About Kathy Jourdain

Kathy Jourdain’s passion is co-creative leadership and the ability to influence the shifting shape of organizations, teams and individuals in a time when this is most needed in the world. She is a steward and practitioner of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter. This has her traveling internationally working mostly in Canada, Brazil and the United States. She launched Shape Shift Strategies Inc. in 2009. Her approachable, professional style has made her a powerful business coach with an impressive track record, drawing on skills and expertise built during her 15 year consulting practice and before that as a CEO of a major health charity in Atlantic Canada.

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 Nagel, Stephen Duns, Bob 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.

panoramic photo of circle

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?

Youth Engagement Impeded by Pressure of Elder Legacy Need?

It is a freshly minted question for me.  Is youth engagement impeded by the pressure of older adults wanting to leave a legacy or the need to get it right?

The question began fermenting for me during the Art of Community Building training for African Nova Scotian facilitators in June of this year (2013).  It was an Open Space question posed by the (now) late Rocky Jones: how to engage the youth?  I used the Law of Two Feet to find my way to that conversation and listened in for a few minutes, trying to understand more about a question that is asked all the time in all kinds of situations.

I wondered out loud, if they really knew what the youth wanted?  That’s what they were trying to find out, they told me. You know those moments when you feel that vague stirring in your soul because something is not connecting but you’re not sure what or why?  I was in one of those moments, feeling that there was a point that was wanting to emerge – in my own mind anyway – but none of us in the conversation were hitting on it.  It was a vague sense of somehow missing the mark and it kept stirring for me.

Later at dinner, the hosting team and a few others of us continued the conversation.  Rocky and Roshanda Cummings, a young leader and apprentice host on our team who came from San Francisco to co-host with us,  got into a beautifully intense conversation about the role of elders, about Roe wondering where her elders were, with Rocky listening intently as she poured her heart out about what it was like to be a young black woman in the places she lived and traveled.

I thought about how Roe had been invited into this work – not with the question of “how do I engage you” but with the open hearted invitation of “what can we do together and I would LOVE you to come to Nova Scotia to do this work with me!”

Stillheart Roe and Kathy

I began to wonder how many conversations around youth engagement (or engagement generally) come from a place (unintentionally of course) of fear, regret, reproach or judgment.  Reproach and judgment because youth are not meeting some standard of engagement or community participation that may no longer even be relevant or of interest to youth.  Fear and regret that elders may have let youth down, let themselves down in the process, worried about what kind of legacy they are leaving youth and community.

And then I wondered, “What if a conversation with youth about how to engage them had a totally different starting point?”  Inspired by Mary Oliver, for instance, and her great question: “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life!”  What if a question like that was the invitation to a conversation where we really listened to each other instead of suppositioned?  What if everything about the conversation said, “I care about you and what you care about,” if engagement came from the place of how do I support you in that which calls you from the soul, and what could we do together and learn together if we jumped into engagement from that point?

Just sensing into these two approaches, the energy shifts shape from one of burden and how do I get someone else, in this case youth, to do something they don’t seem to be particularly interested in doing to one of curiosity and eagerness as I anticipate listening in to what makes someone else come alive and imagining with them how they could do more of that!  And maybe I could do it with them!

Road Trip With My Dad

I’m sitting on the deck of my cousin’s home, on the Gaspe  coast of the St. Lawrence Seaway, near Rimouski, watching the relentless movement of the tide – in and out, taking in the smell of the salt sea air, feeling the call of memories and of stories past, present and future.

Gaspe Coast from Sainte-Luce Sainte-Luce-20130812-00493

I’m on a road trip with my dad – to his homeland in Quebec.  He felt the call of coming home and invited me along.  He grew up on the Gaspe coast, his family’s home one one side of the road, the seaway on the other side. Although I also grew up in a coastal community, it is not the same as being right on the sea, being shaped in some unknown way by the tides; and there is no doubt the sea is in my father’s blood.

Having just completed my first memoir: Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, I am full on in the exploration of how stories shape our lives, what are the stories we focus on and the ones we give life to.  There is some story in my book about my father and his family, a little of what it was like for him to grow up in this place.  I am aware they are told from my perception and interpretation of what he has shared.  He – or members of his family -would probably reflect reflect them quite differently.

9781452575728_COVER.indd

 

Last night we were joined at the home of my cousin and her husband  by two more cousins (two of her siblings) and my aunt who is almost 90 years old and looks amazing for her age.  She is part of the reason we are here.  Because she called and asked my dad if he would come.  Another aunt, who will visit tomorrow, is another part of the reason.  My father is the last surviving member of his immediate family, his parents and his five siblings all living in spirit now.  My aunts had been married to his brothers.

