A Higher Octave of Integration

Talk about woo-woo…draper-esalen

Well, I am writing this while sitting at the renowned Esalen Institute (don’t tell them I’m using the internet right now, I should be in the hot tubs!).

But you know as well as I do that more harmony and wholeness isn’t merely idealistic. Growth and development for more goodness, truth, and beauty in the world isn’t just real–it’s a responsibility for those of us with the luxury and resources to even consider it.

So where do we start then?

How about a nice walk outside? Seriously…Chesler-hike

In my recent recording with MetaIntegral’s Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, Sean gave me an Integral Ecology practice that demonstrates just how powerful our attention can be in deepening our relationship with our surroundings, our selves, and yes… having a positive impact on the world.

It’s simple practices like these that have enabled me to continue doing the work I’m already doing with more understanding, presence, and efficacy. That truly makes all the difference!

(Photo credit: Forest Linden)

Listen to the clip from our interview here:


Use the diagram to the right to follow the aspects of awareness that Sean is referring to.  If you haven’t studied Integral Theory before, this quadrant model is foundational and though it may not seem so on the surface, I personally assert that its span and depth of application has the power to make sense of history’s greatest conflicts and beyond.  I’ll leave it there for now, but if you want to explore further, I enjoy this tasteful tour from our friend Steve Self, and this more in-depth treatment from Sean at IntegraLife.com.

Below is the full interview where Sean and I discuss the important synergies happening at MetaIntegral and the biennial Integral Theory Conference.  Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and his associates at MetaIntegral have been developing and applying these evolving meta-theories to assist practitioners,  organizations, researchers, and change-makers optimize their impact effectively.  Read below for more information about the upcoming Integral Theory Conference and the reasons you should consider joining us this year.


Do integral approaches really have more impact than conventional approaches?  Intuitively we believe that they do but how do we know? Integral Theory has been applied in more than 35 disciplines for over the past two decades, but do integrative approaches produce better results?  This theme is central to this year’s Integral Theory Conference (ITC).  We are creating a container where together we can deeply explore the relationship between Integral and Impact.

MetaIntegral Foundation and Sonoma State University’s The HUB, have co-produced and completely redesigned an ITC that has a plethora of provocative reasons why every integral enthusiast will surely want to attend!

Top 10 Reasons to Attend the 2015 Integral Theory Conference in Beautiful Northern California:

  1. Say it with me, “Beautiful Northern California.” Sonoma State University — our conference host — is one of the most beautiful college campuses in America.
  2. The radiant pomegranate. Our symbol for the conference — we are confident you will taste it, because we redesigned the conference from the ground up, with COMMUNITY at the core, to make it more fertile. Expect a bountiful harvest.
  3. You can set up a mini-community with your friends. Housing on the SSU campus features 4-bedroom suites that offer you private sleeping quarters connected by a living room and kitchen.
  4. Cooperage, Cooperage, Cooperage. The Cooperage room in the center of our village-style lodging is where you will want to be for seriously awesome non-academic experiences in the mornings and the evenings.
  5. Meditation. Yoga. We-space. Recreation center. Rise and shine, these morning activities will await you.
  6. DJ dance party. Live band. Poetry slam. A one-man play (being made into a feature film). You can dance the night away, and you will be treated to a killer lineup of live performances.
  7. It’s more than a delicious four-day retreat with all your best friends — ITC is a full-course meal for the academic in you. Once again, we are pleased to host the world’s best and brightest integral scholars and practitioners for enlightening presentations and (very affordable and two free) pre-conference workshops.
  8. Speaking of meals, they’re all paid for. The same goes for your lodging, parking, Wi-Fi, on-site recreation center, and entry into the first-ever Integral Art Exhibition;it’s all included in your registration price (along with all of the conference programming mentioned above).
  9. Did we mention the keynote speakers, or the special video event with Ken Wilber? Karen O’Brien, Bill Torbert, Elza Maalouf, Ken Wilber. These integral leaders will inspire you with their experience and insight into some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity: climate change and sustainability; the practice of inquiry, love, and mutually transforming power; Middle Eastern politics and corporate practice; and geopolitics in the Ukraine.
  10. Help refine the fidelity, accessibility, and applicability of Integral Theory. This, after all, is what draws us to these conferences every year — our mutual appreciation of the Integral model, and our desire to see Integral approaches to our most wicked problems begin to flourish in the world.

Click here to register for the 2015 Integral Theory Conference!


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Zazenkai “Day of Zen” Retreat

The Integral Center presents a monthly series of “Days of Zen” (Zazenkai) full or half day-long retreats. Come and deepen your intimacy of this precious life in the company of fellow travelers of the Way. We will give an gentle introduction to the forms Zen and engage in Zazen (meditation), body practice, Dharma investigation and work practice. These sessions will be led by the Dragon Heart Sangha which has been empowered as Integral Dharma Holders by Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei.

