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.

Advertisements

You Are Not Your Story: Creating New Narratives

It is deeply heart-opening when people who read Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness share how the stories in the book resonate for them in their own journey.  And then they thank me for being so courageous to share those stories as they feel they have glimpsed into my own vulnerability.  All true.  And it generates a curiosity for me about what my relationship with this book is – because it doesn’t feel quite so courageous from my perspective.  This book that has its own life, energy and flow – thankfully.

Story at work

And I get to remember, again, what I already knew and now know more deeply.  I am not my stories.  I am not my book.  And, you are not your stories.  They do not define you – unless you let them.  Of course, they shape you.  And, you have choices as to how they shape you – looking at life through the human tragedy or drama perspective or from the soul journey perspective – that which we are seeking to learn or experience at the soul level.  You have the opportunity to continually and always create your own new narrative.

There are moments in my life that are seared into my memory as pivotal moments.  One such memory, complete with date, is March 1998.  I was halfway through a severance period, having been royally fired from my job, in the middle of a divorce and having bought a home, for me and my two young boys, predicated on a salary I no longer had with no idea what I was going to do next to support myself.  I was in the highest anxiety of my life.  I could only focus on what was right in front of me – the next moment, maybe the next day – because otherwise the stress was overwhelming.

I was sitting in the kitchen, making a choice of which book to pick up and read – the practical What Colour is Your Parachute or the transformative The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  I didn’t know it would be transformative when I picked it up, but it was.  I was transported to another world.  Mesmerized.  It moved me to tears and to laughter. And I understood maybe for the first time: I am not my stories.  I am not my failure.  I am not my divorce.  I am not my job loss.  These are things that have happened in my life.  I have a choice as to how I view them. The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore offered me a different, expansive option for how to view these things that happened to me.  The author, Alan Cohen, offered that I had attracted these things into my life. If I had the “power” to attract those life altering “negative” things, I had the equal and opposite capacity or power to also attract more life affirming circumstances into my life.

What I understood is that I had been increasingly drifting away from the things I hold true in my life, the things I valued – or said I valued.  My actions did not always support my beliefs and what I thought I valued.  I was in increasing dissonance and did not know how to live a fractured existence anymore. At the time I felt like I was looking out a picture window at my life as it unfolded, I was so dissociated from my experience and my existence.  And I did not have the skills to know how to navigate it – or relationships – in a healthy way.  It made me believe the human tragedy/drama perspective – that I must be a bad person, maybe even evil.  Otherwise, why would these things have happened to me?

In this one day, I was liberated.  I was invited into choice.  I wish I could say it was only a generative upward vortex from then on but of course it wasn’t.  It was, and still is, a human journey, fraught with the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences.  It took me another decade to surrender into the journey with a greater degree of fullness and I’m still learning about surrendering.

The book was and is intended as an offering of stories for others – for you even – in your own journey.  An invitation to journey on, journey deeper, journey more lightly. An invitation to view your stories in a different way from different perspectives, ones that generate more expansiveness, spaciousness and choice.  An invitation to trust what you doubt, to know someone has navigated similar waters with varying degrees of success, sometimes at peace and sometimes in turmoil – because this is life and this is how we grow. To understand that life is more than just the physical experience and to trust the non-physical as you experience it, as you surely do.  To treat yourself with compassion, love and forgiveness and to invite that into your relationships – all of them, even the ones where you would prefer to hold onto a bit of resentment.

When you live your stories as if they are you, you disempower yourself.  When you understand your story shapes your journey but is not you, you show up more fully in your strength and your power and it is a thing of beauty to behold.

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)

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.

IMG-20110807-00004

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.

Container Holding as a Hosting Practice

In the work and exploration of the Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter we often talk about the container, creating the container, holding the container – but what does it mean, really? We tend to speak of it in the same breath as hosting, as if it is the same thing.  But, is it?

In preparation for a gathering of sixty five AoH Stewards from thirteen countries that took place in Minnesota in October 2013, Jerry NagelStephen DunsBob Wing and I became deeply curious about what it would take to hold a dynamically complex field that included three breaths of Art of Hosting – founders, early adopters and new or emerging stewards, many of whom did not know each other and had never met in person – who were holding, each in their own way, many similar questions percolating in local fields around the world, centering on what it means to be a global self-organizing system.

Circle of graphic people

We began a series of calls to see what we could learn about container holding that we could apply at the Stewards Gathering, recognizing that some who would be holding the container would not be present in person but would be holding from the rim – wherever they happened to be geographically located.  For our inquiry, we separated out container holding, design and hosting recognizing they often are intertwined, happening together at the same time and that they are distinct in and of themselves.  It was – and is – rich learning.

Container holding is part of the subtle arts.  It is metaphysical, meaning of or relating to things that are thought to exist but cannot be seen. So much of what we pay attention to in hosting, beyond process, people and design, is the invisible – the energetics, consciousness.  It is why we have offerings of Hosting from a Deeper Place or the Art of Hosting the Subtle.

The invisible is alive all on its own and it shows up in the physical in group dynamics, ease or tension, flow or disruption, to name just a few ways it manifests.  We know that in any offering that is co-hosted, the frequency of the team is also alive in the field.  When the team has challenges within, those challenges show up in the larger field.  When the team has an ease of relationship, infused with trust (and usually joy), this also shows up in the field.  What is in the team is reflected back to the team.  A well connected, trustful, aligned team – which does not mean members all think alike – can hold the larger field from a place of trusting what wants to emerge and not be knocked off balance when challenges spark – at least not so off balance that they cannot recover.  The more coherent the team, the deeper they can host and the more process will flow through them rather than the team trying to control design or over-design.

Container holding might look inactive whereas design and hosting might look more active.  When we are hosting, it doesn’t mean we ignore elements of the metaphysical or subtle realms – although we are often not full intentional or conscious about it.  Attention to the metaphysical or subtle realms can also be a sole component of container holding. You can be a container holder and not be in a visible hosting role.

In the work we do, the container can be porous or permeable – and given it is metaphysical in nature that would likely hold to be true all the time.  When the container is held with the crystal clear energy of intention, this intention infuses the field and what happens as much as, and sometimes more than, design does. The hosting can be flexible, which is what we always advocate –  with a willingness to be disturbed or disrupted, trusting the chaordic path – chaos can be good, especially as we learn to sit with it until a natural sense of order emerges. If the intention is strong and held with clarity, disturbance can lead to emergence.  When the intention is less clear, disruption can lead to chaos with no pathway back to order. It is important to not be attached to design, to hosting or to process  – to hold it lightly – which is simply good hosting practice at the best of times.  We can ask the question, what does the container need to be infused with to hold chaos and disruption so it is of service to what wants to happen? It could be different depending on what is the work we are about.

A well held container invites coherence into the field. Coherence is a frequency. When we tune into the frequency we can host it into being to allow or invite it to become present, or more present – like when we hold tuning forks up to each other, they pick up the frequency of each other and become entrained.  How do we grow coherence without control, to celebrate different thinking, recognizing it can all be aligned with a common purpose and clear intention?  Is this not our work as hosts?

Container holding is part of hosting – especially when we are intentional about it.  And container holding has its own energy, its own path and its own coherence.  So much more to explore.  We are deep in our learning.  And how beautiful is that?

(Originally posted at Shape Shift on November 9, 2013)