Archive for the ‘community’ Category

Other news from Japan

Friday, April 15th, 2011
Bob Stilger (picture taken by Tenneson Woolf)

What follows are two messages I received from Bob Stilger, who is related with Berkana Institute and with the Art of Hosting community. He has a life long relationship with Japan, knows a lot of people there and has been introducing Art of Hosting practice there since last year. Of course he was and is very much touched by what is going on there, and has recently shared some stories in an attempt to get some clarity for himself, and also to let others know what is going on there. He actually loves it that we spread this news, as he hasn’t much time to blog himself. Here he is:

April 12, 2011:
I’ve been in Japan for a week. I’ve worked with about five different groups and been a witness to what’s unfolding here. I’ve been writing e-mails, at different times, almost as a journal of my experience here. In being here, I am working on behalf of The Berkana Institute, New Stories and the ALIA Institute. Soon we will launch a small website to host these e-mails and invite response. I’ll appreciate your reflections and responses to what I write – you help me find my own center here, day-by-day. Your thoughts will help us all in our learning.

Mount Fuji

Mt. Fuji revealed itself today, for the first time since I’ve been in Kiyosato, a small town in the mountains a couple of hours south and west of Tokyo. This silent sentinel is always on the rim, hosting Japan. Often hidden by many layers of clouds, it is always there. Sometimes just a glimmer… I love it when Fuji-san shows itself. It helps me to quiet my spirit and simply be present. Again and again, that is what many of you have said in these days: Stay present. Be where you are. Notice what calls your attention. Act with respect, compassion and dignity. Stay clear while staying unattached. Be prepared to be surprised. Stay connected.

Yesterday we met for a day to sense why might want to happen. Let me give a little background. The KEEP at Kiyosato was started in the 1930s by an American named Paul Rusch who brought modern farming practices to Japan. He helped people here transform their mountainside into a demonstration center for new ways to raise cattle. Along the way he helped to build a hospital here, another in Tokyo and founded a University in Tokyo. Quite a guy, to say the least. His spirit is deeply present here, although he died in his early eighties more than 30 years ago. There never was a grand plan for the KEEP, it simply evolved over time, working with the people and possibilities present in this one small area in Japan.

Among other things, it is a lovely space now where groups come to meet and people arrive for quiet retreats. Last year we held two major training events for Art of Hosting here. While the Tohoku region where the disasters struck on 3/11 is some 250 miles to the north, the disasters struck here as well. First, and most powerful, it shows up in the subtle field. The deep connections which hold people together in Japan also mean that the grief in one part is felt throughout. So there is a deep collective grieving here. People say time and time again is that the future for all of Japan is different now. Some things may stay the same, but everything needs to be re-imagined. The new Japan that emerges will be grounded in traditional values and beliefs, they say, and the future is different now. Secondly, on a more material level, everyone is affected as well. Occupancy at the KEEP is down to 30%. Most young people have lost their part-time jobs. Rolling power black-outs have hit all of Japan, including here. Quakes have happened here in the last month as well. People know their lives have changed. They’re not sure how.

The week after 3/11, Yamamoto-san, a wonderful deeply present man who has been here for many years, got in the KEEP’s bus and drove to Fukushima, the area where the power plants are. He had to do something. Somehow he found his way to one shelter among many. A sports complex, it has some of the best conditions around. 2000 people — mostly in their 60s and 70s — now live there. Only a small portion of the total number displaced by the disasters. Only a small portion and totally overwhelming as well. He brought 43 people back to the KEEP to stay in better conditions for a while. A small drop in the bucket, but it was what he could do. 43 people who could sleep in real beds, have real baths, eat real food. 43 people who could be warm even while they still shivered with their grief. Yamamoto-san took this small step, not knowing what was next — but trusting this beginning.

So yesterday we met: What is next? What can this small place do that might make a difference? A difference in the lives of people who live near here, those from Fukushima, those from other parts of Japan. A difference in the lives of those who work here are have seen the future they know disappear. It is easy to get overwhelmed. I know I did when I first heard Yamamoto-san’s story. 2000 people living with almost no privacy in a sports complex; for four weeks each day the government has brought them rice balls to eat. Four weeks in which life as they know it is gone — and nothing in sight. What can make a difference?

Kato-san had just returned from Sendai, a region he has been many times before. When he got off the train, he knew the difference. Not just the broken buildings — but what was in the air. It just felt different. Subdued, almost glazed over. He saw some young people and talked with them. Wandering aimlessly in the rubble they wanted to know — what can we do? He had no answers of course. Almost overwhelmed by his own sense of grief and loss, he could only stand with theirs. Devastation, devastation, overwhleming devastation made even more real by the many pockets where life looks like normal. Stores destroyed. Stores shuttered. Stores opened. Side-by-side.