Wear simple, modest, dark colored clothing that is comfortable for sitting, movement and light work.
Be prepared to spend most of the session in silence without the distraction of any electronic media.

Upcoming dates:
April 26th
May 23rd – With Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei

Free for The Integral Center members.
Learn more and become a member here
$100 for public registration.

Bring a lunch or money to go to local restaurant.

Tentative schedule:
7-7:15 Intro to form/meditation
7:15-9:05 Zazen
9:05-9:45 Breakfast/break
9:45-10:30 Movement
10:30-11:15 Dharma Investigation
11:15-12:00 Samu
12:00-1:10 Zazen
1:10 Close/informal lunch

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I have a community. And I’m in love with it.

by Melody Markel600519_10151530256285679_1167190739_n

If you know me well, you know that I’ve moved around a lot in the past 20 years (25 times, actually. 25 entrances and exits, 25 hello’s paired with 25 goodbye’s). If you know me ~really~ well, you know that something I’ve longed for all my life is community, as elusive as it’s always seemed.

Now, I’m outing myself: I have a community. And I’m in love with it.

Today, as I prepare to lead another Game Night at the Integral Center (my home-away-from-home here in Boulder), I feel called to express how enveloped I feel by community. As I’m typing this, there’s a love-gratitude-warmthness that surrounds my whole being. It’s almost overwhelming, in the best possible way.

I moved to Boulder two and a half years ago and spent my first weekend here at the Integral Center, participating in Aletheia. Aletheia is our weekend deep-dive into community, into the present moment, and into our mainstay practice of Circling. I didn’t know that I was looking for anything in particular when I signed up for the course. My reason for doing it, honestly, was that, “it looked cool,” based on the event description, and I knew a handful of the other people participating. At first it was awkward. I felt like a kid being invited into adult play, and I was embarrassed to even hold eye contact for more than a few seconds, needing to look away. I’m not going to recount my entire Aletheia experience. What I will say, though, is that by Sunday night my perception of my life and of what’s possible out of life had been totally blown open.

I want to share with you my main “aha” moment from the weekend, because it was huge for me. At Aletheia, I realized that every time I walked into a new social situation—be it a party, a class, a job, Aletheia—I would look around to see if there was a man there who seemed strongly attracted to me, so much so that, if I wanted him to, he’d gladly hop into bed with me. If there was, I could feel safe to express myself, could feel that I belonged there, could be outgoing and flirty and overall have fun. If there wasn’t, then I would retreat into my awkwardness and stick to being a wallflower. At Aletheia, I then realized, amidst tears and amazement, that not only was this something that I did, but that I could stop. I could be self-expressed and excited to enter a new social situation regardless of a man being there who is strongly attracted to me. And since then, this pattern has faded dramatically. It still comes up occasionally, but these days if I find myself scanning the room for a man, I’m usually doing it because I’m excited to feel attraction, not because I’m looking for permission to exist.

Melody-and-LibbyThe most unexpected thing about Aletheia is that it was the doorway into a net of community that is still holding me now, more than two years after I set foot in that building. This net is strong and intricately woven together. It’s not some inconsequential string loosely knotted here-and-there. After Aletheia, I surprised myself by leaping to sign up for T3 (our 6-month Circling Training) to learn how to facilitate circles and give people “aha” moments like the one that had been facilitated for me. Going into my Aletheia weekend, I hadn’t dreamed I would become a T3 participant. By Sunday night, I was possibly the easiest sell they’ve ever had. I now spend about 40% of my weekends helping facilitate courses at the Integral Center, structuring my other jobs and travel plans around them out of sheer love for the work we do there and for the other people on the staff team.

And let me reiterate: I’ve moved 25 times. 25! I didn’t think having a community like this would be possible for me. I assumed I didn’t have what it takes to put in the work—like staying, like really getting to know the individuals—to be eligible for such a gift. And now here I am, years later, looking back and getting to say that it hasn’t been work. It’s been expansive, and sometimes, of course, there are growing pains. But these growing pains—these stretches—are totally worth it. I get to give and receive love here. I get to ask for help when I’m sick—and receive it. Soup has been brought to me, even. I’ve gotten to experience sunrise at Burning Man with friends I made here, sharing in moments that can never be replicated nor would I ever want them to be. They were perfect. I’ve gotten to listen, really listen, to how it was for a friend from my T3 when he found out his favourite aunt was dying, who told me later that the listening was the greatest gift he could have been given in that moment.

