Four-fold practice, a reflection

Four-fold practice, a reflection

Written by Linh Pham, before the Art of Hosting training 2022 in Vietnam

On my bookshelf sits a copy of Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat. The premise of the book is simple: the art of cooking is boiled down to those four fundamental elements, mastering those elements and you are well on your way to becoming a chef.

I do not cook much in my house. Of the 450 pages in Nosrat’s book, only one is marked: the timing for a perfect hard boiled egg (5 minutes for mine). But I do appreciate the way Nosrat teaches others how to cook by focusing on one element at a time. Which, incidentally, is also the point of the four-fold practice.

Never have I been to an Art of Hosting training where the four-fold isn’t taught. Indeed it would be one of the first, if not the first, practice to be shared with participants. Similarly to Nosrat’s idea, the four-fold provides a simple structure for practice, focusing on those folds and you are well on your way to becoming a host. Here is my reflection of what each fold means to me.

First fold: hosting self

Hosting self means holding space for the best version of myself to emerge. This could be as simple as making sure that I eat enough; when I’m famished the only conversation that matters is when will the next meal be. Or that I’m well rested so that I don’t fall asleep when others are talking.

Aside from physical health, hosting self is also about my mental and emotional well-being. It is about acknowledging my judgments and emotional triggers, so that I can listen with an open mind, and an open heart. Hosting self is also letting go of my attachments, so that I can keep an open will and accept whatever that wants to happen.

As far as the concrete how, each practitioner has different ways to host themself. I go to a rock climbing gym to stay fit and relieve stress. I follow a conscious plant medicine practice as a means for reflection and spiritual growth. Coming to an AoH training you will have a chance to learn from others the myriad of ways that they host themself.

Second fold: being hosted

I’m convinced that good food motivates people to become chefs. Similarly, being in a well hosted conversation can motivate people to practice the Art of Hosting. And so the second fold is about learning to be a participant.

Here I practice listening deeply and speaking truthfully. I also learn when to speak up and when to stay silent. It may sound corny but the heart is a pretty good guide here. If I feel like my chest would burst if I do not speak out, then it is a good indicator that what I need to share comes from the heart, not the ego.

This fold is a reason why the AoH is also called the Art of Participatory Leadership, for the participant has an active role to help “co-host” the conversation. I co-host by trusting the host and the process, even if the conversation is not going the way I hope it would. I co-host by respecting the instructions and speaking only when it’s my turn. And I co-host by being there fully, for others, for the host, and for myself.

Participants joining the harvesting process in a training

Third fold: hosting others

When being a chef, it’s probably better to have your food shared rather than enjoying it alone. And so is with the third fold, the fold of hosting others.

This fold contains the methodologies, like the Circle Practice or the Open Space Technology, that can be used to host a conversation. This fold also reminds the host to pay attention to the liminal space: the mindset and setting of the group, the guiding principles, the unseen energy.

Above all, this fold for me is about being of service. It is trying to understand the group’s needs, and then forming the suitable flow and questions. And like any other servants, if I do my job well enough, the group might even forget that I am there and just enjoy the conversation in the space that I have set up for them.

In an AoH training, the hosting team mostly stays in the background. In fact most of the training will be hosted by the participants themselves, with coaching and support from the hosting team. It is a safe space to try and learn.

Fourth fold: community of practice

Nosrat first learned to cook at Chez Panisse — a famous restaurant in San Francisco that made her fall in love with the art after just one meal. Here she learned and tried and failed. And eventually harvested enough wisdom to pass on to others. At Chez Panisse Nosrat found her community of practice.

I first learned about the AoH in 2016, in the first training that was ever held in Vietnam. I didn’t become a host right away afterward, what I had was a group of friends who shared the same mindset, principles, and practices. With them I kept learning, trying, and failing. And eventually gained enough experience to offer hosting service to others.

The AoH field in Vietnam is quite young, but it is growing. I wouldn’t be writing this article if not for anh Huân and chị Trang, the callers of this training. And they wouldn’t have put out the call had they not heard the desire of new practitioners to learn, and the yearning of experienced ones to reunite. We are so fortunate to have the love and support of the global community as well. We have stewards (aka head chefs) coming from overseas to share their wisdom and experience from fields around the world. Come to the training and you will meet us. We are weird, we love to laugh, love to hug, and love to meet newcomers.

The four-fold is a practice, and like a shower, it works best when done regularly. Fortunately, one needn’t call themself a host to start practicing. For the Art of Hosting, ultimately, is just the Art of Living — living a life where I am healthy, engaged, have meaning, and loved. So join us, if you can. And if you can’t this time, I have faith that there will be more and more gatherings in the years to come.