What is Circling?

I get asked this question quite a bit. I don’t know that I can ever answer it quite as succinctly as people would seem to like. The answers to the question I give usually lead to more questions. Not that I mind. In fact, enjoy the questions myself, as they allow me to find new and better ways of describing the practice that I love. I find actually participating in the practice and experiencing it first hand is the best possible way of someone beginning to understand.

I usually start off the Circling Labs at the Integral Center by setting context in such a way that has people ready to dip their toes in the process.

Circling is a relating practice, where a group of people come together and focus their attention on what it is like being with each other in the present moment.

Circling is also known as “Intersubjective Meditation”.  The intersubjectivity of the practice comes from the act of more than one conscious mind becoming aware of shared reality in relationship. Thus, making explicit what was unconsciously implicit within the group relationship/dynamic.

I find the word “meditation” means a lot of different things to people. Kind of like the word, “yoga”. For my purposes here, I’d like to use the word meditation to mean the practice of cultivating awareness.

There are far too many meditation practices I know of to name here. (And I’m sure those of you reading this could mention even more) But for the purpose of explaining Circling, I like to think of it as a combined practice of Contemplation, and Concentration.

In a concentration practice, one focuses on an object of concentration. (such as a candle flame, or a mantra, ect.) When one becomes aware that their mind has wandered off the object of concentration, the practice requires you to let go of or quiet the thoughts, and bring your attention back to the object of concentration. (If you have ever tried one of these practices, you’re well aware that it is easier said than done.)

In a Contemplative practice, one sits with an inquiry, and begins to notice what arises in their awareness. This could be a practice of deep reflective thought, in which to bypass the normal construct of the mind.

In the practice of Circling, we often “focus” our attention on a single person, and allow ourselves to notice what arises in our awareness while in relationship with them.

Sounds simple right?

Well, if we are not in the practice of owning our own experience, we may discover that what we are noticing about another, are simply our own projections.  I often share a simple 3 step exercise that helps those of us who may need practice in this area.

Step 1: Notice what you are noticing.

Once again, sounds simple, right? I imagine you asking, “How can I not?”.

For me, I find I’m consistently surprised when I practice this step. When I can slow my internal dialog down enough, my thoughts become very basic.

Something that we are noticing should be generally unarguable. For example, I notice I feel nervousness in my stomach as I type this.

No one can really argue what I’m feeling in my stomach. How would they know? What authority do they have to tell me what I’m feeling?

Step 2: Notice what I’m imagining.

A large part of our minds are dedicated to making meaning of things and situations. This can be very useful, as if I see a door, I can imagine that it will lead me out of a particular space, into another space.  This saves us a lot of time as humans. Imagine if we had to figure out what a door was every time we saw one. I believe humanity would be at a much lower level of evolution if this was the case.

This also can be a source of difficulty, as our minds will sometimes imagine things that are not objectively true or resourceful.

Very often, it can get in way of how we relate to others. If we imagine we know someone’s experience, we might project on to them that they are a certain way. We might assume that they are angry, loving, cold-hearted, warm, hateful, or anything else.

I find, in my life, I can be many different ways, at many different times. I can be all of these things and more.

When we actually slow down and notice that what we are imagining about a person is in fact, just that, what we are imagining, it allows us to own what is arising in our own experience when in relationship to the other person.

Let’s try an example. In the first step, did you imagine anything about me when I revealed that I was feeling nervousness in my stomach while I typed this?

Maybe you imagined that I had forgotten to eat breakfast, and that I was probably just hungry.  Maybe you imagined that I was worried that I would be late for work since I’m writing such an incredibly long blog post. Maybe, I imagine, you didn’t think anything of it, as you were so excited to get to the answer that you were looking for that your eyes skipped over that info, and you actually scrolled up to see if I had actually typed that.

By noticing what we are imagining, we are setting our selves up for the third step, which can be branched off into 2 separate options.

Step 3: Sharing Impact/Getting Curious

After we are aware of what it is we are imagining, we then have the choice of sharing impact with the other person, or getting curious about their experience.

For our example, you might share with me that when you read that I was feeling nervousness in my stomach as I typed this, you imagined that I was probably just hungry.

Or, you could get curious and ask, “What has you feeling nervousness in your stomach while you type this?”

The process of step 3 allows us to understand the experience of the other person better, as well as cultivating awareness of our own pre-conceived notions.

