Council is group zazen. In zazen we bear witness to thoughts and feelings as they come and go. In council we bear witness to each others’ thoughts and feelings, as well as our own. During council we have a collective zazen experience with all the pitfalls and clarity of our individual zazen experience. Just as, in zazen, there is a powerful experience of this moment and insight into our True Nature, in council there can be the same kind of experience of True Nature.
Jack Zimmerman and Virginia Coyle in “The Way of Council” write:
Participating in council teaches us how to let go of personal expectations and become fully attentive to others. The practice fosters compassionate response and provides a continuing source of wisdom. Compassion arises naturally when we listen with respect and express ourselves honestly with an open heart, whether it be in words, song, movement, or silence. Wisdom flows from the wholeness of the circle and reveals itself as the "truth of council." The expression of this truth can come through anyone in the circle or through the silence. Listening to the voice of council teaches us that the circle's knowledge is greater than the totality of its members' individual knowing.
In this state of collective awareness, diversity and disagreement do not lead as readily to polarization and hostility. Learning to hear the voice of council can help people transcend even the most deeply ensconced cultural, racial, and personal identifications. Feeling part of the circle's wholeness reduces the fear and despair of isolation, which allows disagreement to become the bridge to greater mutual understanding. Witnessing the truth of the circle emerge from a cacophony of diverse views can be a remarkable experience. Some have described it as a feeling of unseen voices supporting the group—a spirit circle that meets concentrically with its earthly counterpart, guiding it towards greater mutual understanding and right action.
Circles can heal addition, codependence, toxic shame or any behavior with roots in misconceptions about ourselves.
John Bradshaw in “Healing the Shame that Binds You” writes:
The excruciating loneliness fostered by toxic shame is dehumanizing. As a person isolates more and more, he loses the benefit of human feedback. He loses the mirroring eyes of others. Erik Erikson has demonstrated clearly that identity formation is always a social process. He defines identity as "an inner sense of sameness and continuity which is matched by the mirroring eyes of at least one significant other". .. In order to be healed we must come out of isolation and hiding. This means finding a group of significant others that we are willing to trust…
Since it was personal relationships that set up our toxic shame, we need personal relationships to heal our shame. This is crucial. We must risk reaching out and looking for nonshaming relationships if we are to heal our shame. There is no other way. Once we are in dialogue and community, we have further repair work to do. But we can't even begin that work until affilitive relationships are established.
12-Step groups have had far and away the greatest success in healing shame-based people. Remember, that toxic shame is the root of all addiction. 12-Step groups literally were born out of the courage of two people risking coming out of hiding. One alcoholic person (Bill W.) turned to another alcoholic person (Dr. Bob) and they told each other how bad they really felt about themselves. I join with Scott Peck in seeing this dialogue coming out of hiding as one of the most important events of this century. 12-Step programs are always worked in the context of a group.