Seeing the Four Fold practice in circle

This month, in anticipation of his upcoming two day introduction to The Circle Way (May 30 - 31, 2017 in Paris, France) we are pleased to feature a post written by Olivier Winghart.  Like many in our global community, Olivier is a practitioner of both The Circle Way and the Art of Hosting.  From Stockholm Sweden, Olivier, with cohost Marc Levi, invites French speaking practitioners to learn about The Power of the Circle as the foundational pattern holder for Art of Hosting.  

Read along as Olivier shares his insights about the Four Fold Practice, a mainstay of Art of Hosting, and how it applies to The Circle Way.

Seeing the Four Fold Practice in Circle – The Blossoming of a Four Petalled Flower

I am not sure how to talk about this big topic, only that I would like to evoke it here.

I will start in the zen dojo this weekend, at the first meditation sitting of the day. You can picture it as a silent circle. Everyone is tending to one’s own practice, trying to awaken and focus, and simultaneously supporting each other in building a nice common stillness. So it is like participating and hosting the others simultaneously. There is also being present to oneself, or at least there should be, if you practice as you’re supposed to do… Then especially for the dojo leader, there may be some thoughts in the back of your mind of how to best serve the group and of keeping a timeline of these Saturday full-day sittings.

This above story of sitting meditation evokes the 4-Fold Practice, one of the main conceptual and practical frames from the Art of Hosting field of practice. Within the context of this story, I see it as four petals of a flower, each unfolding, interdependent, and building on each other. In the example above, they all manifest beautifully. Petal one - individual practice. Petal two - helping each other with common quiet and stillness. Petal three - time-keeping and leading the meditation. Petal four - keeping an eye on how the group can be maintained and keep learning together over time.

The second and third petals are more visibly occurring, they meet the eye more easily, whereas the first and fourth practices are somehow more enabling, less outwardly obvious. This is, of course, oversimplified, as all four petals, all four practices are happening and occurring simultaneously. But often, superficially, one sees first, the second and third practices: the ones of participating, respectively hosting.

From the Art of Hosting, the first petal or practice is the necessary precondition of the other three petals. Called “hosting oneself,” or being present, it involves preparing yourself or devoting yourself to a certain discipline of exercises to nurture and grow personal capacity.

The fourth petal or practice is variously called co-creating, hosting the community, or being part of a community hosting itself. It involves tending the collective capacity. Usually there is a time dimension and an evolution over time, for the sake of a collectivity or community.

Quoting from a recent blog by Max St. John, “It’s about redefining leadership — as a practice that starts with understanding self, learning how to be a great participant, before developing the capacity to be a leader that hosts.  And at a meta-level, then how we develop communities that learn, together.”

In The Circle Way, the first petal-practice, hosting yourself, is key. This is “personal preparation,” on the outer rim of The Circle Way components wheel. It’s better if you can be centered in yourself, at ease with your body and clear in your mind and heart, because this way you can come forth in your best condition to meet whatever presents itself and whichever weather presents itself. I realized after participating in the Advanced Circle Practice, that a regular somatic (body-based) awareness practice is very beneficial for a circle host, as it gives you experiential equivalents to situations that happen in circle. By training your somatic awareness practice, you also train your capacity for circle hosting.

The second and third practices, being hosted by and hosting others, are visible whenever a circle is in session. And I would like to stress that this activity is shared. Not just the designated host, but each participant is participating, and doing his or her share of hosting the others. As we go, both along the life of a given circle and along the life of practice, we learn to do our part as participant better and better.

Then there is the fourth practice: being part of a community hosting itself. There you find the design and follow up of a circle, taking care of the lessons learnt, updating accordingly, harvesting and communicating what the circle mates are doing, making sure the circle can live well over time and over circle meetings. There you see one circle occurrence as a circle among circles. Now you see, you are not just hosting this particular circle, you are hosting the field which makes this circle possible, this one, and some past ones, and some more into the future.

Regarding this fourth practice, it is not always harmonious. The Circle Way founders, Ann and Christina remind us, circle participants go through different weathers, sometimes tense, stormy. Maybe there’s thunder and it rains. Then it clears up, as we pass through a different circle situation (cf Chapter 8, Activating and Responding in a Social Container, in The Circle Way, 2010).

To give an example, I recall a circle that I was invited to. The setup was in a church parish; the circle was part of a series started as a men’s circle to address needs that these men felt were not met otherwise in the community. I knew the host and trusted him. That particular circle was friendly and cozy to begin with, but by and by I noticed a heavier energy, which made me wary and a bit uncomfortable as a visitor. There was a conjunction of factors as I recall, such as a participant expressing that his only true friendships in life were with other people in this circle; the circle host respectfully indicating he wanted to step down and pursue other activities; no clear other member ready to take up the lead. I also had the impression that the group had a common assumption that it had a kind of spiritual depth. I left early, but I wondered afterwards how the circle group had handled the situation according to its needs, what type of resolution was there at the center of the circle when they closed for the evening. I heard later from the host that it had finished well. That evening, it was very clear to me that by coming to that circle, unaware of its history and life course, I could not fully appreciate their movement along all four petals of practice.

In each and all four practices, it is important to come forth as much as possible as the whole person that you are. Not just the brain, or not just the vibrating heart, not just the spiritual being flying around in the energy field, but all of you together. You may check now and then, as you are listening or as you take the floor, and ask yourself, “Which part of me is activated right now in my action?” 

Similarly, it is important to see the whole flower, and how the focus circulates among the four petals of practice. What you are exposed to as you are active in a community hosting itself (the fourth petal) may prompt you to revisit and adapt your personal practice and style of being present (the first petal). Or when hosted by a masterful circle host (the second petal) you may learn experientially that you have some of this capacity yourself.  You are then reminded of the need to attend to and refine your capacity to host others well (the third petal). In this way, the Four Fold way of hosting, the four petals of practice become like the flower blossoming within ourselves and among those we host.

4 Petal.jpg

Inspired by Olivier Winghart's reflection, Katharine Weinmann offers these tips on the art of hosting oneself and tending to the outer rim with a personal practice.

Olivier Winghart is a Gestalt psychotherapist and facilitator, especially interested in group processes, whether therapeutic or collaborative groups. Olivier is also an Engineer with two M.Sc., double culture, and a curious spirit, and author of the Kindle ebook Open without knowing: Notes along the way, published 2015.