Why is this valuable?

It is my assertion, that cultivating our own awareness allows us greater choice in how we react in any given situation, and that understanding someone else’s experience in greater detail allows for greater connection and intimacy.

I have also found, that the practice of Circling allows us to cultivate our own awareness via intersubjectivity that we otherwise could not access.

As the Spiritual Entertainer Alan Watts once said, “Trying to define yourself, is like trying to bite your own teeth.”.

By utilizing the practice of Intersubjective Meditation, we can cultivate relationships and our own consciousness at the same time.

Recognizing Captive Audience (part 3)

So, the other side of this coin is to notice when you are holding someone else captive audience.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Who? Me? That’s crazy! Absolutely everybody loves to hear stories about my ant farm! Why, I’m certain that if I could just get ahold of those folks from “The Discovery Channel”, they would give me my own reality show in an instant.”

Err… Ummm… Probably not.

The best way I know how to keep from holding others captive audience, is to check in with them before hand to see if they are interested.

The process is simple, once you condition yourself to notice what it is you want to share with the other person.

For example, while at a cocktail party, you might share with an acquaintance that you have an ant farm, and simply leave it at that. At this point, you could wait to see if they are interested enough to ask further questions, therefore indicating that they are actually interested. (Or possibly just avoiding other conversations at the party) Or, you could ask them if you could share about what you love/find fascinating about your ant farm.

If the other person says they are interested, feel free to proceed with your story.

Make certain to check in periodically, as your enthusiasm might have you get carried away. I find it’s best to let them ask the questions, and answer only what they have asked. That way you know when they’ve had enough.

BONUS POINTS: I find rather than talking about an object (such as your ant farm) it’s best to speak of what it is that has you inspired about it. Share your genuine enthusiasm about the topic, then check in with the person your speaking with about some shared enthusiasm. If the conversation is flowing back and forth, there’s less of a chance that you are holding someone else “captive audience”.Image

Recognizing Captive Audience (part 2)

How do you know when you’re being held captive audience? This may sound obvious, but it often takes me a while before I realize the other person is not planning on stopping in the near future.  As with most situations in life, I have to notice whether or not I’m present to the conversation.  Am I actually interested in what this person has to say?  Am I fidgeting, trying to disperse the uncomfortable energy in my body? Am I checking out, daydreaming of anything else, like whale gutting in frozen tundra?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then you are probably being held captive audience.

You might be asking right now, “Is that bad? I mean, sure I don’t enjoy it, but isn’t that just part of normal everyday life? Sometimes you have to grin and bear these boring and uncomfortable conversations.”
Being in an uncomfortable conversation is not the same as being held captive audience. True, in certain situations where power dynamics are in play, and/or allowing this conversation to happen to reach another means, such as allowing another person to express themselves in service of resolving a conflict.  Captive audience includes the other party being unaware of the fact that you are not interested in what they have to share with you.

So, I’m in a one-sided conversation. What do I do now?

The next step is to consider where you want this relationship to go.

Is this person a casual acquaintance?  Maybe the best thing to do is let the person know that you have other things to tend to, and politely leave the conversation.

“Hey, I think it’s great that you’re so passionate about (Reality TV/Politics/Full-Contact Badminton), but I really need to (Finish my shopping/Connect with someone else/Paint my toenails). Take care.”

Is this a person you want to cultivate a deeper connection with? If so, maybe you could consider that letting them know that you’re really not interested could actually be doing them a favor.

“Hey, I’m really glad to have run into you, but I’m not really interested in (your car/who’s having sex with whom/ect..).”

From there, if you like, you can re-direct the conversation, or excuse yourself.

‘However, I remember you telling me about your (whatever you’re actually interested in about this person). How’s that going?”

By doing this, you’re not only ending the conversation that you’re not interested in, you’re also letting that person know what you are interested in, thereby letting them know how to connect with you better. (Which is probably what had them come and talk to you in the first place)

While it might be uncomfortable at first, exercising this aspect of yourself is like working a muscle. It becomes easier with practice. Once you get comfortable with this, you might find yourself cultivating deeper relationships, and building your integrity.

Enough About You, Let’s Talk About Me (Recognizing Captive Audience)

Enough About You, Let's Talk About Me (Recognizing Captive Audience)

Have you ever been in a “one-sided” conversation? Maybe you’re at a party, or at the grocery store and you run into an acquaintance. You want to be friendly, say “hi”, basically, acknowledge their presence.

