As you probably know if you are reading this, “Circling” is a powerfully liberating and connecting authentic relating practice that has been exponentially growing in popularity, worldwide. As Circling has reached wider, people have gotten interested in its roots and history.
As a part of an epic Facebook discussion thread on the subject, I wrote a post to clarify my memories of the beginning days of Circling and its evolution since then. I especially focused my writing on the time between the “invention” of Circling in 1998 and the relationship between major figures that evolved five years later. My recollections were subjective, but they have been mostly validated by the other actors who have checked in about it, and I have corrected the narrative where appropriate.
As we as circlers know, my perspectives and assessments are also subjective – I intentionally did not title it, “The History of Circling”. I imagine that there are hundreds of different narratives that could be shared about many of these events, and about alternative simultaneous timelines too, that would provide different and also interesting and valuable perspectives, assessments, and memories.
Anyway, knowing this, after posting to the Facebook thread, I received input from people who saw and experienced some of the parts of the story that I had not. I revised my post to include some input from others, and also wrote some more sections myself.
If anyone reading this wants their name, a quote, or a picture containing them removed, let me know and I will. And if anyone wants to send me quotes, details, or pictures to add, feel free to be in contact, and I will consider adding them (this goes for corrections, too). Also, feel free to repost all or part of this, but I do ask for attribution.
To me, the story of Circling starts in 1989, when Erwan Davon, Jerry Candelaria, and Scott Hannon became friends. They were drawn to each other in part because, as teenagers, they were among the youngest of the people regularly taking courses at the Santa Clara California Landmark Education center.
In 1991, Erwan and Scott saw a movie about the Beat Generation and came out inspired, saying to each other, “Right this moment, we could commit to creating a community like that”. They had already started enticing those of us in their circles of friends into a shared community of growth and fun. As a group we were soon regularly doing personal growth workshops, classes, and communication groups together, most significantly with Landmark and More House. As our group expanded, someone innovatively named our community “The Community”.
Around 1994, Erwan met Chris “Damien” Jones also at a Landmark course, and Damien introduced us to all-night rave dance parties. We were soon the cool kids, enjoying some of the cosmically sexy explorations of altered states that were possible at such events, lying entangled in love saturated puppy piles, spending the small hours of the morning with pupils dilated, hearts open and racing, lost in warm deep connected timelessness.
Besides cuddling, making out, and getting up to go dance, the activity of choice in our love piles was getting real and processing our relationships with each other, and exploring into the feelings, gifts, blockages, motivations, and truths within each person. This often happened with everyone’s attention, insight, awareness, and love centered on one person in the group at a time.
Scott and Erwan both independently started to host encounter groups as early as 1991. A few years later, among the games we would get together and play was what we called a “What’s So Spiral”, where we would go around the circle and only say something that related to our experience of the present moment. Those nights led to feelings in the air of intensity, realness, clarity, and a crystalline purity.
Jerry Learns About Creating Weekend Courses
Jerry, Erwan, and Nicole
In 1994, Erwan, with the assistance of his powerhouse girlfriend Nicole Selmo and with Jerry, launched their own series of weekly relationship/sexuality/authenticity communication games nights. Erwan then energized and inspired many of us by then taking the astounding step of, at age twenty five, founding his own series of for-pay weekend-long communication and relationship courses, with Nicole co-teaching too.
While Jerry didn’t formally teach, he was also usually in the middle of the chaotic swirl of the in-course authentic processing. Jerry also handled enrollment, registration, production, and logistics for the courses, and started to also learn the business of putting on weekend courses. (I trust that most people reading this realize that the history of Circling is not just one of people getting good at creating opening and authentic connection, but also a history of people getting good at making a living at creating opening and authentic connection.)
The bummer dropped on us in February 1996, when Jerry and Erwan had a falling out, and both of them became relatively socially withdrawn. Our community fell apart – what had been warm, hot, and connected became cold and separate. There were some community shared-living houses and some shared events, but, mostly, that was like how ancient Roman and Greek scholarship was kept alive in isolated, cloistered monasteries during the centuries between the fall of the Roman empire and the start of the Renaissance. I thought to myself, “Well, that was nice, all that connection, authenticity, and community. I guess that’s the end of that.”
Guy and Jerry
After some seclusion, Jerry was ready for some new friends and new adventures. In 1997, Damian convinced him to take the Sterling Men’s Weekend course, where he met some new co-conspirators, in the persons of Guy Sengstock and David Niebauer. As they became tight, Jerry started suggesting personal growth courses for his new buddies to take together (the Landmark Forum, etc); Guy hadn’t done much structured personal growth work like that, but he rapaciously took on all the courses and teachings that Jerry put in front of him.
And then at Burning Man in August 1998, magic was in the air, as a bunch of new and old friends came together to camp together. Something clicked, and suddenly our Community was reborn, full of vitality, connection, and fun again.
At one point at that Burning Man, in the middle of some ecstatic adventuring and partying, something seemingly unique burst open. In Guy’s words, they suddenly
saw though the Matrix of the interrelationships of our group of friends. We saw the essential nature of the people– what must be true about each for them to be the person they were.
We were hanging out in an art structure, and Guy was going off, unravelling the workings of the universe in his uniquely brilliant way, and all of a sudden Jerry jumped up, said “You Motherfucker!”, and started chasing Guy round and round the outside of the structure, laughing all the time. Eventually Guy stopped, turned around, and grabbed onto Jerry, and they both started jumping up and down, laughing outrageously. Needless to say certain substances were involved.
