This Weekend in 2013

I sit in a basement office space in a community center in Boulder, just having completed a session with a coaching client and preparing for a weekend workshop I will be co-leading. The community center is called The Integral Center. The workshop is the fifth weekend in a series of six to teach and train a group of about thirty in the fundamentals of an interpersonal communication process we call Circling.

On this morning’s commute I recounted my last month’s travels to my younger brother who just flew in to join us on the leadership team for the weekend. Since our previous training weekend, I have travelled to San Francisco to visit with friends, to a wilderness school near Mt. Shasta replete with sweat lodge ceremonies for two weekend retreats, and then back to Boulder. I have conversed and sat in meditation with a visiting Zen Master. I picked up a few more acro-yoga moves from a class in the grass at a park. I facilitated rapid-fire business meetings using a process called Holacracy. I attended a speed-reading and memory-improvement workshop. I met with coaching clients. I dined with friends. I discussed philosophy, science, and politics with friends and colleagues. We conversed on a range of topics such as recent events in Egypt, climate change, consciousness, the technological singularity, Buddhism, psychology, anarchism, the amazing properties of graphene, the conlang Ithkuil, sex-scandals amongst the ranks of spiritual teachers, the connections between intimacy and adult development, and probably a few other things I’m not recalling at the moment. For pleasure I’ve tossed back some beers with buddies, cuddled up with friends, surfed silly youtube videos, enjoyed some summer blockbusters, read the comic book story of Promethea, and played a little Ping Pong, Go, and some Magic: The Gathering.

This very weekend, in years prior, I’ve made ritualistic returns to Comic-Con in my hometown of San Diego, a spectacle of humanity with a healthy side dish of non-humanity for good measure. As social network feeds send their updates this morning, I sense my ambivalence towards missing this year’s international pinnacle of popular culture and arts. I fondly recall memories of years past and chance personal encounters with the likes of Stan Lee, the Wachowski’s, and Neil Gaiman. I also count it an honor to be part of a reverent and celebratory audience with Ray Bradbury once. Navigating the halls and aisles of Comic-Con floor I was struck by the close juxtapositions of our times: creativity and commercialism, the alternative and the mainstream, the young and the old, the cynical and the sincere, sexuality and innocence, cheap thrills and expensive rarities, the sacred and the profane, the artistic and the mundane. Though I feel relieved to be missing the lines, the crowds, the heat, the sweat, and the blaring inundation of marketing, I do miss the human connections, our conversations, and the narratives we would weave together while waiting in line to see some such celebrity, luminary, or other. One way I make sense of Comic-Con and the world in which is situated is its panoply of media to enact our search for meaning in a world of information overload and cynicism. Mythology is resurrected in a self-conscious form where fiction and truth meld. Though often the result is a reduction to a least common denominator, at its best it transcends simple conventions and offers vehicles aplenty for a globalized humanity to create and discover its own meaning through the re-enchantment of collective storytelling.

Back on my feeds, I’m updated from friends attending the Integral Theory Conference (ITC) in Northern California this very same weekend. Another international gathering, this time of philosophers and theorists in a collective inquiry into what it means to be human today and how we can make meaning together in a world of seemingly incommensurate pluralities. Without belaboring the often dense technicalities of what Integral Theory is exactly, I will attempt to convey its interest to me. On the surface, it is an ambitious meta-theoretical project, expounded most prominently by Ken Wilber, to make sense of everything: humankind’s place in the cosmos and the relationships amongst the mind & body, self & other, individual & collective, spirit & science, and the ongoing evolution of the natural world, culture, society, and the human condition. At the core of this project is the question of how to maximally integrate the massive variance of human perspectives without resorting to a simplistic forms of relativism or absolutism. Culturally speaking, it’s an exploration of what succeeds post-modernity, if anything. It’s both intriguing and ambitious—at times bordering on the bombastic, unsurprisingly. My interest includes both the intellectual and the personal: the Integral project has been a touchstone and a context for my own self-understanding in addition to the heady pleasures of intellectualizing about life, the universe, and everything.