For two of my cousins, it has been maybe 30 years since I’ve seen them.  For the other cousin, it has been since the death of another cousin – sometime in the last decade.  It surprised me to try to remember how long ago it was.  Time is fleeting in so many ways, it seems as if no time has passed.

I would not have taken this trip on my own.  It would not have even occurred to me.  For some reason Quebec seems far away for me – not geographically but maybe through all the stories I don’t know.  And, yet, being here, all the stories, known and not known, melt away as I find myself lovingly embraced by this part of my family I see so infrequently – and why would it be any different.  I am curious now about what are the stories that are here and now, what are the stories that will emerge late while I sit here by the St. Lawrence Seaway, taking in the salt sea air through all my senses, feeling the call of story in new ways.

Soul Encounter with Burnley (Rocky) Jones

Every now and then someone walks into a room, makes eye contact, a door to your heart opens and they walk right in. That’s exactly what happened to me the morning of June 19, 2013 when I met Rocky Jones.  It was a two way exchange, a soul encounter. I can count my in person exchanges with him on one hand, literally – three days of Art of Hosting training, two dinners – one with others and one in my home –  what was to be the beginning of a next phase of important and difficult work in the world and now is a sum total of something that cannot be readily explained in words.

Burnley (Rocky) Jones

Burnley (Rocky) Jones

Carolann Wright-Parks, a friend and colleague near and dear to my heart, had persuaded Rocky to attend the first half day of an Art of Hosting training for African Nova Scotian facilitators on behalf of the Ujamaa board, to show support.

Even then, given his health, Rocky knew his time was precious. He gave thought and care to how best to devote his time, telling us fishing had a strong call on him.  He came for the morning, participated in our opening circle, heard my good friend from MInnesota, Dave Ellis do a teach on World View (inspired by the work we are doing with Jerry Nagel of Meadowlark) and was inspired enough to clear his calendar for the next three days to participate.

His presence in my heart grew deeper roots the next morning when, as a group we were checking in to the day and this 71 year old man, a man who has seen and experienced much in his day, who shifted the shape of the world for so many in the province of NS and beyond, a legend in his own time, sat there in full humility marvelling at how much he does not yet know, how much he has to learn.  He knew, like so many of us when we encounter the wisdom of ancient futurism alive in the Art of Hosting that here was something that when we practice it could shift the shape of how we show up together and just possibly could shift the shape of our most entrenched problems.

And he knew about entrenched problems having encountered them since the time he was twelve, as he describes in this TedTalk on Breaking Down Social Barriers.  In our three days I watched him in his passion, curiosity and marvel as we shared frameworks for understanding he had never seen before and as he shared the history of African Nova Scotians making these frameworks come alive in his experience and the experience of the whole group.

I watched his incredulity at dinner one night in deep conversation with Roshanda Cummings a young woman from San Francisco who was on our hosting team about engaging youth, about how as a young Black woman, at times, she feels abandoned by her elders.  He listened deeply, asking questions, trying to understand her experience and what he could learn that could help him invite youth in a way that they could find meaning and be supported in their journey too.

When the Art of Hosting was over, I couldn’t wait for the next conversation we would be in, and the next, and the next – looking forward to learning from and with this man and to working with him. He reached out to me with a sense of urgency, wanting to find a time before I was on vacation and traveling again, thankfully, or it never would have happened.

At dinner in my home, we shared stories of journey, talked about the sense of soul connection.  He said to me, “When I walked into that room, you really stood out.” I paused for the briefest of moments and responded, “Well, I was the only white person in the room.”  We both laughed because we both knew that wasn’t what he meant.  Soul journeyers feeling the immediacy of connection.

He also said to me as we talked about a book he was in the process of writing with others, capturing the stories of his journey, “There isn’t enough time.”  As I imagined the work of the coming months, I told him, “There is always enough time.”

Turns out, he was right.  I have no doubt he was sensing his path.  And now he continues his work energetically in the spiritual realm.  And his work on the physical realm will be continued by many who have been deeply inspired by him, his authenticity, integrity, impact and ongoing sense of journey.

I grieve deeply for a man I met for a few brief seconds of life, who impacted me deeply.  I can only imagine the depth of grief of those who’ve known him longer and also the sense of celebration of a full life, a life worth living.  I celebrate knowing him and I will carry him in my heart and soul journey in my own continuing exploration of race and racism and of changing the conversations to ones of community, healing, belonging and acceptance.

The ancestors live on in us. Rocky lives on in many.

 

Generosity – Guest Post by Bob Wing

“To be generous means giving something that is valuable to you without expectation of reward or return. Many traditions measure generosity not by the size of the gift, but by what it cost the giver.” 

