Art of Hosting – Is It All About Being Nice?

Art of Hosting – is it all about being nice?  This question has my attention right now, following my recent adventures in and near Sao Paulo, Brazil for a four day Art of Hosting training followed by a one day Community of Practice meeting with mostly young practitioners in that country who are holding the field there with intentionality and integrity.  It is a question that has arisen a couple of times now post the training, I know it comes up in other places and it is one that is fundamentally important to the work we do.

Is Art of Hosting just about being nice?  And, why do we feel the need to ask that question?  I wonder if it has something to do with the field we create when we come together in ways that for many are different than their usual day-to-day experiences and which beg the question of how to show up differently.

In my experiences, when we really pay attention to what’s happening in the Art of Hosting training field (and beyond too), we will know that it is not always “nice”.  There are things that come up within host teams – issues, questions, disagreements, shadow – that sometimes get addressed and sometimes don’t.  We know that unresolved issues on host teams can and does impact the training field to large and small degrees depending on the issues and the capacity of the individuals to host their own field.  Sometimes what happens in the field of the training influences or impacts the host team.

Because Art of Hosting trainings are just that – a training ground – and people are courageously stepping into hosting portions of the training using methodologies they are not yet familiar or comfortable with, it is an imperfect practice and not always “nice”.  The intention the host teams I work with carry is to support and encourage learning and growth by helping people see their own learning and growth.  In Brazil, I was part of some really powerful debriefing sessions where participants shared their learning in ways that were far more comprehensive than anything I could have shared with them.

I learned some things.  I learned how challenging it is for people to leap into the challenge of hosting when they don’t know each other, they all have great ideas about how to host the session they signed up for and they are carrying their doubts with them as they work with others and step into a very public part of the process, doubts that can very easily and often unintentionally be triggered by themselves, by others and by the work.  I am even more aware of how important it is that they feel encouraged and supported and that as part of the overall hosting team, we create space for them to grow, experiment and risk – which may also mean that they “fail”.  But if that can’t happen in the training ground, where else can it possibly happen?

Art of Hosting is about creating space for meaningful and relevant conversations and it is about relationship building.  The better we are able to build the relationships the better the conditions for the conversations we are wanting to have in our organizations, networks and communities.  The more we care about the other people involved and the purpose for which we are working, the more we are willing to stay in conversations that move us toward different results – and particularly the necessary, often difficult conversations – the ones that when we don’t have them, they get in the way of change, impact or progress and hold us back. The more we care, the more we are willing to risk – even imperfectly.

We can only truly be in those conversations when we personally are able to find our voice – a voice we often dismiss before others can or bury deep inside ourselves by believing there is no space or room for us, that we will be judged for what we want to contribute or that we do not have enough credentials, experience or credibility to say what is on our minds and in our hearts.  And this may be the thing we all most need to have voiced.

Learning, growth, risking, finding voice are not about being nice but it is a lot easier to tap into these things when we feel encouraged and when the environment is welcoming of all that is showing up.  This is not always easy to do and, for me as a host, it is a constant learning journey – and I know this was true of others on this particular hosting team.

Ultimately, the purpose of this work we do in the Art of Hosting field is to make a difference, maybe even to change the world, if I may be so bold.  And I do see it happening – in individuals, teams, organizations and communities.  I see this work being used very strategically in all kinds of places to shift the shape of communities, organizations and systems.  These trainings help us create foundations – within ourselves and with the work – to generate this shift.

The theme for this Brazilian Art of Hosting was the dance between inner and outer self – the impact of doing deep inner work on how we work in the world.  This theme came about because friends and colleagues of our Brazilian host team were asking for it and the response to the invitation was strong – thirty-nine of us altogether from a range of backgrounds and experiences,  mostly in their twenties and thirties.  The host team modeled well the theme.  We had strong, caring relationships that allowed us to compassionately and honestly voice the full range of fear, uncertainty and contradiction that was showing up for us, as well as the joy, appreciation and gratitude for what we saw emerging, building a stronger field for the participants and greater opportunities to flow with what was wanting and needing to happen in the field we were holding.

No, it is not all about being nice.  But how wonderful when we feel the foundation to be able to speak and address the things that are not so nice coming from a place of caring deeply, opening us up to more attentive listening and responsiveness and growing our capacity to shift the shape of the things that are most important to us in the world.

