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The Art of Hosting Yourself

It was an unexpected and heartfelt invitation from my friend and colleague Holger Scholz last year:  "Let's do something together!".  And somewhat later on:  "I've really been feeling that we need to focus on what is underneath all the tools and methods.  I think our retreat should be called THE ART OF HOSTING YOURSELF."  And that opened a deep and fluid inquiry between us into the heart of what it means to be a practitioner, a leader and a host.  And over the time we spent together, we became a circle of 12 holding this focus between us in a four day retreat earlier this month.

Holger and I have known each other for more than 10 years now.  We have taken our facilitation practices in different directions, but somehow the core of what we are most interested in has created an ongoing conversation between us.  What does it mean to be a practitioner?  What is at the core of deeply masterful, humanly focused leadership -- whether that is in group process or organisations or other aspects of life?  What is mine to do?  How does the inner work we do balance and show up in our outer lives?  And now, more than ever, how do we move beyond -- or maybe even sink beneath -- the swirl of methods and tools out there to find the ground of who we really are and what we can offer?

These questions invite us to turn inward for answers. As Otto Scharmer has so eloquently written: "Successful leadership depends on the quality of attention and intention that the leader brings to any situation. Two leaders in the same circumstances doing the same thing can bring about completely different outcomes, depending on the inner place from which each operates. I learned this from the late Bill O’Brien, who’d served as CEO of Hanover Insurance. When I asked him to sum up his most important learning experience in leading profound change, he responded, 'The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.'"

We decided there would be a number of red threads through our time in the retreat.  One would be a map we would build together of the journey of hosting yourself.  One would be the power of reflection through personal stories.  One would be the practice of offering wisdom council to each other through the power of questions.  And the last would be the power of place.

Ten amazing humans answered the call ranging from someone I'd originally met in 2008 to someone who heard about the event the Wednesday before and decided to make the journey from Ottawa to be with us.  It made for a dynamic and diverse team that continued to stimulate each other.

Why "Hosting Yourself"?

Both Holger and I have been working in around the business arena for 20+ years now.  We've seen fads come and go. We've watched people obsessively looking for the next method and tool while ignoring the deeper commitment of a practice.  We've seen people focus on doing and looking for answers while being oblivious to the power of being and focusing on finding the right questions.

The spin in the business world is extraordinary and what suffers is our ability to reflect, be still, and sense into what our context -- and our people -- are calling for.  This in turn, depletes our energy, our focus -- and in the end -- our humanity.  When leaders are so busy out there chasing stuff, they forget to stand still long enough for what's chasing them -- their purpose, their vision, their true service -- to catch up.

With so much complexity in the world in general -- and the world of business in specific -- we felt the undercurrent of what many of our clients and colleagues were asking us for -- a time for personal reflection, a time for community, a time to consider a reframing of the past that could lead to a new future.

The map

As a foundation for our work and our map, we used the Kommunikationslotsen's Basic Bundle.  Maps of the cardinal directions are endemic to all human cultures and that makes them easy for us to follow.  We added some of the material Holger has been discovering in his ongoing work with other colleagues in the conversation about "Leading as Sacred Practice".  And you will also notice the influence of Ken Wilber's integral theory here too.

Our work threaded through this map and we added to it as a group.

North:  PERSONAL.  Focus: Intention.  Our maxim here is "Host the heart first".  We focused on:  Know yourself.  Know what is yours to do.  Prepare.   We began with walking the land in the same pattern -- first north, then east, and so forth, asking the group "Where is your ground?  Where is that place where you feel most yourself?".  We wanted to put the focus on our most resourced state.  Being able to find that in the midst of turmoil gives ground to a mature leader.  On top of this, we delved deeply into personal stories.  What are the stories that make me who I am?  Sharing these in trios help people to see new facets of the self stories they think they already know.

East:  INTERNAL.  Focus: Preparation.  Our maxim here is "Attend to self care."  Find your allies.  Find your playing field.  Act.  From the personal, we moved into the mythic realm.  People went out on the land, crafting their own personal fairytale, naming the crossroad they are standing on and searching for allies.  Working in the third person helps give me distance from my own material so I can look at it in a different way and gain new perspectives from my intuition, sub-conscious and deeper wisdom.  This enables what's under the surface to be brought to light.

