Back in July, participants from Sweden and Denmark gathered for the annual Circle Way camp hosted by Manitonquat, a Native American who bases his teachings on traditional tribal ways.
The camp, held at the Mundekulla conference center, has been going for some 11 years now. This year for the first time they were joined by people from the Swedish Transition movement.
TRIBES WORK FOR RESILIENCE
There is a lot for Transitioners to gain from learning about these traditional ways as I discovered right from the opening ceremonies. Firstly, the whole meaning of forming a tribe and living in a tribe is to create security and safety for all members, a good environment for the next generations to grow up in, and a way for the elders to pass on their wisdom.
To me it makes a lot of sense; it is about resilience. A group of people who are organised, supportive, open and warm will be able to handle a lot of the challenges thrown at them, far better than each individually, especially if the talents and gifts (as well s the experience) of each member can be put to good use.
With each individual contributing to their full, the tribe will make good decisions, create a warm and supportive atmosphere, and build a place to grow up and thrive in.
It’s all about love and appreciation
Apart from resilience, one thing that struck me is the focus on love and appreciation that lies at the core of the old ways. I remember many of my first meetings with the Transition movement; they all started with people turning to each other expressing what they appreciated about where they lived, food, holidays etc. It always gave the right frame to start the meetings off. And Appreciative Inquiry, the problem-solving method based on looking at what is working uses the same frame of mind. Manitonquat takes it one step further. He uses the idea of humans as being a unique “mothers and others” creatures. Because of the long time it takes to reach adulthood, and the amount of attention and care needed, human children’s needs extend far beyond what two parents can provide. The child needs the tribe to grow up.
For humans to evolve, we need a lot of contact with children
And, according to Manitonquat, it is a two way street: for us adults to grow, we need the connection with children, they challenge us to find out hearts and our love, and to open up to continue our own growth. Appreciation, love, compassion, so much a part of the human experience, are all brought out in us by children. And in that mode we become creative and generous, the energies needed to evolve humankind.
So much of the customs and practices we learned at the Camp have to do with personal growth: creating a secure and safe environment, creating a space that invites the peace everyone longs for into their lives, putting everyone’s talents and gifts to good use, and securing the community for the next generation.
IT IS A PERMACULTURE APPROACH
Standing in the ceremonies and listening to Manitonquat I got the strong feeling that I was experiencing a permaculture approach to creating a healthy and healing culture: you design practices and customs to support that culture, and you take good care of them. Just as the design for food provision gives food security, the design for cohesion brings security to every member from a social point of view. It is easy to brush off traditions and ceremonies as being artifacts from a less developed past that are just, like the appendix, hanging around with no real function. Not so from a North American Indian view: they are the very tools of survival.
IS SO DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE
So, how do you actually go about bringing people together to form the tribe? Manitonquat says that in all living things there must be some kind of original instructions. And that finding a resonance with these instructions is something that every human being can do. If we just get started, we might let our intuition guide us.
It all starts by standing in a circle and holding hands. Looking around at the people present to see them and having everyone expressing their shared intention and appreciation of that which we resonate with. We did it several times during the camp and it always felt good. It is deceptively simple, but it needs to be done in a sincere way, and with sensitivity to all the people present.
I was reminded again how similar it was to the way we start Transition information meetings, where we get people to share their favourite place or food or holiday spot, to remind attendees that we come from a place where we want to preserve the Earth for ourselves to appreciate and enjoy and to hand it on to others.
LISTENING BUILDS RESILIENCE
The practices Manitonquat teach contain a lot of powerful techniques of listening, I would say on par or maybe better than those taught on top leadership and counselling courses. Again, deceptively simple. In the resilient community, when going through tough changes, everyone needs emotional support. With a whole tribe armed with a sincere wish to help and powerful techniques it is just to grab the person of your choice and get going!
Being listened to, unconditionally like that was for me actually a wonderful experience. I have been through a pretty tough past six months and hadn’t realised just how much it had been dragging me down until I got the chance to participate in the session where I got heard and listened to, as one of the techniques is called, actively.
Another similar approach they use is called “discharging”. You give the other person 10 minutes (enough to express, not enough to burden the listener) to express the difficult, negative feelings and emotions they are carrying, and then you get to swap roles.
