Authentic

What does it mean to be authentic?

In an organization that’s all about authenticity, I must confess that this has been an exceptionally difficult concept to define in my 7 years of Authentic Relating. I’ve been wanting to give my input on the definition of authenticity in order to dispel myths about authenticity, which might be appropriately labelled “inauthentic”. But this is exactly the problem: labels.

If we label something “authentic” does that make it so? If the thing is authentic it doesn’t matter if we label it as such or not. And if the thing is inauthentic – a fake, an imitation – then it doesn’t matter if we label it as “authentic”. It is still inauthentic. I’d like you to spend a moment with this thought. Let it sink in.

In order to label something you must first define your label. Then you can go out into the world and find things that match your definition and label it. You do not have to be conscious of your definition. Nor can you label something without at least an unconscious definition.

What is your definition of authentic?

Any definition of “authentic” that includes behaviors, actions, words, beliefs, or thoughts would not include everything left out from that list. The left out behaviors, actions, words, etc. may be truly authentic for some person at some moment on Earth. Somehow an accurate definition of authenticity must allow for all behaviors, actions, words, beliefs, and thoughts.

If you’re like me you may be feeling a bit uncomfortable at this moment. It seems pretty clear to me that some behaviors are inauthentic. What if I lie? That wouldn’t be authentic. But what if I’m a liar? Isn’t it authentic for a liar to lie?

Who’s a liar?

To label someone a “liar” adds meaning to their actions: they lie. But when? When did they lie? And how often? Will they lie again? Maybe. Maybe not! And don’t we want to give space to them to not lie again? When we label someone a liar we are implying a truth about them: they lie. “Don’t trust them.” Perhaps it is wise to be caution around a person that has been known to lie frequently, but do we need to add this label that implies something about their identity? I don’t think so.

And now we circle around to authenticity. There’s something about “identity” in the word authentic. It’s as if to say when we are authentic, we are true to our self, to our identity. I might say that our behavior some how reflects our essence or is an extension of it. There’s something inside that is “true” (another word we need to define) and we want what is visible on the outside to match what is true on the inside.

authentic: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

Merriam-Webster

Let’s look at inauthenticity for a bit. Why would you ever be inauthentic? The number one reason I can think of is… fear! Perhaps you’re afraid of being rejected. Perhaps you’re afraid of being shamed. outcast. judged. hurt. And so you pretend, lie, or hide out of this fear.

So to be authentic, we must address this fear. We either need to lessen the fear or increase our courage to act authentically. The best way I know to do this is to create a situation where “abnormal” behavior is normalized so that you can try out behaving a certain way that may be authentic to you. Or may be not. But the fear of judgement, hurt, shaming, etc. is less. And by trying something out and not having your fears realized you can then look inside and see if it rings true as authentically you. If so, you have done what psychologists call systematic desensitization.

Is this beginning to sound like an event you’re familiar with?

At Games Night we lean into our edge. We normalize leaning into our edge. We honor other and self as a way of making the container more safe (safety is never something that can be guaranteed). In this environment it’s just enough safer and just enough more normal to be abnormal that we can try to show ourselves to each other. A little. Hopefully. A lot if we’re lucky.

Part of what we’re trying to do is find out what is authentic to each of us. What is true to our own nature. I may not even know what’s true to my own nature. So how could you know? You may not even know what’s true to your own nature, so how could I know what’s true for you? (In fact, I think we do have intuitions for when someone is inauthentic, but that’s another post.)

I want to caution against having specific ideas about what authenticity may look like. It won’t look like eye gazing (which we do a lot in AM). It won’t look like sharing your feelings. It won’t look like being transparent with your intent. There’s a danger in holding an idea of what authenticity looks like. The danger is that you try to imitate this behavior in the name of authenticity all the while feeling deeply uncomfortable and unsettled with what’s going on. Another danger is that you judge and label others as authentic or inauthentic. This won’t help them become more authentic; remember the fear of being judged?

authentic: conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features

Merriam-Webster

“reproduce essential features”!!!??? I kid you not, this definition is part of the first definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The definition I gave earlier was number 3! If we are reproducing essential features of our idea of authentic then we are not being authentic. If we are reproducing essential features of our inner self then we are. Are you conforming to an original… to some idea outside yourself as to what is authentic? Or are you conforming to your inner experience?