Give me your heart

For awhile I have been pondering the topic of generosity, wanting to share some reflections – and I might still do that.  However, in the meantime, I am delighted to share reflections from my good friend Bob Wing, Warrior of the Heart Sensei and Art of Hosting Steward.  I resonate with much of what he wrote in response to an email thread on this topic and delight in how he is sharing his reflections through story.

I asked him if he would be willing to guest blog here on Shape Shift and he agreed.  He is my very first guest blogger and this is what he wrote:

I have some experiences and thoughts I would like to share, though they raise more questions for me than answers. 

A true story about generosity:

I learned something of generosity years ago, in a liquor store. I was in the check out line to buy some good beer. I remember it as being Guinness Stout. There happened to be two men in front of me, also waiting. One of them, a Native American (most likely a Lakota), asked me what kind of beer I had and what it was like. Well, you can’t really just tell someone what Guinness is like, so with a great sense of generosity and a very good feeling about myself, I gave him one.

It surprised me how reluctant he was to accept my gift. It actually took some coaxing. Finally he would only accept it if I would receive one of his Coors beers in return. Compared to Guinness, I find Coors quite anemic and I didn’t really want it.  In that moment, however, I realized that genuine generosity lay in me letting him give me something in return … a trade …not a gift… and then he could leave without a feeling of obligation to me. My real generosity was in accepting his equality by allowing him to give me something in return. 

Another true story about generosity:

In the early 1980’s I knew of a small group of very respected Lakota medicine people who had been invited to tour places in Europe to bring their “medicine” and to lead healing ceremony for whomever wanted to come. Their travel had been paid by sponsors but by tradition they could not/would not receive any money for their work. Medicine, both physical and spiritual, is held to be a gift and not a business.

The problem arose when most everyone who came saw it as being “free” and failed to offer gifts in return. While the medicine people could not “charge”, they did expect (this also by tradition) that their generosity would be met with material generosity in return. A medicine person does, after all, also need to support his life and his family, so it is important there be a way to do that, or the medicine/generosity-based culture crumbles. In their traditional culture everyone understands this and so are as generous as they can be in return.

 What finally happened was that after continually not getting anything in return the “medicine stopped flowing”. They perceived not getting anything worthy in return as being neglected, devalued, and even insulted. They stopped doing anything real. I think it was a misunderstanding of cultures, not so much of Native American and European, as of business culture and gifting culture misunderstanding each other.

 Some ideas on generosity: 

Gift culture is based on openness to a return and business culture is based on demanding a return, though maybe they are not really so different in essence. In both, if the return is not at least of some equality, then each will soon stop functioning–the medicine will stop flowing. 

 However, the language and gesture of each seems to be so very different. Maybe the difference involves who is perceived as having responsibility for seeing to the equity. In a gift culture, the responsibility for equity of the return is usually with the receiver of the medicine, and in business culture the responsibility for the equity of a return is usually with the giver of the medicine.

 Also, I think that business culture tends to promote separateness and gift culture tends to support relatedness. In our culture, business culture seems most dominant, though I suspect that the basis for keeping a sense of relatedness, even in business, is actually an expression of gift culture. It may come from the sense most humans have of needing to be related to others. 

 Personal awareness of generosity:

I am aware that I am in love with gift culture and I suspect most of us are. I love being generous as I suspect most of us do. I love having the means to be generous in all ways, although I don’t always seem to have these means. It’s a quandary.

A big problem for me sometimes comes in my skillfulness to communicate my needs in a culture where people most often seem to act as though it is either “free” or it “costs”, maybe similar to the essence of the problem the Lakota Medicine people had. When I sense that I’m not in some way being gifted enough in return, my “medicine” stops flowing. I don’t like it when that happens. I search for good ways to travel between these two. I like the saying I’ve heard many times before and have really taken to heart, “I don’t work for money, but I do accept money for my work.”

And this, to me, is some of the crux of what we meet up with when the work we do is for the good of ourselves and others, to shift the shape of patterns that no longer serve and generate new patterns that serve us better.  How do we value this important work in the world and not feel embarrassed or awkward about being paid well for the work?  What is the spirit of generosity and reciprocity that creates expansion and openings for things to flow in the best of ways and continues to make what we offer widely available, recognizing various capacities to be financially generous and knowing that generosity shows up in other ways too?

Thank you, Bob Wing, for your willingness to have your reflections shared here.

Women, Leadership and Power

Will feminine principles rule the future?  John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio posit this in their book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, and I like to think they are right.  More than like to think it, I am actively inviting it, through the work I do and the way I do it – collaboratively, with others doing good work in the world using the practices and patterns of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter.  This doesn’t mean I think masculine principles are bad, just that they are overused and a rebalancing of the energies could spark the next evolution of leadership and power in life, work, play and community.

