There’s a Reason Why It’s Called The “Art of …”

What is art without technique and is technique alone really art?  “Art” could mean art as it evokes the image of artwork but, really, it is much broader than that –  dance, fitness, sport, yoga, meditation, music, hosting, the work we are in.

I’ve been in a beautiful reflection after a delicious conversation recently with good friend and hosting colleague Jerry Nagel. We were discussing upcoming work in California, Brazil and Minnesota and just after he’d been listening to an interview with Rosanne Cash. She spoke about working with her muse – the muse being the source of inspiration for creative work.  She said she works with her muse all the time.  All the time.  Not just sometimes.  All the time.  A discipline.  A practice.   In little whispers along the way and in more structured forms.

She also noted how performing in front of an audience is not a one-way street although she used to think that early on in her performing career.  Now she knows through experience there is an energetic exchange between the performer and the audience.  Tuning into the energetics.  Fuelling and being fuelled.

My conversation with Jerry started with a curiosity about how working with the muse relates to our work in Brazil at the end of October: Hosting From a Deeper Place with two Brazilian friends, and the purpose of that gathering.  Perhaps it is about how we each individually work with and cultivate our muse, our source of inspiration.  How we move technique to art or if we are already in art, how we grow our artistry in our work and life? Because it is a practice.  It is a discipline.  It is not just present some of the time.  It is present most or all of the time.

We then moved into an exploration of what we do in Art of Hosting trainings, in our work with clients and what’s happening in the field in Minnesota where hundreds of people have been to an Art of Hosting training in the last year or two and some are stepping into a deeper journey to be a trainer but wondering really, what is the path to artistry and what does it take to get to the field beyond good technical skill?

People will often say they come to an Art of Hosting training for a technique – like World Cafe or Open Space Technology.  Or, as some like to say, “to expand their tool kit”.  And technique, particularly good technique, is fundamentally important to what we do and what we offer.  We need to know and practice the foundation or the fundamentals to get good.  An artist practices technique – whether with paint, music chords, performance basics, fitness basics.  I wonder if artists talk about expanding their took kit or if they talk about growing their craft?

Most of us don’t just sit down at a piano and have beautiful music come out unless we are some sort of musical prodigy.  Nor would we expect that.  We would expect, if we were inspired enough, to learn the foundations and know that after we learn the foundation then we have the opportunity to become more and more intricate with the music, the style, the mix of technique.

Some never move into artistry from being a technician and, for sure, not everyone must. However, there is a quality we can observe, hear or sense, that lets us know when we are listening to music from a good technician and when we are listening to music from an artist.  It comes from the heart, from the soul.

It seems to come when we can relax in the technique and live in the art – just as true in hosting work as any other kind of artistry.  Art  bolstered by working with the muse all the time.  Even, maybe especially, when we are not working with groups, we are working with the muse.  Developing a discipline of practice. The practice is the work.  The practic is holistic – involving fitness, health, spiritual and personal practice that allows us to know ourselves – the first fold in the four fold practice – hosting self, being present.  The more we know ourselves, really know ourselves, in addition to the solid foundation of knowing the technique, the more we dip into artistry.

The difference between being a technician and an artist is subtle and dramatic at the same time.  It is something we sense but can’t always name.  It is tuning into this energetic exchange between host and hosted.  Sensing what is there rather than looking for it.  In the looking for it we sometimes miss what’s really there.  In tuning in, we sense the subtleties in the room, in the energy that is present that requires hosting in quiet and/or more obvious ways.  We become like a well tuned instrument.  And it can take years of intentional practice for this to happen.

I am aware in my summer of presencing, where I have not been hosting groups, I have continued to be in the work, practice, discipline of hosting myself – with new levels of awareness and new patterns of joy emerging.  When I begin co-hosting groups again in a couple of weeks, I know in the depths of being, it will come with a whole new level of presence.

With practice, the discipline begins to call on the host.  Time to exercise.  Time to meditate.  Time to invite a conversation – to host and be hosted.  Time to be curious.

