The Importance of Resilience and How to Cultivate It – 10 Principles Overview

resilience

A favourite keynote of mine (and larger body of work too) is on resilience – why it’s important and how to cultivate greater resiliency. When I went looking for a formula or guide for resilience, I didn’t find any that spoke to me about my experience and the experience of my clients with resilience. Inquiring into what I was learning about resilience through my own experiences of shifting the shape of my life and through that of my resilient clients shifting the shape of their culture, team or organization, generated a definition and 10 lovely principles of resilience.

Resilience is the ability to find the inner strength to bounce back from a set back or challenge, to recover quickly from illness, change or misfortune and it is your sense of knowing that you have the resources and abilities to handle anything that comes your way. For many of us, this does not come easy. It comes with having survived and navigated many different curves in the road – some when we imagined we must have been through enough already.

Ten principles for cultivating resilience are listed below and each of these will become a little post on its own that you can look for over the next few weeks.

Principles of resilience:

1. Inquire into what works, especially what works for you – since we all have good stories about when we have rebounded or recovered from a set back. When you know what has worked for you and why, it helps you generate more and more of what works – principles from Appreciative Inquiry.

2. Notice your self talk – don’t believe everything you think. Your mind is a powerful tool and it often seems to have a mind of its own. Not really. You can program it. You can wrest back control and use it for your advantage rather than be at the whimsy of unintentional thoughts or stories.

3. Networks of support. We all have people who are our champions and biggest fans, who will catch us when we fall. Of course, you have to let them and that often means you also have to let them in.  Those walls you’ve created are meant to keep others out but what they really do is keep you in or insulated and, in the long run, that doesn’t work.

4. Be present. Lao Tzu offers this: if you are depressed you are living in the past; if you are anxious you are living in the future; if you are at peace, you are living in the present. It takes some conscious effort to keep yourself present in the moment and too often we allow ourselves, our minds, to wander to the past or the future. You will know where you let your mind go by how you feel.

5. Lean in – be aware of and still the voice of your inner judge. Running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from a problem is to solve it.  Counter intuitive perhaps but true.

Jim Morrison - into fear

6. The Miracle of Story. You are always, always expressing yourself in story in one way or another. Usually you – most of us – are unintentional about how you do that. I love Charles Eisenstein’s reflection on story and miracles: “We have to create miracles. A miracle is not the intersession of an external divine agency in violation of the laws of physics. A miracle is simply something that is impossible from an old story but possible from within a new one. It is an expansion of what is possible.”

Not how the story will end

7. Intention. Develop clarity of intention, then let go of attachment to it. Hold it with lightness and see what shows up. Know it is an iterative process – you don’t just do this just once. Sorry. Or not. Depending on what’s showing up in the iterative process for you.

8. Act. Take steps. Look for openings, invitations and ease and also examine your limiting beliefs.

9. Life Throws Curve Balls. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out. Everything is running smoothly and life begs to differ. As you welcome it all in, you sit with it in a different way. A more accepting way. Then those curve balls lose their power to completely throw you off course.

Soul knows how to heal

10. Nourish Yourself. In the Art of Hosting world, we often call this hosting self – the first of the four fold practices. Embrace it all.

Body-mind-spirit healing

Power and the Four Fold Practice

 ~co-written by Jerry Nagel, President of Meadowlark Institute and Kathy Jourdain, Founder of Shape Shift Strategies Inc.~

“Power is the strength and the ability to see yourself through your own eyes and not through the eyes of another.  It is being able to place a circle of power at your feet and not take power from someone else’s circle.”Lynne V. Andrews, Flight of the Seventh Moon

One of the underpinnings of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter is the Four Fold Practice. This is a set of practices that invite us to host self, others, processes or groups and to be in co-creation or community of practice with others. Serendipitously coming across the above quote in a little offering about the energy of the magician, generated a whole new level of reflection about power and the first two practices for us.

four-fold-practice

The first practice for the Four Fold Practice is to host yourself, to be present or have presence.  When you focus on and grow this practice you know your center and ground and the strategies, personal practices or disciplines that enable you to access this place within yourself.  You can then stay present more often in more and more challenging situations and you can find your way back to presence more quickly should you find yourself off balance for any reason – as we all do from time to time in the flow of life.  In essence, you become more powerful in presence because, like the above quote says, “power is the strength and the ability to see yourself through your own eyes and not through the eyes of another.” Your understanding of who you are is internally rather than externally validated.  For us, what this affirms is the benefit of having a regular practice of self-reflection, not as a process for self-criticism, but out of knowing self or seeing self.  This is a life practice.