We are living now in the space between narratives as my friend and frequent co-host Jerry Nagel likes to say.  The old story of power and control, described as masculine attributes, that many of us around the world are reportedly dissatisfied with is the story that has been operational for centuries now.  The new story of consensus building, collaboration and co-creation, described as feminine attributes, is what many are longing for, even when they do not have the words to articulate it.  People I encounter in the work I do and the places I travel want to show up and be seen as full human beings rather than as the distinct parts that are “acceptable” in different circumstances – logic and rationality at work, nurturing and caring in private. When we are invited as full human beings a new essence of aliveness and creativity also shows up.

The characteristics we are yearning for now are exactly the characteristics that have been dismissed and squelched as not being effective, as too soft, as the antithesis of leadership; the characteristics of feminine principles.

The principles of masculine and feminine are being confused with gender, feminine principles have been diminished and, by extension, women have been too.  Women wanting to be successful in business and politics in the past have had to become more like men in the drive for power and authority. Even Cheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In is really asking women to to step up to their male colleagues in the way of the old narrative.  I love that her book is sparking conversation in many places about masculine and feminine principles, and I love that she is successful as a powerful woman leader.

What does it take to shift to a new narrative about women, leadership and power? It is hard to shift to new narratives.  The grip of the old story is engrained in us in ways we do not even know.  Even as we step into doing things differently, the pull of the old narrative, embedded in culture which is designed to perpetuate itself, is strong.  It takes intentionality, vulnerability and the willingness to be in good inquiry and co-learning with each other.  It takes a re-valuing of the feminine in all that it has to offer and a new understanding of what it means to be powerful. It takes the willingness to let go of control to step into patterns and practices that invite the best of our thinking, leadership and accountability to show up, the spaces were emergence lives.

It takes men embracing principles of the feminine and it takes women seeing and stepping into the strength of these principles in ways that show how powerfully they can shift the shape of the narrative we are living into now.  It means bringing for the best of the masculine principles into this rebalancing dynamic and acting with curiosity, generosity and compassion.

This inquiry is one I am excited to be exploring at a one day forum in San Francisco on June 7, 2013, which is an invitation to be in a deep dialogue together with other women about women and power, the next evolution of leadership.  There we will be exploring questions like:

1) What is the new definition of success we need to create so women can truly thrive in their personal and professional lives?

2) How do we gain the confidence and courage we need to express ourselves more authentically as professional women?

3) How do we more fully step into our leadership to vision and co-create new, more powerful systems and patterns in the worlds we live and work in?

4) What are the feminine qualities, when we as women express them more fully, make us more powerful leaders?

5) What becomes possible when we as women elevate each other and what is required to support or grow this over time?

6) What is the desired impact we want to have in our organizations and in the world?

7) What are the prejudices and stereotypes women hold which, if they shifted, would create better opportunities for women to thrive?

I am curious to see what will emerge from the inquiry and how we might set in motion, or accelerate what is already in motion, supportive leadership practices that invite the best of who we are as human beings to show up, individually and collectively.

Gossip – Harmful or Helpful?

The stories we tell shape our experiences as much and more than the experiences themselves.  For anything we experience, there are a myriad of ways the story of it can be told.  How the story is told illuminates a lot about us as individuals and about the culture of the organizations we work for.  Many of the stories told are not done so with thoughtfulness or intentionality and this makes them very revealing for anyone paying attention and even for people not so tuned in.  You want to know about a culture of an organization, pay attention to the stories told by those who work there and interact with them.

Recently I’ve been working with an organization that is struggling with morale, trust and relationships, sparked by many challenges the organization has experienced over the last few years.  The topic of gossip is a central theme and it has us all curious.  It is not the first time I have come across this in teams or organizations that are challenged or even labeled as dysfunctional.

gossip

There are many questions and assumptions in this group that are not unique to it.  How do you know when it’s gossip?  Is all gossip bad?  How do we share information?  How is gossip different than information sharing?  It’s how we decompress.  We deal with such pressing issues, it’s only natural we would gossip.

It is not “only natural” that we would gossip.  There are lots of choices around how to share information and even whether to share.  Gossip is a form of information sharing that goes beyond the facts and beyond the attempt to understand someone or something.  It has an edge.  It is often malicious.  It has the potential to impact other’s reputations in destructive ways.  Generally when gossip is a pattern in an organization or team individuals know they are just as likely to be gossiped about next as the current focus of the gossip.  And, they do it anyway.

Gossip is one way of creating alliances.  These alliances are often formed to keep others out or to target individuals in pejorative and harmful ways.  It shows up in win/lose cultures and is way of trying to win – at all costs.

It is mobile as things do not remain confidential but spread rapidly.  When gossip is rampant it often has truth, half truth and complete untruth in it and it is hard to distinguish which is which. It focuses on private and personal affairs, attributes, assumptions and insinuations about others.  There is an energy to gossip which feels conspiratorial, sucks people in but also leaves people feeling bad about themselves – sometimes without knowing why.  Sometimes it traverses into bullying.

