The Power of Vision, Activating Blood Memories and an Ask for What’s Needed

Ten years ago, while in her mid-twenties, Pawa Haiyupis attended her first Open Space Technology training, meeting for the first time good friend and colleague Chris Corrigan who became a mentor. Unbeknownst to Pawa at the time, a vision began to take root: a vision of First Nations youth connecting back to elders and the land, bringing back ceremonies like rites of passage, naming and grieving ceremonies, language; essentially activating blood memories.  We know when blood memories have been activated because we get little energy shivers in our bodies; the more powerful the activation, the stronger the shiver but even subtle little activations can have profound impact that reverberate in our awareness.

Four years ago, Pawa began working for the National Centre for First Nations Governance (NCFNG) out of British Columbia, with a focus on youth leadership.  During this time she also stepped more deeply into her own leadership journey through Art of Hosting and Warrior of the Heart, including a journey a year ago to Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe.

Her vision grew and began to take tangible form with the development of a Nation Rebuilding project piloted in the First Nations community of Membertou in Nova Scotia this summer focused on helping young people, ages 14-19, learn about identity and belonging, reactivating their creation stories, inviting the ancestors through ceremony and a traditional territories tour to guide this process. A combined Warrior of the Heart/Art of Hosting training was identified as an essential component of this work because it cultivates the conditions for emergence based on what each Nation knows.

A hosting team of Pawa, myself, Bob Wing and Sarah MacLaren converged for this exciting work with 50 youth from Membertou, actively supported by up to 20 elders in the community as well as the young team from NCFNG.  In the middle of the 4 week Nation Rebuilding project, NCFNG’s funding was cut by the Harper government, potentially putting this work in jeopardy.  Except for the questions asked by the Membertou Governance Committee about how to make this work despite the funding cuts.  Except for the hosting team deepening their dedication to this work by agreeing to volunteer these four days of their time.  Except for the strong vision that Pawa and her team have been cultivating for years that refuses to be drowned out by resistance that shows up in the form of funding cuts and seems to now have taken on its own force independent of the individuals who first dreamt what was possible.  As one member of the team said, “The work will continue because the ancestors are strong and we are strong… we can make it work because its in our hearts.”

Pawa turned to a circle of “Eagles”,  stewards of the Art of Hosting, who are at our backs holding the rim of our circle with us, to ask for help.  She wrote:

“I email you all with a heart request to help financially to keep the movement going and help bring this work to Indigenous youth in Membertou, Cape Breton Island NS.  I know that financially at this time the world is in chaos. It is easier to give up which is precisely why I want to move this work forward. It is these practices (art of hosting and warrior of the heart) that help us lead in complex times with courage. It’s what is needed most. If the only thing the Emerging Leadership team does this year is finish this PILOT to be inclusive of art of hosting and warrior of the heart, it sets this work up to happen again in the future.

“It is crucial that the art of hosting and warrior of the heart be included in the Emerging Leadership Program for reasons that you all know, it works when changing systems. The government cut NCFNG’s funding drastically days before the scheduled training was to take place. Training that I have been waiting years to happen. Either the art of hosting gets cut from the program or we find alternative resources to make it happen. This is where you come in. Eagles, with vision. We honour you by asking for help.”  Pawa also made the initial personal contribution offer of $450 toward expenses of about $3,000 which includes Bob’s travel from Colorado.

The Eagles have been responding with small and large offers of financial support and adding their individual and collective consciousness to this work which may set a pattern for what is possible in First Nations communities across Canada.  We are broadening the call for support to the larger community.  If you feel called, if you sense the power and possibility of activating blood memories, you could offer financial support here WiseActions.net and whether you can offer financial support or not, your holding this work from where you are and adding your conscious powerful intention for the highest good of the work, the people and the hosting team are all meaningful contributions.

In the words of one of the eagles:

“Pawa, yes certainly, to offer what I can here.  When the revolution comes ( and it wont be televised) we will go kindly to Ottawa, sit the treasury board in a circle and pass the feather til the wisdom of mutual stewardship becomes our national fiscal policy….  ….until then I take this an an investment in the leadership needed to see that day…”

The last 2 weeks of this program are being combined into one.  We will incorporate hosting and Warrior of the Heart with a traditional territories tour, naming ceremonies and community celebration.  We will host and be hosted.  As a hosting team, the work we have been pulled into is shifting literally by the minute.  We will be called upon to be highly present, tapped in, resilient and resourceful to the fullness of our capacity as we hold this space with the people of Membertou.