Tom [Wroble] and I were just scratching our heads as they came back and sat down, and it wasn’t until the next day that either of them could talk about what happened. Jerry said that it was as if Guy split open, and this eternal sprite who he’d known for several previous lifetimes popped out, and JC was like “There you are again!” This, to me, was the birth moment of Circling. That basis of essential trust was the fertile ground from which Circling burst forth into the world.
The night Circling was “invented” – Tom Wroble, Jerry, Guy, and Chris “Damien” Jones
(fun detail – that “birth of Circling” experience apparently happened inside an art structure that had been built by yoga teacher/life coach David Schlussel. While none of us was acquainted with David at the time, years later he became a leader in various Circling communities).
The Arete Weekend
After coming back from the desert, Guy and Jerry (and Niebauer too) kept going with the authentic processing that they had “discovered”. Having met in a men’s organization, they began to get groups of men together to explore.
Some of us guys from our old “The Community” scene started to coalesce with some of the new guys, as we started meeting in restaurants at six in the morning to send our friends off to participate their own Sterling Men’s Weekend courses. Damian wrote,
Matt Green’s Sterling weekend support circle turned into a regular night time circle at Ocean Beach, where we would check in with each other, feel who was out of whack, and unwhack them by prying and prodding thru questions until we got at whatever was the issue by giving that emotion some cathartic release. This process arose from Guy and Jerry’s relationship, where they would nail each other’s inauthenticities to the wall with loving, playful rigor.
Joseph Figeroa wrote,
Speaking as one of the few guinea pig men who suffered through it all, I am pretty sure that by February 1999 we had had our third twelve-hour (or longer) circle experience in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Soon the new enthusiasts had put together a weekend-long for-pay personal growth/authentic relating course. Their three-day event would start with half a day of holotropic breathwork (something that Guy had learned in high school, and that attempted to legally invoke an altered state of raw openness similar to what we had enjoyed at Burning Man and at raves). The rest of the weekend, two-and-a-half days, would be full of Circling (specifically, what some people now I guess call “birthday circling”, with the attention of the group remains on one person for the duration of the circle).
In late 1998, I took I think the second course they offered, and, yeah, it was pretty messy and raw – I think that they’d be the first to admit that they were still figuring out what they were doing. My assessment at the time was that they were trying to create was something that was like a Landmark course, but more heartfelt. I also had the thought that what they were creating was an initiation to opening and communication that might help a hypothetical newcomer to integrate into our late night rave authenticity puppy piles. Regardless, after that weekend, I did not feel motivated to go back to participate in whatever other courses they were going to create.
Guy and Jerry had a woman co-teach that course with them, I think it may have been Wendy Courtright-Madea. It seemed like, for a while, the two of them were searching to find a woman third teacher, working with various candidates like Shaelyn Hesch. No one clicked in that role though until Tracy Vacaturo and Jerry’s wife Deirede became regular co-leaders. Niebauer and Erwan were doing some of the course leading also.
Jerry, Guy, Erwan
Soon, Damien was acting as the production manager for all of their courses, drawing on his years of experience fulfilling that role at Landmark. Damien wrote,
One of my contributions was the ANGEL program, where an assistant would witness the person being circled and write a poem about their unfolding, then read and give the poem to them at the end of the course.
He had support in course production from Kurt Foeller and Erika Raven.
As the months and years unfolded, Guy and Jerry kept offering their courses, which they soon gave the name “The Arete Experience”. They would rent beautiful retreat centers out in the woods of Northern California – Anvil Ranch, the Harbin Hotsprings Retreat Center, Frogwood, Hearts and Hands – and follow the same “half day of breathwork setting the stage for 2.5 days of Circling” formula that they had started out with. In 1998, the courses were happening every three month or so, then every two months, and eventually every month. In 1999, Guy and Jerry incorporated as “The Arete Center for Human Excellence”.
Jerry was at the time working doing IT contract piece work, and Guy paid the rent by providing personal training. They both expanded and contracted their flexible work schedules in response to the time demands of their new careers leading weekend courses, and also of the one-on-one personal coaching that people had begun to seek them out for.
Anvil Ranch, Sonoma County, California. These pictures will probably stir the heart with deep memories for most people who participated in Arete between 1999 to 2005.
Influences and Precursors
David Greenberg and John Paul Rosenberg (aka David Deida and Werner Erhart)
The “Circling” that Guy and Jerry had invented was, in some ways, a unique and groundbreaking methodology, different than anything that had come before or was happening anywhere else. One could also say, however, that their invention was in many ways simply incorporating and reflecting earlier forms of growth practice; it was just one more incarnation of the classic practices that have been constantly re-invented during in humanity’s eternal path of psychospiritual evolution.
