The force behind Speaking Circles
This article follows on from the other I added to my blog a few days ago entitled: Speaking Circles … Speaking What! In this article I briefly explore the underlying psychoanalytical framework as to what happens in a Speaking Circles Training Session.
I want to start by drawing parallels with Mindfulness meditation. When I was training in meditation in the Western Buddhist Order in Cambridge, many moons ago, we undertook a curious exercise of staring into each other’s eyes for 5 minutes, I have called this ‘eye oneness’. At the end of this exercise we had to discuss the results. For many the experience was gruelling to literally concentrate on another person’s eyes, at close quarters, and for 5 minutes. At the same time there appeared to be a merging going on, where after a while, you became so lost in the other person’s eyes that you no longer existed. Although the objective of this exercise in Mindfulness meditation was not stated from the outset, we discovered the total annihilation of our personalities just by looking intently at another person. Why would you want to do that? Remember that in Speaking Circles, we undertake a similar exercise for 15 seconds, then 30 seconds before moving onto a full minute looking fully into another person’s eyes. To the uninitiated the 15 seconds was a daring adventure, so a full 5 minutes could be deemed mission impossible without prior practice, yet this is what we did as students of meditation and survived having discovered another dimension to ourselves.
The objective of the ‘eye oneness’ exercise in Buddhist meditation and Speaking Circles is not quite the same. In meditation the aim is to calm the mind, to get rid of the ceaseless chatter that continues whether we want it to or not. Moving deeper into the meditation the second and more important stage is to move away from identifying with your thoughts, so indeed a merging with everything around you does take place. This merging is in fact a precursor to becoming unindividualiated (if I can say that – not in Google Spell checker whoops!), in other words we no longer exist, or at least the part of you that has been destroyed is the ego, which normally looks out of the world from a perspective of, I am, who are you, or so to speak!
Our problems as human beings is that our over identification with our thoughts creates division and suffering through our attachment to desires. Why do you think large corporations recruit psychologists as part of their selling teams, to get inside of our heads to create even more desire to buy stuff and yes you’ve guessed it, our constant suffering, so meditation can end all of this, but not as easy as it seems; I still find it difficult but it has brought back control into my life where I can find peace and where I have discovered m unconscious motivations. This is horribly over simplified and I hope it will provoke a discussion of sorts!
Now in a sense the objective of Speaking Circles is the same but from a slightly different perspective. Our aim firstly is to build self-confidence for us to be able to walk the plank into a public speaking arena without falling off the edge as presenters. We do this by becoming conscious of who we are in relational presence and first of all we have to create that relational presence and experience it, this is where the fun starts. Normally in our lives we flit from relationship to relationship, hardly aware of what our eyes are doing and to look at someone for a prolonged period of 15 seconds could be deemed rude or even hostile; however, in Speaking Circles the results, I have witnessed and experienced were far from this possible outcome. Adjectives such as: pleasant, comfortable, loving, connected, peaceful, fun, warm, inviting, deep etc etc poured from peoples’ lips when elicited. Yes, indeed some found it challenging and in more extreme cases highly charged and emotional and indeed I was one such person but not in a pejorative sense.
My belief is this. We seek connections with other human beings; we look for satisfying relationships and again with others who validate us as fellow human beings. We forge relationships at different levels some satisfying our needs other not so but the fact remains, we need the attention of other humans around us. Speaking Circles takes this sub-conscious need to a deeper level by showing us what it really feels like to be completely in relational presence, fully present and existing in the absolute split-nano second of time. Speaking Circles enables us to see ourselves at a very deep level, not something we do every day; it shows us what it feels like to be unconditionally accepted by another human being.
We have all come from somewhere and along the way our lives will have been shaped and enriched with ‘life’s rich tapestry’, mostly in relation to other human beings. The most profound experiences will have taken place in our childhood, in our formative years, some of these we may not even remember but they will be there, etched on our sub-conscious. Alice Miller, for example in her book, The Drama of being a child describes how the nature of these experiences are ever present whether we are aware of them or not.
Embedded in our sub-conscious these past events become our motivational force and Speaking Circles brings this into the conscious. ‘Eye oneness’ provides each of us with a mirror. As another person gently offers us their eyes we see something perhaps for the first time and we cannot help but feel full of compassion for ourselves and our travelling companions. I remember someone saying that in Speaking Circles, it felt that they had been seen for the first time in their lives and it felt great. Wow what a profound statement. Life for each one of us can be full of pitfalls. Eric Berne, a British existentialist psychotherapist, developed a philosophy he called Transactional Analysis to explain how we form relationships based on our view and ‘logic’ of the world. Most of the time what we see is illusionary, even though for us it is very real and whether we realise it or not, we are navigating our way around relationships in terms of how we perceive ourselves in relation to others, in this respect we form judgements based on our mental pictures. We believe that our personalities inform us of who we really are but actually they build barriers and so most of the time we feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled without knowing why.
Bowlby who wrote extensively about our ability to function as relational human beings looked at the most significant relationship in our lives, the one we had with our parents from the moment of birth. If we had the misfortune to be born of, what Bowlby describes as, an inadequate mother then our view of other people in our lives will have been distorted by this formative relationship. Melanie Klein (Psychodynamic Psychotherapist) looked at our later attachments in adult life again as the result of our mothering experience in being breast fed where we formed a strong bond with our mother. To be taken away suddenly from the breast leads to a destruction of our sense of self and value and we go through life looking to re-establish that deep connection we had with our mother’s comforting breast, with another human being and perhaps going from one dissatisfying relationship to another in our quest, we certainly don’t have a strong sense of self worth.
Each one of us holds a black box of life and I have found that Speaking Circles provides us with the key of finding out what it contains at the deep sub-conscious level. This may seem to be a painful insight as we bring to the surface events that have shaped our lives, long forgotten and their resurfacing still carries the original emotional attachment, which is why we can refer to them as pain bodies because they continue to influence our lives even though they took place in our childhood.
Remembering that Speaking Circles is a practical tool for overcoming ‘stage fright’ and not a psychoanalytical technique per se, we also have to realise that the very thing holding us back in realising our potential in this field, where developing a relational presence is a crucial element of being a successful public speaker we need to understand our life’s stories and not only that but to celebrate them as well; firstly because we survived them to this point, secondly because they are part of us and thirdly in understanding them we can use them to reach our full potential as human beings. Speaking Circles has this capacity to bring out these stories and to embrace them positively so that we can move forward by having developed a better understanding of where we have come from to move on and leave what we no longer need in our lives behind, the pain body of the past.
To come full circle, now imagine standing in front of an audience and ask yourself the question, why should it be a frightening experience when not only do you have a deep understanding of your humanness when everyone in the audience is exactly the same of you, atom by atom, all you can be is humbled and full of love for yourself and everyone else around you, there is no separation, no us and them, no subject, object, it all just is, an unfolding of life in the present moment.
For those of you, who know me personally; know that I work in the small town of Aurignac 31420 in SW France, not far from Toulouse as a successful Shiatsu practitioner and Yoga teacher. Watch my blog, facebook and website where I will bring you news of more Speaking Circles events taking place around here and other events as I plan them.