The Art of Stewarding

Anyone who has ever wanted to call an Art of Hosting training has, in all likelihood, been told how important it is to have seasoned hosts – or stewards – as part of the hosting team. What does it mean to steward and why is this role so important in the Art of Hosting community and in individual training offerings?

I wanted to ground the word steward with a definition but none of the ones I found resonated until I came across this on Wikipedia:  it is desirable to increase capacity within an organizational system.  The Art of Hosting is a system – an interconnected, self-organizing global network – and since it began almost two decades ago, it has been increasing capacity in the network, within and across organizations, within and across systems and within and across individuals.

Even before there was such a thing as the name Art of Hosting, conversations were being hosted in many places around the world using different dialogic processes, including World Cafe, Open Space Technology, Circle Practice, Appreciative Inquiry  (and still are being hosted by people who have not heard of the Art of Hosting). Those who have become known as Art of Hosting Practitioners were intuitively and intentionally sensing into questions like: what is underneath this process, what are the patterns we can make visible, why do these processes or this way of convening a meeting produce different results?  They were deeply curious about the answers to these questions and the more evocative questions that were often provoked through the conversations stimulated by these questions.

Stewards sense and hold the deeper patterns in the field.  They don’t just hold this particular piece of client work or this particular training, they sense the patterns of the larger field and bring those patterns into the specific work and conversations they are involved in.

They have skill, wisdom and expertise in holding space, creating the conditions for powerful work (setting the container) and in working with emergence by paying attention to what is wanting and ready to happen in an individual, group, organization, or community or with a pattern.

They practice self-leadership or self-hosting and bring with them a presence often forged through the many fires of chaos, disruption and intensity they have found their way through which often enables them to keep their centre or ground in the most challenging of situations.

They have no need to hold centre stage although they find themselves there because of their willingness to share knowledge and learning while hosting fields where people are hungry to learn.  They bring clarity without doing the work of others or disempowering them or disconnecting them from their own sources of clarity, wisdom and knowledge.  They witness growth and ignite even more growth – within themselves and others.  They are flexible and diverse, growing the depth of field through co-learning with others.  It is precisely this co-learning, co-creating and collaborating on the edges of what they do not know that makes them most excited  – more so than presenting their expertise.

My awareness of stewarding has heightened over the last year or so as I have found myself in many stewarding conversations with good friends in the Art of Hosting, World Cafe and Circle Practice networks (most recently at ALIA in Columbus) and as I have the privilege to co-host with other seasoned practitioners in a variety of situations where the ability to draw on accumulated wisdom and knowledge has been powerfully beneficial to other hosting team members including apprentices hungry to learn as well as the full group involved in the training.

What do I know through some of my experiences? Stewards are able to check perceptions with each other to sense more fully into the field in which they are working, arriving at more informed choices of action, often to surface tension, move through groan zones, understand when divergence or convergence or some other intervention or process is needed.  They are comfortable with silence and with chaos, have no need to rush in and they can weave with each other through and across the field.  This does not mean there is never any tension but it does mean they have the capacity to work it through without detrimentally impacting the group or the overall experience.  In how they work together, they are often living, breathing examples of the beauty and power of co-creation.

I have had the opportunity to work more extensively with youth in the last year – in Canada, the US and Brazil – and see how sharing experience, asking good questions and holding space expands the depth of field in any given place and creates the opportunity for individual and collective expansion – by holding the space of curiosity with the space of experience.

In One Art of Hosting Does Not A Practitioner Make, I wrote that each Art of Hosting has its own flavour influenced by the hosting team, the calling questions, the people who show up, whatever is emergent in the field, whatever we choose to call the training and the place in which it is hosted.  It’s like seeing only a slice of the bigger picture.  One reason why stewards are necessary to these trainings is that they carry with them the depth of the patterns from across many trainings and client consulting work and they can help illuminate these patterns and this depth through how they hold the space and the questions they ask.

In any given training we will often say it is not about the methodologies – although when we use them we want to use them well.  It is about the purpose and intention of what we are about, what we want to achieve and how to create the conditions to meet purpose and intention and make more things possible.

Stewards illuminate the connections between people, places, trainings, theories, processes and patterns.  They bring the weave of the whole network into the space and disturb the training ground in subtle and overt ways, based on the imprints of their many experiences, helping shift the shape of the experience, enabling individuals to shift their own shape and ultimately influencing the shifting shape of the world.

This work is not for the feint of heart or lone wolves.  It is for those who are willing to show up more fully in the relational field, ask for help when they need it, offer what they can and sink into their own learning.  Stewards want to learn from each other and the more we work with each other, the deeper the relational field, the deeper the friendships and the richer the space we hold for others.

