Several years ago, I was at a crossroads in my career. More like a dead end. The fact that the department in which I was working was located in the basement of the building, far removed from any discernible action or information flow, seemed a perfect out-picturing of the obscurity and inconsequential nature of my situation.
I’d grown tired of what I was doing, and couldn’t see myself in any other position in the company. It felt like it was time to move on.
As I started to cast about in my mind for ideas on what to do next, I thought of the conflict-resolution practice in taijiquan known as Opening to One’s Place in the Circle.
It’s based on the principle that our fundamental relationship structure is a circle. All life, it’s believed, is part of one great circle. There’s no hierarchy of inner circles and outer circles—everything is equidistant from the center. And mirroring this macrocosmic world, each individual relationship is its own microcosmic circle of connection.
In contrast, conflict and adversarial conditions are interpreted as the result of attitudes and structures becoming increasingly linear and hierarchical. With the simple conceptual shift of opening to one’s place in the circle, the linear trend toward differentiation, separation and, inevitably, to conflict is disarmed.
By recognizing that we are part of a circle, that we have a place in the circle upon which the integrity of the whole depends, and that the same is true for everyone else, including the adversary with whom we are in conflict, we reframe the relationship and restore a connected, circulating flow of energy that creates new possibilities.
At my work, the adversary and source of conflict was both the hierarchical structure of the organization and, more importantly, my acceptance of it as a fait accompli. When I thought of opening to my place in the circle of the company, a whole array of energetic responses unfolded, beginning with a sense of deep relief and connection.
A week later, my supervisor called me to her office and asked if I would consider being the copy manager of the catalog division? She did so with some trepidation because when a previous director had once probed me about my interest in management, I’d answered, “The day you offer me a management position is the day I walk out the door.” He didn’t mention it again.
But this time was different. I was different. And a job suddenly opening, and then being offered to me, unsolicited, a week after intentionally opening to my place in the circle was something I couldn’t ignore.
I took the job.
After a few more years and another promotion, I again found myself in conflict about whether I should stay in my position or move on to something else. I opened to my place in the circle and found that the circle was widening and that my place in it was taking me away from familiar terrain.
I resigned my position.
For several years I worked successfully as a freelance writer. Whenever work slowed, if I opened to my place in the circle, opportunities would soon follow. One day, that opportunity took the form of a phone call from my old company. They were wondering if I’d consider coming back for a few months as a consultant.
Those “few months” kept being extended until my position was made permanent. I’ve been there for twelve years.
Now, whenever I begin to feel the tension of conflict—at work, at home, in personal relationships, in the car—I take that as a reminder to open to my place in the circle. For example, I do it every time I get on the freeway in the car. At 70 mph, I want all of us working together rather than just jockeying for position.
So, why does simply thinking of opening to one’s place in the circle have such a transformative effect? How does just opening to the idea of life as a circle, and that each of us has an essential place in that circle, fundamentally change the energy of a place, a building, an organization, or a relationship?
It starts with the word, “opening.” We put so much effort into making our way and leaving our mark, yet so often end up vaguely dissatisfied or driven to do more. But we can break that stressful and unfulfilling cycle, fundamentally changing not only the outcome but also the journey, if we simply open.
But that opening is a radical step. It asks us to look deeper than surface appearances into the “original face,” the true nature, of everyone involved. It begins to dismantle the hard lines of our defensive habits, and does the same to our conceptual frameworks in order to make room for unexpected possibilities. It’s a quantum leap in attitude.
Will it eliminate all conflict? No, of course not. Hierarchical structures and adversarial conditions will always be here. They’re all around us. Opening to One’s Place in the Circle doesn’t change that reality. But it sets things in motion, and that changes how reality unfolds.
It doesn’t have to be a fight. It can be a dance.