As the time for our workshop to begin in Boulder approaches, I account for my decision to be here instead of at Comic-Con, ITC, or just kicking back with friends in the perennially moderate climate of my hometown. My personal quest for intimacy and satisfaction in relationships led me far and wide to therapy and a plethora of books and workshops on relationships and communication. Now I help teach others how to express themselves clearly while honing their listening skills. On a good day, our Circling process aligns with the intentions of the participants and we have the privilege of genuine contact between self and other: I and Thou. In Circling, casual chatter, discussions of facts, philosophical debates, or platitudes about how everything is relative and all perspectives are constructed are sidelined, and instead each participant is faced with an actual encounter with other real-live humans and their personal universes of desires, beliefs, preferences, confusions, and expressions. And as often as this is a profound encounter with other, it is just as often a profoundly, and sometimes surprising, encounter with the self. My own yearning for authentic connection and intimate depth has certainly led to a journey of surprising self-revelation—the myriad ways I’ve prevented myself experiencing what I want so very much. In a world where the search for meaning is often, at best, confined to the impersonal facts of science or the accoutrements of material success, and at worst, dismissed as a fool’s errand, the place I find meaning comes alive is in the space of human connection—an experience we all value and long for intrinsically, in spite of its complexities and challenges. I have literally fallen in love, as I do each time through, with our cohort of students. I choose to spend this weekend in 2013 with students, friends, colleagues and my brother here at The Integral Center where our interpersonal practices are informed by an Integral perspective on the human condition… and every day is one we share in love!

I can’t say where I will be next year this weekend. Perhaps one day you and I will meet and know each other in the flesh, if we haven’t yet already. My hope is that your window into my world has been a little of the kind of shared humanity you like.

Authentic World Circling Training – Malibu!

Join us in an intimate Authentic Relating Intensive at a private yoga retreat in a beautiful natural setting in the hills above Malibu. You won’t want to miss our first ever live event in Southern California with Decker and the Authentic World facilitation crew! Come experience profoundly rewarding connections with us on January 27-29, 2012.

Michael Porcelli here. If you’re like me, you’ve taken the initiative to learn life lessons in unconventional places, like weekend intensives, men’s group, the dance floor, or sitting in a hot spring on a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Along my path, I kept imagining my relationships could be more deeply satisfying and inspiring than I was experiencing, but was frustrated I couldn’t make that happen consistently. I felt like I was missing out. I believed more was possible, but all the reading, training, and techniques weren’t quite working.

Then I found the work of Authentic World and their interpersonal process they call “Circling.”

It’s the best work I’ve found for creating extraordinary intimacy in relationships—an organic, interpersonal process of getting someone’s world and honestly sharing your in-the-moment experiences together.

Ever since, my ability to easily connect feels amazing and my relationships are on fire!

Now I’m proud to be a facilitator at the training courses we offer at Authentic World, and especially excited to a part of bringing this one to LA the weekend of January 27-29, 2012. Click this link for more details!


PS – Watch this short video to see people sharing at the last Aletheia event in Boulder!

Profoundly Rewarding Relationships

Whether experiencing connections full of love and joy, or navigating challenging interactions, if you’re like me, you’ve found relating with other people one of the most dynamic areas of life.  At its most rewarding, we may experience moments like:

  • A loved one’s eyes light up with gratitude for finally feeling appreciated for their uniquely personal essence.
  • A deep sigh of relief from letting go of a limiting self-image we’ve been carrying for years.
  • A flood of warmth in our chests as our heart opens when someone reveals themselves vulnerably.
  • Raw, edgy excitement as we reveal our truth, free from fear of what others might think.
  • A profound sense of oneness with another as we connect, experiencing any sense of separateness dissolve between us.

But more often that not, I was used to experiencing a sense of separateness, frustrated for not feeling understood, and tolerating a dissatisfying lack of intimacy in my life.  I still felt lonely too often.  Those magic moments seemed to happen merely by chance; I didn’t know how to generate those experiences more often.

I spent a long time searching—reading books, trying techniques, taking workshops, attending group meetings, going to psychotherapy, even earning a Master’s Degree in Psychology—all in service of finding a way to have more satisfying connections with others.  I was tired of trying to be someone that I wasn’t in order to feel closer to others, and in the end, that wasn’t creating the kind of relationships I wanted to experience anyway.

That is, until I found the work of Authentic World and their interpersonal process they call “Circling”.

It’s the best work I’ve found for creating extraordinary and profound intimacy in relationships—an organic, interpersonal process of getting someone’s world and honestly sharing your in-the-moment experiences together.Here’s more about Circling from my friend Bryan Bayer, Authentic World co-founder:

The purpose of Circling is twofold:

1. Circling uncovers our “relational blind spots”—the places where we push away the depth of connection and intimacy that’s possible, whether we’re:

  • In relationship and want to deepen with our partner…
  • Single, and looking to attract someone to explore deeper connection with…
  • Looking for deeper connection with ANYONE—family, friends, prospective clients…

Through this fresh, direct-experience, in-the-moment process, we have more choice about how we respond because we’re aware of our blind spots.