The biggest overt and obvious influences on the early days of Circling were:
* Landmark Education/The Forum/e.s.t./Warner Erhard
* The relationship, sexuality, and communication teachings of David Deida, Justin Sterling, and Vic Baranco/More House
* Rave/Burning Man culture, specifically (1) having a sense of tribe/crew/community/chosen family, and (2) psychedelic and empathogenic journeying
* The sixties “human potential” movement – Stanislav Grof’s holotropic breathwork, Carl Rogers’ encounter groups, and Fritz Perls’ Gestalt practices of presence
As Circling grew, other influences started to make noticeable impacts on Guy, Jerry, and other leaders:
* The integral teachings of Ken Wilber and his community
* Buddhism, specifically in the form of Tarthang Tulku’s Nyingma Varjayana “Time, Space, and Knowledge” lineage, S.N. Goenka’s Vipassana retreats, and the teachers of the San Francisco Zen Center
* The authentic communication teachings of Marshall Rosenberg, Brad Blanton, and Susan Campbell
* For Guy, (1) the wisdom of the great philosophers of the Western tradition, especially the phenomenology teachings of Martin Heidegger, and (2) Ali Hameed Almaas and his Diamond Heart/Ridhwan School teachings
Obviously, there are an practically infinite number of methodologies and practices of psychospiritual growth – therapy, coaching, yoga, workshops, meditation, creativity, healing, devotion, philosophies, and many more. Most of us who have been drawn into the Circling world as leaders, teachers, and participants have had our own experience with various modalities before joining in, and these have now become woven into the fabric of the Circling lineage.
Rave culture influence
A Thriving Community
Our rave/Landmark “The Community” community continued to thrive. It seemed like most weekends there was a community get-together; going out to a dance party, house parties, and taking courses together. We had massive communal Burning Man camps, explosions of festive connectivity. Many of us lived together in communal houses and/or were in relationships with other community members.
We soon started throwing our own exclusive dance parties, named “Gratitude” and “Radiance”, usually full of deep altered-state-assisted processing and breakthroughs of authenticity. Joseph Figeroa wrote,
The first Gratitude party was held on December 31, 1998, and was attended by over 375 people. Yes, our parties don’t have much to do with Circling, but people seem to leave out how much fun we were having and I for one am pretty certain that these events had a lot to do with our sticking together-ness.
Ken Vanosky wrote,
The Gratitude and Radiance parties served as an informal initiation into the Community and created a funnel of new participants. People were attracted to The Community through the parties, exposed to something they liked in the energy and authenticity of the people, recognized that there was a unique language and perspective, and then found their way to Arete. The Radiance parties (largely propelled by me, Aaron Pava, Erik Shultz, Tony Thomson, and, later, Syd Gris/Adam Grandi) were, at one point, one of the largest event producers in the city and greatly increased the size of the funnel. While not the only reason, Arete’s eventual decline coincided with a decision to stop holding Radiance parties and the decreasing frequency of Gratitude events.
There were usually more cushions to sit on
Gratitude processing: Jerry in the lower left, Arete course leaders Aaron Pava and Heather Rose Peluso in the upper right
The members of our community, and then also our friends and family, were the main clientele for The Arete Experience. Some people would also come back after taking “their Arete”, to do production assisting and be part of the warm hearted family experience of the weekends.
Marcie Eversole wrote: i still feel so energized by that time of my life, and all of the incredible souls that gathered up to grow in intimacy and community.
Karen Josephs wrote: We were giddy at the possibility of turning the whole world upside down and inside out with everyone … those were the days!
The First Training Course
Around October 2001, Jerry and Guy took a big leap, and started a two year assistant course leader training. They called it the Course Leader Intensive Training, or “CLIT” for short. Damien Jones, Heather Rose Peluso, Goose Duarte, Kathryn Williams, Erika Raeven, Jen Guy, Patrick Wilkinson, Lee Noah, Callie Miller, and Antonio Rocha all signed up.
Erika Raeven wrote,
I was super eager and filled out and put in my enrollment form – first of all of us! I couldn’t wait to get trained in circling. Jerry said he wouldn’t accept me on the team unless I completed the Forum. Once we started, it was so artfully loving and magical.
Kathryn Williams, Patrick Wilkinson, Heather Rose Peluso, Jen Guy, and Goose Duarte
Deirdre Montgomerie and Mellany Frederick- Jerry and Guy’s wives at the time – also signed up. Since Jerry and Guy were both monogamously married (with kids and mortgages also), this meant no skirt-chasing by leadership. This relative clarity of boundaries may have helped create the relative stability of the community that they were starting to gather around themselves. Erika Raeven continued,
Interestingly, Deirdre – who was already leading – sat on the course leader intensive training team with us, and that was a huge huge act of love on her part. Mellany hopped off when she got pregnant with [Guy’s son] Forrest. I was pregnant with Rhiannon three months later. Guy actually butt dialed me from Mellany’s delivery room, and I heard Forrest cry for the first time. Quite a trip since I was about to have Rhiannon. What a wonderful time it was.
In terms of how the Circling training was done, there are of course different ways for a teacher to teach something, for example:
1. providing explicit structure: frameworks of understanding, theories, techniques, and pre-planned skill-building exercises
2. “throw ’em in the deep end” – get the students onto the playing field and correct their errors as they make them
3. observation and emulation of the teacher
My sense of Jerry and Guy’s early training was that it was pretty much all #2 and #3, and not much of #1. The intellectual theory that was provided was simply that Guy would get spontaneously excited about some of the things he was reading, studying, and learning about (Almaas, NLP, Tarthan Tulku, attachment theory), and hand out photocopied readings to the folks in the training.
I saw this unfold, and still wasn’t sold – I was incredulous that any (much less all) of those suckers would actually pay money to be a part of Jerry and Guy’s amateurish Circling thing, training to hypothetically lead what I thought was a daydream that was never going to amount to anything. Some of them dropped out a few months in to the training, which seemed to me like the obviously right move.
Missouri Loves Company
A thousand miles away, some notable openings had also apparently been developing for a while.