These are surprisingly hard questions to answer because we have a great capacity for self deception. I think a good litmus test is in the level of effort it takes to continue to say and do things. If the effort is a lot or continues to increase then perhaps there is something not true to our self. To our spirit or essence.

This can be tricky because if we are afraid of rejection then it may take a lot of effort to share our inner world, for example. To overcome that fear. But once overcome, a likely response is relief inside. If we don’t share our inner world then the likely inner response is heaviness, effortfulness, tension, or other energy constricting results. (I would like to note that sharing your inner world is just an example. Being authentic does not mean sharing your inner world. Sharing your inner world is only authentic when it is authentic. Not when it is reproducing essential features of what we think it means to be authentic.)

I want to caution against having an idea of what it means to be authentic and then reproducing those ideas in order to appear authentic to yourself and to others. There’s no way to do that!

Being authentic requires a real self honesty. Radical self honesty. A looking inward and seeing without self judgment (good or bad) what’s there. There’s no need to share this with anyone else. There’s no need to withhold it from someone else. The decision to share or withhold is separate from being radically honest with your self.

Being authentic takes courage to act in the world in ways that are in alignment with what you see and experience inside. Being true to your spirit. Again, this doesn’t mean saying a thought that comes to mind. It doesn’t mean sharing a judgement you have. It doesn’t mean sharing how you feel. Though you may do any of those things. Doing those things is not authentic. Unless it is. What’s authentic is that if a person after seeing you act could see right through to your core they would find a match of what’s inside with what they saw on the outside. (Assuming they had no projections, preconceived biases, triggers, etc. blocking or influencing their perceptions of you.)

If you think that sharing something may hurt someone, then I would challenge you to look deeper. Is there a deeper truth. Instead of sharing “you hurt me” perhaps it is more true to say “I feel hurt”. Instead of sharing “you’re mean” perhaps it is more true to say “I feel afraid when I’m around you.” Do you see how saying “you hurt me” or “you’re mean” hides the self. These statements are fear based statements that aim to protect the self from further injury. And sometimes they work. I would like to move beyond them to the deeper truth and connect there.

The deeper truth – “I feel hurt”, “I feel afraid when I’m around you” – may result in the other person feeling hurt, angry, or defensive. Or maybe not. But if it does, at least you’ve offered them something real and true. This is the starting place for real transformation: truth. Or perhaps you could say the starting place for real transformation is: authenticity. Or perhaps the ending place – after we’re already transformed – is authenticity.

If you’d like to join us, we lean into our edge frequently at Games Nights; where we discover our authentic selves together!

Boundary to Intimacy

I want to talk about a specific kind of boundary and vulnerability that I’ve often seen in Circling, and especially Guerrilla Circling (Google that). This boundary became very apparent to me in attempts to apply the practices I learned in circling with close friends and family. I often got a lot of push back and even aggression in the form of statements like these: “I don’t want to talk about it.”, “You don’t understand.”, “You seem to want me to talk in a particular way and won’t listen to me otherwise.”, and in the most extreme cases I’ve had people physically walk away from me out of the room.

At first I was very confused. How could they not see that I was genuinely interested in them? How could they not see that I care?

Vulnerability and Intimacy

The answer came in the realization of how intimate and vulnerable it is to share emotions or even hear someone else’s emotions. To be with someone and share my emotions openly and freely is not just me being vulnerable. It’s me creating an intimate space with the other person. I would argue that sharing my emotions openly and vulnerably is not so different than taking off my clothes and standing nude in front of someone. Really. Some people really don’t want to see my naked body. It’s too uncomfortable for them to see me naked. Some people don’t want to see my emotions. It’s too uncomfortable for them to see me vulnerable.

The reverse of this is more obvious, but I want to state it for completeness. When I ask someone what they’re feeling, I’m asking them to be vulnerable. I’m asking them to be emotionally naked. That’s a lot to ask. A lot of trust has to build before this point. When I am so direct to ask someone to be vulnerable… to get naked, if you will, they can feel defensive, vulnerable, uncomfortable… just with the question! No need for them to actually be vulnerable to become uncomfortable. Just imagine walking around asking people to get naked because you want to see them. “I want to see you, will you take off your clothes?” Ick! Just typing that feels uncomfortable for me. But if I was in a trusting and intimate relationship that same question could be soft, warm, sexy, yummy. I think the analogy works quite well. “I want to see you fully, how do you feel?” “Are you feeling hurt?” “Are you feeling angry?” Without trust, these questions can seem intrusive and the receiver may respond with aggression, defensiveness, deflection, etc..

