The Art of Hosting

Hello all,

Below you find my personal notes from the Stewards gathering, Oct. '13. I open the space here, so that anyone who has a question can raise it here; or we build further on the content of my observations... you are welcome!

Three generations present

This was the fourth stewards gathering; after the initial one in 2005, with a little group of maybe 15 people present; then another one in 2008, with some more people; in 2010 we had a double gathering in Greece and on Bowen island, a few months apart, with 30 to 40 people. Since that time the stewards list has been growing from around 50 to over 150 now. In this fourth gathering we had people present from these 3 waves: the initiators and first stewards, the next wave who took it further into the world, and then people from ‘the avalanche’, the quick spread and growth we are now in.


Seeing each other on Thursday and Friday when we came together had the energy of old friends coming to see each other. Chris called it his birthday party with most of his friends in one room. It was the feeling of whaaw! Seeing old friends and/or seeing faces to what had been only faces and messages on the emaillist.


During the gathering I noticed that some of the tensions and dynamics that showed up were related to projecting the old way of organising on the self-organising and emergent system that we are. (more on this below)


Keeping and building coherence in a self-organising system

If I had one concern when coming to this gathering it was about the coherence in the field: were we still all linked with the core and DNA of Art of Hosting; or would we see different groups of people standing for different versions and maybe ‘fight’ for theirs? I was totally reassured during the gathering, somehow – over the many trainings and over the years – we do have coherence; we can meet and find each other at the core.


And these gatherings – next to the trainings, the local communities of practice and other events like Learning Villages – are crucial in building and keeping this coherence. It might not be perfect, but nothing is perfect in life, but it has enough of it to feel and act like one field.


Living in and as a self-organising system

A self-organising system doesn’t take decisions, and this might be the most difficult for our Western trained minds. This doesn’t mean that there are not new things happening! But they only happen when people are passioned about something and take responsibility to try something out (locally). If and when it spreads through the network, through many conversations and iterations, then a new shared meaning and understanding – a change - has happened. It wasn’t decided, it happened.


This means that the center in this system is empty (of people and decisions), and you cannot ‘discuss’ or ‘oppose’ because there is nobody there to discuss with.


Living in a self-organising system also means that the minimal structure that currently exists – a stewards group, a rocksitters group, an online hosting team and a stewards gathering whenever a group of people is calling it into being – is an emergent structure, that was never ‘decided’ or ‘designed’; it exists until today because it seems to work and hasn’t been replaced by something else. It will exist as long as it serves the purpose of keeping a minimal, optimal structure that serves enough coherence in our field or network. So far, it stays as it was.


Most of the tensions, questions and frustrations that existed – named or not – in the first two days of this gathering can be understood as projections of hierarchy and power onto some of the existing groups or some individuals. The major groanzone in the design conversations for day 3 – with many people attending and lasting until midnight – can be seen in this light: 1) there is no hierarchy in a self-organising system, and let’s be mindful that our elders are ordinary and vulnerable people just like everyone; 2) all stewards take care of some aspects of the whole, some more, some less, some more tangible, some more invisible, but everyone does otherwise you would not be a steward; 3) if the current minimal structure does not serve us anymore anyone can take initiative to start a conversation about it, we are all full members of the stewards group, new or old.


The fact that we can stay as a group in the groanzone, that we have enough awareness and consciousness to see our own piece in it as we move through the conversation; and the trust that we can surface with collective clarity on the other side speaks of the consciousness and practice that is part of being a steward.


Holding the center

During the last hour of the stewards gathering in 2010, a new group came into being, called the Rocksitters group. It was a moment of chaos that transformed into a ritual or sacred moment, when the need for an energetic holding of the core – the well, the center, the central fire, … - became apparent. At that time, 8 people stepped forward to ‘sit on the rocks’ with no other purpose than to tend to the energy and ‘keep the leaves out of the water’. They have been doing this both energetically, and through several conference calls. This is part of what they are offering to the whole of the network. The are not ‘in’ the center, they are holding the potential of the whole.


Some people were frustrated they didn’t know this group existed, projecting some power and hierarchy on it; but through the telling of the story – and also through the ‘container holding’ calls that were part of the preparation of this gathering it seems there is more clarity now on what ‘holding space’, ‘holding the container’ and ‘holding the whole’ means. It is a very intangible, mostly invisible practice that goes unnoticed when you don’t pay attention, but that every good host does, conscious or not. It is a tending to the energetic or energy level of the space, place, group, gathering etc. with is always combined with a radical trust in people and process. Sometimes it means sitting quitly, sometimes it means to speak up a challenge, always in service of the potential that might manifest.



Art of invitation

For me the beauty of the third day – the result of the major groanzone – was the circle in the morning where there was a deep invitation to share stories; and the most beautiful thing was that all stories shared were initiated by an invitation from someone else who knew the story was important to tell and share. For me, this brought the practice and art of invitation one level deeper, and I thank the hosting team of that day for it! Stories were about the future, peace and elephants; the specific culture someone grew up in with conversations around the kitchen table and elders who protected the younger ones, about Japan and people who make a future on the land that is theirs, even when contaminated with radiation… and so much more…

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Replies to This Conversation

Dear Ria, thank you for sharing this!

Could you tell something more about the Rocksitters group? How many are they now? What are they doing exactly?

Thank you!

Hello Ilse,

There isn't much more to say about the Rocksitters group than what is in the text above. What we have been 'doing' is having some conference calls, where we sense into the field, bring the stories that we know of, share maybe concerns if there are some...

On the more intangible level we are holding - and these are my words - the whole, and its potential. Maybe we are holding the energetic core...

We were 8 since 2010, and in the recent stewards gathering 2 other people stepped forward and said they were ready to be part of the group; but we haven't had a call with this 'new' formation.

What is your passion or curiosity in this regard? (that could maybe guide my answer in a better way?)

With love,



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