Decker Cunov (Travis Decker at the time) and Bernie Lunger met as freshman at the University of Missouri, Columbia in 1993. Bernie wrote,
Even as a teenager, Decker had need and drive for “shared reality” and “rock bottom”. He also had an innate knack for drawing a certain sort of person into his fold, even then. We had a tight group of friends who experimented with certain substances. Decker convinced some of us to join the Mizzou Phi Kappa Psi fraternity with him (“Imagine a house of fifty guys like us; it’s not like that now, but it could and should be, and we can make it so…”). Three of us joined with him, but only Decker and I efforted at making a transformation happen. Well, those are the roots for Circling via Decker and myself. Bryan Bayer may have his own similar roots. He and Decker met a few years later – maybe 96 or 97?
As conflicts and complications began to arise in the group of men friends, Decker began initiating conversations about what was actually happening – relating in the moment about perspectives, truths, and feelings. He eventually began to internally develop a formal method. He also began to experience transformations though sitting ten day vipassana meditation retreats.
After Decker, Bryan, and Bernie moved out to California, they met new friends (for example, Shelly Berger, Shana Weinstein James, and Priya Starbuck) and formed a community of deep authentic relating, empathy, and encounter-group-like events that they named “Soul2Soul”.
Pretty sure this picture was taken in California years later, but it’s what I found on Facebook
My Involvement With Arete
As I said, I hadn’t much liked Guy and Jerry’s course in 1998. I remained friends with the two of them (and also with the other people who were creating the Arete courses). In 2002, Jerry performed one of the greatest acts of service I have ever received, when he insistently pushed me past my resistance into starting to formally teach mindfulness meditation, which since then has been perhaps the most meaningful experience of my life.
The next year, in Spring 2003, my ladyfriend at the time pointed out to me that many of our friends had been doing Arete and loving it, and she suggested taking it together. I was willing to give it another try, and, once there, to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that Guy and Jerry and their assistants (especially Kathryn and Heather Rose) had gotten amazing at what they did – they had created a deep, dazzling, roller coaster-ish, rapturous, colorful, opening, and love-filled emotional carnival. Positive breakthroughs happened, connection was made, possibility was created, trust was reestablished, and people generally found themselves.
From my perspective, as much as other people contributed, Guy and Jerry were the founders, leaders, creators, and innovators of Arete and of “Circling”, and were the ones who set the context and practice in the scene. Guy was more the calm, reflective, compassionate, insightful, and grounding one, and Jerry was more the lit stick of dynamite smashing against peoples’ defenses at hard right angles – “good cop, bad cop”.
I started doing production assisting at future monthly courses. Those following weekends were like colorful alive festival parties for all of us in an enthusiastic volunteer community of friends, with feelings of warmth, love, connection, and depth. And many of us were all jealous of the assistants who had taken the first course leader training and who had actually gotten in on the ground floor of something amazing, and now got to be the junior ringleaders of the show along with Guy and Jerry (and who I had thought were silly for having done so).
Me with some Arete production team pals
Bryan and Decker Show Up
Bryan Bayer was on the scene, putting in time doing production assisting, working hard, engaging, and seemingly learning all he could. I liked him as soon as I met him, as he radiated a passionate drive to engage with any and all forms personal growth, transformation, and development he could ingest.
In June 2003, his buddy Decker, who also seemed to share Bryan’s passion for opening and growth, took the course and then started doing course production assisting and getting to know the community. Marcella Eversole wrote,
I‘ll never forget feeling the sparks fly at the Arete Introduction that Bryan and Travis Decker Cunov attended before they participated in the Arete Experience. While I can’t do it justice in this moment, there was a powerful mirroring, so potent in the room as Bryan and Travis saw themselves in Jerry and Guy and vice versa. I totally dug the way Bryan and Travis were constantly pushing edges of consciousness in their own way, with enough ego to stand with a sense of self-identified truth and enough humility to try on what was being offered. I watched Jerry and Guy earn their respect right before my very eyes. I love this unearthing of story. It’s unbelievable to me how much I love people who push edges of consciousness and how much I miss be surrounded by them.
Bryan and Rodrigo soon asked to Decker to step in to a leadership role in the Arete world, to help negotiate and resolve some organizational dysfunction in communication and power that was leading to tension for junior course leaders and to source team burnout.
The Second Training Course
The same month that Decker took Arete, Guy and Jerry began offering their second two-year formal training in Circling, coaching, and course leading. Enrolled were Bryan Bayer, Alexis Shepperd, Kevin O’Malley, Shana James, Alia Melissa Metcalf, Tosh Stone, Ken Vanosky, Karen Josephs, Aaron Pava, Chris Haynish, Rodrigo Lagos, Malika Jen Rani Freedman, Preston Grant, and Jeff Handwerger. I am convinced that Jesus meant me to be there too, but, well, to my regret I was depressed and didn’t have the money. This second training cohort went through a lot over two years and developed a tight community together, gut-level close like brothers and sisters.
Kevin O’Malley wrote,
“FirstBorn” (the first course leader training group) had crossover time with our second cohort for at least a few months. They would guest lead during our trainings, and they also paired up with us like a CLIT big brother/big sister. We had a graduation party for them.
As we did our training, our group also immediately started working on the production team (eventually called “The Source Team”). I think I was on production for about six months before I ever led at the front of the room (which was also the same course that my mom did!).
The people of the second Arete training course
The second training weekend of the second training group, with the production staff (which included Decker)
The Wednesday Night Men’s Circle
As explained above, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Circling initially specifically grew out of a group of men meeting up to support each other.