Just the efficacy of this practice is born out by academic research: in one experiment, hospital patients who spent 20 minutes writing about difficult emotional issues healed faster than the control group who did not express in that way. Follow this link.
YOU NEED A CLAN AND A TRIBE
Let me just explain this bit about the ideal size of a community: our temporary “tribe” was about 70 people including children (who were, by the way always welcome to take part in the common activities). I think the ideal tribe size is larger, I should guess that it needs to be no larger than you can hear everyone’s voice when sitting in a circle, and no larger than everyone can make a contribution. But to make it work you need smaller groups too. We divided into clans of 5-6, to not only take on some of the practical tasks needed to be done at the camp but to also create a support group. I guess in native practices one of the clans you belong to is through blood relations. Anyway, our clan was there to be supportive in listening and we had several sessions where we just got the opportunity to talk and be listened to.
It sounds simple, it is, but done with sensitivity I believe a clan approach as a support group could be useful to Transitioners or any community. Being a human in this modern world, in these challenging times is not easy. Having someone to talk to like that is truly valuable, and healing.
Manitonquat was saying how they always had a ceremonial clown. Part of the whole thing is not to take yourself too seriously. In fact, doing a good job of making a bit of a fool of yourself is highly encouraged. One evening we had an “open stage” session where each clan did a skit. Mostly humorous, sometimes profound it reminded me of how much your own home grown entertainment is thousands of times better than that you see manufactured for television!
TRANSITION IS ALSO ABOUT DESIGNING THE CULTURE YOU WANT
I had the opportunity together with Pella Thiel to run a session to introduce the Transition movement. We did a few “mapping” exercises where people stand physically in the room relative to where they live. It felt right to talk about the compass directions. As we saw later, traditional native practices are infused with a sense of North, South East West literally and figuratively. Then we talked about the oil, climate, money and social challenges we see and how we are responding at a local level.
THE STORIES WE TELL ARE FORMING OUR CULTURE
As I was talking about oil I felt a sense of being a story teller. Manitonquat has another name: Medicine Story, and he IS a great story teller. In the North American Indian tradition stories are enlightening and healing, they are educational and entertaining. Just as working with a sense of space and direction gives us orientation, stories help orient us in time. Maybe that is why children like to hear the same story, and maybe why I am still drawn to the drama of the oil story.
That is another thing I take away from the camp: the importance of telling the Transition story in a way that gives an orientation and a sense of time.
We got a lot of good feedback from participants who had not yet heard of Transition. They saw a way they could connect with people locally to invite them to circles and for themselves to get involved in the practical side of creating the culture they wanted.
PARTING AS FRIENDS
I loved the final parting ceremonies, from singing a “goodbye, see you again” song to dancing in a long line past each other, giving a little “nod” of recognition and thanks for the time together, the circle sharing of what we most appreciated and what we take with us to use in our own community.
FIND OUT MORE
Highly recommended are Manitonquat ‘s books on Amazon (link) and his website if you would like to attend a camp.
TAKING IT ONE STEP FURTHER
I left feeling inspired to see what I can do in my own community, my family and Transition groups to apply the insight and wisdom from the camp. I considered introducing a few activities in a way that suits the group and Swedish culture. The Viking culture had something called a “round” where everyone got the chance to speak, rather like the talking stick of the Native Americans. That works well even when introduced to people new to the idea of community.
I really appreciated the way the camp was outdoors a lot and integrated with the children. The kids had a lot of space to play and run around, they had their parents close by, but it was more than just a camping holiday because of all the activities. Something to build on, at least for the few months the Swedish climate allows it.
REFLECTION: CAN RETURNING TO TRIBES BE PART OF A GLOBAL EVOLUTION?
In his recently-released talk, Robert Gilman of the Context Institute argues that we have a new freedon to evolve. We are so highly connected (75% of the world population have access to a mobile phone) and highly mobile, we could evolve from being stuck in our immediate groups (town, corporation) to move into new, consensual groupings in new forms of cooperation. Certainly, adopting and buidling on the old ways, combining with new forms of social enterprise could form the foundation of the transition to the healthy, healing culture we long to be part of.