Thursday, August 9th, the second community Restorative Justice (RJ) circle was held at Sacred Harvest Festival, a year after the first. The festival was a lot different place this year, it was observable that an immense amount of grief resolution and healing had taken place over a year. A focus on the festival theme of the sacred in our lives, and the power of love, had seemed to replace a sense of anxiety, hurt, grief, and fear that many had felt a year ago.
The Circle was much smaller this year, down to 15 participants, with 6 having their first experience with RJ at this circle. The feelings of the nine who returned were softened, and reflected a feeling of a return to normalcy, which in this case is defined by the tribal sense of family this festival has generated based on the feedback of thousands of individuals over fifteen years.
Crystal Blanton had offered to facilitate this RJ circle again. Crystal began with establishing a talking stick. This year she used a personal Phoenix tradition piece because:
“What we are doing in this community. We are rising from circumstances, regardless of what those circumstances have been, and where everybody falls in that. Taking where we are at, and using it as a catalyst to grow into something beautiful and bigger, and in some ways unimaginable.”
Crystal solicited; “Any questions before we begin? None were asked.
“We open with two pieces to set the tone for where we have been, and where we are going :”
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence, when mindfulness embraces those we love they will bloom like flowers. “
And from an article: “Contact beyond the Gods”
Crystal read a quote about the spiritual importance of connection, and the connection we all have with each other. Acknowledging the importance of the process we are in, how we integrate the lessons we have learned into our spiritual being, and into the path before us. Not only learning how to work in community, but teaching how to work in community, for our children. Preserving what we have worked so hard for here.
Crystal begins the RJ circle offering two values she brings, asking each participant to state a value they bring to the circle.
Crystal asks us to come into this space right now. Crystal sends the talking piece around and asks:
“.. each to offer one feeling or emotion that that you are experiencing right now, in this moment.”
Crystal asks for :
”One, or at most two, reasons why this community is important? “
She reverses the direction of the speaking. Some answers were brief, and some lengthy.
“Breathe that in, and look around the circle and thank the people here for supporting those experiences.”
“Important is understanding the reasons, the motivations for why we do what we do, why we put so much work into community building , and work so hard. This is hard work. This is why conflict continues, it is hard to face the pain and not just let it fester. Thank you for that.”
“As pain still exists in this space, and many did not participate in the circle last year, I want to take a moment and allow that pain to enter this space.”
Crystal asks for: “ A round of adding something , a statement into the circle, that is weighing heavy with you regarding the loss that this community has suffered. “
Some passed the opportunity initially, and then were revisited. This round of responses is lengthy.
Crystal acknowledged the opportunity and honesty taken to honor;
“… the power that grief takes, in many forms. Those levels of denial, those bargaining tactics like ; ‘ if it could just go back, I promise that I would make sure…. ‘, I want to honor that process. We grieve, and sometimes it looks angry, or sad, or confused. It looks different in different people. “
Crystal then asks:
“Give us a tip on how to build empathy from our grief” .
Fairly lengthy personal statements follow.
“ Everything contributed here is valid, because we are different people and what it is going to look like for each of us is going to look different. It is part of a process. We embrace the fact that the feelings people bring to the table will be different.”
Some nuggets Crystal gleaned from the participant statements in this round include:
“Power with not power over; Be present in the process; Personal reflection; Creating a space of love, away from the fear; Be with; Choose transparency and choose to be vulnerable; Communicate effectively and be clear about our boundaries and expectations; Reach out and be available; Acknowledge our own hurt; Respect the words of others; See the whole of each person: Imagine walking in the shoes of another; Acknowledge the struggle we all face.”
“What we do in this process is acknowledgement, this is our process, how we embrace the process. We know that the process is a rebuild. Be a mirror of others to rebuild empathy. We make it better together, that is how we build.”
“How do we build trust, that is also answered by these nuggets. If we build these here, that is reflected outward from this community. “
“Moving into agreements, what obligation do we commit to, and hold ourselves accountable for that you will work toward to support this community? Breathe it in.”
A round of personal commitments by participants follows.
“We are not at a place to hold each other lovingly accountable. I ask us all to collectively commit to this process of restorative justice, and rebuilding.” Participants affirm this.
Acknowledgements: They could be about a person, the whole, well anything, “Honoring this process with one another.”
Crystal “ I honor the power and depth of this community, acknowledging connections, the experience we take in to build it better. “
.. And at the RJ circle ending:
“With that… you make this process work, we don’t know who will show up, they may never show up, but what we create here will sustain where we are going. That is what we do. “
“I had a whole closing ritual, but you make the best closing, with hugs and appreciations. Show love, and keep the process going. “
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The RJ circle had taken just over two hours, a little long, but intense and rewarding for the participants. In conversations over the week, a few questions came up from festivants, so I asked Crystal after her return home:
This RJ Circle was advertised as open to anyone, without festival admission cost required to attend. Some festivants felt specific people should have been personally invited to attend, is this appropriate in this type RJ circle?
Crystal: Anything could be appropriate if structured correctly and framed for a certain outcome. Since this circle was in the process of a festival it is important to continue a theme that helps people to feel comfortable and able to enjoy community. That could have been done in this circle in plenty of circumstances, but it is important to have proper prep work to set that stage. Inviting someone is always a possibility but the point here was to have it open to those who decided it was important to them.
Harmony Tribe is a community organization, and it creates a festival and a year round community from that, and what these communities do and experience ripples out into our larger Pagan community. This type of RJ circle is designed to heal and move forward this particular community. Is it appropriate or important for those who have withdrawn from the support of this community to attend? Does that require a different type RJ circle, and did you have a plan for that?
Crystal: There are different types of circles and exercises for different scenarios. I was prepared for people to come and offered specific time to do prep work in case someone did come for this one event. It could be appropriate for someone to attend if the parties doing so understand the objective of restoration and open to the possibilities. It is not appropriate to have a circle in these circumstances if someone is unwilling to restore, or be in a respectful exchange. Since much of the RJ process works with empathy, it is important to have all parties working together toward understanding. This is challenging if a person refuses to do so and can change the process entirely.
Where you pleased with the process of the second RJ circle in this community?
Crystal: I was very pleased with the outcome and felt that the community showed up to have their needs met. Those returning from the previous years circle, and those who were new to the process were able to find a way to create understanding with one another and take another step towards health in the community. A good circle has very little to do with the facilitator and more to do with the community’s ability to be present in the needs of the community. This community is incredible.
This concludes the series following this process of healing and restoration taking place within Harmony Tribe, it’s festival - Sacred Harvest Festival, and the greater community it serves. Restorative Justice circles cannot solve every problem or conflict, but they are very effective in helping a community move beyond the feelings of hurt and harm, and firmly re-establishing the values and vision that motivates them. Harmony Tribe, in co-operation with the PNC-MN, chose to make this intimate RJ process transparent through this reporting to present alternative choices that can be made when turmoil strikes a group or individuals. As one festivant who participated commented, “Who ever got the idea to use this process was really on the ball.” Crystal is fond of saying the primary commitment to a community, its health and growth, ” is to show up”.
Articles in the series: