Resilience, Grief and Collective Consciousness

Human beings are remarkably resilient.  We have this amazing capacity to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get on with getting on after all imaginable and unimaginable nature of horrors, calamities, catastrophes, shocks to the system – that happen to us, to our families, our communities, our organizations, globally.   Hope really does spring eternal even though at times it is hard to access.  It’s like the grass, flower or weed that pushes it’s way through concrete to bloom again in the light of day.

I find myself in a deep contemplation of this resilience, despite, at times, overwhelming odds and continued attempts at suppression.  My contemplation of resilience is weaving together with grief and what is alive and communicated in the collective consciousness, without it being visible. This is alive and emerging for me because of work and conversations I’ve been in and over the last few months in particular.  What I write today are half formed thoughts percolating more with each conversation.

Recently I worked with a client – a department in a large organization – that has gone through a significant amount of change, restructuring, everyone applying for remaining positions and no one knowing the outcome.  This was the most recent in a series of changes.  I know I could be referring to almost any organization.  The conversation they wanted to have was how to work more horizontally in a hierarchical structure and how to be more transparent with communication.

We began with a circle, asking people what makes them hopeful.  Eleven people in the room.  Responding with a talking piece but popcorn style.  Nine spoke about what made them hopeful.  The tenth person, with tears just beginning, spoke about not having hope.  Not anymore.  Not after so much change and so little care for human collateral along the way.  The eleventh person went deeper in this vein, apologizing because she had nothing hopeful to offer.

We welcomed the tears into our circle.  Thank you for your courage and honesty.  For sharing what is alive for you in this moment.  Hearing about the hope expressed by so many was too much.  It evoked the other truth sitting in the room.  The truth of grief.  Before we knew it, many in the circle were in tears.  I was not surprised it was there.  I was a bit surprised at the depth of it.

Our organizations tend to make it hard to tell truth – not “the” truth, but the multiplicity of truths that exist in the same space.  And in change efforts, there is a tendency to just want to get it done, to move from A to B.  The fear is that if we factor in the human response, the emotional response, nothing will get done, we will be overwhelmed.  Yet not creating space for it drives it underground, like rivers under the earth that can destabilize what appears to be a solid foundation and where sink holes spring up unexpectedly.  We seem surprised when they show up, caught off guard.  I wonder why?

With this group, after welcoming tears, exploring the change curve which is predicated on the grief curve, looking at circles of influence, in just a couple of hours the group was collectively ready to turn toward the future – with collective hope and inspiration now bubbling through.  It was relatively simple though I don’t, by any means, believe or mean to say that all it takes all the time is just a couple of hours.  But I am curious about what it does take and how much more simple it likely is than we imagine through our fear and structures designed for effectiveness and professionalism.  Emotions?  Not so professional. Trying to banish them from the workplace?  Not so effective.

In a conversation with a friend after this event, she said to me, “We have forgotten how to grieve.  We think we are supposed to grieve alone, but really we need to grieve in ‘community’ – with others. Witnessing each other.  Holding space for each other.”  That’s what I witnessed with this group.  A collective experience of grief that showed up differently for each person.  Those better off feeling excited about opportunity but afraid to speak it knowing others were worse off.  Those worse off afraid to speak their disappointment and disillusionment Almost everyone experiencing some kind of survivor guilt after so many left.

For me, it sparked reflections on the grief embedded in collective consciousness.  I am by no means an expert on collective consciousness.  I understand it is “how an autonomous individual comes to identify with a larger group or structure.  It implies an internal knowing known by all, or a consciousness shared by a plurality of persons.”  Most of it is not conscious or articulated but it becomes visible through the patterns which show up over time – even embodied in individuals. It seems to show up in lineages.  I have witnessed the pain and grief of generations no longer alive in their descendants who were not even alive at the time of the harm – the pain and grief as alive as the time it happened, as in the people it happened to.  It makes me deeply curious about how this is possible, what it takes to release the grief, to open the space for healing?  I don’t have the answers of course.  But I yearn for the spaces where this can happen. Where we can show up with curiosity, with compassion, humility and grace allowing despair, sorrow, grief and pain to come in – the grief alive in this moment, the grief alive in the lineage from days gone by without resolution, yet.  Seeking the ways love, joy, delight, happiness can co-exist – in each of us, in how we show up, in our lineages too.