The response of the Eagles has already astounded the good people of NCFNG and of Membertou who are interested by and curious about this generosity of spirit from people they do not know.  The response is also showing pathways to what’s possible when we think we don’t have money or other resources to do what is calling to be done.  We are more resilient and powerful than that and we have abundant resources available when we turn to look and when we continually offer prayers to the ancestors and ourselves in service of their bidding.

This work of and in Membertou is another of the illustrations of how resilient we are as human beings, responding to the vision of what’s possible in the world.  It is a time of quiet revolution and we are shifting the shape of the world as we know it.

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.

“Soft Skills” – A Real Misnomer!

Ask anyone.  The hardest thing we ever do is relate to other people, especially as leaders in our organizations or communities, but also in our personal relationships.  Ask anyone what the most difficult component of their job is: relationships, interpersonal dynamics, people.  Ask project managers why most projects fail: inadequate communication and team members moving in different directions or having differing priorities.  Ask teams their greatest challenge: getting work done – because of interpersonal dynamics that get in the way.  Because people challenges interfere in getting the job done, slowing us down.

Empathy, leadership, communication, sociability, ability to laugh, optimism, common sense, responsibility,  integrity and motivation are some of the skills identified as soft. Somehow soft has become interchangeable with expendable so when budgets become tight the first thing to go is soft skills.

Soft skills are not about being nicey nice.  They are about creating the conditions for relationships to grow, enabling individuals and teams to engage in difficult and necessary conversations, not so we can all live in some kind of utopia but in service of getting work done, achieving results, having impact, shifting systems, seeing possibility, opening to emergence.  We do our best work with people we like, people we care about and people we love.  We have our greatest resilience in systems that care. We reach our highest potential in supportive environments that encourage growth.  We take our greatest risks when we know someone will help us up and dust us off when we fall so we can all be ready for what’s next.

There is nothing soft about soft skills.  They require discipline, practice and self awareness.  They require risk and letting go of control, trusting others to step up and in when we create the space for them to do so and they require discernment about what is the right amount of leadership, coaching and support required to allow teams and individuals the highest possibility of growth and contribution.

One of the reasons I gravitate to the Art of Hosting Body of Knowledge is because of the emphasis on creating the field or conditions from which wise action, results and impact will flow, flowing out of a well tended relational field.

We will not shift the shape of the world only through projects.  We will shift it by paying attention to the quality of the relational field and our relationships.  The greater the quality of the relational field, the greater the power to engage in actions with such purposefulness that the shape of the world cannot help but shift.

Shifting the Shape of Climate Change

I have been following the news  of the climate change talks in Copenhagen – mostly through friends of mine who are there – with growing interest.  I have never really been a big believer that government or our political leaders are going to lead us to the solutions to the problems we face in the world – big or small.  The culture they operate in – largely one of debate, negotiation and posturing – is very entrenched and makes it particularly difficult for them to shift.

If I only paid attention to the political conversations, it would be very disparaging indeed.  However, the conversations  that most capture my attention are around inner climate change.  This is something we can all do something about – and must do something about!

This morning on Facebook, my friend Mitch Rhodes wrote: “at a gathering in Copenhagen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke about being on the winning side. With our hearts and minds we must firmly believe we are on the winning side and shift to that place with conviction and dignity. It’s an inner struggle as much as an outer struggle.”

He also posted: “Many activists/protesters have anger in their hearts. A theory U-activist holds the power of love in their heart and facilitates the emergence of a just future. Gandhi comes to mind as an example.”

I have been a proponent of Theory U since I first came across it in 2005.  I say yes to being a Theory U activist, holding the power of love in my heart.  The way to shifting the shape of the world in a conscious and intentional manner is by each of us putting our stake in the ground, changing our own thoughts and behaviours and understanding that our actions make a difference in the world and to the world – no matter how big or small.  By our thoughts and actions we will attract others who are also willing to shift and by doing so, we will build a larger and larger field of resonance for the greater shift we want to enact in the world.

Will you be lost in the apparent hopelessness of this large scale global crisis or will you contribute to healing the world (and self to as it turns out) fully, with your heart, mind and soul, firmly believing you are on the winning side, shifting to that place with conviction and dignity?  I will meet you on the winning side!