near Diest, Belgium
We have begun, and now concluded our first day here at Heerlijckyt, snugged in with 26 mates investigating all sorts of questions about the Art of Hosting as it is manifest and practiced here in Europe, as well as elsewhere in the world.
We spent much of the day experimenting with sensing the collective field, using a combination of methods including a long and juicy opening circle (during which Toke asked the questions “what called you here? What has called us here? and what might we accomplish together?”). This circle was carefully harvested for larger themes. From the circle, we spent time in dyads sensing the collective questions in the field here and then converged some sense of the patterns in the room. After the dyads shared the harvest of the new collective questions, we saw some even deeper meta-patterns. One that came quite clear, was noticed by Sarah Whitely who offered a tarot map for understanding where we currently were as a community. Led by Sarah and Maria Skordialou, we paid some attention to five distinct stations, and we actually held a small collective tarot card reading to sharpen our intuitive sense of the map. Five cards were drawn, one each for what is currently at the heart of things, what is visible and manifest, what is invisible and in our shadow, what is needing to be let go and what is emerging. We then also drew a card for one piece of overall advice. This process was also mapped and harvested and actually served as a nice way to end the day.
All of this is in aid of a deeper exploration tomorrow of the questions that people have brought with them which we will look at in Open Space. It feels like we have framed our collective field of inquiry and now we are moving to seeing how the collective inquiry is supported through the expression of individual questions.
I was participating in the process all day but also trying to operate at a level of trying to see what was happening at the deeper level so that I could harvest a bass note that might be of some use in making sense of the torrent of content. I had a couple of quite powerful personal observations. What follows is quite detailed and drafty, but that is what blogs are for, so sit back with a cup of tea and give me a few minutes of your attention.
First, I noticed a profound sense of how process itself seems to determine the kinds of engagement that a group of people undertakes. What I mean is that as humans we have a deep relationship to various forms of conversation and relationship. Twenty six people sitting on a train engage differently than 26 people in a circle or a world cafe, or an Open Space. Sitting in circle, it’s not uncommon to hear some really big hairy audacious questions such as how can we contribute to the healing of Europe or how can I unite the world or how can the Art of Hosting be of service in activating human potential at the next level of co-evolution. It might be easy on the surface to dismiss these statements as fanciful wishful thinking. After all, upon what basis does a group of 26 people think that it can heal Europe?
But looking past this simple longing of the group to make a difference, I was struck by how much this particular stance was related to the process itself. Human beings have been meeting in circles for most of our time here on earth and we use forms of council like this to make decisions about important questions facing the community. It’s almost as if the fact of sitting in circle contributes to our expanded sense of what is possible, or the influence we might have. Traditionally we would not have sat in council unless there was some chance of affecting the outcome and so the conversation would have gone directly to what was possible to do to preserve the life of the community.
For this group of people, we live in both a small community of practice, but we all operate in a global context. There are people in the room who work with some of the biggest human insitutions ever created, global companies like Siemens and Boeing, decision making bodies like the European Commission or massive community movements like the Estonian White Tulip movement, aimed at national reconciliation and peace. When we talk from these realms of influence and sit in council something seems awakened in us that takes us far beyond what we are likely to accomplish as just 26 people. The potential of the collective is seen and it comes to life as individual aspiration for massive influence.
And this brings me to my second observation which is that this audacious senses of collective self could easily be dismissed as pollyannaish and overly optimistic, or it might be skillfully worked with to make it possible to influence change at the broadest possible level but to preserve the audaciousness by channeling it into a deeper intent and a powerful sense of purpose. Part of being able to do this, it seems to me, is for the collective to have available to itself the resourcefulness to skillfully work with both open curiosity and specific invitation. If you think of these as poles on a spectrum, we can easily map everyone’s wish for our gathering. Thinking of this as a spectrum of being helps to overcome the possible tension of those who appear to have no purpose versus those who seem bent only on looking for results. The spectrum treats these ways of being as resources for the collective.
In our gathering open curiosity is taking the form of untrammeled wonder: “I’m just here willing to see what might happen, not tied to anything, open to any outcomes, happy to wait and see.” Specific invitations arise as statements that invite that energy and attention to specific places like harvest for collective evolution of the group or asking for specific conversations to understand the deeper pattern of the Art of Hosting. Taken on their own, as statements offered by individuals, there is little that is guaranteed to happen. But what if we could marry open curiosity to specific invitation to invite the whole spectrum to amplify itself?
I think to do this, we have to invite those with open curiosity to move to a level of deeper awareness of what is emerging. If you are open, then we thank you for that and we invite you to pay attention to what is emerging in the field and to offer your curiosity mindfully to the specific invitations that arise so that passion and responsibility may be supported. Without deepening curiosity to inviting awareness, people run the risk of simply hanging out and not contributing to responsibility for the collective.
At the other end, those who have specific invitations can deepen their invitations by also sensing what the field is able to support so that those invitations move beyond individual desires to become group aspirations and actual tasks that the collective itself might undertake. This means shifting the offering of those invitations from self-centered place to a community centered place so that those with open curiosity can be caught by the passion that is coming forth.
This probably all seems hopelessly intricate and ambitious. What I’m really doing is taking a very careful look at what the simplest offering might be to catalyse a collective awareness from a circle of individual statements. I think that Open Space Technology actually is the masterful application of this catalysis, but Open Space tends to invite much more grounded invitation because it helps us go quickly to what is possible when we connect passion and responsibility. Action and purpose is often dependant upon the realms of influence of those in the room. Audaciousness can die on the vine, which makes OST very practical and useful for cutting through wishful and magical thinking and getting down to the work at hand.
However, the gift of the circle, as I’ve been trying to say, is that it somehow invites a much bigger sense of ourselves which, if worked with skillfully, can result in an Open Space event later that has a deep and powerful harmonic, a bass note of possibility that is indeed the group’s highest and unspoken aspiration for it’s own work, that transcends what is even known to be possible. In this respect this little spectrum exercise becomes a map out of which hosts might invite deepening awareness to preserve the benefits of “magical thinking” as deep purpose while inviting resources to support the work of collective emergence.
It’s perhaps an esoteric observation about the power of circles, but I’m certainly interested in what you might have to say about it. How do we keep depth, protect and guard it and use it to keep us deeply committed to our work and avoid the trap of getting swallowed in that depth so that we fail to sense more precisely where the opportunity for change and emergence lies? How can we do good work and not lose our deepest calling? How can we honour that call and not get carried away?