On Circle — Three Things

One of the things that I love about hosting people in circle, and teaching about circle, is that I continue to learn things about circle and we people who come to it. Yes, it’s a practice. Yes, these are things remembered — “oh yah, that again.” These are bits of nuancing that I would suggest help improve the strength of the practice — circle as group process methodology, and, circle as rather healthy way of being.

From hosting and teaching yesterday, here’s some of my list that I scribbled into my notebook.

  • Tears — are welcomed and need not be apologized for. It remains interesting to me that the default as cultural meeting pattern is to apologize for having tears. Like it’s wrong. In this gathering, my cohost Quanita and I said what we tend to say when someone sheds a few tears and apologizes. “No need to apologize. The unlearning / relearning here is to bring more of ourselves into the room, not less.” That doesn’t mean every aspect of a complete meltdown — that’s a bit different. I’ve loved the skills that I’ve seen in people to be honest about how they are (or transparent, or vulnerable), yet, a bit contained within their own emotional hoop. Oh, and with tears — because we are emotional beings — we encourage people not to rescue the person in tears. What it looks like is people getting their own tissue, or asking for it, rather than a default, yet often unnamed norm of “clean that up.”
  • Rim — is what all of us in a circle hold with one another. We each have a job to help hold our part of the container. It’s a bit like forming an edge to keep what is being spoken — stories, questions, wonderings, musings, vulnerabilities — in the circle. Most contemporary meetings are rather bipolar in role descriptions. You’re either the one in charge doing and seeing everything. Or, your are a passive participant not needing to fully engage (and often engaging through phones about other things). The shared responsibility of all in a circle is contribute to holding a rim. Or to hold our part of the bowl, if you will.
  • Making it up — is a good skill in circle. It’s what it sounds like when the talking piece comes to us and we don’t know what to say. “I thought I was going to talk about this, but now I feel inspired to share this.” Or, “I forgot to bring an object for the center of this circle, but what I can offer is this scarf that I’m wearing.” Making it up isn’t about bullshitting. It isn’t about telling lies. It isn’t “fake it ’til you make it.” Rather, I’d say that making it up is about a more keen ability to be in the present moment, and share what arises from within us. We’re all learning this. I would suggest this is a non-performative aspect of “being” in circle rather than “doing” circle.

Yes, one of the things about hosting and teaching in circle is that I feel hosted and taught. It’s what a circle tends to gift back to us that sit in them, and that lean in to the possibility that some mystery of being together as humans might just come to the surface for the betterment of who we are and how we are together.

Soar or Sour

When something sours, like milk, it takes on an acidic taste and curdles into chunks. It’s pretty yucky. Take a chug of that milk and you’ll likely spit it out immediately through a grimacing face. And, you’ll likely be just a bit more vigilant about checking “best-before” dates for a while.

This morning I was writing about one of the dreams I had last night. For the last seven years or so now I’ve been using a five step process that I created of working with my dreams. I was on step five, writing out a few assignments to pay attention to during the day, informed by my dream. I meant to type the word “soar,” but my computer autocorrected to “sour.” I laughed. Slightly different direction.

Sour does have it’s place, however. I think of fermented cabbage, Korean kimchi, that keeps for a very long time. Kimchi is for many, an acquired taste that I got in 1984 and 1985 when I lived as a missionary in Korea. I had my initial yucky face grimace with kimchi, but really grew to love and crave the taste. Still do. Nonetheless, “sour” often has a negative connotation. It’s not quite like the “sweet” of chocolate, is it. Few people dispute the goodness of chocolate. But “sour” — sour often gets a bad rub.

Somewhere in this dream-working process and the laughter of auto-correct, I began thinking about another experience in my Korean language days. I had an instructor back then who challenged myself and my fellow missionaries to set goals on how much language we could learn. Back then it was relatively simple and helpful — another ten vocabulary words in the next ten minutes. It helped. Without question. I also remember however, that I was a bit resistant. Even then I had some default in me that leaned to more process-oriented “goals.” I remember thinking that “I’ll do my best.” It was a process goal that I was convinced might yield more than ten vocabulary words, but also sometimes less. I also remember that I didn’t want to be doubted in these goals; I wanted to be trusted.

The value of goal-setting is about as hard to argue as the value of chocolate. Indisputable. You’re nuts if you don’t think it is valuable. I share this perspective, definitely. However, like most “indisputable” claims, a problem arises when alternatives are completely dismissed as invalid. Sour has it’s place, by choice. Process has it’s place, by choice.

In the last thirty-five years I’ve met and been with plenty of people that adhere religiously to goals. Stretch goals tend to produce whether applied to sit-ups, vocabulary words, or setting a direction for a team. But please, no really, PLEASE, could we create just a little more space for process commitments. This is the likes of values that inspire and principles that give meaning to all of the production and doing that is such a part of most of our lives. Goals have a lot to do with management. Good, keep that up. However, process has a lot to do with leadership — engaging people as a group and system to unfold itself into more capacity and potential (it’s hard not to say, “accomplish more goals” here, but therein lays some of the trick of using language).

Process seems to have an inherent trust in it — hmmm? Less coercion — hmmm? Less belief that “unless I make you do it, you won’t” — hmmm? These sound a bit familiar for any of us with kids — the garbage isn’t going out if I don’t offer a reminder or two. But then again, perhaps this is the developmental marker — at some point we are not kids and teenagers, and need to evolve from the manipulation of each other into the sweetness of matured choices together. Of brains more fully thinking. Of hearts more fully engaging. Of imaginations more fully creating.

The times call for this thinking, engaging, and creating, right? This kind of challenging how we do; not just insisting on goals of more — twice as much in half the time with half the resources. It’s time to look beyond the obvious and the patterned immediateness so apparent in contemporary society. Soar, yes. Put perhaps with a bit of deliberate sour mixed in.