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 is a continuation of the post Circling, leadership development, and facing shadow)
I am having a lot of deep reflections, and also conversations, from the previous post and subsequent events. Two insights in particular I would like to share:
It’s that when I show up in vulnerable leadership (which is the only way I am now able to show-up, having “drunk the kool-aid” of the A/R movement and wanting and needing to “practice what I preach”) I am going to get push-back, resistance. I am (essentially) going to be both surfacing and revealing my own trauma (or shadow), and generating (or at least surfacing) some level of trauma in other people. [Read more…]
I get push-back all the time from people in the Circling community, and sometimes outside of it (i.e. New Culture) about my leadership. The feedback is generally in the nature of: I don’t get it, I am a terrible leader (too reactive, to begin the long list of faults and omissions), that what I am doing is not circling and therefore I should not call it that, etc. etc. That I should stop embarrassing myself and others and go back to school. That I am causing more damage than good here. [Read more…]
For an updated Circling leader format click here.
I don’t consider myself in any way qualified to train circling leaders, but this is a 10-minute circling group format introduction, which I hope will be useful to people with experience in Circling and want to try running a group. It emerged out of a conversation with one of my developmental partners, who was asking for a group format. I want to do a re-take on this (a few things I would say differently), but it’s good enough for now. Enjoy!
A few changes I propose in the re-take:
1) “circling is a deep connection practice” — circling is a practice of un-withheld present-moment connection to self and others. Fundamentally it is learning how to express truth with care. Or care with truth
2) “Practices that are known to break connection”: advice-giving, coaching, therapizing, EXCESSIVE STORY-TELLING…
3) “decide in advance to run a birthday or organic circle”. I would probe the group after the warm-up. But quickly: “Close your eyes and feel into yourself. Then raise your hand if you would like to get the entire group attention for 10 or 15 minutes” [pause, and then decide]. I think it would work well to do one or two short birthday circles followed by organic. That would actually be my preferred format.
4) “Circling is the deep-dive version of A/R”. Not exactly. A/R games can go very deep as well. It’s just a different flavor. Pepsi or Coke.
5) Provide historical context at the very beginning: “circling is part of a rapidly-growing global movement called Authentic Relating…”. Help them to understand upfront that this is not just some new-agey change modality (a new-and-improved encounter group), it is a global movement for creating a better world
6) In the introduction, as well, start with some personal impact: “I have been circling just over a year and it has showed me many things about myself that I did not even know about (and that were problems for other people, I call it “recovering asshole”), AND it has connected me to a worldwide community and made me many friends”. Or whatever
7) The rule is “whatever makes you feel good” — whatever makes you feel MORE ALIVE AND MORE CONNECTED TO OTHER PEOPLE, EVEN WHEN SHARING THINGS THAT MIGHT BE PAINFUL TO YOU
Audible.com just published the Circling Guide as an audiobook! You can also get the audiobook for free from my site, but only until the end of November. Audible sets the price ($6.08), and I can’t compete with that, so I will be withdrawing distribution from my site in the next few days.
I would love your support!
The book has received great feedback so far. If you have enjoyed reading it, I would love your support, either by leaving an Amazon review, or else by linking back to my website. You can make a real difference here! And it would only take you a minute. If you have an A/R related business or website, we can also arrange your distributing the book for free as an opt-in incentive. Write to me about this.
I will be moving to Philadelphia (where I am now) or Washington DC next year. I finally decided that it’s time for me to end my stories of financial scarcity and move out into the world, especially into intentional community, which is my passion and joy.
This naturally involves an expansion of my Circling leadership, which is currently free. And which I imagine will continue to be free, as I am much more interested in Circling as a peer-led movement (think AA or Re-evaluation Counseling) than as student-teacher model, which is mostly how it is currently practiced today (and I hasten to add, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s just not my gig, for whatever reasons good or bad).
If you live in Philadelphia or DC (and especially if you are interested in intentional community), please reach out via reply to this mail. I would love to connect with you.
Just to let you all know I am attending the Circling Europe 10-week online course which starts June 3:
The price is right and I am looking forward to the “download” from Sean, John and Jordan, co-founders of Circling Europe. The course even includes some one-on-one sessions!
In case you are not aware, Circling Europe is one of four schools providing advanced Circling training (others are the Boulder Integral Center, the Bay area Circling Institute, and Authentic Revolution). They have developed a particular approach to circling called “surrendered leadership”, which has been very successful in both Europe and North America, and which is the basis of the online circling platform Circle Anywhere, where I am also very active.
So maybe I will see you there!
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.
I found this article by Jon Rappoport:
And especially this paragraph:
Entrepreneurship has a counter-intuitive core. The more the enterprise is built to the scale of the original dream, and the less it is compromised, the greater the chances of success
Which also mirrors one of my favorite quotes from Barbara Sher:
If you have a great dream, go for it. Because if you would settle for something less, for the sole reason that you think it will be easier to achieve, you will likely fail even at the lesser dream, simply because you will lack motivation
Whether all this is true or not, is hard to say. What it does bring up for me is a question I have been deeply considering ever since I started Circling, and one of the main topics that I wish to explore in my own groups, both public (Circle Anywhere) and private:
Connection intent vs. Developmental intent
Within circling, I believe that the tension between connection intent and developmental intent is inescapable. Bryan Bayer describes this as the “Yin and the Yang” of circling. His idea (which is also mine) is that Yin (or connection intent) trumps Yang (developmental intent, or self-expression). Both are important, but in the case of a conflict, we go with connection intent.
This could also be framed as:
When and how to do we give to others, and when and how do we receive from them
Naturally this inescapable tension of human relationships will be mirrored in the deep relational practice of Circling.
My desire to form private groups is first to introduce my friends to the practice; and second to circle right up to the edge of developmental intent, but (ideally) not to cross it. It’s a work-in-progress, an ongoing research project. The results have been very powerful for me, as I feel very well-received from the community.
The contrast between the the public groups and private groups has been interesting to me, as well. The public groups are sometimes strangers (although not so much for me anymore), and may not have a universal shared context for circling. As such one has to be cautious about pushing the container. But on the private groups I feel a little frozen in a leadership role and dampening my aliveness. So I am challenged in both types of groups.
I will continue to report here as the investigation unfolds…