Can we really make peace together?

art of hosting flow game learning edge makes me think makingadifference musing people in practice stories from the journey work of the heart Apr 24, 2024

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I've also learned that if the inquiry is sincere, the opportunity arises...

Since the beginning of the year I have been journeying with the question: "What is life helping me see about my journey into eldership and stewarding?" So I shouldn't have been surprised when, Just before a gathering called The Emergent Peace & Resistance Gathering was to start, I received a call for support from the caller, Maya Rimer and an invitation to offer eldership to the one remaining host of the event.

Originally around 30 peace activists from Israel/Palestine and elsewhere were to gather near Berlin in March, hosted by three facilitators. When Germany denied those from the West Bank visas, the immediate response was both anger and grief. It fragmented the group -- those who had already traveled, those who were about to travel and those who were denied travel, yet again.

This left me an important decision. Should I also be in solidarity with those who were left behind or should I serve the invitation in front of me? 

I did not know the inside of this context personally. I haven't lived in a place impacted by war and continual conflict. I am not a trauma therapist. I didn't know the make up of the group. But I was present to the current anger and grief, which is only the latest layering of all the anger and grief that has come before. I'd only interacted once online with Maya, the person inviting me. And still I had received a heartfelt invitation asking for help. This felt like an important nexus point -- saying yes to an invitation to show up with all my skills and experience, an opportunity to be witness and an opportunity for my own learning in eldership and stewarding.

 And so I went.

There were 13 people in the group, both Israeli and Palestinian. By the time I arrived mid-morning on Sunday, March 25, they had already been together for a few days and were sitting in check in. The atmosphere was heavy. Some of the group were crying. And it was clear it had been a rocky start.

We moved from the check into a Deep Democracy process called "The Soft Shoe Shuffle." Everyone had been asked what they felt was in the room but was not being spoken and had written it on a card. We walked around the space until Maya read out one of the cards. We were invited to position ourselves closer or further away depending on how much we agreed with the statement. Once we'd heard some voices, she said: "Walking!" and the process started again.

At one point, she read out a card and suddenly burst into tears, sharing her own helplessness and sense of overwhelm. There was a moment of frozenness in the group. I went up to her, gently took the cards from her hands, looked around the group and said: "Walking!" Suddenly there was laughter and applause and we kept going.

Being part of this event was like jumping into a river with many currents -- some visible, some under the surface but creating turbulence -- and with a new landscape to traverse where sudden rockslides, but also beautiful vistas awaited. I had to trust my deep practice, lean into both the group and the hosting team and allow intuition to guide me.


Midway through the week the group was offered the opportunity of a boat ride and an audience by the venue sponsor. It was a great opportunity, but also a profound testing ground. What should be presented? Who should speak? Do we trust them to speak?

A clash immediately arose in the group and got quite vocal. One evening two people yelled at each other. (There are times when staying in a room that felt on the other side of the venue from others has a payoff!) As the group began to get mired in the challenge, I offered a Team Flow Game with the question What is the deeper purpose of what we are inviting? The Flow Game helped people get a more eagle-eye perspective of what we were doing so they didn't get stuck in the details.

In the end, as so often happens when people can make it through a tough time, the groanzone of preparing for the boat trip became the challenge that brought people together. They had a beautiful and generative adventure together and came back much more connected.

As I listened to the stories of lived experience and experienced the interactions between people over the days we were onsite, I felt the echos of many deeply rooted human conflicts. Racism, injustice, "othering," "weathering," the longing for a home place and for belonging, the practice of community, the dance of fear and love, ancestral and current trauma and response to it, habitual patterns, dominant narratives -- all of these are at play. There is no easy answer to the "wicked problems" of our times, but they must begin in finding the crack where we can turn toward each other, if only just a little. If only for a while.

Can I find enough curiosity within myself to want to connect with someone else, the grace to endure my own wobbling around difference and the courage to be changed by the interaction? This is at the basis of creating the kind of transformational containers where people can meet. It is the work of every process host out there. This is the courageous work of our time.

As I look back on the nine days I spent with the group, I think I had three important functions and also three significant insights. 

Here's what I did:

  • I leaned into hosting. I had been invited to show up as an elder and as a practitioner. I worked directly with Maya to support and mentor her, but I also hosted the Hosting Team. We created a process frame for our emergent work, instead of relying on a blank slate and reacting solely to whatever happened in the group. We worked on building capacity in the team and helping them understand how and why we were designing like this.
  • I leaned into the teachable moment. Although everyone in the group was carrying their own form(s) of trauma, we had one participant absolutely vibrating with it. Hosting them, providing a sounding board and a reflection partner, as well as having a professional trauma specialist on tap helped to mediate some of what showed up in the group. I also shared with the group both the Fourfold Practice and the 8 Breaths -- foundational practice patterns for the Art of Hosting -- which gave us both a framework and new language  to work with in the delicate dance of moving forward together.
  • I took the role of harvester and sacred witness. A key question anyone asks themselves when they step into group work is "Do my words matter?" and underneath this, of course is "Do I matter?" Harvesting is a visual confirmation that what you say and what we do matters. When I put down the sheet of paper I'd been working on during the break, I could see people pore over it. Later someone told me that she'd had another look at my harvest and realised that she'd misheard something and that changed her entire experience of that moment. I also took on the role of "sacred witness", something that is highly valued in the Japanese culture. The sacred witness is the one who comes over the mountain. And because this one is not part of the local scene, they can see what the locals cannot. Taking this role gave me latitude to trust my intuition and to speak into the moment that was happening around me. I could balance and complement the positive fierceness of my co-host and use stories, experiences and noticing to support the group to see itself in new ways.

There was no role description beyond "elder" I could step into, and so I let it be created through me in each moment. This is an act of surrender and simultaneously an opening to grace.


Here are my insights:

Never host alone. This is what we encourage people to remember when they step into the Art of Hosting and here I experienced a practical example. There is so much more capacity, generosity and potential for working in emergence when there is more than one host. Although this event was planned with three hosts, when two of them couldn't make it, I was able to step in and bring my capacity. Maya and I had a common ground and a common practice. This made all the difference given the stress and uncertainty of the event.

A common practice gives more solid ground. Both Maya and I are both Art of Hosting practitioners. That meant we had a common ground of practice and a common starting language to build on. We didn't know each other very well, but we could stand on our practice together and move quickly into co-hosting. My experience of working with different teams in every engagement also means that I'm used to making connections quickly.

It can be easy (for me) to let go of my personal practice in the face of stress and overwhelm. As an event team, we did most of our check ins and design work in the evening two hours -- or more! -- after dinner.  I could see how quickly most of us were becoming fatigued and that made it easier for me to pick up a cold from others in the group mid week.  I needed to keep reminding myself to take time out and to continue my own personal practices to stay balanced and present. 


I have long known that trauma is one of the most important and impactful invisible players (elephants?) in the room these days. Now I have names, faces and stories that make me care even more deeply about my own capacity to host it. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to deepen my practice and the warm embrace I received from everyone there.

 Listen to one of the Hosting Team talk about her favourite Hebrew words.

Isn't it time to have a brilliant ally on your side?

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