2. The experience of “being seen” for who we authentically are is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have as human beings, and Circling teaches us exactly that—how to see and celebrate each person for the unique flavor they bring to the world.

I’ve experienced firsthand how this process helps me grow and heal unresolved issues whether or not they’re just about relationships. Also, learning to appreciate people and connect with them where they are at has made me more effective as a coach in a way that goes beyond mere techniques.

These profoundly rewarding relationships have become a part of my everyday life both personally and professionally. Now I am excited to invite you to experience it yourself. Join me for a special opportunity to attend Aletheia—an intimate training with the founders of Authentic World, leading their first-ever event in the Los Angeles area.

When Knowledge isn’t Power

I love that sweet feeling of a fresh new insight.  For example, after a challenging period of self reflection, I came to realize that underlying my “Nice Guy” persona was really a sense of loneliness and a desperate attempt to try and get people to like me.  After facing this with a radical sense of honesty came that illuminating  insight that allowed me to see myself, my history, and my choices in a whole new light.  It was as though new possibilities of action just unfolded almost automatically.  I stopped apologizing for things that I was not responsible for.  I stopped pretending that I was “just fine” when really I wasn’t.  I stopped trying so hard to get everyone to like me.  It was wonderful – a whole new way of being.  But eventually things weren’t going so smoothly and easily.  For example, I would find myself agreeing to do something I didn’t want to do, just because I wanted to avoid the hassle of saying “no”.  And yeah, into my mind pops the thought – there’s my “Nice Guy” pattern again, I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m doing it anyway!  What’s my problem?  It seems that every new learning, every new insight, eventually stagnates.   And that’s what I’m here to talk to you about today.

The mind (and especially my mind it seems!) just loves to know stuff.  It’s just like sitting in an elementary school classroom, my hand stretched eagerly into the air, waving at the teacher – “I know I know I know!”  And so it is with life’s lessons.  Eventually, after pounding my head against the same wall repeatedly, I find the proper way through the door and all is well!  My eager little know-it-all furiously starts memorizing the “right” answer, saying “I’ll never do that again because now I know the answer!”  Then, when an old pattern comes back and I find myself pounding my poor head against that very same wall, my inner know-it-all has turned into a cruel little tyrant, “Come on, you know better!”  I won’t go any further into it now, but boy, he sure does know how to lay on the criticism.  Then my mind ends up going in circles.  It’s like, if I “get it,” then what’s the problem?  Why am I still doing it?  My mind doesn’t seem like it can find and answer no matter how many circles it goes in.

The problem is that the the mind, for all it’s wonders, is actually quite limited – at least the logical/rational part of it is.  (By the way, this is supported scientifically by everything from behavioral economics studies that demonstrate predictably irrational choices to neurological cases demonstrating decision impairment when the amygdala – emotional brain – is disconnected from the frontal cortex – logical brain.)   This part of our mind works by looking for patterns, making generalizations, and then summing them up in convenient new beliefs or thoughts about what is right/wrong, better/worse, etc.  These thoughts and beliefs are meant to support us in actually taking action that meets some need or other we have as human beings.  Instead many of us often buy into the delusion that merely having the “right answer” is all we’re supposed to do – like regurgitating a bunch of facts on a school test.  The key is to unplug from this delusion and recognize that the value of a rule, a belief, or idea is not in its correctness or accuracy, but in the benefit it brings through its practical application.

Anyone involved with the personal growth and development game for long enough comes face-to-face with the experience of once fresh insights going stagnant and what to do about it.  I’ll admit to you that this is something that I find challenging on an ongoing basis.  I’ll share with you some tips I use:

  1. First of all, you’ve got to recognize when you’re struggling against yourself, spinning your mind in circles, and judging yourself for not doing what you supposedly know you’re supposed to be doing.  Relax, take a deep breath, and just create some space inside yourself around this.  To help with this, I remind myself how my inner know-it-all just wants to be liked and having the right answers seemed like the best way to do that when I was just a little boy.
  2. Identify those judgments and gently forgive yourself for judging yourself for not living up whatever it is you think you’re supposed to be living up to.
  3. Recognize the positive underlying intention of your ideas about what you should be doing – what needs does it serve?  Ask yourself, what other courses of action could you take right now to meet those needs?
  4. Open your heart and your mind to the possibility that whatever rule you were beating yourself up with might not actually apply in this situation – and that might be exactly why you’re not following it! Ask yourself what is it you might be avoiding or unwilling to face?  What new insight or lesson might be available?

