Yearning for A Different Conversation, Yearning for a Turning Point

One of the teams I have the pleasure of being part of is an Art of Hosting team comprised of me, Jerry Nagel, Dave Ellis and Bob-e Simpson Epps. We most often have hosted open enrolment programs in the Twin Cities and we have worked together on a few other initiatives. One of the joys in working with this team is the rich and deep learning we are in with each other all the time. Our backgrounds are more varied than the colour of our skins as are our experiences.

When we check in together about hosting conversations, the topic often turns to difficult and challenging conversations, particularly around race, power and privilege, the need for which is growing more pressing every day. The essence of our many conversations is floating through my awareness as I read about the great unrest that is alive in the world today; so great it has its own pulse, its own life force and it will not stop until we turn to face it with courage, compassion and humility. All of us, not just some of us.

As Bob-e and Dave and my other African American or African Nova Scotian friends remind us regularly, this is not a problem people of colour can fix. Not alone for sure. It is not a problem of their making. And it is a complex problem that is an entangled, interconnected mess that fuels and feeds itself beyond what any one person or any one organization can do.

An article this morning in the Waging Non Violence newsletter pointed out that Policing Isn’t Working For Cops either. Kazu Haga wrote:

“This is not about being an apologist for the individuals responsible for the killing of black life. It is not about comparing the suffering of black communities to that of law enforcement. But in nonviolence, we know that if you don’t understand the perspective of those who you are in conflict with, you do not understand the conflict. You do not need to agree with, excuse or justify the other’s perspective, you simply need to understand it so you can see the complete picture.”

 “Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “the white man’s personality is greatly distorted by segregation, and his soul is greatly scarred.” He said that the work of defeating segregation was for the “bodies of black folks and the souls of white folks.” He understood that to be a white supremacist, to hold hatred in your heart for so many and to inflict violence on others destroys your soul.”

<> on July 8, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown – embodying grief well beyond his own

People’s lives are at stake. As near as I understand it, this has always been the case. The unrest that is being stirred up – whether by presidential campaigns, referendum votes, violence and terrorism or the killing of unarmed black men or policemen in the line of duty is not going to go away. It will not be suppressed.

At the last AoH training in the Twin Cities, we were reminded by participants in the room, that many people – especially people of colour, people who are part of minority groups – walk in multiple worlds – the predominant culture that does not easily see its own worldview or predominance and the world of their reference groups be it their family, culture, colour of skin, way of being or lifestyle. Many who walk in multiple worlds do so with such grace that those in the dominant culture has been able to turn a blind eye to it, filter it out as if it does not exist. And they do so because it is a matter of survival. They do not have the luxury of turning a blind eye. It can too easily be a matter of life and death.

In that AoH training, I sat with a Hmong man in his forties who has lived in the US for most of his life. He, like at least one other person in the room, moved to the country that at the time was oppressing his own country and his culture. A large family of siblings, many did not survive. He shared with me the structure, ties and traditions of his culture which he feels bound to and in which he lives in community with his family and other community members. He shared how that world differs from the larger world he interacts with every single day. A world he has learned to navigate because he has to. He is aware of the differing worlds and differing cultures in a way that many who interact with him daily have no awareness.

A couple of months later, in Boston, sitting with a distinguished Black man in his 60’s who works with the Massachusetts’s Teachers’ Association, I am heartbroken as we speak about life in general and our children. He has two sons in their 20’s. I have two sons in their 20’s (and one in his early teens) and we have very different experiences of “educating” our children when they became of driving age. For me, it was to make sure they went to Driver’s Education so they knew the rules of the road and learned from someone who could teach them to drive without my or their dad’s bad habits. For him, it was teaching his sons, over and over again, what to do if/when they got stopped by the cops. Because they would sometime get stopped – as some of my friends point out – for “driving while black”. And now we know even that might not keep them safe.

There are many more stories I could tell, but I’ll stop here. What I know from the conversations I am able to have with the people I know and love, the people I come into contact with in heart filled spaces, is that we are longing for a different conversation, one that leads to different results, that transforms our differences into progress by acknowledging, seeing and validating others’ perspectives and experiences as real and true. We are yearning for a turning point. We’re not quite sure what this conversation or the “space” it needs to take place in looks like yet. But it cannot involve guns or jail. It needs to invite exploration, compassion, curiosity and understanding. And we need it now. It is already late. Too late for those whose lives are lost but not forgotten. Very late for many who are deeply traumatized. How do we confront ourselves and each other in such a way that we put an end to the violence? How do we do it across whole countries?

