Virtual Circle Check-In as an Entry Way to Practice

In the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter Training where Jerry Nagel and I are part of the hosting team, after we experience circle practice, usually as a form of check-in on our first day, we offer a little teach on check-in and check-out practices as a routine part of a meeting structure and flow, as a way to help people arrive into the purpose of the meeting and to wrap up the meeting before everyone departs.  We share how we, like many of our colleagues, also do this with our calls or virtual meetings as we are part of many hosting teams where members are drawn from many locations.

A participant at a November 2013 training in Grand Rapids shared her experience with how using circle with a virtual work group shifted the shape of their experience.

hands shaking through computers

“I work pretty much 100% via phone. Today, I was bringing a group together after a few weeks unconnected during the holidays. Wondering how to loop everyone back into the groove, I recalled  one of the things we learned at AoH in Grand Rapids, about how a “circle” acts as a form of check in and grounding.  I explained briefly what we did at our AoH workshop with the circle and a structure. I asked them, if we actually had a physical circle, what structure would they place in it and what about it would they like to share.

“Wow!  It was amazing how their “structure” actually related to the previously stated goals of the group and their own stated goals.  This set the course for the rest of the meeting. What could easily have been a painful meeting listening to how busy everyone has been, blah, blah, blah – turned into an awesome meeting. Picking their “structure” back up set action in place for our next meeting too.

“Just wanted to let you know this stuff actually works – if we use it;)”

Love that last line – this stuff actually works – if we use it! Where is your entry point? How do you invite people so they feel invited, thoughtful about it and engaged?

Transformative Questions Can Shift Worldview – Guest Author Jerry Nagel

authored by Jerry Nagel (Originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry, January 3, 2014)

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

QuestionsQuestions. 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.

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.

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.

Seeing and Being Seen, Having Voice

St. Cloud is a small city in Minnesota known euphemistically as “White Cloud” because of its reputation as a racist town.  Some residents of this community have decided this is a reputation that needs to shift.  They are taking action in the form of Conversations that Matter.

Mayuli Bales became aware of the Art of Hosting a couple of years ago through one of the early trainings in Minnesota.  She began to dream of what might be possible in her home town and the seeds of the multi-cultural community gathering for conversation began to take shape, seeds just harvested mid-November 2012.

It was the first gathering in St. Cloud about race and culture convened by people of colour.  Mayuli pulled together a local calling team despite not being able to explain clearly what the Art of Hosting is and they got to work, supported by InCommons and the Meadowlark Institute.

Some of the most passionate discussions in the hosting team were about seeing and being seen, having voice that is acknowledged and recognized. The experience of so many people of color is that they are invisible, not seen, not heard. Heartbreaking. For them. For those of us on the hosting team too.  For me.

The dream was to Color the Cloud. The purpose for our gathering co-evolved by the hosting team the day before was:

Discovering together our community, to build the future by:

  • Seeing each other
  • Contributing all of our voices
  • Getting skillful at being in conversations that matter to us
  • Co-creating the evolving story

So much anticipation.  So much hope.  So much anxiety. Could it really happen? The three day design that emerged used the themes in the purpose as themes for each day.  Day 1 was Discovering Community: Seeing and Being Seen.  Day 2 was Building Community: Getting skillful together. Day 3 was Practicing Community: Co-creating the evolving story.  The design included the usual interweave of patterns, practices and teaches.

Drummers who opened the community conversations in St. Cloud

We were welcomed into our space by drummers – three members of a family with Aztec heritage, a father, mother and their three year old son who took up his place as a drummer.  The father shared with us, “You’ve been told in school and in your museums that Aztec’s are extinct.  But here we are, my wife, my son and me.  We are not extinct.  Neither is our culture.”  Culture must adapt to survive while cherishing those elements which make the culture distinctive.

He shared with us the story of the drum – as a grandfather, as a heartbeat, as part of community voice with its own message for each of us.  We were all invited to drum.  All of us.  Latinos, Somali’s, Oromo, African Americans, White Americans (and Canadians too) – broad categories of culture which do not do justice to the full multiplicity of culture in the room.  One world where many worlds fit.  Could fit.  Could be invited to fit.

