The last orientation call of 2021 is this Saturday December 11th, 1:00-1:55pm Pacific Standard Time (4pm Eastern, 9pm UTC). Can you believe we've done 33 this year?
Hi friends, we've just finished three weeks of Circling (link is a good explainer by Tasshin, check it out if you're unfamiliar) and I'd like to share about our experience with this relational practice. Circling asks us to inhabit the space of "What's it like to be this person, in their world?" -- and the primacy of this curiosity is IMHO Circling's primary distinction as compared to T-Group, another practice focused on present-moment-experience. For us, I could feel the compassion and empathy flowing through the tone of these curious questions, questions like "What's that like? (to say or hear)" and "How do you feel now (having said that)?"
Without preplanning up front, we tried three different styles, in this order:
It occurs to me to remark on what "focus" means here in the first place. It's about who we're placing our attention on - and also something else within that. Circling can often produce a sense of shared awareness in the group, where the entrainment or attunement of minds can be felt and noticed. What's "alive" or interesting has a substantial texture as different voices interact with it. If some new sensation pulls the focus in a new direction, that can be "followed" (or not) by the group. I think we had most people tuning in to this shared attention pretty solidly, and for that reason our participants tended to preferred free-flowing focus style over fixed.
That third "developmental" mode is our own rederivation of "what does circling look like with a developmental lens" and could be considered a kind of topical circling, where something additional is also "in the center" next to the circlee. In this case, we'd call that thing an "edge" - a developmental tension of some kind. But we care less about the facts and information of that thing than in the relationship between that person and their challenge. Having some obvious topic can sometimes be judged as easier but less intense than "pure" circling. The key to a good topic/thing is bringing it into the experience of the present moment, rather than having it drag attention out to a past time or place. I think we managed to stay experientially rooted, as this mode seemed to take the cake for us. Our latest circlee exclaimed at the end, "I am now going forward with a new awareness..." [of their situation and their relationship to it] which just made my heart sing, personally.
There are other confounders like circle size, time, and prior practice so it's not a clean style-vs-style bake-off, but we really enjoyed this last session. Doing a large circle (9-10 people, vs 3-4) even got some appreciative feedback of "more space" and not feeling like one is "always on." Sometimes large circles can "lose" people in the sense of them becoming disengaged and checked-out while not having the space to bring that into the circle's awareness -- but that wasn't the case for us. Engagement and excitement was reported as high from both more and less frequent talkers. At one point we felt a "pull" on our focus from a participant's reaction/experience of our circlee and I think we could possibly have expanded our focus for a while without losing the outer frame in service of the circlee's developmental experience -- but the "fixed focus" intention led us more to drop that thread of aliveness. We can still say that what happened was perfect for what happened, but I'll note that I was quite glad to see this noticed, named, brought forward for the group to process.
Zooming out, I do see "present moment experience" practice(s) as one of the core pieces of our "ecology of practices" (to borrow the term from Vervaeke and Seishin). Circling and T-Group primarily, they're so useful for perspective taking and relational skill. The other two so far? Case work (Case Clinic or Edge Case) and deep listening (like Empathy Circling). I don't quite see yet how to best use and apply a set of core practices in ongoing personal-and-communal development, but that looks like an interesting exploration for our next season!