Note: a more personal account of the joys and challenges of my Mexico adventure here]
In this article I will share my experience of successfully creating an Authentic Relating community in Ajijic, Mexico, in only 4 months. We are currently running AR games in two locations, I am leading weekly beginner and experienced Relational Meditation groups (similar to Circling™), and we are in week 2 of my 4-week course called Practical Relational Leadership through Authentic Relating (or “PRL), see www.circlingguide.com/prl) at a second intentional community here. We have here now a power-team of AR leaders which also meet weekly for support and business development. Longer term we are looking to start an open, peer-to-peer Boulder Integral style Relational Meditation group. More on the Boulder Integral style format below.
I am not sure if I just got lucky here, or what, but I am very excited because this is a peer-to-peer model for AR community-building which I am hoping will work in other places as well. This is the dream I have had ever since I discovered Circling in 2016. I call this dream “the democratization of transformation”. The model appears to be especially powerful and applicable to people who are already in some kind of community, such as a residential intentional community.
How PRL (Practical Relational Leadership) circles work
How this model works is hand-picking an initial group of prospective leaders, putting them through the 4-week PRL course process, and then having them lead (or bootstrap) a new AR community. When the PRL students “graduate”, we start the community with AR games (we like a hot-seat game format which we are calling “spotlight”) and then move on to lead Relational Meditation. The PRL course format is derived from Circling™, but with more structure and more development intent (or “yang” flavor). Essentially it’s a deep-dive into a circling-like process which quite reliably drops a committed group of up to 6 people into deep connection spaces over 4 weeks. You can also run this format one-time with anyone who has prior experience of Circling. Many people have told me that they prefer this style to other styles of Relational Meditation.
The PRL format is described here, I find that Relational Meditation in this style goes deeper and faster than most AR game evenings and other styles of Circling. The format is especially suitable to people who are already connected through some kind of community, residential or not. It works best inside committed, or returning groups (meaning that its same group of people every time). My ongoing circles here in Mexico go incredibly deep, pretty much every time.
Bottom line, it’s just more fun for me (because it’s more impactful) to lead Relational Meditation with people who are already in some kind of community, either residential or not, and to committed groups. It’s the marriage of Authentic Relating and Intentional community, which is potentially “a match made in heaven”.
I am currently enrolling for special online PRL “train the trainer” editions to run in December 2023. These courses are for people who have done circling in other traditions, to teach them how to lead this format in order to start local AR communities. More details on this (including a summary of the format) at https://circlingguide.com/practical-relational-leadership/
In July 2023 I moved to Ajijic, Mexico into an intentional community run by a famous author and spiritual entrepreneur which is loosely based on ACIM (A Course in Miracles). I am not a huge fan of ACIM but I am very passionate about intentional community, which I consider to be the leading edge of culture. Ajijic Mexico is famous as a kind of retired expat mecca, and for the many intentional communities here, most of them sourced by ACIM. Ajijic is an ideal playground for a professional community builder such as myself. People here are often fleeing Western culture (The US in particular) and are looking for something different. Ajijic is a great melting pot of people interested in spirituality and human transformational technologies. Similar perhaps to other popular digital nomad destinations such as Bali, Thailand, Pisac Peru, Lake Atitlan Guatemala, etc., but with an older retiree population. These other places don’t have the same density of intentional communities, however. I certainly got lucky in starting my professional community-builder career here, there is no doubt about that.
Prior to this, I had a lot of success running online groups, either the formal 4-week PRL’s or else recurring groups based on the PRL format, including an online men’s group that has been going strong now for 4+ years. Despite my success running online groups, I was craving local (in-person) community, but I was not living in any place that had an AR community. In part because I was exploring different intentional communities, none of which worked out for me. At the time of the move, I had been batting my head against the wall since at least 2013 in terms of creating local community, or what I call “invented family”. I had lived in other digital nomad destinations (Thailand, India and Lake Atitlan), and these were good experiences, but this was prior to my discovery of Authentic Relating in 2016.
The problem of starting a Relational Meditation community, and the Boulder Integral style of Circling™
The problem with starting a relational meditation community is that circling doesn’t scale very well. I know that large “flow” circles in the style of Circling Europe and The Relateful company are popular, but I don’t like them. In my world, the optimal size of a circle is 4 to 6 people. From my perspective, circles larger than that lose interest. It’s also much more difficult to lead large circles.
The Boulder Integral style of Circling provides an answer to the problem of the poor scalability of circles. This format allows any number of participants in breakouts of 6 to 8 people, limited only by the space and the availability of trained leaders. Meaning that, a Relational Meditation community can be grown to any size provided that trained leaders be available.
AR games scale very well, but I prefer Relational Meditation to AR games. We run popular AR games here based on the hot seat game, which are almost always fun and deep, but they are not to the same depth as Relational Meditation. For me, Relational Meditation is the primary, go-to practice of Authentic Relating, the “golden goose”.
I learned Circling in the fall of 2016 at the Boulder Integral Center when it was still operating, and it blew my mind. I have written about this, and what an extraordinary experience that was, in my latest book, Relational Power. In the Boulder Integral style of circling, you meet in a large group and check-in, negotiate breakouts in Open Space Technology format, circle in your breakouts, and then rejoin the main group for checkouts. Once we get rolling here in Mexico we will probably run 2-hour events consisting of a whole-group check-in, the negotiations of the breakouts (there should be a beginner breakout at every event), and 1 ½ hour circles with up to 6 participants.
This format requires trained peer leaders or leader teams, normally a primary lead and support lead. Our plan, if and when we get started here, is to split the total income of the evening between the primary leads. The income here in Mexico is not large, maybe $40-60 per evening for each primary leader, but it’s very motivating for the leaders and it’s also “karmically correct” that the leaders be compensated. I would lead the beginner breakout.
Final reflections: Authentic Relating as a socially disruptive paradigm
Despite the ultimate success of introducing AR into the community where I landed, this was not an easy task. I have learned a lot through the process and I want to say a few “words to the wise” for anyone attempting such a venture.
It starts with the realization that Authentic Relating is a socially disruptive paradigm. It changes the rules of relationship (essentially it makes them explicit rather than unspoken), and hence is likely to generate some resistance in an existing community — a community that has been relating by different rules until now.
Here is an example.
There is a thing that can happen in community called “in/out”. When there is a group of people who hang out together a lot having fun, and this group is seen as exclusive, it can generate resentment. In my case, since this model requires hand-picking my students, and we were obviously having fun, this is what happened. Some people complained to the management and my programs came under scrutiny. There was no way around this for me, as leading circling to beginners is difficult and not the way I want to go. Leading PRL’s (4-week courses in a committed group) is the best leadership training I can deliver. Now, finally, after 4 months I am leading beginner groups. But I would not be doing this without the support I got from my original group, and receive ongoingly. They are all rock-stars to me.
On top of this, when questions of money, power and prestige arise, things naturally get dicey. Even the global Authentic Relating community has been affected by this. It would be nice if we all got along better than we do. The funny thing is that we, supposed Authentic Relating leaders, fight among ourselves as much as anybody else.