I still remember the first time I went to a thing called an authentic relating circle. It was more than 3 years ago. I was in Bali, trying to figure out what to do with my life after quitting my IT job. A person I’d just met told me I should really really REALLY go to that circle. When I asked him what we are going to do there he said he can’t really explain it. This is one of the things you need to experience rather than understand, he said. I decided to trust him – after all, I’d come here to explore and discover new things.
I remember sitting in a beautiful yoga shala in nature with 15 other people one Monday evening. I remember a strong feeling of coming home. After all these years trying to fit into some society- and self-imposed boxes of confidence, rationality, steadiness, drivenness and seriousness, suddenly I realised… There was nothing wrong with me! I was just in the wrong context. A context in which my strengths of emotionality, intuition, sensitivity and connection seemed to be not so relevant and useful. And here I was, using them to heal myself and learn and grow with others in a deeply meaningful and beautiful way.
Ever since that evening I’ve been returning to this practice in group and intimate spaces at each opportunity I had. I also took the practice with me everywhere I went where it wasn’t already running. I have hosted circles in Bulgaria, Romania, Peru, Gutemala, as well as online, in the Deep Adaptation Forum and in the Connection Playground. It is based on that experience and the work of Circling Europe that I share the basics of this work.
What is Authentic Relating and what is Circling?
Authentic Relating is a set of tools that allow us to cultivate connection with others on the basis of openness, vulnerability and truth speaking. Circling is one of those tools that and it is defined as a relational meditation practice and it is the focus of this article. In circling, similar to meditation, we sit and observe what emerges in body, mind, emotion and spirit in the present moment. However, we do so in the context of relating with others.
As we voice what we find within ourselves in the present moment and hear others do the same, we have the chance to see and heal things that won’t necessarily arise in solitary practice, in a space of deep vulnerability and ownership.
It is absolute magic what authentic relating has done for me, in reconnecting to the rawness of presence and the courage to voice the truth that emerges from it. I am forever grateful to Tara Li and Circling Europe for introducing me to this work and inspiring me with their approach. In this article my intention is to share with you a little bit more about authentic relating and circling and offer you a few resources to get you going or practicing some more. If developing your authenticity and presence in relating with others is something you wish to focus on or explore, read on.
Setting the space
If you are new to authentic relating and wish to experience it, the best bet would be to join one of the many circles hosted by Circling Europe or in the Connection Playground.There, you will be guided through it by experienced space holders. If you have done some practice, you might wish to take it along with you and explore with a friend, a partner, a group. In such case, you probably know it is good to make sure you have a safe and quiet space where you will not be disturbed. See if you want to set a timeframe for how long you’d like to do this together for. Then you can introduce the principles below to open the space. They are also available in the video above, along with a in-the-moment demo of the practice.
5 Principles of Circling
1. Commitment to connection
It’s about making a commitment to keep returning to presence here and now, to bringing awareness to what goes on within ourselves as we relate with others. This requires us to observe and notice what happens in our bodies, minds and emotions as we face the other or the group and hear their shares. It also means noticing disconnection when it occurs and getting curious about it. We might even choose to follow that impulse to disconnect by turning inwards or even walking away from our spot. In such case, it is important we maintain our awareness on what is happening here and now in our relationship with ourselves and the other(s).
2. Being with our sensations
One huge difference between circling and standard communication is the attention we place on our bodies, as a source of embodied truth and wisdom. What are the sensations we notice within us? What can they tell us about what we are experiencing right now? What can they tell us about the impact another’s share is having on us? Being with the body also means allowing the body to express itself in movement, voice, gesture, posture, oftentimes without a clear idea as to why we do what we do. We can trust it is not only what our body needs, but can also look for guidance, for another reading into the what’s happening right now through what we discover in the wisdom of our bodies.
3. Any energy is welcome
As we allow ourselves to be present and speak from a deeper, more vulnerable space, different energies and emotions will stir. They can be joyful, playful, loving and caring, but there also can be boredom, fear, anger, sadness. All emotions are welcome to be felt and to be expressed. In offline setting, the only rule is for no physical violence without consent. Which means that conflict is also welcome. If it arises, it is a great opportunity to step back and observe what is being triggered in such a situation, so that our presence with it can do its healing.
4. Being with the other in their world
In circling, we take turns to speak and as we do, we listen and hold space for the other to share and only speak when they are finished. While they speak, we keep observing, noticing how what they are sharing impacts us. Once they are done speaking we can reflect that impact, telling them what we noticed in our bodies, emotions and thoughts as they spoke. We can also inquire into their experience for any clarifications or curiosities we have, as long as they help you and them understand what is going on for them here and now.
5. Owning our experience
Last, but not least, we see the others as mirrors for ourselves, taking ownership of our experience and perceptions. What that means is we don’t advise or caretake or get busy figuring out the other. We can notice the impulses to do so, as well as our judgements and projections. We can inquire into what they say about us, rather than about the other! We know what we are experiencing is not about the other and bring everything back home to ourselves, what is the piece we bring to the table?
1. Observe. If the principles are too many to hold and you get lost at any point, just come back to what you are observing inside yourself, as you would during meditation.
2. Slow down. It is important to allow for a slower pace and silence both within and between your shares. It is necessary in order to really connect with what’s happening in your entire being when speaking from immediate experience.
3. Use sentence starters. If you are new to this work, it can help to use the phrases in the start of your share:
– Being with you here now I notice…
– Hearing you say this I notice…
Resources & opportunities to learn
If you are interested in learning more, I am hosting an intimate group space online, starting this Friday and running for 5 weeks. Each week, we explore one of the principles listed above in more detail with different one-on-one and small group practices and practice some circling. We also have the opportunity to pair up and practice together in between group sessions. I also host authentic relating circles in the Connection Playground fairly regularly, so keep an eye on it. Have a look at Circling Europe. They have a schedule full of online gatherings and lots of wonderful free resources, courses and opportunities to learn more about this work. There are other organisations in the US doing this work, eg. The Circling Institute, but I have little experience of them and can’t offer a recommendation. If you feel like getting more playful with different tools from the wide variety of practices that go under the Authentic Relating umbrella, check out this guidebook by Sarah Ness.
Authentic relating is not about understanding, it is about practicing. And just like any other good practice, the more you do it, the more you get it and the more it pays off. And boy, does authentic relating pay off. As authenticity and truth speaking sink into you, everything changes. Your intimate relationship. Your friendships. Your work. Your voice and creative expression. Your capacity to lead and create. Authenticity draws others like a magnet (and scares the shit out of them too sometimes). Yet really, it is the inner rewards that count the most – from feeling the energy returning to your body as you walk out of a circle, all the way to living a life in alignment with your truth and integrity as the practice deepens. I hope you have a wonderful time trying it on and seeing how it works for you!
About The Paradise Vlog
I believe we already are in paradise, regardless of where we are and what’s going on in our lives. I believe life is a journey towards becoming aware of this and enjoying as much of it as we can in the limited amount of time we have here. The ‘The Paradise Vlog’ youtube channel is the space where I share my process of shedding patterns and beliefs that obstruct our view in order to replace them with presence, joy and wonder. It’s also my invitation to you – an invitation to connect and journey together in creative ways, as we help each other see through to the greatest expression of ourselves. I also love creating spaces for growth-oriented people to connect to their soul power and life purpose. I do that in the form of coaching, shamanic work and group sessions in the Connection Playground. Reach out if you feel curious to explore any of those with me.