I saw a picture today that said something like don’t be overwhelmed, be true and you have an obligation to continue the journey. I didn’t repost it because I thought, Yes, be overwhelmed. It is overwhelming. And, even in the overwhelm you can look for things to help you remember who you are – watch the birds at the birdfeeders, listen to calming music, go for a walk, pet the cats, remember your purpose and your soul’s journey – then do what you can in the places that you can. I cannot, in this moment, affect a whole nation. But I can carry on my work, I can hold spaces for the pain and overwhelm, I can NOT turn away from all that troubles me in the posts rolling across my screen. I can stay in it, with it and with my friends who more than ever need me to be in it with them, who need me to be a disturbance in the world so we can all live in it in truth, beauty and grace. It is only together that we will find the turning point for which we yearn.


Dave Ellis, Jerry Nagel, Bob-e Simpson Epps, Kathy Jourdain

Your Emotions are Your Guidance System

This week has taken me to some deep places in my journey yet again.  Depth invites exploration – if we want it to, of course. In a conversation a few days ago,  a good friend who is near and dear to my heart asked me how I was.  I said, “I’m discombobulated and my emotions are near the surface.”

“My emotions are near the surface.”  What an interesting turn of phrase.  What I meant is that sadness, sorrow, angst, tears were all near the surface and tears would spill easily and effortlessly with the slightest provocation – sorrow or joy.

In a later email to my friend, I dug a little deeper to discover what was stirring in my soul that caused these emotions to be so near the surface.  In that exploration, I identified and released things that had been swirling around  and in me about decisions and choices I have no idea if I will even need to make.   I began to settle into a place of not knowing and not needing to know in this moment, trusting clarity will arise in due course.  No need for decisions or choices today.

a moment of reflection

A moment of reflection

I surrendered back into peace, joy and delight.  As I awoke in this state today, I had a little realization, an aha moment.  My emotions are near the surface.  They are just different emotions than yesterday or the day before.  Which got me to wondering.  Do I even think of joy, delight, peace as emotions?  Seems I do.  But not in the same way as I think of sorrow, sadness, anger and grief as emotions.  Without being conscious of it, I’ve been making value judgments about my emotional experiences – just like I tell people we do in the coaching and teaching work I do.

Yup.  Here I am, doing it too.  Sorrow, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety – bad.  To have those emotions near the surface is bad.  Like they need to be contained.  We don’t really know what to do with them but many of us have learned that trying to contain them, while it might work in the short term, just doesn’t work in the longer term.

How many times people apologize for their tears, one on one, in circle, in some meeting or gathering, and how many times I say, “I look forward to the time we no longer feel the need to apologize for our tears.”  I have, for the most part, stopped apologizing for mine.  So it is always delicious to discover what all is still alive in me as I explore my own emotional state.

Today, my emotions are near the surface. Instead of a tear sliding down the side of my face, a smile might break out for no reason in particular, when I’m by myself, with my son, directed at a stranger or, as it turns out, the two Mormon missionaries who just rang my doorbell.

The strange thing is, just like we don’t necessarily know what to do with the emotions we judge as bad or negative, many of us also don’t know what to do with joy, love, peace, delight.  We can be pretty good if it’s episodic.  If there is a reason – like we have to have a reason.  We’re not so good at knowing what to do with prolonged bouts of happiness, joy or delight – but what a beautiful challenge to embrace.

If we are used to chaos and negativity in our lives, it just feels different to shift into a new normal – of peacefulness.  A new pattern.  A new way of being in the world. Shifting the shape of our experience. Quite delightful to cultivate actually.  And this state of being does grow on a person.  Thankfully.

What I’ve been learning in the course of my life’s journey is that our emotions – the full range of them – offer us guidance.  I used to think they made me weak – at least the ones I judged as bad.  I use to think being vulnerable was the opportunity for someone to attack me.  Now I know differently.  There is strength and power in vulnerability when it comes from authentic open hearted space.  And it takes courage to step into vulnerability.

My emotions are my guidance system.  They tell me how close or far away I am from my centre, from my soul essence. They are a clue to what I’m thinking, whether I’m present or living in the past or future.  If I inquire into my emotional state I can find myself.  And I can change my state of well being by paying attention to my thoughts, discovering what I’m holding onto that doesn’t serve me.

I like finding myself in a place of peace and joy but it’s okay if I find myself somewhere else too.  My preference now, through the journey of life, is to find my way back to a steady state of feeling good.

So today, my emotions are close to the surface.  I wonder what beautiful mischief might ensue?

Ingredients for Hosting Team Success – An Inquiry

How is it we can take a group of people who may or may not know each other, throw them into a prep or planning day together and have them emerge out the other side as a team, ready to co-create and co-host a three or four day Art of Hosting training, to greater or lesser degrees as a cohesive, fluid team?

