The Art of Hosting

Starting points - Stages of recovery - in overwhelming situations

It started with an outcry for help from Bob Stilger, being in Japan, soon after the many disasters that happened in March 2011.

Ah, my friends.

I sit here a little broken-hearted this morning when last night I was just beginning to see some new clarity. All I know is that I -- and we -- need so much help. And it is not help of the usual kind, it is help in finding and using the starting point. It is help in seeing how to work with what is already available. It is help in seeing how to help people regain authority over their own lives.

Let me write my way out of my grief, speaking to you and perhaps having time by tomorrow to blog some about this.

I am at the KEEP in Kiyosato, a project for sustainable living started 65 or so years ago. Beautiful, lovely people here who know how to host hospitable space. Last night we began another conversation about Fukushima. A month ago Yamamoto-san got in the KEEP's bus and drove 250 miles to Fukushima and found 43 people to bring back here to this beauty. He went because his heart was broken and he needed to do something. A new set of relationships began. Those people are mostly returned to Fukushima now, and much remains to do.

The KEEP is in relationship with one of many shelters there. For better and for worse, they are in relationship with the biggest shelter which now houses 2000 people in some of the best conditions available. It is a coliseum/sports complex. One idea is to bring people here for respite -- but when they leave, their space disappears and they have no place to which to return. So, a nice idea, but not enough. Everyday the combined governments of the region bring in rice balls to feed the 2000 people. They all have food. But for four weeks they have been eating only rice balls. The three governments come in and take care of the people.

Deep grief. Deep trauma.

2000 people is just too overwhelming. Can't even think about what to do there. But what about smaller orders of scale. When Yamamoto-san returns in a few days, can be find 10 people who have started to step beyond their grief? Can those 10 find 10 others? Can we find 100 people who, in these conditions can begin to regain authority over their own lives?

The people of Yamanashi -- the prefecture around the KEEP --will take their turn at helping to feed people. They can only feed them seven times. Where is the limit? It is not basic food stuffs -- it is the hands to make it into meals and serve. My grief shrieks, there are 4000 hands there. And of course, many, perhaps most are in shock. But some are ready to begin to move.

I think of meetings last week in Tokyo where people spoke about how it was for some 1 day, for others two weeks, for others still a full month before they could shake off enough of the trauma to begin to talk again. To lose the glazed over look in their eyes.

Can we find 100 people? Can the Art of Hosting hosts here now host them in conversations which support the surfacing grief and which gradually hosts the conversations of how they can begin to regain authority in their lives? Can they become a self-organizing system within the contained chaos? It would not be hard to find 25 people in Japan to send rice cookers so they could make their own rice balls! Hell, if we knew that was what was needed, we could get 2000. What is needed to support them in finding their way? If we find these 100 people, how do we begin to work with them? And if that is not the right idea, where is the starting point. A starting point. Almost any will do. If a new reality is going to be created, it has to begin somewhere.

And if these 100 people began to organize life for themselves within the shelter, would they be able to step outside? There's talk about there not being enough coordinators for all the volunteers who want to help. Hells bells, isn't it these people who should coordinate volunteers who want to come to help? Aren't they the wants to lead in cleaning up in their homes? 65% of those in the shelters are in their 60s and 70s. Perhaps they can not do as much heavy lifting - but there are thousands in Japan who can. This is a time for partnerships.

There's a sense here from our meetings this weekend that it is essential that Tohoku region and all of Japan be recreated in the new paradigm, not rebuilt in the old. How do we all, all around the world stand with and support this recreating -- so that we may learn and get courage to do it ourselves. Some of you know the Berkana two loops -- the sense here is that we must find a way to make the second loop, now. And the pressure to just rebuild the old will always be there especially if those are the only images people can see.

I just need some help. We need some help. From this scant story, what are the pieces you all see? Where would you start? What would you pay to? I keep adding names that I am sending this e-mail to, as I think of other friends who will have ideas here.