The container was set, to be strengthened over the next few days. The invitation to see.  To see who else is in the room.  Who else cares enough about coloring the cloud to show up – for a morning, an afternoon, a meal, for three days. To be seen.  To contribute voice.  All voices.  Welcoming the languages present to be spoken aloud for all to hear.  Slowly at first but building so that by our check out circle, people were freely speaking their language, interpreted for the English speaking among us to comprehend, to see, to witness.

We became aware, as a hosting team, that these people, showing up day after day, did not need to hear our voices introducing teaches into the room.  They needed to hear each other’s voices, each other’s stories.  In ways and on a scale that had not yet happened in this community.  They needed and wanted to become skillful in practicing conversation with each other.  And to use conversation to support each other in initiatives and projects called out during the proaction café.  So we let the teaches of frameworks go and we focused on processes, ways and means of continually inviting them into conversation with each other.

The story of the new began to emerge during Open Space, Collective Storytelling, World Café, Proaction Café and smaller deep check in circles.  Surveying the small groups at any given time or in any given process, it was easy to see the diversity in each circle.  It was heartwarming.

Two of many stories to share here.

The first is of a member of our hosting team, a beautiful Somali woman dressed in the full traditional garb of her culture and often in the most brilliant of colours.  At the end of Day 1 she is part of the check out team.  Sensing the energy is low, she has a plan.  She looks down at her dress, begins to pull up the top layer of it, tying it in a knot, exposing the next layer of dress which still goes down to the floor.  Just this is so unexpected she has our full attention.  Then, she invites all of us to imagine with her that we are cats, to get down on the floor moving around on all fours, meowing.  Amidst gales of laughter, all who were able in the room, get down on all fours and move through the room with varying degrees of gracefulness and hilarity.  Be prepared to be surprised!  How many stereotypes did she smash through with this simple gesture of fun and delight?

The second story is of a self-proclaimed native son of St. Cloud, an older and retired white man.  He was asked to share his story in the collective story harvest and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would unfold.  He offered his story, not only as his story, but as the story of his mother and his grandparents too.  Among the people in his group were three young Somali women.  Later in the collective harvest, one of these young women stood up and said, “We are always asked about my culture and what it’s like to live here. I have realized that we don’t stop to ask the people who have always lived here about their culture and what it’s like for them to live here.”

Later, when we reconvened in our full circle, someone pointed out to me that this man was now sitting in the middle of these Somali women.  Still later, when I thanked him for bringing his story to the group, he thanked me for the opportunity.  He told me he had arranged for these women to meet his mother and hear her story directly.  Delight all around.

These are just two small examples of how we the purpose of our gathering gained life and vibrancy.  People were beginning to see each other and to feel seen by each other, to give voice and be heard.  It is a beginning for a town that is coloring the cloud, shifting the shape of its reputation and sending out the message that the future is being co-created by people who care about where they live and about each other.

The Field Beyond Difference

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,

there is a field.
I will meet you there.

Rumi

Rumi’s words, with a slight variation, encapsulate the experience of an amazingly culturally and age diverse group of participants, apprentices and hosts who gathered September 11-14, 2012 in the middle of the Phillips Community of South Minneapolis where all of us discovered there is a field beyond difference and we are willing to meet each other there.

Image

There was a tremble in our fourteen member hosting team as we prepared to welcome over seventy Somalis, Native Americans, African Americans, Anglo Americans, Latinos, people from Liberia, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia and more, together with two translators: one for Somali and one for Spanish.  We were not sure how many would come, how many would stay or how many would come back the next day.

This Art of Hosting training, supported by the Bush Foundation’s InCommons in partnership with the Meadowlark Institute, was called by Amina Saleh a co-founder of the Native American Somali Friendship Committee, in the hopes that bridges could be formed across the  multiplicity of cultures that have come to reside in the Phillips residential area of South Minneapolis.  The original residents of this community were primarily African Americans, Native Americans and Anglo Americans.  In the 1990s immigrants and refugees began moving into the area in search of affordable housing.  Over the years, the cultures clashed, tensions rose and violence across the cultures, particularly between the Native Americans and Somali communities, occurred.

Amina found herself at an Art of Hosting training in March 2012 and became curious about what might be possible if a training was hosted right in the middle of her community, in the community centre, where the children congregate after school.  Well, we found out!

