different shoes in a circle

Circling – way more than fun

1280 1250 Elisabeth Karsten

With utter delight my physiotherapist recounted his participation in a Circling workshop while he was working on my ankle. He described weird group dynamics, stray discussions and strange contents of conversations. He ended his account with a wistful sigh and the words: “Circling is wonderful and sometimes awful”.

I hadn´t understood a word of what he had said. But his enthusiasm and his final remark made me curious. When I got an invitation to a Circling weekend in Berlin via facebook a few weeks later, I signed up.

Plunging into the deep end of Circling

The two facilitators of the event, Jan Holzhauer and Romeck van Zeijl choose tons of practical exercises to impart it. I soon understood why: to explain circling is much like teaching swimming in the desert. You´ve got to be in the water and experience yourself, to grasp it. The theory and the verbal explanation of the five principles helps little. Only in the application do they unfold their potential. Unexpected feelings and insights emerge.

I found the unfamiliar way of conversing exhausting at first. I´m often proud of my ability to grasp things quickly, express them clearly and be witty on top. But with all this I failed. As well as with my tendency to give recommendations or offer solutions. It was about something completely different.

Circling means  so far unusual principles of communication

The British founders of the organization Circling Europe John Thompson and Sean Wilkinson have identified five circling principles. Slowly I began to grasp and embrace them:

Commitment to Connection

Which I loosely translate as connection is more important than content. That means dropping all power games for they are all directed towards separation.

Owning your Experience

For me this means everybody is responsible for their own perception – everything else is assumption or interpretation.

Staying with the Level of Sensation

Means to me sticking to what´s happening at the very moment, especially physically, emotionally and only then mentally.

Trusting Experience

For me it is trusting what´s just happening, even though I might perceive things that my mind would normally discount as erroneous. But this can be the signpost to something greater.

Being with the Other in Their World

Following the other into his world means to me, to meet the other with as little prejudice as possible and not wanting to change anything but simply surrendering to what wants to happen at the moment.

And personally I would add being as present as possible – for if you´re not 100 % present, you might miss out on tiniest impulses and sometimes the biggest movement occurs in moments of shared silence, but maximum awareness.

Amazed, I realized that Circling not only implies a different way of communicating but also a different way of being.

In Circling the moment is more important than the ego of the conversationalists

Stunned I noticed that in Circling the opposite happens of what were are used to in most of our everyday conversations. In Circling you say what you mean and mean what you say. As honestly and attentively as possible. It´s also never about the attached “stories” and the explanations why you feel the way you feel. It´s also of no interest what lead up to it and how it can be changed. It´s all about naming the feeling and experiencing it. Starting point is usually a bodily sensation, then a feeling and sometimes even a thought are assigned to it.

Change happens by the conscious experience in the presence of a witness

The more truthfully this is done, the faster and the more sustainable. So it is clearly not about taking a stand on something or offer an interpretation and even a solution. It is merely about the experience you have, while you listen to the experience of the other. Thus both become witness to the experience of the other. The shared and directly experienced truth has a liberating effect on both. The very moment itself is the clincher. What´s happening now? In you, in me, in us? What wants to be seen, what wants to be woven by us together or rather through us? The moments between the spoken words are often the most rich in content.

Circling is healing and sacred at the same time

Circling is actually not process oriented and yet an incredible lot happens. Furthermore the principles are not rules, but rather helpful orientation. However, in guarding them, a strong sense of trust even intimacy can emerge in very short time. In the common striving to be as authentic as possible, all is allowed – as long as you are aware of it.

In my experience so far this means you come closer to your own core and that of the other. This can be very moving and nourishing. Sometimes it even reveals a sacred quality. You can meet with the other in all innocence, vulnerability and truth.

To my regret there was no possibility to continue Circling in Berlin and so I signed up for an online class with Circling Europe.

Circling also works in the virtual space

Initially I was sceptic whether it was possible to create such an intensive base of trust in a virtual space. But the willingness of the participants as well as the gentle guidance by Marysia Pstrokonska and Philipp Watson made it possible. I actually found their demonstrations of circling together a lot more instructive than the explanation of the principles.