As they commenced offering their three-day-long Arete courses, Jerry, Guy, and Niebauer also founded a weekly “Arete Men’s Circle” that gathered men together for men’s Circling every Wednesday night on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. After a couple years of that, Jerry and Guy handed off leadership to Niebauer, who continued on for another nine months before the group totally petering out in early 2002.
Some of the men who had regularly attended the Arete Men’s Circle – among them Aaron Pava, David Shakiban, Tom Wroble, and Yurik Riegel – wanted to keep Circling up on the beach, however, so they took the best parts of the old circle and added positive changes, and founded a new Wednesday night men’s circle, which someone innovatively named “The Men’s Circle”.
TMC has since grown into a whole other lineage offshoot of Circling, one that:
* I personally love, appreciate, and have gained great value from (and recently rejoined)
* is still going strong, fifteen years later
* a thousands plus men have participated in over the years
* is many of those men’s only experience with Circling
* has produced deep friendships, new careers, and other measurable positive impacts on the world
* has had its own formal Circling training process
* has spawned men’s teams in other cities and other nations
* has had as members many of the Circling leaders and coaches from Guy and Jerry’s world of Arete/Art of Circling
* has also had overlap with the Authentic/Integral community – for example, Bryan, Decker, and Kevin were each members for years. The first Authentic/Integral (AMP) course actually was birthed as a project from within the TMC framework.
As one might expect, the flavor of Circling found among TMC men is rougher, more tough love, and generally more “masculine” than it is elsewhere.
As stated earlier, both Jerry and Guy’s work and Decker and Bryan’s work started with groups of men. I also find it noteworthy that, after the original 1989-1994 “The Community” fell apart and the rise of the new 1996-2006 one, a majority of the men from the old community continued on in participation in the new community and later got involved with Arete work, while a majority of the women that were in our old scene went their own way and did not continue participation when we reformed. I still am not sure why that happened. A couple years into the new community, however, strong sisterhood bonds had taken root in our reborn Community.
As the years went on, a number of women’s groups also spun off from the Arete/The Community/Gratitude scene, some of which are still active today. Perhaps the most notable group was SpiralMuse, who rented a victorian home in The Mission district of SF that became of nexus for alive-feeling community events and women’s growth initiatives, many of them intertwined with Latin American shamanism.
Dierdre Montgomerie wrote,
To add to the timeline:
* 1999 ~ Community Women’s Circle (Women Expressing Brilliance) started. This eventually split into two circles under the W.E.B. Umbrella (The Pussy Posse and Arete Womb) – and then grew to be even more.
* 2001 ~ The Arete Women’s Circle began, with leadership by myself, Kathryn Williams, and Karen Josephs. We met at beach, homes, hot tubs, tops of mountains, and generally wherever our hearts desired. That same year, Kathryn and I lead an Arete Circling Program Training for women who wanted to lead a Circle. This correlated with the founding of SpiralMuse (2001).
* 2002 ~ SpiralMuse became a non-profit (thanks to the hard work of co-sourceress Penny Fellbrich) and the SpiralMuse house was femifested by Marcella Eversole, with collaborative love and sweat from Mireya Alejo Marcet and Malika Jen Rani.
* From there, many powerful variations of circles were designed by shared leadership, to co-created in the moment. Circles, women’s courses (including Circling), Hestia (Erika Raeven’s brain child courses), and so much more were designed and created by women in The Community. There are too many to list here – so many amazing women.
Women’s Circling leaders: Jen Guy, Callie Miller, Karen Josephs, Erika Raeven, Dierdre Montgomery, Kathryn Williams
Alia Hall Metcalf, Shana James, Karen Josephs, Alexis Shepperd, Malika Jen Rani Freedman
Becca Fink, Mireya Alejo Marcet, Malika Jen Rani, Dierdre Montgomerie, Penny Fellbrich
The Birth of Authentic World
It was my impression that, while Bryan and Decker were around the Arete scene, they seemed to be learning from Guy and Jerry not just about transformational authentic openness, but also about how to produce a weekend course and how to run a personal growth course business. Bryan in particular seemed at the time to have an ambitious appetite for learning business strategy and development, marketing, and enrollment.
Bryan also seemed like he had gifts he wanted to give, he believed in the gifts of his best friend, and had a vision of creating a course for how men and women could be more open in dating. So, in 2004, he and Decker launched the Authentic Man Program.
Their attention from the start was to create a sense of community, for example in allowing junior course leaders to accept individual coaching client leads (something that had not been allowed in Arete). For the heart of there “AMP” course, they brought in some of the women in their life – Tsal’gyur Priya Dorje (known at the time as Nicole Starbuck), Alexis Sheppard, Shana Weinsten, Kendra Cunov, Dawne Sparkles, Shelly Birger Phillips, Ami Readdy, and others – to give men feedback about the impact that they were having on women. Michael Porcelli wrote,
AMP created Circling in service of a greater purpose of men having more fulfilling connections and intimate relationships. Bryan had the idea for the intensive as a service project with The Men’s Circle. As for content, he was modeling, interviewing, and attempting to reverse engineer some of what he was observing Decker doing. Also, the way that Priya provided direct and honest in-the-moment feedback to them in their personal relationships provided a kind of prototype for the AMP woman.
