)

     In this regard, we are each empowered and encouraged to own the circle as our own, to step forth as a leader, and take personal responsibility for making the circle whatever we most want/need it to be.  This is your community and it will be whatever you make it.  As such, if there's anything that's not working for you, the person to look to to initiate change is the one sitting in your spot.  We want you to have that power.  Being a leader of the circle means not waiting for (or blaming) someone else.  It means asking for 100% of what I want 100% of the time, and then remaining present and open to negotiate the difference.

     Even though it's natural for us to fear that there will be a negative reaction to our truth, our requests, please try it out.  Experiment. 
You may be surprised that when you take the risk of stepping forward in this way that you are met with empathy, caring and compassion, and that the result is more closeness/acceptance/understanding for you within the group--rather than the opposite--as well as your getting what you want!

     If all this fails, or you're leaving the area, and you do decide to leave the circle, we request that you do so "within the circle."  That is, alert the organizer of that month's circle with enough time so s/he can notify people. 
(Or, even better, host the circle and let everyone know that it will be your last.  Rich has been trained in closure rituals and can help you plan a circle around the theme of your departure.)  Then, of course, come to the circle, and allow us to do a transitional ritual around your parting.  This allows everyone to say what they need to say to achieve closure with you, as well as allowing you to express what you need to in order to let go fully on all levels.
     Doing a closure ritual around someone's parting is important for humans.  It allows everyone to consciously honor, appreciate and cherish the memories and gifts that we choose to hold onto.  It also allows them to consciously let go of what needs to be let go of.  The result is everyone being able to move forward freely in their life, without any dangling "emotional loose ends" or psychic binding.  If you've ever had someone you care deeply for die without being able to say what you wanted to say to them before they left, you know how important and powerful this closure can be, even though this importance has been largely forgotten in today's culture.

Important Notes, Hints, etc. for a More Powerful Experience:

    During the "group check-in," you may wish to share whatever arises when you ask yourself one of the following questions:

"What brings me to this circle today?"
"What do I bring to this circle today?"
"What is in my heart today?"
"What obstacles within myself did I overcome to bring myself here today?"
"What quality do I embody and offer to the circle today?"

    When another holds the Talking Stick, you are called to honor that person by listening compassionately and without judgment, opinion, or thoughts of how to help, console or congratulate.  This type of listening is an art, which we are all practicing continuously.  Challenge yourself to be completely pleased and delighted with the person speaking, holding them as their highest self, regardless of the words being spoken, or the emotions being displayed.  Experiment with this idea: "The way you listen to someone, including how you regard them, will affect who they become: their experience, what they think, feel, and share, how they regard themselves, as well as how they express their experience."

    If I regard you as "messed up," "hopeless," "weak," "stupid," "too sensitive" or "with a problem" for example, you may well find yourself feeling that way, "becoming" that in my presence, and responding from that place.  If I regard any particular emotion you may be having (such as deep grief, overflowing bliss, intense anger) as "too much" or "inappropriate," then you may well feel that there's no space for how you're truly feeling, or who you truly are.  This leads to hiding, pretending and trying to be something we're not in order to be accepted by the group.  Haven't we all done enough of this type of "selling our soul" for love and acceptance...?

     On the flip side, if I regard you as creative, resourceful, perfect, brilliant and whole--including full acceptance of any emotions you might be having--you may well respond (now or later) by creatively, brilliantly and resourcefully finding your own perfect solution to whatever I might perceive as your problem, growing and learning invaluably in the process.  [Many studies have shown that school children respond to what's expected of them (even when it's not expressed).  Those with "low IQs" will excel and those with "high IQs" will fail, for example, when the teacher was given swapped IQ scores.]

     The way to turn our natural human tendency to "see problems" and "want to fix/rescue people" around is to find "where the work is"--within ourselves--as others are speaking/expressing the truth of their experience:  That is, to the degree that I want to live in a world where it's ok for me to be who I am, I commit to being compassionately attentive to when something inside me wants another person, or their mode of feeling or experiencing life, to be different than it is...and I commit to owning this natural tendency, without self blame or reproach, and being responsible for building the muscle of transmuting my internal judgment into acceptance.  When I'm in integrity with this commitment, I'm "doing the work" required to create a community (and a world) in which it's ok for everyone to be exactly who they are.  If everyone made this commitment and practiced genuine acceptance of others with full competency, there would be peace on Earth.  The Wisdom Circle is a place where we can practice building this competency, so that we can take it out into the world and model it for others.

    When your attention drifts, or you feel bored, try tuning in to the tone of the person's voice, what their body's saying, and the "larger" message they're conveying (often without knowing it)...ie, the message that lies underneath the words you're hearing: Who is he striving to become?  What is her soul trying to express or learn at this point in her life?  What would it feel like to be this person in this moment or experience?  Etc.  Then, return to being pleased and holding them highly.  Simple, no?  ;-)

     If you are diligent and open to it, your own healing or growth may occur during this type of listening:  You may see your soul's reflection in the person speaking, receive a timely message for your own life, or experience a "oneness" that connects you.  If the speaker is open to it, his or her own healing or growth may also occur at this time as the group bears compassionate, non-judging witness to the speaker's story while holding him or her highly.  As the speaker hears his own experience spoken aloud (for perhaps the first time), he will often say or realize things he didn't even know he knew.  Finally, of course, the person speaking receives the energy and the precious gift of your loving attention.

    When it's your turn with the Talking Stick, you may choose to hold the stick briefly and reflect silently, or to share your reflection out loud with the group.  If you speak while holding the Talking Stick, you are called to speak honestly and from your own heart about your own direct life experience.  This time is for you and you alone.  This is not the time to console or congratulate or otherwise respond to the shadings of others, nor to try to impress with wit, brilliance or stories.  It is a time when you are called to reach deep within yourself for your own truth.

    The challenge here is to speak courageously from your heart and present experience, without filtering or rehearsal.  The more you can do so, rather than recounting events or thoughts, the deeper the experience will be for both you and your friends seated around you: Your genuine authenticity will inspire and make it safe for your friends seated around you to reach more deeply into themselves, and gain the wisdom and healing that comes from that.
    Please try to honor the sacredness of the ritual time/space by saving "discussion" items for the "open discussion" period after the candle has been extinguished.  We are in our heads and in intellectual discussions during most of our lives, and it's very tempting to launch into a discussion during ritual time.  Ritual time is more sacred and meaningful, however, if we maintain the energy of staying close to our hearts, in a "feeling space" rather than a "thinking space."  Once the candle has been extinguished, you will feel the energy lighten as we move into "open discussion" and back into our heads.

    Finally, the wisdom circle is not merely the gathering that happens once a month.  It is a commitment to an on-going relationship with the members of the circle, and to carrying the intentions, teachings and visions of the circle into daily life.  Honoring this commitment beyond the space and time of our gathering is a way for you to express your heartfelt appreciation for the blessings, healings and teachings which you receive or realize during our gatherings.
    Organizing events for the community between circles is another way to give back.  Further, if something shared by another circle member touches you in a particularly poignant manner, this may be a synchronistic calling for you to establish further contact with that person outside of our once-a-month gatherings.  You are encouraged to chat with this person after the circle closes (but before leaving), to see if an agreeable meeting might be established.
    The goal of the wisdom circle is not only to transform and heal ourselves, but to work together so that our highest intentions and compassionate wisdom touch as many beings on the planet as possible.  It is our hope that the circle teaches us a new way of being together that seeps out into the rest of our lives, and into the common society, for the benefit of all beings everywhere....


Call anytime: 650-493-2993

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