On the plane to Minneapolis for 12 days of teaching, learning and co-creating with the Art of Hosting. While I’m there, I’ll be working with the Bush Foundation, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation of Minnesota, and 100 people who will be coming to an Art of Hosting from all around the state. I’ll be deep in practice with my close friends and colleagues Jerry Nagel, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Toke Moeller and Ginny Belden-Charles among others. It’s a busy 12 days, with only 1 day off, and so I’m thinking a lot about what I’m doing.
And as I was wandering around the airport this morning, I came across the above mask, which sits in an alcove in the US Departures terminal at YVR. This is a transformation mask from the artist Stan Wamiss. If there was an active word to describe what is happening here it is “revealing.”
There is transformation that comes from outside, like a meteor strike or a tsunami. And there is transformation that comes from inside, like a seed sprouting, an egg hatching, or a butterfly emerging. The transformation comes from inside is revealed and in its revealing it has a powerful effect: it renders the transformed aware of the interior abundance of one’s self.
Transformation from outside can make us feel small and ineffective, unable to deal with what is coming or what has arrived. Indeed, this is so evident around us that it is almost too obvious to see. The products of colonization – whether in North America, Ireland, the middle east, Africa or elsewhere leave communities and people dispirited, dispossessed and disillusioned. In contrast, transformation that arises from within can have the opposite effect, leaving us in awe of the new levels of spirit and energy, ownership and mastery and vision and story that emerge. One of the reasons why “change management” fails is because a small group of people undergoes a transformative moment from their individual and collective interiors and they “roll it out” over everybody else with a – literally – missionary zeal. For the leaders, the mission is to give everyone the incredible experience of awe and wonder and creative energy. For the rest of us, we experience a meteor strike.
I once had a very good friend and teacher, Bob Wing, point this out to me. We were together in a small Open Space, and we were in different conversations. In my conversation a small group of us cracked a vexing problem by stumbling on a new map that seemed to make a great deal of sense in describing where we were. It was exciting and we were fired up. When we shared this map back with our colleagues, they listened politely to our exuberance and then Bob very calmly looked me in the eye and said “I like it. I like it a lot. But I don’t trust it, because I didn’t help create it.” Where we thought we had produced a solution, Bob reminded us that at best we had merely produced and invitation, and that our exuberance for our own experience of transformation had made that a very bad and incomplete invitation.
I think interior transformation is important, in fact I think it may be among the most important experiences that we can have as human beings. This is why such experiences are revered with masks and dances on the west coast of North America. It is what is fuelling the appetite for contemplative spiritual practices, for presence based leadership experiments, for all of the self-development and self-actualization process that goes on around us. And I think that it is important that we do not limit this experience to a chosen few.
Citizenship for example, is crying out for this kind of transformation. There is a tremendous poverty of beauty, intention, vision and soul in the public sphere right now. John O Donohue calls this “the evacuation of interiority.” There is a deficit of the kinds of qualities to public dialogue that are powered by listening, kindness, compassion and co-creation. The result is that we come to believe that it is a mean world out there and that if we don’t do things to others preemptively, they will do it to us. So we steel ourselves against vulnerability, wounding and hurt. Declare emotional intelligence “soft skills” and deride relationship building as “time wasting” or unpractical. So we end up in a cycle of terrible quality with a longing for something ineffable that seems further and further out of reach as we tie our actions to outcomes that can measured, funded and justified.
In Art of Hosting learning experiences I think we are trying to work against this cycle by, in a phrase, “serving wholeness.” This means working with the interior transformations that birth new stories and visions of possibility, as well as being skillful in dealing with the exterior transformations that we have no control over. We begin with provocative assumptions that somewhere within us, individually and collectively, is the resourcefulness we need to move from the stuck and unsatisfying places we are now in to places of possibility and resourcefulness. We might be wrong (and we need to get WAY better as a species in being wrong most of the time), but we serve the inkling that leads to individual and collective resilience. We are trying to teach and learn about a form of leadership and being together in organization and community that innovates with more diversity than we are comfortable with, to build relationships that can hold more confusion that we are comfortable with, so that we can develop solutions that will have effects that we can only imagine. I don’t know any other way to develop the capacity, person by person, to survive the external transformations that are upon us.