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Discover Council

The Way of Council engenders a co-operative, compassionate and inclusive way of communication. Particularly effective in group dynamics, Council promotes deep listening and attentive focus, authentic and pertinent expression. In Council we practice to listen without paying so much attention to our judgments, our story or to label the expression we hear of others, but more to the culture, the essence and wisdom of what is being said. Council intentions are about co-creating a space where we can connect to our stories and feel trust to share them. By sharing, comes a recognition that Council is a healthy practice that builds community, a way of the heart that curtails loneliness and insecurity, supports a culture of truthfulness, empowerment and value in being heard. The Way of Council is a particular thread of Council that originated from Ojai in California over 30 years ago (find out more about the Origins of the Way of Council).

Council offers teams, organizations, institutions, groups and partnerships of every kind an instrument to design processes, explore and manage conflict, create, maintain or develop healthy social structures to be in good relation. It is one of the most effective ways to build strong coherence in relationships.

Origins of Council

Origins of Council 

Sitting in close, intimate circles, gathered around a warm fire, telling stories and sharing what’s on one’s mind or in one’s heart has been a core practice of human culture since the dawn of time.

In 1979 in the Upper Ojai Valley in Southern California, Dr. Joan Halifax, anthropologist and protégé of mythologist Joseph Campbell, was invited to lead a non-profit organization that she renamed The Ojai Foundation (TOF). The TOF vision was to explore living spiritual traditions and to study the interface between science and spirituality. Joan convened an extraordinary and varied faculty of native elders, cutting-edge scientists, spiritual teachers, and cultural activists beneath a 600 year-old Oak tree, appropriately named the “Learning Tree.”. From a synthesis of these teachings and meetings, the “Way of Council” emerged. The Foundation has since evolved into a sanctuary for council, the name that historically has embraced a broad peacemaking intention.

Jack Zimmerman and Gigi Coyle, educators and community visionaries, collaborated with Joan in these early years to champion council as an essential way of governance at TOF, as well as further developing the practice for sharing in a variety of settings—rites of passage ceremonies, relationship intensives, primary, secondary and university education, and organizations. In 1996 Jack and Gigi’s work led to the writing of their book, The Way of Council (2nd Edition 2009). Council was also introduced and the practice developed in collaboration with communities in the Middle East, Europe, Canada, Australia and Africa.

To support this new growth and with many council leaders contributing, the “Center for Council Training” (CCT) was established in 1998, with the specific focus of training trainers to carry the work into schools and out into the cultural mainstream. With increasing demand for programs in a variety of arenas, most significantly for schools, CCT divided into two primary initiatives— the Council in Schools Program and the Center for Council Practice. Since then, new initiatives continue to be developed as TOF/CCT spin-offs such as the “Center for Council (CC),” under the aegis of Community Partners in Los Angeles, California. CC is currently focused primarily on social and restorative justice programs as well as coordinating regular workshops and trainings in the Way of Council for individuals, communities and organizations. The Ojai Foundation remains a home of council in its history, land, people and program while  other initiatives emerge as part of awakening global community.

With deep gratitude and respect for those who came before and for those enduring traditional cultures that today continue  sitting together in circles for all of us and for the Earth. We look forward to the practice of speaking and listening from the heart, ever widening circles in myriad forms, continuing to emerge in contemporary culture.

Prepared by The Ojai Foundation Elder Council, edited for the ECN by the Spiral of Five

The Practice of Council  – History  – Click to view the Document

Council Related Practices – Click to view the Document


Practice of Council

Practice of Council

The following intentions are present within Council. They allow a group to reach a deeper level in their way of listening to each other:

  • Speak from the heart  (in what is present, authentic and serves transparency)

  • Listen from the heart  (Paying attention to the other, less to our self)

  • Be spontaneous  (Not to plan, store information or be with agenda)

  • Be lean and to the point  (Speak the essence)

  • Speak out, what serves you, the circle and the higher good

  • Confidentiality: what has been said in the circle stays in the circle

The practice of the Way of Council in form and intention is simple. Participants sit together in a circle and use a suitable talking piece which can be chosen by the group beforehand, and, or be relevant to a theme. The use of this talking piece gives clarity as to who is talking and to those whom are listening, for the circle seeks to have a single voice and many ears at any one time.