The disaster -- which keeps on giving -- is too huge to think of usefully as a whole. At least I surely can't. But Yamamoto-san, a many of deep heart, will go again in a few days. What would you advise him to be looking for? From your perspective miles away, what noticing would you invite? Where are the tender threads from which a new future can be woven? How can a group of 100 begin to release a new aroma of possibility and hope for the other 1900 in their shelter? How can this one shelter begin to step forward, finding those others who have stepped forward as well.

I go into a meeting with KEEP leadership this morning. One of the questions is what can happen here? In the KEEP facility itself, occupancy is down to 30% of normal. They have lovely space. How can it help in this restoration? Could the KEEP become one of the FutureCenters needed for the Future?

Could it act like the Greenhouse Project and become a hub? Could it, each week, invite people with expertise in different areas sacred to the recovery to come and think together and with people from other parts of Japan? Could part of the future be born here -- creating a place for people to share grief as well as possibilities? Could the KEEP become a Hub.

Who else do you know that can help?

Gads, it is so good to know there are so many of you I can turn to -- and more you can turn to as well. So much is possible here now that was not possible before. It is a tender moment where I flood back and forth from grief to possibility. Something new wants to be born here and it will be messy and strange. But this is the moment of new birth.

Big love,


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Reply by Toko Yokoyama:

Thank you for sharing this. For me the very first start point is to lead people to relief. For it, very important attitude is just to listen to the whole person, not only the verbal signal but whole other parts of oneself and whole behind them to find any tiny hope beside huge sadness, fatigue, and hopelessness. For doing it, I, the listener, never give up the hope in the huge grieff, even though I should also never forget to listen to the huge grieving part with compassion and empathy; which is the very first step of the start point. I have been doing it after the quake and I realized this is very powerful to lead people to stand up for creating hope in the future, though this simple attitude often requires a lot of inside training like Buddhism monks in the middle of listening.
Anyway, Talk to you later.

Me Wheatley offered a document on stages of recovery:

Dear Bob,

I typed up NCI's (Neighbourhood Center Inc. Houston) stages of recovery in case no one responds right away to you from NCI.

And I'd like to offer you a few things. Angela from NCI has said that it takes a good year before people can turn toward the future. Meeting immediate needs, dealing with the increasing trauma as the meaning of what's happened sinks in, the despair of not only loss but dealing with bureacracies that don't deliver the right services at the right time, loss of family and community--all of these and more take time.

I've also learned from Angela that when you're with people (they do social services case management) the first question to ask is "what do you have?"--for people to take stock of any small things they still possess, and perhaps larger qualities as well. If you ask "what do you need?" nobody can answer that question.

I believe this is the time for you to be there bearing witness--truly learning what it means to stand with people rather than trying to figure out bigger plans or big solutions. You're a companion in this time rather than a problem-solver; work with whatever the issue/need is in the moment, and stay away from big ideas, even though they're compelling and needed. Little by little, very small steps, solving immediate crises--this helps with the intensity and overwhelm of the situation. Right now, it's so traumatic and grief-intensive that nobody can start anything. The situation will continue to be fluid, overwhelming and unending. Exhaustion is a huge problem, not only now but in the months to come as the frustrations mount and things don't get done.

So learning how to be there for each other, (as in conversations and daily tasks) and supporting very small steps--that's what I'd recommend. I was just on a call with Angela and a disaster recovery expert from Australia, and the similarity of their experience was compelling as well as depressing.
The patterns of govts. and authorities treating people as helpless victims, thus disempowering them and developing a welfare mentality, as well as govt's inability to know what to do, or to get services there when they're needed--it's appalling, frightening and typical.

I hope you'll go easy with yourself--it's enough to just be a companion at this point. Community is the answer, but right now, it has to be a gentle reaching out to one another and grieving together.

