I was in Rosendale, New York in early November 2009 at the Lifebridge Sanctuary. With a co-hosting team of Nancy Fritsche Eagan, Martin Siesta, Silas Lusias, and Kelly McGowan, we were close to completing the third of three days for an Art of Hosting training. It was going well. We had just completed a lovely and deep circle hosted by participants. The weave of that group was feeling particularly close.
I’ve hosted Art of Hosting trainings now over many years: open enrollment trainings like the one in New York; client engagements also when there is a more specific purpose or strategy to be developed; hundreds of cafes, circles, appreciate approaches, and open space working groups. The simple know-how of any of these methods and others are really helpful skills.
During the break in New York, I found myself getting insights about a question I’ve been asking for a few years. Hosting what? Yes, hosting what? I know we call it “Hosting Conversations that Matter.” Yet, when done well, it seems like much more is happening. Like hosting conversations becomes a doorway to something deeper and more lasting. What is that? That’s what I want to learn more about. And practice with deliberateness. I know I’m not speaking of something entirely new–many of us know there is something more and have been trying to name it. In her poem “Prospective Immigrants Please Note,” Adrienne Rich has some words for this, going through doorways, that I love. “If you go through there is always the risk of remembering your name.” Perhaps it is the remembering of our names, purpose beneath the purpose, connection beneath the connection, that is so compelling.
So, in New York I got some clarity. Some on the “what to expect from an Art of Hosting.” A sense of “remembering the future.” Because I was seeing it play out again. And because it was a reaffirmation for any part of me that thinks, “this won’t work this time.” It is the kind of stuff I would want to share with any client or community group thinking of calling an Art of Hosting. The “what is likely to happen” through the doorway of conversations that matter.
Remembering the Future: What Is Really Likely to Happen at an Art of Hosting Training
- Though the group will start as strangers, there will be a strong sense that we have met before. It happens all of the time. After a day of working together, and it feels like we’ve been together for a lot longer than that (in an appreciated way), people start to feel that surely they have met before. It’s almost unfathomable that the group could have started only one or two days ago. This says something, by the way, about when clients are wondering if it is really different to meet over several days together rather than just a series of two-hour meetings.
- There will be a strong sense of community. We will remember what community can be in the best of ways. We’ll anticipate being together in the mornings, the days, and the nights. People will offer some of what they can. They’ll be able to ask for the help that they need. And we’ll be deliberate about honoring beginning and ending times. Oh, and yes, as it is in any great community, we will tell stories. That’s how we will learn in our conversations together. That’s how we will show up. And one last thing, people will share things about themselves that they normally wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing. You’ll know you’re there when someone speaks beginning with, “Well, I didn’t think I would say this, but I feel I can and need to tell this story…” Deeply personal weaving into the professional.
- People will be creative. It seems to happen when we combine three things together. First, learning. Through the maps, models, teachings, experiences. Second, relationships. Through telling stories and asking questions with each other, people will want to work together. Rather than the default isolation, people will seek each other out because they see each other as resources, friends, and allies in creativity. And third, people will want to work on projects. They will shift from what World Cafe co-founder Juanita Brown calls “if only or yah, but” to “what if…” to “why not!” Beautiful to see.
- The group will come to see and want to see through a lens of beauty. They’ll adopt beauty as a criteria for their work, interactions, and offerings. Beauty in the questions they offer. Beauty in the physical set up of the room. Beauty in the individuals that are in the room. Beauty in themselves. I love this point in time. Someone tidies the circle. Brings in a flower from outside. Offers a next level of harvest. It is when imperfections are welcomed and even celebrated because they are welcomed from whatever level of beauty is in the participants. It is an exquisite moment from the standpoint of appreciative approaches. And it is as though we put on new glasses and see anew something that has been there all along. Resonance of beauty.
- People will be courageous. People will come to feel a strong sense of “being bigger.” I don’t experience it as ego inflation. It is more simply what becomes available as people settle in to the next level of working on their projects, working with other colleagues, and working from a shifted and renewed clarity of values and world view. It is magical when the complex becomes simple. Not reductive simple. Principled simple. Energetically-clear simple. What a thing to see us awaken to our courage to be clear and get to work from that place.