Growing Hosting Artistry – Deepening Personal Hosting Practice

It is now six weeks since we gathered at Riverwood in Minnesota for the first offering of Growing Hosting Artistry.  We have been reflecting on the experience and there are multiple levels of harvest to offer out and to build on.  This is the first.

art supplies

Growing Hosting Artistry arose in response to a deep need expressed in the expanding Art of Hosting community for a next level offering of practice or inquiry.  This comes from the desire to delve more deeply into the patterns beneath the patterns and from the questions that a typical three day AoH training does not have time to touch, particularly now that so many of the trainings are non-residential and because the body of knowledge we draw on has grown significantly over the last decade.

Black and white pattern

In preparing the initial invitation, the hosting team discerned from the many conversations we were having both with those new to AoH and with long time, skilled practitioners that there were a few topics of inquiry that consistently came up.  These topics were identified as:

The biggest inquiry related to these topics was, “How do I, as a host, deepen my hosting practice so I can work skilfully in all kinds of situations, including the increasingly complex and challenging work I am being called into in my organization, community or the larger system?”  For some, it was large scale, long term work and for others it was localized in a team or organization but the hunger for greater depth of practice was clear.

The topics identified resonated with the participants who represented the diversity of experience in our AoH community – from never having been to an AoH training, to just recently having attended an AoH training, to being a skilled practitioner, to being a steward. They came from all over the US, from Canada and from Australia.  We heard from the participants, and many other colleagues who were drawn to the invitation but could not come, that they saw themselves in the invitation no matter what the form of their work.

We offered, for the first time, a deeper exploration into container setting and we are still working on visuals that will aid us in how to approach this practice. It will be shared in a subsequent harvest.  The exploration of shadow provided excellent learning reference points and we are exploring how to generate the most useful and powerful conversations that highlight our experiences and show us explicit ways to hold the field when various aspects of shadow are present.  The inquiry into worldview helps us understand our own worldview, how it impacts how we host and how being curious about the worldview of those we host and are hosting with creates a generative space where more becomes possible and new narratives truly can emerge.

Most participants were interested in being hosted as they hosted themselves (not in contributing to hosting). Many – more than we were expecting – were also looking for a personal retreat to be in a reflective space about their hosting, their work and even their lives. Inviting people into this space of reflection brought into the space the diversity of personal experiences that often shows up – from excitement and eagerness to resistance and everything in between.  This was apparent as everything from an immediate transformative experience for some, to agitation and questioning from others, to a slow burn towards the end goal, showed up during our time together.  Everyone was impacted, each in their own ways, and some profoundly.  Many spoke about the quality of space that was held for their personal hosting journey and story to emerge in new ways.

Immediately following Growing Hosting Artistry we heard stories of how some had been impacted.  We are evaluating this offering and did a baseline survey as we began, another survey at the end of our time together and are set to do a two month follow up evaluation as we follow the stories of the people who were there, what has changed for them as hosts as what they learned or discovered settles into them and into their work.

Growing Hosting Artistry is working with and discovering patterns for this next level inquiry that is calling so many of us.  We are working on the next two offerings – one for Canada (likely Halifax) and one for Australia (likely Melbourne) as we continue to discern the patterns that support each of us in our next levels of AoH skill, application and artistry.

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

What is art without technique and is technique alone really art?  When people ask us about “the art” part of hosting, our response is often that you need to be in the practice to grow your artistry and maybe there is a way to be even more intentional about this.  This is part of what has evoked the offering of Growing Hosting Artistry  by the team of Jerry Nagel, Stephen Duns, Dave Ellis, Roshanda Cumming and me.  We are in the desire to be in a learning journey with others about how we do this – how we grow our skill, grow our artistry – to prepare for and rise to that which is  calling us into deeper and more challenging work.

art supplies

Awhile ago, I’d been in a beautiful reflection after a delicious conversation with my good friend and partner Jerry Nagel. We were discussing upcoming work in California, Brazil and Minnesota 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 the work we were going to do in Brazil in Hosting From a Deeper Place with two Brazilian friends, and definitely applies to the purpose of this latest offering of Growing Hosting Artistry.  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 over a thousand people have been to an Art of Hosting training in the last couple of years with some stepping into a deeper journey 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 we often hear, “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.

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 growing 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?

(Originally published at Shape Shift on August 12, 2012)