Much love and prayers for your peace,



Thoughtful response by Anne Deveson - on little acts and gentle thouch:

Dearest Bob:
I can see and feel you being there, in amongst so much grief, and your steady loving presence reaching out to people, affirming and giving.   Have just read Meg Wheatley's email and it sounded so wise, that its little steps that are needed, and the recognitiion that even though governments try to help and sometimes do help, they are hamstrung by their own complexities and bureaucracies.
The big disasters that I have encountered have been war zones - Rwanda - Somalia - Uganda -  and the things I remember are those very small things - the rows of black plastic UN tents, the woman who hangs up a crib for her baby, the man who makes a toy, the son who goes looking for food at a stall that someone has set up at the base of the camp.   The familiar is needed, it strengthens people's resilience and recognition of their desperate need to return to the familiar, however small that may be ... to find comfort and strength in the icons of normalcy. I learned that gentle touch was important - but I don't know about Japan?  And that whenever I came bumbling in, and felt devastated by the slaughter and the despair, I could see that my presence brought a recognition that I was bearing witness -that the people I met needed that to know they weren't forgotten .....that their stories were being heard..
In Ethiopia  in the midst of a terrible famine, we were filming material for a documentary.. We had asked permission, but I was  still feeling like a voyeur - when a group of emaciated young women, so thin they could barely stand .. came towards us, dressed in faded long orange and red skirts, and they began dancing ... all around us they danced . ..... I turned to the interpreter and he said, 'They dance to say thankyou. Thankyou for saving their lives.
I felt, 'But we aren't saving their lives, we will be too late for that,' but I didn't speak it aloud.  'Your presence shows you care, that humanity cares,' he said. 'You give, and they want to give. In return that want to give. Dancing is their gift.'
And I thought what an exquisite act of grace.
Look after yourself dear Bob, and keep your own beacon burning, it's also importantto us.
Love Anne

Reply by Chris Corrigan, on what to do in simple, complicated and complex situations:


I can offer nothing, but the gift of perspective, and maybe something simple to touch when the confusion creeps in.    
If there are simple things to do, do them.  If there are complicated things to do, stop and think about them, ask for help and then do them.  If there are complex things to do, host the space that is needed to make sense of them and then act.  
Don't worry if the things you do are not enough or the wrong things.  Engage people in fierce commitment to amplifying the small things that work, and diminishing the things that are not serving.  Turn your attention to where there is energy and make more of it.    
Everywhere on Bowen Island and in the Vancouver area there are people  who are one degree separated from people that are dead, missing or living with nothing.  I have been hearing second degree accounts all week from Sendai and Miyako, other cities and villages on the tsunami coast.  We are all connected in this, feeling helpless here too.  Raising a little money, listening to stories, comforting friends of friends, families of friends.  
Witness and host.  Offer what you can, name what you have and help others to do the same.  Good advice. Connect, nourish... the time for illumination will come. 

Joel Levey, offering the practice of Tong Len:


Aloha Dear Bob, (and all who may read this...)
Heartfelt thanks for inviting/affirming us all into this circle of deep reflection and listening for guidance with you.  This tender, potent moment is certainly deep in suffering and rich in possibility.  Your insight about sourcing clear direction for the newly emerging reality rather than attempting to reconstellating around old patterns is deeply resonant to me.

The first “starting point” that comes to mind is related to what Toko described so beautifully as, “inside training.”  
What comes to mind most clearly is the practice of Tong Len.  
This is a core practice for people on the Bodhisattva path – who are dedicated to awakening to the true depths of wisdom and compassion in order to awaken themselves and all beings to their true nature and highest potentials.  It’s also profound practice for “sitting in the fire” and allowing insight, wisdom, and compassion to emerge.  In those moments in my own life and work of entering into deep or troubled waters that seem “way over my head” - I certainly rely on this to come to find calm in the midst of turbulence and clarity in the midst of confusion, and to align and attune myself to be clear and open to the Guidance most needed to response to the circumstances of the moment.  This is a profoundly useful practice to embrace the intensity of any circumstance and I/we can be in this mode of being while actively engaged in listening... walking... driving.... helping people... sitting in meetings... and of course in more formal, quiet meditation sessions.

Here are some links to the meditations that follow, (which are drawn from our books Luminous Mind, and The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation).
I’ll continue to listen for further inspiration that may be helpful and will share what I find.