The second practice in the Four Fold Practice is to participate by hosting another and allowing yourself to be hosted.  It is a reciprocal relationship when you are tuned in enough to feel the balance between listening and speaking for each of you, which does not necessarily mean equal time.  Sometimes you listen more, sometimes you speak more. Sometimes you need to host someone else and sometimes you need to be hosted. “It is being able to place a circle of power at your feet and not take the power from someone else’s circle.”  If you show up powerfully present you have no need to try to take away someone else’s power nor do you feel threatened by them because your sense of self comes from self rather than from needing anything from another.

“Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.” Tao Te Ching

This does not mean you cannot be in a space of shared power.  When you are truly powerful, you are also able to fuel the other person’s circle of power without lessoning your own, inviting and allowing them to step more into their own humanity and to bring it fully into the space between you and shared by you. Through this you build the relational field.  This is particularly important when you are part of teams, building the relational field to host groups and processes from a place of individual and collective presence and attention to what is present in the moment. It lends itself to the conditions for co-creation in a team or in a community of practice. It opens up the possibility to move into the generative space at the bottom of the U (from Theory U).  And this is where we often say magic happens – the magic in the middle.

“Magic makes it possible to use the limitless power of spirit to reshape the world in accordance with the fondest desires of the soul.” Donald Tyson, New Millennium Magic

This is part of the exploration we will be in at the end of January 2014 as we co-host with others Growing Hosting Artistry, to be offered in Minnesota. A sneak peek, since the invitation is not quite ready, is that we will explore world view as a lens to deeper work, what it takes from us as hosts to create containers for powerful work, become curious about new narratives that want to live in the world now, how to skillfully deal with shadow and projection, the impact of the relational field including among members of the team on our hosting artistry and how to design for the work at hand.  Hosting artistry begins with knowing self and our power and being in the place of centeredness with individual and shared power.

Jerry-me-others outside for opening ritual

Jerry Nagel and Kathy Jourdain – co-authors, co-hosts, friends and colleagues

Journey to Open Heartedness

Love is the conversation we need to have.  A post from Dogma to Divine I read this morning illuminated for me what to write about today.  Love.  Not romantic love. Not love with attachment or conditions.  Love as a way to be in the world.  Love as a way to hold space – with others, for others, for ourselves, for conversations that want and need to happen.  Love as a healing energy.  Love as a pathway in the world.  Love as an illuminator.

open-hearted (1)

Fear tries to obliterate love.  The inner voice of the judge tries to shut it down.  We have come to associate so much disappointment with love, we are afraid of love.  Afraid to let it wash over us, our relationships, our way of being in the world. We are afraid we will be disappointed, exposed, hurt.  Afraid we will be vulnerable in ways that allow others to take advantage of us, our good heart, our good intentions – in which case it is no longer love but something posing for love.

We are afraid to know ourselves from the field of love.  We are afraid to know others from the field of love.   Yet it is who we are at the core.

It is hard to love others when we do not love ourselves.  It is hard to let love in from others when we do not love ourselves.

Love is misunderstood.  We have come to attach so many conditions – or feel conditions attached –  to it that rediscovering what love is becomes a practice, a journey to open heartedness. If we allow it.  If we invite it.  We are not even aware of the conditions and the expectations we attach to it.  To those we love.  “If you loved me, you would….”  Yup.  Fill in the blank.  For any one you are in relationship with.  We all have many of them.

If you loved me, I wouldn’t have to tell you what I feel, what I need from you.  If you loved me, you would just know.  Because you don’t know, you don’t love me.  Now I am hurt. Now I shut down.

If you loved me, I wouldn’t have to love myself.  But if I cannot love myself, I cannot let your love for me in.  I deem myself unworthy, undeserving of your love.  Not romantic love.  Human to human love.  Spirit to spirit love.  Soul to soul love.  Just love.

We discover love and how we relate to love through relationship with others.  Yes, romantic love counts here too.  And it is so much more than that.  Children. Parents. Siblings. Friends.  Colleagues. Acquaintances. Strangers on the street. Those who love us.  Those who challenge us.  Those who don’t even know they impact us.  Or don’t know how much.

Disappointment arises when expectations, hopes, conditions we are carrying are not met.  When we harbour this disappointment it casts shadow over the field of love. When we replay it over and over again, it grows.  Then we feel the need to armour ourselves because we have learned love only leads to disappointment.  Anger shows up.  That we would be treated so.  That someone else doesn’t care enough about us.  That people are only mean and selfish anyway.

