Inner Relationship Focusing is a powerful self-healing practice, developed by Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin in the early 90’s. It evolved out of, and is an extension of Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing. Gendlin’s Focusing is a simple, guided 6-step process for accessing and gaining discernment into felt-experience, and from there clearing emotional conflicts. I learned Gendlin’s Focusing as a partner exercise and found it very valuable, especially since you can teach it to anyone, even a stranger, in just a few minutes (ideally however, about 10 minutes). I find Ann Weiser Cornell’s work even more powerful, however, in part because it extends Gendlin’s work through linguistics (NLP?), and in part because it can be done alone or as a meditation. I am also very excited to be experimenting with this practice for myself because it has some very striking similarities to Circling, and it appears to be solving some developmental issues of mine for which Circling has not really worked (addictions and over-reactivity in particular).
This article explores some of these topics. Here is the story:
I started Circling in September 2016 in Boulder, but shortly afterwards moved to rural up-state New Hampshire and so completed my training on CircleAnywhere (that story told here and here, it was a fantastic ride). Thus as of now (January 2018) I have been Circling, leading my own groups, and writing about it, for almost a year and a half.
Circling has had an enormous impact on me in terms what I call “relational leadership”, which is the ability to have honest, fun, meaningful and transformative relationships with people, both in and out of formal circles. I often think of Circling, and the Circling community itself, as the most direct path to finding / achieving the so-called Beloved Community (Martin Luther King). Circling has had life-changing results in all my relationships, which is now leading to on-the-ground community-building in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Littleton NH, explorations in the areas of intentional community, New Culture, mental health and functional medicine, and many more. However it has not yet had significant impact on my lifelong coffee addiction, 3-year alcoholism, on my degree of physical self-care, or to my over-reactivity to myself and other people (I think of “addictive personality” actually as over-reactivity to myself, to my own cravings for happiness, connection, ease and comfort. The Buddha does provide a solution to this problem, but it’s been slow-going and painful in my case).
And this is why I am so excited about Inner Relationship Focusing (IRF)…
In my Circling Guide I talk about “Self-Circling”, with two sections on that, one contributed by Daniel Tenner, the other one written by me and which is my take on Internal Family Systems (IFS). IFS and IRF are quite similar as they both focus on surfacing and entering into relationship with parts-of-oneself (or “sub-personalities”, a term I think was invented by Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis going back to the 60’s or earlier). The central idea of both IRF and IFS is to connect with “Self-in-presence”, which is described as “the natural state of the Self: calm, curious, interested, and able to act in mature and balanced ways“. From there, “Self-in-presence” basically “circles” the sub-personalities, the disowned or in-conflict emotions.
To me this sounds EXACTLY like the behavior of a mature Circler (or Circling leader)! I consider both IFS and IRF as applications of Circling to the inner-family dynamic, or, to be more accurate since IRF and IFS both preceded Circling, I would say that Circling is an application of IRF and IFS to external relationship, as an attempt to access transpersonal consciousness (or “we-space”) in a group.
To be continued…
I will flesh this out a bit more as I continue to explore. Check these resources for now:
- Inner Relationship Focusing (Abstract paper)
- Inner Relationship Focusing with Ann Weiser Cornell. This site is a goldmine with an extensive free library — including the webinar Get Clear and Move Forward with Focusing, an e-course, 20-minute guided IRF session here. , and sleep session here.