We started with a beautiful Lakota sage ceremony offered by Lemoine Lapointe from our hosting team, to open the space, to cleanse ourselves, open our minds and, even more so, our hearts.  An offering from one of the cultures present in the room, inviting others to also offer in a right moment or opportunity.

Lemoine Lapointe

Each one of us was then invited to bring our voices into the circle by responding to: my name is…, I live…, I’m from…, my ancestors are from… and I speak …. languages. As we listened, we became aware, beyond the diversity of skin colour already visible in the room, of the richness and multiplicity of cultures and languages represented in the space, the richness that showed up sometimes in a single individual as well as in our field.  It took our breath away and opened our curiosity.

The purpose that emerged for the four day training was: Hosting meaningful conversations as a way of giving life, (1) inviting in our full selves and each other, (2) sharing language and frameworks, (3) staying in it – together and (4) building “whole” community. The phrases in the purpose statement framed each of our four days; scheduled to begin around 9:00 with a hard stop at 3:00, because this is when the children arrived in the community centre we were in and when some of the single moms in attendance also needed to be home to greet their children.

Beautiful visual depiction of our 4 day flow by Nou Ka Yang

Our first afternoon was a caféWhat is in your heart that brought you here today? What is in your heart for your community? What would you like to give life to here for your neighbourhood?  Powerful, surprising questions, giving pause like unexpected questions do.  Silence at the first café round while people let the question sink in, then decided how fully they wanted to bring themselves into the room, into the conversation, into the others also at their table. Cautiously, at first. What is in your heart? Not, why are you here? Not, what’s in you mind?  What is in your heart? Are you willing to go there yourself, let alone speak it into the centre of the table?

By the third round there was a beautiful buzz in the room as people began to relax into the invitation to bring their full selves.   In the harvest, one man offered, “Unlike Vegas where what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens in this room should not stay in this room. We all need to take it back out into our communities.”  This became a mantra for participants for our full time together.

People were ready and willing to offer their rituals, ceremonies and stories into our collective space.  In addition to the opening sage ceremony, we experienced a Somali coffee ceremony, an Aztek ceremony and a Hmong ritual and an African American dramatic story telling: Sojourner Truth, in addition to Native American ceremony, song and round dance from the Dakota and Lakota cultures. We gifted each other with prayers and blessings.

Sometimes it was a bit uncomfortable with the varying perspectives and cultural norms around touch, song, dance and partaking in another culture’s ceremony; but only just in that moment before understanding blossomed and more ease entered with the witnessing of things precious.  Graciousness, curiosity and respect filled the space and the conversations. Deepening our individual and collective listening skills invited us all to show up even more fully.

The realization that issues, concerns and passions arc across cultures invited people into bridge building. Education, children, community housing, racism, racial profiling, relationship with police, healing, well being.  Learning to navigate the dominant culture and stand up, both for what is right and for rights of an individual no matter each person’s roots or ancestral history.  Awareness of commonality in the diversity. People care about many of the same things even if their way of approaching them or their cultural norms may be different.

Invitation to Open Space

As we gathered in our check out team: Amina Saleh, Kadra Ahdi, Lemoine Lapointe, Molly Matheson Gruen, Susan Phillips, Bob-e Epps, Anne Gomez, Lori Lindgren Voit, Nou Ka Yang, Marcela Sotela, Jerry Nagel, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Ginny Belden Charles and me, there were tears.  Tears of hopes realized, connections made, community strengthened, deep sense of belonging.

Our work began in the hosting team itself on our prep day.  It was the first time many of us had met in person as is common in these trainings.  There was a great variety of experience and understanding of the Art of Hosting in the team, from lots to little to almost none, with people eager to deepen their skill, grow their capacity.  The team quickly became strong and cohesive with each person stepping in, contributing, supporting as one fluid movement, offering what we each could, asking for what we needed. We formed community.

We became a field to welcome the larger field of community activists and organizers from across cultures who showed up.  And came back. Day after day.  For four days. They sensed something different. Became engaged in possibility in new ways. They made plans for next steps on very specific projects. Co-creating a new hope for the future. Giving life to community from a different place.  Stepping into courage, transcending fear, reaching out, seeing the human face of diversity and knowing that shifting the shape of the communities they live in and touch is possible to ever greater degrees.  Humbled, touched, delighted to be in this work that matters so deeply.

Shadow Days

“Kathy,” she said to me, “You think your emotions make you weak.”

