(Extract from the Circling Guide)
The precise origins of Circling are disputed, several people claiming to have “discovered” the practice independently. However, it seems that the first paid groups, and the first use of the “Circling” name, began in the year 1999 in the Bay Area. It was called the Arete Experience and was an intense all-immersive weekend which was led by Guy Sengstock and Jerry Candelaria.
Guy Sengstock was an artist, philosopher, personal trainer, bodybuilder and a massage therapist, while Jerry was at the time working to become a Landmark Forum leader. They had a powerful experience together at Burning Man, with a group that had moved from conflict into a kind of collective ecstasy, and had committed together to take the practice into the world. Besides the influence of Burning Man and Landmark Education, the practice was informed by psychological modalities that include Gestalt, man/woman ideas originating from Lafayette Morehouse and the OneTaste movement, and others. The Arete Experience ran until 2006, when it shut down.
While this was happening, Bryan Bayer and Decker Cunov had independently discovered the practice as a tool to resolve conflicts in their shared household, and expanded this into a community in San Francisco called Soul 2 Soul. This led to a men’s empowerment program called the Authentic Man Program, which is an application of Circling into sexual and romantic partnership. Bryan and Decker found Guy and Jerry and trained with them, later developing the Integral style of Circling, with the help of others at Boulder Integral. Bryan Bayer calls those early years the “Wild West” days of Circling – anything would go. (AMP is still running in Boulder. Later, Alexis Shepperd and Shana James developed a parallel program for women which is called the Authentic Woman Experience and is offered in the Bay Area).
When Arete shut-down, Bryan and Decker inherited the Bay-area community, and Guy Sengstock went quiet for a few years. When he rejoined the scene, Guy and Alexis Shepperd designed a training program called the Transformational Coach Leadership Training (TCLT). Decker had met Robert MacNaughton, who had been working with Ken Wilber at the first Integral Center in Boulder. Robert went to a TCLT weekend with Guy in the Bay Area, and came home transformed and inspired. He started offering Circling in his living room once a week. Over several years the events became so popular that the crowd of 30+people overwhelmed the space. Robert and Decker started renting space at the Integral Center in the hope of expanding the practice.
In 2011, the first Integral Center (which was created under the direction of Ken Wilber and later taken over by Jeff Saltzman) was about to shut-down. Robert and Decker decided, with great trepidation, to lease the property, ultimately building a large Circling community in Boulder, which includes their T3 Training program. In the meantime, Guy Sengstock partnered with Alexis Shepperd and created the Circling Institute in the Bay Area, which now runs weekends and year-long training programs, in parallel with the activities of Boulder Integral. Circling and Authentic Relating Games communities started blossoming everywhere, notably in Austin, Texas.
The Austin community was founded by Sara Ness and Jordan Allen. Sara had been a college student, had discovered Authentic Relating Games, had introduced them into her college dorm with great success, and has since, working 70 hour weeks, trained hundreds of facilitators and created dozens of communities, in addition to the large community in Austin.
In the meantime, two young men from the UK who were interested in Integral theory and ran a Tennis academy, Sean Wilkinson and John Thompson, had also independently discovered the practice in 2002. They started practicing on each other 24 hours a day. In 2008 they found Decker Cunov and trained with him and later with Guy Sengstock, ultimately founding Circling Europe in 2012, which is based in the Netherlands.
The online Circling platform CircleAnywhere.com, which is a product of Circling Europe, launched in 2015 and now serves people from all over the world who are not able to meet in person, or who live far from a Circling center. Authentic World, a product of Boulder Integral, also offers online circling, authentic relating games and a think-tank of best practices and trends. Three other circling schools opened, two of them this year: Amy Silverman’s Connection Movement (2015), Josh Stein’s Circling Wizardry (2017), and Jason Digges and Ryel Kestano’s ART International (also 2017).
The Circling movement, and its twin brother which is Authentic Relating Games, are, as of now (2017), less than 20 years old. And yet there are already over 60 communities worldwide, mostly in the US and in North-Western Europe, and 6 schools offering advanced training. Review the Resources section of this guide for details.
Thus, it could be argued that the “Wild West” stage of Circling is far from over; rather it is just beginning! I personally look forward with great excitement and anticipation to further expansion and development of the practice, which seems to be inevitable.
More information on the history of Circling, including its philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, can be found here: http://circlingeurope.com/what-is-circling/the-lineage-of-circling/
Refer also to Chapters 2, 4 and 5 in which I attempt to put Circling into the larger context of the “we-space movement” and mention other models and paradigms that are very compatible and which seek to achieve the same goals. And some notes on Circling early-early history (1989, way before it was called “circling”) on Facebook here.