Discomfort in response to questions and shares about feelings and emotions is not limited to people strange to circling. It happens in our circling. It happens with experienced circlers!

What do we do?

I think the answer is what I’ve already mentioned: build trust. And. Let go of any attachments to actually achieving emotional intimacy with the other, completely. This means you may not get the emotional intimacy you desire with the person and you are really ok with that.

We can build trust by repeatedly accepting the person with what they choose to share. We can accelerate this building of trust by appreciating the person for who they are and what they’re choosing to share! Appreciating! That’s a lot more than just accepting, though I’d wager acceptance alone will go all the way to building trust. But imagine appreciating a person and how much more they would feel safe and open.

The importance of the repetition of acceptance and appreciation cannot be overstated. A single moment of resistance, or reciprocal anger and hurt, on our part can destroy a lot of trust. Maybe even all that has been built thus far. These moments of resistance or anger can reinforce an idea that “yeah, that person’s got problems.” or “still got problems” or “I don’t feel safe… just like I knew I would.”

Let me give a more specific example: small talk. What if all the person is comfortable talking about is the weather. Can you really appreciate them while they talk about the weather? Can you even enjoy them while they talk about the weather? Why not? What isn’t there to enjoy by experiencing another person talk about the weather? What resistance is in me, or you, that doesn’t want this to happen?

How about we take out the content… what isn’t to enjoy about seeing another person’s face as they look at you and hearing their voice as they speak? We can drop the content as the primary thing we are aware of (without completely ignoring it or dismissing it) and pay attention to the living being before us that is engaging with us and even desires to engage with us! What a beautiful gift! Talk to me about the weather! Please!

I believe then, the secret is to see and experience the being in front of us. Allow the content to just occupy a small part of our awareness. Enjoy, appreciate, and accept.

The Last Step

Developing this trust is absolutely important to emotional intimacy, however, we may still not achieve intimacy if we never explicitly invite it. As the last step, I suggest to ask those questions like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this post: “How are you feeling?”, “Are you angry?”, “Are you hurt?”. Or share how you’re feeling.

Do this once. Don’t push for an answer. And immediately accept and appreciate the response, whatever it is.

If your interlocutor takes the invitation, then you can go deeper. If your interlocutor “rejects” the invitation then just continue on enjoying and appreciating and accepting as you were before. Nothing is lost. Trust is gained.

This is where non-attachment is really important.

Of Primary Importance

More important than emotional intimacy with another is emotional intimacy with yourself. In those interactions where there isn’t intimacy with my interlocutor, I try to pay attention to my sensations and feelings as I interact. I try to be completely open to my self, to my sensations, to my feelings. I try to allow them and not resist them.

This can be quite challenging if I really want intimacy with the other. It can be quite challenging if I have judgements about the conversation (it’s small talk, I don’t like small talk). It can be quite challenging if I have disagreements with what is being shared.

I don’t think there’s any hope of intimacy with the other if I cannot first be open to my own feelings. And accept them. I must have acceptance and appreciation for my experience first. This is of primary importance.

Don’t Forget Your Needs

You may need the emotional intimacy you are working for here. But you can find it with many different people. Allow the people that don’t want it to not have it. Be part of groups where there is an abundance of people that want it. Become close friends with those that meet your needs. You don’t need to cut people out of your life for lack of emotional intimacy. Just be sure to find sources to fill this need and cultivate those sources.

I hope Authentic Montreal is a place where you can meet those needs.

Lean In to Your Edge

what we’re doing and why we do it

We lean in to our edge because this is where we learn and grow. This is where change happens.

Leaning in to your edge means you do things outside your comfort zone but not so far outside that you’re in any real danger. Just coming to an Authentic Montreal event may satisfy this for you.

Those two short paragraphs may be all you need to understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, but I will go into some more detail in the rest of this article.

Overview

When we have a goal of learning or growing there are three psychological states we can have in relation to that goal: comfort, arousal, panic. Those are broad categories varying greatly in terms of size, content, and quality from individual to individual. The earliest references to these three states that I could find are from Yerkes and Dodson (1908) and has been dubbed the Yerkes-Dodson law. Though they were researching this in terms of optimal performance. The model has been since adapted to learning. We are further adapting it to growing in a personal and spiritual sense. The idea that this kind of growth is a kind of learning.

