The Heart-Opening Magic of the Talking Stick

Back about 20 years ago, I was honored to speak from my heart in a circle of community while holding the talking stick of Chief Joseph, the famous Nez Perce leader and orator who said, "I will fight no more forever." A beautiful Native American grandfather named Silver Fox, as its keeper, had brought it to our retreat. The ceremonial staff decorated with feathers and beads had weight and heft. It felt old and strong. As I spoke, I thought about the perhaps thousands of souls who had spoken of their dreams and fears, loves and challenges into that stick. In circles where perhaps major decisions about war and peace had been made.


The Chief's talking stick was potent with an energy to open the heart and hold space for our deepest humanity. And so we did. We had a powerfully transformational time together.


Based on my experience since then, I have led sharing circles in which a talking stick is passed from person to person in all my courses, both online and in person (yes, you can energetically pass a stick!). I even used a talking stick in my university classes. The one that I have been using for the past 8 years was made with love by one of my wonderful and talented students and teaching assistants, Teresa Bryan (see photo below). It is amazing to me how much even this stick, much more modest in its origins than Chief Joseph's, opens people up to share feelings, experiences and thoughts even with strangers. It creates a spark of intimacy and trust. And where there is such tenderness, powerful transformation and healing follows.


The rules of the talking stick are simple:

1) You hold the floor when you hold the stick.

2) You cannot be interrupted; no one can offer advice or comment.

3) What you say is held in confidentiality.

4) You speak as long as you need to.

5) When you are done, you say, "Aho!" and pass the stick on.


Passing the talking stick around a circle helps people slow down and listen deeply. We can then see the similarities of our human struggles and deepest wishes, we are able to be more compassionate and hear the feelings behind the persona. Even if we feel someone is our enemy, we can hear their voice with mindfulness and compassion, rather than fear and resistance.

In a time when so many people are divided and speaking from mind-constructs, not from the heart, it is so important to create contexts where sharing on a deeper level is encouraged. Try it out the next time your family, church, community, or other group gathers. You'll be amazed at the magic it creates.




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