“Yeah,” that seemed self evident.

“You’re wrong,” she said.  “Learning to live into your emotional experience, be in it and learn from it will make you stronger and more powerful.”

I was highly skeptical.  She, by the way, was/is Sarita Chawla, a beautiful, elegant, graceful, powerful woman I met at ALIA in 2008 who offered to coach me.  I was skeptical but prepared to be proven wrong.  She nudged me, coaxed me and provoked me.  She made me angry and frustrated. She helped me discover the voice of my internal judge and find strategies to disempower its impact. She guided my journey from one of walking through my experience to one of living into it, learning to enquire into my emotional response to see, sense and understand what is there for me to learn.

She was right.  I am stronger, more compassionate and more powerful.  It’s been quite the journey, of course.  I am usually more serene, centered, present and calm.  Joy, delight and love are usually the emotions that dominant my day-to-day experience.

But not everyday is like that. I also have shadow days.  I can’t help but think that everyone does. That we all have days – or parts of days – where we go to deep, dark places.  The days when we are overwhelmed, when the internal judge is speaking nonsense to us about who we are or aren’t and we tending to believe it, when we are off our center, discombobulated, sad, feeling pulled in many directions or just want to let the tears flow – or perhaps we can’t stop them from flowing.

In 2009, a friend and I spent a day on the land at Gold Lake, Colorado.  Our dear friends Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea helped in the preparation for that day.  One of the things they suggested was that the sites we chose be far enough away from each other that we couldn’t see or hear each other – in the event that we wanted to cry out or wail.  At the time, there were so many other experiences that were alive for me, wailing was not one of them.

Recently, I went for a run in my neighbourhood in Bedford which took me down to the park on the water.  I needed the physicality of the run and the touch into nature, taking the time to sit on the grass, meditate and reflect while looking out over the water.  The sadness that was in me, triggered interestingly enough by the offer of a gift that I do not yet know if I will accept, was so intense that tears did flow and I had the feeling that I wanted to wail.  The intensity of emotion alive in me.  The vibrancy of experience.  Convention kept the wail in.  I wasn’t sure how other park users would respond if I gave way to such a depth of sadness and grief in a place one wouldn’t expect to encounter it. Not the tears though, I let them flow.

I’ve witnessed a lot of people cry.  One-on-one. In small and large groups.  Through processes where people are able to access their own emotional experience.   There aren’t many who can let the tears flow without apologizing for them.  One of my dreams is that we can live in a world where we no longer feel the need to apologize for our tears – such a beautiful expression of release.  I no longer apologize for mine – even when they show up in a large group experience.  I no longer try to diminish my experience but want to honour it and my passage through it.

Of course, I don’t want to be stuck in my experience either.  I want to understand the story that is alive in me that leads to the tears or the anger or the frustration or whatever else it is that is showing up.  When I understand the story I can release it, shift it or rewrite it – and I often do.  It is part of hosting myself to deeper places in my life and growing my capacity to host deeper space for others. It is part of my journey to open heartedness.

More and more, I am understanding my experience in relation to me, to own it in relation to my journey, to not project it onto others  - or blame others – who may have triggered something in me.  The people around me are a beautiful reflection of where I am in the journey – the ones who trigger things and the ones who simply mirror back the beauty of the journey and the beauty of me as I show up – usually, often, in the depth of who I have been able to access since I began the journey of understanding that my emotions are my ally and that by acknowledging them, living into them and learning from them I grow my capacity to host deep space, to host another human being, to host myself.  I am deeply grateful for the wide array of friends who reflect back to me the depth of my journey.

I am not afraid anymore.  I know vulnerability is not weakness and that strength grows when we are willing to know what is rising up in us, willing to meet ourselves in the many ways we show up, allowing ourselves to be in our power, strength and beauty, also without apology but always with compassion, humility, delight and joy.

And it is okay for some days to be shadow days.  It is part of the journey.  We all have them.  They do not make us weak.  They show us the path to strength and beauty.  I no longer feel the need to wail in this moment, but who knows what the next will show up.  I am exactly where I need to be.

Not every day is full of light.  Not every day is a shadow day either.  But facing the shadow brings light to even the darkness of those days and by becoming aware of the story that is alive in me, I can shift the shape of the story, of the day and of my life – which I have been doing story by story, day by day.