A few words on “Council”, the practice of speaking and listening from the heart that we Ojai staff engage in together every Wednesday morning in the Council House and that TOF has helped spread to schools, organisations and communities in California, the US and abroad.
Like permaculture, council in a way is about doing and noticing what is actually most obvious and natural. Only we have forgotten how to do that. When the gardeners explain to me how to plant a flower, how to form the earth around it for maximum water catchment and how to tend it, once I’ve understood, I think: Well, that’s actually common sense. I’d simply have to imagine what I would need as a plant, where I would flow if I were the water. Obviously there is a lot more to know in botany and ecology but the basics that I as a city girl felt so ignorant about really only require me to engage with the subject in a thoughtful, attentive way.
That is why TOF staff say that just living on this land is engaging in “living council” with the land and it’s life forms every day. With our mere 20 hour work week we volunteers have plenty of time to “just” hang out in the gardens, observe the animals, here the sounds, watch the plants. The idea is to slow down so that you can truly notice what is around you.
And council is essentially the same: We try to listen to others’ stories with the utmost attention, however not on an analytical level (though forms of council are used for conflict resolution or communal planning) but with empathy, directly from the heart. In the same way, we are asked to not plan ahead what we will say in response to the council facilitator’s prompt once the talking piece comes to us. Rather, we should try to be spontaneous, intuiting what is wanting to be said at that moment. This spontaneity I find the most challenging aspect of council. Trusting that I have an intuitive faculty that will make itself heard at the right moment in response to what I have witnessed around me – that’s a skill that’s greatly neglected in most of contemporary society. I think I’m more used to wanting / needing to perform , to appear competent, likeable, conforming to what I think would be proper in the given situation than I was even aware of.
The other big challenge is spontaneous movement or song that are sometimes part of a council warm-up or closing. To express my inner state through a movement instead of through words – how do I do that? I can’t yet feel what my body wants to do. And what if my movement looks embarrassing or awkward? So many inhibitions created in us by society’s compartmentalising and judging and suppressing the different forms of experience and expression available to us…