In the organization I was working with recently, some wondered why I would focus on gossip when the pressing issues were clearly laid out in a mind map of patterns and themes distilled from employee responses to a survey.  Some named leadership and accountability as the two most significant issues.  I agreed.  I also named gossip, role clarity, boundaries as a few others and I kept coming back to gossip, much to the disbelief of some.  Patterns of gossip are also about control and power.  This comes out of the formation of alliances, being able to shut people down and pushing agendas that are of interest to a few but maybe not unilaterally to everyone.  If we can shift the pattern of gossip in an organization, it becomes possible to shift other patterns as well.  Gossip detracts us from what more is possible.  It is energy and time consuming.

As we wrapped up our day I asked two questions for the closing circle: what is your commitment to changing the conversation here and what is the intentional story you want others to know about this organization?

Some of the comments about gossip were particularly illuminating.

“I gossip when I am afraid to go to someone directly.”

“I know it’s gossip when I am eager to contribute something to the conversation.”

“I gossip when I don’t think I am as good as someone else.”

“I feel awful when I gossip.  It’s yucky.  I will not do it anymore.”

“I do not like the person I am when I gossip and I do not want to end my career at this organization in this way.”

A lack of respect for others, is a lack of respect for self.  Our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. What we say about others says far more about us than about them.

We stop gossip when we decide to stop participating in it.  When we become curious instead of playing in the judgment which characterizes so much gossip.  When we become compassionate about the situation and the people involved.  When we refuse to send gossip on.  When we hold ourselves accountable to stop and when we hold others accountable by refusing to gossip with them, when we invite them into an inquiry about what is the purpose of the information they are sharing and are they inviting a conversation about how to strategize having conversations that matter with the people involved instead of about them.

collaboration

 

When we stop filling the space between us with gossip we have the opportunity to fill that space with generosity, curiosity and compassion, with conversations that are meaningful and relevant and to focus on successes and the things we appreciate about each other and what we do.  When we cultivate this kind of foundation, we create the base from which to have the conversations we’ve been avoiding through gossip – conversations about leadership, accountability and the deep purpose of the work we are in.

Gossip is only helpful in seeing culture and identifying challenges.  It is not conducive to healthy workplaces or healthy relationships. When we replace gossip with intentional, appreciative conversations, we begin to create the conditions for more of what is possible, more of how we can serve the needs we have identified and a bonus is that we feel better about who we are and what we do.  This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the best of ways.

Celebrating My Father at 80

My dad, Hector Jourdain, turned 80 on March 29, 2013. A milestone birthday we weren’t always sure he would reach. A year ago he was barely able to move, couldn’t navigate the stairs in his house and was sleeping on a chair in his family room because of that.  He was in the hospital for a month, fighting an infection, a back so bad he couldn’t stand and the after effects of radiation therapy for prostate cancer – one of the many times he’d been in hospital for extended stays for different reasons over the last few years.

When he was wheeled into a doctor’s appointment because his legs were too weak to support him, his family doctor was sure he was headed for long term care.  The doctor didn’t reckon on my dad’s will to live.  And not just to live, but to live a life that still feels like it has quality to it.

dad and the boys - Christmas 2012

His desire to live a life beyond mere existence prompted him to inquire about an advertised back belt, which prompted me to seek out more information, finding him a better belt.  He took himself to physiotherapy – despite his own scepticism and the scepticism of his doctor and he began a road to recovery that astonished his doctor.  It didn’t astonish me.  I knew once he made the decision to live life that anything was possible.  It is one of the things he teaches me – anything is possible.

There are many things I might not have imagined.  Chief among them was that my mother would experience dementia and that my dad would reverse the traditional husband/wife roles and become her dedicated care giver for so many years before he exhausted himself and her condition became so bad we had to place her in long term care.

My mom and dad in 2000

My mom and dad in 2000

Easter Saturday we celebrated this milestone birthday with friends and family at my dad’s home where he lives alone with his two cats and loads of projects that keep him occupied.  He is building a punt (row boat) in his basement – the second punt he’s built after refurbishing a canoe that had been in his family for years and had been used by his father decades before that to rescue two people off of ice flows in the St. Lawrence Seaway over a Christmas holiday.

dad and his handiwork

His garage is a workshop where he still putters away at rebuilding engines or creating parts when he feels in the mood to do so.  He has been called a “magician” when it comes to fixing engines and engine parts.  He is renowned for his skill and expertise.  The “hobbies” he has now give him choice. When he feels like it, he has things to keep him occupied, including housework, yard work and fixing meals for himself, continuing to experiment with new recipes. When he doesn’t feel like taking on one of his numerous projects, he can take it as easy as he wishes.