There are a tremendous variety of Council forms, which each can support a situation in a group or with individuals –  from a controversial point of dispute, to a lifting of group wisdom. Council facilitators are trained to suggest and apply the form the circle best needs.

The Quality of our Work
flows from the Quality of our Relationships.
The Quality of our Relationships
flows from the Quality of our Communication,
The Quality of our Communication
flows from the Integration of our Mind, Heart, Body, Spirit.

(Marlow Hotchkiss)


Trainers of Europe

Trainers in Europe

Everyone who carries Council in his/her heart or on his/her sleeve is a carrier of Council.


When being the one who guides a group through the process of a Council, you are a facilitator of Council.

People who train others in the practice and the facilitation of Council are called trainers and they follow a specific path and education and are confirmed by the Council community.

Here are the trainers working currently in Europe:

Pippa Bondy (Wales/UK) is a wilderness rites of passage guide and a carrier/trainer of Council. Her vision and passion led her to found Ancient Healing Ways – a foundation that brings ancient healing arts and modern healing methods together.  She is based in North Wales UK where the land is rich in myth and legend. She has thirty years experience as an Alexander Technique teacher and developed a unique program based on a synthesis of Council, Nature and Alexander Technique in a ceremonial form.

>> Contact 
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Han Delissen (Netherlands) lived in several communities in Europe (from anarchistic to Bhagavad Gita oriented) over the past 15 years. Han is a communicator, graphic designer and Council trainer. Member of the European Council Network. He has been trained in Emotional Bodywork/BioEnergetics, Yoga, Breathwork and Meditation. ‘The Way of Council’ is in my life since 2006, it took me by surprise and never left me since. I was struck by it’s simplicity and in the same moment the depth of circle work and the importance of listening and speaking from the heart. My heart starts beating faster when the best in people arises, if they are to realize their full potential, if they start following their impulses and start living their truth. Listening, reading the field, observing and from there offering support. Being of service, available, unconditional and selfless…

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Rob Dreaming (UK) found Council in 2002 in the KaliKalos project in Greece and has been an active Carrier, Facilitator and more recently Trainer ever since under the mentorship and care of Ojai Foundation trainers and elders Gigi Coyle and Marlow Hotchkiss. A soul purpose in this life to work with communication, he is currently on walkabout, seeding, watering and supporting Council where it is called, mentoring carriers and presently in the core team of SOAR (School Of All Relations, Greece). With over 15 years experience facilitating groups, coaching individuals, designing and running trainings in the areas of consciousness and communication, UK and Europe, he has acquired a supportive range of experience and practice including ZEGG Forum, Restorative circles, ceremony and dreamwork, acting, movement meditation practice, and Is a published author, artist and performance poet. ‘I sit in Council to pause, listen and to re-member myself, the other and the land, welcome the unknown.’

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Gesa Heiten (Germany) came across Council when exploring and learning about Vision Quest. Immediately she felt a connection and is working ever since with Council in many fields. (E.g. profit and non-profit Companies, schools, villages, Foster homes, Families….). Especially in the field of business, where she works as a professional Coach and Consultant, she is impressed by the work of Council being ceremony, that allows people to express and listen to underlying concerns, hopes and wishes from people across all hierarchy levels. Together with her husband Holger Heiten  she leads the Eschwege Institute, where Council supports all training and workshop activities which allow personal growth.

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Holger Heiten  (Germany)*1966, father of two children, BA Social Work (Germany) and experienced Psychotherapist/Gestalt Therapist, has trained in the Mentorship of Marlow Hotchkiss and with Gigi Coyle, as well as for Couples Council with Amber McIntyre & David ‘Jesse’ Jessup and for Council in Schools with Joe Provisor.

He has trained to guide Vision Quests with the School of Lost Borders in California with Steven Foster & Meredith Little and with V. & H. Nitschke in Germany.

Holger is cofounder and head of the Eschwege Institut and its training academy “Campus Peregrini”, where the ceremony of council is a living part of all activities. Together with a faculty of international teachers, he offers workshops and trainings for the Council facilitator’s path, as well as for Change Process and Vision Quest Guides (also as Anglophone training:

Hinter den Höfen 10, 37276 Neuerode, Germany
Tel.: +49 (0)5651 951360
Fax.: 952144
Mobil.: +49 (0)174 3295854
Skype name: holger.heiten

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Sylvia Koch-Weser  (Germany)


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Tina Kansy (Germany) For me Council is an art of mindful listening and at the same time a way of living, a communication method and a ceremony. Mentored over years by Gigi Coyle (USA) , and trained as well as visionfast-guide by Gesa and Holger Heiten of the Eschwege-Institut (Germany) in the tradition of School of Lost Borders, I use and offer Council, whereever I work with groups, that want to increase their sense of community, their ability to listen to themselves, to others and to nature as a mirror for deeper understanding of personal or group processes. Beside deep listening my passion and joy is to encourage ways of expression through stories, music, poetry, drawing, dancing or theatre.