May wisdom and compassion guide y/our way )))


Bob Stilger, touched by much advice, looking at what is possible for him - be present, listen and witness:

Dear friends,

Last e-mail of the evening before I lay my head down to sleep.
I've returned from a nice long soak in the onsen hotsprings here -- in the midst of snowflakes falling on the outdoor pool.  A quieter time, after another day of powerful conversations and deep listening.  This is a beautiful place, with nourishing air and fantastic food.  It calls forth a deep presence in those who visit here.
I want to thank all of you who have sent us support with your words as well as with your silent presence in this conversation.
Meg, the seven stages of recovery were useful in this afternoon's conversation.  They made sense to people and mirrored their experience so far when they have worked directly in the Tohoku region over the last month. Yamamoto-san speculated that the gap between the limbo and acceptance stages may be smaller here than in other parts of the world.  Mahoto-san suggested that the collective culture here means all feel the grief and powerlessness -- even those far away.
I take words offered today to heart:  Look for the small things and nurture.  Help people discover what they have, not focus on what they need.  Avoid grandiosity.  Find the next, elegant minimum step.  Walk with grace.
My work here is mostly to listen.  Sometimes I can make a connection or two.  Sometimes I do provide a bit of nourishment.  I am also called to illuminate what is happening here to my many friends and colleagues so you may join me in this witnessing.  I left the U.S. just exactly a week ago.  I feel like I've been here for a long time.
Some of you saw, in your responses, my proclivity towards action.  Busted... It is true, I have been an activist for more than 40 years.  Those waters run deep and I treasure them.  And, of course, I cannot -- even in MY wildest dreams -- be a problem solver here.  I can show up.  I can be present.  I can listen with my whole heart mind.  And I know my presence makes a difference.  I will support where I can.  And I will stay in questions of importance with the fine people of Japan.
There is a deep story almost entirely invisible in both social and news media.  Powerful forces are at work here.  Part of my work in being here is to share these stories with you. I won't do it by e-mail often, and even less often in a public way with "reply all".  But I felt it was important this morning.  I wanted you to here each others words and observations.
I appreciate your willingness to stand with me and the people of Japan.
These are special and powerful times unlike any I have encountered.  In these many meetings I have participated in over the last month, tears are followed by laughter which is followed in turn by silence.  There is such a collective sensing in here.  A knowing that we are all in it together.
Much love,

A small reply from Jackie Cahi, from Zimbabwe:

Dearest Bob

When I opened your mail this morning I wanted to send just a quick response from my heart to know that we are with you, we are present.  But you felt that anyway - the presence in the silence.
So now not much more to add having seen the wisdom that came from Meg and from others.
The witnessing is so important.  The small steps.  The taking assessment of what we have.  And being thankful for what we have, so that we don't start out as victims but as survivors...
thinking of you and all that you are with....
love Jackie

Nacy Marguelis, from the World Café community, offering the idea of 'Cafés of Hope:

Dear Bob:

Juanita Brown forwarded your message to me. I can offer my insights from some work I did post-Katrina in New Orleans and information about a workbook (which we hope to have translated into Japanese soon) that helps children work through post- traumatic stress).
I hosted a number of World Cafés in New Orleans. The participants were  a mix of people who had been directly impacted by the flood and those who had less or no material loss. We used the time for people to exchange their stories, share their feelings and listen to one another. This story-telling seemed to be so necessary that we didn't attempt more initially. However, during the last round I asked the question, "What can community be for you at a time like this?" or a similar question.  My co-hosts for these events were churches and local non-profits.
After a few months I offered "Cafés of Hope".  In those events we provided a sheet of paper that is placemat sized in front of each participant. I asked them to draw a symbol that represents hope for the future and then with lines radiating from the center write down key words or images to convey examples of what gives them hope. We did this in silence. Then people shared at their tables and as they listened if they heard something that they agreed was hopeful they added it to their "Map of Hope".
As people moved to new tables they took their maps with them and build upon them as they heard more stories of hope. One variation I used was to ask each table to leave behind a few words or images that represent hope (by drawing/writing on another sheet of paper that was in the center of the table). This remained with one person who shared its meaning with the 3 new people who joined the conversation at that table. 
At the end of the Cafe we harvested the ideas and each person was encouraged to take their map of hope home and share it with someone else, post it and add to it as more moments of hope came to mind.
The workbook I referenced above was developed by Dr Gilbert Kliman in San Francisco and has been used in Haiti, New Orleans and other cities around the world. We have someone interested in translating and publishing the workbooks for use in Japan. You can see an example of previous workbooks at the website:
I am working with Dr Kliman and his non-profit to raise funds. However, I think we can do this project with very little funding through partnering with people/groups on the ground in Japan.
Thank you so much for the work to which you are giving so much thought, energy and heart.