They brought in Bernie Lunger Trogyal Dorje and Patrick O’Toole to lead the production team. They also had Jerry lead production on one of the early courses. Guy wrote,
To my recollection, Bryan and Decker were respectful and genuinely wanting Jerry’s mentorship and to help ground them and the course. I recall them scheduling meetings with me before and after their first course, asking for support and coaching in their new venture. I personally felt respect from them as well as a hunger for feedback at the time. Another detail that I recall was originally AMP was officially an Arete course for the first two of three courses. Then Jerry and I thought, in service to their growth and owning their own thing, that they should start their own company, which they did.
Bryan and Decker also seemed to be getting mentoring from and having a friendship with business coach Mark Michael Lewis. Mark had written a book about authentic relating, was the first person that I had met who was passionate about the integral work of Ken Wilbur, and also eventually did some teaching through The Circling Institute. Michael Porcelli wrote,
Mark Michael Lewis’s “Game for Intimacy” formed some core antecedents to our “school” here at The Integral Center.
Mark and Bryan
At that time, I think Bryan may have been doing user interface design tech work half time, and Decker was working managing relationships for a real estate office. This hopefully may give some inspiration to those of you who want to make a living in the course leader field and are feeling daunted by how far you have to go until you “make it”.
The Authentic Woman Experience
Alexis Sheppard and Shana James were both trained by Guy and Jerry in the second Arete course leader cohort and were two of the early participants who contributed to the creation of the Authentic Man Program. Soon after the AMP course began its run, they founded their own body of work and community for women, specifically in the form of the Authentic Women’s Experience weekend course. Kevin O’Malley wrote,
Shana and Alexis, both deeply contributing from the beginning, created AWE, which was as equally powerful and beautiful as AMP.
Interestingly, unlike the rest of the early pioneers in Circling, Alexis and Shana both had formal clinical psychology graduate degrees which informed their work. They began to contribute unique intellectual material to the distinctions, teaching, and practice of Circling. Anna Liisa Wijnen Moter and Rosy Moon also helped with the creation of the course and in the creation of the community that sprang up around it. Guy wrote,
From my view (important to Circling history) AMP and AWE was the first time that Circling became a means to a specific end (love relationships) vs an end in itself (like Arete). In other words, it was the first time Circling had a specific outcome assigned to it. This stretch in Circling’s context lead to many new growth opportunities for Circling, and fuel for many late night Circling geek outs together … I pay tribute to Alexis Shepperd’s deep contribution to the development of Circling which, in my view, sometimes goes under noticed. Through her pioneering work with AWE and co-leading TCLT and AoC she has, for many years now, continues to bring her depth and intelligence to Circling which has shaped it into what it is.
Sandhya Adnepos O’Malley, Alexis, Shana, Penny Fellbrich, Shelly Birger Phillips
The Death of Arete, and the Aftermath
Jerry and Guy, around the time of the end of the road for Arete
Meanwhile, most of Jerry and Guy’s friends had all taken Arete, and soon many of the friends and family of their friends had too. But Jerry and Guy were at the time not so strong at marketing, enrollment, or business sense, and never found a way to reach out to the wider audience that they needed to in order to grow their business. They tried working with business coaches and people who understood business better, for example, Ron Bynum, Sherrill Jeter, Rich Goldstein, Jason McClain, and Mark Michael Lewis. They were also learning from, improving back from, and collaborating with the growing business-smart organization that the Authentic/Integral community was building.
It wasn’t enough, though. So, many of us in the Arete community were sad as Arete courses were offered less and less frequently. Finally, around 2008, the Arete phenomena met its end, deeply in debt.
Jerry had stopped leading course leader trainings with Guy, and Alexis stepped up into that role. The year before Arete ended, in 2007, I had finally taken a year-long course leader training, which was lead by those two. I had enjoyed a year of exercises, authenticity, intensity, and other forms of deep bonding with a sparkling cohort of coaches-to-be and other deep cats and kittens who I still feel deeply connected with. Like many of my peers, I was ready to take my turn to step up and co-lead the weekend courses. So, as Arete ground down, some of us were disappointed by the loss of that opportunity.
High-powered coach Rich Litvin was one of the folks in my year-long training, shown here with Guy, Alexis, and Praveen Maheta
The 1999-2006 years when the Arete community thrived were similar for me to 1992-1996 with my Landmark-courses-and-rave community – I remember that during both communities’ warm-hearted heyday I thought that we would be intertwined together forever. But, like one of my Buddhist teachers says, there are no objects in this universe, only events, and everything eventually comes to an end. This has taught me to intentionally enjoy transformational communities while they thrive, knowing that they will probably not do so indefinitely.
Anyway, as Arete wound down, a number of Arete-trained course leaders (for example, Kevin O’Malley) took their gifts and enthusiasm over to the burgeoning Authentic/Integral scene. There were other formal offshoots of Circling that were birthed at the time, too. For example, Brian Burt and Guy were for a while were offering weekend courses called “Financial Circles” that combined Circling with getting clarity around personal finances. And David Schlussel wrote,
In 2008, Guy, me, Rosy Moon, Penny Fellbrich, Suzette Karlak Hibble, John Van Dinther, Michele Casale put together some courses combining the transformational technologies of yoga and Circling, which we called Open Here. We used hatha yoga practices: asana (postures) pranayama (breathing), and chanting to open us up and get into our bodies, and then circled to work with what came up in that space, then went back to yoga to ground back in. We ran retreats, a six week series, and some drop-in experiences. It was beautiful.