Hosting from a deeper place is what happens as we move beyond being good technicians into artistry.  There’s a reason why, when we name a training, workshop or intensive, we often call it the “art of…” The first or surface invitation is into technique and process.  The deeper invitation is into practice and discipline that tips us over into artistry, the understanding of the deeper patterns, the energetic architectures and sensing into the subtleties that show intervention points that are much harder to grow awareness or understanding of when we are in the technical learning of our craft.  It is why one art of hosting training does not a practitioner make.

Technical competence and expertise?  Yes we need it.  It builds a strong foundation.  Artistry?  Where and how does your soul call you into your hosting artistry and what are the subtleties you notice – in others, in yourself – as you tip over?  What muse inspires you to deeper places in your being and invites you to bring more of who you are to what you do?  What journey do you need to embark on to host for a deeper place?

“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.

Explaining Art of Hosting for Beginner’s Wanting to Know What It Is

Every place we go has its own tone, texture and timing.  It is part of what makes Art of Hosting – or in the case of California in August 2012, the Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation – so hard to define. “We” being whatever configuration of hosting and calling team has coalesced around an identified need or opportunity.  Every training is different because every place is different, every group that responds to the call is unique.

People who are just coming across Art of Hosting want to know, what is it?  One way to think of it is, at its core, a set of patterns and practices that help us be successful in complex circumstances.  Developing skill in using these patterns and practices is particularly helpful now at a time when long term strategic planning doesn’t work anymore (if it ever did) because we don’t know and can’t predict what ten, five or even two years down the road will look like.  One thing many of us have a growing awareness of is that what has worked in the past – strategies, practices, principles – doesn’t seem to work anymore – if it ever did.

The world is providing us with increasing complexity – in the environments in which we operate, our communities and in our organizations, especially as things seem to move faster and faster.  Social innovation is a response to this increasing complexity.  Rigid protocols have limited application in complexity.  Complexity calls for a different set of leadership skills – skills that tune in and are responsive to emergent circumstances.  Complex systems share behaviours that cannot be explained by their parts.  This requires a different set of frameworks to see and understand it.  In the Art of Participatory Leadership we draw on world view, chaordic path, divergence/convergence, the 2 loops of systems change, theory U and other frameworks as lenses through which to think about complexity and social innovation.  Social innovation looks for an alignment of circumstances that makes action possible – the relationship among elements.

One of the names we use for this type of experiential learning is the Art of Participatory Leadership because it also calls forth a new set of leadership skills required to deal with complexity and social innovation, quite different from how we think about traditional leadership.  Participatory leadership focuses on participation and engagement strategies, knowing from experience there is wisdom and knowledge that exists within a group, a team, an organization, a system.  When we make it visible in a group, it moves into the realm of collective wisdom, knowledge and understanding leading to a different kind of action and ultimately different results.

Participatory leadership  connects well in high pressure situations. Some of its core characteristics are curiosity or non-judgement, staying in the space of not knowing, generosity or openness, a belief that conversations matter and that good conversation leads to wise action.

It is not a quick fix or a magic bullet for problems that have existed and have been evolving over long periods of time.  However, there are often very immediate results for individuals as they examine and reflect on their own leadership practices.  This is also why we encourage teams to participate so they have a new common language and are more able to hold each other accountable to create a path of behaviour change and organization practices that will be sustainable.

A core element of the Art of Participatory Leadership is for each of us to deepen our own capacity to effect transformation – in ourselves and in a complex world.

Where have these practices and patterns been used? In community, private sector, academia, healthcare, and educational settings as well as social change efforts around the world.  The stories are only just beginning to be documented because many of us have been deep in the work rather than the writing about the work.  Stories are alive in Nova Scotia, Ohio, Minnesota, Europe and Brazil and many, many more places.

Art of Hosting is also a global self-organizing community of practitioners who use these integrated participative change processes, methods, maps, and planning tools (like circle practice, appreciative inquiry, world cafe and open space technology) to engage groups and teams in meaningful conversation, deliberate collaboration, and group-supported action for the common good.

