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.

Hosting Lessons from the Field – Part 1

It is just the beginning of 2012 and already the year has been rich in hosting lessons from the field, diving deep into new levels of awareness around hosting subtleties. It began in Utah early in the month, hosting Healthier Health Care Systems Now with Tenneson Woolf, Steve Ryman and Marc Parnes.

Marc Parnes at Healthier Health Care Now, Utah 2012

Marc, who is a physician, gynaecologist and host from Columbus Ohio, started us off on day 2 with a story intended to set the tone and challenge of the day.  He told of what was to be a routine surgery he was doing on a woman.  When he opened her up and looked inside, what he saw not only surprised him, it alarmed him.  Things that were not supposed to be stuck together were.  He could not see the path for the surgery.  He was not able to see his way.  He did not know how to proceed with the surgery as he stared at this jumble of internal organs.

All eyes were on him as he then he stood up in our circle.  We could feel the anxiety of that moment.  Standing there, Marc planted his feet shoulder width apart, just like he did on the day of the surgery, to ground himself.    As he closed his eyes, he described doing exactly this as he stood beside the woman on his operating table.  Then, with his eyes closed, he reached into the woman and began to feel his way around, searching with his hands for the openings he could not see with his eyes.

When he finished, he knew what to do.  He opened his eyes.  He could now calmly begin the surgery, having expanded his vision of what was possible by “seeing” with other senses.  The surgery was successful.

There was a collective sigh of relief in our circle.

We began to reflect on what Marc’s story had to do with innovation in health care, what it had to do with hosting.

After coming through the first day, we checked in as a host team and invited the voices of others who showed up to participate in the design process.  We tracked our day around purpose and intention.  We felt good about the design and flow of the day and we felt we had challenged people beautifully in our opening circle on day 1 by asking them to speak to the pioneer and innovator inside of them that had responded to the invitation, but not to speak too deeply to their work, promising that would come later.  We sensed that though the day had been good, something was missing.  With reflection, we realized we were still on the ground of old territory and familiar conversation, not the new conversations we had invited people into.

The invitation was to be in a different conversation about health care.  The challenge for this group was to move into what would be a new conversation for each of them. This amazing group of individuals carry in them irrepressible dreams for healthcare systems that thrive; for simplicity that doesn’t deny the complexity, yet responds well to it.  They continue to have high hopes for healthier healthcare despite having been in many, many conversations about shifting the systems within which they work and play.  Those who responded to the HHS call were already innovators and pioneers in health care.   Maybe the new conversation was not a collective conversation about a new global vision about health care but was about individual systems of influence and what was at the edges of their own learning that might be new territory.

Our challenge, as a hosting team, we realized, was in making sure we really did travel to new territory – not an easy challenge given the experience of the people who came.

We continually scanned what we knew that could invite people into new territory. We brought play into our process – a beautifully renewed learning edge.  Collaborative play, allowing us to see and experience our learning beyond the cognitive or intellect.  Then, through reflection, seeing our patterns in work and relationship in whole new ways.  Allowing inspiration to enter in.

At the end of day two, despite traveling much ground in the day, there was still a sense of restlessness in our hosting team that took awhile to fully sense into. Something edgy.  Something still not quite arrived at.

Checking in as a host team and, like the day before, with others interested in our design process, we recognized that we were happy with our design and the flow of the two days. We briefly wondered if we should be satisfied with where we were and consider how to enter and close our last day well. Yet there was something we still had not quite arrived at.  Something about the new conversation we hadn’t quite dug into.

We reflected on what we knew from our Art of Hosting experiences that would push the edges of where we were.  If we were looking for a groan zone or acupuncture point in our process, normally we would look to a point in day two.  But this timing did not show up in day two.  Were we willing to push our own learning and hosting to bring in something even  more edgy in the morning of day three?

We knew we would not get to where we wanted to go through another conversational or intellectual process.  We decided to invite this group of physicians, health care administrators and others into a guided visualization process, to invite them to explore their own future journey in healthier health care now. Following the visualization, we invited them into drawing or illustrating some representation of their experience in the visualization process, followed by a conversation with a partner to really dive into this experience in depth.

The experience was intense and provocative. It shifted the shape of some individuals.  It shifted the shape of our gathering.  It broke the pattern of the old and invited a new pattern. The World Cafe that followed was amazing.  It was sparky. Ideas flowed quickly.  There was a new quality that had entered into our space.

Once we saw it, experienced it, we could name it.  We had shifted from conversations that came from the head to conversations that now came from a deeper place.  The conversations were now embodied. People began to look at their own path and their own systems of influence rather than at points of the system too far beyond their own systems of influence to have any real impact.  We were in new territory.   We observed that embodiment shifted the conversation to deeper and more meaningful places.

