Background for this post
In late January I traveled to Guatemala on a 3-month adventure that is ongoing. The location is a village called San Marcos La Laguna, Lake Atitlan, 4-5 hours west of Guatemala City. I went because I had enough of Covid restrictions and wanted to practice building community on-the-ground. It was also time for a new adventure. I left behind my Little House on the Prairie in which I was physically very content, but yearning for more connection.
As a bit of context here, San Marcos is one of the half-dozen most popular “consciousness hot-spots” on the planet, in the sense of being havens for people looking for fun and transformation: professional travelers, hippies, new-agers, consciousness entrepreneurs, crypto geeks and libertarians, etc. (the other places include Bali, Koh Phangan in Thailand, Pisac Peru, and Mazunte Mexico where I will be heading in the final month for a yoga retreat). There are transformational and networking events happening here all day, every day, despite it being a quite small village. These events include AR and now Circling. ART International ran a Level 1 here in early January.
Third-world travel is always intensely exciting in the first few weeks. Learning how to get around and how to secure the 3 core needs of the digital nomad (lodging, internet and coffee 🙂 ) is quite exciting. The markets and the food are an infinite delight. I write more about the events of this trip, and the nature of third-world travel, on my author blog. This article is more focused on the consciousness aspects of this trip and the development of the “circling evangelist”.
In summary, however, nothing has worked out as planned. I have had significant physical, emotional, and logistical challenges. And yet there is now a sense of being “held” here (or even of “perfection”), which is directly related to my attempt to hold a kind of “AR container” for myself and others 24×7. It’s been rough at times, but the insights and transformation have been extraordinary. This is what I want to share. It’s challenging to communicate the impact on me in a single post, but I will try.
Root context: Authentic Relating (or AR) as the most exciting social movement of the 21st century, and the most powerful open-source transformational modality ever created
These are bold claims, and are based on my own experiences of healing and transformation through the practice (meaning that, it may not work for everyone). The essence of my “circling evangelist” mission is: first to continue my own development through the practice; and second to find out if my own experiences are transferable to others. Regardless, I am certain that I will be on this mission for the rest of my life. I also see Circling as the fundamental training modality for relational leadership (or the acquisition of relational intelligence). And finally note that my definition and style of “Circling” is more expansive or inclusive than the way some people practice. I am coming to see circling as a container for a “wisdom conversation” (or maybe “conversation for transformation”) rather than its own modality, exactly. I will get more into those distinctions in a later post. Just to say, for now, that this is in the nature of circling as an “integral emergent practice”: it will forever diversify and complexify, while hopefully retaining the essence of the practice.
How the “Circling evangelist” has been vindicated, and later humbled
Something started happening in my circles 3-4 months ago: about 85% of them became what I call “home-run circles”. This is where everyone leaves happy, smiling and wanting more. Another 10% of them are less than home-runs, or a bit boring to me (although not necessarily to the other people, who appear to be having positive experiences). And finally, 5% of these circles turn into “shit-show circles”. This is when I react to one of the participants, and/or I am unable to hold the reactivity of a participant towards me (another topic, I will write about this later). But even the rare shit-show circles turn out, in the end, to be powerfully developmental. So there is really no way to lose here.
And finally, it doesn’t seem to matter whether I am leading my own groups, assisting other leaders (as I am doing here in Guatemala), or simply a participant: the statistics remain the same. For instance: I recently started attending the Authentic Revolution 10am EST daily circles, and the statistics have been the same (or maybe even better). To note that I don’t usually attend conventional flow circles on CircleAnywhere (only focus or speed-focus circles) and I don’t circle with more than 6 participants unless I have to (in fact most of the shit-show circles have involved larger circles, most of them happening in the Monday feedback circles on the Level Up platform). For me it’s a big leadership challenge to circle more than 6 people, and I don’t do it for the simple reason that I don’t see any reason to it, given that small circles tend to be so powerful. Also — and I will write more about this — I am re-framing my primary offer as courses in Relational Leadership through the Circling practice. You can see the languaging of this offer here, and all these circles have been phenomenal as well.
These recent successes have been such an eye-opener to me I can hardly describe the impact on me. I also feel somewhat vindicated in my beliefs: that Circling is so much more than “relational meditation”, in that it can be successfully applied to almost any community development initiative, work-group, conscious business accelerator, etc. It also has been impacting the quality of my personal relationships. The informal practice (what I call “Authentic Relating”) doesn’t translate (or transfer) as quickly and powerfully as it does in formal circles, due to what we call “lack of shared context”. But it definitely translates. I am meeting very interesting people and forming deep connections here. Despite my being a bit of a “slug” (physical/emotional challenges), and a “glass half-empty” person which is part of my characterology. More on this below.
The humbling of the Circling evangelist
Here is the next piece, the next big question I have for myself: if AR is so potent, or even (as per my belief) the most powerful developmental modality ever invented: why is it that I am still miserable half the time? I attribute this in part to being so tired and feeling so flat, old and ugly here (among the beautiful young people who go out dancing and socializing all night long); and partly to the the harshness of my self-judgments and other internal dialogue when my body is not co-operating, or when I am feeling internal emotional tension or disturbance. I appear to over-react to negative emotion and I am overly identified with feeling versus principles, part of my Enneagram 4.
This is an emerging edge for me, and I can only name (or bookmark) the conversation as I am still “living into the question” [Rilke]. I think it has something to do with a somatic destabilization (aka unmetabolized trauma), along with a quality of self-love and acceptance (or surrender) that I am still lacking. This is a very tricky situation for me to handle because it cannot be solved by thinking (in this specific instance, thinking is actually the problem). It needs somatic work, meditation, yoga, embodiment practices – these are not my forte. I am signed up for a 3-week yoga retreat in April which will be, I am hoping, the perfect answer to my condition. In the meantime, Circling every day does help, of course. I would be a total mess without it (as opposed to the semi-mess that I am). But I am humbled by the awareness that more is going to be required. That AR is not the complete solution to the problem of being human. To be fair to myself, I never believed that AR was the total solution. I only claimed that AR will illuminate the work that needs to be done, by “seeing ourselves through the eyes of others”, aka the power of collective intelligence. More on this another time.
Just one final thought for today:
“Pain is not a punishment, pleasure is not a reward… good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness” — Pema Chodron
That is wisdom. Circling is not wisdom itself. It is merely one of the processes by which wisdom is acquired.