Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Article about The Circle Way and Manitonquat published in Alternatives magazine

The article The Circle-Way Society - Powerful Medicine for Dark Times - A Social Prescription from Manitonquat (“Medicine Story”) by William Hofford can be read on the magazine's website.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Changing Society

“I have therefore come to the opinion that the most reasonable recourse for the humanization of society and its institutions is to abandon them and begin again to build a society with a just, equitable and compassionate economy with justice, equality, and reverence for all life insured by the goals and forms of all its institutions.”   -Manitonquat

In order to have a truly happy life we probably need to address three areas, at least, that affect our well-being. We need to feel good about ourselves, about our relationships, and about our society.

We need to feel good about ourselves first, to believe we are living our lives to the fullest, using all our potential talents and creativity toward some worth-while purpose balanced with fun, learning, and growth – a sense of always becoming more than we were.

We also need closeness with other human beings, relationships that are supportive and caring, in which we continue to learn and grow and expand our horizons. For myself, I discovered twenty-five years ago that the tool of co-counseling contained all I needed to work both on myself and on my relationships. It has also been easy to teach others and perfectly fits my world view of a being Creation in which all of us can learn to live in a good way.

We also need to have a pride in our organized society, which exerts powerful influence over our lives and fortunes. The majority of people believe they have very little control over the organization of that society, and they just try to get along in it without calling attention or injury to themselves.

I want to tell you about my way to change the society.

What’s wrong with society, in my view, is that it is organized as a pyramid, with power coming from the top down and the fuel that makes it function is fear. We who were raised in this society do not find that remarkable. Like goldfish raised in a bowl, we cannot imagine another possibility. The bowl gives them order, definition, safety. Anything beyond is unknowable, hazardous and threatening.

A society without a hierarchical power structure conjures chaos to our minds. Without an executive authority and a military or police to enforce that authority, we would live in continual fear of encroachment by others, of the loss of possessions and even of life or limb. But throughout history and before it, and down to this present moment, there have been innumerable cultures and societies that lived and live now in freedom, equality, and safety. Our problem has been a 10,000 year history of violence and greed that informs all our culture, our public and private institutions, our education, and tells us our only options are conformity or ostracism and isolation. So we escape into the culture’s diversions, into reading, viewing films and television, playing electronic games, drugs, shopping, isolating ourselves further.  We even go on vacations alone, or with only our nuclear family, never really getting close to other people.

But human beings are tribal by nature. People need closeness to other people. The greatest crime of our culture is to make us suspicious and fearful of each other. The importance of human beings in our lives is reduced to what goods or services we can buy or sell each other.

I saw that the society of my ancestors was fundamentally different from that of the dominant culture of today. It was a more human society. Its basis was in respect. Respect for life, for the earth, for all the earth’s dependents including the family of humankind. Native American society was rooted in the family and in our relationship to all beings. The extended family was the heart of the tribe and its attitude of respect and caring for all.

Most importantly, I saw that this tribal society based on respect which supported the family and all its members was a society that worked. It was a system that worked well for over a million years, whereas the civilization of today, only a few thousand years old, was clearly not working. It was coming down around our ears in violence and alienation.

The reasons for this became quite clear to me.  They were centered in the concepts of fear and domination that characterize the motivating forces of this society. Societies that worked well for all people were societies based on trust and mutual respect. The dominant culture of the world, whether capitalist or socialist, is dominant because it dominates. I don’t know which came first, the fear or the domination, but they feed each other. The institutions of society protect the domination of the earth and its resources by a few people. Every social ill we suffer is a result of that fundamental fact.

If we are going to fulfill our potential for love we must at the very least put an end to every form of human beings harming human beings. We must agree and be omitted to a simple, obvious moral necessity – that every child born to woman is entitled to a fair and equal access to the resources of the planet we all share.

These goals are what I have derived from the teaching of my elders about the Original Instructions for human beings, to live respectfully in a circle of equals and devote ourselves to the care of our children, our elders, and all people of earth, including our plant and animal relatives, our Mother Earth, and all the coming generations.

By grouping together in cooperative, sharing communities people can satisfy all their basic human needs with a fraction of the income it takes to survive individually,  and these communities can be further strengthened by bio-regional networking and trading. The more self-sufficient we become the less we contribute to the military and prison industrial complexes and to the oppressive economic injustice of obscene wealth and wretched poverty and the destruction of the environment by our consumerism.

