Thursday, June 30, 2011

How to do a seed circle

Twenty years ago a teacher shared with me this tool for staying open.  It's called a seed circle.  Some of you have asked how to do one. Here's how and why.

When you have an idea you are trying to plant, a seed circle allows a group of friends to help the idea take root in your mind and body.  Though its origins remain a mystery to me, I have since gathered seed circles all over the place.  To mark a graduation, to celebrate a new year, to help a friend find meaningful work, to pass through grief, to prepare for birth.  To ease any transition, really.  Like moving away.

Efe children from the Ituri rainforest in the Congo,
playing Osani, another circle game about love.
It is a simple ceremony.  It goes like this:

1.  Gather a group of trusty friends.

2.  Sit in a circle in a quiet room or comfortable outdoor spot (once we were on a sloping hill under the shade of a live oak dropping leaves that prickled, not so easy).  Don't worry, you don't have to sit with your feet touching as these children are.  But do bring a similar spirit of common purpose.

3.  Do whatever you usually do to get settled in as a group (centering, check in, setting expectations for the gathering, etc.)

4.  Choose one person to be the focus of the circle.  We'll call this person the seeker. Here, the seeker is a woman, but seed circles are for men, too.

5.  Invite the seeker to share from her heart about the idea she wants to take root.  She may seek to look at a  situation differently, or to be free of a certain worry.  She may seek closure on one phase of her life, or help staying open to what comes next.  She may be winding through grief, or preparing for birth--of a baby or a project.  She may not know the outcome she seeks when she begins talking, but as she talks, it is likely some themes will emerge.  

The seed we crafted during a recent seed circle
6.   As the seeker talks, the rest of the circle listens without giving input.  The circle listens with full confidence that the seeker already has inside her the answers she needs.  This quality of listening is characterized by inner stillness, eye contact, self-possession.

7.  When it seems the seeker has spoken her mind, friends are invited to ask clarifying questions, and to state back to the seeker what they heard her say.  The seeker replies, and in this process, everyone in the circle begins to distill the central message, or seed.  This seed is made of words.  It can be one word, or a phrase.  In one seed circle out on the Colorado Plateau in my early twenties, when I was preparing to go back to college after a semester backpacking, the seed my circle came up with was, "You are wise, and you are changing."  In preparation for the birth of my second child, the seed was, "I am the river. Trust the river."  You find it together, and the seeker tells the circle when the seed is right.

8.  With the seed in mind, someone from the circle sets the word or phrase to a melody.  The circle picks up the melody, singing the seed softly over and over again.

9.  While the circle is getting the song down, the seeker lays down in the center of the circle, usually on her tummy.  At an appointed time, beginning all at once, the singing friends begin massaging the message/seed into the seeker's body.  This happens for a good spell.  Maybe 5-10 minutes.  It feels long for the singing friends, but it feels short for the seeker.

10.   When the massaging is drawing to a close, the friends rest their hands in stillness on the seeker's body, and sing the song three more times.  Then stillness and silence.

11.   The friends lift their hands and move back to form a circle, allowing the seeker to rest in the center.

12.  Usually the seeker takes a few moments there, and then rejoins the circle.

13.  If your group has gathered just to honor this one friend, then take some time to allow the seeker to talk if she wants to.  Sometimes the friends offer the seeker a token to help her remember the seed, like a bead.  If your group has gathered to allow any interested friend become the seeker, it is time to move on to the next person.  Begin again at step 5 above.

14.  After every seeker has gone into the center, open the circle back up in whatever way your group sees fit (a song, a round of appreciations, a check-out, the sound of a bell, whatever works to shift the energy from the center to the outside world).

15.  We often plan extra time for hanging out afterward, usually with something sweet to eat!

Have you done a seed circle?  What would you add to this description?  What other tools like this do you use for staying open to change?

If you gather a seed circle, let me know how it goes.  If you'd like help with it, let me know that, too.


  1. Thanks Abby! I love this idea - it's an exercise in community!

    I'm proposing a seed circle get-together for YWSE (young women social entrepreneurs). I'll let you know if it happens and how it goes!

  2. Elizabeth,

    I'm so glad you will try it. Let me know if you want any help thinking it through (we can talk off line). I used to cross paths with Sara Ellis from YWSE--give her my greetings if she's part of your YWSE involvement.

    The seed circle is a lovely and simple form for going into what can be pretty deep work. It does tend to have the effect of increasing sense of connection in a community, even one that is already all about supporting each other! Have fun with it. And again, let me know if i can help.

  3. Beautiful reflection and ideas - leading circles, I do, and seeding ideas in creative forums, I that you have melded them into a new way to present - this is similar to a blessing way I went to last year where we celebrated the mamma-to-be in this way!
    Love the words!