The journey to open heartedness invites the inquiry – into hurt, pain, grief, disappointment, attachment.  It invites the release of whatever shows up during the inquiry. It invites forgiveness.  Of self.  Of others.  An opening up of space.  Expansiveness.  Generosity.  It also invites inquiry into joy, beauty, delight and love itself.  It is a pathway to peace.   A practice we don’t get perfect but we can perfect the practice of inquiry and deepening the journey to open heartedness.

Practicing love does invite us into our own vulnerability.  A vulnerability that comes from our willingness to see ourselves fully and allow others to see us.  In all of the imperfectness of who we are.  Vulnerability that invites  us to be in our strength and power.  We can be in a field of love and make different choices about different relationships. To be in some.  To not be in others.  To make conscious choices. To appreciate our choices. To make choices that invite generosity of spirit, not from a place of hurt, anger or denial – although some of the choices may start there.  We have the opportunity to shift the shape of the story at any time.  It comes with hosting self.  Growing awareness.  Growing practice.

Generosity and a willingness to love others without an expectation of performance in return for love or even having that love returned in the same way.  This is a difficult practice at first.  To let go.  To not follow a path of hurt or shame.  Just to offer love.

Love is the conversation we need to have.  Now.  Always.  With each other.  With ourselves.  As we journey deeper into open heartedness, we grow our acceptance of self.  Of others in their journey, wherever they are in their journey.  It doesn’t always require words.  It can simply radiate from the heart.  Become a way of being in the world.  The more it becomes this, the more people respond, even when they don’t know that they are, or what they are responding to.  Love is the conversation we need to have.  All of us. Every where.

Hosting Self: Practice Informs the Practice

Practice does not make perfect, thank goodness.  Practice informs the practice. If we pay attention, lean into what we are discovering and allow ourselves to be in the place of not knowing or in the space before the naming, just long enough for an awareness to arise, shift to happen, peace to arrive, clarity to emerge. Maybe just one of those things, maybe none of them, but something that signals to us that a shift has happened, is happening, within us.

This is all part of hosting self.  Like you, I don’t have it all figured out.  I’m in the thick of learning every single day.  Learning to be in my experience in any given moment – the moments I enjoy and the ones I’d rather not be in.

This is not always an easy practice, particularly in those days when we are experiencing challenge.  Hosting self  is only something we can draw on in those times when we really need it if we have been in the practice on a regular basis. In the practice on the days we don’t think we really need it. Days that are inspired, beautiful, peaceful, joyful.  And on the days that are just kind of blah.  If we are not in the practice during those days, on the days when hosting self is most needed to help reground and centre we will have no practice from which to draw on.

There are wearying days .  Even for people in regular, ongoing practice.  When I posted that sentiment on Facebook recently – that sometimes this hosting self thing is wearying before it transmutes into peacefulness and joy, someone asked me what I do to host myself.  A beautiful invitation into a little reflection and exploration.

There are a number of practices I cultivate on a regular basis to draw from on those days I most need to host myself.  In the midst of feeling challenged or feeling hooked, hosting myself usually starts with a noticing that I’m feeling “off” or hooked, acknowledging something is “rumbling” in me that I have not yet named and am not yet able to articulate with any clarity.

In the soonest moment I can – which might be immediately or in a few hours or after a few days – I become curious and invite myself into a little bit of sensing to see if I can source what’s been triggered in me.

It is important to acknowledging that whatever’s been triggered, whatever is rumbling, it doesn’t have to completely influence everything else that is happening in the moment or my day, week or month. It is simply one thread, not the only thread. If I allow myself to notice, I  may also notice that many of the other threads are light, positive, purposeful, delightful.  It is okay to absorb those threads too.  Just because one “rumble” might need some of my attention, it is not a disservice to it to still allow in joy and light.

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend - on for the Soul Journey

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend – on for the Soul Journey

I’m not sure why those moments of challenge call so loudly for attention we think we need to cloak ourselves in them.  We don’t.  We can learn whatever it is we need to know without becoming lost in it.  Most of us have become so conditioned to going full on into it we have to teach ourselves to slow down and broaden our view with deliberateness.  We also need to give ourselves permission to relax a bit and to treat ourselves with compassion.  As we sense into what’s going on we can also sense into what form of hosting self is being called forth within us.  There are many possibilities. Here I offer a few I personally draw on with regularity.  You may also have some of these and likely you have many more of your own.

