The Ultimate Vacation: Finding Freedom in the Familiar
What does it mean to be community? That is the question that 33 participants from across the D.C. Maryland Virginia (DMV) area - and across backgrounds, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, nationality - contemplated in December (2019) when the the Art of Hosting D.C. team hosted an Intro to the Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter gathering. Over the course of several hours, we created an experience that also aimed to answer - “What is the Art of Hosting?”. I came away from this exhilarating afternoon feeling a sense of energy and wonder. As I reflected more on the experience, I realized that I don’t need to go on vacation to find the vacation-like qualities that somehow seem so elusive in the day-to-day grind of life. These qualities include a feeling of untethered freedom, joy, and curiosity. Together these qualities manifested connections with fellow participants, and collective interest in searching for different ways of working together to create and live the change we wish to see, experience, and know in the world.
To back-track for a moment: My first immersive Art of Hosting experience was last summer when I travelled to Spetses, Greece to join 45 fellow Art of Hosting practitioners for a five-day leadership intensive. One of 6,000 Greek islands, Spetses is small and relatively remote, only accessible by boat. We stayed in communal dormitory-style accommodations on the grounds of a former school campus with two main buildings on either side of a delightful courtyard, all a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. The setting was enviable, and the 45 people that gathered from across 17 countries were equally spectacular. Throughout our five days together, we shared circle practices through stories about personal and communal identity. We practiced methods for harvesting (making meaning visible) through communally compiled drawings and artifacts. We shared expertise on topics like futuring through Open Space Technology. We practiced deep listening through Listening Circles where each person played the role of speaker (story teller), listener, and harvester. We practiced embodying exercises to better understand and live from our core values. We used the Proaction Cafe to seed ideas, and help grassroots work germinate in local communities where our fellow AoH members work and live. And all of these practices were led and received by people who were profoundly present, deeply curious, and personally vested in personal reflection and collective action.
As I look back at this memorable week, I see a beautiful environment, an incredible group of people, terrific food, deep learning, and the novelty of a vacation that took me out of my well-known and well-worn environment. It’s like wearing a new pair of shoes that temporarily transport you, spicing up your look and life! Whereas, in contrast, home is like a pair of well-loved shoes - comfortable but with less shimmer given routine and weathered walks. In other words, the once extraordinary can become quite ordinary, and also a bit lack-luster.
Given this, the questions I am holding are…is it possible to find that vacation-like euphoria right at home in our day-to-day existence? How do we discover and access new places right here? What internal conditions need to be present to find the ordinary anew?
After co-hosting our mini introduction to the Art of Hosting in Washington, D.C., my answer is a resounding - yes, it’s very possible! While the time and place in Greece - or anywhere else for that matter - can never be fully replicated, the quality of experience I discovered on vacation is something that is alive wherever we go, because it lives within us everyday. I know this because untethered freedom, joy, and curiosity were present that afternoon in an ordinary, every day public library in downtown D.C. It’s always about the quality of presence that we bring to any time and space, how we embody, lead, and mirror behaviors, and how we unlock new places within ourselves when we approach new, or even well-known things with child-like wonder and beginner’s mind. In other words, I discovered that I don’t need to alter my physical place or mind-state (aka go on vacation) to find the freedom, joy, and curiosity that I often seek and only find when I leave home. Instead, I’m interested in asking how we shift the conversations we are having every day to find more of these extraordinary qualities in the ordinary moments of our everyday existence.
So, my reflections:
Where does untethered freedom come from? I re-discover this feeling each spring and fall when I ride my bike. This is mostly because it reminds me of being a kid (and flying)! This child-like freedom is best encapsulated by the word authenticity - unmasked and living from a centered place of who we are versus who others want us to be.
What brings you joy? To me, just like going on a vacation with one or more amazing friends, excitement emerged when I discovered the feeling of stepping into something new alongside talented and trusted colleagues. Each bringing our own talents and style, it’s been a wonderful gift getting to know each other in real ways leading up to December when we hosted this event together. Just as it’s appropriate to choose travel companions wisely, it’s equally important when you work together. The vacation analogy still holds here: our hosting team is clear - if we are going on vacation we want to see the sites (the what) but not at the expense of experiencing the meandering cobblestone streets and conversations with locals (the how) that are arguably more memorable and worthwhile - and influence how you see and experience the rest of the trip.
How do we get curious? I don’t know about you, but I don’t go on vacation expecting to know everything about the people and place I am visiting. How can we lend more curiosity to our day-to-day lives? Can we see curiosity as a practice? I know I won’t grow without cultivating a comfort with discomfort, and resting in the unknown. For that reason, the Art of Hosting is about responding skillfully while working with emergence.
While I don’t plan to stop enjoying new places and people around the world, I think it’s worth investigating this concept of vacation. I’d like to live in such a way that doesn’t require me to vacate - aka leave, or become absent from - from day-to-day existence. Instead I’d like to find the vacation euphoria in the beauty and connection in places like public libraries on ordinary Saturday afternoons in Washington D.C. In short, this doesn’t require leaving, only leaning more into the time and place I find myself.