What is Circling?

Circling is a way of having a conversation that enriches connection and reveals aspects of ourselves and each other that were initially hidden from view (often in plain sight). It is both a formal practice and a skillset with many applications.

Rather than talking about the weather or the news or a mutual friend, we root our attention in the present moment and talk about what it’s like to be together, right here, right now. 

It’s a sort-of conversational meditation. And like meditation, we do it with radical acceptance (everything is already perfect), not trying make anything happen (no need to fix or change anything), and being as true as possible to this moment. 

The goal (if there is one) is to be as present as possible to the deepest truth of our shared experience and the felt awareness of connection. People call this being “dropped in”; it’s something you can actually feel, and it’s profound.

You can also learn to have this kind of conversation with anyone (to at least a degree of depth) by following certain principles.

“What’s the point of just being present?”

While we’re practicing not trying to get anywhere, we always end up somewhere. And that “somewhere” is something like more fully here. There is a trail that you follow, but that trail isn’t to a destination; it’s more of the constant unfolding of the moment.

A big part of the practice is to surrender to this moment… to not carry an agenda to try and, for instance, fix someone’s problem. And yet the impulse to do that can be really strong, and the idea of just sitting here in this moment across from each other makes some people’s skin crawl. And people sometimes ask: “What’s the point? There’s nothing here!”

But consider that it’s an illusion that there’s nothing here.

What I’ve discovered is that if I really relax my attention into what’s here in right now, and I really open to the unfolding of the moment, that I start to drop in… and more detail, more nuance, emerges. What was at first maybe flat and dull, actually starts to become as rich tapestry.  What was originally nothing, turns out to be a whole lot of something.

Sometimes this experience is akin to the colors becoming brighter. And sometimes you actually discover things about yourself or another person. Things that, looking back were so obvious, but you somehow originally had no idea they were true. It’s like a fish perceiving water for the first time. These profound moments are some of my favorite in Circling.

Different kinds of Circles.

When practiced formally, Circling has two main facilitated formats—and many variations—that help us dive deep with a group of people.

There’s what’s known as a “birthday” Circle, where we have a focal point (or home base) of attention on one particular person and what it’s like to be them. We practice stepping into their world and having a conversation about what that’s like. 

There’s also what’s known as an “organic” Circle (and the closely-related “surrendered leadership” Circle), where there’s no focal point of attention. The group’s attention can stay with one person or it can shift around to multiple people in the group.

Want to learn how to Circle? Check out the next Circling Comprehensive Level 1 Training.