My overall context for Circling
There are potentially an infinite number of contexts for Circling, and everyone has a slightly different take on it (in part because there are 3 different “lineage schools” each of which has a different style). Most people, however, would 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 (or can become) 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
An alternative, and maybe simpler, definition of Circling, is that Circling is a micro-investigation — and maybe even a ruthless investigation — into the nature of our connection to self and others, in the present moment (hence the term “relational meditation”). I am frequently challenged by people (and sometimes, I will confess, get irritated by them) who claim to know and understand Circling, simply because they have been exposed to similar “circles” such as native American circles, NVC or whatever. It is true that the practice of sitting in a circle and sharing stories and vulnerability has been around since the dawn of time, but that is not “Circling” within the Authentic Relating tradition. Circling is NOT a support group, a mastermind, a therapy group, a coaching group, or a discussion format (although it can look like any of the above — see Guy Sengstock’s perspective on that). There is actually very little out there that directly compares to Circling in either the true intention or the fundamental context of the practice. The closest practice to Circling, is actually the Boulder style of T-Group, however T-Group is distinct from Circling, in that in T-Group, “stories” are explicitly disallowed, whereas in Circling, stories are permissible — or anything else for that matter — if they are deemed to serve connection.
Finally, there is a valid critique that “being circled” doesn’t sound very appealing (like sharks circling a prey). To which I say, aye that is true, but that is the brand name that emerged, and it’s too late to change it now 🙂 .
More information on what Circling is about, including some more root-level definitions and the commercial aspects of running circles, can be found at the end of the History section of Circling Guide. Other perspectives on the differences between the major schools can be found at the end of the book as well.
Context for Topical Circling
“Topical Circling” is a variation of a regular circle (“relational meditation” 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” 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, just as would 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).
Here is my 3-minute context for Circling and “Informal Circling” (presented at a live workshop of Authentic Singles Dating):
Context for “Informal Circling” (previously “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 “Informal 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 “Informal circling”, which I am also covering in this book.
The idea of “Informal 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 informal 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.