After Arete dissipated, Jerry faced some personal challenges, and mostly stayed out of the transformation game. He was just starting to get involved again, planning some coursework and delivering some personal coaching, when he passed away in the Summer of 2017. His memorial service brought together hundreds of people from the old Arete/The Community/Gratitude scene, filled with appreciative stories about what a positive difference he had made for us.
As for Guy, the Authentic World folks brought their former teacher in to lead events with them in 2009. When that collaboration blew up, Guy relaunched his life work, and has been serving people since. He at first repartnered with Alexis as “The Circling Institute”, and now has partnered with Jon Cotton and Praveen Maheta.
Guy has learned more how to develop a sustainable business that draws in clientele he was not already socially friends with. And he and Alexis generated what the Arete CLIT trainings never had, in terms of an explicit curriculum, theoretical frameworks, pedagogical paradigms, and step-by-step skill building exercises and techniques (as well as, as before, the continuing practice of having students get on the playing field and learn from mistakes, and observing and modeling master Circling).
Ontological revelation in action
(Jon Cotton at the left, Blessing Horowytz at the right)
A Side Note
When people currently use the term “Circling”, this has come to refer to many diverse forms of authentic relating and “interpersonal meditation”. I think that this is why people say that they have “independently discovered Circling” – people who have been practicing unusually deep authentic interpersonal presence and communication and then have been later exposed to the Circling movement can say, “Hey, this feels just like that other stuff that I’ve already been doing for years now”.
In my mind, however, “Circling” refers only to what some people apparently now call “birthday circles” – in other words, a group of people all putting open, accepting, loving awareness on a single person and more-or-less holding it there for the duration of the event, with all of the people in the group participating in the processing. And in my own mind something is only really “Circling” if it uses that template and involves using something like the general set of communication and presence skills that the Circling Institute and Authentic World teach (and that Bryan Bayer wrote about in his book).
If “circling” happens one-on-one, I personally call that “coaching” or “being a friend”, not “circling”. Similarly, if “circling” happens in a group but one “leader” does a disproportionate share of the processing (the current Alethia style), and the whole group is not equally empowered to participate, then I call that “coaching in front of a group”, not “circling”. And what people apparently call “surrendered leadership” or “organic circles”, I call an “encounter group” or a “T group”.
But I also believe however that the meaning of words is simply how people use and understand them. If the word “paranoid” has come to mean, in part, “unusually aware of something in an anxious way even when it doesn’t involve other humans” (as in, “I get totally paranoid of those wine glasses breaking in the dishwasher”), and if the word “savage” has come to mean “good” (“Yo on the reals fam that final episode was savage“), and if the word “literally” has also come to also be a simple strengthening modifier (“After he finally walked in, we were literally dying”), and listeners understand the intended meaning of those sentences, well, then each of those words has come to mean something new, beyond what they originally meant. In that spirit, I also recognize that all those other forms of deeply authentic and present relating are also part of the current definition of “Circling”.
John Thompson posted and wrote,
It cuts deep in me to hear people wish surrendered leadership wasn’t called “Circling”. I’ve dedicated my life to Circling and am honoured to be a part of the lineage of Circling. Surrendered leadership has grown organically out of that dedication and practice.
I respect that too.
The Growth of Authentic World and The Integral Center
Some folks authentically integrating while they integrally authenticate
From afar, it has seemed to me like the early AuthenticWorld people – through their own growth, innovation, and collaboration with the many bright stars they attracted – over time developed courses that were their own thing and covered fresh territory compared with where they started from. Decker has apparently from time to time considered calling their work something different in order to distinguish it from Jerry and Guy’s creations, but the name “Circling” has just kept sticking. Regardless, it has seemed to me that they have been better at marketing, enrollment, and business sense than Arete was, and equally skilled at generating an enthusiastic and warm-hearted alumni/production volunteer community, so they have come to spread their connections and enrollment base far and wide.
[I do not have much direct experience with Authentic World, Circling Europe, and Authentic Revolution Texas, but I am including sections on these lineages for the sake of completion, and the histories drawing from writings by Sarah Ness, Michael Porcelli, and Marc Beneteau]:
One way that they expanded their reach was when Bryan Bayer and Garrison Cohen collaborated with Decker to create AMP Media, which captured some of the impact of a live AMP intensive on video and made it available to thousands of men (including for example eventual Authentic World leaders Michael Porcelli and Robbie Carlton). Another new form of authentic relating that AuthenticWorld explored was their Authentic Games nights.
Mark Michael Lewis, Allison Conte, Kevin Brown, Shana, Kevin O’Malley, Goose Duarte, Decker, Alexis at the first Alethia course, Boulder 2011
Ray Brejcha brought Authentic World’s Circling work to Boulder, where it made a big splash. Tripp Lanier wrote,
Ray Brejcha was the key force to bringing this work to Boulder. He dragged me to SF to meet Bryan Bayer and Decker Cunov, and we did a lot of fumble-f**king around figuring out ways to spread their work. Casey Capshaw went with us to SF, too, in those early days. It felt like the wild-west back then. I remember a meeting with Bryan Bayer and Jeff Salzman at the Hungry Toad where I had high hopes that Jeff’s facility/resources and Bryan’s community-building skills would ignite a fire. It’s amazing to see where so many others have put so much time, energy, and love into this!
Allison Conte responded: Tripp Lanier It did feel like the wild west back then!! … The first Red Pill weekend had 40-some men participants and we had no idea what we were doing. OMG. We had belly dancing, and Jesus, and all manner of WILDness. There was so much crazy energy in the room that I needed Kevin O’Malley to help me release it — I fell into his arms and sobbed in the back room when it was over. There’s something about the camaraderie and experimentation of those early days that I miss. Dearly miss.