Physicality is a good antidote to those off moments.  Sometimes I run or do other exercises.  Aside from wanting to enjoy a certain degree of health, mostly I crave physical exercise or movement to take me out of my head and into my body, to release tension or let my body have the movement it craves.  When I start to run or exercise, my mind is still often on whatever challenge has my attention.  I need to remind myself to let go of the thoughts or to intentionally bring in thoughts and images that will make me feel better.  Usually surrendering into the moment allows images or symbols to arrive on their own that contain beauty, joy and meaning.

Meditation is a great way to host yourself.  It’s not as difficult as most of us think.  There are many approaches, no one right way and, thankfully, perfection is not required.  I meditate almost every day even if for just a few minutes and usually for fifteen to thirty minutes. It’s a great way to start and/or end a day. Often I use a guided meditation because it helps to keep me in my meditation longer – even if I am not always (or even usually) tuned into the words, I know they are getting through to my unconscious.  In the moments I lose focus I am less likely to go into full distraction mode and get up and go do something else after just a couple of minutes.

One of my practices is to devour all the positive reflections, mantras and good news messages I can, to really absorb them – especially in those moments I’m feeling off.  It is amazing what they can do to lighten my spirit when I allow it.

Gratitude and appreciation are two amazing counter acting forces to those rumbling, grumbling, or worse kinds of days. I remind myself of all the things I’m grateful for, the path I’ve journeyed, how far I’ve come.  There is an abundance of things to be grateful for and they are a good reminder of how things always work out and sometimes in surprising ways.  It is helpful to remind myself I don’t have to have the how of it all figured out in order to begin.  Time over time I discover that when I let go of the how, miracles really do happen.

Journaling is a beautiful way to reflect.  Just sitting to write for a few minutes in  stream of consciousness can shed light on whatever has been triggered, make patterns and themes visible and bringing new insights that create the space to release what has been troubling us.

Finding a friend willing to listen with curiousity and compassion, without judgment.  Just to be there.  Not even to offer advice and certainly not to commiserate with us in a way that keeps us stuck.  Sometimes in talking it out, insights arise that help us move forward or understand how to address an issue or challenge or conversation in a way that serves us and whoever or whatever may have triggered us.

Tarot cards, prayer or other spiritual practices are another way of hosting self.  Anything that helps us be more present and aware.

It is good, almost essential, to remember that what’s happening in this moment is transitory and doesn’t make me – or you –  a dismal failure, just like successes do not lead to infallibility or guru-ness, just real human beings doing the best we can every day.  Some days are better and more masterful than others, but it’s all there in the mix.  Just people on a journey with good, delightful moments and challenging moments too.

All in the flow of things. There is far more flow of things when we are in a regular ongoing practice of hosting self.  How do you host yourself?  What are your practices?  What do you come back to over and over again that helps you regain your ground or stay centered?  Where you grow your self awareness, your curiosity and your self compassion?

Hosting self is an integral aspect of being able to host others. It is the first practice in the Four Fold Practice for a reason.  It is a beautiful inquiry to be in every day and in any given moment – not by making yourself a self improvement project but by surrendering into the unfolding journey.

Four Fold Practice

Ingredients for Hosting Team Success – An Inquiry

How is it we can take a group of people who may or may not know each other, throw them into a prep or planning day together and have them emerge out the other side as a team, ready to co-create and co-host a three or four day Art of Hosting training, to greater or lesser degrees as a cohesive, fluid team?

In the last few years, I have had powerful experiences of this happening in Atlantic Canada, in Brazil, in the United States, as I’ve invited or been invited onto hosting teams with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, different levels of readiness to step more fully into hosting and different size teams from six to fourteen. And these days, in my experience, although individuals on the team know each other, the whole team has only met each other in person on that prep day.

Cohesive, fluid hosting teams hasn’t always been my experience.  Especially in my early days of hosting.  Having contrasting experiences offered me opportunities to notice and reflect on what worked and what didn’t.  Hosting myself, I became aware of how to, more often, invite the kind of experiences that work well.    Recently a good friend invited me into a deeper inquiry of, in my experience, what makes strong teams possible?  What are the ingredients for hosting team success?  These are not definitive by any stretch of the imagination, but they are some of the themes I’m noticing that consistently support strength and capacity in hosting teams I’ve been part of.

