The Lineage of Circling
The Arete Experience: Noticing a totally different way of relating
Circling’s early conception came in an auspicious setting: the Burning Man Festival, 1998. One afternoon Guy Sengstock, Jerry Candelaria and some friends began relating with each other in a way that seemed incredibly novel—and deeply impactful. He could tell that something was different in how they interacted, but could not tell exactly what it was…
Guy was an artist, a philosopher and a coach. He had been through deep psychotherapeutic, meditative and philosophical practice and due to his unique family constellation had been attending therapeutic groups from the age of 14. This unique mix birthed something novel. Guy started to combine meditatively being with the other while attempting to understand and shed light on the deep structures, contexts and belief systems that constitute someone’s perspective and understanding. This involved a radical curiosity and also direct and succinct in-the-moment authentic feedback.
Around the same time Decker Cunov, Bryan Bayer, Shelly, Nicole, and Mark Lewis were also relating to each other in a completely different way from their contemporaries—a natural blend of their love for spirituality, meditation, psychology, and a whole host of Human Potential Movement and integral modalities that they called “Soul to Soul.”
This early conception was then further co-developed by the Authentic Man Program (which later formed Authentic World), a company that was working with men and women to bring more consciousness around attraction, dating and relationships. (While their main focus was on heterosexual relationships between gendered partners, their attention to the archetypical relationships between “masculine” and “feminine” parts of ourselves—that seem to naturally occur in almost all humans in one relationship or another—are a celebrated part of the history of Circling).
With this perspective of being present, discovering the other’s world with meditative and philosophical precision and integrity, Authentic World, led by Decker Cunov and Brian Bayer, pioneered a new paradigm in heterosexual male and female relating. This brought a focus of attention on a deep need to show men how empowering themselves with presence, authenticity and integrity would lead to more meaningful and satisfying relationships with women. Cunov and Bayer also highlighted how the more conscious women become, the more able they are to reflect on how a man’s lack of presence and integrity make him less attractive. In addition, they suggested that a woman also developing her connection to herself and her deeper essence will start to attract the men in her life that can meet her in her depth. Lastly and importantly when a man and a woman come together in presence and integrity a greater whole can be created that brings a potential for growth that is beyond expectation.
The Game for Intimacy
Here were the rules for the Game for Intimacy agreed to by Decker Cunov, Bryan Bayer, Shelly, Nicole, and Mark Lewis, that led to many of the Circling insights:
Rule of Self Expression
I promise to do what I most truly want to do, whenever I want to do it, and I don’t have to ask.
Rule of Self-Respect
I won’t do anything I don’t truly want to do, whenever I don’t want to do it, and I don’t have to give a reason why.
Rule of No Hiding
If there’s something I hesitate when I think about sharing it, I agree to share it anyway.
Rule of No Shaming
I commit to not “make you wrong” or judge you for whatever you share.
Spirituality for the Mainstream
The intention of increasing the power and fulfilment of connection uncovered important wisdom and led to a deeper understanding of authenticity. Authenticity became a key to a deeper level of intimacy and thus, awakening, for a broader range of the population.
What was starting to be taught was a being present with what is true and, crucially, being able to share this artfully in a way that develops intimacy. This is not a brash truth telling but a being in tune with what is arising in self and other each moment.
This was basically a movement developing a spiritual and psychological approach to understand connection between people. This became a successful business and inspired other similar trainings for men and women (Shana James and Alexis Shepperd created a corresponding Authentic Woman Experience in 2006). It was giving mainstream people ‘Aha’ moments from a spiritual presence to make a real difference in a vulnerable and fundamental part of people’s lives. It also addressed people in their own language and in their own world, and skilfully worked with and inspired different worldviews.
In one way this background can seem strange for a practice that inspires such a community as ours. However, what Authentic World did was to put a lot of attention on an area that is slightly taboo, vulnerable and hugely important to human interaction. In bringing presence to male and female relating deep parts of consciousness where being brought to light, it also tapped into a place that inspired and motivated people to want to grow.
The Integral Center
This emergence of Authentic World came with struggle, and the San Francisco movement started to meet big challenges, holding a community together that was using a deep spiritual practice and did not always have the combined level of development to hold this. Business was also a challenge, as was keeping the core leaders in alignment. This is where leader Decker Cunov started to make serious connections with the Integral world, developing a partnership with Robert McNaughton and taking over the Integral Boulder Center from Jeff Salzman. This gave Circling a home grounded within a second tier base and leadership, and it started to spread from here.
The Lineage of Circling Europe
John Thompson and Sean Wilkinson came across Circling in 2008 when they were doing something similar but not quite as nuanced. Jordan Myska Allen encountered Circling in a similar fashion in 2012.
After inspiration from working with both Guy and Decker they have now been leading the practice across Europe and America since 2012.
With their strong grounding in Integral theory they are starting to develop the practice while maintaining and building a stronger link with both The Integral Center and Guy Sengstock.
Similar Practices from other lineages.
Culture seems to be evolving in a variety of directions, and we see Circling as part of a larger evolution of ways we can relate to each other as humans, and bring more awareness into the collective field. While there are surely many antecedents (such as Quaker circles, and Parker Palmer’s evolution of these), we have found affinity with Patricia Albere and Jeff Carreira’s Evolutionary Collective, Pacific Integral’s Causal Leadership, Diane Hamilton and Rob McNamara’s Integral Facilitator, Christian Pankhurst’s Heart IQ, and Thomas Hübl’s teachings on awakening in relationships.