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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Impact of The Relational Field of Hosting Teams – Ingredients for Success

Ah.  The relational field.  What is it and how does it impact hosting?  This is one of the explorations we are in for Growing Hosting Artistry.  There is a relational field that convenes in the room, any room, as hosting team and participants gather. Some would argue, the relational field begins to convene before the physical gathering and is one of the reasons we pay attention to container setting as a hosting practice.

At any gathering there is not just one relational field – there are constellations of relationship. Some of those constellations of relationship are in the room and some reach beyond the room but still might have influence on the room.

AoH Constellations of Relationships

AoH Constellations of Relationships

The hosting team has its own relational field and the quality of that field has an influence on the larger relational fields we host. We have seen and experienced it time and time again. We know a well connected, cohesive team can address the challenges that show up in a space far more effectively than a team that has challenges within its own field.  A team with challenges in its own field draws some of the energy from hosting the participants or client group to hosting the team, if we even can.

Cohesive, fluid hosting teams haven’t always been, and still isn’t always, my experience.  In my early days of hosting, most of my experiences were with teams with challenging interpersonal dynamics – a rich learning field in itself – and my more recent experiences are more likely to be generative cohesive hosting team fields, although not 100% of the time, of course. In these cohesive, generative fields, humour, support, intuitive empathic hosting connections are alive in the field.  Sometimes the communication between the hosting field happens so empathically very few words are needed to host the field, make decision, be responsive to what is alive in the field.  It is a thing of beauty and one that people feel as much as see.

Having contrasting experiences on hosting teams offers the opportunities to notice and reflect on what works well and what doesn’t.  In hosting myself and in inquiry with hosting mates, we are becoming more aware of how to, more often, invite the kinds of experiences that work well.  And a starting point is always in the first of the four fold practice – hosting self.

What are some of the things we are learning about relational fields and want to be in deeper inquiry about?  One for sure is paying attention to and intentionally cultivating the relational field.

Being curious about the term relational field, I came across Phil Pearlman’s writing on the Relational Field and Twitter and his description resonates for our work in the Art of Hosting. “Relational field comes from relational psychology which posits that humans are inherently social and that  no personality exists independent of relationships. The relational field has attributes such as clarity, contingency, complexity and structure and relational psychologists know a good bit about how the qualities of these features affect the development of relationships. The optimal relational field is one that has the potential to foster enduring authentic relationships.”

That last line bears repeating: The optimal relational field is one that has the potential to foster enduring authentic relationships. The invitation to all of us to show up fully, whether we are stewards, seasoned hosts, practitioners, stewards, apprentices, logistics coordinators or participants.  We are all equally human, equally beautiful, equally valuable and  each of us holds a part of the whole.

The space for this invitation is often held by the stewards on a hosting team and could be held by anyone.  It is not just a verbally issued invitation, it is one that is fully and authentically supported in all our actions and in our energetic field, in the space we create and hold for others to step into, in the responsiveness to all the voices that show up.  When, as seasoned hosts, we are able to step into our own humility and support the field from what might seem a less visible place, we open the space for others to step in more fully. When we don’t do this (and maybe none of us do it well all the time), when our actions or energetics are inconsistent with the words of invitation, or in Jerry Nagel’s writing on world view, when we do not “take whole“, people will be reluctant to step in. The invitation will not feel fully inviting or authentic.

To seed the field of invitation, or the relational field from which the invitation is offered, it is stronger when at least a couple of people on the team know each other well, have worked together well, where mutual full trust exists, with whom they know they can handle pretty much anything that comes along.  With a minimum of the two (and one or two more is even better), a team can hold the space for whatever wants or needs to show up in the team – and then in the gathering being co-hosted.

Co-hosts and apprentices are wanting to know and understand their role, what they can contribute and how welcome their contribution may or may not be.  We are all wanting to know where our learning edges are, what each of us wants to step into and how this can best be supported.  More seasoned practitioners have the opportunity to support people stepping up to their next level of learning, hosting or offering.  It is a thing of beauty when people publicly step into their learning edges, usually with some fear, some trepidation and loads of courage.

When we create the spaces for people to step in, when we are able to stay in our own humility and not have to offer comments every time someone else is leading an offering, the space for brilliance is created and each member of a team will have moments they truly shine.  We also become more responsive and alert to when what we have to offer from our experience is what is needed – a thought, an observation, a question, a teach, a framing for what’s in the room, making something visible, stepping into our own brilliance in service of what is needed now. Knowing when to step in and offer what is needed now is important – a part of the art.  Knowing when to step back is also part of the art. Doing it in a way that supports others, builds on what others have offered, in the spirit of expansion and illumination, is a gift to self, a gift to others and a gift to the field in which we work.

A question very much alive every time we step into a relational field, those we’ve been in before and those we are in for the first time is: what is the humility, generosity, open heartedness and also the brilliance that needs to be present and available in me, in each of us and collectively that supports the environment of co-learning in service of the field we are entering and committed to holding?

In our work with hosting teams in trainings, with clients, across many contexts and countries (including Canada, Brazil, United States and Australia) these are some of the awarenesses that are growing around what consistently supports strength, cohesion and capacity in hosting teams to take on the bigger questions and challenges that are calling us to grow our hosting artistry.

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)