The notion of living together in more communal closeness has been growing in the past decades, after a temporary revulsion from the chaotic confusions and dissolution of many of the communes of the 60s.  New, consciously designed communities are flourishing. Ecovillages are appearing everywhere.  Networks of communication among all these are broadening.

This is the area I feel has the most promise for changing the world. Unless society changes utterly from its foundation in power over, in punishment, violence, in the amassing of hegemony through the wealth of the few in the oppression of the many, unless we can breathe freedom, equality and fellowship in every breath we take, we will not be all that we long to be in human creativity, love, and joy.

I have therefore come to the opinion that the most reasonable recourse for the humanization of society and its institutions is to abandon them and begin again to build a society with a just, equitable and compassionate economy with justice, equality, and reverence for all life insured by the goals and forms of all its institutions.

Human beings stay human in their relationships to the extent they are close and know one another, which possible only in groups small enough for each individual to be heard and known to all members. Such groups, agreeing to respect and equality for each member, will be sure to look out for the welfare and happiness of all.

The way for large groups in society to provide for the welfare and happiness of all individuals is for those groups to consist of active small groups which have the power to safeguard their own interests. For a city that would mean many small neighborhoods consisting of even smaller circles, like the circles we call clans in this village vision, which would meet often and actively address the concerns of its members. A circle of representatives of these clans would oversee the governance of the neighborhood, and a circle of representatives from the neighborhoods would oversee the governance of the city. 

Many, probably most of the responsibilities of municipal government could also be handled within the neighborhoods, which would be like small villages. Education, recreation,  sanitation, health, law enforcement, and all the other functions that villages manage could be largely managed within those neighborhoods, with municipal departments facilitating cooperation among the neighborhoods and handling matters beyond their scope.

The important thing is to keep as much of the ordering and decision-making as possible in the smallest units where power is vested directly in the people. But more important even than the functional organization is the coming together of the people to open and follow their hearts together. In this way I believe even cities may become human and friendly, free from fear, corruption and injustice – really still villages that are concentrated together sharing resources and culture.

My book Changing the World is a vision of a village of the future, functioning tribally,  where each person of any age is a member of a smaller circle, or clan, which guides the whole and in which every voice is equal. Basic human needs of food and shelter and fuel and health care, as well  education and creativity, are supplied self-sufficiently within the community. 

For many years we have been making summer camps which  explore and function under this “Circle Way” system, and the response has been uniformly positive. The common comment at the end of camp is, “this is how human beings are meant to live together, how can we live this way for the rest of our lives?” 

We need to get closer. You and I – all of us. We need to take back control of our lives, our society, our earth. We need to communicate and open our hearts and minds to each other.  We need places on the earth where we can get closer to each other, to our families, our children, to be safe, to relax and slow down and get away from stress, to live simply without harm to others or to the earth, to play, have fun, create, get close to the natural world.  Without having to join any religious or political movement, follow any particular tradition or creed, but allow and respect and appreciate all the diverse ways that others engage in. It is such a beautiful world we have been given, we are endowed with such fantastic capabilities, and every baby born is a miracle, a delight, a shining star of hope for the future.

We have begun to approach the next step. We are having conferences in Europe now to begin to build our first Circle Way Village. (Contact us at circleway.org).

So I daydream now of this first Circle Way Village, and then of another and another and another, proliferating throughout Europe and spreading to other continents, around the world.  I dream of a network of Circle Way Villages that will communicate and learn from each other, help and trade with each other. There are already networks of various kinds of communities, spiritual communities, egalitarian communities, ecovillages, for instance, and I would like to see our Circle Way Villages join with them and bring all networks together to broaden and strengthen the tribal movement.

What is special about the Circle Way is how it helps us get closer to each other, to deal with emotions of all kinds, to encourage and appreciate the best in all of us, to listen to each one and work together to solve our problems, and to keep our children free from more of the patterns that oppressed us when we were young. I would like, as we have in the past, for people from our villages to be available to teach the Circle Way, to any group or community that requests it.

Here is an excerpt from my book Changing the World:
“This is certainly nice,” another of the group says, “But part of your vision here is to be a model for the world of peaceful cooperative living. You are only a thousand here, and there are, what – another thousand villages like it around the world?”
“Some are larger now, but none larger than 3,000.”