I like to think of the zones in terms of what happens in them. In the comfort zone we feel safe. In the arousal zone we grow. In the panic zone we’re in danger (at least that is what we perceive, the reality of this may vary, but in general it’s wise to stay out of the danger zone).

We feel safe in our comfort zone but do not learn. We feel a heightened state of arousal in the arousal zone, which may involve a bit of fear, discomfort, anxiety, or hesitation. It could also manifest as excitement or aliveness. Certainly, it involves the possibility of new things previously unknown or unexperienced: growth. We feel panic, overwhelming fear, frozen, dread, or excessive anxiety in the panic zone. In this zone our body and minds may shutdown, we may be traumatized, we may lash out, we may run away, we may be physical injured. This is the danger zone.

Comfort Zone

In our comfort zone we are not trying anything new or unfamiliar. You may be able to see clearly from that one statement why we wouldn’t grow while in our comfort zone. Growth involves something new or different. These things cannot be found, or rather discovered and experienced, when we are only engaged in activities that are familiar and safe.

This isn’t to say that we don’t receive something valuable by being in the comfort zone. The comfort zone is the place to recharge. In fact, it’s where we sleep. Without comfort we would be constantly expending more energy and be more alert. The body and mind need a break. You also just may enjoy being in familiar safe places. I know I do!

When we are recharged and full of the joy of the comfort zone yet remain in the comfort zone, we may experience boredom, restlessness, or agitation. This is a sign that it’s time to move, to do something, to shake things up.

I remember having exactly that feeling of agitation once and I chose to sit with it for a while and give it some attention. After some minutes I realized it was a creative energy in me that was wanting to express itself. So I picked up my fiddle and began playing… yet I played the same old tunes I always played; I felt bored. I listened to that feeling as a guide and began to putz around making random notes or sounds that I enjoyed until something began to happen… the notes began to sound like something and I felt an inspiration and surge of energy. The next 30-40 minutes I frantically played out this energy in different forms until a waltz emerged. The waltz had a distinctly middle eastern sound to it and so I dedicated it to my Egyptian friend’s wedding that was coming up in a month. I was amazed at this process!

Growth Zone

Creativity is one thing that may come out of this zone as described in my previous paragraph, but we’re interested in growth for the sake of the work we do in Authentic Montreal. Growth also comes out of this zone.

The zone was called the “arousal zone” by Yerkes and Dodson. In this zone there is a heightened state of alertness which gives one the ability to notice subtle things that may otherwise slip by, the courage and energy to try things that may otherwise be too scary or difficult.

At Games Night we provide activities to help you be in that state. But ultimately it is your choice to enter it. When we ask you to complete a sentence stem, for example, like “in this moment I feel ____” you may answer “fine”, which is likely in your comfort zone. You may also answer “afraid of what everyone is thinking of me” or “sad that my partner broke up with me yesterday” or something else.

I do want to emphasize here that whatever you choose is not good or bad. You may very well need a break and recharge in the comfort zone, so a simple less revealing answer like “fine” is… well… fine. We have an agreement to “honor other” where we will accept you and not shame you if you give such an answer. Though sometimes the facilitator may ask for more detail in the spirit of encouraging you and welcoming more vulnerability.

What you may find in this zone is comfort and a met need of being seen when you dare to express vulnerably your feelings, desires, and other things. What you may find is an unfamiliar way of being actually suits you and brings aliveness.

Though spending time in the growth zone may bring aliveness, it may also wear you out. Many people feel drained at the end of a Games Night. This is also neither good nor bad. Don’t take it as a sign of doing something right or wrong. Whether you feel energized or drained after a Games Night, take that as a sign that _something_ happened and with some awareness and repetition this something may result in growth.

Danger Zone

As I mentioned earlier, we try to construct the Games Night to help you enter the growth zone… and stay out of the danger zone. Just like the growth zone requires you to make choices to enter it, the danger zone requires you to make choices, sometimes hard choices, to avoid it.

This zone is characterized by panic, freezing, overwhelming fear or anxiety, strong emotions like rage, or high adrenaline. It’s a real sense that there is real danger. Though there is no physical danger at Games Night, the emotional danger can be real.

