When folks talk about what they get out of circling, almost everyone speaks of being deeply seen.
“We’ve all had rare occasions of feeling deeply “seen” by another. Those moments where my reality gets fully gotten, understood, and shared. The person says just the right thing in the right tone and in the perfect way that let’s me know that I am no longer alone in the unique position I find myself in. My experience is valid, makes perfect sense and I get that I’m sane. My shoulders drop, my heart opens and the light comes on—“Yes! That’s it”—as my very being exhales in existential relief. I find myself somehow more myself in the presence of an authentic relational event basking in a felt remembrance that I am more than I could ever conceive. I am seen.”
– Circling Participant
What exactly is it about “being seen”? Why is it so moving and impactful? And what is it about the practice of circling that has people feel more seen than in almost any other experience?
The experience of being seen is often confused with being confirmed. There is a significant distinction here, so let’s talk about the differences between the two.
Being confirmed—or the act of seeking confirmation in the eyes of the other—is often referred to as a kind of narcissism. Put more psychologically, it’s a form of seeking narcissistic mirroring of my self-worth in the eyes of another. The name comes from Ancient Greek myth of Narcissus.
“In Greek mythology, Narcissus (Greek: Νάρκισσος, Narkissos) was a hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. He was the son of a river god named Cephissus and a nymph named Liriope. He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus died. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself.”-Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(mythology))
When people think of narcissism they usually think of someone who loves themselves too much. However, in reality it is quite the opposite. Narcissus did not fall in love with himself but rather with the reflected image of himself. He hated anyone who actually saw him instead of his image. I assume this reflected a kind of self-hatred.
Imagine if you were the reflection of Narcissus in the pond and witnessed Narcissus’s agynous yearning for what he thought was you. What would you experience as the recipient of this mistake? Here is this beautiful being (beauty itself) doing literally everything you did! Mimicking every outward and inward gesture in an incessant attempt to get you to love him! Imagine how you would respond? No doubt you’d be in utter agony yourself yearning for him to simply see the truth of his beauty that you saw but could not reflect. Imagine the massive frustration you would be experiencing as you saw him mimic the same frustration yet for you!
Now imagine the impossible happens. Somehow you (as the reflection) are able to relate with this beautiful being in such a way that he somehow recognizes what you see and realizes he already is the beauty he’s been seeking. What do you think that would be like for Narcissus?
You would probably first see a sudden shock come over him as his eyes widen with the recognition of that which has been closest to him. You may see him a moment later, in the shock of ekstasis, fall away from the pool and onto the earth as all of him begins to come to grips with the now self evident recognition that he already is that which he was seeking. Once he sees his own seeing, his entire life flashes before his eyes, with the realization this was available the whole time. Perhaps you would see him weep deep tears, acknowledging a worthy sadness for a life lived without knowing who he is. Then perhaps after the last wave of grief passed, a deep peace begins to realize itself, as the feeling of beauty becomes synonymous with his immediate feeling of self.
Bearing witness to this, it’s easy to imagine being released from the prison of his reflection as you find yourself now sitting with him I to Thou. With Narcissus being at one with himself, requiring nothing of you, relationship is birthed. Rather than being his reflected-object, you now are simply the opening and the witness bearer of the beauty he no longer “needs.” In this moment you find yourself revealed in the space of his relax. You could very well imagine you both walking away from this relational event somehow more fully yourselves, yet from your perspective all you notice is how unassumingly beautiful the path is walking home.
Yet, in reality, how could Narcissus ever escape this bind? How could he ever see the truth?
If we are really honest with ourselves most of us would find ourselves in this very bind, and we call it “normal.”
Simply put, narcissism is not knowing who you are. It is the insidious activity of seeking self confirmation through any sort of inference. “I know that I am because I think.” “I know that I am because I’m successful.” “I know that I am because you love me.” “I know that I am because I’m a good meditator,” and on and on and on. A.H. Almaas, the creator of the Diamond Approach to Self Realization, describes the average ego activity as “the narcissism of everyday life.” (The Diamond Approach is a contemporary teaching that developed within the context of awareness of both ancient spiritual teachings and modern depth psychological theories. http://www.ahalmaas.com/)
Most of us seek this confirmation in our habitual, predictable and automatic ways of responding to others. Like the buzz of the refrigerator we no longer notice that a constant agitated driven-ness “to be someone” runs our lives. We say, don’t say, do, don’t do, be, and don’t be, so as to be liked, approved of, loved, respected, admired and adored. And when our boss does not recognize us for our special talent and effort, we experience hurt, rage, and hatred and throw temper tantrums! Yet because throwing a temper tantrum will tarnish the delicate image we have mistaken ourselves to be we most often hide our hurt and instead, when anonymously in our car, we scream at the drivers who have the utter audacity to not notice it was my turn to go at the stop sign. Or we replay elaborate fantasies of humiliating him while proving superior. Or perhaps we incessantly talk to ourselves about how we’ll be better, work harder and prove that our reflection shines in his eyes.
All this is oh-so-human! This drive for self-confirmation is actually, like Narcissus, a very authentic yearning to know our selves. We are simply seeking it at the wrong address.
The process of circling invites us to open our awareness and recognition to the beauty and love we truly are without any of the inferences mentioned above. Rather than reflect and confirm, we share the experience of being with you moment by moment. Rather than insisting you fit my preconception of you (or of me) we open to discovering each other through our experience.
While the activity of self confirmation seeks to reflect a predefined image of ourselves in need of your eyes, in being deeply seen the eyes of the other are not a reflector but rather a unique space and site in which I unfold as a kind of communal event beyond my own self conception.
Although the experience of being deeply seen is deeply nourishing in and of itself, the ongoing impact of being seen has far reaching and lasting implications on how we live our lives. Being consistently seen transforms your ability to be genuinely vulnerable, which frees you up to take risks in your life that lead to greater opportunities and more success. No longer needing to hold tight in controlling what others think of you, you become more spontaneous, playful and fluid. No longer seeking to prove yourself, your responses to others become more open, curious, and free. Rather than the world being the place to find and confirm your value, the world is the place to express and embody your implicit value. Your capacity to be transparent, honest and genuinely permeable with others deepens your capacity for genuine intimacy and authentic connection. Because the mind is not consumed by the task of ensuring the constant survival of a self image, it is free to truly learn through genuinely observing the world around us all.
In this way we could playfully say circling is a non-narcissistic relational practice of releasing narcissus from the bind of seeking what is unfindable by simply leaving the level of the bind itself altogether. Just as a meditator stays on the cushion and continuously brings his or her wavering attention back into the present moment, the circler continually brings his relationship of the other out of projections, assumptions and stories and back, revealing the felt sense of the experience of being-with-thou. Together we all remember we already are more than we could ever accomplish.