My dad and I have journeyed great distances together – not so much geographically, but spiritually and emotionally for sure.  I always knew we shared a strong connection.  We’ve had our issues over the years.  I know I’ve disappointed him a few times.  Despite those moments, he has always loved me unconditionally.  My friends have always been welcome in my father’s home or on his boat, when I was a child growing up and as an adult.

Dad's pride and joy - Bluefin

In typical family dynamics, there were times as an adult he could make me feel like a chastised child or cause me to doubt or judge myself – not because he intended to but because of the activation of old patterns sparked by a word or tone.  In my own journey to myself, my journey to open heartedness and embracing the stranger in me, without working specifically on any issues I might have had with my dad, I resolved them to the point that there is no longer anything he says or does where I feel chastised or judged or even guilted.  Our relationship is mature, some give and take, a lot of love and support.  We don’t need to fill the space around us with words all the time.

My father was 45 when he underwent his first open heart surgery.  He has had more health issues than I can remember since that time, mostly in the last half dozen years or so.  And he is in pretty good health, all things considered – not the health of a young man but the reasonably good health of an 80 year old man who has experienced a lot in life.

In some ways, his turning 80 is a bit of a miracle – one I cherish.  He changed the course of my life without me knowing it until just a few years ago.  He and my mom were in the right place at the right time to find me.  It was my father’s friendship with my birth grandfather that created the opportunity for us to become a part of each other’s lives.  Without my father, my life path would have been very different.  Hard to know how different, or where I would be today – maybe somewhere close to where I am, maybe not.  Given that I’m happy with the path I’m on now that continues to unfold in the most delightful of ways, I’m grateful that our paths crossed when I was baby  and grateful to have him in my life now.

Hosting From A Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle

The subtle and the physical.  Both are all around us all the time.  The eyes see the physical and we perceive it as “real”, tangible.  It often takes more than the eyes to “see” or sense the subtle.  Since we have learned to rely on our eyes, we have lost much of our conscious connection to the subtle. Yet, it is all around and within us even as many of us are oblivious to it.  It is a natural extension of the physical phenomena or/and the physical is a natural extension of the subtle.  Yet we complicate our understanding of the subtle, ignore it, believe it inaccessible or non-existant.  Or, believe that if it does exist, only a few really gifted people can access it.

Speaking for myself, up until a few years ago, I didn’t believe those gifted people included me. Now I know we all have this “gift”.  It is a sense many of us are re-learning, remembering how to tune into.

This understanding was one of the things at the heart of the call for Hosting From a Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle, co-hosted by Narjara Thamiz, Gustavo Prudente, Jerry Nagel and me. Our time together was guided with the purpose of “joining together in a learning field to deepen  individual and collective capacity to host complexity.”  Implicit in that purpose statement is the notion that in order to host complexity well, we need to tune into, discern and understand the subtle, the energetics, the deeper patterns that are also at play.  Tapping into this in an intentional way has the potential to shift the nature of the work we are in and the results we achieve.

Openly talking about the subtle has challenged many of us in the work we do.  Too many times we have bumped up against hearing that this way of working is “woo-woo“. “Don’t want any of that “woo-woo” stuff here, we need practical results.”  Yet, when work is in flow, when it is emergent and generative, people understand that something different happened, that something impactful, useful and powerful has influenced the results, the actions flowing out of the work.  We have been trying to find ways to describe it, words and phrases that are understood and accepted in the world of business, government, non-profit.  Yet truly hosting from this deeper place is beyond words, beyond knowing and beyond not knowing.  This is the exploration that called us.  What does it means to access this place with intentionality, a place of presence.

The first time I explicitly remember hosting from a deeper place was with Jerry Nagel the first time we hosted together in Nova Scotia in 2011.  We looked beneath individual behaviours that were sparking to discover the patterns underneath, working with the subtle field.  Tapping into the deeper patterns elicited design ideas that produced a complete shift in energy, in relationship and conversation within the group.  We happened upon this through inquiry and, when we noticed the palpable shift in the space, became curious about what we had tapped into.

In my last post, I wrote about our design process, about being in the not knowing and riding the waves of emergence that kept surfacing during our time together at Hosting From a Deeper Place in Brazil.  It was all part of working with the subtle and working with the subtle went much deeper than that.

Some of the people who came, came because of an intense curiosity about the subtle, including people who have had near death experiences, experiences with shifts in consciousness, with tapping into different dimensions.  They arrived with curiosity about what we meant by the subtle, invisible forces, that which is before the naming.  Their experiences, our experiences, as diverse as the number of people who came.

The subtle field showed up, in subtle and not so subtle ways.  The beautiful property of Espaço Arco-Íris was designed for this kind of work and hosts groups in this kind of energetic field.