The hosting and calling team for this first Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California: myself, Jerry Nagel, Ann Badillo, Sherri CannonDana Pearlman and Mia Pond will weave stories of where this work is alive in the world into these three days of co-created emergent design and process – a little taste of what we do in the world and what is possible.

Shadow Days

“Kathy,” she said to me, “You think your emotions make you weak.”

“Yeah,” that seemed self evident.

“You’re wrong,” she said.  “Learning to live into your emotional experience, be in it and learn from it will make you stronger and more powerful.”

I was highly skeptical.  She, by the way, was/is Sarita Chawla, a beautiful, elegant, graceful, powerful woman I met at ALIA in 2008 who offered to coach me.  I was skeptical but prepared to be proven wrong.  She nudged me, coaxed me and provoked me.  She made me angry and frustrated. She helped me discover the voice of my internal judge and find strategies to disempower its impact. She guided my journey from one of walking through my experience to one of living into it, learning to enquire into my emotional response to see, sense and understand what is there for me to learn.

She was right.  I am stronger, more compassionate and more powerful.  It’s been quite the journey, of course.  I am usually more serene, centered, present and calm.  Joy, delight and love are usually the emotions that dominant my day-to-day experience.

But not everyday is like that. I also have shadow days.  I can’t help but think that everyone does. That we all have days – or parts of days – where we go to deep, dark places.  The days when we are overwhelmed, when the internal judge is speaking nonsense to us about who we are or aren’t and we tending to believe it, when we are off our center, discombobulated, sad, feeling pulled in many directions or just want to let the tears flow – or perhaps we can’t stop them from flowing.

In 2009, a friend and I spent a day on the land at Gold Lake, Colorado.  Our dear friends Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea helped in the preparation for that day.  One of the things they suggested was that the sites we chose be far enough away from each other that we couldn’t see or hear each other – in the event that we wanted to cry out or wail.  At the time, there were so many other experiences that were alive for me, wailing was not one of them.

Recently, I went for a run in my neighbourhood in Bedford which took me down to the park on the water.  I needed the physicality of the run and the touch into nature, taking the time to sit on the grass, meditate and reflect while looking out over the water.  The sadness that was in me, triggered interestingly enough by the offer of a gift that I do not yet know if I will accept, was so intense that tears did flow and I had the feeling that I wanted to wail.  The intensity of emotion alive in me.  The vibrancy of experience.  Convention kept the wail in.  I wasn’t sure how other park users would respond if I gave way to such a depth of sadness and grief in a place one wouldn’t expect to encounter it. Not the tears though, I let them flow.

I’ve witnessed a lot of people cry.  One-on-one. In small and large groups.  Through processes where people are able to access their own emotional experience.   There aren’t many who can let the tears flow without apologizing for them.  One of my dreams is that we can live in a world where we no longer feel the need to apologize for our tears – such a beautiful expression of release.  I no longer apologize for mine – even when they show up in a large group experience.  I no longer try to diminish my experience but want to honour it and my passage through it.

Of course, I don’t want to be stuck in my experience either.  I want to understand the story that is alive in me that leads to the tears or the anger or the frustration or whatever else it is that is showing up.  When I understand the story I can release it, shift it or rewrite it – and I often do.  It is part of hosting myself to deeper places in my life and growing my capacity to host deeper space for others. It is part of my journey to open heartedness.

More and more, I am understanding my experience in relation to me, to own it in relation to my journey, to not project it onto others  – or blame others – who may have triggered something in me.  The people around me are a beautiful reflection of where I am in the journey – the ones who trigger things and the ones who simply mirror back the beauty of the journey and the beauty of me as I show up – usually, often, in the depth of who I have been able to access since I began the journey of understanding that my emotions are my ally and that by acknowledging them, living into them and learning from them I grow my capacity to host deep space, to host another human being, to host myself.  I am deeply grateful for the wide array of friends who reflect back to me the depth of my journey.