1622469_10204885545399553_1940327877618792343_oIt all started with signing up. None of this would have been possible without the communication skills that I learned as a T3 participant. We have another training starting in May, and I want you there. If we’ve ever spoken, I want you there. If I’ve ever touched you, even for a moment, I want you there. This work is important. I believe it has the power to transform the world. I want you to become a part of my community, and I want this work to inspire you enough to take it back to your own communities. Message me to start the conversation.


Melody Markel is a coach, artist, and poet based in Boulder, CO. She grew up all over the world, calling home places like New England, the South, France, and England, but is thrilled to now be putting down roots. She studied musicology and lighting design at Smith College in Northampton, MA, and Naropa University in Boulder, CO, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music. Melody serves on faculty at the Integral Center as an authentic relating facilitator. Her favourite song is Where Is My Mind? by The Pixies.


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Taboos, Communes, & Machine Guns

How do you make ethical judgements in your community?

How do we deeply honor where any person in our life is coming from, while maintaining our boundaries and protecting what we care about the most?

I’m quite excited to share this recording with you between Integral Center co-founder Decker Cunov and Integral mega-pandit Ken Wilber.

In this discussion on the role of Community in evolving consciousness you’ll learn about:

– 60’s communes, and why so few of them lasted…
– The role of shame as “Social glue” (Decker gets chills from this discovery)
– Re-examining cultural taboos (incest, murder, teacher/student relationships)
– How we replaced shame with machine guns
– The 3 ways community can accelerate consciousness – sangha, subtle energy, and circling

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3 Essential Practices

This video was recorded in late 2013 for the fundraising campaign to recover from the damages of the massive flood that hit Boulder two months before.

This is a great opportunity to understand how the Integral Center came to be as Decker Cunov and Robert MacNaughton share a bit of the backstory. They go on to discuss three practices that express Integral consciousness and are the essence of Integral Circling. These are: humility (everyone is right), discernment (everyone is partial), and enactment (it’s not enough to know it, enact the context).

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Heroism of the Heart

We get because we give.

Is that a bit too cliché?

Well, like most things, it’s cliché for a reason — it’s true.
But it’s so much more challenging than it sounds.

If we could all get everything that our heart’s desire by giving more,
why aren’t we all doing that?

Could it really be as simple as we just forget to believe that’s true?

I recently recorded a conversation with one of my original Integral teachers and mentors, Terry Patten, where we had a great time talking about his latest work on this very topic.

As usual, we’ve cut-out a particular short clip that I want you to listen to so you can get a taste of the potency of what Terry’s working with right now… it’s powerful stuff!

Here’s the Full Interview (downloadable from the soundcloud page):

For a just a few of the tastier bites from the conversation, we’ve selected some choice clips here:

For more from Terry, checkout his upcoming event:

Terry Patten is the founder of Bay Area Integral and a key voice in integral evolutionary spirituality, culture, leadership and activism. He co-developed Integral Life Practice with Ken Wilber and a core team at Integral Institute and was the senior writer and co-author of the book Integral Life Practice: A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening. He hosts the acclaimed online teleseminar series Beyond Awakening, where he has engaged leading-edge conversations with many of the world’s most renowned thinkers and teachers. He speaks, consults and coaches on four continents and via the web.

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Advocates For Higher Good

When you find yourself judging–and making someone or something wrong–are you wanting them to go away, or are you willing to take some responsibility to actually improve things?

In this #Enactment episode with Dr. Keith Witt, we explore a range of topics including: asking for help, taking responsibility, spiral wizardry, parenting, depression, the gifts of shame, shadow work, community leadership, what really creates health, and a lot more.

Here’s the full interview broken into two parts:

If you just have a bit of time, be sure to listen to this 4min clip where Dr. Keith offers a powerful practice about how to work with our judgements productively, and step in to being advocates for the higher good.

We’ve broken-out a dozen more of the pithier clips so you can access some of the content more easily.

Dr. Keith WittDr. Keith Witt is a licensed psychologist and marriage family therapist who has practiced psychotherapy in Santa Barbara for over thirty-five years. He received his BA in psychology with honors from UCSB in 1973, his MA in Counseling Psychology from UCSB in 1975, and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The Fielding Institute in 1982. His dissertation exploring somatic psychotherapy was entitled an investigation of the effectiveness of talking plus touching in enhancing health.

He has conducted over forty-five thousand therapy sessions, hundreds of group sessions, and taught numerous classes and workshops.

Dr. Witt is currently a popular professor at the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, and is a writer, lecturer, and workshop leader. He has expertise in: Individual counseling, Marriage counseling, Family counseling, Sex therapy, Group therapy, and Clinical Supervision.