We spent the morning just dwelling in our confusion. Sharing impressions. Letting the grief flow. Bewildered. 2000 people. What could the KEEP do. And what about the people here, and elsewhere in Japan, with their own grief. We went on a trip to visit to the Paul Rusch Museum here to see what inspiration it might provide. Paul’s story is quite inspiring. By the end of his life, his motto of “do your best, and make it first class” was well know here. It reminds me of the principle “get a clear sense of direction and then find the minimum elegant next step,” something Berkana has learned from the World Cafe Community.

What’s the direction? Where are the starting points? What resources does the KEEP have and how can they be used? What can be done to invite people into their wholeness? What might make a difference. Many of us started drawing concentric circles KEEP in the middle, then Kiyosato, then Fukushima, then all of Japan, then all of the World. It’s all connected. AND, one of the things Paul Rusch did was he connected people.

By the end of the day, there was still no clarity. What’s the stone to drop in the middle of the concentric circles so they become ripples, leading outward to a newness? A sense was present that some of what the KEEP might do is around youth and youth leading. A sense that this facility has a new purpose. A wondering if it might be one of the Future Centers — places of innovation to discover the future — needed now in Japan.

This morning an idea began to crystalize. Yamamoto-san leaves tomorrow for Fukushima for three days. He goes to discover what they have — not what they need. He goes to look for several youth who have dealt with their grief enough to be ready to stand with each other to discover a next step. Contours of a possibility began to be visible. We will host an 3 day event at the KEEP in the middle of May. It will be for around 100 people. Most of them will be youth. The majority will come from Fukushima and they will come from three sources — youth living inside the sports complex shelter who are starting to come back to life, youth serving in the shelter, and youth from the “normal area” around the shelter. They’ll be joined by 25 or so youth from the Kiyosato area and 25 or so from Tokyo. Purposes envisioned for this gathering include:

1. Be in our grief together. Be in all the different griefs surfaced by these disasters.
2. Enjoy and breathe in this beauty.
3. Connecting youth of different ages with each other as well as with other generations.
4. Begin to see the resources we have and how to use them. What strengths, what assets, what dreams, what skills, what muscles?
5. Learn some about how to host dialogues that matter, which surface grief and joy and possibilities and actions
6. Begin to support each other in making the changes we need ourselves, while visible to and connected with each other.
7. Sensing into what else is possible in each of our lives and in each of our regions.

Of course, this will emerge and shift and change. It may be something entirely different when Yamamoto-san returns. But I think the core will remain: releasing grief while continuing to stand with it. Connecting with each other. Regaining some measure of authority over our own lives. Discovering the minimum elegant steps which will allow self-organizing to emerge everywhere, and especially in the Tohoku Region, in Fukushima, at this one shelter for 2000 people whose lives have shifted so dramatically.

Honored to be here in these conversations. Providing a listening presence and occasionally being able to speak in stories and ideas from Berkana’s work around the world.



Bob Stilger
A next email in the following blogpost.

Creating Cultures of Place

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Art and Community; Creating Cultures of Place
The recent newsletter by Michael Jones, with a link to his latest essay – worthwhile reading!

Several years ago I was a keynote speaker at a Celebrating Communities Conference in Atlantic Canada. During the keynote I asked the group to share a story of a place where they experienced the greatest sense aliveness, vitality and connection. How did this connection to place shape how they thought about their leadership and their community now?

They reflected on finding common ground in their deep ties to land and sea and how these close ties to the wildness of nature instilled a resilience of spirit in their leadership and in their communities.

Shortly after the conference, in a conversation with Peter Block, who has written several wonderful books on community, he said; “we cannot begin to understand community without first talking about place”

Since that conference I have been convening place – based conversations with leaders in communities and organizations. I have learned that leaders who are place-based recognize they need to know where they come from in order to see where they are going. In a turbulent world where there are no rules, no consensus and no clear way forward, if they have no place to stand they will lack the grounding to act wisely in the world. In this context an intimate relationship with place helps us see – and clear sight helps us create a new story of possibility rooted in where we come from and who we want to be.