In the last few years, I have had powerful experiences of this happening in Atlantic Canada, in Brazil, in the United States, as I’ve invited or been invited onto hosting teams with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, different levels of readiness to step more fully into hosting and different size teams from six to fourteen. And these days, in my experience, although individuals on the team know each other, the whole team has only met each other in person on that prep day.

Cohesive, fluid hosting teams hasn’t always been my experience.  Especially in my early days of hosting.  Having contrasting experiences offered me opportunities to notice and reflect on what worked and what didn’t.  Hosting myself, I became aware of how to, more often, invite the kind of experiences that work well.    Recently a good friend invited me into a deeper inquiry of, in my experience, what makes strong teams possible?  What are the ingredients for hosting team success?  These are not definitive by any stretch of the imagination, but they are some of the themes I’m noticing that consistently support strength and capacity in hosting teams I’ve been part of.

Some of it is in what happens in prep day.  Most of it is the quality of invitation to all of us on the team whether we are seasoned hosts or stewards, practitioners, apprentices, or logistics coordinators to show up fully.  We are all equally human, equally beautiful, equally valuable and  each of us holds a part of the whole.

There is no question the space for this invitation is held by the stewards.  It is not just a verbally issued invitation, it is one that is fully and authentically supported in all our actions and in our energetic field, in the space we create and hold for others to step into, in the responsiveness to all the voices that show up.  When, as seasoned hosts, we are able to step into our own humility and support the field from what might seem a less visible place, we open the space for others to step in more fully.

There are, of course, times that what we have to offer from our experience is what is needed – a thought, an observation, a question, a teach, a framing for what’s in the room, making something visible, stepping into our own brilliance in service of what is needed now. Knowing when to step in and offer what is needed now is also important – a part of the art.  Doing it in a way that builds on what others have offered, in the spirit of expansion and illumination, is a gift to self, a gift to others and a gift to the field in which we work.

To seed this field of invitation I want to have at least one other person on the team I know well, where mutual full trust exists, with whom I know we can handle anything that comes along.  With a minimum of the two of us (and one or two more is even better), we can hold the space for whatever wants or needs to show up in the team – and then in the gathering we are co-hosting.

Co-hosts and apprentices are wanting to know and understand their role, what they can contribute and how welcome their contribution may or may not be.  We are all wanting to know where all our learning edges are, what each of us wants to step into and how this can best be supported.  In particular, I am wanting to support people stepping up to their next level of learning, hosting or offering.  It is a thing of beauty when people publicly step into their learning edges, usually with some fear, some trepidation and loads of courage.

Prep day itself begins with its own welcome, framing and flow.  And an invitation to the full team to find the places they want to step in.  We begin open heartedly.  Infusing the space with welcome, invitation and confidence.  We move to  a check-in process. First on a  personal level.  What draws us to this work? What are we most excited about? Whatever question that personally brings us into the work and into the team.  Then we move onto what we know about who is coming, what their questions are, what they might be hoping for.

The harvest from these two rounds of check in is a co-created purpose statement to guide our planning and design process.  From there we take a first crack at design.  What is the invitation for each day? How will we invite people in, invite them to stay in, create the space for what they want to do and the opportunity for them to reflect on what they will do when they leave.  It is at this point I often notice the energetic threads weaving amongst the team.  People connecting more deeply.  Similar thoughts and ideas emerging at the same time.  Laughter in the room as synchronicities show up.  The awareness we have tapped a deeper place.

We take a look at what we’ve crafted.  Identify day hosts, hosting opportunities, coaching opportunities.  We invite hosting team members to offer where they most want to play.  We step in where we know our wisdom, knowledge and learning will most serve and we look for balance in the offerings.  We create a field of caring and intention and we prepare ourselves to welcome the larger group in the same open hearted invitation instilled with curiosity and generosity.

As a team, we stay tuned into and aware of each other in subtle and obvious ways.  We continue to invite each other’s brilliance and to support each other.  We work with the ebb and flow of individual and collective energy and know that we have each other’s backs. We ask for what we need and offer what we can. We invite each other.  We check in at the beginning of the day and we check out at the end of the day.  Openly.  Honestly.  Speaking what is in our hearts, minds and awareness.  Tuning in to what is in the space.

I don’t know if this is a recipe for hosting team success.  I know it’s been working in the places I’ve been and in the teams I have the pleasure of being in learning with.  I am certain there are other ingredients, other recipes that work equally well and will continue to be in co-learning and inquiry to continue to grow my own capacity to support hosting team success.

