Circling and Authentic Relating are related but distinct group practices where we strip away much of the noise that surrounds us in every day life and create a space to connect more deeply with ourselves and with others. We all want to feel more in tune with Life, to express our feelings and desires, to feel seen and heard, to relate with others about what is meaningful to us - but when phones and social convention get in the way and we talk about the weather or the news or send someone a video of a cat, we do not feel more connected.
In our everyday life, while there are simultaneously so many other things to consider and deal with, it can be hard to know exactly what is missing, hard to put awareness on how we are communicating and relating. We have all accumulated habitual patterns of thought, speech, breath and movement, things we do or think when with others due to anxiety, nervousness, social convention or avoidance of tension. Often we are not even consciously aware of these patterns - and even when we are, on some level we know this is not really our true self, that we are just acting, finding some way to get through this moment to find another moment in the future when it will be easier and more appropriate to be ourselves. What if we all gather and resolve to create a space in which we can slow down and allow ourselves to be mindful of some of these patterns in real time; if we express some feelings/fears we normally avoid or hide; if we play with or joke about something we would normally be serious about, or vice versa?
Q. What is Authentic Relating?
Authentic Relating consists of specific exercises, in pairs or small groups, which invite us to be more open and revealing than we might be in everyday life about our deeper feelings and desires, each exercise designed to shine a light on a particular way in which we present ourselves and relate with others. The exercises can be very specific and at the same time completely open - for example, an exercise might ask you to relate using certain specific sentence stems, but the topic you speak about and the depth of it will be entirely your choice. There are no right answers - you are invited to just be aware of how you respond; how the other responds; how expressing yourself freely with others can give you insight and clarity about what you really want; and how sometimes this way of being can make you feel like you've known someone for years instead of hours. I've done these exercises many times, and each one is a new experience.
Q. What is Circling?
In contrast to Authentic Relating, Circling has some structure but it is minimal. We drop the need to fill the silence with chit chat and instead put our attention in the room and what is between us, aiming to only communicate what is most present for us right at each moment (using a few simple principles of communication as a guide). For this reason, Circling is sometimes described as a relational meditation, or interpersonal mindfulness. Like meditation, we do it with complete acceptance, without trying make something happen or attain a particular state. There is no need to fix yourself or anyone else. The goal (if we must state one) is to be as true as possible to ourselves, to others and to our connection in each moment. Some of the experiences I've had with others in this kind of space I did not even know were possible before I started Circling, I would describe them as magical.
Q. What can we expect to get from the meetings?
We show up here exactly how we show up in life, with the same blind-spots in our thoughts and actions, often related to where we ignore our feelings, distract ourselves from our fears, and push away possible connection with others without knowing it. When this behaviour is embedded through lifelong habit into our nervous system and social engagement system, it can run large parts of our life without us ever even considering other ways to be. Here we get to slow down and just be; to see our habitual responses, hidden assumptions and beliefs (and, if we wish, request feedback about them); and to notice the feelings, impulses and emotions that are frozen, ignored or numbed - and this cannot be unseen! It remains with us in our daily life and can totally transform how we relate to others (and how they relate to us).
Many of us rarely feel truly seen and accepted and listened to in our daily lives. This can be isolating and painful - it can leave us with a sense of lack but without knowing exactly what it is we need. Being really seen and listened to by others, without needing to say or do anything other than be yourself, can be nourishing and moving. We become more comfortable in our own skin and can experience a new level of connection with others - and this can lead to spiritual and personal insights.
We can develop our felt-sense of what is right – going with what we sense in the moment, we can get more in touch with our intuition. Taking small steps towards listening to this intuition can bleed into every area of your life.
Fun! Playfulness is an important and sometimes neglected part of life. It is not all serious conversations and furrowed brows, just as often it is joyful and a celebration of being alive.
Q. If there are no right answers and we are just "being", aren't I doing that all the time? Do I need to walk to Stokes Croft for you to tell me how to do this?
In one sense, you are right - I ask myself the same question regularly! Yet meditation is equally simple - "just sit down, close your eyes and be with what is". Simple, but not easy - not for me anyway, I might try to decide to just be, but the mind, body and nervous system usually have other ideas. There are depths to meditation that can take many years to discover, and despite the simplicity there are still meditation teachers, courses, schools, chants etc. The exercises and principles we use are simple yet also have unlimited depth and can make just "being" a new experience and bring joy, insight and excitement.
Speaking for myself, during my first day of Circling some years ago, very quickly I noticed that no'one really seemed particularly interested when I rambled. Gradually I discovered that there was some other way of communicating and that people seemed to naturally listen and connect with me more when I spoke from this more vulnerable and personal place. But it was very much an experience rather than a concept or idea, and so I'm not sure any reading about these practices beforehand would have helped me personally to discover this inner voice faster. However, for others coming from a different place, some more info might be useful - here are the principles of Circling and Authentic Relating from the two organisations where I trained:
So, take a deep breath - is your inner voice telling you to pay me £5 to tell you how to do nothing? If so, then please come along next time or, if you have any questions, feel free to start a discussion or send me a message.