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.

Kubrick’s One-Point Perspective

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/48425421″>Kubrick // One-Point Perspective</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/kogonada”>kogonada</a&gt; on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

As in Circling, I enjoy gathering as much perspective as I can. To see the world through as many angles and lenses as possible always energizes me.  One of the things I really enjoy about this video, is the many ways in which just staying with the one perspective, actually allows us to see things we might not have noticed otherwise.

My Experience with the Enneagram

For those of you not familiar, the Enneagram is a personality typology consisting of 9 personality types. It’s origins are debated, but by some accounts it dates back to as early as the 4th century.

As with any personality typology, the average person can see characteristics of themselves in any of the nine types. What makes the Enneagram different in my eyes, is that these types are then connected in a manner that show what various types integrate to in times of security, and disintegrates to in times of stress.

The more I have learned about the Enneagram, the more fascinated I have become.

Initially, I heard about it from several friends who happened to be really in to the subject. Seeing as I respected a lot of the other work they had done in transformation, I thought I would check it out. So, I went online and began to take some random tests that are available. I usually find these tests entertaining, and I also find them frustrating as I can most always identify with all the multiple choice answers in different situations.

I was stunned when I got the results. I had received 100% on several different numbers!  How is that even possible?

After speaking with several different people, I was told that this was common. We can identify with all the different personalities at different stages in our development, and the tests can sometimes reflect that.  After taking several different online tests several different times, I was asked to identify my type for a workshop I was participating in.  Being frustrated the process, I chose one of the numbers I had scored 100% on, and called it good.  I was a 6. It seemed right. I could relate. I wasn’t quite buying into all the fuss, but this would do in order to get through the workshop.

As the topic began to show up more and more in my everyday life, the question would come up from time to time. What number are you on the Enneagram? I would identify as six, and then begin to own the fact that I really didn’t feel like I was any one number, and questioned whether or not this personality typology really worked.

Then, a friend on Facebook gave me some of the best advice I had ever received about discovering my type number. She suggested I read a book on the subject, read the shadow aspects of the types I suspect I might be, and when I read the one that has me most pissed off, and want to throw the book across the room, that would be the type number I most identify with.

The thought amused me, and seeing how I still found the subject interesting, I thought I’d give it a go. I took another online test, and scored 100% in several different numbers. I then checked in with some friends who had recently attended a 3 day Enneagram conference and asked their opinion of which of these numbers they could see me as.  I then went and read the shadow aspects of those numbers.

I laughed. I cringed. It was painful and enlightening at the same time. I had to accept these aspects of myself I had been blind to.

At that point, I had to admit, I had found a personality typology that really added some deeper understanding to my life.

I have recently began to identify as a Type 9. (The Peacemaker/ The Mediator)

I’d love to read any experiences you have had with the Enneagram.

Detatchment to the Outcome, Commitment to the Process

So, I’ve decided I’m going to write 100 blog posts before the end of this year. (I’ll forgive myself for not achieving this if the world ends on Dec.21, 2012)

A large reason for this decision is to practice blogging. I desire to effortlessly write blog posts that are succinct, entertaining, and hopefully profound. (Of course, that is a subjective goal. As long as I feel good about it, great.)

I imagine by creating 100 blog posts, I’ll be able to go back, and notice what I do well. The process of blogging takes priority of writing a successful blog at this point.

Owning my own Experience

In my world, the act of owning my own experience is the most powerful way of connecting with another person. It allows me to own my projections and assessments as my own, and check in with the other person, to see if it matches their experience.

This is another one of my practices, and as the word practice implies, it is an exercise in development, and I don’t always have it mastered. Like any practice, it is a muscle to develop.

Here is a 3 step process I use to develop my ability to own my experience:

1) Notice what I’m noticing.

This sounds like a rule handed down from the head of the Department of Redundancy Department, but I’m amazed at how often I miss this.

I have also found through the practice of circling, that it’s not uncommon for others to gloss this step over.

I once asked a woman what she was feeling in a particular moment. She replied, “I don’t feel anything.”. To that I asked, “What is like to not feel anything?”. Her response, “Scary”.

I find this quite intriguing. Was she truly not experiencing any emotion in that moment, and the experience of not feeling an emotion had her scared, or was she scared at the initial question, and me asking it have her drop into a level of more awareness in the moment?

It was all her subjective experience. I have no authority in stating what she is feeling. AND the experience leaves me even more curious about her process.

This step can also be linked to a practice of what I have heard referred to as “Witness Consciousness”. It is the act of making your subjective experience, objective.

Right now, I’m noticing that I’m typing on my laptop. I’m also noticing that the heat from the laptop is warming up my right leg. I’m also feeling slightly nervous about adding this to the blog.

Which brings me to step number two:

2) Notice what I’m imagining.

Often, in our culture, one can be prone to imagining one knows exactly what is happening in an interaction between ourselves and another. But can we be so certain?

Are we even certain we can know exactly is going on with ourselves?

This imagining we know what is happening with another person can be the source of much misunderstanding and conflict.

What did you imagine I was nervous about at the end of the first step?

So you know, I was nervous that I would be judged negatively for adding to the blog what I was imagining in that moment. (Are you curious why?)

I felt judgmental of my writing style, and imagined others would read it and find it corny. (Maybe you do!)
My own judgement had me feeling nervous about adding it in, for fear that I would appear inferior to some other imaginary blogger in my mind.

Is this true? Maybe. Depends on who you ask. But the fact of the matter is, that was my subjective experience in that moment.

Which leads me to step 3. How to check in with another while owning my experience.

3) Share what I’m noticing and imagining. Then share how I am feeling about it, or get curious if it matches the other person’s experience.

So, in my example here, I’ve noticed I was writing this blog, and imagining that I would be judged as corny. That had me feeling nervous about sharing this blog publicly.

Sharing that has me feel even more nervous, or even a little bit vulnerable to share.

Should I Give up? Or should I let go?

Listening to this interview with Fred Armisen by Alec Baldwin on “Here’s the Thing”.

Fred spent 10 years in an indie rock band. It sounds like he loved it.

One night he saw another drummer in another band who was about 10 years older than him, still sleeping on floors, still lugging his own gear, and he decided he didn’t want that.

We have a belief in our culture, if you put in the hours, and you stick to it, you will be successful. That might be true, depending on your definition of success.

But Armisen was not satisfied. He let go and followed his intuition.

He started video taping interviews with unsigned bands, in his own style of funny voices and wit.  From there, he started sharing the videos. Which led to hosting shorts on HBO, which led to his job on SNL.

He had the courage to let go of his original idea, and allowed what was naturally arising in him to happen. Had he not have had that courage, I know my life would have had less laughter.