Two core formats in Circling

Circling contains two core practices. One is the so-called “Birthday-Circle”. That means you are in the center of attention of all the other group members and are reflected by all of them. The other is the “Surrendered Leadership” whereby the conversation is always lead by the one who currently speaks.

This is a bit reminiscent of the speech ritual in men´s groups, which in turn was inspired by indigenous cultures. It is the practice of picking up the talking stick if you want to say something. But there is no talking stick in Circling.

It´s a bit like navigating through a big and unknown city without a navigation system or map trying to find the botanical gardens… You massively train your perception, intuition, awareness and also patience and humour!

Circling outside Circling

If you´ve been steeled by this, you might enjoy what experienced circlers call Guerilla Circling. It means you apply the principles without your partner in conversation knowing about it. This can quickly lead to a rather strange exchange like: “Sorry, I´m late, somebody snatched the parking spot right in front of my nose.” “When I hear you say that I feel an itch in my right leg, a warm feeling rises from my belly and my chest widens and I feel closer to you.”

Circling is unfathomably stimulating

Circling can actually become an addiction. Because of the immediacy, the usually benevolent attention of another, the truthfulness in expression and the enormous intimacy that arise. Oftentimes a degree of trust and intimacy becomes noticeable that otherwise is only experienced with close friends or a partner.

To direct the focus towards the bodily sensations that arise in the encounter with the other often activates the Eros. Not necessarily because there is actual sexual attraction between the partners in conversation, but rather because good Circling in itself is a creative act. For in the conscious togetherness something completely new can emerge and the participants involved experience a shift.

Circling is by now a worldwide trend

As sometimes when something new wants to be born into the world the “Circling muse” kissed several people in the US in the midnineties. Initially in the San Francisco Bay area and in Missouri, then the spark jumped to Colorado, then to Texas and by now it´s continuously spreading everywhere.

Even the term Circling cannot be ascribed to only one inventor. Especially since it is defined differently by the various circlers. The story of origin is somewhat convoluted. For the various practicioners have all influenced each other and draw inspirations from the same and partly from different sources. Generally it can be said that “Circling” and “Authentic Relating Games” have been developing their own gestalt over the last twenty years and that the various instructors continuously shape their own form.

Circling means striving for lived authenticity

The community experiences during Burning Man, the practice of American men´s groups and the impact of the speech culture of native American Powwos on those, the culture of encounter groups of the sixties and the more modern violent free communication according to Marshall B. Rosenberg have all had an impact on Circling. Furthermore tons of practice – apparently always starting with a ‘basic duo’.

This also applies to the aforementioned British men. John Thompson and Sean Wilkinson discovered Circling in 2002. At the time they were running a tennis academy and practiced it 24 hours a day together. Their shared enthusiasm for the integral theory of Ken Wilber, whose teaching in turn impacted the circling format in Boulder, flowed into the development of their format. They finally founded Circling Europe based in Amsterdam in 2012. On this platform they offer various online courses. By clicking on Circling Anywhere you can – if you want – circle around the clock. Thanks to the offers in various time zones and countries. The only prerequisite is the ability to speak English and the payment of the monthly fee of US$ 50.

A great side effect is that there are already active circlers in over twenty countries. Usually most of the events are openly accessible. So it´s a little bit like an international fitness franchise – for the soul. And if you cannot do it physically, you can always turn to the virtual alternative. Even there longterm contacts and friendships are being created.

Circling has enormous future potential

I believe Circling has an enormous future potential and can be taken much further. The high number of interested circlers on the CE –platform alone, the broad and well made use of course offers, as well as the international popularity show that the need is ever growing. In only four years Circling Europe expanded into 20 countries.

Maybe it will also eventually change our communication style in general – independently of our origin, age, degree and status. The only prerequisite is a common language, the willingness to apply the Circling principles and the courage to present yourself as honestly as you can. And as strange as it may sound: of all things it´s the internet, a virtual medium, that allows us a return to the experience of our own truth and genuine expression of it. If you want it.

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