We ask that you listen to your intuition about where your growth zone ends and your danger zone begins. This listening is encompassed in our agreement “honor self”. You cannot know for sure where the boundary is at all times, so part of the learning that happens is about the location of the boundary between the growth zone and danger zone.

When the feelings of panic, freezing, etc. arise marking the entrance to the danger zone, our ability to learn and grow shuts down. Our ability to perceive narrows and more subtle things escape our awareness. In fact, really obvious things can escape our awareness as we focus in on some very specific things. Our body says “we’re in danger! focus on the danger!” Whatever that danger is will be the only thing we see until it is removed or disarmed or we remove our self from it.

Conclusion

Approach Games Night however you want. Please don’t feel pressured to do anything. If you’re feeling bored though… consider trying something a little scary. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or panicky… consider playing it safe or stepping out to take a break.

My hope for you is to feel engaged and alive. A little anxiety or fear won’t hurt… it may even help growth. I’ll let you decide how much is too much and we’ll honor you! May you grow and thrive.

Facilitator’s Circle

Let’s imagine we circle for the facilitator, not the circlee. What would our circle’s be like…

As a facilitator you are like an explorer entering the wilderness with curiosity and excitement. What will you discover!? You follow your curiosity about the things you see, the sounds you hear, the smells you smell. You can look small at the mushroom growing under the dead tree. You can look far at the faint motion of a waterfall through the trees. You can pause and listen to the sound of the birds. You walk when you want to walk. You pause when you want to pause. Always engaged and in joy of what you are seeing. The amazing wilderness around you.

This is the wilderness of the circlee’s interior life and we have the priviledge of exploring it! The circlee follows us as we explore and helps us understand what we are seeing… “that mushroom under the dead tree… that’s my insecurity that springs up over night when the moistness of loss shows up in my life” … “That faint motion of a waterfall in the distance… that’s my dreams of magnificence.” … “Those bird sounds… I don’t know… I never heard those before.”

“Never heard those before!? Cool!”

The circlee is discovering their self, through the eyes of another. The circlee is intimately connected to this wilderness of their inner life. In fact, the circlee is so connected to it that they may not even see it or feel it as it is… it can be a sort of constant background hum that is never noticed until it’s gone. For the facilitator to explore this wilderness, the circlee must share the emotions, the thoughts, the desires, the sensations… the facilitator is blind without what the circlee shares.

This circle isn’t just for the facilitator, but it is through the facilitator’s selfish curiosity that the circlee has the priviledge of discovering their self afresh, of seeing their self anew, and of knowing their self from a different perspective.

We could just ask the circlee for a tour of their self. We’ll get to see what they know, what they’re familiar with, what they want to show. What we want is the excitement of discovery and exploration in this facilitator’s circle. What we want is to approach the circlee’s world as an undiscovered country.

What better way to do this than from the perspective of the blind… those who know and see nothing until they ask. This can be a tough place to start… you start with emptiness… nothing… well… you at least have a shell, a face, a body.

If we’re going to help this facilitator discover our world then we need to allow them to follow their curiosity, give them time to tune to which direction they want to walk in and which object they want to look at.

As a facilitator, if you’re going to take on this journey with your full heart then you will have to expose vulnerability what you’re curious about, what you desire, and exert your will to step in the direction you want to go. This can be scary and will most certainly encounter resistence in some directions. The wilderness we’re exploring has it’s most prized jewels hidden in caves, most magnificent waterfalls deep in canyons, and vastest views at the top of rocky mountains on the edges of cliffs. The circlee has a lifetime of patterns to protect these jewels from exploitation and trampling tourists. We want to honor the protections that have served so well and yet may not serve anymore. There’s fear, there’s blocks in awareness, there’s sadness and tears, and sometimes there’s even anger.

We must honor and respect these defenses. We must appreciate and enjoy the circlee with these protective mechanisms. Any force we put against them will reinforce the subconscious of the danger of letting them down. Appreciation is the solvent.

As a circlee, we have the challenge of letting go of the defenses and trusting that our most naked self will be appreciated and respected. We can take refuge in the idea that if our most naked self isn’t appreciated and respected by others, that is a weakness in the other’s ability to appreciate. Or maybe, we haven’t fully let down all the guards. Can we appreciate and respect our selves with all the things we think are ugly?

If we as facilitators and we as circlees manage to have the courage to go forward on this adventure of discovery we will most certainly know each other more, we will have the opportunity to experience the depth of connection that is possible between human beings.

