Table of Contents
From 2016 to 2021
From the fall of 2021 to now
Case study: Own your characterology (heads-up, this is going to be brutal)
Authentic Relating is not enough: some disclaimers and a few words of advice
Introduction to emotional communication, both inside and outside the NVC model
Case study: the OFNR model, and compare-and-contrast NVC and Authentic Relating
The difference between a feeling and a judgment / evaluation
Needs as a gift
Chapter 2: The two fundamental human needs; The masculine and feminine poles of love; Sexual polarity; Emotional charge and the practice of Withholds
My framework for emotional literacy; and more Marco-cosmology
The two fundamental human needs, and their infinite variations
The nature of emotional charge and the practice of Withholds 20
Chapter 3: Authentic Relating and Circling: the “living laboratory of love” and how to make it work for you
Chapter 4: Own your characterology: Get to know it and befriend it (there are NO bad chacterologies, there is only unconsciousness; with two notable exceptions)
Chapter 5: Trauma is good for you: Developmental trauma and human psycho-spiritual development
Chapter 6: In relationship, everyone is right: Teach only love (and when you can’t, walk away)
Chapter 7: the Authentic Relating cheat-sheet: Double your appreciations, surrender/apologize gracefully, and stop trying to be right (easy-peasy. Everything else is gravy)
Chapter 8: You are probably a dick (or an asshole or a bitch): Don’t make yourself wrong for it, but don’t ignore it either
Chapter 9: Life is difficult: Get over it (you don’t choose your karmic role and destiny)
Chapter 10: Understanding cult psychology in reference to this model (Hint: it is highly probable you are either a victim, a perpetrator, or both)
Chapter 11: You are not alone: You are part of the worldwide emergence of Integral second-tier consciousness (lead, follow, or get out of the way)
Conclusion: Next steps?
Introduction: How I finally got a life (after 40 years of trying), and some key conceptual takeaways
“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” – George Bernard Shaw
From 2016 to 2021
This book is a sequel to my Circling and Authentic Relating Practice Guide, which is available on the web for free or small donation, and on Amazon in all formats. Given, however, that you may not have read my Circling Guide, I will start by summarizing my introduction there, my story.
This book, by the way, is not designed to replace the Circling Guide. Rather it is the higher-level, “30,000 foot view” of the movement and the practice of Authentic Relating (A/R), as I understand it. This book is about what I have discovered and how I have evolved in my 6 years within the A/R movement. It is a theoretical and practical guide on how you can accelerate your own development in a way that gives you access to authentic happiness and power, through the practice of Circling within the Authentic Relating tradition. I return to these topics – human development, the nature of love and of authentic power, the correct attitudes to hold, and why Circling is so powerful – in the first three chapters.
This introduction may be too long. My idea is that should you choose to read only this introduction chapter, I would like for you to walk away with at least one idea that will utterly transform you. My style is rather direct and I want to maximize your takeaways in one sitting. Anyway, thank you for reading, and on with the story.
In 2016, at the age of 56, I discovered the Authentic Relating and Circling movement, through the now-defunct Integral Center in Boulder, Colorado. This occurred after a lifetime of seeking, of throwing myself head-first into every type of psychotherapy, religion, self-help psychology, Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT), New Religious Movement (NRM) and Intentional Community (IC) that I could find and which my resources allowed. I call this “the 40 year war against myself and against the world, trying to make a buck and get a little love, mostly unsuccessfully”, because I experienced many more failures than successes in those 40 years. In 2016 I was not a happy person, and I was a far greater dick even than I am today, which is no small statement. Let’s be blunt: I was desperate.
It became immediately apparent to me that what was happening then in Boulder, and around the world in a number of places (San Francisco, Austin TX, New York City, Amsterdam etc.) was historically significant, the emergence of a developmental practice and community (what I call “an experimental community of love in action”) which was powerful and profound. What made the movement even more compelling, is that it was, for the most part, open-source (i.e. not a proprietary or trademarked brand, or controlled from the top), relatively inexpensive, and widely available including online (online Circling works exceedingly well).
