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.

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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.

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.

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)