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“The true test of your spiritual success is the happiness of the people around you” – Rudi (Swami Rudrananda)
How I finally got a life (after 40 years of trying)
Relational Intelligence (also known as Emotional EQ) is not something that has come easily to me. I was, in fact, beyond clueless when I began. I have been obsessed with human relationships my whole life, and have struggled mightily over them.
My characterology is an unusual one: Aspergers (which is a form of Autism), Bipolar II, mental-health challenged, bioenergetic character structure called “Schizoid” (this has no relationship to schizophrenia, it’s one of five core personality typologies within Wilhelm Reich’s system), and died-in-the-wool Enneagram type 4 (the “Individualist” type). My genetics and my characterology do not pre-dispose me to having as many wonderful friends and lovers as a man can hope for, to becoming an author and thought-leader in the field of Relational Intelligence, to writing books on the subject, and to being hired to lead and facilitate important and lucrative culture-change projects in the crypto space. And yet, all this has happened, and more. I sometimes think of myself as an “idiot savant”. However, that phrase does have “savant” in it.
Carl Jung writes (in his masterpiece, Memories, Dreams, Reflections): “Much might have been different if I had been different. But it was as it had to be; because all came about because I am as I am”. From my perspective, my becoming a relational leader (which is a person who has relational intelligence and who successfully takes it into the world in the service of fun, connection, and social / political transformation) – my becoming a successful relational leader is astonishing. Mind-boggling. And yet it happened.
Do you struggle with relationships? Do you feel lonely (and/or horny) more often than you would like? Are there people in your environment (maybe your spouse, your children, your parents or your boss) who sometimes infuriate you, fail to see you or understand you, and whom you judge to be, at times, blind, stupid, incompetent, selfish, unconscious, arrogant or un-loving? My guess is that your answer to that question is “yes”.
Do I struggle with relationships? Of course I do! It’s not like my days are now filled with constant boundless joy and energy, that my bank account exceeds 7 figures, or that the hot women are banging on my door day and night. I can’t say that I am never lonely or horny any more. But something has happened to me: I am happy all the time. Within the limits of my characterology, of course.
“I am as I am” [Jung]. And it’s really okay, that I am as I am. It’s not just okay, it is spectacular. Something has happened to me which has ended what I call “the 40-year war against myself and against the world, trying to make a buck and get a little love, mostly unsuccessfully”. A root change in perspective around myself and my relationship to the world. This root change in perspective has – by some mysterious alchemical transformation, maybe divine intervention, who knows – caused me to start winning everywhere I show up: in business, in money, in relationship and community-building, in Authentic Relating leadership, in lifestyle upgrades and in new adventures.
Some people might call this change “self-love”. Or maybe “self-esteem”. For sure, I have acquired some measure of “self-love”. But I don’t like that term. Why? Because it implies that you can wake-up one morning with a “good idea” – let’s self-love Marco! Yeehaw! – and your life will be transformed. It doesn’t work like that. We gain relational intelligence (and self-love which is a component of that) from other people. Most people gain relational intelligence through a long, hard, painful process of relational stupidity (at least, that was true in my case) and through “the school of hard knocks”. Quote:
“Good judgment comes from experience. And experience comes from bad judgment” – Will Rogers
I wrote this book because I want to short-cut that journey for you, as much as possible. I believe that this “idiot savant” has uncovered and decoded fundamental models, communication patterns, needs and desires in human relationships which are conceptually quite simple, while remaining infinitely complex in execution. Models and patterns which, given good intention, a little luck, and some basic common sense and humility, any person can exercise with results at least as spectacular as the results that I am currently generating.
Furthermore, I am not alone in having gained these insights. I am part of a large, vibrant community of practice, the global Authentic Relating and Circling community, which (I would imagine) would be in agreement with almost everything I say in this book. A very rich and very diverse community who have discovered a way of being and a way of communicating which has irrevocably changed their lives, and also positively impacted the lives of countless people around them – be they family, friends, business associates, or strangers on an airplane.
Me, and all of us in the global Authentic Relating and Circling community, want you to join us.
I want to share more of my story. This longer story may or may not be of interest to you. As I have already said, my story and my characterology is an unusual one, and it may not be relevant to you. If you are in a hurry, are already sold on the idea of the acquisition of relational intelligence, and want to get to business right away, then fast-forward to the section below “How to read this book” and then move on to Part 1 of this book, The Relational Wealth Blueprint. You won’t lose anything important or essential by doing that.