Dr. Witt is is the author of five books:
* Integral Mindfulness: from Clueless to Dialed-In – How Integral Mindful Living Makes Everything Better
Waking Up: Psychotherapy as Art, Spirituality and Science
Sessions: all therapy involves relationships integrating toward unity
The Attuned Family; how to be a great parent to your children and a great lover to your spouse
The Gift of Shame: why we need shame and how to use it to love and grow

In the last decade Keith has been synthesizing and applying Integral psychology, David Deida’s teachings about the masculine and feminine, ascending and descending spiritual practices, developmental neurobiology, manifestation systems, and attachment research. This work has yielded classes, workshops, four books, and clinical training organized around the principle that therapists best serve by discerning and enhancing their natural healing styles.

Born in Hawaii, raised in suburban Los Angeles, Keith has lived and worked in Santa Barbara since 1967. Dedicating himself at fifteen to becoming a psychotherapist, he has been studying, practicing, teaching, and generating transformative healing systems ever since. During this time he has enthusiastically surfed, played tennis, tap-danced, and fronted his rock and roll band Blown Head Gasket. He earned his black belt in Shotokan Karate in 1969, continued to study martial arts, and presently enjoys tai chi. He and his wife Becky met in 1973 and have two grown children, Ethan and Zoe.

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Golden Eyes – The Moral Obligation for Integral Relating

In this #Enactment episode with author, group facilitator, and meditation instructor, Dustin DiPerna — Robert asks Dustin to share some of the critical distinctions from his recently published book on Integral spirituality: Streams of Wisdom.  They also discuss the very (almost frighteningly) similar themes in building Integral practice communities (Robert in Boulder, Dustin in San Francisco).  Both communities developed relational practices, Integral Circling and We-Practice respectively, and learned lessons about the importance of having a shared theoretical context.

Specific Points that Dustin Addresses:

  • The 3 Core Practices for an Integral Community
  • What is (Integral) Spirituality?
  • The Importance of a Shared Theoretical Context in a Community of Practice
  • Vantage Points of Awareness or “State-Stages”
  • Instant Enactment Practice: “Golden Eyes” for enacting greater possibilities in our communities

Since there are so many important gems in this recording, I pulled out smaller sections so that I could make sure you’d have easy access to this material.  Listen to the full interview if you can, but definitely get the “Golden Eyes” practice if nothing more (at the bottom of the page) — I want everyone to have this powerful orientation.

The Complete Interview (52 min)

Dustin and Robert reminisce about the days working with each other at the Integral Institute and the powerful trans-lineage spiritual gatherings hosted by Ken Wilber.

The 3 Core Practices for an Integral Practice Community (4 min)

Dustin describes what he believes are the 3 core practices any Integral community should engage in:
– 1st person contemplative practices, like meditation
– 2nd person Relational practices, like Integral Circling or “We-Practice”
– 3rd person Educational/Theoretical practices, making various topics the subject of discussion

What is (Integral) Spirituality? (2 min)

What do we mean when we say “Spirituality”?
Dustin articulates a succinct and compelling definition based on the Integral framework.  Teasing apart “Exoteric” forms of religion from “Esoteric” historical traditions and practices we get a picture of what’s most relevant for our needs today.

The Importance of a Shared Theoretical Context in a Community of Practice (4 min)

Robert and Dustin discuss how different people have different preferences and biases for particular kinds of practices (such as relational over contemplative), but having a shared theoretical framework provides the “subtle architecture upon which the whole community can thrive” according to Dustin.

Coming Home: Vantage Points of Awareness (8 min)

Dustin shares a critical distinction that can assuage much of the challenge of the spiritual practice path. Dustin walks us through the kinds of experiences we can have while developing a contemplative practice (states), and more importantly, the levels of how we relate to these experiences. Understanding this distinction and developing our “Vantage Point” allows us to find our restful “home” and not always be seeking the peek-state experience high.

Golden Eyes: The Moral Obligation for Integral Relating (3 min)

For our #InstantEnactment practice, Dustin shares this practice called “Golden Eyes” that he received from Ken Wilber. It involves engaging with anyone and everyone you meet as if they are more developed and awake than yourself. Whether it’s true or not, by holding them in a higher light, we enable them to be that way in our eyes — which by itself enacts greater possibilities.


Dustin DiPernaDustin DiPerna is founder of Bright Alliance and Co-Founder of Synergy Forum  He is an author, group facilitator, and meditation instructor. Dustin received a Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University and a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Religion from Harvard University. He is author of two books: The Coming Waves and Streams of Wisdom. In addition to being an internationally recognized expert in the field of Integral Theory, Dustin practices in the spiritual lineages of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. He lives in California with his wife, Amanda, and daughter, Jaya.



