3 years with circling

A few days ago I came home from the SAS training with Circling Europe, the 1st of 3 four day circling trainings that will happen in Amsterdam over the next 6 months. I did a similar training course back in 2015, but this time I was going to have a slightly different position as a “training leader” in training – what might best be described as some sort of apprenticeship, testing my leadership in action.

The day before the training started we had a preparation day, where the team met and connected over our thoughts and feelings about the training. Going into the SAS training I holding two rather paradoxical truths/tensions.

1. Everybody is the same and share the same human condition and should thus be treated the same…but everybody is also different with unique stories, lives and cultures and should be treated as individuals.

2. I have travelled these paths (of circling) before and have made maps of them and learned or made up principles and methods that can be very useful…but we are travelling a great unknown and the ideas and maps of what is real and possible can be the biggest obstacle for new discoveries.

I had many beautiful experiences with a lot of people during the four days of the training, but here I want to attempt to describe my inner process rather than the outward form. In the following I have tried to describe some of the core experiences/learnings I had during the training.

I am being limited by the idea of “The project”
I came to the training with the idea that something big was going to happen, although not knowing what exactly it was. It connected to starting down a new path, turning my life around and finding new purpose in the world – and to my current project that implies (much) less working, more silence/stillness, more walks in nature, more reading/writing, more practice (taiji, circling, dance) and “building a new world out of relationships”.

The first 2 days of the SAS felt fine for me. It was relatively easy to navigate in the different connections I experienced with other participants and I felt as if I knew what I was doing – as if my circling skill/practice was solid. I did not, however, feel like I got in touch with “the thing that was supposed to happen” and had an increasing sense of urgency.

When trying to share that sense with the group, late on the first day, it felt messy and confused to me. Like I didn’t really get any closer to what it was all about, except from touching a deep longing in me that I couldn’t quite place, but it felt deep and strong. It also reminded me of my “poetic self” that I found in an immersive performance piece by Sisters Academy in august 2017.

Anyway. I felt increasingly frustrated and stressed with “not getting anywhere” myself.

In the afternoon of the third day of the training, after failing in gathering everyone into one big circle, I lay down in front of one of the training leaders and another “leader in training”. When asked what was going on for me I started on a long train of thought: “I am feeling stressed…I have a sense of urgency…my body feels collapsed…I feel jealous that I am not the one connecting with you (the training leader)…I am frustrated that we are not in a big circle…I am bored.” And then I was struck with the realization that the jealousy feeling that I had hidden between random observations actually felt very real and intense in that moment which then “blew my mind” and I was deep in my personal process the rest of the evening.

I noticed how much the idea of the 1 big thing that was going to happen made me disregard the 100 small unrevealed discomforts, uncertainties and annoyances that I am constantly experiencing, because they “weren’t important enough to share”. When this dawned on me it felt as if all these small things made them selves almost unbearingly present – as if my body was being pinched in 100 different places – and I found exciting and uncomfortable opportunities to develop and grow everywhere I looked.

Looking back at this now it seems quite obvious and banal that I was stuck in my idea about something that was going to happen and thus was unable to be with the present moment – and I recognize having been through this process before. It does however also feel like experiencing this again is important and paradoxically that it is a quite “big thing”. I notice a clear difference in how I am able to be with others after this experience. As if I am sharper and can more effortlessly got “under the skin” of the people I am connecting with, because I bring myself and my vulnerabilities into the connection more.

I can use aliveness as a guide
When looking back at this experience of the 100 small vulnerabilities being important, another core learning from the training is coming back to me. To follow that which is alive in the moment and sharing that, rather than backgrounding things because “they are not important enough” (which I was doing and now seems very obvious as a self-defense strategy) or the opposite which is saying everything you experience out loud (which I was also doing in the situation described above) and in that way avoiding going into the experiences of discomfort or uncertainty in the situation.

Looking for aliveness seems to be a core tool for deepening presence and the question “what feels important/alive in you right now” has become much more important in my circling leadership (and self leadership).

I have trouble being with hierarchy, status and recognition
What opened up for me, starting with the reveal that I felt jealous, was my unmet and unaccepted need to be seen. A longing for recognition and the leaders telling me that I was “doing good”, but also a desire to escape move out of the role of participant and to be seen as a friend. After I revealed this I also became more open for the pain and suffering that must be part of leading a practice where thousands of people are holding our their hears to you and demanding your attention, knowing that it is impossible to be with everyone.

Another way is which this came up was around hierarchy and status. When another “leader in training” shared that he felt me as having “low status” in a way that I experienced as very easygoing and relaxed, as if he wasn’t even thinking about it – I felt like ripping of his face! A quite curious reaction for a person (me) that would otherwise describe himself as not being very concerned with things such as hierarchy. Seems like there is some work to be done….

The unintegrated need for recognition seem to be pervasive in my life. I have a longing for recognition, but have a tendency of downplaying this desire. I am terribly bad at receiving compliments and will very easily go into shyness or play the “humble wise man”  who doesn’t need the recognition and in that distance myself from what I am actually feeling. I find that there is some important work for me in staying “in” when someone is expressing appreciation for me, rather than trying to escape.

Writing this now I wonder if what I experience as a need for recognition really is just a cover for a deeper need for expressions of love…and in that about loving myself. I recall a conversation I had just before going to the SAS bringing up the theme of “maybe I should forgive myself”.

I am lonely because I am holding myself
Another thing that came up was how important it seems to be for me to be able to “hold myself” and not depend on others. The positive side of this is integrity and the ability to manifest myself in the world. The shadow is the loneliness and feeling that I can never fully rest in/with anyone. During the SAS training this loneliness became very present for me and it is something I wish to go deeper in. How can I allow myself to rest in/with others and let go of the self-defense?

Other people don’t know how I feel.
Several times during the SAS training I felt surprised when the response to me revealing something was “oh, I didn’t realize that” because it is so painfully obvious for me what I am thinking and feeling – but apparently not to others.

I experience myself as vulnerable, soft, in need of love and I approach the world as if other people already (and obviously! It is so clear!) know this.

When I was writing about my need for recognition in an earlier paragraph I was about to write “I long to be seen as an individual – as I am” and realized that it is my responsibility to show who I am – and that others cannot see me as I am, if I do not actively show it.

I could hold people more, while I circle with them
The last learning I am bringing with me from the SAS training is the experience that I have become very sharp, when it comes to pointing out what is going on for others. My felt sense that something is not quite right, that there are hidden layers of emotion etc. has developed quite a lot and I am often able to sharply point out what is going on – something I am rather proud of.

“Be an instrument in the service of connection.”



I do however have e tendency to be too hard in my sharings. When I am not being with people (in the heart) it leads to me being judgmental…even though the experience that something is uncomfortable/disgusting/problematic is correct, it becomes distorted in the interpretation where I make it wrong and judge the person rather than being with them in their experience.

The learning edge for me is to become better at holding people while I share what I experience as the truth.

I feel quite fresh after coming home. I feel that I have been more open and present with the people I have been around and more curious about all the small things i notice in the connections with others. I feel excited about bringing circling even more into my everyday life.