The establishment of this International Circling Federation lands for me as simultaneously exciting, and intimidating. I don’t think Jerry and I, as we co-created the experience and training that we called Circling in the late 90’s, could ever have imagined it reaching as many people, in as many different countries and languages, as it has today.
It has been a thrilling, humbling, and (at times) nerve-wracking experience to witness Circling grow and spread over the past 25 years.
There are a lot of things I did not know about creating a model, or training, or hell even a business during the early years of teaching and facilitating Circling. Admittedly, there was a lot I didn’t know about people either! I was just excited to share this way of connecting & communicating with the world… and honored people resonated with it enough to want to learn about it. I truly believed this way of being could help people, and I wanted to share it with the world.
I so wanted to share it with the world that when after years of studying and practicing with me personally, Brian Bayer & Decker Cunov asked to break out on their own & teach a slightly modified version of the Original Circling Approach, I gave them my blessing. And after John & Sean spent a couple of years training and working with me (both privately & publicly), I gave my blessing and encouragement for them to do the same – bring it to Europe. I was stoked to see this level of interest in & passion for the Circling Approach. Together, we three schools could reach more people, in more areas. My dream of sharing these trainings – that had literally changed my life – with the world flourished exponentially. For that, I will forever be grateful.
I thought the idea of multiple training schools across the globe would help anyone who wanted to facilitate Circling to be able to train to do so. I failed to imagine that people would participate in a few Circling sessions, choose not to formally train, and then go out and claim to facilitate Circling. Naively, I thought people who were not interested in, or able to invest in, formal training in Circling would simply take pieces of what they learned from the experience of participating in a Circling group and integrate them into their already established practices. It never occurred to me that people who had never formally trained at any one of the 3 Circling Schools would claim that what they are doing is facilitating or teaching Circling. My failure to imagine the possibility of these happenings has allowed the term “Circling” to begin losing some of its distinctiveness. This is a disservice to all of the individuals who have invested the time, energy, and funds into formally studying with one of the 3 certified schools of Circling. And, sadly, it has caused people who have experienced true, legitimate Circling & developed trust in the Circling name to be injured by untrained facilitators that claim that what they provide is “Circling”. I know this because, over the past several years, there have been many individuals reaching out to the Circling Institute to file grievances and/or seek support after participating in “Circling” events that – after a bit of research – were found to be facilitated by people who were not trained by any of the 3 certified Circling schools.
Because of the way things were initially set up, “Circling” as a trusted name in the field of authentic relating is at risk of becoming meaningless. Anybody, at any time, could set up shop and claim they were facilitating “Circling” or even teaching “Circling” classes without any training or experience. Anyone could create some group experience that does some mixture of encounter group, unbridled self expression, reflective listening, and whatever else they want to throw in and call it “Circling”. And there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it! NOTHING!
I began to feel sick to my stomach as I imagined the ramifications of this. After decades of sharing my work in small groups in mostly the Bay area, I was stretching myself to speak to major thought leaders on podcasts and at symposiums and festivals. I was offering descriptions and experiences of what it is like to participate in facilitated Circling events and groups. My descriptions were reaching thousands of people… People who would then later hop online to seek out an opportunity to experience what they had just heard me speak about or watched me demonstrate and because of the lack of restrictions on what could be called Circling – there was no telling what they would get! I cannot describe to you the weight of responsibility I felt knowing that my failure of forethought had created a dynamic where people would listen to an interview with me, and trust me and what I was sharing so much that they would seek out an experience of Circling only to be disappointed – or even hurt – by what they personally experienced because the so-called Circling they found had no connection to myself or frankly any legitimately trained Circling practitioner.
Between fielding all of these complaints about people’s experiences with untrained/uncertified people claiming they were teaching or facilitating “Circling” and recognizing that people who had never trained with any of the 3 Certified Circling Schools were not only creating their own things and calling them “Circling”, but creating their own schools that falsely claimed to teach people these things they claimed were Circling was what convinced me I need to do something to safeguard the practice of, and the use of the term Circling… Not only to respect & honor the practitioners who dedicated their time, funds, and energy to studying Circling with one of the 3 certified schools, but also to honor & protect the people who learn about Circling and seek out the experience.
On the heels of that revelation, I trademarked the term Circling as it applies to the tools and materials I began teaching back in the late nineties. I reached out to the other two schools letting them know what I was doing, and why, and assured them that I wanted them to be included in this ongoing pursuit to bring greater meaning, distinction, quality, and standards to Circling education and facilitation.
Just as I could not have predicted the growth and popularity of Circling… I was shocked by people’s reaction to my trademarking of the term. The aftermath that followed shook me to my core. People accused me of trademarking the term Circling as a “power grab” or an attempt to make money. I struggled to understand how or why people were interpreting my attempts to protect all certified Circlers, from all 3 schools, and the Circling enthusiasts who sought out their events and services in that light. I lost sleep, I sought counsel from trusted colleagues and other leaders in the field of Authentic Relating, and despite having very little knowledge or experience in such things was grateful to the community for the suggested resolution of creating an International Circling Federation comprised of all three certified schools & handing the management of the trademark over to it. I am looking forward to what this non-profit organization has planned for Circling in the future. To further dispel the fears that I had any self-serving goals associated with the trademark, I have chosen to abstain from personally taking a seat in the governing body of this Federation.
It is my hope that the International Circling Federation will serve & support not only the community of certified Circling practitioners from all 3 schools – but everyone who wants to learn about and experience Circling. That it will uplevel the standard and quality of the Circling services provided across the globe.