Shifting Patterns of Hurt and Guilt

Recently, in a situation I was both peripherally and deeply involved in, I could see the paradox in that situation and was aware of old patterns of behaviour, interaction and showing up beckoning at the door.  I knew in my heart it was an opportunity for me to see just how much I may have shifted the shape of my old patterns.   I wanted to enter into the space and conversation being demanded of me in a way that was open but with clear boundaries, with compassion and the ability to listen rather than be defensive.

I had the good fortune of receiving wisdom from a dear friend, a Warrior of the Heart.  What he told me resonates with me weeks later – a clear indicator of just how powerful his advice was for me in my journey.  He said it was okay to be clear about my boundaries, to even identify that I had a limited amount of time available for the conversation if need be.  And then he said the thing I still sit with: “You will only absorb us much hurt as you feel guilt.”  That landed with a quiet but powerful thud, breaking into my awareness with precise clarity.   “You will only absorb as much hurt as you feel guilt.”   Wow!

I had a bit of time to reflect on what, if anything, I might have felt guilty about in this particular situation.  Just having the opportunity to ask myself the question released anything that may have been lingering, unaware and unconscious,  under the surface.   Which meant it did not show up energetically in my field as part of my shadow.

I was then able to enter a potentially difficult conversation with far more openness and receptivity than I would otherwise have had available to me and there is no question in my mind it shifted the shape of the conversation.  I had no need to overtly claim boundaries – they were honoured in the conversation.  I was able to acknowledge the experience of the other person and knew exactly what support I was authentically able to offer, support that was acknowledged graciously – and that would not have been the case in past interactions.

Since this particular incidence, I have been sitting with this amazing, unexpected little gift: You will only absorb as much hurt as you feel guilt.  I can see how this dynamic and pattern has clearly played itself out in my life, over the whole course of my life.  Absorbing hurt was just what I deserved for whatever wrong – real and imagined – I committed against others.  Fortunately, I don’t feel the need to closely examine every little (and big) example of this throughout my life (that would probably take another whole lifetime) but now being able to consciously ask myself this question going forward is a gift to me for clearing shadow in beautiful and unexpected ways leading to results I might not have thought possible.

What’s your reflection on how understanding this little statement: You will only absorb as much hurt as you feel guilt, shifts the shape of your experience?

The Gift of Shadow

I have been intrigued by the notion of shadow ever since I came across Debbie Ford‘s book, The Secret of the Shadow, years ago as I began the more conscious part of my journey.  The idea that it is everywhere, in everyone of us and in our group dynamics was a revelation at the time.  The fact that there are real gifts in it when we develop enough courage to dive in was illuminating.

Shadow is not a bad thing.  It just is.  It exists. Where there is light there is also shadow.  We can really live into the light when we are ready to acknowledge shadow.

For some reason, we have made that acknowledgment really difficult in the world we live and operate in today.  We have made it “bad” through our fear of facing it, surfacing it or acknowledging it and so we try to pretend, individually and collectively, that it isn’t there.  We tiptoe around it, we dance around it, we grow frustrated by it and still it often remains a challenge to name.  We think it only exists in some places, but it actually can and does show up in all kinds of places and even in the groups and organizations that are doing amazing and, do I dare say, enlightened work.

My good friend Christina Baldwin, author of The Circle Way and Calling the Circle, and, along with her partner Ann Linnea, keeper and steward of circle practice for over twenty years (long before it became more fashionable as an effective and powerful meeting practice) defines shadow as: “the things that cannot be said or, if they are said, are said at great peril to the speaker”.

This great peril is often that the speaker is ostracized.  As the speaker is shut down, so are others who will not now venture to name the unspoken things and then any avenues for the naming of shadow are also shut down.   Unproductive group patterns and dynamics become entrenched in the group and members of the group pretend to each other that all is well.  And yet in this scenario, it means that people no longer feel invited to show up as full human beings.  They feel the need to leave a part of themselves parked at the door and this is often the part that would most wonderfully, fully and impactfully engage them in the work ahead.

Anytime things cannot be spoken, they surface in actions and interactions in a group.  They show up as frustration with process or lack of progress and as blame: “if only that one person (or that group) would get their act together, we’d all be fine.”  The impact of shadow shows up in lack of engagement by some members of the group and by side conversations that happen outside of meetings that do not serve the health and well being of the group.

It is not unusual that someone who has been perceived as the problem can leave the group and yet the actual problem persists.  It is now acted out by someone else.  The longer the patterns persist, the harder they are to surface and to break.

