Circling and learning edges

I just came back from the third and last immersion in my second SAS training with Circling Europe. For me 2018 has been very much about stepping more clearly into the circling practice and leading at a new level. I have been organizing 3 circling weekends in Copenhagen with very positive feedback and have also really enjoyed holding this space myself. This last part of the SAS also connected a lot to my leadership in circling – and in some ways less about my personal process, although those two are deeply intertwined. Generally my experience of this last weekend was of stepping more fully into trust of myself and the practice.

On the last day of the training I got to lead a surrendered leadership circle and get some valuable feedback on my leadership from the participants and two of the SAS leaders. I have tried to integrate this feedback in my reflections over my ”learning edges” towards the end of this post. However, first I have tried to bring my current understanding of what circling and circling leadership means.



What is circling?

It seems quite central to the practice that this question can never be fully answered. It is an ever evolving entity that can maybe best be described as a microcosm – or just as an exploration of life through new maps.

Circling is a practice where we bring presence, aliveness and vulnerability into connection with a group. It is very much about revealing our authentic humanness, what we are actually experiencing, in every moment. This allows for some very deep meeting as we suddenly can feel seen without our shields and really see others in their vulnerable beauty.

Circling is an exploration of unknown (or partially known) relational landscapes. The practice entails traversing these (co-created) landscapes together, based on maps (mental  or embodied concepts, understandings, practices and habits) that has either been handed down to us or ones we have made ourselves on our previous journeys.

Circling implies trusting the maps I have, while also knowing that the maps are not the territory. We are traveling the a great unknown and any map will always be a reduction of the complexity we share – it is only the best available map at the moment. So while i find that there are ways to navigate circling more skillfully I try to be careful not to get stuck in the belief that I have found the correct way of doing it.

What does it mean to lead a circle?
As circling fundamentally is a practice directed towards developing better sell-leadership, it can be a bit difficult to make sense of leadership in this practice. My perspective would be that everybody is practicing leadership, but some are holding the space in which to do so and that changes their role – it is not that they are not participating as everyone else, but rather that they are exercising leadership in addition to participating.

My personal perspective on leading has changed quite a lot over the last years. From a position where I refused to accept the idea of being a leader, but rather (over)emphasized the co-created quality of the practice to now feeling more and more in touch with what I am holding and bringing when I am a part of organizing circling events. These days I find that to “be an instrument in the service of connection” I must trust and bring myself fully while also surrendering to what is happening in the whole group and the fact that there is a bigger emergent wisdom present, than what I can bring.

For me a good metaphor for leading circling is co-creating a painting. The leader makes a frame (the magic circle) by inviting others to partake in the event. The leader also often brings the first brush stroke (the context setting) by inviting others to partake in the immediate shared space. This double invitation is closing and opening at the same time. It is directed and limiting (convergent) to create a specific frame that is different from the surrounding world, while at the same time being radically open for co-creation and for the world to be brought in (divergent). I entertain the thought of seeing this style of leadership as a shamanistic move – creating (liminal) space for different experiences of reality.

Maps: Layers of presence and connection
Circling seems to be layered for me. I need to be with a number of different perspectives on reality at the same time. It seems that they dont all have to be equally present at all times, but that it becomes problematic if I loose connection to any one of them at any point. So these are some of the maps I use to be in and lead circling spaces.

1. Noticing and being with own embodied state.
This is about connecting to how I really feel and what deeply matters for me in this moment. Quite often this requires ”stepping back” and noticing that whatever seems to be a problem right now actually has everything to do with me and nothing to do with the situation as such. For example I can not only reveal that I feel ”annoyed that we are starting late” but also that ”I long to start circling again now, but I don’t trust that I will be able to lead it”.

This also connects to the principles of ”trusting experience”, ”owning experience” and ”staying with the level of sensation”. Revealing ambivalence can be part of this (”I am feeling fear, but I also seem to like what you are saying). Allowing myself to feel the impact of what others say and do, even thought it might seem insignificant at first (”is there hurt?”, ”is there a no?”). Feeling into the sensations to see if there is anything that wants to be seen or heard rather than explaining why it is there (”maybe this resistance can teach me something that I haven’t realized yet”) and moving from vagueness to clear transmissions of that which deeply matters, although this often feels uncomfortable. This also connects to inhabiting the emotion rather than just ”telling on myself” or ”confessing”.

