Circling - Woodstock Fruit Festival 2016

One of the highlights of my Woodstock Fruit Festival 2016 experience, was attending Anna Gilmer’s Circling workshop.  I had zero idea what I was entering into when I got there, though the description of the gathering sounded familiar and at the root of what I have been exploring, lately for myself.  So what is Circling?  Apparently this is the first time Anna has presented this practice, at the Festival and I hope others besides myself share with the organizers, the asset she has added.


As I looked down at my schedule, at the activity I had signed up for; I wondered, as you may be now, “What in the hell is Circling?”.  I like the description given here by Daniel Kendall - “The aim of circling is to encourage a deeper level of connection between those present. In normal conversation, the expression of beliefs and opinions, even in the form of advice, leads to the focus being taken from the recipient, causing them to withdraw emotionally and resulting in a shallow level of connection. Part of the problem is that beliefs and opinions are open to counter-argument and can lead to conflict. By focusing purely on individual experiences, which are wholly owned by the individual, then nobody can argue with what is expressed during a personal circle. Furthermore, when brief feedback is offered in a similar format, it conveys a sense of empathy and returns focus to the individual very quickly.” 


Why was Circling a part of the Festival?  I suppose all things increasing our capacity to love is a good meter for appropriate topics at the Festival (love of self, others, other living creatures and our environment).  Part of loving is understanding and I think that Circling offers the chance to hear and be heard. Not to mention, many Vegan's strive for understanding of their own personal understandings of the animal and human condition.  In that, many feel so passionately about Vegan issues that they sometimes find themselves issuing advice and strong opinions that can thwart the ability that others possess to full see their views. I interrupt that thought to add that sometimes strong messages are necessary to shake people up, but I feel as with everything, there must be a loving balance.


I attended two Circling gatherings at the Woodstock Fruit Festival, each had a different feeling.  I look forward to exploring circling further now that I am aware of its’s existence.  The personalities were different in each group.  The first one was outside and there were distractions of people coming in which interrupted the dynamic.  There were also a few people who shared more than others and had strongly developed thoughts and formulated language and abilities to express those thoughts, which was in strong contrast to those who did not share or who shared very little.  The second group was in an indoor closed space.  There were next to no interruptions.  Most of the group shared and they were very energetic.   

So how did it work?  We began the group, by Anna explaining a bit about Circling and then allowing for the group to all get into a good space for the games that followed.  We did several games; they blend somewhat in my mind between the two days that I attended, but  they were mostly one on one activities, with another member of the group.  One game we played, was to state unalienable truths we observed in our game partner.  This could sound like..."you are wearing blue earrings",  “I find your blue earrings beautiful" or "your blue earrings swing back and forth each time you look down.”  In this game to say, “your blue earrings are ugly”, would not be a truth.   It would be an opinion delivered as a truth, not as an opinion.  At first I thought this game was stating the obvious and not terribly helpful, "you are are wearing blue earrings...etc.", but I began to realize that it got me better connected with two things.  One was being able to verbalize what as an empath, I so frequently solely feel, but have challenges verbalizing. It helped me recognize some of the physical signs I usually take in without consciously noticing them.   The second was that it helped me to immediately discern in a comment that which was true as opposed to an opinion.  Starting to become aware of how many comments that hold importance for me, that are actually subjective is powerful.  


I played another game with a different partner.  We started this game  by, simply looking at each other. I felt an incredible wave of sadness coming from my partner at that moment and it was a marked juxtaposition to my feeling of contentedness and happiness.  It was profound to be sitting across from someone who was emitting such strong vibes of sadness, while I was existing in a state of complete contentedness.  We did not speak, and I wanted to.  I could see the formation of a tear in her right eye.  I wanted to comfort her, but that was not possible.  I wanted to give her some of my happiness and feelings of calm and breath, but our task was to simply look at each other.  The best I felt I could do was sit in my happiness, breath and be 100% me and allow that to radiate and share with her what that looked like.  I sat across from a girl who I imagined to be wonderfully loving and sensitive, but whom I imagined to be in a great deal of pain.  We just spent time being in each other's presence.  It was a wonderful gift and experience.  


After that game, we played, a game that began by saying, “Being with you I notice…”  Then the other partner would respond, “Hearing that I’m noticing…or makes me feel… It was okay to share observations, thoughts and feelings.  I had the same partner from the previous exercise and she said,“Being with you I feel incredibly comforted and loved."  I shared that, "hearing that makes me feel so happy.  I said I cold feel her pain, but could not do anything, but be there and present."  She shared that she felt good to not have someone come to her rescue.  She explained that she had always been a bit of a drama queen and was used to people coming to her rescue and that I just there and she was able to feel her feelings and I felt alright.”  Whoa…!  That was a really powerful affirmation for me and lesson.  I didn't have to do anything other than be present at that moment.  I felt happy to have been able to contribute to her feeling of being loved.  

Anna the facilitator, then called for us to get up and switch partners.  We were both resistant, as were other pairs in the group, but we settled in to our new pairs.  When then played, "I’m curious about".   This was an interesting game requiring some bravery.  Again, it was played in pairs (for the most part).  The first person in the pair was to state to their partner, what they were curious about.  We were to only ask questions, that they were genuinely curious about.  Following being asked a question, the other partner could briefly respond, if they chose.  I was initially intimidated, partially because I am always a bit overwhelmed in large group situations, but also because stating what one is curious about is very telling.  Somehow, I felt exposed.  What I am curious about often remains a personal thought.  Being aware of the mildly uncomfortable feeling I was having in my solar plexus, I got into a comfortable position and focused on my breath.  This partner appeared to be somewhat aloof; it was a big contrast from my previous partner and I was a bit reticent.  He had a quiet nature, but somehow still had an intense energy.  I imagined he was perhaps the sort of person who was often on the move and had a bit of a guard up.    When I spoke with him I found him to be quite loving and friendly.  In this game, I was curious as to how he had experienced his life growing up with blond hair, blond eyebrows and eyelashes.  He laughed a bit when I asked that question.  It was an unusual question.  He responded by saying, ,"I'm curious about why you are curious about that.".  I told him I imagined that depending on the community he grew up in, I envisioned his life experience to have been vastly different.  He let me know that he had grown up in Southern California, and his experience had been fine.  His hair was something that people had always noticed about him, but in a positive way.  If we had have had more time, I would have liked to ask him if asking that question made him think about ways he could have experienced life differently.  It was nice speaking with him and discovering how pleasant he was.  I think that discovery came about due to the rules of the game.  It pressed honesty and authenticity.  

Circling definitely pushed me in ways that were a stretch for me.  I love the vocabulary around circling and that is something I could use to practice, but I will now incorporate in my own daily life.  Hopefully it is something that the Fruit Festival will continue to offer!