I am not afraid anymore.  I know vulnerability is not weakness and that strength grows when we are willing to know what is rising up in us, willing to meet ourselves in the many ways we show up, allowing ourselves to be in our power, strength and beauty, also without apology but always with compassion, humility, delight and joy.

And it is okay for some days to be shadow days.  It is part of the journey.  We all have them.  They do not make us weak.  They show us the path to strength and beauty.  I no longer feel the need to wail in this moment, but who knows what the next will show up.  I am exactly where I need to be.

Not every day is full of light.  Not every day is a shadow day either.  But facing the shadow brings light to even the darkness of those days and by becoming aware of the story that is alive in me, I can shift the shape of the story, of the day and of my life – which I have been doing story by story, day by day.

Navigating the Groan Zone is an Art

For a such a simple little concept, the divergence-emergence-convergence model we use in the Art of Hosting sure packs a punch.  It is a simple teach that can be done in 10 minutes – or longer – if time, space and the opportunity to engage others in the conversation allows.  It sheds light on design process, the groan zone and people’s experience.  Navigating the groan zone is an art form that often arises out of our ability to host ourselves well.  Stories from a recent Art of Hosting training a bit later in this post.  First a bit about the model.

Divergence-Emergence-Convergence – a simple model with an interesting challenge

The divergent phase of this model is akin to brainstorming.  We want as many ideas as possible to emerge so we can later select the best ones to develop further.  It has much broader application than brainstorming though.  It is about expansion.  It is where ideas are generated, information is collected,  issues or challenges are sensed into to gain more insight or shift perspective or simply where we holding open the space for possibilities to enter in.  It is not a time for evaluation.  We don’t need to know what we will do with the information.  We don’t even need to know whether the information is ultimately useful while we are in the divergent phase of the learning, the work, the project.

As we begin to feel overloaded, overwhelmed or uncomfortable, or we begin to question “the process”, or the leaders or hosts of the process, or we are just tired and grumbly, we are desiring understanding and often looking for convergence.  What does it all mean?  What should we do now?  When can we be done?  All questions that indicate we are near or in the groan zone.

In an effort to avoid discomfort, end discussion, or just get to the end now, we are often tempted to circumnavigate the groan zone by picking an idea, or a solution prematurely – any reasonably good one will do – and developing it into “the answer”.

Some things happen when we do this.  One is that we may miss the truly important things.  By prematurely closing a conversation, the essence or pattern of it often comes back.  We think we made a decision but the decision is questioned and we end up in a new round of conversation about things we thought were settled, growing frustration and dissatisfaction later on.  Staying with the discomfort just a bit longer might emerge a different idea or opportunity or a new understanding of where are at and why. What if we became curious about where we are instead of wanting to shut it down?  What might then emerge?  What if we ask the question, what else is going on here?  What is underneath the conversation, the unrest?

Navigating the groan zone is an art of discernment in many ways.  It is also a skill we can develop.  I recently had someone send me a note, asking me how a training was going.  The note arrived exactly in the groan zone at the end of day 2.  I thought about replying and knew it was just impossible to explain succinctly where we were in our process – unsettled, a bit disconnected as a group, unclear about what all was bubbling.  Sure enough, the next day things flowed together, the group became more cohesive and new possibilities emerged.  I had a new story to share about the groan zone and the importance of staying in it in our processes, not prematurely attempting to assess the success or failure of a conversation, a training or a process. We don’t just need to stay tuned to the groan zone, we need to be alert for convergence and good timing of it.

A couple of stories about the groan zone from recent hosting experiences.  These two stories come from the first AoH training for Rio de Janeiro in Brazil at the end of April 2012.  Two of my co-hosts (on a team of nine) were Jerry Nagel from the US and Maria Barretto from Brazil.

