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?

WISE Women Using the Chaordic Stepping Stones

We love to invite the stories of how people use what they learn after attending an Art of Hosting gathering.  It sometimes seems daunting to bring new patterns and practices alive at work, in community or at home.  And sometimes it is hard to recognize yourself in some of the stories shared by the hosting team during the gathering, especially the larger, more high profile or long term stories.  So sharing where participants are stepping into practice in large and small ways helps illuminate many different entry points into shifting the shape of teams, organizations, communities and ways of being in the world – including in the first practice of the four fold practice of hosting self. This is the first such sharing of how Art of Hosting works for new and seasoned practitioners.  Perhaps you will see yourself or your starting point through these stories.

A team from the WISE Women organization in Newfoundland attended an Art of Hosting training in Fredericton in January of 2013.  They wanted to understand how to better support some of their clients in community engagement.  When asked a couple of months later how they were incorporating what they learned, this is what they shared.

“We definitely are using the practices and methods of the Chaordic Stepping Stones for our strategic planning sessions for the WISE/WEC Custer Project on Bell Island.   Currently working on the ‘Limiting Beliefs’.   Of course the awareness is helpful and making some of the beliefs conscious and shared has been bonding.”

Chaordic Path

She further shared, “Personally, I am using the World Café format for an upcoming ‘RED HAT Society’ Event I am hosting for 100 seniors in the community.  This format is working wonderfully for sharing of health related issues and information.”  – Linda Hickey

 

Youth Engagement Impeded by Pressure of Elder Legacy Need?

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

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

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

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

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

Stillheart Roe and Kathy

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

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

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

Celebrating My Father at 80

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

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

dad and the boys - Christmas 2012

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

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

My mom and dad in 2000

My mom and dad in 2000

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

dad and his handiwork

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

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

Dad's pride and joy - Bluefin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the circle in the woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

orb of light in the treesorbs of light

Activation, Amplification, Acceleration

These three words – activation, amplification and acceleration – have been keywords of mine for awhile now.  2013 is the year I live into them fully and I am already the recipient of the delicious impact of them – which is why I am only now finishing a post I started at the beginning of the month, the beginning of the new year.

These words capture the essence for me of what time it is in the world, what is needed now and what so many of us are living into as we live and work in the ways that we do – fully, as authentically as we know how in any given moment, with heart.  Not trying to solve all the worlds problems, but focusing on what calls us.

These three words – activation, amplification and acceleration – are so alive in my experience of 2013 that they have caught me by surprise. So much is flowing I almost can’t keep track of it so I am learning to trust feeling the flow rather than thinking it.  One of the intentions I had held for 2012 was to become aware of and break patterns that no longer serve me and step into new patterns that serve me better.  As 2012  is still flowing into 2013, there are signs all around me that this intention has borne fruit.  A new pattern is learning how to breathe into flow rather than be overwhelmed by it, so I can continue to receive what wants to show up in the abundance in which it is being offered.

Activation happens individually and collectively.  What is it we want to give life to? What do we want to live and be?  What is it we want to do?  What is the vision of our life journey or path?

It is what happens when we gather to do meaningful work in the world.  We activate patterns.  We activate hope. We activate intention. We activate the possible.  What wants to emerge.  What wants to come to life.

We always have the potential to activate.  Often we do it unintentionally.  I and some of my good friends and colleagues are living into the question of what happens when we do it with intentionality and awareness.  Feeling this year is particularly about activating the mystical in step with the practical.  How do we live with a foot in both realms, each fueling and feeding the other?  And, for me, it is activating with boldness.  In 2009 when I articulated my purpose statement, the word “boldly” included itself – I boldly bring my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people.  It is only now, four years later, that I feel it truly activated in me and in how I am intending to show up in the world.

Amplification.  What happens when we activate together, in a collective field.  I can journey alone.  We can each work alone in our individual realms.  But, when we activate together we amplify the impact.   It becomes stronger and more powerful.  The energetic field is amplified. This is one reason we host with others.  More happens and more quickly.  The mystical expands and is amplified.  The practical moves more swiftly, carried by more people and stronger intention.

Amplification leads to acceleration.  Things happen faster.  Healing happens faster.  Not necessarily because we intend to go faster but because the conditions emerge for acceleration.  There is a discernment here between being busier at work and in our lives which comes simply from acting and doing, trying to do more, faster.  The kind of acceleration I mean here is the result of tending the field, the spiritual, the energetic, the mystical.  Grounded in this kind of energy, acceleration is the flow that naturally emerges as synergies occur and synchronicities appear.   The things beyond which we could have planned.  The people and events that show up in right time and right place.  As if they have been waiting for us or we have been waiting for each other.

heart on fire

I have been learning about these three words since I started using them a few years ago.  This is the year they are on fire for me.  They are part of what has inspired me to be in the journey of the offering of Hosting from a Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle in Brazil at the end of February 2013.  A conversation that started years ago with my beautiful friend Narjara Thamiz and grew to include our co-hosts Gustavo Prudente and Jerry Nagel.  An offering that has seen many potential dates come and go until it finally landed in the first quarter of 2013.  An offering that has attracted friends and colleagues from Brazil, the United States and Canada.  An offering where we will lean into our not knowing, hold the space for emergence and where these three words – activate, amplify and accelerate – will be very much alive for me.

