In an earlier blog post (Transformational Tribes) I gave some of the reasons why I am so passionate (read: obsessed) with Circling. To bottom-line that post, I have spent 30+ years looking for a community-based healing movement, a “transformational tribe”, that would meet the following criteria: power or effectiveness; integrity; free or low-cost; a global reach; and a compelling vision for a new society. In those 30 years, nothing was able to meet all those criteria, until I stumbled across Circling. Furthermore, it quickly became obvious to me that Authentic Relating practices were the “missing link” from virtually every ashram or meditation or yoga center, every social change movement, and almost every other human transformational system (with the exception of NVC, which I consider a close cousin but earlier generation of Authentic Relating). Indeed: if you truly want to experience the depth of human fucked-up-ness, go into most any Ashram or yoga center and ask the teachers, confidentially, what they think of the organization. I don’t mean that Yoga philosophy or Buddhism or anything else is wrong. I just mean that without authentic relating, they will forever be missing something. At least that’s my opinion.
Now I want to continue that article with a sequel giving what I have learned in 8 months of circling 10 or 12 hours a week, first in Boulder and later on the online platforms, Circle Anywhere and Authentic World. And talk about where I want to go with this.
Despite 30 years of my fascination and research into human development, emotional communication and the psychology of love, and intentional communities / eco-villages (that story told here), it still took me quite a while to even begin to “get” circling. In the first few months I was like a bull in a china shop. I enjoyed almost every minute of it, and had some very powerful birthday circles in Boulder, but the people around me did not always enjoy me. It took me quite some time, actually, to accurately frame how I was being (and declare myself publicly) as a “recovering asshole”. Not always of course, as people did enjoy my vulnerability (this is my super-power), but despite best intentions that was often the truth. It was hard to contain my own reactivity and I am not one to keep my opinions to myself. Even so, I learned. It took me a while, for example, to understand what some people considered my excessive tendency to story-telling. Sometimes I would respond with humor, as in “look. I am Jewish and Italian, I like to talk”.
There were two inflection points in this exhilarating journey. I say “exhilarating” because it was clear to me from the very beginning that I was on to something very powerful.
The first inflection point occurred about 4 months into it when I started inviting people I like into private groups held over Zoom. The stated purposes for this was, first to introduce circling to my non-circling friends (who would be more willing, the argument went, to join free groups); second that the private group format provided more continuity and trust; and third I wanted to introduce more of what I called “developmental intent”, which I say more about below.
The first objective, of introducing my friends to circling, mostly failed. I have only had success with two of my non-circling friends. Granted, both of them took to it like fish-to-water and now more-or-less share my enthusiasm, so I am not a complete zero as a circling evangelist. Still this is a bit disappointing.
The second and third objectives were very successful, however. People loved the private groups, often had important experiences there and kept coming back. Ultimately I realized something which I think is important. Certainly there is something to be said for a group that has commitment, continuity and trust. But that alone does not explain the success of the private groups. I mean, I can show up to most any Circle Anywhere group and feel love and trust towards people there as well, in addition to skilled leadership, something that every aspiring leader ought to relish, the revealing of one’s blind spots. CA has become my new family-of-choice. But what I realized was that the key factor in the transformative power of the private groups is that these groups extended circling into the realms of friendship, true transformational (or healing) partnerships, and in a few cases business collaboration. This is what I mean by “developmental intent”. “Relational meditation” is well and good, I have no objections. But if we limit our circling to the formal groups, that to me misses the whole point and the greater power to be gained from the practice.
And this realization was the first inflection point in my circling “career”. The fulfillment, as it were, of my original intention which was to bring circling into the world: into friendships, into families, into schools and business, into other types of transformational tribes — there is NO human community of any kind, in my opinion, that could not benefit from this.
And yet I have found that bringing Circling or A/R practices into the world to be very difficult. My attempts to lead groups (or even individual sessions) to people who are not already trained in Circling have been hit-or-miss (as opposed to the private groups, almost all of which have been home runs). Why is this? Well, I can’t say for sure of course and this is certainly in part a reflection on my leadership. And yet it is also logical that this would be true. Because of the 4-5 primary skills of Circling, in my world (curiosity, empathy, appreciation, vulnerable sharing and “non-doing”), none of them is really easy, and in all cases the “social rules” are stacked up against us (“don’t stare at strangers” — oh really. Why?). But the hardest of all is vulnerable sharing, which is something that many people are simply terrified of doing. And it’s not just terror that stops them from doing it, it’s that they can’t even imagine the benefits that lie on the other side of it. In truth, vulnerable sharing is a revolutionary act. And for those people who don’t get it, or don’t want to do it, I can only model it. In most cases they will respond very positively (vulnerability is very attractive), but in other cases they won’t. And I have to be strong enough to endure that, what I call the “judgments of the world”. Because when I show up in vulnerable sharing, I am also revealing my own neuroses. Which, if you know me, are rather self-evident. “Recovering asshole” is actually the least of them. From my perspective, what chance do I have of becoming less neurotic if I have to hide? I have always thought of vulnerability as a no-brainer, but I seem to be in the minority there.
Now let me give the second inflection point of my circling career.
It’s that Circling alone is not enough, and particularly in designated groups. There are some limits of the developmental value of “relational meditation”. There are fewer limits of bringing circling into friendship, transformational partnerships, intentional communities and business, which is what I am most interested in, but there are limits even there. Circling alone, I have found (and there are big conversations happening there on Facebook) is not that effective for healing trauma, for that one needs somatic (body-centered) therapy modalities like Somatic Experiencing, Hakomi, or Avalon. It’s not very effective, in my experience, for addiction recovery either. I was an active alcoholic for about three years, even as I was going through my circling adventures. Nothing changed there until I started looking at and complementing my Circling with other modalities, such as Inner Relationship Focusing and re-connected to 12-step support communities.
Ultimately what I am saying is that I still think that circling is incredible. But I am sobered-up. Slightly. I am no longer claiming it as the solution to anything-that-ails-you. However, I will continue to claim that at least for me, and probably for a lot of other people as well, it is the first step to the solution of anything-that-ails-you. Human beings thrive on connection, and without connection they perish. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. I am also out to prove it. I am out to prove that almost anyone will respond positively to the fundamental skills of circling (curiosity, empathy, appreciation, and vulnerable sharing), 90% of the time. I want to go out into the world and practice, and watch people transform around me, as is already starting to happen (I hope), and at very minimum is happening with me.
I think of this as a very important conversation. Can we, actually, expand Circling beyond the “relational meditation”, without killing it, or destroying the purity that may be the very reason for its success? What are your thoughts on this? Please post them to Circling Handbook facebook.