The first story is from the hosting/calling team.  We met, as is normal practice, the day before for our check-in and design process for the training that was in front of us.  In the couple of weeks just before the training, it filled so rapidly most of us had no idea we had reached our capacity of about 50 people in the lovely retreat centre we were at near Petropolis.  Even in this last night before we were to begin, people were sending emails saying they wanted to attend.  In the normal flux of what happens leading up to a training, some people were appearing, some were saying they couldn’t come and we were left trying to figure out what to do.  We had five people  on a waiting list.  There were two possibilities: begin the list for the next Rio AoH or refer them to an AoH that was to happen in Sao Paulo a few weeks later.  We circled around a decision several times, even as we tried to move on, but never landed.  We were clearly in the groan zone.  Maria was the first one to suggest this conversation was not about numbers, there was something deeper that maybe we needed to become curious about and pay attention to.

After two hours we agreed as a team that we would just say yes.  Full invitational energy.  You want to come?  If you can still come we will figure out how to make room.  Calls went out to the five people, three of whom showed up the next morning, two of whom had a 7 hour drive to make it happen.  What was our conversation about?  Letting go.  Inviting.  Trusting.  When we entered full invitation, we passed through the groan zone as a hosting team.  Something shifted for us. Beyond the decision itself. Into the collective space of being a team.

The second story – this time from the full group.  Day 3 of a 4 day training.  The morning is all about hosting self – embodiment, art, silence.  Not everyone is comfortable with meeting self.  We decide not do a collective harvest of the experience but to leave it with individuals.  The afternoon is Pro-Action Cafe – one of the best I’ve ever seen as my Brazilian friends take it to new levels, engaging the participants while the conversation/project hosts are reflecting on what they have learned so far.  “What does it feel like to host other people’s dreams?” is the question they ask, a question that touches me heart.

After the proaction cafe, we enter a debriefing space.  It’s been a long day.  First comments are quite positive and excited.  Then there is a shift. The comments and questions that are now coming into the space do not, in my perspective and through translation, seem to reflect the proaction cafe experience.  So, I become curious.  As I pay attention, I begin to wonder, what is the level of discomfort from the morning experience that seems to be bubbling up now?

The day before, Maria taught the divergence-convergence model, speaking about the groan zone.  In this moment, as I listen I know we are in the groan zone.  I listen for an intervention point and take the talking stick – a paint brush from the centre that many who speak are holding as if it is a microphone.  I step into the centre of the circle and begin to walk it.  I say, “Friends, yesterday Maria talked about the groan zone.  Today, now, we are in it.”

Someone says, “So we should be celebrating.”

I chuckle.  “Yes,” I respond, “We should be celebrating.” I pause, “We need to be careful that we do not assume that our individual experience is the experience of the group.  The things that really resonate with me might be the things you are most challenged by and vice versa.  This is an invitation for us to each own our own experience and to become curious.”

From here, I am not really sure where we want or need to go next.  I invite the hosting team into a transparent conversation about how we want to proceed.  There is one more thing we had been planning but we are now into the time for that process.  Things take on a life of their own and we enter into a fishbowl experience.  I’m still not sure how that happens, but we flow with what is emerging in the space.  As a host team we have a little conversation about what will serve best now.  Participants enter the fishbowl and offer their experience and their questions.  One person asks, “Why don’t you, as experts, just tell us what to do now?”  Good question.  We invite it to sit in the room with us til a bit later.

After hearing from more people one clarity emerges for me.  I  want to be sure we honour the stepping in of volunteers to host processes they had never hosted before and I feared itt was being lost in the ripples showing up in this groan zone.  The response to the question of why we didn’t just provide the answers for people?  “Looking for someone to provide the answers is a typical reaction when we are in the groan zone.  Learning to co-sense and co-learn into what is needed next is the learning edge we are all on.  An answer too soon might not be what we need at all.”  People are nodding.

As we have heard the feedback and sensed the room, I suggest maybe we need to wrap up.  One of the desires in the room is to end for the day and dance – beautiful Brazilian circle dance.  Jerry states, with a beautiful level of intensity, “I didn’t come all this way to just stop and dance now.  There is more learning to be offered.”  People around the room nod.  This is another thread very present in our space.  Maria finally suggests we wrap up for dinner and, for those who want to, we will reconvene after dinner to hear stories of where the methodologies have been used and the impact of them.  This is ultimately the path we choose.  Pretty much everyone shows up for the evening of storytelling.  There is a hunger in the room.  It is a good call.