I hope you’ll courageously embark on this journey!

Community Around Practices

My goal is to be in a community centered around a practice. I want a practice that nurtures and grows a certain state of being… of being well, of being peaceful, of being aware. I believe we have this in Authentic Montreal and I’m really happy about it.

Every community needs something to hold it together. In ancient times the something, the juicy spice that held people together, was survival! Your odds of survival were much greater in a community that shared food gathering/hunting, protection from wild animals and other people, shelter building to protect from the elements, etc..

Today, we have little need for community to survive. We do need fellow people, but the interactions through online transactions that order supplies to your doorstep, impersonal purchases at the grocery store, and online payments for energy and water do not require any significant relation or community for them to occur. We can plug into this system with little significant human contact and all our survival needs are met.

Except one: connection. Connection and its many forms – companionship, love, touch, shared purpose, etc. – may not be necessary for immediate physical survival, but it is necessary for mental well being and mental well being is necessary for physical health (there are a host of diseases related to or exacerbated by things like stress, loneliness, depression).

We still need community. And we have a scarcity of it.

Churches, despite the decline of religion, still have some of the most vibrant long lasting communities in the world. Most of these communities are centered around beliefs. Though there is nothing wrong with communities centered around beliefs, an increasing number of people don’t hold those beliefs. I am among them and find it difficult to be part of such communities.

I’ve asked myself: can I adopt the beliefs of religion X? The answer has always been “no” for me. The question then became, “if I can’t adopt a set of beliefs to be part of a community, what can I adopt?”

I can adopt a set of practices and an intention to nurture an awakened state of being.

There are communities around practices, too. There are yoga communities, meditation communities, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, etc.. These are all communities around a practice that has the intention of growth and cultivating awareness and well being. I remember many times participating in these communities. There was just one problem. We rarely interacted. The practice was fundamentally solo.

Enter Authentic Relating. Here’s a practice that is fundamentally relational and has the potential to nurture awareness and foster self development. This is exactly the kind of practice I want at the center of community and is why I’m so excited about Authentic Montreal.

I envision Authentic Montreal growing and individuals growing within the community. I see us becoming more aware and feeling more fulfilled. And I see us doing this… together. I say “I see”, but we are doing this already.

Eckhart Tolle shares in “A New Earth” the inner purpose of all people is to awaken. There’s a great fulfillment to be had when we’re in touch with this purpose. With a practice like circling, where we want to be aware of what is, of each other, we are awakening. Creating a community around this practice supports each other in awakening as well as in life in general. We are deepening our connection to life, to each other, and to the world. We are becoming more aware of how we show up and how we can show up.

This is why I’m so excited. If you haven’t already joined Authentic Montreal for circling then I invite you now!

What is Circling?

Circling is a practice of revealing and bringing awareness to what is present here and now in relation to each other. We do this in something that looks a lot like a conversation with a few important differences and an inner practice. Often there’s also a result of deep connectedness, safety, communion, and peace.

The practice looks like 5-7 people sitting in a circle for about 50 minutes. In an individual circle (aka birthday circle) we bring our attention to one person (the circlee) for the full time. We ask the person questions about their experience of the moment, another person in the group, a life situation they have, a desire or fear they have, or any number of other things. We also share our feelings in response to both questions and answers from the circlee or any other participant. We try to favor things present in this moment over stories or things not here in the room. There are many other tools in circling that help us know each other and experience connection, but we’ll start with these.

Genuine Curiosity and Sharing Impact

We have some guidelines for the questions. We ask that participants ask questions they are genuinely curious about. We are not asking questions to try and guide the circlee to some solution or answer. We are not asking questions out of a sadistic intent. We are asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity and care with the goal of knowing and appreciating the circlee’s experience.

We also have guidelines for sharing impact (feelings in response to questions and answers). We try to remove causal relationships and own our experience. We say things like “when you said that, I felt sad” or “I feel sad hearing that” instead of “you made me sad” or “what you said made me sad”. We can share impact any time something is said. We get to discern when we want to share impact, or when we want to let the emotion go unsaid and bring our awareness back to the circlee or whoever is speaking.