Robert MacNaughton was another Boulder resident, who had been working with Ken Wilber at the first Integral Center in Boulder, and who went to a TCLT weekend with Guy in the Bay Area, and came home transformed and inspired. He started offering Circling in his living room once a week, and the events eventually became so popular that the crowds overwhelmed the space. He and Decker eventually met and began to collaborate.
Decker had been renting space at the Integral Center, and, in 2011, when it was about to shut-down, Robert and Decker decided, with great trepidation, to lease the property and take over the name “Integral Center”. They co-created the Aletheia weekend, which in many ways follows the original Arete model of a three way weekend of breathwork, Circling, and community processing.
The Inetgral Center has since become the home base of AuthenticWorld’s course offerings, which have included the Authentic Man Program, Alethia Circling immersions, The Red Pill Weekend, Train The Trainer T3 Circling trainings, online Circling, authentic relating games, and a think-tank of practices. They have built up a large Circling community in Boulder and all over the world.
Besides the already mentioned leaders – Decker Cunov, Bryan Bayer, Robert MacNaughton, Alexis Sheppard, Shana James, Kevin O’Malley, Michael Porcelli, Kendra Cunov, Robbie Carlton, Garrison Cohen, Ray Brejcha, Tripp Lanier, Casey Capshaw, Jeff Salzman, and Alison Conte – other leaders have included Alyson Schwabe Lanier, David Bollt, Jess Nichol, Matthew Porcelli, Josh Levin, Lorena Palazzo, Jason Gore, and Malika Jen Rani Freedman.
Decker and Robert MacNaughton getting present
To my eyes, to make an analogy with the history of alternative rock:
Guy and Jerry and their early collaborators were the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, The Ramones, Robyn Hitchcock, and The Clash – the raw groundbreaking visionaries who laid the foundation and inspired others but at the time relatively didn’t get that much money or fame from the game.
The Authentic/Integral crew have been U2, R.E.M., Nirvana, Green Day, and Radiohead – the people who got their start by building off of, innovating off of, and adding other influences to what the first wave had created, added what they had been working on, and who then found a way to make their creations more accessible to a larger audience.
[This is based on writings by Sarah Ness and Marc Beneteau]
Sean Wilkinson and John Thompson were two young men in the UK who ran a professional tennis academy. They interested in Integral theory, and they taught their students by working on the kids’ relationship with themselves and their families as much as their tennis technique. They discovered a deeper form of authentic relating in 2002 and practiced this nonstop with each other for years. In 2008, they found Decker Cunov and trained with him, and later with Guy Sengstock too.
In 2012, they founding Circling Europe, which is based in the Netherlands, and, with Texan Jordan Allen onboard as a third leader in 2014, now lead Circling immersions and trainings around the world. Some people refer to them as the third major school of Circling. They have launched the online Circling platform CircleAnywhere.com, which is a product of Circling Europe, launched in 2015 and now serves people from all over the world who are not able to meet in person, or who live far from a Circling center.
John Thompson, Sean Wilkinson, and Jordan Allen
Authentic Revolution Texas
Circling and authentic relating communities have grown up all over, and Texas has developed one of the strongest communities outside of the SF Bay Area and Boulder. The largest community has been in Austin, with Sara Ness and Heather McClellan as current leaders. Waves of leaders who have come and gone in the past have included Amy Bunker, Brantley Essary, and Sara Brumbelow. The Community as a whole is an official non-profit under the name “Connect Humanity” (achieved in such a way that future communities elsewhere can more easily get status under them) and Sara’s training business is named “Authentic Revolution”.
I discovered Authentic Relating in the summer of 2012, through a friend in Houston, with whom I began leading Games Nights for the ecstatic dance community there. Returning to college in Austin that fall, I brought Authentic Relating Games to the college housing coops where I lived, in an attempt to remedy some of the interpersonal issues that they faced.
AR quickly became popular, both in the coops, and the other communities I was a part of (acro-yoga, ecstatic dance, and whatever else I happened to bump into). Soon, we outgrew the coops and had to find a new location – renting a room at the community center Casa de Luz. Our community quickly grew to become the largest and most vibrant AR community in the world! And I started training facilitators to spread this to new areas. Today, we have become a force of Authentic Revolution [a company that incorporated in 2014], with our own space, hundreds of trained facilitators, and teachers in every field, from social work to schools. We are waking up to ourselves through the force of human connection.
Brian Burrell, Michael Blas, Liz Gaines, and Christina Tonan have been among the leaders in the thriving circling community in Houston/Woodlands. Some action has happened in Dallas as well.
Sara Ness and Brian Burrell
Apparently, several other Circling training schools have opened recently – Amy Silverman’s “Connection Movement” (in 2013), Josh Stein’s “Circling Wizardry”, and Jason Digges and Ryel Kestano’s “ART International” (both in 2017). Authentic and Circling communities have popped up all over the USA and the world.
It’s funny for me to see something that I was there for the start of and just seemed like some folks doing a thing now grow into a huge important thing that important people have important opinions about. I sometimes wish I was more involved. I am however pleased and inspired that so many people are finding the connection, being seen, and openness that Circling has brought them.
BTW: as stated, some of the last few sections drew from Marc Beneteau’s instructional guide to circling, which has a shorter history embedded. It can be found here.