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Connection Roadmap: The 3 Levels of Conversation



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, rewarding areas of life:

  • A loved one’s eyes light up with gratitude for finally feeling appreciated for their unique contribution (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…
  • Peals of laughter pouring out as we share in a taboo, private joke between us…
  • A profound sense of oneness with another as we connect, experiencing any sense of separateness dissolve between us…

Yet, if you’re like most people, then these experiences are often few & far between…or just happen by sheer grace.

What we’ve found is that learning and applying even just a few simple distinctions & tools, you can begin to enjoy richer and deeper connections in all your interactions.

Connection Roadmap:  The 3 Levels of Conversation

Back in my mid-20′s, for a brief period, I declared my own private war on “small talk”.  I was tired of mundane, superficial conversations, and I wanted to cut straight to deep, meaningful interactions – to the good stuff!

During that time, I used to walk up to people I’d never met on the BART train station platform in San Francisco and ask them, “So, what are YOU passionate about?”

Well, as you might imagine, people looked at me like this:

Eventually I realized what might already seem obvious to you —  that there’s a natural unfolding to a conversation, and when we follow that, it makes way for new levels of connection to emerge.

But for me, because I’m sort of a geek about this stuff now, I’ve broken down these stages of unfolding into what I call the “Levels of Conversation”.

We’ve all had that intuition that we could be having a juicier, more rewarding conversation, but like a combination lock, we aren’t quite sure what the code is to unlock that deeper level of connection, intimacy, play, excitement…whatever it is that we’re looking for.

You’ve Always Had a Hunch Things Could Be Richer, Deeper…

Have you ever been out on a date, at a dinner party, with a coworker or family member, and had a nagging intuition that you could be having a more rewarding, dynamic interaction…

Maybe you realized this in an awkward lull  in the conversation, between topics…

…or noticing that you were tuning them out, because it seemed like neither of you were truly interested in the topic…

…or  perhaps even  more sobering, you noticed that YOU were the one filling the silence with idle chatter, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”

While I see nothing wrong with small talk, what seems to be in more short supply (and what people who find our work are looking for) is rich connection.  So…

How can we guide an interaction into a place where it’s truly NOURISHING for both of us?

First, Acknowledge What Level You’re At –

What kind of conversations do you typically find yourself in?

Level 1: Informational – simply a data exchange– no real intimacy, though you may find coincidences or overlapping circles of friends, interests, or background.

Level 2: Emotional/Personal — sharing about our thoughts, feelings, desires — our internal experience (a “deep connection”).

Level 3: Relational — engaging about what’s happening *right now*, in the moment, between us – it’s the most dynamic, rarest, my favorite, and the main focus of this guide…

We’ll go into more detail on each one:



At this level, it’s just the facts, ma’am.  Great for a police report, not so great for deep connection.  Also known as “wide rapport”, because at this level the conversation is flat and wide.

Informational Conversation Examples

Nice weather we’re having.   
Yes, It’s going to be up to 60 degrees today, but I heard it’s going to snow tomorrow.

Where’d you grow up?
I grew up in Georgia, but I’ve lived most of my adult life in New York.

Do you have any siblings?
I’m the eldest of 3 kids.

What do you like to do for fun?
Gardening and dancing, mostly.

What do you do for a living?
I’m an aerospace engineer with JetBlue.

This is the way most people talk, most of the time.

Benefits of This Level

Communicating at this level is good for “getting a feel” for someone, because even as we may be having a conversation about the weather, we’re picking up all other kinds of information about that person through their nonverbals, their voice tonality, eye contact, etc…

So even if the content of the conversation is relatively superficial, there are still WORLDS happening that you can tune into for more richness at any point…

Let’s move on to the next level…


At this level, we’re sharing our interior, subjective experience… emotions and personal preferences.

Personal/Emotional Conversation Examples

Which season is your favorite?
Oh, the winter, I feel a thrill whenever I see the first snow of the year.

How does your Southern country upbringing influence you now that you’re an adult here in New York?
Hmm,  I imagine it’s made me more friendly and trusting, despite being in such an urban environment…

What do you like most about working at JetBlue?
Well, I love adventure and traveling…and this really gives me the freedom to do that. 

What’s something you really appreciate about your brother?
I think maybe it’s his rascally, mischievous nature.  Even when he goes too far and  pisses me off, I still privately envy how clever he is.

What’s something that your heart can’t help but open to?
Hmmm…Animals definitely open my heart… dogs, especially– I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through childhood without my dog…

At this level, potentially sensitive topics could come up, and strong listening skills can be important here…major opportunities for healing and clearing away shame emerge as we  vulnerably share our experience in safe place…

 Practices That Can Take You to the Personal/Emotional Level

  • Genuine Curiosity
  • Offer Reflection
  • Share Vulnerably
        (articles on these skills will be sent to you via e-mail in the coming weeks)

Ok, let’s move on to the level we most love to play at here at the Integral Center…


This is the stage at which you move from talking ABOUT stuff, and focusing more on what’s happening between the two of you, right now, in the moment.