So maybe they could amount to three million or so in a while.”

“We have more visitors all the time, and more villages keep sprouting up.”
Say more villages might grow the number to six million eventually. But there are ten billion people in the world today - and growing.”

“Our idea is that when people notice how happy, how relaxed and safe we are here, and how much fun we have, creating instead of consuming, they will want to give up all the stress of the rat race and join us. With all the villages in every part of the world having more and more visitors, we figure the growth will be exponential at some point in the future and transform all of society’s notions. But we need to be growing slowly in order to learn and make it right. A lot of society’s problems have come from moving too fast and not seeing where we were going.”

“So the Circle Way grew quite slowly?”

“Naturally it didn’t happen overnight. We started from nothing but a dream and figured it out as we went along. Building homes, planting and harvesting, creating businesses for everything we need little by little. Slow growth – but that’s the easy part. Human beings are builders. It was the excitement of creating our own world as we want it that carried us over the lean hears. By sharing everything and inviting people to come and help we got by and it just kept getting better and better. Because we kept too the circle, stayed close to each other, kept on listening and caring and helping each other.

“And to the children. You know, when ever your energy gets a bit frayed, whenever you may feel a bit low, discouraged, wondering if it’s worth it, all you need to do is go hang out at the playground. Watch the little ones and restore your faith in the human race. Then join them, let them teach you to let go of your seriousness and just play. You will get your hope refill. And then you’ll be able to lose yourself in creativity and find your purpose again. We need the children to remind us who we are.”

Climbing onto the wagon we could hear the shouts and laughter from the playgrounds and the sport fields. We are all quiet. Thinking perhaps about when we might come back or visit another Circle Way Village, perhaps even join one and change our lives. Change the world. A whole society of fun and play and creativity, of closeness, friendliness and love”

As we pass under the gate and look back one more time we notice another sign with a quote from Manitonquat who long ago had a vision of a Circle Way Village:

TOGETHER THERE IS NOTHING WE CANNOT DO

Friday, January 20, 2012

Year End Report 2011

New and good: we’re back! I’ll be here in Europe just two weeks, Ellika will stay a month to visit family in Sweden. New and good to just rest and read and think and write, and hang out in Ellika’s sweet house in Christiania - no classes, workshops, camps to teach. I’m tired from the travel, but looking forward also to being with my boys in Berlin (it’s my grandson’s 8th birthday!) and seeing our circle family there too.

Important happenings: Cathrin and Stefan have a new son on Maui (we will visit them in March), Sonja and Tom are expecting in Berlin any day now, and dear Katrin and her Martin will bring a new circle member to the world in Sweden in March. Ah, babies! That’s what it’s all about! And mothers. And fathers. And family – all of us. A new seeker writes us, Susi, in Austria, mother of 10 year old son Io, reading about the circle and wanting to live that way, she’s ready to connect and be welcomed.

So my new book I’m writing is very timely – for them, for the world.

The working title is JOYOUS CHILD-CARING.

Or? maybe CHILD-CARING IN THE CIRCLE WAY. The material coalesced from a camp we did for our friend, the Montessori child psychologist Elena Balsamo. Her editor was there and suggested I do a book about what we were teaching.

Now I am into it I begin to realize this is the most important subject, work and book of my life. I guess one should hope that one’s latest work is the best. But I am now finding that this book I have embarked upon is taking me to my own Treasure Island. The map to this destination is being revealed to me piece by piece, day by day, as I ponder the wake behind me, the play of the dolphins and the waves around me, the journey of the stars above me, and the call of the horizon beyond.

It is not my dream alone, but that of humankind, which is being plotted and urged by these charts and daily log entries. Where we all must go, and how we must go. The voyage is not just the most important and central one of my life, its unfolding is the dream and destiny of this precious speck, the beloved tiny satellite we call home.

I hope to finish it by summer – if I can ruthlessly excise all distractions.

My health holds up. I play tennis three times a week (though I take more rests than I used to) work out with weights, do steam room, hot tub and sauna. My right eye is still full of blood and is scarred, gets shots in the eyeball every four weeks, but doubt is stirring whether it will ever be clear. I had a hearing test, qualify for a hearing aid, and hopefully also for financial assistance for it or else I won’t get one. You will just have to speak slower, louder, clearer! I am more tired and slower than I would like, but still have more energy than many younger men.