South:  COLLECTIVE.  Focus:  Co-creation.  Our maxim here is "Rest in the not knowing."  Receive your blessings.  Celebrate.  Give something back. We moved into ritual/ceremonial space to process what we had discovered so far.  The following morning we added a layer of food for thought, bringing in the Chaordic Path, the Breath pattern and the 8 Breaths of Process Architecture (all from the Art of Hosting practice) as a reference point with how to work with hosting yourself along the  challenge and complexity of hosting projects, teams and initiatives (see the article named at the bottom of this one for more on these models).  Some of the group also worked with identifying their call and the mandate of current client work. This was a highly practical look at how to take this focus on self hosting back into the workplace.

West:  EXTERNAL:  Focus:  Harvesting. Our maxim here is:  "Make a good ending."  What do you sense is wanting to emerge in the field?  Finally we cleared and refreshed our space together and harvested as a group what we had learned and what we were taking away.  People talked of their next elegant steps.

We used this map as a way of tracking our progress and the group added the orange bubbles to indicate some of the specific things we learned together during our focus on each part of it.  Holger and I will continue to work with and refine this model as we dig in more deeply and continue to offer this work together.

Story as a guide and ally

Since stories are the way we make sense and meaning of the world, they also form the basis for what actions we believe we can take.  Consulting them and reflecting on them is a powerful tool for understanding yourself and your leadership.  When you look back on what you've learned about leadership, courage, people, relationships, etc, it can shine a light on how your life and work is unfolding.

Doing this work gives you the opportunity to find out whether your stories are helping or hindering you.  You can reframe your learning in the light of your own insight and with the support of others. Working with supportive colleagues is a gift.  After all, we can see others fine, we find it hardest to see ourselves.  Someone else's counsel can be an important step in changing a boulder in the path to a stepping stone.

The importance of questions that lead to wisdom

Each day we worked on the questions we would bring in the evening to the Flow Game.  Working with our questions provided a powerful source of inquiry, curiosity and collective learning.  The Flow Game is a board game that offers both questions and pictures as a stimulus to individual and collective inquiry.  It supports the players to act as wisdom council to each other and in the spirit of a game, much more is possible.

Each day we would check to see how our questions were changing and morphing.  This continual stream of inquiry reminded us that nothing is fixed and that our questions act as doorways to a greater now and a field of possibility.  Supporting each other to find and work with the next challenging question is a key leadership skill.

A question Holger and I are now working with is: "What are the practices that help us find our way back to wisdom?".

 The power of place

The Beuerhof has been a place of ceremony in it's current configuration for more than 25 years.  But it was already a gathering place back in the time of the Romans.  Such places are a gift to a retreat circle because the power of place is always active.  So many of our business decisions and community policies are made in airless, square rooms in big buildings.  What would happen if they were made in midst of nature, where the surroundings would cause nature itself to be one of the considerations?  And since like calls to like, nature also activates the power of our own human nature in unique ways.

As Churchill so wisely said: "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us."  So many of our built environments are not very conducive to individual reflection or collection co-creation.  But what if they were?  Why is it that we need to "escape" to nature when it is all around us?  Actively engaging with the power of place was one of our most potent red threads.  And, I have to admit, sitting in front of a fire for a few days is just extremely restful! I recommend it!

What else did we learn?

Learning #1:  "Yourself" is a conversation (of multiple ego-states & multiple stories you hold).  No person is one single story, but an intersection of all the stories they hold about themselves and all the story held by others.  Every person, place and thing is a StoryField.  This means that there are continual layers to uncover, work with and either release or claim.

Learning 2#:  "Yourself" (as a source) is accessed via three languages: Cognitive = clear intention, Visual = tangible vision, picture, metaphor, Embodiment = posture or movement.  Just as there are multiple layers of the self, there are multiples ways to access it.  When you become "multi-lingual", more is accessible.

Learning 3#:  The practice of "Yourself" can be upgraded on a higher level. It is trainable.  Building on the first two learnings, the more you practice "yourself" the more of a self practice you have.  And self-practice is one of the fundamental building blocks of leadership -- be a practitioner first.  I have often taken LEAD to mean Let Every Action Demonstrate.  What is your life demonstrating right now?  What are you prepared to commit yourself to?

What next?

Two different iterations of this work are already on the cards.  At the end of the year we plan to offer an online version of The Art of Hosting Yourself.  And we have already set dates for our next residential offering at the Beuerhof 6 - 9 March 2019.  Let us know if you'd like to join us!


For an excellent participant review of the retreat, have a look at first in a series of articles by Susan Johnston:  "The Art of Hosting Ourselves...when we engage with others".  It is a great take on how to apply this work in the workplace.

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