It was also, at times, a shit-show, as you would expect. You cannot live in the light, until you have experienced the darkness in yourself, and realize that the purpose of relationship is to mirror you in both your light and your darkness. I was looking for a developmental practice that understood this, that understood that “we discover ourselves through the eyes of others”. Circling is also sometimes referred to as a “relational meditation”; and as many important teachers have realized (Patricia Albere, Carter Phipps, Arjuna Ardagh, and others) the classical forms of enlightenment are now obsolete. Our solo-meditation in our mountain retreat may no longer satisfy. Plus, given the state of the world, we don’t have time for that anymore (If we ever did). Circling looked to me as the ticket.
I launched myself into the movement with the intensity and ferocity of a man who was drowning. Through late 2016 and all of 2017 I circled online every day, sometimes twice a day (on the CircleAnywhere platform, which remains the largest, and arguably still the best, online Circling platform). I also, in a bold move, started my own group: I invited some friends to a weekly circle, and led it. It ran for a year and it was phenomenal, which I attribute more to my good taste in choosing my friends than to my skill (I was still pretty “green” in A/R, despite my prior 30 years of psychological work). This is a practice that I have continued: I am in a weekly men’s group that I formed 4 years ago, with many of the original people, and it continues to deepen. This by the way is the highest-leverage action step that you can take from reading this book: invite your friends, or business associates, into a weekly Authentic Relating circle. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this: put down this book now and reach for the phone. There is no more powerful developmental practice than running your own groups and enrolling your friends in it. You may fail miserably, but you will grow.
In late 2017, in yet another bold move that generated considerable push-back from the community (recall what I said earlier “shit-show”), I wrote the Circling Guide. The Circling Guide was in the end well-received with excellent reviews, made me a very minor celebrity in the A/R movement, but did not have the impact or reach that I had hoped for within the movement, let alone in the wider world. In all fairness, I have to say that you cannot learn to Circle from a book, you have to practice. I did not learn to Circle from a book. I kept going however, muddled through life for 4 more years, kept learning and growing, had some great successes in leadership and equally great failures (“recovering asshole” became my trademark), and published a significant update to the Circling Guide in February 2021. That project is now complete and no updates are planned, at least for a while.
This book came from a desire to write something with a larger scope and which would be of interest to people outside of the A/R movement. What follows here is the “new story”, the one that is not included in the Circling Guide.
From the fall of 2021 to now
In the spring of that same year, 2021, I moved to a commune in Wyoming which turned out to be a political cult, but they utterly transformed my life. Especially starting in the fall of 2021 when I joined the Level Up (which is CircleAnywhere’s high-level Circling training program, and one of the best such offers in the world), almost exactly a year ago as I write this, began the most extraordinary year of my life. A whole series of events occurred, some related to the commune (they heavily traumatized me, time after time, and I for sure inflicted my share of trauma on them), some events related to the Level Up, and others pure serendipity. After nearly a decade of my “journey through the wilderness”, of losing in almost everything that I tried – that story partially told in my third book, the memoir Broke, Single, Crazy and Old: The Redemption of a Sex and Love Addict, published in May of 2022 – after close to 10 years of back-to-back business and relational failures, I started winning everywhere: in business, in money, in relationship, in A/R leadership, in lifestyle upgrades and in new adventures. I could not understand what had happened, but I could not deny the reality of it. The loneliness (and the trauma) of living in this place was intense and unrelenting (except for increasingly frequent and longer periods of ecstasy, which are the hallmark of my bipolarity and one of its gifts), but I could not deny the transformation. I started referring to it (perhaps grandiosely) as “intense karmic flow” or “transformation at the speed of light”.
Fundamentally, it was my experience of living in this dysfunctional commune – along with other engagements such as the Level Up and serendipitous events, I cannot establish causality here – but it was the experience of living in the commune that transformed me. Maybe I would have transformed anyway, maybe the commune had nothing to do with it. But I don’t think so. Those radical-queer communists and anarchists gave me my life. I tell that story in chapter 10.