It brings me back to resilience. Everyday resilience as we arise each morning and go about our day, our lives, our business with varying degrees of success, the resilience of families, of generations, of communities and of our organizations.  I am in awe.  I am relieved.  I am inspired.  Feeling the call, as always, to perpetuate resilience, perpetuate hope.  To boldly, or quietly, bring my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people, to evoke and invite that in others.

This is the call that invites so many of us to continue to dive deeper into the journey of personal transformation and the call, by the way, to Hosting from a Deeper Place, the Art of Hosting the Subtle, in Brazil at the end of February 2013.

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.  If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.  Truly the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” Lao Tzu

As we each do our own healing work, we contribute to healing in the collective consciousness.  But what more becomes possible when we do this work in community – with each other?  This is one of the questions I carry everywhere I go.

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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?

Art of Hosting – Universal or Not?

When people ask me if I do “this” for a living, the answer is, of course, yes. But they don’t really know what they are asking.  They are asking about what they are witnessing or experiencing in this given moment – a specific Art of Hosting training, a planning process, a team building session, a leadership development training, a community engagement process, a World Café or any other range of possibilities and possible places I might be invited to host or show up in.  And this is not just true for me.  It is true for many of my good friends and colleagues who are in this work.

It is a matter of what you see is what you get and what you get is far more than what you see. Going away from any of these singular events thinking this is it, that you know what it is, that you know it, is an easy assumption to make – and it misses the point.  It often seems so simple, often seeming to flow easily and effortlessly, even in groups or situations where tension or conflict has been evident.

Yet, when people get the “behind the scenes” invitation through being on a hosting team or a design and delivery team for a training or for client consulting work, they will often say that is where the real learning starts.  They begin to see what we mean when we say that 80% of the work happens before we ever get in the room.  It is also why some of us believe in being as transparent as possible in our process.

These days, when I describe the Art of Hosting to people, I’ve been borrowing from Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute because I love the clarity and simplicity with which he speaks it.  As a set of patterns and practices to work with complexity, that invites non-judgment or curiosity and generosity of spirit, of listening.  It invites us to be present, to stay in the place before the knowing until clarity, and knowing from a different place and quality, emerges – all of us and especially the hosting team.  We believe that conversations matter and good conversation leads to wise action and different results.

I am in deep reflection about the universality of art of hosting patterns and practices and the trap we set for ourselves if we believe universality equals one map, one path, one way to do it.  Overlay the successful work of one organization or one training on everything as if that was THE way to do it.  There is no one way to do it, no one practice or pattern that responds to everything.

It is the variety of hosting situations I’ve been in recently that have me in this deep reflection.   In Palo Alto in August 2012 for the first Art of Hosting training in California.  High tech, consultants to high tech, social innovators and a few pastors in the room.  Wanting to do business better.  In the Phillips Community of South Minneapolis in September 2012 with a remarkedly culturally diverse group of people, many of whom are community activists. Wanting to live in community together better. In Nova Scotia, also in September, working with a brand new charity Nourish NS responding to the need for a new structure for the delivery of breakfast programs in schools, birthed a year ago and still in it using the chaordic stepping stones, birthed out of need, chaos, confusion and pain.  In Fredericton in October 2012, a little AoH taster to sense into the need, opportunity and timing in that province for a second Art of Hosting training there, responding to themes of social change and community engagement.

Very different situations.  The “art of hosting” “worked” in each one.  I use quotations to remind myself that even what I’m writing about is nebulous and that the words evoke certain images, assumptions and expectations as I use them and you read them.