2010 Enduring Impression – Deep Gratitude

People who know me who are familiar with my  life’s journey know that I have very few short stories.  I have the most amazing, incredible and sometimes almost unbelievable stories of my life and 2010 was no exception.  This year continued to bring some very big stories of experience into my life.  2010 has been a year of completion where I became aware that a five year deep transition period came to a close, opening up into a much gentler and no less transformative era of unfolding  – one I hope endures into the rest of my life.

This year has brought the deepest sense of trust in this life journey that I have ever experienced, searing into my awareness how much I am supported in the world and in my journey.  I have been aware of this over the years but there was some associated doubt, worry and fear.  No longer.  I have landed with exquisite delight and amazing joy in this place of trust.  When I do notice doubt, fear or angst lurking around the edges I know now to inquire into it and to ask for support to navigate my way through it with far more grace than I could have imagined possible.

I have learned depth of relationship and the gift I have for creating the space for this by being open, vulnerable, curious, loving and open hearted.  I have been gifted with depth and beauty of friendship by learning to be present and available for the relationship that is available to me, rather than wishing for relationship that is not.

Highlights for 2010 include the Art of Social Innovation at Windhorse Farm in NS  in April,  moving into my new house in Bedford in May, attending ALIA in Halifax in June, visiting my sister and her husband on vacation with my youngest son in July, Warrior of the Heart training and the Art of Hosting Stewards gathering on Bowen Island in BC in August, Brazil, beautiful, amazing Brazil in October and then the Berkana Weaving the Web gathering in New York also in October, an invitation into a beautiful spiritual women’s circle in November.  Permeated throughout all of these events or gatherings is the people, the rich friendships, people I love dearly who I also often have the good fortune to work with, some of whom I just met in this last year and others I have known for a very long time, all of whom I feel deep connection with.

As this year draws to a close, my most enduring feeling is one of deep gratitude – for what has evolved and emerged in my life, for this new constant of joy and falling in love everyday, for my children who touch me deeply and from whom I learn lots, for my dad who loves me unconditionally, my mother who continues to show me the extent of soul journey on this earth, to my friends here and all over the world who have my back and I have theirs, to the shamanic journey that has characterized my path far more than I ever knew, for this deep sense of trust that is becoming ingrained in me, to sensing deeply into where I am supposed to go, what I am supposed to do and how I can best do that which is mine to do.

I love how the shape of my life has shifted in this last year and I surrender fully into how it will want to shift in the coming years.  For the beginning of 2011, I feel expansiveness and readiness – ready to accept more into my life in every conceivable way, ready to be of service to that which is mine to do, ready to nourish relationships I care deeply about and ready to receive all that is wanting to flow into my life.

Resentment, Anger and Grudges as Soul Journey Teachers

“If I destroy you, I destroy myself. If I honour you, I honour myself.” Nunbatz Men MAYAN

This is a daily meditation offering from White Bison.  The message: if I secretly hold a grudge or resentment against someone, I will be a slave to that person until I let them go so let me remember to look at my brothers and sisters in a sacred way.

This is a hard lesson to really accept and learn when we so want it to be about the other person! Yet when we hold that grudge, the person we hold it against actually has power over us.  To be even more direct, we have given our power away to them.  Nothing can be resolved unless they do something, healing cannot take place unless they do something.

What a sad and wretched way to live if this is what we choose – completely at the mercy of another’s journey.  What if they never change?  What if they never offer us what it is we think we need of them?  Or, even worse, what if they do and then we discover that that isn’t really the magic cure we’ve been waiting for? It’s not nearly as satisfying as we were sure it would be?

Healing of the soul is not an outer journey dependent on someone else.  It is an inner journey that only we can navigate.  Fortunately, there are many helpers, guides and teachers who show up along the way – but only when we are ready and can either perceive others as teachers or invite them as such.  It is easier to understand coaches and mentors as teachers, less easy to understand those we hold a grudge (or worse) against as a teacher although they often catapult our learning once we open to it.

When we feel wronged, and particularly when we feel deeply wronged, it is hard to step into the path of inquiry that asks: why have I invited this into my life?  This is not to make us wrong, make us a victim or cause us to take responsibility for another person’s actions.  This is solely to help us understand our own soul’s journey and the lessons we need to learn.

When I have felt marginalized in my life, I learned to ask the question: Why am I inviting marginalization (or marginalizing myself)?  How does that serve me in the place that I am in now? In a place of marginalization, I hide from stepping into my own power and purpose in life and, for some strange reason, this feels “safer”.

When I have felt voiceless in relation to other people I wondered what was my journey to reclaiming my voice?  I recognized my own feelings of judgment arising – about others and about myself – and learned to step into it, initially with great trepidation I might add, inquire into it, ease up on it.  Voicing my fears, issues and concerns in the light of showing up in ways I do not aspire to (as judgmental) began to bring me back to reclaiming my voice – a step toward also reclaiming my power – as a being of compassion, strength and love with important work to do in the world.