Despite interest from many parts of the world, the people who responded live in North and South America.  In our opening circle, Narjara remembered a dream she had in the early days of our conversation about this gathering.  She had dreamt of a condor, not knowing what it was, discovering the Hopi prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, a meeting of cultures and energies, a shift from leadership from the mind (North America) to leadership from the heart (South America).

The hosting team designed for the first day and a half.  The third day was co-created with participants.  The fourth day was open space.  We were holding the mystical and practical in our field and this too showed up in the open space.  A session on tarot cards was offered for messages related to our gathering and other events in Brazil at the moment.  Jerry offered the flow game, a mystical tool itself applied to deep and often practical questions people bring as they host themselves.

I offered a question about spirit guides, guardian angels and power animals, what do they have to do with our work?  As I write this I notice my own tension between wanting to share this story and my uncertainty about how it will be perceived by people who read it, who were not there, wanting to honour the integrity of each of us who were part of this overall experience of Hosting From a Deeper Place, not all of whom were part of the session I called.

Taking a deep breath, I am continuing to share, inviting those who continue to read to bring your curiosity and open heartedness to what you read.

My open space session turned into two as someone in the circle shared that one of the participants channels a guardian and would we welcome the guardian into our circle with any messages meant for us?

the circle in the woods

Anita Gomes joined our circle, noticing that the guardian she channels was indicating she wanted to share with our circle.  The guardian’s name is Vó Antônia or Grandma Antônia. She is a “Preta Velha”, from Umbanda, a Brazilian religion that blends African religions with Catholicism, Spiritism, and considerable indigenous lore.

Vó Antônia is an old black woman with completely different characteristics and mannerisms than Anita.  She also has a lovely manner and a beautiful sense of humour.  Those in our now expanded circle had both personal questions and broader questions for her.

There were key messages that resonated for me.  Vó Antônia shared with us there is no need to doubt the existence of the subtle.  It is as real as the physical.  There are entities, beings, guides that support each and every one of us, whether we are aware of them or not. We are on the same team, we just live in different houses.  When asked if we should be looking for signs she told us it is long past the time when we need to look for signs.  No books falling off of shelves, windows being rattled, doors opening mysteriously, smoke signals being sent.  It is far simpler than we make it out to be.

We rely on our eyes too much. They give us false information. We look for physical beauty.  We look for ways to show how special we are, how gifted we are.  Seeing through the heart allows us to see through many false pretences.   Seeing in this way we will be in our knowing.  We will be able to trust our knowing, trust ourselves.

It is not too late to save the planet.  We are already working in service of the planet.  We do not need to be afraid.  As above, so below.  As within, so without.  As in the physical, so in the subtle.

Our gathering might seem small but its impact is significant.  When we leave, we simply need to keep doing what we are doing, seeing from the heart, knowing all is intertwined.  Walking the paths that call us, living purposefully, meaningfully, intentionally.  We are weaving the web of the past and the future together for the present moment.

For me, I came home from this experience in Brazil in the space of expansiveness, remembering from time to time to take a breath and sense beyond my physical form to where the boundaries blur and my consciousness swims, intermingled with other essences of and from the subtle.  To remember that it is not two separate things – the physical and the subtle – it is all part of the same essence, each in its own way.  To remember that my spiritual journey, my life journey, my career path are not separate things that I need to think about how to combine, work and the sacred are all essences of the same thing.

It was and is, of course, different for every one who was there.  The group is still alive and sparking in beautiful, interconnected ways of story sharing.  Many are sharing how they are hosting from a deeper place and what that means to them.  Most of us are still in the discovery of what it means, how it is showing up, how the subtle and the practical are dancing together in powerful, beautiful, noticeable ways.

We are curious to see what more the story is becoming, what more we are each becoming, individually and collectively.

And, while we were told we didn’t need to look for signs, the pictures taken on our last day in our opening circle outside showing orbs of light in the sky and around each person in the circle no matter where we were standing seems a pretty good reflection of the energy field expanded by our time together in exploration of the practical and the subtle.  Tricks of light or just light?  Simple, really.  Beauty and grace.  Expansiveness from the heart.

orb of light in the treesorbs of light

Hosting From A Deeper Place – Working with Not Knowing and Emergence

It was a long time in the planning, a conversation begun two years ago in earnest, a few twists and turns along the way with possible hosting team members and dates.  If you trust in the timing and flow of things, it was clear, Hosting from A Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle happened in exactly the right timing at the end of February 2013 near Sao Paulo, Brazil at Espaço Arco-Íris.

