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.

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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.

Worldview, Practice and Action – Taking Whole

Authored by Jerry Nagel

 In Art of Hosting trainings, several of my colleagues and I have been offering a short teaching on worldviews and the importance for each of us to understand what our own worldview is. I often link it to elements in the Art of Hosting workbooks that I feel are an expression of an AoH worldview such as seeing the world as a complex living system and not a machine.

The simple teaching has two components – an explanation of worldview impact using the Ladder of Inference from systems thinking and an explanation of worldviews in The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict – Strategies from the “Art of War”. (Gimian & Boyce, 2008) The text known as the Sun Tzu and more popularly as The Art of War offers a framework for action that contains three components – View, Practice and Action. Central to view is the idea that the world is an interconnected whole. Seeing the world this way informs one’s Actions in the world and the Practices used to manifest (act) the View of interconnectedness. In the Sun Tzu this idea is referred to as ‘taking whole’.

The diagrams below show how our worldviews impact the actions we take in the world and, that as we act in the world, our worldviews are impacted and potentially changed; that patterns and practices like those offered by the Art of Hosting are the tools or methods we use to bring our worldviews to action; and that as we act in the world what we learn impacts the methods we choose to manifest our worldview. If the methods we choose to manifest our worldview are not congruent with that worldview, then our actions will not ring true with people. They will see us as not acting in a way that reflects the worldviews we claim to hold. This simple explanation has proved quite thought provoking for AoH participants.

Worldview Influences Action

Our Actions Influence our Worldview

A worldview can also limit us, because it could close us off to new knowledge if we only see the world through our existing knowledge and assumptions. (Jenkins, 1999) Importantly for many of us, our worldview offers us a way to understand the world that gives us “a feeling of being home” and that reassures us that our interpretations of reality are right. (Heibert, 1997)

Ladder of Influence

Ladder of Influence

One tool from systems thinking that helps visualize how easy it is to get trapped in one (world) view and close off the possibility of seeing other perspectives is the Ladder of Inference. The process depicted follows a flow from the bottom of the ladder up to the top. We ‘see’ data in the world and go through a process of sense-making that then informs the actions we take. What the Ladder of Inference shows us is that the beliefs (worldviews) we adopt can influence what data we see. The result is that we begin “seeing only what we want to see.”

If we are in a time in the Western world of co-creating a new narrative of wholeness, then as hosts it becomes important for us to not only clearly know what our worldview is, but to understand that within our own contexts and within other contexts there could be greatly different worldviews. (Shire, 2009) In other words, given the depth of invitation to step into dialogue (discourse) that we are asking of people, we should remember that our worldview could be much different than someone else’s within our community or local cultural context. And, that people we are working with that are from other local contexts may have differing worldviews within that shared construct.

In thinking about our world today it is fair to say that, “The presence of a multitude of alternative worldviews is a defining characteristic of contemporary culture. Ours is, indeed, a multicultural, pluralistic age.” (Naugle, 2002) Thus, as we practice dialogue in our world in order to find ways forward, we must develop the capabilities to work in the multi-varied and rich system of many worldviews. To do so, however, requires skill and practice and the capacity to hold paradoxes or multiple truths all at the same time.

Learning to effectively communicate (host/facilitate) in a different or new cultural milieu is a deep-level process.  It involves connecting at more than an intellectual level with the ‘host’ culture. It involves connecting at a heart and spiritual level. If worldviews are a matter of the heart, then to enter into effective communications within a different or new culture means opening up one’s heart as a host/facilitator to a space/place that connects heart to heart. This involves capacities to be vulnerable, to respect difference, to be curious and to sit in the space of the unknown or unknowing (i.e. nonjudgment), and to be self reflexive regarding one’s own thoughts, reactions, and carried in thinking about another culture. It also involves recognizing the limiting role our language can play when hosting, which will help each of us as hosts to hold our own and invite others to hold their opinions about another’s worldview much more lightly. This is a core part of the artistry of hosting.

References

Hiebert, P. (1997) Conversion and Worldview Transformation. International Journal of Frontier Missions. 14(2)

Jenkins, O.B. (1999) Worldview Perspectives, http://orvillejenkins.com

Shire, J. (2009) The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press.