This is also where the feedback and reflection essential for transformation and growth happens.  Usually the biggest jump from being a nice conversation to being arewarding experience, is the jump from the Informational or Personal level…to RELATIONAL.  YES!!

It’s where we at the Integral Center love to play most, and also forms the foundation of our infamous Circling practice.

Examples of Relational Conversation

I’m noticing I’m feeling giddy talking to you right now – I’m so excited to be connecting with you.

I just felt confused and hurt when you said that my mom was never friendly to you.  

When you laughed just then, I could hear your ‘Southern Belle’ coming through…I feel drawn to you when you do that. 

I notice I feel myself tighten every time you complain about your boss. It seems like you have no intention of actually addressing the situation with him. Is that true?

As you were talking, I just had a flash of us taking a trip to go showshoeing in the Rockies to one of those ski cabins for the weekend…

Hearing how you’ve finagled your way into management, I’m getting how crafty you are.  I’m gonna have to watch myself around you!

I notice my heart’s swelling and I’m feeling a lot closer to you when you talk about how supportive your brother has been for you over the years.

Sharing at this level can be intensely vulnerable, but it’s also where a conversation goes from being an exchange of ideas or experiences, to co-creating an experience, in the moment…

I’ve found that Relational Conversations can accelerate self-awareness, evolve our consciousness, and rapidly deepen connection and intimacy.

Level 3 In A Community…

Sharing at the relational level is THE shift towards creating Authentic Community.

This is the type of community that radically evolved me personally and relationally.

Personal development and transformation of consciousness accelerates DRAMATICALLY, as we offer feedback and reflection to each other, in the moment, about how we’re experiencing and impacting each other.  When this is woven into the culture of a community, this is a true transformational Sangha.

That said, this is also the level where things get tricky.  As we put attention on serving each other through feedback and reflection, it becomes a rich breeding ground for projecting our disowned aspects (aka shadow) onto each other in service of “being real”, etc…

Example of projection vs owning your experience:

I feel like you’re suppressing your anger right now  vs
When you say you’re not upset, I notice tension in me, and I don’t fully believe you.

You need to tell the truth to the people in your life vs
I feel frustrated that you haven’t had a conversation with that person yet.

Practices That Can Take You to the Relational Level

  • Speak the Moment
  • Own a Desire
  • Share Impact
  • Offer Reflection 
  • Set Context


So, those are what I call the 3 Levels of Conversation — Informational, Personal/Emotional, and Relational.   By getting clear about what level of conversation we’re operating at, and being aware of other types of conversations we COULD be having, new possibilities open up, and we can see other places that we could go, other adventures to explore.


1. This Isn’t Meant As a Rigorous Philosophical Framework

We could probably distinguish infinite types of conversations (not just 3), and multiple levels operating at any moment, given the nature of sub-communication, non-verbals, and body language that are all happening simultaneously… For example, banter and flirting are other types of conversation that aren’t covered in this guide…

Maybe this guide should be called, “3 Levels of Deep Connection”, since the real focus of this particular guide is on specifically that: Deep Connection.  That said, it should be noted that…

2. Conversations Don’t Always Have To Be Transformational or Deep To Be Rewarding

Great conversation isn’t about “going as deep as possible”.  It’s about celebrating EVERY stage of the conversation for exactly what it is , while OWNING your desire to take it deeper, if, in fact that is the case for you!

I, for one, am often just as content to enjoy casual silly banter, than have some deep, eye-gazing Tantric connection.  Enjoy all the flavors for what they are!

When we get fixated on only having “meaningful conversations”, I’ve found things get over-processy and sticky. Give your deep, personal conversations and “relational experiences” some breathing room!


3. Beware of Getting Fixated on What Level Conversation You’re In…

This is one of those guides that it’s best to read it, than forget it all…let it fall into the background.  One of the surest ways to kill a great conversation or deep connection is to keep checking in the moment, “What level of conversation are we at?  Ok, how about…now?”

Ideally, this has helped shed some light on your personal tendencies, and given you some pointers to look out for the next time you’re in conversation with someone and you want to take it deeper.

Invitation: Share Your Story Here!

One of the best things you can do to have richer, more rewarding conversations, is to go back over them in your mind.  This will reinforce what was nourishing for you about them.  I invite you to share in the comments below a story/example of a particularly rewarding conversation you had — feel free to include the dialogue if you like — and identify what about the interaction was most rewarding for you — bonus points if it was a level 3, Relational conversation!

