Circling has changed my life.  I’ve had breakthrough experiences both as the one being circled (the Circlee) and as a Circler.

I’ve sat in dozens of circles, and on Circling Nights I’m sometimes asked about the language I use.  But we often don’t have time to discuss these distinctions, or don’t want to flood newcomers with too much information.

So I’m setting out to start a series I’m calling “How to Give Great Circle,” where I’ll share some simple yet effective tools you can add to your Circling Toolkit.

In this first part, I’ll share what I think are a few important points on how we talk about our experience while Circling.

At Authentic Los Angeles, we strive to create the shared experience of feeling “uber connected” – as Brian likes to say.  We notice, moment by moment, what it’s like being with each other – and share the thoughts, emotions and sensations that arise.

And as a lover of words and someone who has studied language in various forms (Conscious Language, Non-Violent Communication, countless books on the subject) – I want to share some guidelines on how to share our experience in an impactful way.

These are general recommendations.  Not rulesThere’s no right and wrong way to Circle.   Please hold these lightly.

1. In general, use “I” statements

When I speak with “I” statements, I can own my experience.  If I speak mostly in “you” / “she” / “he” / “them” / “it” statements – I might be projecting, disowning, or disassociating from my experience.  There are many reasons why we learned to speak in this indirect way, including: lack of role models with good emotional intelligence, unconsciously repressing or cutting off from our desires and feeling experience, fear of rejection or abandonment when fully expressing ourselves, but the point is, speaking with “I” statements is powerful and connective.

So, for example, if I’m being circled and someone asks me what I want, and I respond with “Well, you know, it’s natural that you want everyone to like you,” I am not owning my experience, I’m projecting it outwards.  A more direct way to say it could be: “I want everyone to like me,” or “I want to be liked.”

2. Keep it in the Here and Now

Speaking in the present tense keeps you in the present.  And Circling magic happens in the present moment.

If, as a Circler, I say: “This reminds me of the other day when I got into an argument with my dad and he said…”  I am not being fully present, part of my attention is on this event from the other day.  If you wish to share your current experience, you could say: “I’m thinking about an argument I had the other day.”   “I’m thinking” – is present tense.

Similarly, if you ask a question about the past or future, in order to answer the question, the Circlee must put their attention on the past or future.  “What did you do yesterday?”  puts the Circlee’s attention on yesterday.  A present tense way to share might be: “I’m wondering what you did yesterday.”  Or: “I’m wanting to know what you did yesterday.”  Or not raise that question at all, and focus on what is coming up for you in the moment.  If you feel deeper into your experience, maybe what’s really true is: “I’m feeling antsy and I’m wanting to hear something about your daily life.”

3. Avoid using feeling words to describe what you’re thinking

It’s quite common for us to use the word “feel” when we’re not talking about a feeling, we’re really sharing a thought or judgment.  This disconnects us from our own experience, and therefore disconnects us from others.  “I feel like Joe was trying to take advantage of me” – is not a feeling, it’s a judgment.

Try something right now.  Close your eyes and say aloud: “I feel like.”  Now say: “I feel.”  Did you notice anything different in your body with the second phrase?  Now try saying: “I feel that.”  Now again say: “I feel.”  Can you feel the difference?

Here are some indirect phrases I try to avoid while Circling:  

  • I feel like…
  • I feel that…
  • I think I feel…
  • I feel you are…
  • I feel she/he/they/it…
  • It feels like…
  • It feels…

Here are some more direct and therefore more connective phrases to use:  

  • I feel…
  • I’m experiencing…
  • I’m noticing…
  • I’m thinking…
  • I’m imagining…
  • I believe…
  • I’m having the thought that…

Try using some of these direct phrases and see what happens.

4. Use body-friendly language

One of the most powerful ways to connect with others is by using language that helps us connect with our own emotional bodies.  Researcher Dr. Candice Pert says your body is your subconscious mind.  And Bob Stevens, founder of Conscious Language, argues that our emotional body has the mind of a 3-year-old.  So we can connect with our emotional body by talking like a 3-year-old.  Ha!

Sound crazy?  Here’s all I mean: when we talk about our emotions, speak simply.  “I feel sad.”  Or “I’m pissed off hearing that.”

I’ve been in enough circles to see this in action.  Such simplicity can be extremely powerful.

I believe this is because it’s easier to resonate with another when they are fully in touch with themselves.  And this simple language is a great bridge to help with that.

Our bodies are always in the present moment, so describing our physical sensations is one way to keep our attention on the Now.  Another way is by speaking with “body-friendly language.”  Connecting with Self helps us Connect With Other.

5. What you are experiencing can be a cluster of thoughts, feelings, and sensations

Sometimes it’s tricky to name our emotions, since we might not have a lot of practice doing it.  What’s also potentially tricky is that multiple emotions can arise at the same time, as a cluster!

It’s totally okay to name those various feelings and sensations, especially if you’re the Circlee.  “I’m feeling sad, heaviness in my chest, and a little bit embarrassed.”  Obviously we’re not required to name everything we’re noticing in a given moment – and that would be impossible actually.  But it’s good to remember you likely have multiple components to your experience, and it’s great practice to notice them during Circling.  Which likely will require slowing down, taking a moment, and tuning in.

6. Speaking in the affirmative will get you in touch with your experience quicker

Naming experience by saying “I’m not this” or “I’m not that” is fine and can be helpful during Circling to make a distinction.  But to fully get in touch with what we ARE experiencing, we need to speak in the affirmative.

A lot of times we say what we’re NOT feeling because we’re avoiding saying (and feeling) what we actually ARE feeling.

And, as an example, “I’m not sad,” actually tells us very little about your experience.  Maybe you’re not sad, maybe you’re devastated.

My recommendation is that if you do say a negative such as “I’m not ____,” after that share in the affirmative what you are actually experiencing.  (A lot of the time us facilitators will hop in and guide this.)

So take a risk and speak in the affirmative.

7. When in doubt, come back to “I’m noticing…”

If you want to share but are afraid of “saying it wrong” (which is impossible, by the way) – you can always come back to using the sentence stem “I’m noticing…”  Such as:  “I’m noticing I’m curious about…”  “I’m noticing I’m really uncomfortable.”  “I’m noticing you have your arms crossed.”  “I’m noticing I got really pissed when you said that.”

Stay tuned for Part Two of this series, where I’ll present some guidelines on owning our projections and speaking in the second person: “You.”

I hope you got something out of this post, and that you’ll come to our next Circling Night and try these ideas yourself!

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