This spring I will be continuing these place- based conversations with municipal, government and arts leaders in a community conference in the Muskoka region of Ontario on the theme ‘Creating Cultures of Place’

To read more please go to my Leading Artfully blog, Art and Community; Creating Cultures of Place


Friday, July 30th, 2010

First morning here in the Art of Humans Being in the Essex Conference center. Not yet 7 am and I see already some people around writing in their notebooks; I hear a conversation going on in the background… I’m sitting here on my bed; the sun is sending its rays through the trees’ branches. My little room being under the roof, I see branches all around, as if sitting in a tree hut.

What to tell about our half day together yesterday? I’m not sure. There is nothing that really stands out for me, nothing that I could capture easily. The weaving of 26 stories and perspectives didn’t show a clear pattern; at least not to me. Or does it?


This is a gathering, a learning event that uses the Art of Hosting pattern, but its main pupose is not to provide a training in this art, but to use the art to dive into the main theme and question: How will we, as humans being, repattern ourselves, to create and activate the new story? Tenneson said: I want to loose myself in that question!

I have two feelings right now. On the one hand there is a tension – actually I think it is a longing – that we talk about and engage with the real stuff: Why are we doing this? What’s the real point here? If we don’t repattern ourselves the end will come, sooner or later. That’s a fact. Did we do that yesterday? Where we blunt and bold enough to be at this point where we don’t have a clue how to move forward? On the other hand there is this calm feeling – a deep inner knowing – this kind of coming together is the repatterning! At least part of it. Being in a collective inquiry works on many levels: energeticc – intangible – subtle – conscious and also: individual – group – collective – systemic.


What sure is different here is the presence of other ways of knowing – other than mental – the poems, the silence, the collages, the artful workbook, the invitation from Judy to come from a soul-aligned space.

Let’s be bold and nothing than my unique self.
No forcing and no holding back (Rilke).
From hosting conversations that matter to hosting collective learning that matters to the planet.

What’s going on in the world out there that makes repatterning and restorying important? That was the question for our World Café and a way to ge to know each other. Some nuggets for me where:
It is us – you and me – normal people – civic society that will do the repatterning, not the leaders in politics or economy.
We have a choice – we can make a choice.


The collages, made as a way of harvest, showed in many different ways the bridge from the known and old story to pictures and images that spoke of nature, community, being creative and the like: a story of wholeness and wellness and being fully alive!

We ended our first afternoon with a circle. What calls you to be here now – as you are aware in this moment?

Highlights and threads:
It is time to live big.
All is not as it seems.
Home – where is my place? Where do I engage in transitioning with a local community? Commitment to find community where I am.
This land – here – Cape Ann.


Leadership – How to create collaborative leadership? How to listen to the voice of the collective, of the system?
Deep grief – what is it that is being griefed?
Living between stories, between the old and the new – literally, energetically.
Finding my own voice – finding home in myself – owning my wisdom.
The nourishment of circles engaging with big questions – the gathering of the people – the collective inquiry.

Are these the elements of our repatterning, of living wholeness?

Opening of the hearts

Sunday, January 31st, 2010


It is Sunday morning now, more snow has come during the evening and the night; so postcards are everywhere you turn your head. Meditation has just ended and a few people are doing their morning exercises.

Yesterday evening we treated ourselves with a special gift: a hot tub in the open air, with the full moon right in front of us! It was a fabulous experience, with the moon coming in and out of the clouds, getting hot in the water and then rolling in the snow to get cold and back in the hot tub again. Time to just be and enjoy the experience and nothing more...

It wasn’t an easy morning yesterday. We were in the proces that Arnold Mendell calls becoming a True Community. First there is the happiness of finding like-minded people and then – all of a sudden? - the diversity shows up! Weren’t we friends; and now I am angry at you! In the language of Theory U this is the point of opening the heart, realising that all emotions that we project on each other are ours and we have to take responsibility for them ourselves. Going beyond the right and wrong, or any polarity that is present, and opening to the diversity and how other people are different than us. It was a big reminder for all of us, me included, never to violate the rule of the talking stone and an invitation again to speak to and from the middle and not addressing someone in specific. Reclaiming our projections is needed to re-weave the strands of the collective.

It was nice to see how throughout the day more and more people started drawing or playing with colors on paper. Amasing pieces of art emerged before our eyes by just taking one color after the other, not having a plan upfront what it would need to look like. This is exactly what we invite people to do here – to be here – to live in the moment, sensing where impulses are coming from and express them when they are authentic. We were releasing the tension of having to reach something. And we were, step-by-step, coming to this point of not-knowing. The mental not-knowing that hasn’t a clue how to draw energyfields, but if we try it turns out we can! It is possible to sense into that and observe and notice it in some way. There is something below the visible and the tangible...