The essence of that transformation was the two take-aways which are central to this book: first, Trauma is good for you; and second, Own Your Characterology. I also got clear on the dynamics of cult-psychology, which I realized is the fundamental problem of the modern world (both 20th and 21st centuries) and which most people are unconscious of. It is quite difficult to have any kind of lasting positive impact on the world, until you realize that almost all of us are either unconscious victims of cult psychology, perpetrators, or both. More about this later. Just to say for now: you can’t do anything about cult psychology until you become aware of it; and to become aware of it you must acquire relational intelligence. And I believe that the go-to practice (“the living laboratory of love”) for the acquisition of relational intelligence is Circling within the Authentic Relating tradition.
Note that I am NOT saying – although part of me wants to, the cultish part – that Circling within the Authentic Relating tradition is the one, essential practice. The “One True Religion”, as I joke (that’s from Hernán Cortés and the joke’s on me, which I don’t mind). If I said that Circling is the essential practice to the acquisition of relational intelligence, it would be so obvious that I am perpetrating cult psychology that you would put this book down immediately (unless you happened to already be inside the cult, LOL). It would also be wrong, as Circling sits within a large family of teachings and practices that can be referred to collectively as “we-space”, many of which are older than Circling (to name just a few, Teilhard de Chardin, Collective Presencing and Non-Violent Communication. There is an annotated list of these in the Circling Guide).
I will say however – at the risk of being cultish – that I view Circling as one of the most powerful, the most popular, and the most accessible of these practices. Between all the different A/R organizations, there are probably 20+ online groups daily, and maybe as many more on the ground. Some of them are even free, or donation. It’s probable that Non-Violent Communication is five or ten times more popular than Circling. So try out NVC if it feels right. But if you want to do Circling within the Authentic Relating tradition, there are, practically-speaking, unlimited opportunities.
Oof, it is said. I will own that as my bias. Don’t believe anything I say here. But if I failed to say it, I would be out of integrity with myself.
Case study: Own your characterology (heads-up, this is going to be brutal)
[Editor’s note: shaded text in this book indicates an example or a case-study]
I don’t want this introduction to be merely a lecture, or a persuasion / enrollment piece designed to have you buy this book. I want to “walk my talk” (or, as they say at Microsoft, “eat my own dog-food”). Let me do a live demonstration here of “own your characterology” (also known as “own your psycho-pathology”).
I fit within the bioenergetic character structure called schizoid (no relationship to being schizophrenic, this is from Alexander Lowen who was a student of Wilhelm Reich. His book Depression and the Body is one of the best I have ever read). I am also a dyed-in-the-wool Enneagram type 4, neuro-diverse, Bipolar II, mental-health challenged, Asperger’s (which is a form of Autism), and sexual deviant (hard-core dom).
Let me start by unpacking “schizoid”. My fundamental fear, the thing that drives much of my behavior, is that I am unworthy of attention, of being loved, that I don’t even deserve to be alive. I disconnect from the body, my feeling center, and move into the head, because connecting to my feeling center would be too painful. In the head I can stay alive, I can pretend that I am better than other people. And by the way, my birth family was not even abusive, this is just genetics and everyday/ordinary cultural trauma (or ancestral trauma) that made me like this.
I compensate with a ferocious desire to prove to the world that I am worthy of love and attention. When I don’t get the love, attention, or understanding that I want, or even when people don’t show up for me in the way that I want, I tend to become angry and/or aggressive. My bipolarity is a factor in this too, it can make me irritable and impatient. This happens quite frequently, dare I say most of the time (that I don’t get the attention and understanding that I want – I am, after all, a neuro-diverse crazy fuck, something of a dick, and not much to look at).
This difficulty that I have of meeting my contact needs (refer to the next paragraph on my Enneagram 4) makes life intensely lonely for me, as a general rule. It also puts me into a daily, maybe hourly, pitched-battle with the world in which I am trying to get them to love me and affirm me. What is funny here as well (tragi-comic) is that the more they reject me and misunderstand me (or else don’t show up for me), the more I hammer on them, the more I try and prove them wrong: prove to them that I am actually a fucking genius and that they SHOULD pay attention to me. I mean: I am an Authentic Relating leader! I have written the most popular book on the Circling practice! And so on. Needless to say, this has never worked, and sometimes I even end-up re-traumatizing them, which doesn’t help at all.