Some of it is in what happens in prep day.  Most of it is the quality of invitation to all of us on the team whether we are seasoned hosts or stewards, practitioners, apprentices, or logistics coordinators to show up fully.  We are all equally human, equally beautiful, equally valuable and  each of us holds a part of the whole.

There is no question the space for this invitation is held by the stewards.  It is not just a verbally issued invitation, it is one that is fully and authentically supported in all our actions and in our energetic field, in the space we create and hold for others to step into, in the responsiveness to all the voices that show up.  When, as seasoned hosts, we are able to step into our own humility and support the field from what might seem a less visible place, we open the space for others to step in more fully.

There are, of course, times that what we have to offer from our experience is what is needed – a thought, an observation, a question, a teach, a framing for what’s in the room, making something visible, stepping into our own brilliance in service of what is needed now. Knowing when to step in and offer what is needed now is also important – a part of the art.  Doing it in a way that builds on what others have offered, in the spirit of expansion and illumination, is a gift to self, a gift to others and a gift to the field in which we work.

To seed this field of invitation I want to have at least one other person on the team I know well, where mutual full trust exists, with whom I know we can handle anything that comes along.  With a minimum of the two of us (and one or two more is even better), we can hold the space for whatever wants or needs to show up in the team – and then in the gathering we are co-hosting.

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

Prep day itself begins with its own welcome, framing and flow.  And an invitation to the full team to find the places they want to step in.  We begin open heartedly.  Infusing the space with welcome, invitation and confidence.  We move to  a check-in process. First on a  personal level.  What draws us to this work? What are we most excited about? Whatever question that personally brings us into the work and into the team.  Then we move onto what we know about who is coming, what their questions are, what they might be hoping for.

The harvest from these two rounds of check in is a co-created purpose statement to guide our planning and design process.  From there we take a first crack at design.  What is the invitation for each day? How will we invite people in, invite them to stay in, create the space for what they want to do and the opportunity for them to reflect on what they will do when they leave.  It is at this point I often notice the energetic threads weaving amongst the team.  People connecting more deeply.  Similar thoughts and ideas emerging at the same time.  Laughter in the room as synchronicities show up.  The awareness we have tapped a deeper place.

We take a look at what we’ve crafted.  Identify day hosts, hosting opportunities, coaching opportunities.  We invite hosting team members to offer where they most want to play.  We step in where we know our wisdom, knowledge and learning will most serve and we look for balance in the offerings.  We create a field of caring and intention and we prepare ourselves to welcome the larger group in the same open hearted invitation instilled with curiosity and generosity.

As a team, we stay tuned into and aware of each other in subtle and obvious ways.  We continue to invite each other’s brilliance and to support each other.  We work with the ebb and flow of individual and collective energy and know that we have each other’s backs. We ask for what we need and offer what we can. We invite each other.  We check in at the beginning of the day and we check out at the end of the day.  Openly.  Honestly.  Speaking what is in our hearts, minds and awareness.  Tuning in to what is in the space.

I don’t know if this is a recipe for hosting team success.  I know it’s been working in the places I’ve been and in the teams I have the pleasure of being in learning with.  I am certain there are other ingredients, other recipes that work equally well and will continue to be in co-learning and inquiry to continue to grow my own capacity to support hosting team success.

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

Credible Vulnerability?

No wonder we are so challenged by the idea of vulnerability, especially personal vulnerability.  It was a revelation to me to do an internet search on the topic.  What came up first and most was this kind of explanation:

  • the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment
  • window of vulnerability as a time frame within which defensive measures are reduced, compromised or lacking
  • Achilles Heel
  • capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt
  • open to moral attack, criticism or temptation

No wonder most of us shudder when the topic of vulnerability comes up.  It is in our collective consciousness and organizational cultures as weakness not as strength although much research confirms the power of vulnerability as pointed out by Brene Brown – beautiful and powerful in her own vulnerability.

I an in a renewed deep dive into this exploration thanks to the conversation that may have surprised and delighted me the most at The Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California at the end of August 2012.  A conversation I did not expect to be witness to or our high tech company participants to be in.

It arose out of a World Cafe conversation on complexity in response to the third question: what’s stirring in you now as you contemplate complexity (after exploring complexity they’ve been in and barriers and supports for being in complexity)?  My attention was caught by a table where two men and two women were deep in a shared reflection of where vulnerability meets credibility.

The conversation went something like this:

“Yes, I know it’s a good thing to be vulnerable, but how do I be vulnerable and still be credible as a leader, in my organization.”

