This year, after four trainings in English-only, Art of Hosting Vietnam will officially be available in Vietnamese. As one of the people who made the decision above, I am very happy, and also very scared.
I’m scared because our work organizing the training just increases tenfold; the writing alone is doubled. And as of now we still don’t know how we will incorporate Vietnamese. When discussing this decision, we received many warnings such as ‘it would be too difficult to hold a bilingual training,’ and ‘the process would be too slow.’ Plus there are still too many words that when translated still sound quite strange. Every time I say “collective intelligence” or “co-creation” in Vietnamese, I often get squinty eyes like “what the hell did he just say?”
But if the training is held in only English again, then like Trang—the other person who made the decision with me—said: “it would be a step back for the Vietnam field.”
In the last training, for the first time ever someone spoke Vietnamese in the big circle. It was the last check-out of the course, and Thu Lành used Vietnamese for her sharing. Honestly I don’t remember what she said, I just remember I was transfixed with her voice. When the circle was over and people began saying goodbyes, I came to her and thanked her for bringing our mother tongue into the training. Then suddenly, before she could respond, I started crying. It made her cry, too. And we just stood there holding each other in tears, amidst a room full of hugs and laughter.
At that time I didn’t understand why I was so moved. Only now do I realize, it was the moment I knew that my dream was possible.
For a long time I have dreamt of inviting my parents to the Art of Hosting. On one hand, I want them to know what I do, on the other, I want to share the practice. In my family I’m lucky that my wife is also a fellow practitioner. Because of that we can be better together and build a good environment for our daughter. Now and then I need to have courageous conversations with my parents as well, and it would be so much easier if we share the practice.
I also wonder, what might happen when a family, a neighborhood, a people share the practice with meaningful conversations? What beauty may emerge?
When using Vietnamese, I also learn new things about the practice that I thought I knew well. The word “host”, for example, my friends in China translate it as “chủ”, which can mean being the owner of something. I am stealing that translation because the AoH Companion Guide says “hosting is an act of leadership.” What has more leadership than taking ownership of a space and inviting others to participate? And so the training this year will have Vietnamese along with English. We really want to invite the grandparents, the community leaders…to come and be in dialogue around this year’s calling question—to rediscover the art of being a neighbor. While there is still much uncertainty, I am excited. Because I know I will learn a lot, and I get to share the circle with my family.
In 2018, I joined the Art of Hosting (AOH) training for the first time. I joined it because of a profound fascination for the Circle Way practice; and also because I want to have firsthand experience with stewards of AOH and more of its methods. After joining this year (2022) AOH training, reflecting on the experience, I am ever more convinced that it stands as one of the most significant experiences in my three decades of life.
This training is not the same as any other training I have been. In almost all activities, learning is co-created through meaningful questions and conversations wherein each participant fosters an opportunity to lend their voice to the collective wisdom. From the initial moments that we were within the whole-group circle, we jointly commit to five foundational principles in order to practice “living in community” throughout the four-day and three-night sojourn in Ninh Bình:
1. “Listening with attention”: We listen to understand, to connect, without interruption.
2. “Speak with intention”: We speak from a place of authenticity and clarity of intention.
3. “Take care of the group’s well-being”: We remain observant of our individual influence (energy, intent) upon others, making appropriate adjustments to optimally contribute to the group.
4. “Invite openness and curiosity”.
5. “Ask for what you need, offer what you can”.
These principles might appear simple, yet their power is profoundly realized only when we get caught up in the cycle of worrying, defending our opinions, proving ourselves; we begin to “step on each other’s words”, or abandon each other in the process of co-creation. Just then, we even more appreciate the power of such simple practices.
In my own experience of this journey, in four days and three nights, it was about reminding each other to practice these principles, observing the wondrous outcomes that can only arise when individuals are genuinely receptive to learning from one another, forging transformative and deep-rooted lessons. Before the training commenced, I assisted in curating a list of essential specialized terminologies encapsulating the spirit of “hosting”. This process also helped me as a personal reminder of “practice” – a simple term, yet embodying the most fundamental value of our community:
The verb ‘practice’ denotes the repeated execution of an activity or skill to achieve or maintain mastery in it. As hosts, we practice hosting; as harvesters, we practice harvesting. This language reminds us that we are ever within the continuum of learning.
Heeding the five principles, there lies an invitation to “continuously practice” listening, sharing, and nurturing each other. The essence of the Art of Hosting is uncomplicated, and its beauty lies in the commitment to practice the most subtle things in our mindset and our communication behaviors.
In the viewpoints of mindset, we will never be flawless in communication. There will be times when we are to stumble and inadvertently hurt each other. What counts is the courageous choice to come back and “practice again”.
In the viewpoints of behaviors, individual and interpersonal “hosting” practices lay the foundation for broader systemic change. A system is able to be open to change only when every cell-unit knows how to foster opportunities for dialogue and intelligence sharing, transforming collectively from the ground up. The Art of Hosting’s large-scale methodologies are all built upon these underpinnings. A thriving living system requires robustness at the cellular level, ready for collaborative work, nurturing each other’s strength.
Wrapping up my recent four-day and three-night experience at the Art of Hosting Training succinctly, it is a space for us to practice a community life together—a place where each individual faced challenges to embrace diverse worldviews, learn from every decisions in communication, and witness their contributions to a broader system.
Here, we did not merely ask ourselves, “What is your intention for yourself?” but perpetually inquired, “What is your intention for those around you?” This marks the commencement of an invitation to “practice” living, playing, and working together, and, just as crucial, to be authentic in a world striving for the good of all.
For a deeper understanding of the practices within the Art of Hosting, I invite you to read the Four Fold Practice by author Phạm Quang Linh
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.
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.
Unexpectedly, an urge of writing down has come to me to save and remember this moment.
It was about November when I came back to the 4th AOH training. With a simple intention to witness, listen to, and receive whatever happening in the training, I joined without any specific expectation. But then, somehow, surprisingly, miracle happened to me when I told my personal story to other participants.
Well, in this flow of thoughts, I recall when I was studying at Knowmads, André told me a thing that I will never forget, and indeed, still remember now.
“Everytime I need to make a decision, especially the hard one, I will imagine the day I were old, sitting with my grandchildren and I were telling them my life stories. I will ask myself “What am I going to do to make a cool story that I love to tell them at that point?”
My motto in the profile seems similar to the spirit of Andre’s sharing, “Here comes my purpose: To live a life that is worth living so I will have a story that is worth telling.”
Yes, I have been following the way of living as the motto.
And, it keeps accompanying me, also in this AOH training.Sitting and reflecting with a friend on the experience, I told her: “I have no intention to tell the story in this AOH because I have told it many times before. Still, it emerges in its own way, in a surprising way, so, I let it express.” True! The story wants to be told, and it wants to go out to touch others without my planning or imagination.
I have lived that story once in my life, but it keeps revealing its layers of influence on me and others more than what I think it is. So, I cannot describe it more than accept that it is a miracle.
Since today, my purpose or motto changes a little bit “To live a life that I enjoy living, so I will have a story that I enjoy telling.”