In California, knowing that getting people in the room required us to think very strategically about what would attract them, working with the calling team to find language that bridged Art of Hosting and business; finding that language that invites is a common practice and part of the invitation process no matter where we go.  Working with the concerns of the calling team about whether this group would sit still long enough to experience a deep circle, to dive into a three day process and stay present.  Yes, they wanted to get to action.  And they wanted to meet each other human to human, wondering how to do that in a world that does not always invite the human to human exchange.

In the Phillips Community, when we asked the people who came where they are from, beyond where they live, you could feel the ripples out into the world and then even more ripples when we asked them where their ancestors are from, circling the globe. Coming together to address tensions and violence in the community, their community, to imagine the kind of community they want to create, they want to live in, together.  Finding their way past commonality and past difference.  Human to human.  Getting to action that has the potential to shift the dynamic of their community, co-creating through new quality of relationship and understanding.  Practicing generosity with each other.

For Nourish NS, deep in a question of how to shift their shape from the “kitchen table” to the “board room”, grow their board, grow their capacity as an organization, adhere to Revenue Canada charitable guidelines and maintain the culture they have been intentionally cultivating over the last year or more that is creating an organization that looks different, feels different and invites people into a different experience.  Living their mandate.  Living their principles.  Prototyping how to be and work together and knowing they are in an experiment with clear deliverables, creating decision trees and governance structures to bring clarity and still allow emergence and nimbleness of response.

In Fredericton, a beautifully diverse group of people from the Department of Health, Renaissance College, students, city councilors, the provincial government, university professors, community activists.  Just three hours to dive into what might be possible with Art of Hosting and feeling like we had just begun a three day training but now everyone needed to go home percolating the vast array of questions we invited into the room about social change and community engagement.  Not leaving it nice and tidy, wrapped up in a bow with all the answers. Leaving it in the messiness that invites curiosity, invites exploration, invites a deeper dive together to discover what some of the answers might be.

AoH is only “universal” because it is adaptable, responsive, tuned into who’s coming, what their questions are, who and what shows up in the space, guided by a deep sense of purpose.  Tuning into the ebb and flow of patterns, energy in the room or field in which we are operating, cultivating emergence, leaning into what is wanting to show up in the space – not a set agenda, not a beautiful power point presentation, not all the answers or solutions but a living, breathing individual and collective experience.

In November, I’m invited back to Minnesota to go into another community experiencing many of the same challenges as the Phillips Community.  The core hosting team of four of us will be together again with some of the members of our apprenticing team and more people from the local community.  Our biggest mistake would be to assume that because we did it once well in the Phillips community that now we know what to do.  Of course, we have some beautiful learning from the Phillips community and from our individual and collective experiences from all the places we go.  But the only way we will really know what is needed the next time is to sense into the need and opportunity, the people who are coming, where they are from, the questions they bring, the hopes we are discerning and allow a purpose that is relevant to that work to emerge, let it guide the pattern we identify for the work of the days we are together and then be prepared to let it all go as people show up, we meet them where they are, see more deeply the questions, experiences and aspirations and let that guide what wants and needs to happen there.

I know from where I travel in the world, from the conversations I have, that AoH is universally applicable. But if we stop at that statement then we truly miss how this is so.  It is not the practices, frameworks, methodologies or even the patterns.  It is our ability as a hosting team to continuously sense into what is there, be prepared to let go of any of our own notions of what needs to happen, co-design on the fly from our individual and collective experience, wisdom and knowledge and to be responsive to all that shows up – the tension, the beauty, the joy, the humanness, the messiness and then work with the patterns, practices frameworks and methodologies to co-create the conditions to allow us to go deeply and well into the places waiting to be called forth.  There is a reason why it is called the Art of ….

Anyone who’s ever been to more than one well hosted gathering will tell you, it’s different every time.  And if that hasn’t been your experience, maybe you need to become curious about why that was so, challenge your own knowing and prepare to dive deeper into your own learning – or co-learning – because we are in it together.