Before you can smile and go about your way, the person begins speaking to you, and involving you in a conversation you had no intention of getting into in the first place. In my experience, it tends to start out friendly enough. They ask a general question such as, “How are you?”. If you are normally socialized person, and depending on how close you are to the other person, a good succinct answer usually will suffice. “Oh, I’m good.” you’ll say. This is where it begins.

The other person starts to unload on you every experience they’ve had since the last time you saw them. Or worse yet, they begin to gossip about other people in your social circles. Their seamlessly unending train of words is filled with assertions, presumptions, and just plain B.S. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that you are not at all interested in what they have to share with you. You are being held “Captive Audience”.

The term “captive audience”, as is commonly used is a little different then what I’m writing about here. Generally speaking, captive audience refers to external messages that one is subjected to while engaging in another activity.

For example, if you go to a sporting event to cheer on your favorite team, you are held captive audience to all the advertising in the stadium. If you attend a class on anthropology, and the professor spends the class time lecturing on the politics of the university, you are a captive audience.

For my purposes here, I want to address the social aspects of a captive audience. Mainly, how to recognize when you are being held captive audience and what to do about it, as well as how to notice when you might actually be holding another person captive audience, and how to correct the situation.

Awareness Brings Choice

Do you have the desire to create your own vision of an inspiring life?  Are you curious to how you may be holding yourself back from getting the results you truly want?  Have you ever wondered why you don’t always follow through on your commitments?

Like most of us, the daily grind can wear you down and leave you wondering, “Is this all there is?”. Often, we can’t see how our own way of being is creating our reality. Our unconscious beliefs and behaviors shape our experience of the world. But how does one discover one’s own unconscious?

Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a technique to know one’s self better. But, as the wise philosopher Alan Watts once said, “You can’t look directly into your own eyes”. That’s true, unless of course, you use a mirror.

Inter-subjective Meditation is a technique that acts as a mirror for your own consciousness. It’s blend of concentration and contemplative practices allows you to utilize the genuine curiosity of another person, and begin to see some of your blind spots.

The process is simple and logical. Once you have cultivated awareness around your previously unconscious behaviors, you then have choice around whether or not you continue to react in the same way.  Without that awareness, you remain stuck, not knowing how the same situation continues to happen.

Contact me at jasonbasgall@gmail.com for a free introduction to Inter-Subjective Meditation.

States Of Consciousness (Part 2)

In the First part of this series, I shared with you the different brainwave frequencies, and how they can affect consciousness.

In this part, I would like to begins to list a few different meditation practices  that have also proven to show ways in which to induce other states of consciousness.

Transcendental Meditation

One of the most famous of these practices being Transcendental Meditation™. TM™ was introduced to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, his most famous of students being The Beatles. TM™ could be labeled a form of concentration meditation. In this practice, one is given a mantra by their teacher. During the meditation, the practitioner focuses on the mantra by repeating it over and over. This can induce a trance-like state. If the practitioner notices the mind wandering from the mantra, they simply bring their attention back to it, and begin again. This meditation is usually set for a period of 20 minutes. Practitioners often refer to the state achieved through this practice as the transcendental state of consciousness

(Another famous practitioner of the TM technique is David Lynch. He has created The David Lynch Foundation to bring the TM technique to inner-city schools.)

Sensory Deprivation/ Floatation Tanks

Floatation tanks were developed in the 1950’s at the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The hypothesis was that by eliminating external stimulus, the mind could relax and become more focused on internal stimulus.

Modern day floatation tanks are filled with dense salt water, and are generally sound proof, and sealed for darkness. The practitioner floats in the tank with their head floating above the water. The sessions generally last about an hour. During that time, the practitioner practices whatever meditation technique they chose. The desired result by the end of the session is increased Theta waves in the brain.

(Comedian Joe Rogan is such a fan, he has his own personal tank in his home)

Breath Work

Breath work s a general term for different breathing techniques that can alter one’s state of consciousness.  Like meditation, there are many types of breath work, and more being developed.  Some famous types of breath work are Pranayama breathing, Tibetan Tantric Tummo, Holotropic Breathwork, as well as forms of movement and breath work together such as Qigong and T’ai Chi.

Each of these techniques brings its own pattern to consciousness. Some Shamanic styles often incorporate music at the same time. (Dr. Andrew Weil gives a quick overview.)