Thursday, January 7th, 2010

This week we started the first conversations within the hosting team for a next Art of Hosting training in Belgium, Flanders. Part of the conversation was around finances and do we attract the right participants when the price is too high etc. While what we want to accomplish is that a sense of ‘mateship’ – kameraadschap – to be integrated back in our communities and society.

Jack Ricchiuto writes about the same:

Did economic development today in a rural midwest community where people instantly got the distinction between economic and community development. The difference is in the metrics. Economic development is about coins and community building is about connections. Two completely different directions. We need to change the conversation from economies to communities even though it takes us far beyond the comfort zones of conventional approaches.

Café Wonderment

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Tuesday, in the Kingsmill, the place and Learning  Center that I live in with Judith, Lieven and Chrisje, we started an initiative that we call Café Wonderment.


This Café was born out of the recent Art of Hosting training we organized in Flanders. Since long I have been looking for what would be a good format to let people connect. Not just any people, but the ones in Flanders that are looking to make the new possible. So we came up with a design that includes as first part an introduction of a new or challenging perspective on one of the topics that bothers us all. The second part is having dinner together, which fosters the connection between people and creates also a sense of community. After that we designed a World Café to dive deeper into the topic started earlier.

The topic we were introduced in was: Value Creation through Collaboration. We got an introduction through history, and wondered what collaboration could look like in its next form. Our guide, Geert, introduced us to the model of Steiner – without naming it – in which three fields of life are distinguished. These fields are all interrelated, but it is also worthwhile to see the differences. Geert presented history as a movement of making these areas more and more free and conscious for everybody. He also asked us how these three areas could all be present at the same time and in balance.

The three areas are Spirit Life: the realm of life that deals with vision, beliefs, thinking, inspiration, values, education and so on. Next one is the Area of Law, translated in agreements, rules – the world of how we deal with each other as we make it concrete in these agreements. The last area is the Economic one, that area where we really do something, where we create something tangible, where we can see the actions.


The interesting point was that Geert connected these three areas of life with the three words of the French Revolution: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité – Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood. This means that each area of life has its own basic value or principle and when you mix them up you get into trouble. In the World Café we explored why this was so. Here are the questions we gathered around:
How do you experience Freedom in the spirit realm, and why doesn’t   and brotherhood belong there?
How do you experience Equality in the realm of Law, and why doesn’t Freedom and Brotherhood belong there?
How do you experience Brotherhood in the realm of Economics, and why doesn’t Freedom and Equality belong there?

For most of us it was quite obvious why freedom needs to be in the center of the spirit realm. It is a fluid world, full of potential and possibilities, the world of reflection and inspiration. There is freedom to choose.
It was a little bit more difficult to understand how and why Equality was the grounding principle in the area of Law. I don’t think it is about ‘everybody is equal’, but about everybody needs to have an equal chance in this realm of agreements and rules.

But the next one – Brotherhood – was even harder to understand in the realm of Economics. How to make sense out of that?
Due to two brothers who were present, we started on our table from that experience. You can’t choose who will be your brother, and still we can have love and trust. There seems to be some kind of engagement or commitment involved. It is for sure not free and we aren’t all equal! At the end of the café round it dawned on me that brotherhood in the economic realm could be understood – or maybe needs to be understood – as a brotherhood between all humans on earth. Right in this moment, I think it probably relates not only to humans but to all beings on planet Earth. I’m still not sure what consequences this has for my own economic behavior. I guess I imply a lot of humans and beings when I buy organic food and tend my own garden in a permacultural way. But what does brotherhood mean when I charge my individual clients for a therapy session or when I charge an organization for my hosting work? Would it be enough to agree on the price between both parties? Or is this applying the principle of egality in the setting of the price, and it has nothing to do with brotherhood?
Many questions stay; although I see the value of separating these areas of life with its own principles. It gives more clarity to what fits where.

Another point, that we didn’t talk about, but was raised in the explanation of Geert, was a quote from Tim Merry: Communities are the answer to everything. It became clear that for a healthy community we need to apply these three principles in these three areas of life. They all need each other and are interrelated. My hunch is that brotherhood is the principle that needs the community more than the other two principles… I can’t grasp it right now…

And would sisterhood and brotherhood be the same in this regard? I wonder…

Levend Vlaanderen

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Sorry if you don’t understand Dutch… this blogposts announces the start of ‘something’ that is called ‘Levend Vlaanderen’; in translation it says ‘Flanders alive’. Whenever we have a separate blog it will move there!