Sharing impact helps bring our attention to what is present in the room. A felt emotion is something someone is experiencing in the moment and sharing it reveals something to everyone in the circle about the speaker’s experience in the moment. We want to prioritize attention on things present in the moment because they are real. They are real in the sense that they are perceivable now, where as stories – like a breakup with a loved one, for instance – aren’t something we can perceive. We can perceive the pain or feeling of loss. The thought that “we broke up”, however, is just a thought. The spiritual truth behind this insight is taught by many spiritual teachers and I do not want to defend it or elaborate here.

When we look at what’s real and happening now, we get to know ourselves, the present moment, each other, and the real relationships between us. Relationships are the way in which we are connected. Since these things are real and present there’s an opportunity for us to feel more connected with each other, have more insight into how we relate and have more insight into our self.

There are two points I really want to add to this. One is the inner compass and trail we follow while in this practice. The other is the vulnerability that often results and how that creates the connection and safety mentioned in the first paragraph.

Inner Compass and Vulnerability

The inner compass and trail is one of increased awareness of our body sensations, our emotions, other’s gestures, other’s expressions, and other’s intonations (among other things). The awareness of our body sensations and emotions come first. There is a deep wisdom in these two as they are intimately connected not only to our self, but to others! Through words, movement, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and intonation (as well as touch, but touch isn’t usually part of circling) we actually communicate vast information that has a chain of biochemical and emotional impact on each other. This awareness is very much like a meditation. We observe, objectively, without attachment.

What we notice – our sensations or emotions – may or may not be shared. We can make the choice to share whatever we’re noticing and are encouraged to be vulnerable in what we reveal. The vulnerability here has a very intimate relation to a feeling of connectedness and truth. Something feels vulnerable because there is some truth in it as well as some fear. The fear probably means we’ve rarely shared it (perhaps because we were hurt when sharing it previously). If we’ve rarely shared it then it is likely an area where we have not been truly seen. To reveal is to be seen and to be seen with appreciation is to feel connected. As the witnesses in this experience we strive to bring appreciation. Appreciation is a key ingredient to feeling connected. Without it, the person who revealed would likely feel embarrased or ashamed and revert back to hiding part of theirself.

A side note on appreciation. We are not appreciating what the person revealed. We are appreciating that they _did_ reveal, and we are appreciating _what_ their experience is around what they revealed. If we do not feel appreciation, then there are steps we can take to find appreciation – I hope to cover those in another article. Developing the skill to appreciation goes a long way towards daily compassion and connection with people and is a core skill developed in circling.

Going Deep

There is a cycle of vulnerably revealing and being appreciated for our experience that can take us deeper in connection… deeper in being seen. I have not yet been to a depth that could not go deeper and I know this cycle can take us very deep. The power in circling lies in this result of being deeply seen by others… and also deeply seeing ourselves.

Facilitators

Most of the circling we do has a facilitator. The facilitator’s role is to keep the circle “on track”. Facilitator’s are trained in everything mentioned above and in having a keen awareness of everyone in the circle. They remind us to share impact, remind us to ask questions from curiosity, steer us away from advice giving or fixing, model vulnerability and sharing of impact, and they make explicit requests to pause, hold a thought, or change directions. All of this is in the spirit of finding the overlap between vulnerability, appreciation, and safety and keeping the circle feeling alive and relevant. The facilitator’s role extends beyond this limited explanation and is a practice in itself to master.

Results

A circle can end leaving us feeling any number of things and we don’t have to all feel the same thing. The most common result is feeling connected, appreciation, safety, communion, and peace. It does happen sometimes that we feel angry, hurt, sad, disconnected. The practice includes accepting what is and welcoming what is. When sadness, disconnection, or hurt are present we try to welcome it. I want to go back to the first part of this paragraph… circling most often leaves us feeling connected. This can be deeply nourishing.

The other benefit of circling is we sometimes get our own world better. It’s hard to see how we’re showing up in relation to others and how others are experiencing us when this is always part of our experience. We are always present everywhere we go, so how do we know how our presence is affecting things when we have no way of knowing what things are like without our presence?? Other’s sharing impact in the moment in response to us is one key ingredient to understanding how we impact others. Another key ingredient is when other’s reflect to us what they see or how they experience us. Whether or not their reflection is true isn’t so important. We disgard and let go of things that don’t land as true. When a reflection does land as true… it can be profound in that we may never have seen it so clearly… or at all.

Through asking questions from genuine curiosity, sharing impact, following our inner compass, and being vulnerable, circling offers us a chance to feel deep connection, safety, peace, insights, and transformation. I have thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from years of this practice and hope you will too!