What is 8Shields?
The 8 Shields model is a cultural framework developed by Jon Young and the 8 Shields Institute. It takes inspiration from numerous land-based indigenous cultures from around the world, as well as patterns we see in nature. The metaphor of the compass is used to describe a cyclical spectrum of phases, energies or archetypes linked to different cardinal directions. For example, north representing winter, east representing spring, south as summer, west as autumn.
At Land in Curiosity, we’ve been trying to integrate some of 8 Shields’ ideas into the creation of the Yearlong project and the structure of our community. We recognise that a whole spectrum of elements or energies are necessary for a group or project to be sustainable.
Not just the ‘doing’ of work, but the playing, resting, harvesting, integrating, stillness, solitude, reflection etc.
The fact that these elements are so often overlooked in western cultures contributes to the frequency of burnout. We want to practice undoing the conditioning which prioritises the ‘doing’ or being productive (hello, internalised capitalist ideology!) over other important stages of activity. The 8 Shields model offers a great framework for this .
In nature, and especially in the turn of the seasons in a temperate climate, we can see a perfect analogy illustrating the importance of changing and shifting perspectives and energies.
Of rest, stillness and dreaming in the winter,
of emergence, play and curiosity in the spring,
of long days, focus and celebration in the summer
and of harvest, gratitude and reflection in the autumn.
An example of implementing 8 Shields: Roles
The responsibilities of the community are shared into roles, (for example, Route team, Food team, Firemaker, Group Facilitator, Listener, Dreamer etc). We rotate roles every few weeks, helping us to shift power dynamics and meaning that as well as taking on jobs that people feel comfortable in, they can also push into areas that feel new or edgy. Each of these roles reflects an element of the 8 Shields model and so silently invites the group to hold an awareness of the full spectrum.
Ideally, no one role is seen as being more important than another. There are some roles which are more specific and practical such as Firemaker. Others, such as the Group Facilitator, requires more of an oversight and has an almost managerial (for want of a better word) quality. Some roles might even be perceived as not being important at all, for example the Dreamer. This is open to interpretation of the person in the role, but usually involves taking care of their own personal needs for a day and doing exactly what they want (within the group agreements). This is important for the whole group because it may give permission to others to take responsibility for their own self care. It also may be necessary and helpful for somebody to know that they will also have this opportunity in order to relax into their current role or responsibilities.
Of course, there are limitations with the model too. Things don’t always go to plan, hierarchies do emerge in a group, certain behaviors become habitual without conscious intent, or circumstance forces us to act in a way that might jar with the cycles that 8 Shields proposes. This is okay! We see 8 Shields as offering a framework, not a load of strict rules to follow; the challenge is to take this model and apply it to Land in Curiosity in a helpful way. So far, it seems that holding the full spectrum of cultural ingredients in mind helps us to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses, give insight on what might be missing or not working, helping us to see our work beyond the tasks and outputs.
With gratitude to the 8 Shields Institute for the inspiring work they are doing and sharing.