Nearly since its beginning I am an active member of the European Council Network (ECN), that connects Council-Carriers all over Europe and the Middle East.


I am mother of two teenagers. My professional life led me from landscape-architecture, eco-farming and environmental education to my current work as psychologist and trainer for mindfulness in clinical settings, especially with youth.

I am also experienced in movement & dance therapy, meditation, Yoga and KungFu .

Nature was and is my guide in life, and the deep connection to the natural world is always part of my work.


An important calling for me is to honor the children´s fire in our middle, the knowing that we are in every moment responsible for our young generation that is already alive and for the next generations to come , when we take decisions, when we speak , what has to be spoken, when we do or not do, what has to be done..... And to listen and to speak from our hearts with the fire lit in the center of every Council circle might be a way to remember this again and again.

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Katrin Lüth (Austria) *1973, is as a free-lance trainer in the field of non-formal education, facilitator of learning with a focus on personal, group and team development and intercultural learning, a host of small to very large groups; mother of a little boy. Council has become a central part of her work, life and practice over the last years. She has sat in council circles with children, adolescents and adults, in small and large groups, indoors and outdoors, in Austria and all over Europe.
“As a carrier of council I try to practice heart-ful and generative listening within and without the formal setting of council, as a facilitator and trainer I try to create safe settings that make meaningful and heartful connection possible.”

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Linda Elias (Vienna/Bavaria) *1978, is a social worker, systemic coach and mother (*2010), living in a community-house at the heart of Vienna. Her first contact with Council was during a visionquest in 2004. Picking up the Council-thread 2009, she became a passionate member of the ECN and the regional network ÖSDCN in Bavaria/Austria. She was mentored by Katrin Lüth and Marlow Hotchkiss as well as her peers and circles along the way to become a facilitator and trainer of Council.


Supporting and being part of community groups, urban gardens, foodcoops and other selforganized projects throughout her life she explores living and thinking like a circle, finding ways to deepen relations and trust as a foundation for truthful communication and sustainable decisionmaking, raising self- and group-awareness and embracing diversity as an answer to the complex and volatile world we continue to live in.

For 20 years she worked as a social worker, mainly with young people with various disadvantages, lately also in a leadership-position. Now she is on her way to put Council at the center of her attention and ready to answer when called.

Council is a practice, an attitude, a way of sustainable life that flows through her into all her areas of engagement and relation: “I am humbled by the simplicity of Council and the depth of process and listening it facilitates. The practice of Council helps me to be with what is, my truth, my needs, the truth and needs of others, the course of life and the world... It helps me decide when it is time to act and when it is time to bear witness, where is mine to be and what is mine to do.”

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Dave Bingham lives in the Galloway Hills of South-West Scotland with his soulmate of 40+ years, Lynne. Fortunate enough to be a husband, father, and grandfather, Dave has also worn titles like ‘Consulting Director’, ‘Tech Grunt’, ‘Bus Driver’ and ‘Climbing Instructor’. Trained as a human development guide with Animas Valley Institute and in male initiation, healing & growth with The Male Journey, Dave has also completed extensive Way of Council training with The Ojai Foundation, The European Council Network, and Animas Valley Institute.

He has been sitting in Council circles since 2008, when, on a Men’s Rites of Passage, he immediately felt deeply and instinctively at home with the practice.

Dave has shared the practice of Council with men’s groups, with women’s groups, when guiding wilderness retreats and gender reconciliation retreats, in UK prisons, in community, and in the family.

Dave continues to live into his vocation to be both water and conduit – he offers training and coaching in the Way of Council for specific settings such as the criminal justice system, communities, and certain social enterprises, as well as courses open to the public.


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NOTE: All trainers work internationally and are trained in the tradition of The Ojai Foundation (special thanks to Gigi Coyle, Marlow Hotchkiss and Joe Provisor)


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