Jerry Granelli in my ALIA module  Leader as Shambhala Warrior said: if you resent one moment of your life, that is aggression.  Wow.  Just one moment of resentment is aggression.  Powerful.  It resonated strongly with my journey and learning to find the gifts in life decisions I’d made that I’d come to regret.  In truly finding the gift, the regret left, creating space for more compassion, strength, love and great joy – qualities that Byron Brown describes as inherent soul qualities in his book: Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within – a book that literally changed my life.

Letting go of regret and resentment can be a daily exercise, a daily reminder that this is a journey and, when we do step into it, it is a shape shifting journey.  We get to make a choice about it every day.  We only come to understand it as a choice as we journey, as we learn, as we sink into the soul’s journey by inquiring – with curiosity – into resentment, anger and grudges as they show up in our life.

Life has an interesting way of bringing to us that which we most need to learn from at any given time. My experience is that by learning to embrace it, it is usually a gentler journey – and I’ve learned that the hard way – from all the choices I made that brought me into deeply intense learning experiences that I wouldn’t necessarily have “chosen” for myself but which I now see that my “soul’s journey” chose for me to create the conditions necessary for me to step more fully into the gifts, power and talents that serve me and serve my work in the world.

These soul journey teachers do not appear to be friends when they show up.  If we make them enemies as much as the others they show up about, we wither and die – literally and figuratively, spiritually and physically.  This is motivation enough to take the difficult first steps of seeing them for their enormous potential as teachers.  The more intense the experience, the greater the return in the soul’s journey.

Because at some point I embraced this journey – which was better than the alternative internal toxicity I found myself living in a few years ago, every day and most minutes in a day, I now find myself in a place of deep appreciation, gratitude and joy for my journey and the ALL the people in it who have contributed in some way.  Waking up feeling joyful does not get old!

What’s Breaking Your Heart Open?

What’s breaking your heart open?  Powerful question and powerful to notice how one little word in this question can completely change the tone of it from “what is breaking your heart?” to “what is breaking it open?”

Meg Wheatley opened the ALIA module “Leader as Shambhala Warrior”, that she co-hosted with Jim Gimian and Gerry Granelli at the beginning of this month, with this question and it was the question I woke up with this morning.  Some people answered with what is breaking their heart.  Sometimes the response stops there because that is as far as we have come in our understanding of the circumstance we are sitting in.  Sometimes it is so fresh we have not yet been able to move on to the next phase.

Meg was really suggesting that what breaks our heart can also break it open and in this place of open heartedness, even when that is about sorrow, we have a greater capacity to act and act with strength and compassion.  Her heart is broken about what is happening with the devastation in the gulf as a result of the oil spill and she speaks about this in in this blog posting in YES! An Antidote to Urgency.

In answering the question, I focused on what happens when our heart breaks open.  It is this question that most resonates with my journey over the last few years – learning to live into my experience – including and maybe especially my emotional experience, rather than walking through it as if I was going through the motions of some else’s story.   I think I tried to just walk through the motions for so long because I was afraid of being overwhelmed by sadness, despair, loneliness and hopelessness.  I tried to hold those things at bay and it did nothing to keep life from periodically crashing down around me.

What a difference it makes to notice and acknowledge my experience as I’m in it.  Contrary to my fear, it is actually freeing and liberating!  This morning I’m noticing how much I’m missing my seven year old son as we begin establishing the rhythm of a separated family.  It breaks my heart that he can’t be with me all the time and it breaks my heart open knowing how much I love him, how much he loves me and how much he is loved by others including his father and his father’s family.  This is a rhythm and a pattern we will all grow into, served by love.

Over the last five years, an expanded  story of my life has been pieced together as information has been unexpectedly  revealed to me about my journey, essentially since birth.  As I have absorbed all the information, it breaks my heart open to now know how loved, supported and guided I have been from the time I was an infant – even in my darkest days.

All those moments when I reach beyond the physical world and feel my connection with spirit or non-ordinary reality, it breaks my heart open to know there is so much more than our physical bodies and the things we can touch and see.  We are supported and loved in ways often beyond our knowing.

When I watch my older children grow into their own life paths and step into the next phase of their lives with both the maturity and immaturity of their age, it breaks my heart open to know that they have strong foundations and love in their lives.

And as I recount all the things that break my heart open, they all come back to love in one way or another – feeling it, accessing it, living it, speaking it.  Letting people I care deeply about know that I love them – in how I show up for them and in speaking it aloud from time to time.

My heart is breaking open, more fully and completely every day – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It has shifted the shape of me, my life and my business.  Thank you Meg for the question.  It lives on in me and in my journey.

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…”.