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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Hosting Shadow

According to Jungian psychology, shadow is a part of the unconscious mind – and I would expand that to say it is part of the unconsciousness in a group’s field (team,organization, network, community).  Shadow consists of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts.  Everyone carries shadow to one degree or another.  It is part of who we are as human beings and it is part of what we collectively bring as we are in relationship with each other. It is often the underbelly of the things we love about ourselves, others, the work we do, the organizations we work in and the communities we support.  We don’t want to talk about it because we want to focus on the light and the things we love.  We want to pretend it isn’t there and in so doing we actually give it energy and life of its own.

Jung wrote, “the less shadow is embodied in an individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”  And the less we embody it and acknowledge it in our groups, the more it impacts.

Jung also said, “shadow is instinctive and irrational and thus is prone to projection onto others.”  We don’t so easily see it in ourselves but we do see it in others and in our group dynamics.  Because we instinctively project it out and onto others, it becomes difficult to speak about or to own and it seems simply easier to try to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, believe we are better than it.  The more we try to ignore it, the greater the likelihood it will take root in us and in our group dynamics, ironically doing exactly what we have been trying to avoid: slowing down work, getting in the way of successful results, harming interpersonal relationships, feeding judgment and frustration and just generally wearing us down til we decide anywhere else is a better place to be than here.  We become dismayed and discouraged when we leave and shadow follows us to the next group or situation we find ourselves in.  Or when someone else, whom we are sure is responsible for the shadow,  leaves but shadow doesn’t leave with them.

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What if we just knew that shadow exists and acknowledged it, making it normal for people to name, explore and be curious about?  And, what if, in our curiosity, we could throw ourselves open to what can be learned from shadow as it shows up and, in the process, disempower shadow’s potential to derail us, our work and our relationships?  What would it take to open up to this exploration?

These are beautiful questions for many of us who host and co-host facilitation, consulting, change or training processes.  In the Art of Hosting field, one of the mental models we use is the four fold practice.  The first of these is to be present or to host oneself.  When we do this well, we grow our capacity to host others and to host group processes where difficult conversations often show up or want to show up.  We shift the shape of our experience and the experiences of others.

Asking questions like: “Where am I willing to go? or not willing to go?” and “What are my parameters that may or may not get in the way of this group?” can be important to opening up a pathway to clearing some of our own shadow as we hold space for group process.  It is difficult to take a group where the host and/or hosting team is not willing or able to go.

When hosting teams try to hold back a conversation because of their own fear of going there one of two things often happens.  Either the group conforms to the will of the hosts and shadow builds in the conformity or we have mutiny over the host team if the group doesn’t conform.  Both of these situations create potentially explosive interpersonal dynamics in a group.  Often we feel we don’t have time to diverge to the conversations that are wanting to happen because we believe they just get in the way of reaching our goals or outcomes or just plain actions.

Sometimes we just need to clear the agenda to enter into the unspoken conversation and to do that we need to do to be present with it, create the opportunity for things to be spoken, experiences to be validated and clearing to take place.  What if, instead of fearing shadow, we  normalized it?  The real breakthroughs in our work and relationships come from the tough conversations.  Being able to navigate our way through these conversations is what makes a  group tight – the group learns to trust itself when it comes through the fire.

Jung believed that “in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this,the shadow is the seat of creativity.”

There is a rich reservoir of learning for hosts and host teams on the topic and experience of shadow and how to shine the light of our individual and collective humanity on it in a way that illuminates strength, compassion, creativity and potential for all, creating a depth of connection much more likely to move mountains and shift the shape of the world we live and work in. One of the themes we will be exploring at Growing Hosting Artistry January 28-31, 2014 in Minnesota.

Reposted from Shape Shift Strategies Blog of October 16, 2010.