It's been a dizzying, wonderful last few weeks. Thanks to Ross Cooper for the reminder that I haven't posted in a while (the conversation went something like: "Hey Sara, I haven't seen any updates on your Patreon. Are you ok?" "What? I just posted one last week, about the retreat!" "That was two weeks ago...")
ConnectionCorps, my Austin-based Authentic Relating company, has been holding meetings like crazy, figuring out our next tactics for spreading empathy throughout the world. In the middle of these discussions - visioning, meeting with lawyers, philanthropists, corporate connectors, other community leaders, anything and everything! - I left to spend a week in San Francisco with the Circling Institute.
The Institute is a new entity. But, its course teachers - Guy Sengstock and Alexis Sheppard - have been teaching circling for a long time. Guy was one of the founders of the practice. Meeting him was like having tasted a certain spice in foods all my life, and suddenly encountering the pure form - "Oh, THAT'S what I've been tasting in everything!" Guy and Alexis embody what, to me, is the heart of circling: pure yin (welcoming/inclusive) love and care, combined with a brilliant discernment of the human being behind every interaction. To quote Guy, "I want you to happen. And I want to be there when you do."
I and the Circling Institute have been in talks about possibly bringing the Art of Circling to Austin, and about me being mentored by Guy. So, when they invited me to come out to San Francisco, I jumped at the chance.
The intent of the Art of Circling course is to teach how to circle. However, the first weekend is more like an Immersion - everybody gets circled! In Guy and Alexis' style, each person is circled in front of the entire group for 30-40 minutes. I've been through the Integral Center's training as a participant, and have led with Circling Europe, so I was watching their style with a practiced (and critical) eye. My expectations were more than exceeded.
Guy and Alexis led 14 circles throughout the weekend, and every single one felt deep, valuable, and validating. Moreover, the style they used was so in line with the reason I love circling. The practice can err more on the side of meditation and group process (Circling Europe style, where spiritual/state experiences, self- and group-expression, and conflict are likely) or on the side of clean discernment and interpersonal skill-building (Integral Center style, where noticing "dissonance" between what is said and how it's said, calling out patterns, checking with internal experience, and following clear steps is the core of circling teaching). Alexis and Guy seem to walk a clean line through the middle, or perhaps catch the underlying intention behind all of this. Simply, "Who are you, and what's it like for us to see that?" Most of what I saw them do was notice and reflect exactly what was happening in the circlee, in the moment, with such an air of acceptance that people began to accept themselves, even at the deeper level at which they were being seen. This sounds simple - but, one phrase I came up with that sums up the Circling Institute's style is "It takes a lot of complexity to be that simple". Guy and Alexis were able to reflect not only what somebody was doing or saying, not only how they were doing or saying it, but also WHAT KIND OF PERSON would that person have to be to do, say, seem the way they are. I found the Circling Institute brilliant, inspiring, and always grounded in love - something I could say of all three branches of circling, in fact.
Back to the future, as that's what this Patreon is about. I'm writing all this not only because the weekend was amazing, and because I want to give some perspective (for all the circlers and relaters out there) on what different trainings are like; but also because this isn't the end of my involvement with the Circling Institute. I and they really hit it off. We're walking similar paths, trying to bring this work even more into the world, and trying to find ways to support each other in the process. Neither of us are yet sure what that will look like. I may return to San Francisco every 6 weeks for the rest of this year-long course and be course supervisor for it (the role I played this weekend, unexpectedly and joyfully). We may bring the Art of Circling to Austin. We may all end up one big Authentic conglomerate, years down the road. I'm excited to see what will come!!
P.S. For more information on the Art of Circling, which is still enrolling until Nov. 21 in San Francisco - http://www.circlinginstitute.com/event/art-circling-year-long-training/