Another reply from Sergio Beltrane:

My dear Bob
Is in moments like this that I would love to find the right words to say, and, as frequently happens, I just don´t know how to choose them...

I´m sure that wise and inspiring answers are in their way to reach you and help you with the grief and uncertain... As I was reading your message, a light was glowing in my memory... one of the biggest learnings I got from the Warriors Without Weapons lessons -no matter how obscure and damaged reality looks, there are always some points of light to search for... for me, following the spots of light is the way to find the beauty present everywhere, cause the New has to be build on the beauty that humans sticking together produce! Sometimes, we have to start searching for that light inside us, we have to dig deep inside us to uncover it, but as far as I know you, there is a big, warm shine inside you, that, i´m sure, will support others in finding their own inner light....
Sending you all my love and a big hug from the cold north of Northamerica....

And Bob Wing, the Aikido master, added his thoughts too:

Hi Bob,

I have been following this very closely, with a very real sense of connectedness to that land, people and of course you my friend. In times like this it is my training to settle into more centeredness and become more focused and aware of when and where my actions (not reactions) are needed, or not needed. It is a given in the emergency response arena, this is from an emergency responder team leader to NY 9/11 I worked with this year, that given a general population responding to emergencies, 60% will do nothing and 40% will jump into action. Of that 40% taking action, 20% will do the right thing and 20% will do the absolutely wrong thing. I suspect that the ability to listen and sense well, while in action, is a key to those 20% responding well. I hold you as in this 20%.

You have also spoken about deep grief. Of course this would be present, and one's ability to be present to another's deep grief is a key for any good healer. Also, I'm reminded of the buddhist teaching that a good indicator of a truly compassionate warrior is the presence of deep undefined grief, held lightly within themselves. I'm also wondering if what has/is happening in Japan is an outward expression of what is going on world wide, but on more subtle levels. Most of us may already have a deep sense of accumulated grief that can finally be expressed outwardly when something tragic happens. Maybe Japan as a people, and many others, are now being given an opportunity to express years of accumulate grief. Of course this tragedy comes with plenty of it's own already, but I'm wondering if you are dealing with much more than the immediate grief.

Maybe good advice for people there is to not confuse immediate/emergency needs with long term needs. A lot of harm can come from grasping to remedies too quickly. Like trying to close a deep wound too quickly so that it festers and actually leads to worse things.

These are just some thoughts finally bubbling up in me, for you. The main thing I want you to know is that my concern and care is with you and the Japanese people, and that I admire your beautiful passion to be of help and to respond full heartedly when needed.

Love to you my friend,
Bob Wing

This email conversation ended with a last email from Bob Stilger:

Dear Bob,

What you say of this accumulated grief rings so deeply true for me.  I have this sense that so much is being worked here, at the subtle levels.  It is much more than Tohoku or Japan.  And it is much more than this generation.
Yesterday I had lunch with two of three sisters whose grandfather I have never met.
More than 40 years ago Susan and I went separately to Hiroshima.  We both carried away a small plaque which has graced our front doors ever since.  The direct translation of this plaque is may the people of the earth meet together in peace.  It is sometimes translated more succinctly as may peace prevail on earth.  Hiroshima move me to tears and this little sign carrying a deep aspiration and has been part of my connection to this land.
I learned, over lunch, that this unmet grandfather had been the one to first utter these words and, in the fifties, began to invite Japan to host and invite peace from the world.
There are so many currents at work here.
Thank you for your heart, bobwing-san, and for these words.
If you want to follow more of Bob Stilger's adventures and musings in Japan, you can read a lot on the recently opened website Resilient Japan, under Bob's Notes.

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