What else?

People ask, “How are you?” You say, “Fine.”

But sometimes they really want to know, and if you want to stay close sometimes you have to tell them all you are really thinking and feeling. So coming to the end of another year this is my report to those of you who really want to know.

New and good – waking this morning to see winter’s magic, a light coating of snow covering the earth and decorating every branch and twig on the trees. A white fairyland.

What is the situation for us here in New Hampshire? We returned from Europe to find our beloved Birch Cottage unlivable – mold in the bedroom walls, roof leaking, wiring rotten, our things all packed in boxes and stacked high in the other rooms. I don’t go out there except to find something, and then I must sit and weep again because we no longer have the community or money to restore our home.

So we have a nice room in the old main house – the room I lived in when we moved here thirty years ago. And I am concentrating on the only thing I can do by myself: writing my next book.

Our situation is that we have been trying to do this alone. When we had a crisis a few years ago many of you helped us with donations to save the place. I was so grateful, because for 30 years I have been able to keep my promise to be the caretaker of this beautiful land and keep it from falling into commercial hands. Our partner Donna did all the work to fight off the banks in the courts, as well as to reclaim four bedrooms, three bathrooms, the kitchen and living room of the main house, after the water damage of over $60,000.00 The rest of the house is unfinished still from the old fire in the nineties, and of course in these grave economic times that we are all facing (99%) it is far too much for us to restore by ourselves.

What could save it? People and money. Either one or both. With financial help we could restore the main house and our cottage. Then we could utilize the Great Hall for conferences and have about five more bedrooms plus a third floor dormitory. Then the place would be ready for the Nature School’s International Headquarters and Teacher Training Facility where we can teach, offer lectures and workshops as well.


It is amazing that we have held out this long, certainly with so much gratitude, it is due to all that have come to our aid in the past. Donna also operates “StressBusters” which is a small business working in the healing arts, and provides financial support to upkeep and maintain the place, and I add to that as a counselor for personal growth (Ellika and I each contribute what we have that supports us as long as we have a place to live) and we can continue of course to donate all our summer income to the Nature School and the prison programs that are based here. My new book Have You Lost Your Tribe? is out, available on circleway.org, amazon.com, and through bookstores, but I need to promote it, do readings, get reviews in papers and journals. If we can afford the publicity we might be able to garner enough interest in the public to save our dreams for this place. I can see it being a model of a Circle Way of life, of sustainable living, solar and wind energy, organic gardening (Donna has a quarter acre of organic garlic growing now) with nature trails through our woods for the public as well the Nature School, a model of a woodland Indian village, a museum and gift shop for tourists, and of course our conferences: Home Birth, Child Care, Home Schooling, Permaculture, Forest Management, Community Farm Sharing, Bio –Regional Cooperatives, Community Land Trusts, and Healing Arts.

It will be quite a while before we will be able to begin events to bring income in. Cynthia plans to seek grant money, which will also be quite a while in the future. For now we are set up as a non-profit corporation with the state so we can reach out for donations through Mettanokit, and every amount we receive will be welcome and well used to secure our dream here.

At the end of the year we have been hearing from so many of you how happy and thankful people are for our work both here and in Europe, and from many new circles and communities that have just begun together in our Circle Way. Halleluia!

I have a button on my cap that says “No one of us is as smart as all of us.” The corollary being that the more of us that think together the smarter we are.

There is a lot of stuff I know about. And I’m in pretty fair shape – with luck I can keep up writing and teaching for quite a number of years. I see how much my friend Pete Seeger, 10 years older than I, is staying close to home these days (he did go out to support Occupy Wall Street!), and I know I will start slowing down soon myself. But Ellika and I would still like to spend our winters in our woods with our wild animal friends and a fire in our wood stove and my thousands of books on the shelves around us (a big consideration for me if I ever have to move completely away!).

I want to keep traveling and helping folks get together in circles, to help each other build better lives, better relationships, make it better and better for our children, and I want to have a place still in America where I am close to my tribe, where ex-prisoners can come, where a small community could grow, where visitors could come and learn how to support each other and care for their children and add to the global network of those who are building a new world.

Our 2012 schedule so far is on circleway.org. I will update it now and then.

Happy New Year!
Manitonquat