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What is “Circling”?

Circling (also known as InterSubjective Meditation) is an organic, in-the-moment interpersonal process that’s equal parts art form, meditation, and group conversation — all designed to allow a visceral experience of connection and understanding of another person’s world, celebrating who and where they are right now. It’s practicing using our genuine curiosity to better understand and become a connoisseur of another person’s world though present moment awareness while breaking through the assumptions and projections we have about each other.

Different than sitting on a meditation cushion by yourself, Circling is a relational practice.  And though it works exquisitely in intimate relationships of all kinds, it can be applied in ALL areas of life because it’s so organic, non-analytical, effective, and fun.

Q: What exactly is the purpose of Circling?

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.


Q: Isn’t this basically practicing therapy on each other?

Depends… if paying exquisite attention to what it’s like to be with each other, sharing and exploring any patterns we co-discover in a way that encourages growth towards more of what we want while totally honoring each other exactly as we are…if that quality of relating is ‘therapy’ then yes this is therapy and I encourage everyone to practice therapy with each other!

Joking aside, these basic ingredients of a ‘therapeutic environment’ I believe belong far more fundamental and widespread than the teeny little field of therapy, and most issues people go to therapy for would be handled much more efficiently and effectively in a loving and conscious community of their own.

That said, there are many situations that I have found professional therapy very appropriate for (and that we are in no way qualified to address btw).  For many people who are struggling with basic functionality in their lives, often in fundamentally bio-chemical ways, we often recommend specific schools of psychotherapy and psychiatry and are happy to refer you to our favorites.

Culturally, to the degree that therapy is also about coming to ultimate conclusions about another person, based on pre-determined and well-researched models and maps of human development, our ‘authentic’ quality of relating is very different than therapy.  These more clinical approaches that can serve so well in therapy can actually be quite corrosive in one’s personal relationships, which is why I’m glad this question often comes up.  The more loving and conscious our relating is, the less often therapy will tend to be needed & when it is needed, I agree that it’s best practiced explicitly distinct from our day to day lives together.


Q: Where can I experience Circling?

Aletheia »
Our co-ed weekend deep dive into authentic community…

Authentic Man Program »
Our men’s-only intensive…

T3: Train the Trainer »
Our facilitator circling training program…


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Authentic Games Everywhere

With Sara Ness and Michael Porcelli

Sara Ness, the creator of Connection Corps in Austin Texas is on a mission to bring Authentic Relating Games as far and wide as possible. From her completion of The Integral Center’s Train-the-Trainer (T3) program in 2013, she has been on a mission developing facilitator trainings for Authentic Relating Games, and fostering the network of Authentic Relating community leaders around the world.

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Circling Europe — with John and Sean

With John Thompson, Sean Wilkinson, and Michael Porcelli

John and Sean share with Porcelli about:

  • When John and Porcelli Circled together at the first Aletheia
  • Their innovative approach to Circling called “All There Is”
  • How they collaborate in an “always circling” relationship
  • Learn about Circling Europe’s 6-month training course
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The Circling Summit and the History of the Integral Center

What is the Circling Summit?

With Robert MacNaughton and Michael Porcelli

Does the Summit sound interesting, but you’re not exactly sure what’s going to be happening there? Listen to Robert and Porcelli give you more detailed information.

Circling at the Integral Center in Boulder

With Robert MacNaughton and Michael Porcelli

Robert MacNaughton, the Executive Director and co-founder of The Integral Center in Boulder, played a key role in bringing Circling and Authentic Relating to Boulder, the creation of the first Aletheia weekend intensive, and the impact of Circling on the wider Integral community. Listen to this interview and hear Porcelli and Robert talk about:

  • Robert’s initial encounter with the Circling practice and how that changed him
  • How the first Aletheia came about
  • Authentic World goes to the Integral Spiritual Experience
  • What makes Circling an Integral practice
  • How Circling and Authentic Relating have impacted the Integral community
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Deepening Relationship with Ourselves, Each Other & Our Planet

Why spend our lives supporting communities to accelerate the evolution of its members?


I figure we’re always growing and evolving anyway, whether we intend to or not, and when we backslide even our darkest moments will ultimately serve our deepest realizations, in this lifetime or another.

To intentionally accelerate this process of evolving towards ever-increasingly happy and loving persons…the only reason to go out of my way to do that is that…

  • The survival of our species and many, many others likely depends upon it.
  • The facilitation of our evolution can be enjoyable for it’s own sake (i.e. a uniquely exhilarating ride, satisfaction guaranteed… eventually).
  • The impulse to evolve is so intrinsic to us that we ultimately can’t help ourselves (the eternal impulse that ushered in the capacity to destroy our own home is the same impulse that urges us to now protect and restore it).

