what is council?

The practice of council brings people together in a circle to bear witness and share authentically. Participants speak one at a time, sharing personal stories and listening non-judgmentally while others speak. Council remains at the center of our programming, which is tailored to meet the needs of each unique community and population, varying in emphasis and structure, but all built on this foundational practice.

fostering connection

Council fosters attentive listening and authentic expression, building positive relationships between participants and neutralizing inequitable dynamics that may arise due to status, age, race, or other social factors.

Council enables individuals to give voice to their stories, developing mutual respect, cultivating compassionate responses to anger, defensiveness and violence, as well as improving health and resilience.


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recognizing our shared humanity

The practice of council fosters recognition of our shared humanity and interconnectednes by enabling individuals to:

  • give voice to their stories
  • practice spontaneity
  • suspend judgement
  • recognize resonance
  • develop mutual respect and compassion for others
  • cultivate a positive response to stress
  • understand the roots of anger and hostility
  • achieve a sense of balance
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"When we strengthen our connection with one another, we are healthier, more resilient, more productive, more vibrantly creative, and more fulfilled."

​Dr. Vivek Murthy, 19th U.S. Surgeon General

why use council?

There is an immense need, now more than ever, to slow down and listen, to recognize and bear witness to our shared humanity, to seek cooperative solutions to our collective challenges.

easy to implement, scalable and cost-effective 

Council offers a replicable, self-perpetuating, and portable platform that promotes communication, enhances well-being, builds community and fosters compassion.

When practiced with regularity, council can:

  • diffuse tension
  • increase resilience
  • create a deeper sense of community and connection​
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resourcing individuals & communities

Practitioners of council are powerful resources to communities in need, enabling individuals at odds—including incarcerated individuals, correctional officers, system-impacted youth and members of disenfranchised communities—to cultivate tools for increased communication and engagement, to find common ground, and to create compassionate and thriving communities.

Our programs train leaders who deliver customized, on-the-ground, community-building solutions where and when they’re needed most.

the origins of council

Council weaves ancient practices and wisdom traditions developed over thousands of years throughout many different cultures around the world.

The practice draws inspiration from practices like Veche (Slavic), Satsang (Hindu), Ho’oponopono (Hawaiian), Daré (Zimbabwe), Fambul Tok (Sierra Leone), Ibitaramo (Rwanda), Diwan & Loya Jirga (Islam),  Farbrengen (Yiddish), and Quaker Devout Listening Circles, to name a few.

​In the early days of this country, Benjamin Franklin witnessed the Talking Circles of the Haudenosaunee peoples and wrote about the inspiring collective wisdom practice. He dubbed what he observed  “the council,” utilizing a word derived from Anglo-French cuncile, from Old North French concilie and from the Latin concilium that meant, simply, "a gathering of the people."

hands of someone sat in council circle

Beyond Us & Them began as Center for Council, which spun off from The Ojai Foundation, an organization that was for decades host to diverse seminars, workshops, residencies, and lectures by teachers and elders from a wide range of traditions and cultures.

The Way of Council, as practiced within the programs and workshops offered there, evolved and was shaped in collaboration with renowned teachers and elders over the course of many years, including Andrew Weil, Arvol Lookinghorse, Deena Metzger, Francis Huxley, Grace Spotted Eagle, Jean Houston, Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Jose Arguelles, Joseph Campbell, Pir Vilayat Khan, R.D. Lang, Robert Bly, Rupert Sheldrake, Terence McKenna, Terry Tempest Williams, Thich Nhat Hanh, Wallace Black Elk, and many others.

We are deeply indebted to the generosity and insight of these and other revered teachers, and we are profoundly grateful for their care and partnership in helping the practice evolve, incorporating strands from many dialogic traditions throughout North America and around the world.

The practice of council, as utilized by Beyond Us & Them, was first codified and popularized with the publication of The Way of Council, written by Jack Zimmerman and Virginia Coyle, in 1996, and later reframed in Jared Seide's 2021 book: Where Compassion Begins: Foundational Practices to Enhance Mindfulness, Attention and Listening from the Heart, which is currently used as a manual in many programs offered by Beyond Us & Them.

Building on research and practice conducted throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Center for Council spun off from The Ojai Foundation and launched as an independent project in 2014, under fiscal sponsorship. In 2024 Center for Council became Beyond Us & Them, an independent non-profit organization.

While our base of operations remains in the heart of Southern California, our expanding team of Certified Council Trainers travels the world to support individuals, organizations, and communities longing for compassion-based tools for developing more skillful communication, deeper connection, resilient relationships, and flourishing communities.

honoring the origins of council

​We honor the lineages and traditions, both ancient and modern, that have influenced and informed the practice of council and the many teachers who have developed and offered these teachings over time.

We also recognize that many communities and peoples have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of colonization, violence, and exploitation. Our programs do not condone the use of any language, symbols, objects, or rituals misappropriated from their cultural or spiritual context at the expense of the communities from which these elements originate.

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We honor the experiences of marginalized peoples and work to hold space for all people to be empowered and connected in community

frequently asked questions

The short answer:  Participants sit in a circle, listen from the heart and speak spontaneously and authentically of stories from their lives.

The long answer:  Council is an age-old practice that involves bringing people together in a circle for candid and heartfelt conversations.

Participants speak one-at-a-time, sharing their personal stories and experiences, rather than opinions, and they listen without judgement while others do the same. Sharing and hearing universal stories about love, loss, fear, and hope enables participants to recognize that, despite their many differences, they have much in common.

By fostering attentive listening and authentic expression, council builds positive relationships between participants and neutralizes hierarchical dynamics formed by the inequality of status, race, or other social factors. It supports a deep sense of community and fosters recognition of shared humanity and interconnectedness.

Council enables individuals to give voice to their stories, develop mutual respect and compassion for others, cultivate a compassionate response to anger, defensiveness, and violence, as well as strengthen emotional health and resilience.