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Christina Baldwin Interview 3/22
Interviewed by Connie Hill

Christina Baldwin has authored numerous articles and three books: One to One, Undertstanding Through Journal Writing; Life's Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest; and Calling the Circle, The First and Future Culture. She and her partner Ann Linnea (author of Deep Water Passage, A Spiritual Journey at Mid-Life) teach groups to build community circles in preparation for such potential events as Y2K, earthquakes or other environmental issues. Below is an excerpt of a recent conversation between Christina and Connie Hill.

Connie Hill: Tell me about the circle work you an Ann do.

Christina Baldwin: Ann and I met in 1991 when she took a memoir class from me and had a personal story she wanted to write. Soon, we realized that she had been working outdoors, looking for ways to offer a wider variety of experience. I had been working indoors with people and their life stories, looking for ways to get people out in the world. So, we brought our work together. The first seminars, Women and the Planet, Returning the Gift, took us down around the campfire, literally into the circle. Our basic premise is that the circle is common to developing society. This is how our ancestors gathered together, no matter the culture, around the campfire, which evolved into the council, then to the traditions and taboos that hold a group together. "If you come to this fire you need to know what the rules are."

CH: The campfire, people gather around it for warmth, light, protection.

CB: We remind people of that when, in the middle of the corporate setting, we say you need to sit down, turn off the distractions, close the door, and be in council with each other. You can often light a candle in the middle of these people and nobody freaks out.

A council needs a shared intention. In a business setting, the mission or the value statement of the company. In a family council it may be realigning the family chores or making a rite of passage. Or it could be a community setting. In Calling the Circle there's a section of little vignettes of what circles are and how they can be used.

CH: How do men handle circle concept?

CB: In indigenious cultures where the circle is part of their conditioning, men really understand that in order to govern the village they need to be in council. In western culture, men have taken on the warrior/authority role and women, the hearth, home and campfire. So women lead right now in reminding men how to be in council.

CH: How are men in western culture doing with it?

CB: The men that come to us voluntarily are doing quite well with it. In a circle practicum it's been incredible and healing for both genders. Some men go home longing for this kind of conversation with their wives and partners. It's not along gender lines.

The terror for men is "let's sit down and be intimate." Their question is "About what?" A council works best when the council has something to do. This slows down men and speeds up women -- it levels out some of the power dynamic, especially if you use a talking piece. This allows the quieter voices to get heard because they don't have to fight for air time. In the studying I've done, the talking stick has been used in council almost from its inception and so has the desire to interrupt each other!

CH: How does the circle idea work for Y2K?

CB: It touches our need to take care of ourselves in small community groups. It challenges us to talk to acquaintances and strangers in a way we have never done before, not just the weather, sports, and the kids. We're faced with the need to understand who we are and what we need from each other. Here on Whidbey Island, the questions you need to ask your neighbors are pretty intimate questions: if we set up voluntary water rationing, will you follow those rules? who has food? who has an extra bedroom? what if people show up from the city, are you willing to share?

Locally, there are three people with generators. Maybe we could sit down and say "You own one will you share it? I could help you pay for and store fuel. How could we set that up?" When people come to a workshop, they will leave with life skills. We see our role as imparting confidence and structure to call these conversations together.

CH: We, as a culture, have been working on intimacy in terms of relationships, and these ideas take intimacy out to another level.

CB: Yes. If the big infra-structure falls apart, then what has to replace it are these little self-organizing community-based structures. With Y2K what we have is what our culture seems to need -- a deadline, a complex issue. It begins to bond people together and give people a focus.

I want to talk a minute about Ann's work. Her reference point is nature and the connection between humans and the web of life. Ann's book Deep Water Passage (which is about her 1200-mile paddle circumnavigation of Lake Superior by sea kayak) is a model of how you take an experience and live that experience to its full dimension. On one level you have the athletic requirement of paddling 1200 miles. Then you have the psychological and spiritual openings that occur under that kind of discipline. Then you have the moments where you were changed irrevocably because you were so open. It is the journey of the lone pilgrim.

On her journey Ann goes out on the lake with a dear man friend. His wife and her husband are both home taking care of the kids while Ann and Paul go around the lake together. You get the sense of the brother and sister pilgrim -- a very clear, clean relationship. And there are the times when they are alone because of storms that blew them apart and they know that they can't save each other. It's a very powerful metaphor for male/female relationships as well as the relationship of the human to nature.

When Ann and I began teaching together, she had just gotten back from that journey. The theme became her realization that she had spent 5 years training for the journey and no time thinking about their re-entry needs. They came home and went back to their lives within 48 hours. Neither one had any community. When we began teaching together that fall, she began to understand that the lack of circle was putting incredible stress on her ability to integrate what had happened. They needed a campfire to tell their story and have people receive and help them hold it: this helps honors the process.

Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea will be teaching Community Resilient Communities: Preparing Now for Y2K at New Renaissance Bookshop in May. Call 224-4929 for information. You can contact Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea at www.peerspirit.com or 360-331-3580.

The interviewer, Connie Hill, is Event & Newsletter Manager at New Renaissance Bookshop and an astrologer both in Portland and on the Oregon coast. Contact her at gmnite@pioneer.net or 291-8229 x2.

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