As a hosting team we agreed to continue to push the edges of this group, knowing we still had a whole day ahead of us, even though if we had planned a visualization process, we would likely have planned it for the end of day two.  But sensing where we were, knowing what we were aiming for, keeping our essential calling questions close, we pursued our purpose and intention.  We continued to host potential right up to the moment of preparing to close our circle.

It isn’t over until it’s over.  We know that.  I have often heard it said in a hosting team.  And this time we lived it fully with a trust in each other, in what we were sensing and our willingness to flow with what was there.  Even as I write this, it is hard to describe the exact edge we were on or the truth of our experience.  But I’ve been reflecting on it a lot.  These reflections flowed into the last couple of weeks in Brazil, during Warrior of the Heart and a local Art of Hosting stewarding gathering, where we danced with flow to the most amazing degree – letting go of design to sense into what was alive and needed in any given moment.  More reflections on that later.

For now, the richness of the host team learning in Utah stays with me, embodied in my own experience in the best of ways.  I feel myself growing my capacity in hosting in the most delightful of ways, brought out by those I have the privilege to host with.  This year has started off so rich in learning, it makes me deeply curious for what the rest of 2012 will bring.

Hosting Ceremony

What happens when what you are called into host is not actually what you’ve been called into host and every thing you think you know or have to offer of value is not what is needed? When knowledge and experience of methods, processes, theories and frameworks, though asked for, is not what will actually serve the situation or community you are hosting?

These questions, alive and vibrant, were lived into this past week in Membertou, a First Nations Community in Nova Scotia, that a team of us had been invited to, as part of an emerging leadership program for youth, to offer a three day Art of Hosting and Warrior of the Heart training. We were invited by Pawa Haiyupis from the National Centre for First Nations Governance and a team at Membertou to contribute to a program Pawa has been envisioning for 10 years, since attending her first Open Space Technology session.  We were to work with youth, elders and members of the Governance Committee.

When the Canadian Government cut funding to the NCFNG in the middle of the four week emerging leadership program the plan was thrown into chaos and the shape of our time together shifted frequently and rapidly.  Would there even be an AoH/WoH training and, if so, how many days and with whom?  Financial and energetic support was invited from a circle of eagles from around the world and from the larger Art of Hosting community to fund expenses and to be at our backs  as we hosted this work, the hosting team clearly called to be in it no matter the circumstance.

The hosting team – Bob Wing, Pawa, Sarah MacLaren, Ryan, myself and one other – convened on the beach at Mira Gut to begin our check-in in ceremony and with a little Warrior of the Heart.  Sense of spirit was strong with us and blood memories were being activated.  We asked for guidance from Creator in this work.

We did all the usual preparation for a training, including cracking our overall design and the design for day one.

Then we entered day one.  We knew as soon as we entered the space that we needed to be prepared to let go of much of what we planned as we waited the arrival of elders to begin our time together with a pipe ceremony.  The pipe ceremony was beautiful and powerful, inviting spirit and Creator to guide our path.  It had the full attention of everyone in the room no matter their age.

We followed it with Warrior of the Heart and, yes, a teaching on the chaordic path and some time in triad conversations.  In this day, we became aware of some disruptions in the field.  At the end of this day, we met with the full hosting and calling team and explored what people were sensing and what their concerns were.  We did a little teaching on divergence and convergence for this team.  We invited all questions and all concerns and also celebrated a little bit the successes of the day.  We left feeling a bit of convergence in this team and a willingness to be open to what wanted to happen the next day.

Dinner with an elder showed us that what wanted to happen the next day was ceremony and, specifically a sacred fire.  We all knew it was the right thing and in that moment the hosting team stopped designing process and shifted the most completely and fully I have ever experienced into hosting what wanted and needed to happen in this field and this community.  It wasn’t process, methods, frameworks.  It was ceremony.  Ceremony in service of this community, hosted by the elders.  Ceremony to activate blood memories. We trusted we would know in the moments following ceremony what else could be offered that would serve the community and the intention of this work well and we knew absolutely we were working with the principles of spaciousness and simplicity.

Host team check-ins are always an integral part of any Art of Hosting training and usually serve the design process.  In some ways, they became the design process.  Deep check in.  Clearing and understanding our field.  Strong pull to meditation and other ceremony morning and night to keep intention and presence clear and strong.

We know we were hosted in ceremony by this beautiful community.  We know we also hosted, but exactly what is a little less clear.  We know something happened in this community that would not have happened if we had not been there.  We know something happened in us – individually and collectively – that would not have happened if we had not been there.

I find myself in contemplation of ceremony and the guidance of Creator.  I find myself in a deeper exploration of the non-physical world and the allowing of my gifts to emerge and flourish with new knowing and fuller surrender to what wants to be guided through me.  In the letting go of expectations and any need to show “expertise” in this group and this community, I know we were more fully available in the co-hosting and co-creating of the space.  Sometimes simply being allows things to emerge that might not otherwise.  I am wondering how that informs all my hosting work and feel the invitation to work more and more from this place of surrender, trust and “just” holding space.