In the middle of the groan zone we modeled how we can hold the intensity of it, offer up various points of view, and maintain integrity and depth of relationship in our field.  We feel the relief in the room and we know the tension we have been holding in this moment.  Many people later thanked us for modeling what we speak about, that it was a powerful moment for them.

The next morning, we know we need to converge well.  We invite triad conversations as a check in.  People are asked to reflect on their greatest learning and how they are going to take their learnings home.  It is a powerful convergence moment as people reflect on their experience and how to apply it.

Convergence is not necessarily something that happens half way through the process as is depicted in the diagram.  More likely it will happen 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through.  And, when we have navigated the groan zone well, it happens swiftly.

In a lot of our planning processes, I will often say they are front end loaded. If we take the time to sense into what is needed, and the time to be in conversations that take time, with the curiosity about why, we create the conditions for “magic” to happen. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a process where “magic” happens when we haven’t had to navigate the groan zone with attunement, patience and awareness.  There are ingredients that lend themselves to magic and navigating the groan zone with presence, patience and attunement are some of them.  It is sometimes the most challenging space we hold, but the rewards are bountiful when we do it well.  And whether we do it well or not, the learning is rich.

Hosting Lessons from the Field – Presence and the Four Fold Practice

It is the last morning of our 3 day Art of Hosting training in St. Paul Minnesota in mid April 2012.  We have 40 participants plus our 6 person hosting team which includes 3 apprentices. The hosting team is starting our day by checking in. Day 2 was a good example of a groan zone kind of day.  The field felt a bit disconnected from itself.  There were little rumblings here and there that had been showing up since our opening circle on Day 1 that had our attention a bit and certainly our curiosity.  At the end of Day 2 during our check out as a hosting team, we noticed some of the dynamics that seemed to be in play, felt we didn’t have enough information to make informed determinations of what may or may not be in the field and let it go as we left for the day. On this last morning, the person hosting our check-in asks, “What are you anticipating in this day?”  The question gives me pause, although I’m not sure why — until I begin to answer it.  I start with, “Well, I’m anticipating a few good conversations with individuals – some of whom have already been identified.”  I hesitate.  What else am I anticipating in this day?  What do I want to anticipate?  Ah.  That is a good question.  My clarity begins to emerge. I continue, “I don’t think I want to anticipate anything else.  We know there are some dynamics in this field.  It is not fully clear what they are so I think I don’t want to anticipate anything.  What I do want to do, is be fully present and attentive, ready to tune into whatever emerges that needs tending, but without anticipating now what that might be.” This sentiment seems to resonate for all of us on the hosting team.  An invitation into being fully present, to not speculating, to not imagining how carefully we need to tend the field for certain things.  The first of the four fold practices – being present. The Four Fold Practice is a core pattern and practice in Art of Hosting and it has been receiving renewed attention lately in our teaches and our conversations. Self hosting. Not just being nice to self by going to the spa or eating dark chocolate.  Depth. Practice.  Discipline. The discipline of practice. Meeting oneself, sometimes in places one would prefer not to meet oneself. Being present is fundamental to good hosting.  This I knew.  What happens next for us as a hosting team is what has me reflecting still on the power of presence and what it means to hosting and, more than that, for me anyway, what it means in my life. As a team we decided not to try to figure out what may or may not be going on in the room, or who was holding the threads of what dynamics, but to let it go to sense into what was alive in the moment allowing us to more powerfully engage the next two folds in the practice – participating fully in those one-to-one conversations and contributing to the larger hosting process. Following our check in, I was coaching the proaction café team.  It was a large team, a bit chaotic to start, but everyone managed to find a role that worked for them with several teams of two hosting different sections.  I went off to find the members of the team to check in with them about their role and what, if anything, they needed from me. In entering the room, I began to encounter some of the people who seemed to be holding some of the threads of discontent and disconnect that had been popping up over the previous two days.  Spontaneously.  I didn’t seek them out.  I’m not even sure they sought me out.  We just bumped into each other. In this spontaneous connection in even just five to ten minutes, a depth of human to human connection happens on the level of story, being able to see and witness some extraordinary part of an individual’s journey.  