Please apply this and let me know how it goes for you!  I’d love to hear your feeedback and any insights or alternative strategies you may have for this type of situation!

Self-criticism to Clear Motivation in 3 easy steps

As I was working at creating clear positive intentions towards making a meaningful contribution to the health and growth of others through my coaching business, some negative thoughts started popping up, for example, “I’m not really getting better at all of this, I’m just a hypocrite, a phony, a fake, a poser.”  Here is how I have been learning to handle this type of thought effectively:

  1. I acknowledged the thought and any feelings that come with it.  For me it was a kind of pang of conscience and sting of guilt mixed in with a little anxiety and remorse.  It’s not a pleasant experience, and I have noticed a tendency to avoid it, get rid of it, or pretend to myself like it didn’t happen.  But nevertheless, it is what happened, so I accepted and allowed it.  This gave me some space to work with it.
  2. I identified any self-judgments and forgave myself for them.  For example, I said gently to myself, “I forgive myself for judging myself for not getting better.  I forgive myself for judging myself as a hypocrite, phony, fake, or poser.”  There was a sense of relief and release as I forgave myself.
  3. I welcomed any underlying wisdom or insight from this thought.  What became clear to me was how much I enjoy being a man of my word.  I felt that sense of strength that comes from living with integrity.  I felt the value of being trustworthy for myself and for others.

Even as I have been writing this, some similar thoughts have been popping into my mind.  I have been doing my best to apply this process to these thoughts.  I’m starting to see, like with any skill, practice makes perfect.  I know what is is like to try and bury and ignore these types of thoughts.  They fester into a background malaise.  They form in to a heaviness that goes counter to having focused energy and delight in living my life.  Another option is to actually believe these thoughts.  I’ve done that before too.  I’ve experienced a kind of comfort that comes from just giving-up on myself, but after a while that became too empty and dissatisfying.  As I apply this process more successfully, I experience energy building inside me, and a clarity of purpose.  Please apply this for yourself when needed!

From my Self-Distraction, with Love

One of the things I have been experiencing is self-distraction. What a crazy concept! I mean, I’m the one who wants to go one way, so who is this other person inside myself that is distracting me? Wait that can’t be so, it must be something else – out there distracting me. Yeah, that’s it – the seemingly irresistible temptations of checking out the headlines, facebook, blogs, wikipedia, books, TV, movies – and cookies! It’s all their fault! OK, that feels better, a bit. Wait, that didn’t help! I’m still distracted. As long as keep blaming something or someone else, I’m just going to stay stuck because I’ve merely justified my distraction and given myself a good reason why I can’t do anything about it. So I guess there’s something else, and it’s going on inside of me.

So I had a little talk with my self-distraction earlier today. I was reminded of some aspects of myself that I sometimes ignore too often. I love having fun when I work. I love motivating myself with kindness and ease – not beating myself up trying to get ahead. I love accepting myself unconditionally, regardless of anything I say or do. I love holding my views and understanding lightly, and with a certain measure of healthy skepticism, lest I limit myself or stagnate in some way. I love being authentic – boldly and nakedly myself, not forcing myself to fit some phony mold, nor defining myself by concept, personality, or belief. I love being spontaneous and expressive – allowing my creativity to flow freely, rather than holding back. Within me is a bubbling primordial energy, an ocean of elemental forces brimming and flowing with creative power! My self-distraction calls to me – reminding me of these inner potentials ultimately beyond the capacity of my everyday mind to control or comprehend. I call myself forward with a paradoxically chaotic clarity to let go and fall into the divine mystery of my authentic essence. Loving Here Now!

On Track With Your Resolutions

Yes, I’ve done it before too – getting back on-track at the start of a new year, making resolutions, recommitting myself to my happiness, success, and well-being. And I know what it is like to get off-track, then back on-track again, and back, and forth. It seems that this cycle is a natural part of learning to express more fully what really matters to me in my life. And it seems that sometimes, how far off-track I drift, how long it takes to get back on-track, and how challenging it feels to do it actually varies. Sometimes, I feel swift and graceful – regaining poise, balance, and my center with the skill and ease of a dancer or athlete. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in the mud, with a massive burden on my back, and a blindfold on. Sound familiar? What is it that makes the difference? In my experience I have found a few things to be very helpful.