A question very much alive every time we step into a team, those we’ve worked with before and those we are working with for the first time is: what is the humility, generosity, open heartedness and also the brilliance that needs to be present and available in me, in each of us and collectively that supports the environment of co-learning in service of the field we are entering and committed to holding?

“Until recently”…. a Very Simple Strategy

“Until recently, my office was really cluttered.  Now, I’m in the process of organizing it.”

“Until recently, even though I liked you and wanted to be in touch, I was a little afraid of you.  Now, I promise to stay in touch because I’m no longer afraid of the questions you’ll ask.”

“Until recently, I didn’t know how to approach difficult conversations.  Now, I’m learning strategy and gaining courage.”

“Until recently, I was just walking through the experience of my life because I was afraid of my emotional response.  Now, I’m living into it. And, it’s not as scary as I imagined it to be.”

“Until recently, I was struggling.  Now, I’m feeling more flow and a smoother road ahead.”

It is a simple little strategy that, until recently, I hadn’t heard about.  But, now that my friend Robert Newman from Columbus Ohio shared it with me when I saw him in June, I’ve been using it and I’ve been sharing it with my coaching clients.

One of the aims of coaching is to become aware of old patterns that no longer serve and awaken new patterns that serve us better, generating greater self awareness, one of the goals of hosting self in the Four Fold Practice.  It is really easy to get stuck in the story of what was instead of engaging the story  or the future we want to invite, the one that shifts the shape of our world and our interaction in it intentionally in the direction we envision, the way we want to show up for ourselves and in relation to other people.

It invites a gentle noticing: “until recently this is the way it was” – and it invites an intentionality: “now, this is what I choose. ” There is no harshness, no self judgment but a delightful invitation to choice.  To choose a better feeling story and invite ever increasing better feeling results.  It is like a mantra and a habit that can be remembered mid sentence in an old pattern:” I don’t keep in touch very…” pause, notice… “until recently, I wasn’t very good at staying in touch. Now, I’d like to set up a regular pattern of calls”.

It invites lightness into whatever it is we want to shift and grows the potential we will create the shift we want.  Try it.  Recently, I have discovered it is a very simple yet effective strategy.

Turning to Each Other in this Time of Chaos

My news does not, for the most part, come from mainstream media.  Long ago I stopped reading the papers and watching TV news.  Far too depressing and non-constructive.  My news comes from other sources like the Art of Hosting listserve that I am part of (and you could be too, if you aren’t already) as well as other social media like Facebook and Twitter.  I am grateful to these sources and the friends I know in each of these media for the sharing of stories and events that show us all the courage, humanity, connection and community that we all know exists beneath and beyond the news coverage.

Government and related agencies, politicians, the news media do not know what to do.  They do not know how to respond to the mounting chaos in their countries and their communities.  They do not have answers – we all know this – and they are afraid to admit it, so rely on strategies that not only don’t work but actually contribute to making the situation worse (beefing up police presence as an example).  As one person from England suggested on the AoH listserve, wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone in a position of authoritative leadership would be able to see, voice and make more visible the larger patterns that are at work. Borrowing from his posting:

“We must now ask deeper questions. Why do so many young people believe it is alright to cause such destruction and distress in their communities? Whether it is ‘copycat’ activity or not, why is it happening? What does ‘community’ mean to each of us?  Across the country people are self organising, they are meeting in groups and cleaning the streets. Leaders are emerging. People are talking to each other. This is true community.”

If we are not seeing the kind of leadership we know is needed from our formal leaders, how do we continue to do this work in all the places we, ordinary people all over the place,  show up and influence where we can.  Let’s not undervalue our own systems of influence or own readiness to do what we know works – even if this is “simply” holding space, holding intention, infusing with love the situations and people we know about and the stories that touch us deeply – no matter where they or we are.

I read all the posts on what’s happening in London, Spain, Greece, Egypt, the US and other places from the perspective of ordinary citizens, friends and colleagues around the world who see the human story as it evolves, who sharpen their awareness of the relational field and the growing power to effect large scale systemic change from this place as well as individual one-on-one relationships – holding heart break and growing open heartedness, even in the chaos.  I share these stories with people I know who are not part of or even aware of these conversations.  It makes people hopeful.

My own hopeful heart continues to expand for every post I read.  There is a lot of trauma in this time but if that is what we, the world, needs to be able to see just how much the systems we have created or supported or just lived in do not work for us anymore, then we need to go through this to get to what lies on the other side.  I am imagining, working toward and living into a world and systems that emanate out of love, loyalty and community in the relational field because if we cannot turn to each other in our joy and our agony, there is no one else.  If we cannot turn to each other, we will not create systems that support life and resilience, courage and vibrancy.  If we do not turn to each other, we will live only in fear and isolation that propagates more of what we don’t want.