“It’s not safe to be vulnerable. You are seen as weak.  How can you be vulnerable and not appear weak?”

“I would lose credibility.”

“First you need credibility, then you can be vulnerable.  But how much credibility is enough?”

“Maybe allowing yourself to be vulnerable will show your credibility.”  Is there such a thing as credible vulnerability?  What does that even mean?

All of this led me to wonder what we mean when we speak about vulnerability – what’s in the field?  A lot about weakness  and protection it seems. This resonates with my journey personal journey, one of Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Open Heartedness.  The invitation was to move beyond believing emotions make me weak to understanding them as a guidance system that will never steer me wrong if I pay attention.  In the context of leadership, particularly participatory leadership, vulnerability does not equal weakness, defense systems do, but how and why is that so?

Thankfully Brene Brown is turning vulnerability (shame too) on its head so we can lean into it differently.  She says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy ~ the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”  And also make us the most human.

Sounds pretty personal.  What does it have to do with work? Because as much as we try we cannot be one person at home and another at work.  We suffer from the incongruency and it shows up wherever we show up.  People sense it, even when, especially when, we try to hide and know, from the place of deep knowing, when they have encountered someone in the fullness of their authentic journey and their vulnerability.  They often name it as courage.

Brown says what we are most seeking is connection.  It is why we are here, it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  I hear the yearning for it in so many people who are drawn to Art of Hosting and related gatherings.  In order to have connection, we have to let ourselves be seen.  Truly, fully, seen.  But then we risk people seeing our weakness, our shame, any inauthenticity or lack of integrity we feel we may be carrying. We make ourselves vulnerable.

Interestingly, when I looked up the definition of credibility it is the quality or power of inspiring belief; the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real and honest.  Seems to describe what I think of as one aspect of vulnerability.  And it’s simple.

Given this definition, the relationship between credibility and vulnerability is so intimately entwined it is hard to separate out which comes first and which you need more.  If we can begin to see vulnerability for the strength and authenticity that it is, instead of as a weakness we cannot show others, our credibility instantly begins to rise.  But how?

There is no simple solution to this.  It requires courage and risk and a path of hosting yourself, growing self awareness and presence.  It requires the courage of being imperfect and of compassion – for self and others, particularly for self.  Finding the way to allow ourselves to be vulnerable without inviting criticism or recrimination – the fear of which intimidates us and makes us believe we need to protect ourselves. This is the conundrum.

Vulnerability is part of an intentional journey of learning to find our voice from the depths of our strength, our sense of worthiness, love and belonging, from the place of whole heartedness.  It is also part of the art of what we do.  The only way to trust is to risk.  The only way to risk is to trust. The only way to do this is to do it.  Risk as much as we dare.  Pause. Reflect. Learn. Embody. Trust. Risk a little more.  Eventually we shift the shape of our experience, our understanding, our credibility and our vulnerability. We live into it as the asset it is rather than the deficit many of us have experienced it to be.  It is not our vulnerability that is the challenge.  It is our fear of our own vulnerability that brings the weakness.

We didn’t name this conversation.  It showed up in an unexpected place.  Speaks to the yearning.  Speaks to what’s missing.  Speaks to the invitation.  Speaks to the first step.  Easy.  Difficult. Complex. Simple.  Choose.

There’s a Reason Why It’s Called The “Art of …”

What is art without technique and is technique alone really art?  “Art” could mean art as it evokes the image of artwork but, really, it is much broader than that –  dance, fitness, sport, yoga, meditation, music, hosting, the work we are in.

I’ve been in a beautiful reflection after a delicious conversation recently with good friend and hosting colleague Jerry Nagel. We were discussing upcoming work in California, Brazil and Minnesota and just after he’d been listening to an interview with Rosanne Cash. She spoke about working with her muse – the muse being the source of inspiration for creative work.  She said she works with her muse all the time.  All the time.  Not just sometimes.  All the time.  A discipline.  A practice.   In little whispers along the way and in more structured forms.

She also noted how performing in front of an audience is not a one-way street although she used to think that early on in her performing career.  Now she knows through experience there is an energetic exchange between the performer and the audience.  Tuning into the energetics.  Fuelling and being fuelled.

My conversation with Jerry started with a curiosity about how working with the muse relates to our work in Brazil at the end of October: Hosting From a Deeper Place with two Brazilian friends, and the purpose of that gathering.  Perhaps it is about how we each individually work with and cultivate our muse, our source of inspiration.  How we move technique to art or if we are already in art, how we grow our artistry in our work and life? Because it is a practice.  It is a discipline.  It is not just present some of the time.  It is present most or all of the time.

