One year of circling

Written in july 2016

I found circling around a year ago. My love Ronja had tried it once in Oslo and recommended it. I signed up for the upcoming workshops in Copenhagen, not knowing what to expect. I don’t remember much of the weekend, but I remember being fascinated and that something had changed in me afterwards. Ronja and I went to another event in Oslo together and after that I signed up for Circling Europes SAS, a 6 month training for people who want to go deeper into circling practice. In February 2016 I finished the SAS and was certified as a circling facilitator. I have run circles in my home around every second week since December 2015.

Circling is a practice that revolves around connection, presence and intimacy between people. It involves bringing a greater awareness and appreciation into our connections with others by focusing on what is happening in the now. It is about surrendering to what is true in the ever expanding moment by noticing and sharing what is happening in ourselves and others, rather than analyzing and assuming.

You can also check out these introductions:

(the pictures in the post are from the Authentic Relating Festival 2016 in Copenhagen and are not of circling practice, I just thought that the post needed some illustrations.)

Here is an attempt to share what I have learned during the last year:

Why I do circling
I do circling because it allows me to connect to the world (mostly people) around me at what I consider to be a deeper and truer level. Circling for me is constant (or at least often present) guideline when I relate to people – I thus consider it to be a practice that I want to be present in all the relating I do.

A central contribution circling has given to my life is the courage to (more often) speak what is present in me in the moment – that is, what I am thinking, feeling or sensing – what is true for me, even though it might be uncomfortable. I have found that this sharing of my inner life can have a profound effect in many relationships often with a strong feeling of “depth”. The same goes for speaking what I notice outside of myself and trusting that. Surprisingly often I find that people I relate to feel met, when I tell them what I notice about their behavior, their way of speaking or being.

In personal relations I have found circling to help me be with people instead of judging them. For me it often concretely connects to situations where someone is telling me about problems. Where earlier versions of me might have tried to help, suggested solutions or “rational” paths to take I these days tend to stay with the person and express how what they are saying/doing impacts me or going into a curious (and maybe compassionate) mode of “oh, how is that for you”, something I have heard described as experiencing me “standing beside them”. This video seems to go into the same field.

Facilitating circling
I facilitate circling partly because I enjoy to be in the circles myself and partly because I like to introduce more people to the practice. Also, even though I find the most important part of the circling practice to revolve around personal connections in everyday life, facilitated circles with 5-40 people present can be really powerful and profound experiences. For me this is because of the amount of energy (perspectives/worldviews) being brought into the situation by the increased number of people.

Circling for me is about figuring out what it is like to be someone else than me, while showing what it is like to be me. When I facilitate my perspective is that I am (or might be) more experienced and potentially more skilled in the particular practice of doing this that the other participants and that it thus makes sense that I hold space for others to practice. For me, a good facilitator is simply a person who is good at being with what is. There are no mysterious powers in play and “technique” is for me far less important than just being present.

Principles or preferences
Circling Europe teaches 5 principles in circling. The more I have circled the more I find that principles are hard to handle – for me as well as for the participants. The framing of “rules” or principles makes participants in circles frustrated as they try to “do it right” and frankly I have never managed to remember all the principles when I tried – at least not without finding myself struggling and leaving what was going on in the attempt to bring the principles to life.

That said. What I write below is strongly connected to the principles of Circling Europe. It is just my own words for how I prefer doing circling. For me it makes sense to talk about preferences – that is, how I prefer the connection with others in a circle, if I want to meet them in their and my truth.

I have a preference for me and others staying with what is true in the present moment. That means not trying to escape possible discomfort (something I find myself doing quite often in everyday situations) but rather trying to stay with the connection and explore what it means that you are uncomfortable, angry, sad, happy, nervous, confused or whatever it is.

I find that I often hide behind my questions. The best examples I have is the tendency to ask “do you need anything” which puts everything on the one I am asking. My preference in circling is to try to reveal my own truth, which in this case would mean to say something like “I am uncomfortable with the pain you are in and want to help you” or something similar. Thus “owning experience” is central and important for me when circling – and this means that it is vital to reveal what is happening to me.

It also means figuring out if there is a deeper truth to what I am saying. Very often, when I experience people reacting “negatively”, rashly, strongly or not understanding me I find that I can go a level deeper in myself and find a deeper truth than what I just revealed. Not being met in this way can be a great way of going deeper and revealing even more of my world.

I have a preference for working with descriptions rather than evaluations. I enjoy sharing descriptions of sensations, feelings and thoughts of what is going on both on the inside and outside of me. This means moving from a place of “rational” thinking into a space of awareness and noticing what is going on it the body as well as in the mind. For me it also entails a curiosity of what is happening for others, based on how I experience them through my body-being. This also means that circling can often be as much about relating through touch or other senses as relating through words.

“Be the salt”
Finally I find it important to tell the participants that they are not required to do anything during a circle – apart from staying with what is true in the moment. For this I like to use an analogy made by the great martial artist and zen teacher Peter Ralston.

”If you were one ingredient in the making of a dish, say the salt in a soup, then you must apply yourself to the soup (the condition arising) wholly and in the right proportion. To not apply yourself would be to not surrender to the making of the dish. To over-apply yourself would be to destroy the dish to further the exclusive demands of the self…Whether you are demanded of more or less is not seen as a rating of your value. As salt, your value lies in the whole condition arising, the soup.”

For me, there is a great importance in emphasizing that there is nothing wrong with speaking/doing a lot or doing very little in a circle – it all depends on “the soup”, what is present in the moment. Sometimes you are needed to open or expand the moment, sometimes you are needed to hold it without action. Figuring out if you should apply yourself more or less can only be done by being aware of what is true in the situation. And you are the only one who can do that for you.

Do this at home
One of my central fears connected to circling is that the practice stays in the seminar and workshop rooms. I have experienced people, who seem to use circling as a form of escapism – they come to seminars wanting to express that which they cannot in everyday life and they do so, but after the seminar they return to the reality they came from, unable or unwilling to be with what is there for them. It scares me that circling (and similar practices) for some seems to develop into addiction – at some point it becomes necessary to go to the seminars to have an outlet for all the bottled up emotions, sensations and thoughts that has no outlet in everyday life.

(this is of course only based on my prejudice and reading of other people, but it feels true and important for me to warn against this danger).

For me it is vital that circling seminars are more than the experience itself. It is a learning experience that provides important keys for changing and challenging ourselves in to be more present, alive and true in our everyday lives – it is a place to learn about and experiment with how we can relate more authentically as human beings.

That is why, for me, it is vital that circling is not seen as yet another self-development practice that can be consumed until the next new fad comes along (no practice makes sense if it is approached as a consumer product), but rather as a lived practice – a life practice. Something that should be integrated into my doing and being. The seminars and workshops are excellent for getting new energy and inspiration for your practice, but they are not what is important. It is not necessarily easy to bring the circling principles into everyday life, but for me it is where the gold is. And that is why I say “do this at home” – practice with friends, have your own circling evenings, find someone else like yourself who has a strong desire or need for honesty and presence. You don’t need certified circling facilitators to explore yourself in relation to others – what you really need is to practice whenever it is possible.

Authentic Denmark
In Denmark we are now starting to build the Authentic Denmark community. We are updating a calendar over Authentic Relating seminars and workshops in Denmark and have a Community group on facebook, where people can share their experiences or find other people to practice with. With this community we want to bring the practices into our lives.