Context for Topical Circling
“Topical Circling” is a variation of a regular circle in which we bring in more developmental intent.
It may seem that Circling is antithetical to anything that would look like goal-orientation. My experience however is the opposite, which is that in a strong circle, a circle in which everyone is aware of and is practicing circling principles to the best of their ability, development happens, sometimes extremely rapidly, and from there goals get accomplished.
The distinction between a “regular” (“relational meditation”) circle and a topical circle, is that in a topical circle we hold the container more loosely. Advice and coaching are permissible (provided they are wanted), but we maintain a strong focus on the relational space and return to Yin practices if tension surfaces or if the conversation become too abstract or excessively content-focused, as in regular Circling.
Topical Circling might be considered a mix between “regular” circling (“relational meditation”, no agenda except to be fully present to what is emerging) and a Mastermind group (Mastermind is a popular group structure, first mentioned in Napoleon Hill’s classic Think and Grow Rich).
My general context for Circling
Everybody has a slightly different context for Circling, but most people agree on the following: that Circling is primarily a practice of un-withheld present-moment connection to self and others; and therefore everything we do and say (or don’t do and say) ought to, ideally, serve truth and connection. Thus we want to amplify practices that are known to create connection, such as: curiosity, empathy, vulnerable sharing, appreciation, use of ownership language, etc; while minimizing practices that are either known to create disconnection, or else can be a little iffy: advice-giving, coaching, “therapizing”, judging, and story-telling. To note however there is nothing inherently wrong with coaching, story-telling etc., and there may be times where this will be appropriate. The key distinction there being to return to connection-amplifying practices whenever there is doubt (meaning to take a break from the flow and probe the nature and strength of the group connection). Another key distinction is that everyone in a circle is a leader, leadership consisting primarily of providing curiosity, empathy and vulnerability:
A true leader is when the people say, when the work is all done: ‘We did it ourselves’ — Lao Tzu
Context for “Guerrilla Circling”
(Extract from the Circling Guide)
There is an important distinction to be made between the formal practice of circling and what I am calling “Guerilla circling”. In the formal practice, there is an assumption (“shared context”) of “welcome everything”, that people will be interested, or at minimum attempt to respond non-reactively, to whatever shows up. Outside of a formal circle, however, you cannot assume that if you show up in anger, blame, or deep pain, that people will attempt to be receptive to you.
It is a natural human reaction to push away strong emotion of any kind, especially negative or blameful thoughts and emotions, and to respond with judgment and distancing. As a result, many of us walk around with a lot of anxiety, loneliness and pain that has nowhere to go and which then feeds on itself, creating an even greater feeling of separation from other human beings. Hardly anyone, really, gets the quality of attention that would enable them to shift the painful sense of separation that we all feel sometimes, and that some of us feel all the time. Our interactions with people tend to be quite functional, sometimes even the people closest to us. We tend to put a lot of effort into deeply cloaking our humanity. We are taught that this is the way things are and that we just have to get used to it, and we do our best to put a happy face on it (because we fear that if we didn’t, we would be even more isolated). And our effort to pretend that everything is okay when it really isn’t, obviously compounds the problem.
But there is good news here, which is that we don’t have to cloak our humanity. We can strive for all of our interactions with people to have truth and care in them, which also, ironically, makes us much more effective in all spheres of life. This is the practice of “Guerrilla circling”, which I am also covering in this book.
The idea of “Guerrilla circling” is to respond to people from an assumption that everyone desires, at some level, to love and be loved, to know and be known, to belong. The need to belong is deeply embedded in the context of being human, for the obvious reason that in the tribal culture from which we came, belonging is life-and-death. The need to belong continues to underlie much of our behavior, but is rarely something that people talk about or even admit. The practice of Guerrilla circling is to interact with people with the assumption that they want to belong, to be valued and cared of, and to be acknowledged for their contributions. It is a fairly simple and extraordinarily powerful practice that consists, fundamentally, in leading with vulnerability, which is further described below, and providing quality attention and compassion to people. It is an exercise that can be done with no prior agreement and which is virtually guaranteed to transform all of your relationships.