We then moved into an exploration of what we do in Art of Hosting trainings, in our work with clients and what’s happening in the field in Minnesota where hundreds of people have been to an Art of Hosting training in the last year or two and some are stepping into a deeper journey to be a trainer but wondering really, what is the path to artistry and what does it take to get to the field beyond good technical skill?

People will often say they come to an Art of Hosting training for a technique – like World Cafe or Open Space Technology.  Or, as some like to say, “to expand their tool kit”.  And technique, particularly good technique, is fundamentally important to what we do and what we offer.  We need to know and practice the foundation or the fundamentals to get good.  An artist practices technique – whether with paint, music chords, performance basics, fitness basics.  I wonder if artists talk about expanding their took kit or if they talk about growing their craft?

Most of us don’t just sit down at a piano and have beautiful music come out unless we are some sort of musical prodigy.  Nor would we expect that.  We would expect, if we were inspired enough, to learn the foundations and know that after we learn the foundation then we have the opportunity to become more and more intricate with the music, the style, the mix of technique.

Some never move into artistry from being a technician and, for sure, not everyone must. However, there is a quality we can observe, hear or sense, that lets us know when we are listening to music from a good technician and when we are listening to music from an artist.  It comes from the heart, from the soul.

It seems to come when we can relax in the technique and live in the art – just as true in hosting work as any other kind of artistry.  Art  bolstered by working with the muse all the time.  Even, maybe especially, when we are not working with groups, we are working with the muse.  Developing a discipline of practice. The practice is the work.  The practic is holistic – involving fitness, health, spiritual and personal practice that allows us to know ourselves - the first fold in the four fold practice – hosting self, being present.  The more we know ourselves, really know ourselves, in addition to the solid foundation of knowing the technique, the more we dip into artistry.

The difference between being a technician and an artist is subtle and dramatic at the same time.  It is something we sense but can’t always name.  It is tuning into this energetic exchange between host and hosted.  Sensing what is there rather than looking for it.  In the looking for it we sometimes miss what’s really there.  In tuning in, we sense the subtleties in the room, in the energy that is present that requires hosting in quiet and/or more obvious ways.  We become like a well tuned instrument.  And it can take years of intentional practice for this to happen.

I am aware in my summer of presencing, where I have not been hosting groups, I have continued to be in the work, practice, discipline of hosting myself – with new levels of awareness and new patterns of joy emerging.  When I begin co-hosting groups again in a couple of weeks, I know in the depths of being, it will come with a whole new level of presence.

With practice, the discipline begins to call on the host.  Time to exercise.  Time to meditate.  Time to invite a conversation – to host and be hosted.  Time to be curious.

Hosting from a deeper place is what happens as we move beyond being good technicians into artistry.  There’s a reason why, when we name a training, workshop or intensive, we often call it the “art of…” The first or surface invitation is into technique and process.  The deeper invitation is into practice and discipline that tips us over into artistry, the understanding of the deeper patterns, the energetic architectures and sensing into the subtleties that show intervention points that are much harder to grow awareness or understanding of when we are in the technical learning of our craft.  It is why one art of hosting training does not a practitioner make.

Technical competence and expertise?  Yes we need it.  It builds a strong foundation.  Artistry?  Where and how does your soul call you into your hosting artistry and what are the subtleties you notice – in others, in yourself – as you tip over?  What muse inspires you to deeper places in your being and invites you to bring more of who you are to what you do?  What journey do you need to embark on to host for a deeper place?

“Until recently”…. a Very Simple Strategy

“Until recently, my office was really cluttered.  Now, I’m in the process of organizing it.”

“Until recently, even though I liked you and wanted to be in touch, I was a little afraid of you.  Now, I promise to stay in touch because I’m no longer afraid of the questions you’ll ask.”

“Until recently, I didn’t know how to approach difficult conversations.  Now, I’m learning strategy and gaining courage.”

“Until recently, I was just walking through the experience of my life because I was afraid of my emotional response.  Now, I’m living into it. And, it’s not as scary as I imagined it to be.”

“Until recently, I was struggling.  Now, I’m feeling more flow and a smoother road ahead.”

It is a simple little strategy that, until recently, I hadn’t heard about.  But, now that my friend Robert Newman from Columbus Ohio shared it with me when I saw him in June, I’ve been using it and I’ve been sharing it with my coaching clients.