2. Sensing into the whole group.
How does the collective space feel. This also connects to the principle of ”commitment to connection”. Trusting that everything can be brought in connection. Holding a transcendent principle that ”we are in this together and we are on the same side” that allows anger, desire, fear, resentment and the full range of other emotions and expressions to be brought into the space. Not making any expression wrong and trusting that what happens in every moment has value – including frustration, boredom or aggression.

3. Moving with aliveness
Allowing my attention to move around in the group, following my curiosity and what feels alive to guide me in the unknown. For me this is about really going into the complexity and mystery of the other. This also connects to the principle of ”staying with the other in their world”. For me this is very much about ”moving with uncertainty”. Allowing myself to to somewhere when I feel called to do so, even if I don’t know why I feel that way. Trusting that the small hunches and desires (I often refers to this as sparks of aliveness) I feel in the space are worth exploring and can lead to valuable experiences both for me and others.

4. Trusting my own leadership
Trusting my leadership and the perspective I bring. Trusting that my own wisdom is valuable in the space. One aspect of this that I am working on is staying with love for the people in the circle while also bringing my truth instead of “leaning back” and just allowing the participants to do their own thing – this often feels very comfortable for me, but I can see that opportunity for magic to happen if I dare to bring myself more.

5. Surrendering to the wisdom of the circle
Trusting the wisdom of the circle as a whole and in that feeling my own inadequacy. There is something to be trusted in every moment, every moment is perfect in some sense and brings opportunity for me and the circle to ”be solved” or to learn what we need to learn. This perspective also implies a deep trust when there is something that I don’t understand in a situation and is pointing to a curiosity of the unknown. Leading from my own truth, attention and aliveness while also being open to being led by the larger wisdom of the moment.

6. Holding a permeable container
Holding the circle as a container, that separates it from the world while also making the circle permeable, so the whole world can be brought in.



Learning edges

Circling is a never ending process of discovery for me. In the following paragraphs I have tried to make visible some of the new discoveries that I am working on integrating.

The elegant self
When I wrote about my experiences at the second weekend of the SAS training ( I ended it with these words.

A thing that came up a lot during the training days was a longing to stop fighting. By that I mean leaving the trap of being a part in some battle between good and bad, right and wrong but rather bringing consciousness to what is instead. I am not completely sure what this means in practice, but it feels very alive in me and like something I wish to follow in the times to come.

In the week before this training I was reading ”the elegant self” by Rob Mcnammara and felt very inspired by some of the perspectives and concepts from the book. One of the core concepts has to do with ”stepping out of polarity” and thus seeing a greater complexity as I am not entrenched in a fixed position – for me this matched very nicely with the my longing to ”stop fighting”. I feel inspired by questioning what is left out by my own systems of meaning-making and thus the potential to see and live in a richer world.

For me this connects to taiji, daoism and Yin and Yang – polarities go together (arise mutually) rather than being opposites. Skillful navigation (and circling leadership) implies not being fully invested in any side of a polarity, but rather choosing the application (what to do) based on the situation rather than based on belief in what action is better in some predetermined way. Examples: Is it better to listen more or talk more when leading a circle? Is it better to move or to be still?

The question that arises is ”how do you know what is right to do in the moment if there are no absolute points of orientation and no truth”.  The answer seems to be that you have to have trust and surrender to what feels true in the immediacy of the moment – what wants to emerge.

Mcnamara emphasizes inadequacy and incompleteness as important and valuable qualities for human existence, that are often left out as we (at least i certainly know myself to do that) want to stay in th more comfortable ”good enough” and ”complete” end of the polarity. I do however see great value in allowing myself to be more in touch with my own limitedness.

Another part of the book that inspired me was his conceptualization of embodiment, which he divides into embracing, inhabiting and moving. For me this is useful to think about how I am bringing myself into a situation. I can do so by pointing to what is happening for me (embracing), but also by allowing myself to really feel the emotion rather than just saying that it is there (inhabiting) and furthermore by bringing it into connection (moving). In general I really enjoyed reading this book and it has given me plenty of material to work with, in circling and in life in general, and I can warmly recommend it.