What is even more surprising is that this spontaneous connection happens for many of our host team members. What we notice alive in our field now is that the threads of discontent and disconnect seem to dissipate and disappear.  They don’t go underground as often happens when not addressed, but they seem to disparate in the depth of human connection.  People feel seen, heard and acknowledged in their journeys in unanticipated and beautiful ways. Then, the proaction café weaves people, their stories and their gifts together in a beautiful way.  Nine projects/ideas expand in delightful ways.  The conversation hosts feel gifted.  The participants also feel gifted and honoured with holding and exploring other people’s dreams, realizing the power of contribution even when not directly connected to someone else’s project. One of the roles taken on in the proaction café is the deliberate and intentional holding of space – or the energetics in the room.  Two women stand on either side of the room, visibly and silently witnessing the room and hosting space.  When we debrief, they are asked to share what they have been doing and what their experience has been.  They describe the honour of it, of seeing the weave in the room, of deliberately fueling it with positive intention and love.  Participants describe their experience of it, what they feel corresponded to what they heard from the hosts of the energetic space.  It was one of the most deliberate explorations of what are we hosting really that I have been part of. When we do our closing, as often happens, we become aware of how powerful the three days have been for many who are there.  We are reminded of the power of the groan zone and how our assessment of where we are in our process influences our interpretation of whether we are successful or not.  On a day that ends in a groan zone it doesn’t always feel on track or successful.  Seeing the convergence in the next day reinforces the beauty and possibility of the groan zone. I’ve been through enough groan zones that I should know this but it is always a renewed awareness. As we close our hosting team circle at the end of the day, we bring curiousity about what has happened and a fresh wondering about the Four Fold Practice and the power of presence to shift the shape of the field and the possibility it can shake out some dynamics without needing to dive into them.  Is that what happened?  I don’t know with absolute certainty.  That’s my continued reflection.  Will full presence always be enough to dissipate shadow on its own?  Happy to experiment more to discover – rather than anticipate the answer to that. This experience has me reflecting on hosting self, specifically myself, my life and my relationships.  How often have I said about a situation, relationship or person, “I’m optimistic that…” or “I’m not optimistic that…” What is the anticipation that gets built into those kinds of statements?  What if I just met that situation, relationship, person, myself, in the moment of the experience and not as a precursor to what might or might not be but attentive to what, if anything, needs to be tended to in this moment?  How would this ongoing presence shift the shape of my experience now, shifting the shape of my relationships and my situation? I am deeply appreciative for the question, “What am I anticipating?”  It has made me aware of how much I do anticipate and how a lot of that does not serve.  The only journey I really need to pay attention to is mine.  Another person’s journey is not really my business and is certainly not my journey. My journey intersects with others, but they don’t define mine unless I let them.  I don’t define theirs unless they let that happen. Letting go of analysis and simply tuning in at the moment supports what wants to happen rather than fuels my own anticipation of what might or might not happen, possibly feeding something that didn’t need to be fed, creating something where it might not have existed except that my/our anticipation brings it into being.  Still ruminating on this one. Powerful lessons from the field on being present.

The Voice of the Judge

There is no more powerful limiting mechanism in our lives than the voice of the judge.  I don’t mean that other person – parent, spouse, child, teacher, boss, friend, co-worker,random stranger on the street or in the shopping mall.  It’s the internal voice of judgment or internal critic that often runs rampant inside of us that we barely notice, if at all, because it is so clever and really good at disguising itself – for self preservation really.

I first became intimately acquainted with my inner judge in 2008-09 during coaching work with Sarita Chawla.  She recommended I read Soul Without Shame by Byron Brown in addition to the work we were doing together. I will forever recognize this as a pivotal point in the shifting shape of my journey.  I wrote about the voice of the judge back then in an article.  I am reviving that article here now in an updated version because it is the season of amplification.  My inner critic is activated – obvious to me because of how I feel – and I am reminding myself of strategies I already know that help to deactivate it and release its grip on me.