One of the aims of coaching is to become aware of old patterns that no longer serve and awaken new patterns that serve us better, generating greater self awareness, one of the goals of hosting self in the Four Fold Practice.  It is really easy to get stuck in the story of what was instead of engaging the story  or the future we want to invite, the one that shifts the shape of our world and our interaction in it intentionally in the direction we envision, the way we want to show up for ourselves and in relation to other people.

It invites a gentle noticing: “until recently this is the way it was” – and it invites an intentionality: “now, this is what I choose. ” There is no harshness, no self judgment but a delightful invitation to choice.  To choose a better feeling story and invite ever increasing better feeling results.  It is like a mantra and a habit that can be remembered mid sentence in an old pattern:” I don’t keep in touch very…” pause, notice… “until recently, I wasn’t very good at staying in touch. Now, I’d like to set up a regular pattern of calls”.

It invites lightness into whatever it is we want to shift and grows the potential we will create the shift we want.  Try it.  Recently, I have discovered it is a very simple yet effective strategy.

Explaining Art of Hosting for Beginner’s Wanting to Know What It Is

Every place we go has its own tone, texture and timing.  It is part of what makes Art of Hosting – or in the case of California in August 2012, the Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation – so hard to define. “We” being whatever configuration of hosting and calling team has coalesced around an identified need or opportunity.  Every training is different because every place is different, every group that responds to the call is unique.

People who are just coming across Art of Hosting want to know, what is it?  One way to think of it is, at its core, a set of patterns and practices that help us be successful in complex circumstances.  Developing skill in using these patterns and practices is particularly helpful now at a time when long term strategic planning doesn’t work anymore (if it ever did) because we don’t know and can’t predict what ten, five or even two years down the road will look like.  One thing many of us have a growing awareness of is that what has worked in the past – strategies, practices, principles – doesn’t seem to work anymore – if it ever did.

The world is providing us with increasing complexity – in the environments in which we operate, our communities and in our organizations, especially as things seem to move faster and faster.  Social innovation is a response to this increasing complexity.  Rigid protocols have limited application in complexity.  Complexity calls for a different set of leadership skills – skills that tune in and are responsive to emergent circumstances.  Complex systems share behaviours that cannot be explained by their parts.  This requires a different set of frameworks to see and understand it.  In the Art of Participatory Leadership we draw on world view, chaordic path, divergence/convergence, the 2 loops of systems change, theory U and other frameworks as lenses through which to think about complexity and social innovation.  Social innovation looks for an alignment of circumstances that makes action possible – the relationship among elements.

One of the names we use for this type of experiential learning is the Art of Participatory Leadership because it also calls forth a new set of leadership skills required to deal with complexity and social innovation, quite different from how we think about traditional leadership.  Participatory leadership focuses on participation and engagement strategies, knowing from experience there is wisdom and knowledge that exists within a group, a team, an organization, a system.  When we make it visible in a group, it moves into the realm of collective wisdom, knowledge and understanding leading to a different kind of action and ultimately different results.

Participatory leadership  connects well in high pressure situations. Some of its core characteristics are curiosity or non-judgement, staying in the space of not knowing, generosity or openness, a belief that conversations matter and that good conversation leads to wise action.

It is not a quick fix or a magic bullet for problems that have existed and have been evolving over long periods of time.  However, there are often very immediate results for individuals as they examine and reflect on their own leadership practices.  This is also why we encourage teams to participate so they have a new common language and are more able to hold each other accountable to create a path of behaviour change and organization practices that will be sustainable.

A core element of the Art of Participatory Leadership is for each of us to deepen our own capacity to effect transformation – in ourselves and in a complex world.

Where have these practices and patterns been used? In community, private sector, academia, healthcare, and educational settings as well as social change efforts around the world.  The stories are only just beginning to be documented because many of us have been deep in the work rather than the writing about the work.  Stories are alive in Nova Scotia, Ohio, Minnesota, Europe and Brazil and many, many more places.

Art of Hosting is also a global self-organizing community of practitioners who use these integrated participative change processes, methods, maps, and planning tools (like circle practice, appreciative inquiry, world cafe and open space technology) to engage groups and teams in meaningful conversation, deliberate collaboration, and group-supported action for the common good.

The hosting and calling team for this first Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California: myself, Jerry Nagel, Ann Badillo, Sherri CannonDana Pearlman and Mia Pond will weave stories of where this work is alive in the world into these three days of co-created emergent design and process – a little taste of what we do in the world and what is possible.

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.