Everyday I experience encounters with people who are more and more ready to turn to each other, more and more ready to understand life as more than just the physical components that we see, more and more ready to embrace uncertainty and live into resilience, more and more ready to open their hearts in a time when the media reported news events might cause us to want to close our hearts and shut down, more and more ready to be intentional about shifting the shape of the world.  I am holding space for the courageous, the open hearted, the heart broken, the resilient, the cracks, openings and invitations.  I am working and writing where I can in support of a future I want to see emerge out of the chaos we are in these days.

From my heart breaking, open hearted journey to yours.

Training together for clarity, love and courage in 2010

This New Year’s Eve posting has been evoked by my friend Chris Corrigan.  He said: “Let’s let this next decade be one where we train together in clarity and love. The fierce love of courage and maturity that it takes to bring peace in the world, in our collective and individual realms.”

The shape of the world is shifting and never more so than right now.  We all bear witness to it.  Some of us focus on the doom, gloom and fear of it.  Some of us focus on the hope inspired by passionate, creative people of all ages who are awake or waking up to the notion that we are all connected and that what I do as an individual, no matter how small or localized, really does make a difference.

If we inspire one other person by the way we live our life, by our optimism, by our hope, by our actions, that will have been enough.  But the hidden, still yet to be fully discovered story in all of this is what Paul Hawkins speaks of in Blessed Unrest.

We are part of a movement that is greater and deeper than we know or can know.  This movement is flying under the radar of the media and mass culture so far.  It is a shared understanding arising spontaneously – everywhere and across all boundaries all at the same time.  It is a civil rights movement, a human rights movement, a democracy movement, a social and environmental movement.  It is marked by kinship, community and symbiosis. It has no center and no one spokesperson. It is humanity’s immune response and it continues to grow.

As it grows it is beginning to see itself more.  People from around the world are beginning to connect in both the obvious and the strangest places – Copenhagen, list serves, FaceBook – in person and through social media.  There is a heightened sense of it coming out of Copenhagen as more and more people become aware of the need to take responsibility and act – rather than let our fate wait in political speak and negotiations.

I think the characteristics of this movement are exactly what Chris said – The fierce love of courage and maturity that it takes to bring peace in the world, in our collective and individual realms.

We all need to be warriors in this training ground of clarity, love and courage.  This is my call to action for 2010.  I’ll be there.  Will you?


Leadership Means Crossing a Threshold

The Indo-European root of the word lead and leadership (leith) means to go forth, to cross the threshold or to die.

The challenges we face in the world right now – the big world or our own smaller worlds – are pressuring us to see differently, to sharpen and deepen our attention and to cultivate  our capacity to shift the inner place from which we operate – the place of presencing in Otto Scharmer’s U Theory.

So, why is it that so many of us – leaders in our organizations and our communities – protest the investment of a few days completely away to engage in stillness or reflective practices that enable and build the capacity to see and then cross the inner threshold that shifts the shape of individuals, organizations and communities? And, why are those of us who see the need and know the benefit reluctant to specifically request or recommend this to other leaders we know?

Have we fallen into the trap of limiting beliefs – believing it is not possible to invest this time, that people won’t make the investment or commit the time or that it truly is impossible for leaders to turn off the electronics and their accessibility even for a few days?

Is this a blind spot we need to illuminate?  Is this a reflection of the inner landscape that needs to shift in order to be available to the future that is wanting to happen?

Our awareness and our consciousness determines the qualities of our actions and results.  In Theory U,  Scharmer asks: How can we renew our culture so that every human being is considered a carrier of a sacred project: the journey of becoming one’s authentic self?

As long as we aren’t ready to face and confront the inner abyss, we will stay stuck in the patterns of thinking, behaviour and action that have generated our current results, results that many agree do not support the sustainability of the earth or our current lifestyle – on an individual and collective basis.

If we could truly see the value of shifting the shape of our inner world, knowing it would allow us to cross the threshold into a more integrated way of being with a more responsive capacity to work successfully with the institutional and systemic crises we are faced with, wouldn’t even a significant amount of time – not just days but weeks or months, on an annual basis – become a worthwhile investment?

What is the renewal of hope and inspiration needed to compel us into this pursuit of the sacred project – the journey of becoming one’s authentic self – to understand that as our inner self shifts  we build the capacity, individually and collectively, to tune into, more frequently and in greater numbers, the future that wants to live through us, more becomes possible and maybe our very future depends on it.