However, I do love stories, mine and others. I think it would be fair to say that human beings are, for better or for worse, their stories. “For better” because human stories are endlessly fascinating to me, and the telling of them is, from my perspective, the most healing thing that anybody can do. Especially when we can find people able and willing to listen to us. “For worse” because our stories are frequently full of errors of perspective (what I call “self-referential perspectives”), judgments towards ourselves and others which have no reality whatsoever, failures of empathy, in addition to the mostly unconscious hurt, anger, pain, loneliness and trauma from which virtually all of us suffer from. We tend to blame our circumstances for all this: our parents, our genes, our politicians, our corporations, the patriarchy. And we are absolutely right in our blaming, these people and the culture did not show up for us! They truly did fuck us over, either deliberately or through ignorance and neglect. All this is true, and yet it side-steps the fundamental question: what are you going to do about it which is going to be effective? How can you become part of the solution, rather than the problem?
That is the topic of this book.
On with my story. In case you are interested in it.
My Story: From 2016 to 2021
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 30 years 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 experienced many more failures than successes in those 30 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 too slow, maybe even out of date. 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 Authentic Relating, 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. This book will tell you how to do that, and make it fun and transformational for everyone.
In late 2017, in yet another bold move that generated considerable push-back from the community, I wrote the Circling and Authentic Relating Practice Guide (in terms of “push-back”, recall what I said earlier “shit-show”, or to quote Sara Ness “in the movement we fight like family”). The Circling Guide was in the end well-received with excellent reviews, became the most popular book on the Circling practice, and made me a very minor celebrity in the A/R movement; but it 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 Circling from a book, you have to practice. I did not learn Circling 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 Authentic Relating (or 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 left-wing 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. I could not understand what had happened, but I could not deny the reality of it. The loneliness of living in the commune was intense and unrelenting, but I could not deny the transformation. I started referring to it (no doubt 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.
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 in chapter xxx. 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. I unpack the problem of cult psychology, and what you can do about it, in Chapter xxx.
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). It would also be wrong, as Circling sits within a large family of teachings and practices which can be referred to collectively as “we-space”, many of them being 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 Chapter xxx).
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 at least 20 online groups daily, and probably many more on the ground. Some of them are even free, or donation. Non-Violent Communication is maybe 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.
It starts with self-knowledge
“Owning your characterology” is the same as self-knowledge. Specifically, the kind of deep self-knowledge that you can only get from deep mirroring by other people, and through “the school of hard knocks”. Reading books, including this one, won’t do it. Meditating won’t do it, if that is all you do. Becoming successful in business and making a lot of money won’t do it. Participating in Ayahuasca ceremonies won’t do it. Without self-knowledge it’s not possible to be an effective friend, parent, or lover. Without true self-knowledge, which includes self-acceptance and self-compassion, you still may (if you are lucky) become successful, but you won’t be happy.
We get self-knowledge and learn compassion from other people, for the most part. I say “for the most part” because this is not strictly true, meaning that any and all circumstances in our lives – especially the hard ones – teach us who we are and how to love. However, most people have it all wrong where “development” is concerned. They believe that becoming successful, accomplished, or spiritually awakened will bring them happiness and relational wealth.
The truth is the opposite. Success, wisdom, and spiritual depth usually come automatically from emotional development (also known as relational intelligence or emotional EQ). Other people are, and always have been, our greatest teachers. Learn how to get along with them – especially the idiots and assholes of the world, of which you may be one – and they will teach you. Furthermore, emotional development is fairly easily measured: most people will like you and want to hang-out with you. You will have as many quality friends and lovers as you want, or can handle. Your “popularity” is not a 100% accurate metric of Emotional EQ, because other areas are important such as the quality of your internal dialogue and the depth of those connections; but how well you show up for people and how they respond to you is still a valuable measure, which makes the job of increasing your relational intelligence easier (because you will get immediate feedback). Other areas of development, such as spiritual power and maturity, are much more difficult or even impossible to measure. Financial wealth has no correlation at all with emotional development, and may even have a negative correlation.
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 authentic happiness and power, because you will not be able to fulfill yours and others fundamental human needs (more about the fundamental human needs in the following chapters). 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 developmental gaps, your unconsciousness, arrogance, 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, 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 which 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 relational intelligence.
Moving forward: how to read this book
This book suffers from my own perspectival limitations. This is why I have offered this book to crowd-sourcing: I am keenly aware of my perspectival limitations, of how “wounded I am in my understanding of love” [Kahlil Gibran]. I, and all of us here in the authoring and editorial team, will make it better as the years go on. Hopefully, I will gain empathy about other people’s characterologies, understand better how these characterologies interact with the world, and write about it in a way that makes you feel that I am speaking directly to you.
Even so, I would like to believe that the fundamental model and patterns that I and my co-authors 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. The practice is how you can win in relationships. How you can make people want to be your friend and desire to hang out with you, while being authentically you. How you can really show-up for other people in a way that changes lives. How you can inject a little love into this sad, sorry world, and stay sane in the face of the madness.