WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU COULD NOT DO IT?
‘When did you know you could not do it?’ was one of the powerful questions that were offered within the International Learning Village in Slovenia in August 2012, hosted by the global Art of Hosting Meaningful Conversations community.
I was – like dozens of people who expressed a drive to join within weeks after the invitation came to the community’s e-forum – immediately attracted to the idea; however, I’d had some other invitations for that time that were also alluring. But when I realised that the venue would be an old, dilapidated manor not far from my parents’ home, I knew I could not not step in and help. The challenge for me was how to bring these two communities together: the AoH practitioners from around the world, and the local people who knew nothing about all these innovative AoH group methods, yet have the tradition of hosting (family, friends, pilgrims, passers-by …) deeply in their blood.
WHY SLOVENIA (and where is that??)
As Chris has charmingly put in his blog, sLOVEnia is elusive even on the map – if you don’t know what you’re looking for exactly, you may not find it.
It was there that the Art of Hosting was birthed over 10 years ago, when about 70 people met at Castle Borl to inquire about new possibilities of being/learning/working together. The impulse came from Miha; that same person who threw the idea of a ‘back to the roots’ learning village to take place in another manor (this time Statenberg) of his beloved Terra Parzifal in eastern Slovenia this year. The call to the Art of Hosting Meaningful Conversations came from Mary-Alice, and soon a team was formed to support this idea coming to life.
The last time the Statenberg Manor saw any staying guest was – 35 years ago. The villagers, to reawaken the ‘sleeping beauty’, started bringing the manor slowly back to life in 2011, with very modest means and their own hard-working hands. In 2012, offering to host the Learning Village, they set up a few rooms and bathrooms, and did some basic gardening in the parks around the manor. Many participants set up tents in the improvised camping area, while some others stayed in villagers’ homes or nearby hotels.
So when over 100 guests came (from as far as Columbia, Afghanistan or New Zealand), this was a great learning both for the Learning Village participants and the local hosts - the villagers gathered within the Statenberg Tourist Association. On the AoH side: How are we going to host children in this multigenerational gathering? How to synchronise using bathrooms, with only four showers in the entire manor? (As Helen put it: 'If we can think together, we can stink together!') How to harvest all the learnings, for future learning gatherings? And on the village side: The group says they want a wifi (and we hardly have electricity …)? They want to collect garbage separately? Learn some local songs and music? Provide good local vegetarian food – something almost unthinkable in this rural area?
In the end we all learned mutually how to co-create together, in the spirit of exploration, collaboration, support and fun. The chapel story was a highlight, and the symbol, of our collaboration: participants offered to do something in exchange for all the hospitality – and the villagers proposed to clean the chapel that was full of rubbish. The community said a big ‘Yes!’ The wheelbarrows were brought in, and participants (including the children) were wheeling out heaps of debris in a self-organising way: some in the mornings, others at nights, and some during the workshops. Within five days, the chapel was miraculously cleaned, ready for a simple self-organised ceremony to bring it back to life. This unexpected combination of work (that supported the local community aspirations or reviving the manor as a place of gathering) and meaningful conversations about the possibilities that this exciting time is offering us, proved a powerful model that could be further developed in the learning villages of the future.
ON FEELING AT HOME
I enjoyed the flow of co-working in preparing the Learning Village: especially the care with which the working space was held; the trust, support and recognition that flowed in the space across continents.
Once the Learning Village has started, I was surprised to sense how ‘at home’ I felt. ‘Home’ on several levels: reconnected to the area from which my family comes from; in the community of people who share similar passions and visions; in the role of the liaison person between the local and the AoH villagers. As one of the participants has said, the purpose of the village is to belong. I definitely had, and still have, a sense of belonging.
This reconnection with my joy of hosting has been one of my greatest gifts from the entire event.
A DANGEROUS HOPE
Participating at the International Learning Village of the Art of Hosting community this August, I experienced one of the most inspiring weeks of the past several years. This community has been globally flourishing, enabling and hosting meaningful conversations and creating life-enhancing initiatives and actions. And the International Learning Village was a call for the AoH practitioners to spend a week together, at the center, and recharge batteries, learn from each other, inspire and get inspired…
People came from whole Europe as well as from the US, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Afghanistan, Egypt, to spend a week together, as a true community, a learning village, with no hierarchy whatsoever, no authority…
Well, there was an authority, strictly speaking. It was an authority of a dialogue. An authority of hosting our individual selves with self-responsibility, and holding each other with compassion. Just this alone was such a lovely breath of fresh air for me, after having spent so much time in circles in which some people did not manage to meet their need for self-expression and were quietly suffering in sadness and frustration, while other individuals treated almost every thought in their mind as important enough to be spending hours of group time about it.
Here, on the other hand, people balanced speaking up and expressing themselves when something was really important with self-responsibility - checking whether a personal matter would not be better handled individually rather than in a whole-group setting. So a beautiful flow was established of people asking for what they needed and contributing what they could. And a bit more!
The richness of spending a week together in the format of the Open Space was overwhelming. Offering to others what we were passionate about, learning from and getting inspired by other’s passion. Laughing together, crying together, singing and dancing by the fire into the nights, cautiously dropping masks and sharing our vulnerabilities, with people who cared…
By the end of the week of this food for soul I was overwhelmed with the beauty I experienced; the beauty in each of us, the sheer beauty of humanity and humaneness.
And something deep within me shifted.
You see, I had been a rather disheartened person for the last few years, observing the direction our world seems to heading to. I kept doing my work, trying to contribute meaningfully and doing my best, but not really believing anything can really change, contemplating that this world as we know it would soon dramatically change – and by no means for the better.
After having been exposed to so much beauty, connection, inspiration and human touch, the hope in humanity came back. The hope that we perhaps can change the course of events on this planet, and together create a new reality, a new paradigm, in which everybody’s needs will equally matter. In which the cooperation, connection and love will prevail …
It is a dangerous hope – because it can end in even greater disappointment – yet I dare to dream again.