I am in wonder of how vibrant and alive life is as I learn to feel my way into it more, grow my own receptivity to what is emerging and live fully into the gifts I have to offer as this second half of my life continues to unfold in blessed and graced ways.  I am humbled and renewed every single day.

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

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.

Shape Shifting Along the Path of Soul Journey

There are times, more frequently and consistently lately, thankfully, when My Self is in step with My Soul – my soul journey.  My Self has taken a long and winding road, full of pot holes, steep slopes and obstacles on the path, shifting shape in subtle and dramatic ways, to find her way to My Soul.

My Soul holds loving space.  Patiently waiting with full invitation for My Self to notice, to step in, to fall in, to embrace.  Sometimes My Soul whispers to My Self to help My Self find her way.  Sometimes she beckons loudly.  She always trusts My Self will find her way back. If not in this breath, maybe in the next.  If not in the next or the next after that, when there are no more breaths in the physical My Self, setting the non-physical free to blend back in with My Soul.  There is no time limit.  My Self manufactures urgency that My Soul does not assume, does not need, in the moment, a moment that could be a moment as we know it or a lifetime as we experience it.

When the two, which I have playfully named My Self and My Soul as I lean into what it is I am even trying to understand and discern here for myself, are in synch, there is a depth of stillness, beauty and love that envelops me in every way imaginable and emanates out in the world in palpable ways.  Synchronicity flows.  Miracles follow miracles and wonders never cease.

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend – on for the Soul Journey

I have known this soul journey through unconsciousness, awakening, pain and sorrow, joy, love – to greater and lessor degrees.  I have often thought there must be ways to get to it just from joy, that pain and suffering are symptomatic of the human condition and should be optional.  There are easier ways, most of us just don’t seem to choose them.

Earlier today, running in a beautiful Nova Scotia fall morning, through my neighbourhood, down to the Bedford Basin, along the waterfront, up to and down the main road, through a path along a little stream, back in a quiet neighbourhood and along the lake to home, I was present to my physical experience.  The air crisp and cool.  The sun filtering through the leaves of the trees – what’s left of them anyway.  My feet crunching through the fallen leaves.  Not thinking of things but holding my own self, my own experience with curiosity.

I notice this sense of transition – again, never ending, always in it transition.  I see the world around me, my actions, my work, me, changing, shifting shape all the time.  Often subtlely.  I feel things slipping off and new things budding.  It’s often quite lovely.  And I feel sorrow and joy.  Great depths of sorrow.  Great expanses of joy.  Either of these experiences can evoke tears and either are perfectly okay.  I am learning to hold them without judgment, just the noticing.  Oh, and the allowing.  Allowing them to flow when they appear – for joy or sorrow or any other number of reasons they may appear.  And, of course, it is not just tears but any range of possible expressions of emotional state, many of which are quite delightful.  Including stillness.  Including exuding love – like  a magnet, attracting people, experiences  stories and more love.   I am learning that when you travel the path of love, all things are added.

When I first moved into my house two and a half years ago, for almost two months I woke up every day feeling joy and delight.  Every single day. It was so lovely.  I understood that instead of struggle, perhaps joy could be the baseline experience that informs our journey, that we keep springing back to when we let go of whatever is getting in the way of joy.  It was quite a revelation born of the wondering and expectation that was beginning to creep into my awareness that maybe one morning soon I would wake up and not feel joyful.  I wanted to invite the level and intensity of joy into my life, every single day.

Then, financial realities began to hit.  Time began to bleed, minutes into minutes, days into days.  I could feel stress in my body and I knew it was being created not by my experience in this moment, but by my thoughts foraying into the future and the past, forgetting to reside in the beauty and okayness of Now.  My Self separated from My Soul for a little sojourn in other places.  My Soul tenderly held the space for My Self to explore.  The exploration in service of soul journey.

As I listen to Esther Hicks channeling Abraham, a conglomeration of non-physical entities, and Abraham speaks about expansion, I’m now getting it.  Abraham says, what’s the good of a banquet if they only offer what you want?  Where is the opportunity for growth and expansion in that?  If all my days had stayed only in that joyful place, would I have experienced this new depth of soul journey, where My Self is in tune, in step with My Soul more often, if some disturbance hadn’t entered my field of awareness?  If they hadn’t shown up, maybe I would have been content to stay within the boundaries of my lovely new home because I’m sure loving my solitude when I have the opportunity.  Instead, the murmurs of discontent show me what I don’t want, causing me to look for more of what I do want and then attract to me and my journey the most amazing, remarkable experiences.  I’m shape shifting yet again and how lovely is that?

It’s not struggle. It’s not even transition. It is being, experiencing, allowing.  There is no struggle if I don’t.  Lots of letting go of illusions and opening up to more and more of what I want – My Self walking with My Soul more often, inviting me to show up fully, to hold space more deeply, to carry things more lightly and allow myself to be swept along to the next shifted shape that is the new hallmark of a journey that only gets better and better.