First of all, make commitments you know you can keep – setting yourself up for success. This means setting a clearly defined objective with a time frame so you will know when you have done it. Rather than resolving to just lose weight – pick a target weight and time-frame. And that is only half of it. The other half is breaking down goals into smaller pieces that you know you can complete. Rather than resolving to workout every day – commit to working out for 30 minutes tomorrow. Then make a new commitment to working out again tomorrow. It’s easy to feel like the bigger, better, more ambitious, and more exciting your commitment is the more brownie points or gold-stars you will get. I am all for thinking big and getting motivated through inspiring dreams and visions of the future. But when it comes down to staying on track (and getting back on-track with ease), small is beautiful and more supportive. When you make the commitment, you feel like “Heck yeah! I KNOW I can do that!” It’s a slam-dunk.

Second, reward yourself with good feelings. How often have you just completed a task you set for yourself, when the very next moment you picture in your mind all the other things you have not done yet and start feeling overwhelmed? Or just after a workout, you get on the scale and feel discouraged by all the weight you still want to lose? Feeling the frustration, anger, or sadness about a current situation can be great motivation to get started on changing it for the better. But moving into more positive feelings will help you stay on track more easily in the long run. Think about it for a second – if you “reward” yourself with discouragement, overwhelm, or frustration after completing something you wanted to do for yourself, will that encourage you in the future to that again? Instead, pause for a moment, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and smile. Say something to yourself like “I am glad that I just did that!”

These two tips taken together deliver a powerful one-two combo. Your clearly defined commitment will let you know exactly when to reward yourself with good feelings. Your small goals will increase the frequency you are rewarding yourself with good feelings. The result will be you get off-track less often, you won’t drift as far, and you’ll get back on track with the finesse of an Olympian. Try it out!

The Taskmaster & the Rebel

Growing up, I was a good boy.  I earned good grades and acknowledgment from parents and teachers and I enjoyed that.  Eventually I became tired of always doing what I was supposed to do even if it was enjoyable and rewarding.  More importantly, I wanted to make the choices about what I valued and believed for myself rather than because it was dictated to me growing up.  And that was the beginning of my experimental and rebellious phase.  Suffice it to say, I had a rockin’ great time!  I learned a lot about the world, myself, emotions, and relationships.  I suspended coming to certain conclusions and often did the opposite of my upbringing to see what it was like.

Eventually, I grew tired of this too because I recognized how some of my choices were not optimal for my health, wealth, happiness, etc.  So I made some new choices – some of them resembled what I was taught growing up, and others were new.  And I had a whole new philosophy I could call my very own behind it all.  I was pleased with myself and felt ready to take on the world.  But then something surprising happened.  I found it challenging to make my new positive choices stick.  I thought I had it all figured out, so I was confused and frustrated when I found myself rebelling again.  Only this time, I wasn’t rebelling against my upbringing – I was rebelling against myself.

This seriously did not make any sense to me until I eventually discovered something new.  Growing up I had formed a habit of motivating myself through berating myself.  This sounds like a voice in my head saying stuff like, “You suck you idiot!  You’ll never be good enough, you just keep screwing up over and over again and this is just more evidence that you’ll never amount to anything…”  Sound familiar?  It didn’t matter what it was that I was trying to motivate myself to do, or any lofty reasons I had for doing it.  If I was motivating myself in this negative way, I was eventually going to rebel against myself.  I don’t like hearing all those nasty things about myself and if I hear any more of it, I’m just going to go wild and forget all about those wonderful positive new choices.

I found myself alternating between two sides:  on the one hand, a sick taskmaster; on the other hand, a wild rebel.  (I eventually learned various psychologies call one side “the top-dog” or “internalized parent” and the other side “the under-dog” or “internalized child”.)  This wasn’t fun.  It took me a while to come to understand that each side has my best interests at heart, but they just take different approaches.  The taskmaster really cares about my health, wealth, and fulfillment.  The rebel really cares about my relaxation, creativity, freedom, and spontaneity.  (Neither are concerned much about philosophy.)  As long as I am taking care of all of those needs, then both the taskmaster and the rebel are satisfied.  When I do this well, the taskmaster morphs into an inspirational guide and my rebel morphs into areally fun guy I love to hang out with and I’m happy all around.

In practical terms, here’s what this is like:

  • I choose to motivate myself towards positive choices with kindness and patience.
  • I choose to give myself unstructured free time for relaxation, fun, and creativity.
  • When the taskmaster shows up, I look for ways I’m not meeting my commitments to myself
  • When the rebel shows up, I look for ways I’m not taking time out, or ways I’m not motivating myself in a kind way.

I have simplified this – each situation has its own unique subtleties.  Yet time and again, I return to this lesson.  Remember, it’s not just what you do or why you do it – but how you relate to yourself while doing it!  Be kind to yourself and have fun!