Thinking about how our community of practice is emerging, I find myself coming back to one of the core Art of Hosting principles: self-hosting. Like much of AoH, it seems simple: take care of yourself first. What could be more obvious? Why is that even a thing?
In practice, though, keeping it simple can sometimes be hard. Looking back at some of my old AoH workbooks, I see that the first description of self-hosting is “Be Present.” Again, a reminder that, in a life full of many commitments and deadlines, just showing up is saying something. But being present isn’t just warming a seat. It’s showing up intentionally–”arriving,” as it’s called–capable of paying attention to the process. That’s why we tend to start with a focus (a purpose at the center) and a check-in that allows people to transition into the circle, to find their speaking voice. When we check in, we’re becoming present to ourselves, in the company of others.
Keeping focus, sustaining attention: that’s where self-hosting becomes a practice. It’s harder than ever, these days, to be present to one another. We’re all involved in multiple conversations at the same time and, in case we ever forget it, the every-handy smartphone is there to remind us. Find yourself curious? Google is right there–”answers before you have questions,” as they say–and, BTW, here’s something else you might have missed, the latest news, a trending video… . In short, distraction– demands on my attention, mental junk food, click-bait–and then there are real people (kids, parents, friends in need…). The onslaught itself is enough to make you want to pull back: self-protective cocooning is a real thing, not just selfishness or narcissism. Self care is crucial, but it’s not quite self-hosting.
The same workbook that reminded me to “be present” goes on to elaborate: “host yourself first–keep the space open–sit in the fire of the present.” Whoa! Sitting in the fire: that’s a bit more than I bargained for. That’s going to take some practice.
The image of “sitting in the fire” comes, I think, out of meditation practices: the world is on fire, and the Buddha meditates, practicing non-attachment. It’s not an image of callousness–the Buddha is not cocooning–but of compassionate attention, not running from the world. Simple, but not easy–especially when the adrenaline starts pumping and the fight-or-flight scenarios start to flash. That’s when you can get some clarity about what self-hosting means: paying attention to the chaos and conflict without needing to suppress it, without feeling threatened.
But wait, there’s more! Distractions, it turns out, don’t just come from outside, from others: the mind goes rushing out to meet them. The mind seeks out novelty, gets gratification from racing around, noticing stuff, looking for trouble. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my (all too brief) experience with mindfulness, it’s that thoughts are constantly welling up, taking me out of myself, latching onto threads. The practice of mindfulness is just about the simplest thing imaginable–paying attention to each breath as it comes and goes–but, wow, does it take practice. Breathing goes on, regardless, but the mind needs constantly to be brought back, to be focused by the body’s natural rhythm. Otherwise it’s Grand Central Station, someone always running to catch the next trains of thought. Self-hosting, I’m learning, means being the clock.
Two of the people I look to as hosting mentors–Tuesday Ryan-Hart and Tim Merry–put out a recent episode of their podcast devoted to “Personal Practice.” They make a number of helpful distinctions–between having fun, self-care (both physical and mental) and personal practices (like journaling or meditation). If (like me) you’re not athletic and never played a musical instrument, the notion of “practicing” can be a bit off-putting. It’s reassuring to know that practices can take all sorts of forms. The underlying question, as Tim puts it, is “What brings you home to yourself? What grounds you?” That’s your practice, and it’s from that place that self-hosting starts.
And self-hosting is where the four-fold path begins: