Who and What is Circling for, and What is Surrendered Leadership?

Nov 13, 2018

by John Thompson

At its depths, Circling is a practice related to awakening. It’s a set of pointers, practices and reminders to deeper levels of reality, to the transcendent quality of love, to the transpersonal, to the depth of our innocence and humanness, to oceans of mystery and unknown. It’s a place where I have regular ‘drugs’ experiences without having to worry about the chemical effects on my body. It’s a place where I come home to my tender humanity again and again and enjoy the same in others.

The Circling practice initially attracted me as a vehicle to living in a deeper integrity and a way to juice up some of my relationships. It seemed the most potent tool out there for personal growth and becoming more authentic. In the end it brought me everything I wanted and opened doors beyond what I had imagined, but it also brought me way more than I ever bargained for.

Circling is many things for many people. For some it’s a place to experience new levels of connection or a place to ‘come home’. Others are pulled magnetically because of the nourishment of being deeply seen and accepted in a way they've never experienced before. Some simply like the people they meet or the sense of belonging, community or tribe that they feel. For others it’s a rare opportunity to experiment — a playground to try things out and explore their edges in self-aware contact. Some are in the practice as it’s a space to witness and partake in ‘self organising systems’, ‘emergence’, ‘WE space’ or spiritual practice. For others it’s a place to reclaim and articulate their emotions and gain more attunement, awareness and expression with their body, while others are drawn to and inspired by the leaders themselves.

As a leader of the practice I like people getting anything that serves them from it, and, I want it to be as clear as possible what it can be and what our intentions are with it.

In Circling Europe we know it is a practice that has the power to deeply impact the way you see and experience life. We relish its magic and the ways it supports people to become more conscious, grown up and empowered. We smile at how this paradoxically happens while we enjoy, accept and see things clearly as they are, without the expectation that they should be different. We see its potency and ability to bring things to consciousness that have been in the dark for decades.

Most people who go deep into the practice at some point usually end up facing a ‘dark night of the soul’. What was once this beautiful place of peace and innocence also holds the potential to be a ‘hall of mirrors’ and a place of deep not-knowing. Ordeals and confronting truths lie in the shadows and some things might need to die. Integrating the depths of experience can be challenging. I’m unapologetic around this, but I do want you to know this possibility.

And still, I invite you from the bottom of my heart. I am so moved and inspired by this kind of journey and the depth of transformation that becomes possible when we are willing to swim in the full range and depth of the waters of being human. This is where the rubber hits the road. Step by step...touching the subtleties of what’s alive in connection and seeing these threads unfold into profound insights and openings, discovering boundaries in vulnerable real time and feeling alchemy as the fear of contact in uncharted experience resolves into joy.

I trust you to negotiate the practice even if it does rock your boat — because at its heart Circling is human to human contact. It’s an opening to more true and more loving ways to be together that the world is hungry for. At the same time it can only ever be humble in the face of the unresolvable human tensions and complexities that ground our existence and how testing and difficult connection can at times be.

It’s through this kind of journey that I and many others come into contact with a profound sense of meaning, even in the embrace of total meaninglessness. In gently cutting through the bullshit and facing what’s underneath we nurture courage, emotional maturity, a deeper ability to contain and hold what life brings us and doors of possibility open up. We get to experience beauty and innocence in some of its purest forms.


It’s a practice that is half made up of clear distinctions and practices and half a total surrender into the mystery of life and each moment as it is. As soon as we create a ‘practice’ or ‘rule’, however rich it is, we immediately create a limitation. We honour this dance by placing it at the centre of our practice, and therefore Circling itself is in a constant state of flux and evolution all-the-while maintaining its strong foundations, roots and lineage.

Circling includes both a direct path (a chance to dive straight into the pool) and a gradual path (carefully created developmental steps and guidelines). Although Circling can sometimes appear a very simple practice, the depth of wisdom, the clarity of distinctions and the subtleties at play behind the scenes should not be underestimated.

 Where does Surrendered Leadership fit into this?

  Surrendered leadership evolved out of us leading a tonne of Circling events — it arrived on our doorstep uninvited! It beautifully swallowed our plans of how we should lead our workshops and spat out a new one. It demanded we surrender deeper into the practice itself and swim in the continual tension of being in the practice and setting the context of the practice for others and knowing these form a 1 sided piece of paper.

It required us to sacrifice our ‘expertise’ into a deeper trust of the unknown and the group’s ability to self organise, be together in peace and people’s innate self-leadership capacities to be activated.

It’s a form of leadership that surrenders to collective intelligence. It’s a particularly subtle form of leadership. The leader tunes into the group and invites the orchestra to play. He trusts every instrument, including his own and knows that together we can fine tune each other with our truth, our willingness to explore connection and our listening to the greater whole (the conductor). She surrenders to what’s in herself from each moment to the next and listens for what the latest evolution of her leadership might be. He surrenders to each individual person by attuning to their essence. She surrenders to what is beyond us by trusting to stay in the immediate co-constructed moment. The dance of polarity and what lies beyond crescendo if we are graced.

It gives the opportunity to ‘play’ in a space that is profoundly free yet also a culmination of rigorous structures of practice and leadership. It can draw light on our ways of being with a gentle sharpness while whispering to us to notice the interconnectivity that is alive between us. It cleverly balances in a paradoxical gap between ‘workshop space’ and everyday life, creating the opportunity to encounter an electric aliveness and deep possibilities of integrating what is revealed or discovered. It keeps you in the tension of your greatest response-abilities and lettings go and is typically construed in a myriad of ways. It’s our vulnerable, broken offering of love and our grandest vision.

 Photo credit: Erik van der Boom

Circling Europe is an organisation committed to bringing the practices of Circling and Surrendered Leadership into the world in the most elegant ways. It has a particular energetic resonance, intricately connected with other currents of evolutionary wisdom and practice. We believe in a cross-paradigmatic approach and humbly offer the uniqueness of our practice while acknowledging its reliance on all the other offerings and paradigms that inspire and hold us from the past and the present.

This article was written by John Thompson, Co-founder of Circling Europe.


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