Aside from fear of being ostracized, the other reason people do not name shadow is because they are afraid of hurting other people in the group.  They do not have language or process around how to do this well and it is a skill that can be developed.

One of the tenets of Circle Practice is understanding there is a centre to the circle – or the work or the group – and if we focus on the centre it enables us to transcend two way debate,  personal attack and interpersonal dynamics and speak to the underlying patterns – that are often showing up in very overt ways.  To be able to name tension in a group or situation is one very simple way of relieving the tension.  “Yes, we’ve noticed and are aware that it is here.  How will we choose to move through it now?”

The simple act of naming can, quite remarkably,  diffuse a lot of tension and shadow.  How would the shape of our world shift, the shape of our meetings and the shape of our relationships shift if we could honour the fact that shadow exists, it shows up – instead of pretending it’s not there?   If we understand this, it frees us up to look for the gifts inherent in shadow and use those gifts to build our effectiveness, connection and cohesion as a group and as community.

Shadow is not something we deal with once and it is gone.  It will show up again.  But if we stay tuned to it, name it when it is present and work through it, more light will shine into our lives and the work we do.

Contemplating Joy

Byron Brown, in Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within, asserts that compassion, strength, love and joy are essential soul qualities.  He says that ego – or our internal judge or critic – would have us believe this is not true, that we are in constant search of these qualities and that usually they are unattainable, maybe because we believe we are not worthy.

A constant search for these qualities would always have them in the future and, while we may have fleeting glimpses of them, they are elusive.  We are thus, by default, relegated to a life of strife and striving, doomed to be ruled by the internal judge or critic who, when we are not doing well admonishes us that we can do better and when we do well, first congratulates us and then says, “How long do you think you can keep that up?”.  Stepping out of this habitual, ingrained pattern in our thoughts and in our life takes conscious, intentional effort but when it happens we experience moments of freedom – even joyful freedom.

Of the essential soul qualities, it is joy I am contemplating most frequently at the moment.  Joy because, as the shape of my world has shifted, I feel joyful – often.  I wake up in the morning feeling joyful, go to bed at night feeling joyful.  I don’t necessarily feel joyful every moment of every day but at least I’ve become aware of my emotional journey and am living into it – rather than walking through it as if it was happening to someone else – or, maybe, happening to just a shadow of myself rather than the multi-coloured range which has become more available to me over the last couple of years.

Joy feels freeing and expansive.  It is fed by gratitude and appreciation. It is fed by noting it and sinking deeper into it – surrendering to it, letting it seep into all my pores, breathing it in with every breath and back out into the world so other people can also feel the expression of joy – even if they do not know what it is they are experiencing.

And as I notice joy and joyfulness in my life, in any given moment, every now and then I also notice the little voice that says — yeah, sure it’s summer now, but what about the fall?  How do you know you are actually going to keep your business busy enough to sustain yourself in the fall?  You should be worried about that now!

Hmmm, you should be worried about that now.  Sounds like the voice of my internal judge wanting to be heard – in fairness to it, it does want to keep me safe and financially sustainable, but it has a limited range of options with which to do that and they all include struggle, worry and fear – emotions I am very familiar with – as I am also familiar with how constricting and how limiting they can be, shutting down the capacity of the soul to be in full expression – which includes full manifestation that comes from a place of trust.

Most of us have learned that life is full of struggle and if you want to get ahead you have to work hard, really hard – and even then there are no guarantees.  We have learned that life is not handed to us on a silver platter, we have to work in order to live and adversity makes us stronger – you know that phrase – that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

Okay, so there may be some truth in that but I declared awhile ago (a bit more than a year ago in fact) that I was welcoming ease into my life.  I’ve had varying degrees of success with that over the last year and a bit – it takes intentionality and really paying attention  in any given moment, and, for now, it seems to be more and more a characteristic of how I am living my life and what is showing up in it.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult things or moments that show up. My father’s diagnosis of prostate cancer is a good example, the uncertainty of this story as it unfolds over the next 6 months to a year and the impact on me as his main source of support in his health care.  Or my mother’s journey with dementia in a long term care ward.  Or entering yet another new phase of my life as both of my older children prepare to depart to different provinces in the fall for University.  But it does mean I entertain these stories, events in my life, with a different kind of graciousness which invites ease into how to hold them them.  And it doesn’t mean I can’t feel joy or be in a state of joyfulness as I experience the ebb and flow of my life and the ebb and flow of the lives of people I care about.