So the next leg of your journey might be most enriched by withdrawing from interpersonal dealings altogether as you delve into your individual process, and hats off to my modern-day-monk buddies who own nothing and will give up anything to deepen their love for this world and everything in it. But many of you will find that real, raw, uncut and in-the-moment relating is exactly what the doctor ordered.

If you feel a bit stuck, or are feeling restless and ready for the next chapter of ‘you’, and you have a hunch that profound community is the crucible you’re looking for, glad you’ve found us.

We eat, breath, sleep relationship as spiritual practice.

Decker_Trent03We see the waves of evolution throughout society and history coming in cycles, and this wave towards embodiment and connection is…Due. Putting less emphasis on insightful abstraction as we move towards intimate and raw connection with our lives and our environment…this movement is only one side of the evolutionary coin and it’s not the wave that got the first man on the moon, but for now it is the wave that’ll inspire us to leave this planet more inhabitable for my son.

Astonished at & Grateful for this Life,

Decker Cunov & the Integral Center Team

Our Biases:

* Self-Awareness: It is “better” to be aware than unaware of my own experience.
* Self-Acceptance: It is “better” to fully feel and express rather than repress or deny my own experience.
* Self-Determination: It is “better” to create my values, rather than take on the assumptions/judgements of others, inspired by my own experience.
* Self-Love: It is “better” to play this game as right with ourselves as we can possibly be (even as we are also a masterpiece in progress).
* Self-Transcendence: It is “better” to play this game in constant discovery of ourselves, rather than filtering/rehearsing, as a moment-by-moment dance.

Our Promises:

* Keepin’ it Real: 0% tolerance for unexamined ‘woo woo’ – Unless it Works.
* Keepin’ it Integral: All distinctions grounded in highest-level transcendent frameworks we’ve found anywhere, while maintaining down-to-earth results-oriented attitude.
* Keepin’ it Legit: Our marketing will always be an exploration of how to motivate positive change by Saying what we Actually Mean & Actually Delivering what we Offer (even if it costs us sales).
* Keepin’ it Humble: Our cultish’ness stays in check to the degree that we own our opinions as Our Opinions and insist that your opinions remain Your Opinions.
* Keepin’ it Authentic: Finally, no pomp to ‘establish legitimacy’: our credentials are based on one thing – the Value You Receive.

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A Pre-History of Arete with Guy & Porcelli

Hear Porcelli continue his investigative interviews on the history and roots of Circling with Guy Sengstock of The Circling Institute, as Guy recounts his contribution, with Jerry Candelaria, to what came to formally be known as Circling, and eventually the first weekend intensive course based on Circling, called The Arête Experience. Guy tells about his early development, his naturally curious personality, through to their meeting at Sterling Men’s Division.

Learn of several tributaries and influences on Circling practice from 12-step culture, Holotropic Breathwork, The Landmark Forum, and The Welcomed Consensus (and more) leading to an unforgettable milestone in Circling at Burning Man. In this conversation, Porcelli & Guy trace the development of Circling connecting it to a larger ongoing human conversation about what’s meaningful, truthful, spiritual, or of ultimate concern.

As Guy recounts early proto-Circling conversations, he describes some hallmarks that naturally started emerging

  • Awareness moving to what’s actually going on in the relationships in the present
  • Attention naturally settling on an individual
  • Someone’s unique essence showing up, and “The Look” that comes with it

Listening for these, and other, fine moments in this rich and in-depth conversation

  • A moment where Porcelli gets crazed
  • Find out about the Beavis & Butthead of the transformation world
  • A possible moment when the term “Circling” came to be the name of our practice
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Circling Summit Partner Announcement—The Circling Institute

Circling Institute

We at The Integral Center are proud to announce our partnership with The Circling Institute for the Circling Summit. Guy Sengstock and Alexis Shepperd are long time practitioners and trainers in Circling and offer weekend workshops, individual coaching, and advanced trainings. Together, Guy & Alexis led courses at The Arête Center for Excellence and created and taught the Transformational Coaching and Leadership Training (TCLT), a year-long circling and coaching training program. Currently, they are the founders of the Circling Institute, LLC, and have been training people in the art of circling since 2001. They are Burners (as in Burning Man), consciousness geeks, and long-time friends. Check out The Circling Institute here!

If you’re still on the fence about coming to the Summit , have a listen to the recording below and get your ticket soon because we are SOLD OUT of our first-tier pricing, and expect the second tier to sell out soon.

If you’d like to make your own contribution to the Circling Summit, please review our Request for Proposal (RFP) here. We are extending the deadline for submissions to the end of July!

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