Last night I was relaxing on the sofa, cradling my infant son Alexander and watching the recent Disney short Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. In the film, (*spoiler alert*) Olaf the affable talking snowman embarks on a quest to find a holiday tradition for his friends Anna and Elsa. He searches far and wide, collecting all manner of traditions in a sleigh, and eventually loses all of them when the sleigh catches fire and falls down a ravine.
And then catches fire again.
As an utterly despondent and hopeless Olaf wallows in self-loathing, Anna and Elsa find him and reveal that in fact he is their holiday tradition, and has been all along.
Now, on the surface we could look at this as just another cheesy iteration of the typical Disney feel-good story. And that might be true on one level, but I think if we look a little more closely, deeper themes start to appear.
Circling reveals pop culture transmissions
I’ve found that one of the remarkable side-effects of regular and/or intensive Circling practice is that I start feeling like the Universe (and everything in it) is communicating with me.
Can you relate to this experience?  Or does it sound presumptuous, or perhaps absurd? As you read, I invite you to notice what responses arise in you.
For me this often shows up in the way I receive expressions of pop culture like movies, shows, songs and novels. When I watch a film nowadays—even a rather simple one geared towards the likes of my baby son—I often see how there’s a deep truth about reality that’s wanting to reveal itself through this particular piece of creativity.
Olaf the spiritual seeker
One thing that stood out for me was how Olaf’s adventure parallels the classic journey of the spiritual seeker, particularly as it plays out in today’s global spiritual marketplace.
There are also, as we might expect, parallels with the Hero’s Journey, the great monomyth we find in one form or another in every story that resonates with our humanity.
Olaf’s journey begins when he realizes that something fundamental is missing (the call to action in the Hero’s Journey or what in Zen Buddhism is called “raising the bodhi mind”). He promptly embarks on a quest, experiencing the many and varied traditions (Allies, or Schools, we might say) and collecting something valuable from each.
Always darkest before the dawn
But then, just when he’s reveling in his accomplishments, Olaf experiences the loss of all he’d collected and held dear. His ‘descent into the underworld’ or ‘dark night of the soul’, if you will. He loses faith and essentially gives up.
As Olaf reaches his lowest point, the stunning realization dawns that in fact he is what he’s been looking for.
And that’s the other profound teaching I found in the cartoon, perhaps the most profound of all.
We are what we’re looking for
Olaf realizes, through being deeply seen by others in his essence (ahem, sound familiar?) that what he’s been searching for is, to paraphrase a Sufi expression, “closer than his jugular vein.”
In the words of Alan Watts, “you can’t find it because you’re it!”
Or, from St. Francis: “what we are looking for is what is looking.”
Again, as you’re reading these words, what’s arising for you? Resonance or understanding? Perhaps skepticism or confusion?
Whatever you notice, can you notice that which is doing the noticing or having the experience, the ‘experiencer’ itself? Can you find it? Or, more to the point, can you avoid it? Can you stop experiencing?
Instead of just thinking about this, I invite you to take a moment and actually check. What do you discover?
Part of why Circling can be such a profound practice is because we are, in a sense, practicing non-doing.
We’re invited to surrender into what Zen calls the everpresent “non-seeking, non-grasping mind,” while including, noticing and exploring any impulse to seek, do, change or fix.
And what’s remarkable and quite unique is that we’re doing this together, while communicating verbally and non-verbally.
When “the magic’s right,”  when the group is powerfully led (and is invited to lead itself), the moment becomes an exploration of self-leadership that includes an awareness of the interconnected whole. This collective, relational non-doing can in turn become a space in which anything that might be inhibiting our surrender can naturally arise and be seen, met and liberated.
‘Being’ as an active principle
In my opinion, Circling at its best cultivates a capacity to inhabit and transmit what the wonderful Valerie Daniel calls “Being as an active principle.”
It can become a potently paradoxical experience of being ‘lived by life,’ totally trusting whatever is wanting to arise as us and through us; while simultaneously being fully responsible for our experience and acutely aware of our inner landscape and our interdependent impact.
This way of being and relating can in turn often lead to an embodied sense of how, just like Olaf realizes, what we’ve been searching for has been right here all along.
As the credits roll, with the final song still echoing in my mind (“..‘cause when we’re together, that’s my favorite place to be..”), I feel tiny Alexander’s swift, sweet breath on my neck and I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness.
I’m grateful for all the ways that Circling has opened me and brought more of me online, such that I’m able to receive a deep transmission of wisdom from a goofy animated snowman.
I’m grateful for this simple moment of shared presence with my sleeping son, who is starting to wriggle and will soon be crying out for his mother’s milk.
And I’m especially grateful for the recognition that, though I’ll almost certainly keep collecting all manner of interesting things in my sleigh (as will Alexander), what we’re most deeply yearning for is actually this most intimate and immediate “simple feeling of being,”  the one thing that can never be lost.
- I also invite you to notice how the common phrase “I can’t relate” is actually a misnomer, because even the experience of something being completely foreign to me is in itself a form of relating.
- From another great ‘pop culture transmission,’ the song “Doin’ It Right” by Daft Punk.
- This phrase comes from one of my favorite authors, the philosopher Ken Wilber, who also happens to be the king of footnotes.
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