Naugle, D. (2002) Worldview: The History of the Concept. Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Transformative Questions Can Shift World View(s)

authored by Jerry Nagel

 “The success of the intervention is dependent upon the inner condition of the intervener.” William O’Brien (deceased), former CEO of Hanover Insurance

Questions. Questions. It seems that when one adopts inquiry as a core part of a way of being in the world there are always questions. Some are simple: “How are you today?” Some are reflective: “Why did I say that? How can I help in this situation?” Some challenge us to explore areas of interest more deeply: “What is the theory behind…? How can we be intentional about collective transformation?” Some are at the core of our worldviews: “What is really real? Who am I? Why am I here?”  And sometimes a question can change our lives by creating the conditions to alter our worldview. The asking of a simple question can be a transformative experience.

Jerry Nagel Floor Teach ed

July 3rd, 2003 I experienced the transformative question that started me on a journey that would shift my worldview, although I didn’t know it at the time. I was part of a small group of people working on agriculture and rural policy issues in the United States that had traveled to Europe to examine how environmental and social values were impacting European agriculture practices.  During dinner one evening a powerful question emerged within the group that influenced our conversations for the rest of the trip.  The question was “Have we been asking the same questions [about rural development policies] over and over for so long that we don’t even know what the right question is anymore?”

This transformative moment started me on a journey of exploration, learning and self-reflexivity that has led to a shift in my worldview, a change in professional focus and a reconnecting with a curiosity about human behavior that I had explored in my early teens. It also reconnected me to a strongly held belief in human possibility that developed in my late teens and twenties and a deeper awareness of our connections to something greater that, for me, is sensed most during my times in nature.

in nature

As I explored ideas, methods and programs to find the right questions for addressing the current rural policy issues in my work back home in Minnesota in a change lab initiative called the Meadowlark Project and through my participation in the Donella Meadows Leadership Program, I couldn’t escape a similar question that was simmering within me, “What was my own personal ‘right’ question?” Having spent my professional and intellectual life working as a research economist on rural development with a worldview that assumed that if we created investments in the material well-being of people and communities (jobs, buildings, roads, etc.) then rural communities would thrive, it surprised me to discover that when I challenged my professional worldview I was also challenging my own personal worldviews and related sense of self or identity as an economist.

There were two big learnings from my work with the Meadowlark Project Change Lab. First was a recognition that while we all wanted to have the difficult conversations about the challenging and complex issues the Change Lab was working to address, we didn’t have the skills to have them. Second was a realization that while addressing the material well-being of a community was important and necessary, it was not sufficient to build a wholly healthy community. To do so both the material and human side of a community’s life needs to be addressed.

I found myself drawn more and more to actions that connected the work of rural development with one’s own or a community’s set of values and beliefs, which also connected with the work of my own personal explorations.

 “The essence of our leadership journey is about growing into our true identity as a leader and, by doing so, accessing an intelligence that is greater than ourselves and encompasses the whole.” – Petra Kuenkel, Mind and Heart, 2008

As someone trained in economics, my worldview was deeply embedded in the notion of ‘man’ as an independent actor making rational choices of pure self-interest. I found myself challenged by the paradox that we humans experience ourselves as separate, unique and free individuals, and the social constructionist perspective, which I was learning about and coming to accept while writing my doctoral thesis on worldview and Art of Hosting, that everything that we are and all that matters actually comes from our relational experiences as humans and that this begins the moment we are born (and possibly before).

These paradoxes troubled me for some time, as I also sensed that exploring them was part of the journey to connecting with my life journey. So, while keeping one foot solidly planted in the work of answering the emergent questions about rural development policy I also committed to an even more intentional self leadership exploration of the deeper questions of “Who am I? What is my nature?”

The challenge it seemed to me in this exploration was to let go of attachments to specific images of myself that would prevent me from not only participating in whatever evolutionary changes this journey might offer, but also prevent me from seeing the whole and my relatedness to it. I was beginning to understand that my journey was becoming an exploration of the ‘range’ of me rather than the ‘one’ of me.

The work my colleagues and I have taken on through the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter invites us into a wholeness – a way to connect how we are in the world with practices that support our actions. It also invites us to continually be aware of our worldview(s) and the impact on our hosting.  For me, as an AoH practitioner and host, this is an essential element in the exploration of growing hosting artistry.