The gathering was inspired by Marianne Williamson‘s quote from A Return to Love:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Since it was the first gathering with the specific intent of exploring what it means to host from a deeper place, the hosting team of myself, Narjara Thamiz, Gustavo Prudente and Jerry Nagel sensed the need to spend additional time together beforehand, preparing ourselves, preparing the field for what wanted to happen and we decided on three days.  In hosting work these days, there are typical patterns we draw on in our design process.  For this gathering, there were no particular patterns to draw on.  We felt in the not knowing of new patterns, of what wanted to emerge.  We were intentional in inviting ourselves to stay in our own not knowing about what exactly the gathering was and about what was to happen during those days together.

The purpose that emerged through our deliberate enquiry into a statement that would guide our design process was: Joining together in a learning field to deepen individual and collective capacity to host complexity.

We decided to draw on Theory U to map out our five days together and to incorporate the Four Fold Practice as fully and intentionally into each day as we could, looking for the interplay between hosting self and hosting others, and the dynamic relationship between the mystical and the practical and how that shows up in each of the four practices.

four-fold-practice

Day 1, started after lunch, beginning with a walk through the woods of the beautify retreat centre to ground us in the energy of the place, the energy and intention of our time together and then moved to a circle check-in.

The theme of Day 2 was hosting self and others into a deeper place, moving down the left hand side of the U.  We used body movement and guided visualization to invite an expanded sense of being, enquired about people’s experience with not knowing for a powerful world cafe and open space to invite “conversations would help me host myself and others to go into a deeper place”.

As people arrived this was the extent of the design development we had done as a team even after being together already for three days, holding ourselves in our individual and collective not knowing.  Days 3-5 were completely blank other than knowing the theme or intention for each day.  They needed to be that way, to tune into what wanted to emerge from and for the collective.

Flow of our retreat

The theme of Day 3 was Hosting within a Deeper Place at the bottom of the U.  At the end of Day 2, as a hosting team, we recognized the divergence of our own world views in this work from more practical to more mystical.  Wanting to be in service of the people there rather than any of our own individual needs, we invited any who wished to join our hosting team meeting.  When they arrived, first we asked them why they came to the meeting and then we asked them what going deeper meant to them.

I’m not sure we realized we carried an expectation that going deeper somehow meant diving into shadow and fear until someone spoke about how the Marianne Williamson quote had sparked goosebumps and shivers, imagining illuminating our light.  It was one of those moments when shift happens and everything seems to open up.  The design for Day 3 began to emerge and by the time we were done and names appeared next to each design element, I realized I’d hosted myself out of hosting.  A beautiful and disconcerting thing at the same time.

The design for Day 3 began with movement to begin the embodiment of light and playfulness and set the stage for a guided visualization, after which there was a short period of time for reflection through silence, art, poetry, journaling or being in nature – whatever called to each one.  We moved into appreciative triads with the following questions:

  1. Tell a story of a time when stepping into your deepest fear liberated powerful things in your life?
  2. What is the gift you have you don’t fully acknowledge?
  3. What are you learning about your own talents, gift and light?
  4. Who must you step into being in honour of your fullest potential?

This was followed by three hours of silence, including a silent lunch and then back into our triads, paired with another triad to reflect on what we are learning about our hosting now, followed by a long check out circle, people wanting to share reflections and insights gleaned throughout the day. Celebration, story telling and music around the fire at night.

The next day, Day 4, was clear.  Open space all day.  A world cafe at the end to harvest the day.  The field was now hosting itself.  Noticing synchronicities. Hosting from within and out of a deeper place.  This day seemed to invite the deep mystical to show up in many different forms and conversations.  The field was ready to be in this exploration.  And always we carried the curiosity of how does this inform the practice, how does it translate into the practical.

Day 5.  Getting read to go home.  Saying good byes. Departures. Hosting out of a Deeper Place.  Gently.  For re-entry.  More embodiment.  A visualization of taking it home. Back in our triads.  “When I leave here, how will I balance and integrate my knowing with my internal and external worlds? And what help might I need?”  Then an embodied harvest of our days together, angel corridor and collective poem.  Moments of pause and silence.  Nobody wanting to break the circle.

A field alive with all that had flowed in and emerged over our days together, still deeply curious about the mystical and the practical of hosting.  A clear swirling around hosting self as central, core to all the other practices in the four fold practice, core to hosting from a deeper place.

A group so connected and field so alive it continues to spark and shine across North and South America.  Connected in depth.  Connected in love.  Connected in journey of work that calls each of us to step in, lean in further, challenge ourselves in how we show up so we invite others to show up differently and more fully.

The stories of impact are already emerging and we imagine it will only be in the weeks to come that we more fully understand the impact of this gathering on our individual and collective hosting capacity, especially as we work in more and more complex situations.  We plan to touch back in with deliberateness to harvest more, to learn more, to understand how we host from a deeper place and what it means when we are able to do so.