We zijn begonnen. Met zes rond de tafel, in één van de verbouwde stallen van de Koningsmolen. We willen iets op gang brengen in Vlaanderen.
Levend Vlaanderen

Onze focus is niet wat er mis loopt, maar we richten ons op wat er mogelijk is. Hoeveel mensen zijn er niet bezig om op de één of andere manier het leven voor henzelf en ook voor enkele anderen beter te maken?
Levend Vlaanderen

Vooralsnog is er geen plan, wel de intentie om te verbinden. Mensen verbinden. Gemeenschappen verbinden. Sectoren verbinden. Allemaal ten dienste van het leven, ons leven, hier in Vlaanderen. Ook de intentie om te ont-dekken, om te laten ont-vouwen, te laten ontplooien.
Levend Vlaanderen

De diversiteit was dadelijks aan de orde, komende uit al die verschillende sectoren met hun eigen taal, hun eigen gevoeligheden. Maar wat een rijkdom, wat een palet aan mogelijkheden! Wat wordt mogelijk als we dat samen inzetten en hier lokaal verankeren?
Levend Vlaanderen

We kijken niet in ‘probleem en oplossing’, maar we willen ons verbinden met het leven, dat alsmaar doorgaat. Een leven dat betekenisvol is en dat ook plezier geeft! Kan Vlaanderen een levende, bruisende regio worden als inspirerend voorbeeld in een Europa van de regio’s?

Wij zijn enthousiast en gaan door.
U hoort nog van ons.
Levend Vlaanderen

First day in Greece

Saturday, November 10th, 2007
the house

Today, I had my first day in the Learning Centre in Greece, called Axladitsa – Avatakia. It is far away from big and small cities. The last part of your driving there, the last hour and a half, is up and down along very windy roads. No electricity, no internet. But a lot of olive trees, with olives ready for harvest.

I’m here in preparation for the Art of Hosting gathering on Harvesting, which will start in two days. Besides Maria and Sarah who live here, and who call themselves stewards of the land, six other people are already here, from all over the place: Turkish background, Belgium citizen, two Danish men, someone living in Canada and somebody on the move…

We live right now in open space, meaning that nobody is the boss or takes the lead, but we do what is needed, according to our own competences, passion and interests of the moment. I did many things today: sitting in circle this morning to check in with everybody and the work that needs to be done or can be done; helped cleaning the community space, harvested some olives, had a walk to the beach and now sitting here next to the woodstove, while others are preparing some dinner ‘by camping light’.

Rowan and the rock

What is special here? First of all the people; everyone is deeply involved with living sustainable and with living in a self-organised way. We will even experiment the next couple of days with a Conscious Kitchen. The invitation says: “we would like to create a conscious kitchen in which food is prepared with consciousness and responsibility as part of a natural cycle that nourishes our bodies and our earth.” Then there is also the land in itself, next to the sea with both a source and a well on the little pathway between the sea and the house. It is wild land, just as you imagine in your dreams! A good place to be!

Collective leadership

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Like in the first Women Moving the Edge by lunchtime it was time for us, facilitators, to lean back and give the leadership to the whole group. Meantime it was pouring rain outside, so much so that we couldn’t even see the trees on the other side of the grass field.

And what did we do? If I would give a bullet list of all the different activities you could never understand the depth of what happened. We had some silence, there was conversation, we did a presencing-movement exercise; we danced ‘the Temple dance’; we sat in circle again. There was the sound of the big crystal bowl, we made sound and music together…

But I can’t hardly describe what happened in us and in between us. First it was named as a not-knowing, and later also as a not-talking… but then, what is it?
We seem to listen, to tune into, to sense…
into what?
the delicate, the subtle, the fine, the intangible…


It seems to be possible to access – in our bodies – the unformed, the unmanifest…
the sound of silence…


collective silence…

suddenly it was there:

a connected silence;

a tangible in-between space;

a sacred space;

a space full of possibilities;

a generative space…

Grace had arrived! The We is pregnant!
And you know what? Rain stopped, the mist was gone, we could see again the trees and the whole environment!


Saturday, September 15th, 2007

By reading blogs of two friends I came across a beautiful, inspiring magazine with really interesting articles. It is called Orion, and its main theme is agriculture. But not what you think, it is not even about organic farming. It places agriculture where it has been and should be: in the middle of community. I just plunged in tonight to read some more and here is a part of it that inspired me:

Community...“The book of James says, show me your faith without your works and I’ll show you my faith by my work. And I think the idea is that you have to work out your faith. You have to work at being a contribution, at being responsible and showing up to do what you say you’re going to do. That is where any kind of spiritual transformation begins to happen.”