When I first became aware of the force of the internal judge, I had been working with the concepts of self-leadership and hosting oneself for almost as long as I could remember – still do, of course.  I worked with coaches, read books, did courses, took part in and led deep group work.  I am generally a positive, optimistic person holding deep appreciation and gratitude for much of what transpires in my life and who shows up.  I have transformed negative self talk into more appreciative forms of self talk and into periods of quiet in my mind.  I meditate and practice other forms of reflection and mindfulness.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered a voice of self judgment and self criticism that was booming loud and clear in my unconsciousness, stronger than any external voice of judgment or criticism could possibly be.  This voice constantly set the bar for my performance at the best that I had ever achieved.  The bar moved if I did better.  When I didn’t match my most excellent performance, even when I did extremely good work, this voice told me that I had failed, that I did not measure up and that I never would on a consistent basis.  Strong performance was interpreted as mediocre.  Criticisms from others, whether justified or not, was reinforced by this inner critic.

When I felt most down on myself or just down in general, this voice played a significant role – and still can in moments I feel most overwhelmed or vulnerable – until I expose it.  I didn’t actually hear it as a voice until I began to listen for it but I felt it strongly in many forms: sadness, unhappiness, melancholy, anger, listlessness, lack of motivation and many other emotional manifestations.

While I had been aware of this voice (or at least the emotions it manifested in) to some extent, I also prided myself on my journey of self-transformation and change.  Been there, got that medal, surely I must be done now, can I just get on with my life and success?  I realize now it was the voice of self judgment that said, “You’ve been doing this long enough, how come you’re not done?”

Part of the reason I had been pretty oblivious to this voice was because, in my quest to be calm and serene and professional, I skirted over my own emotional reactions.  I barely recognized I had them except in the odd instances where they overtook me.  Oh, was that an emotion that wasn’t calm and serene?  Oops.  Nope. Couldn’t have been.  It must have been something else.

Then, a friend told me I deal with my emotions intellectually.  So, I thought about that.  And I thought my friend just might be right.  Emotions don’t reside in our intellect.  They reside in our bodies.  We feel them and sense them.  We use metaphors to describe them.  We say things like, “That packed a punch!”  If we stop to notice, we will notice where it feels like we got punched.  And if we stay with that, we will begin to notice the impact.  And if we stay with it longer, we will notice the uncomfortableness and want to move onto something else.  This is where I am learning to stop.  I have learned to stay with it longer, until I can begin to discern the wisdom that is held there and that can only emerge when we give it an escape hatch to surface to the light.

It is in these moments that my voice of self judgment has come booming out at me in all of its voraciousness.  With all good intentions, all it wants to do is protect me – from failure, from being unlovable.  But its methods only serve to reinforce for me my failures, even to the extent of turning successes into failures, thus creating in my mind my own unlovability and unwantability.  I have also become aware through the Law of Attraction and the teachings of Abraham that this voice of the judge interferes with flow, abundance and allowing the full vibrancy of life.

I learned to journal in this voice.  I am astounded by the punch it does pack.  Periodically I sit and check inside of me to sense into what I’m experiencing and feeling and what the impact is.  I journal what I am sensing until I feel done.  Then I check in again to see what I am experiencing, sensing and feeling, and then journal again. And then again, if that seems required.  I am committed to going the next layer deep and the next until I feel the light flood back into my soul and I feel a lightness of spirit and of body. This is what I want to amplify in my life now.

Exposing my voice of self-judgment transmutes it into a gift of understanding and insight after which joy can once again arise and take more of the space that is its, and my own, rightful due.  Now, instead of seeing my journey as one that should be concluded and being hard on myself because it is not, I see my journey and myself with a gentleness I could not access before as it was hidden underneath the protective layer of the voice of judgment.  I have always known, intellectually, that learning and growth is a life long journey.  Now I know it and accept it with a graciousness that only comes from the light.  It is a good reminder in this season of amplification.

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.