Thursday, June 11, 2015

Breathing into Yesterday's Circle

      When I am working as a facilitator of Restorative Justice with juveniles, it seems most natural to use what I have learned in Council practice and listen with my whole being.  It can be hard for people to hear a totally different version about the "facts" of what happened, but we can hold the diversity of opinions and perspectives in the Circle. If we hear something we disagree with, we can take a deep breath and relax. No one will be asked to give up anything; the Circle can hold it all.

     Being interested in what everyone has to say, and interested in how the Circle will unfold, involves Listening. Listening in an "innocent" way, without any internal chatter responding to whats being heard. Listening this way is a soft, attentive listening that has a light touch, like the touch of a butterfly's wings.
     Most of our RJ Circles deal with youth who were arrested for fighting. There is almost always a sense of injustice in the workings of the system. There is always the history; personal history and shared history, leading up to the fight.  And parents tend to have opinions about who the Real Offender is - so parental resistance to the process is often high. But I have found, again and again, that all the parents seem to share a desire for their child to have a good life and to be safe from harm.
      It’s my role as facilitator to maintain an environment where everyone can articulate their viewpoints, their differences. An environment where everyone is heard. In that environment people open up to one another. 
    And when i am not sure what the "next step" is in our process, I just get quiet and breath...and then I know what to do. I offer something, I take an action. There is no formula. It's one moment at a time, breathing in, breathing out and responding to the moment, again and again. 
      These moments might have felt risky at one time, but not now, because there is something else at work that I have come to trust. Something happens after people have shared responses to a few questions. There is a lake of information created and there's a point when I can surrender the formula, the list of how to facilitate the RJ Circle. At that point all that I've heard is becoming integrated and i can relax and just stay with my breath. 
     Its a great relief to stay with the breath. A great relief in letting the thinking mind, the busy, how i can "fix this mind" dissolve and let a larger mind, perhaps we can call it the heart/mind, open to possibilities and respond to whats in the room - respond to the tensions, the people and the feelings - and take a risk, what is sometimes called a "bold action". Its a commitment to allow actions to emerge, and with that commitment comes the boldness.  
     For a moment I might feel that I'm poised on a thin line, maintaining my balance, knowing i cannot stay perched on that thin line, but not yet sure where to set my foot down, where my next step is...and then...
      I breath and in the rhythm of my breath and the stillness of staying with my breath, present to where I am and who I am with, I find the next step in service of the youth and families in the room. 
     It has become a bit cliche, but truly, it's those I am with in the Circle that are guiding the process. In becoming still I feel our interconnected presence acutely and that's what I am responding to.
      These moments of  "not knowing" happen in each and every Restorative Circle and those moment are pivotal for the Circle, they are the turning point. That turning point launches us into the deeper and most authentic effectiveness of Restorative Justice approaches; that go far beyond the "map" of how to facilitate a an RJ Circle. 
       Staying with my breath in an atmosphere that is filled with tension allows me to make contact evenly with each individual in the room and our shared humanity seems to become more visible to everyone. 
     Even the physical space we are in, which may have been crowded with tension as well as bodies, seems to get larger - allowing more room for the emergence of something new, some spirit of "being in it together", some shift of understanding that creates a larger space in which to explore the impact our actions and words have on one another. 
      How wonderful to experience, and come to trust, a wisdom beyond my "thinking" and "trying to do the right thing" mind. A wisdom that the simple and natural act of inhaling and exhaling can lead us to. A breath that invites our interconnected presence to take the lead. 
     I learned this all again just yesterday, facilitating an RJ Circle for two young men. Yes, I had an agenda, to identify and repair harm and reduce the chances that these young men would fight again.
    But beyond that was a vast field of unknowns. Usually I do the pre-conference, but now I am letting someone step into that position. So I had not met these people before. What might serve them best? What might I offer that could facilitate a way for them to end their conflict? 
      Again and again i returned to my breath and a response emerged. Breathe and respond, breathe and respond.
     The young men did a remarkable job of reconciliation. They were genuine and openhearted. Vulnerable and willing. What an honor to witness how they made peace with one another; how they expressed themselves and how they apologized to each other and to assured each other's families that the fight was over. Ended. Not to be repeated.
     They were willing to listen. They acknowledged each other's need for respect and each other's vulnerability. And they spoke of the positive changes they had seen each other make in the time they knew each other. The Circle was filled with a grace and humor; unique to them and their families and the time we spent together. 
          It's Circles like this one that have kept me in this work for over a decade and will keep me a decade more I hope. Every adult in the room seem touched by what we saw unfold. I know I was. 

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