As Pawa said, “the teachings are still percolating and the brew smells delicious. More to report on as the teachings are digested.”
A deep bow to the community, the team and the field that held us so well in this journey.

How Voicing Shadow is Stilled

How is it we find it so hard to speak the things that lend themselves to shadow – within ourselves and within all of our interactions with others – at work, at home, elsewhere?  How is it that voicing shadow has been stilled instead of us stilling shadow by voicing it?

If we all carry shadow – and I do mean everyone of us – and if it shows up in every conceivable situation or context – relationships, teams, projects, organizations – anywhere and everywhere human beings show up, how is it we have fallen into patterns of colluding with it so that it gains a foothold and sometimes a stranglehold on us and our relationships, getting in the way of us getting things done?

I know personally I have found my voice stilled in the face of shadow in situations too numerous to recount.  I have felt without voice, shut down by self and others, judged and judging and I have often wondered how I could ever find my way to clarity that could be voiced in a way that served well instead of feeding the emotional and energetic vortex that often forms around shadow.  Fear felt in each heart palpitation, stomach in my throat and head pounding as words sometimes eeked their way out and sometimes didn’t – not knowing how to name things in the groups and teams I was part of and particularly when it felt like I had a lot at risk.

It is probably these many experiences with shadow (beginning long before I knew what shadow was) that has sparked my enduring interest and curiousity in this topic – that and the freedom that learning has brought in those times when I found the voice to speak from the place of my own shadow. I grew and released bits of shadow every time I found my voice.  Sometimes it was messy and inelegant and other times for more graceful than I would have given myself credit for.

I also discovered I could help others – individuals and groups – begin to name and voice their shadow in order to elevate it to a place of visibility and learning which disempowered the negative influences of shadow.

Then, knowing that I actually have the capacity to voice it, deal with it, disempower it, I have judged myself harshly in those times when I knew I wasn’t voicing the shadow I was aware of.

Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, in their work in PeerSpirit, define shadow as that which cannot be voiced  – and, if it is voiced, is done at great peril, real and perceived, to the speaker.  I wrote about it in this blog on the Gift of Shadow. In a recent conversation with Art of Hosting friends and colleagues:  Christina, Nancy Eagan and Martin Siesta, we identified at least two traps we often fall into that still the voice that would expose shadow.

The first of these is the time trap.  In pursuit of our work and objectives we feel we do not have time to “derail” the trajectories, grand design or process flow in favour of pausing to check in around shadow that begins to show up.  We know it’s there but we want to work around it to keep to a time target.  Sometimes it’s a conscious choice.  Other times we are just blundering our way through.

Related to this is another situation I’m familiar with – shadow on hosting or facilitation teams that is not addressed.  When shadow shows up in hosting teams (and it usually does to some degree or other) and isn’t addressed, it impacts the relationships on the hosting team and it can influence the dynamics of the larger group we are working with, whether we intend it or not.  The degree to which this happens depends on the level of self-mastery of the individual hosts (the degree to which I can own and sit with my own shadow or to which I am projecting it onto others),  the larger context of relationships within the hosting team and whether this is something new that is beginning to emerge or something that has been brewing for a long time.  I’ve experienced all of these scenarios and more.  Because dealing with shadow is usually not a lunch time conversation, as a hosting team we often make a non-verbalized choice to function on behalf of the client or the group rather than trying to deal with shadow on the client’s time.  Sometimes this is  a necessary choice.  The problem with this is we often do not make the time to deal with shadow outside of client or training time.  One often used excuse is our schedules are too busy.  And our tendency is to want to avoid these conversations because we have all had experiences where this had gone badly.  We are scarred by these experiences.   When the relationships are really important though, when we want to deepen the experience and continue to work with people in the most authentic ways possible, we do make the time.  We stay in it for the long haul.  It is where some of our greatest learning and growth takes place and our deepest relationships emerge.

A second thing that stills us from voicing shadow is people’s goodness.  People generally are trying hard and if we bring up shadow it seems to imply they – or we – are a bad person.  Whatever shadow shows up gets generalized to the whole person rather than to the specifics of this particular shadow or context.  If it is named, the response is often defensiveness – “I’m doing all I can”; “I’m doing the best I can”.  People’s goodness and the tendency to  generalize become a barrier to talking about hard and difficult things.  It comes back to not wanting to hurt another person and also our lack of skill in addressing difficult topics. We are afraid for their reputation and for ours.

These are just a couple of traps.  There are more.  What are some traps you’ve experienced that still the voicing of  shadow?  What are your experiences in finding your voice?  How can we develop our skill in surfacing the undercurrents of shadow so we can shift the shape of our experience and our world in a way that embraces all that is there?