I am welcoming ease, welcoming joy and welcoming the full array of what all needs to show up in my life, saying no to worry and to fear, yes to presence and to calm.  I am aware that fear, worry, frustration are waiting in the wings some days, some moments, but I am no longer expecting them and no longer inviting them – consciously or unconsciously.  Every moment will take care of itself.  And, if I believe that, it is a far more playful and fun way to show up in the world, a world of joy and joyfulness.

If it is true that the other shoe will drop, why can’t it look and feel like the first one rather than the one we allude to: the heavy handed, heavy-hearted counterpart to joy, love, compassion and strength?

Can We Be Done Now?

Last week, round about session 3 of my ALIA Module: Leader as Shambhala Warrior, as we were going back into creative process yet again, I recall sitting there thinking: “Can we be done yet?  I’ve had enough.  I’m ready to move on to the “real” work of the module.”

Immediately I chuckled at my own thought and the awareness that came with it.  Just a few weeks before, a colleague and I had been in that same question with a client about the status of the long term shift process we were in.  We told the client, we have reached the point where some of the people will begin to say: ” We have our document, can we be done now? Can I get back to real work now?.”

This raises two things.  The first is our concept of “real work” as something that does not happen in a conference, training or retreat.  If it’s not real, is it imaginary?  Un-real?  If it’s not real, why do we do it?  I love challenging this notion when it arises – this is real work too.  For myself, when I’m in retreats, I now think of  the outside world that does come knocking and “real” work happens in both places and many others in between.

The second thing is that when we encounter in ourselves or others this question of “Can we be done now?” it’s a pretty good indicator we’re in the groan zone.  The groan zone is a place that feels a bit murky because we lack some clarity in the moment about where we are and where we’re going – or how we are going to make use of what we’ve been learning or experiencing.  We may be tired or challenged and just want to get beyond it — or usually get back to wherever we were before we started.  And this is the opportunity in the groan zone.  Stick with it just that much longer and the opportunity for emergence and for clarity is primed.

What happened when I was in the groan zone last week around the creative process?  Well, we were being led, through exceptional leadership displayed by Jerry Granelli, to become a “blues band”, writing our own lyrics and actually singing them out loud while other people witnessed us – or really, while we witnessed each other.  I don’t sing. I don’t know musical form.  I can’t carry a tune.  I don’t write music lyrics.  The day we were asked to just hum the blues form, I felt a visceral reaction along with my sharp intake of breath… and then, I did it!  I told Jerry, he had butted me up against my fear.  He laughed, in a gentle and wonderful way.  I told him the good news was that in previous years, that would have been my terror I butted up against.

Last week, we had marvelous and thought provoking teachings from Meg Wheatley and Jim Gimian and I will write more about that in future blogs.  We knew though, as we were at “band practice” at 9:30 one night, that this band experience was bonding us into a community as we supported each other in writing our lyrics and setting them to the blues form and that this was the thing we would most easily and fondly remember as a collective.

In all my years of attending ALIA’s Shambhala Summer Institute this one stands out in my memory for the bond created within my module.

I traveled through the groan zone, pushed the edge of my learning, wrote my lyrics and sang them… sang them first actually (not because I volunteered though), finding a place of greater ease, peace and playfulness within myself and understanding the groan zone at a whole new level.

Thanks Jerry, Meg and Jim and my band mates!  Be warned – you now just mind hear me singing in places other than to my young children – like on the street when I’m out walking and “shape shifting, shape shifting in a soulful way…”.

Shifting into 2010

Shifting into 2010, for me, has been shifting into high gear.  If there was hype about the end of a decade and the beginning of the next one, I somehow missed it.  It only sunk in on the waning days of 2009.  What I haven’t missed is the promise, potential and energy that is bubbling like crazy around 2010.

It is captured most magically by this You Tube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3zJm98UXzQ from Sedona.  It is not that I think all of the predictions in this will come true as much as I believe in the expansiveness, potentiality and hopefulness that this conveys – elements that I believe are positively influencing the shifting shape of the world right now.  It is the kind of world I am living into, influencing and shaping in the work I do, the way I live my life and how I show up in relationships.

I am extraordinarily blessed to be on this journey in supportive relationships, communities of practice and with guidance from spirit.  Bring it on.  Bring it all on!