Over the last 6 months, finishing recently, I have been going through a leadership development course called the SAS, by CirclingEurope. It is built on the practice of Circling, which I won’t try to define fully here. For me, one of the essences of it is accepting and therefore being able to embrace the present moment and what it brings me.

About halfway through the course I wrote the following on the Facebook group page for my SAS cohort:

“Who am I, right now?”

Asked with curiosity, with acceptance of whatever the answer may be, with openness to discovering something new, with love for the asking and the answering…

This is the most powerful question I can ask myself in my life now. Every breath can bring a different answer, if only I can let go of the answer that came a decade, a year, a month, a week, a day, an hour, a minute or even just a breath earlier.

Another powerful pair of questions and answers that resolve to the same idea, for me, from de Mello:

> What is love? The total absence of fear. What is it we fear? Love.

Surrender into this absence of fear (which, paradoxically, may be full of fear), moment to moment, breath by breath. Immerse your soul in love (Radiohead). Gentle impulsion, shakes me, makes me lighter, fearless on my breath, teardrop on the fire (Massive Attack). Emotional landscapes, they puzzle me, confuse, the riddle gets solved, and you push me up to this state of emergency, how beautiful to be (Björk).

Language fails to quite express, but this one question captures it all.

Who am I, right now?

Who am I, right now?

Who am I, right now?

Who am I, right now?

Who am I, right now?

Meditation and other mindfulness practices like Circling can seem, to some people, divorced from the practical realities of being a person who lives in the real world, who works, who achieves things. Yesterday and today I had a brilliant example of this question, this openness, applied practically, and with impact.

I was at Pirate Summit (which just finished), and scheduled to give a talk about Holacracy. While rehearsing it yesterday, I felt uncomfortable, a clear feeling in my solar plexus that something was not right. It wasn’t obvious why I was uncomfortable. It came across first as a desire to do something else – anything else – other than rehearse the talk I was giving the next day. I had spent the whole day at the conference feeling a bit disconnected from things, not really engaging or getting into any great conversations, and now this. My first instinct was to simply flee the battle. I just didn’t want to be there, or to go to the next day. It seemed pointless. A step backwards! I don’t need to be here! There are other, better things I could be doing! Rationalisations and escape routes came easily, as they usually do.

There was such a strong desire to not give this talk! I could have just overridden it through force of will, and made myself rehearse and give the talk anyway. Or, I could have given into it and (quite unethically), found a reason to not be there the following day. But if the SAS course and now almost a year of Circling has taught me anything, it is to stay with apparently “negative” feelings and be open to letting them teach me something. For example: who am I, right now, as I feel this pain in my solar plexus? Is this discomfort telling me, perhaps, that there’s a deeper, greater version of myself that I could be, if only I could let it happen? Is there something I’m afraid of, that would be a truer expression of me?

This question, who am I, right now, symbolises an openness to finding out something new about myself, to being different, to letting go of who I thought I was and therefore more fully stepping into whatever I actually am at this present moment. It requires a trust that whatever I will discover in this process will be good for me. Experience has taught me that it always is, but still it is hard to let go of the ego’s fears. In fact, worse than that: the ego’s fears are usually the very thing that points the way to deeper truth.1

Thankfully, I had my wife with me, and she helped to circle me, and in the process, we discovered that yes, I felt wrong about the talk I was about to give, because it felt empty to me, free of passion or presence. I was just going through the motions. There was no challenge, no risk, no vulnerability in giving this talk. It was just a superficial act without any growth in it for me, at least in the way I had structured it.

So then the way forward became obvious: what talk would I have to give for it to truly challenge me, for it to be a developmental edge? I was definitely afraid of having to redo my talk from scratch at 9pm the night before (the talk was at 11:40am), but what was the talk that I was afraid of giving? After a bit of thinking, it was clear that the new version of the talk should start with vulnerability about this process, a willingness to admit my weakness and failure, not as a founder, but as a speaker and as a participant in the conference. This was what I had avoided saying to anyone all day, as I hung around in the conference, on my iPad, not talking to any of the wonderful people there: that I was bored, that I didn’t feel like I wanted to be there, that I felt disconnected from the tech scene, tired of it. Step into that truth, and let the rest of the talk flow from this place of vulnerability 2, combined with my honest desire to bring something of value to every audience I speak to, and with my actually useful knowledge of Holacracy.

And so instead of a flat, dispassionate talk that would have best been forgotten, I gave the talk below. And in the process of finding, preparing, and delivering that talk, I took the opportunity to grow as a person, to explore a new way to be fully present when giving presentations. All of which would have been missed if I hadn’t stayed with that discomfort and explored it. Instead, I imagine I would have left Pirate Summit with a vague feeling of disgust and unease, none-the-wiser as to what I might have done differently, perhaps deciding that the cause of my unease was the conference itself, rather than my present state of mind. Denying this state of emergency (or emergence), my life would have been less rich, and my audience would probably have gotten less out of my talk.

This is Circling applied.

  1. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

  2. Admitting to an audience that you can’t bring yourself to care about what they care about feels pretty damn exposed!