Circle started around the cook-fires of humanity’s ancestors and has accompanied us ever since. We remember this space. When we listen, we speak more thoughtfully. We lean in to shared purpose.
Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, The Circle Way
During a recent circle that included both new and experienced hosts and guardians, we talked about the role of the guardian. What exactly are guardians, what do they do, and what is their relationship to the host?
In our Healing Circles training, we use the metaphor of a campfire to describe the difference between the host and guardian’s roles. The host’s job is to put logs on the fire, keeping us warm. The guardian’s job is to make sure that nobody around the circle gets so close to the fire that they get burned.
In an untended circle, someone might not feel respected. Someone else might take up all the oxygen in the room. Another might not feel heard.
Guardians pay attention to all the subtle energetic movements of everyone in the circle to ensure the safety of participants. If an agreement is broken, guardians remember the fifth agreement: “We trust that each of us has the guidance we need within us, and we rely on the power of silence to access it.” So the guardian calls for a pause, often by ringing a bell. Christina Baldwin writes: “…guardians often employ a gentle noise-maker, such as a chime, bell or rattle, that signals to everyone to stop action, take a breath, and rest in a space of silence.”
As the guardian invites us into silence, those in the circle can re-balance, return to their bodies, re-center, and self-regulate.
Guardians keep the fire from getting too hot, but they also notice the moment when “we lean into shared purpose,” when the warmth of the circle’s wisdom emerges, and no one wants to leave the campfire.
Guardians pay attention to what has been spoken out loud, but they also sense into what has not been voiced. They pay attention to who has spoken and sense into the voice of the voiceless.
Noticing and sensing are practices of presence and compassion rather than analysis or judgement. Guardians can ring the bell to celebrate a milestone, acknowledge deep grief, or revel in a moment of self-compassion.
Although in any given circle, the guardian may not need to say much, the role is just as important as the host’s. Circles resonate when host and guardian work collaboratively attuning to each other to create a safe container for both individual circle members and the circle as a whole.