Another piece of theory I have been inspired by and which for me makes sense in circling is the Cynefin framework, which was developed as a tool for identification of complexity. The key point for me is that circling leadership, when it is powerful, moves in the complex sphere of ”unknown unknowns”. This implies trusting in the emergent nature of the situation and moving with what is alive in every moment, surrendering to the unknown and experimenting with what is possible. However I notice that I do quite often stay in the complicated sphere of ”known unknowns” where I navigate based on already existing frameworks of what is happening and what is possible – analyzing what is happening and applying variations of already known ”solutions” to what is going on.



Staying with love
During this weekend I had an interesting experience that there always seems to be an opportunity to choose love when being in connection. It seems to be about what I bring. If I bring my fears (”I feel stuck”, ”I am uncomfortable right now”) the situation will move in one direction, but if i bring my love (”I really want to be closer to you right now, but I don’t know how to”) it will move in another. What struck me was that the sense of love is always there.

Interestingly this also opened for thinking about how I am with the different people in the circle and the importance of staying with my love for the one that is being circled or has the attention in any given moment while also staying with love for everyone else in the group. I noticed that I can have a slight tendency of forgetting this when I feel that someone is being attacked or seems overwhelmed and that there is a risk of me making the one bringing the ”attack” wrong.

A very fundamental part of circling, which I do not always find easy to be with, is trusting that whatever is happening in the moment is the right thing. When I am able to really trust what is going on it does however allow me to be more fully present both with myself and everyone else. The core idea for me around trust is that there are always good reasons in us for doing what we are doing. The stories we hold of ourselves, our judgements and our habits are all helping us to be who we are right now – and by softly exploring these aspects of ourselves it seems to me that we can often see ourselves in a new light – and paradoxically change who we are. Exploring what is present (rather than making it a problem to be solved) allows us to ”be solved by the moment”.

Structure, leadership and embodiment
Some of the feedback I received was about structure vs. Freedom when leading circles. These days I often go for less structured circles with little context setting from my side. I tend to like the confusion and discomfort that often occurs in circles with little context setting as it often enables the participants to access some of their conception around how to act or behave in ”spiritual” spaces and step more into self-leadership. However I can see the risk of buying too much into this idea and can see the potential to bring more structure and context through my leadership.

More importantly however, I can see the potential to bring myself more into the circles I lead. I notice that I have a tendency of ”leaning back” and waiting for something to happen, rather than bringing myself in with a clear context – letting the circle move on its own with me sort of ”floating above the waters”. It seems that I am much more comfortable with being with others in their world than with bringing my own world into play. I know that my leadership is good, but at the same time there is a fear that the whole of me is not welcome and that people will not like me if I bring myself more fully in.

I have i feeling that I can almost physically ”jump into deeper surrender” by allowing myself to embody what is happening for me more and moving with it. The potential is to bring myself in full vulnerability, which for me often connects to daring to say something that could be judged as authoritarian – trusting that I have some wisdom to bring.

Lineage and community
Another question I got in the feedback was if I felt a sense of lineage when I was leading. What came to me then was that I largely feel alone, but also an image of the possibility to lead from a perspective where a lot of people where standing behind me in support. There seems to be a resistance in me around “being part of” something, as if that would reduce my ability to be fully me – like I would loose something. At the same time I also have a longing for support and for being able to take part in co-creating bigger manifestations in the world.



We have more in common than what divides us
I wrote this in my notebook recently and it seems to become more and more true for me. Even though all humans have their own individual histories and paths there seems to be a lot of core qualities that we all share, but rarely speak about.

Most people seem to share a deep need to be seen and a fear of showing ourselves. Many people also  seem to have parts of themselves that they find so ugly, that they believe that people will feel disgusted and turn away if they are shown. This seems to be a fundamental pain in many of us – often at a level where we aren’t able to see it before it shows up. In addition it seems to me that many of us learn to harbor resentment towards others for not seeing us, even though we are actually never willing to reveal what it really going on for us.

There also seems to be some gendered pains that come up often in circling spaces. Men seem to have trouble expressing emotions that come of as “not being strong or composed” – showing their vulnerability. Many women seem to have trouble expressing aliveness, joy and recklessness – showing their life force.

That humans share some fundamental pains is not really news (it seems to be the key point in many religious systems), but circling (and some other related practices) has made me see this in a much more real and pragmatic light. I can see patterns in behavior in circling spaces that are interesting, but of course not true in any absolute sense. However I do think that a learning edge for me is to be more with that which we have in common and less with the stuff that divides us.

I hope to be spending far more time immersed in this practice in the years to come.

All the love