This dynamic is actually fairly common, by the way: many of us give 90% of our attention to the people who don’t like us and don’t get us, rather than investing time in cultivating relationships with people who DO like us and get us. What I am describing is a typical human pattern.
On to “Enneagram 4”. I am, paradoxically given my schizoid-ness and my autism, a classic Enneagram 4 (the “artist”, “individualist” or “misunderstood genius” type). What this means (among other things) is that I am fascinated by my inner emotional experience, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else – notably, other people’s feelings and needs. My autism caused me to start life with a major relational handicap, I was simply unbelievably clueless when I began. This is why it took me 30 years in the human potential movement (prior to my discovery of Authentic Relating) to even begin to get base-level competency in the art of feeling and emotional communication. But I am also (remember: NO bad characterologies) very persistent and in many ways quite resilient. “Get up off the floor and try again” is my motto. This is what I did, and ultimately succeeded. It just took 40 years.
In any case, this combination of my Enneagram 4 and my autism creates an unusual situation. It creates a deep hunger for connection, a compelling and maybe obsessive need to be seen in my rich, Enneagram 4 inner world, and a desire to see and witness others in their inner worlds. I crave “the meeting of hearts and minds” and I also crave sexual intimacy – skills with which I began my adult life virtually retarded. And yet it is those factors that ultimately caused me to develop into the person I am today: a pretty good writer [shyly blushing] and an adequate relational leader. On a good day I am even brilliant. I am especially good at vulnerability, which ultimately derives from the fact that I don’t care what people think about me, an aspect of my autism.
That’s it, that’s a live demonstration of the “ride” that I want to take you on in this book. I would like YOU, by the time you finish this book (or even start now – don’t let me hold you back), be able to write a four or five paragraph, succinct, no-holds-barred description of YOUR characterology and the fundamental developmental issues you are facing. You can do it. I mean: you are reading this book, after all. This demonstrates that you have the essential prerequisites: curiosity and a longing for truth.
Until you know who you are, your secret / unconscious motivations, what you can and cannot bring to the table in business, in relationship, in parenting, in community, in sex, you will NOT have access to happiness and power, because you will not be able to fulfill your fundamental human needs (more about this in chapters 1 and 2). Without this self knowledge, your journey to happiness and power will be a bumpy ride, at best.
But this is true for everyone. There is good news and bad news here.
The bad news is that it is very probable you will be dealing with the same fundamental characterology issues and unconsciousness around them your whole life. The world will continue to hammer you, to mirror back to you your development gaps, your unconsciousness, arrogance and laziness and stupidity. You will probably never be completely finished with your humbling. I like to quote Richard Rohr on this: “I pray for a daily humiliation. Doesn’t have to be a big one”. LOL
The good news – dare I say, the incredible news – is that there will come a point where this will start to become fun. Your numbers will, as they say in business, “move out of the red and into the black”. There will come a point where you will move through your own developmental trauma so quickly that you will laugh at the complete idiot that you were 5 minutes ago, at all the shit-stories you made up about so-and-so which turned out to have no reality whatsoever; and you will shake your head in awe and disbelief at the even greater idiot (or wimp, or door-mat, or lazy, complacent or willfully blind) person that you were one year ago, or even a few short months ago – before you realized the true state of affairs in this situation that had you down and hopeless for so long, and took the obvious (in retrospect) action. You will begin to experience for yourself “transformation at the speed of light”. You will naturally, inevitably and without even trying, just because you want to, become a purveyor of the thing that everybody wants (and many want desperately): authentic connection, love and caring, being seen and understood for who we really are. Everyone will want a piece of you, which if you think about it, is one of those “good problems to have”.
You will become, in short, a “beginning student” (to quote the Zen master) of the most powerful and valuable skill in the world: relational intelligence. It is highly probable that this skill will be monetizable by you (“Access to Power”), but even if not, there is no loss as your happiness will be as assured as any mortal human being can hope for, as you pursue the difficult karmic path that you know you must follow, and which, if you are wise, you know it’s of no value to resist.
This is the promise of relational leadership, or relationship intelligence
Authentic Relating is not enough: some disclaimers and a few words of advice
First, I am a very beginning student of relational leadership. I have no degrees in the field (they don’t exist, anyway) and I have not started any relational companies (well, I do have a very small one). I have worked very long and hard to get to where I am, I have suffered much – although probably no more than the average – but this does not make me an expert. I have done and said the most stupid things, and will probably continue to do so periodically. Many of my relationships are greatly challenged, such as with my birth family currently.
Here is the advice part: what you will need to do is to circle (or else find some comparable we-space practice or community). But don’t stop there. If you can afford it, by all means find a therapist or a group that can support your work in depth psychology (for instance, the Shalom Mountain community in the Catskills of New York State). Find a sane, psychologically informed religion, or at least a group that resonates (I like the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico). Join an intentional community, or better start one.
Authentic Relating and Circling is not enough. In part because action is required in the world (and not just in your groups). In part because we in the movement suffer from our particular kind of blind spots. And in in part because as soon as you put all your hope for salvation into a single organization or ideology, and all your energy into trying to enroll your friends in it; or, alternatively, put all your energy into destroying a manifestly evil organization or worldview – do either of those two things, and you may actually become part of the problem rather than the solution. This is a gray area because I am not saying that you should not tell your friends things that you are excited about, or fight for social justice, or expose cults. I am saying, do it with love, at least as much as you can muster. Don’t imagine that you are right and “they” are wrong. Don’t imagine that your desire to stick-it-to-them comes from anything other than your own unconsciousness and projections. “Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner” (To understand everything, is to forgive everything). Or even, my favorite, “when we are angry, killing people is too superficial’ [Marshall Rosenberg].
Once again, this is complex and I don’t want to get into the weeds here, especially in an introduction. Just to say: you aren’t affecting this perspectival shift for them, you are doing it for you. And yet, your authentic happiness and power has a karmic ripple effect on everyone around you. Including (especially including) the evil people. Evil people do exist, although probably many less than you imagine, 99% of “evil people” are just uneducated and unconscious, or victims of cult psychology. The real question is: What are you going to do about it? How can you become part of the solution and not the problem?
But with that being said: don’t be timid. Start walking and start talking, and “don’t let the bastards get you down”. Powerful people attract powerful projections. It is virtually certain that anything you do in the realm of consciousness is going to get you some place better than where you started. Including joining a cult, such as my case. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it; but if that is where you are drawn, go for it.
This book suffers from my own perspectival limitations. I will make it better as the years go on (subsequent editions) but the book will never entirely escape my perspectival limitations. It’s probable that this book will go through many editions and upgrades, as I understand more about and gain empathy about other people’s characterologies and how these characterologies interact with the world. I may be working on this book for the rest of my life, it’s quite possible that this will be my “end of life book”.
And yet, I would like to believe that the fundamental model and patterns that I will be describing, have universal validity. Decide for yourself if you agree; and if you don’t, let my ideas clarify and enlighten how you see things differently, how you want to live your life differently than the way I do. I celebrate you in that, my brother or sister.
In full disclosure (I was afraid of leading with this, but now that you have read this far I can say it) this book is both a practical “how-to” manual into the higher levels of Authentic Relating (what I left out of the Circling Guide) and a cosmology, or a world-view. I hope you will find the cosmology interesting and that it will inform your practice. But if not, dump the cosmology and just do the practice.
[Editor note: thank anyone here who has contributed case stories or editing]
Now, let’s get started with the practice. In the next chapter I unpack and critique Non-Violent Communication (NVC). NVC was, at the time it was created (1970’s) the most powerful relational developmental model ever invented. Even today, it gets far more things right, than it gets them wrong.