Written by Michael Prince.
How do you show up in new, challenging or uncertain situations?
How might the simple practice of hospitality transform how you show up and what happens next?
Giving and Receiving Welcome
The title of this piece is the first of eleven “Touchstones” used to create a safe, hospitable ‘container’ for Courage & Renewal retreats based on Parker Palmer’s work. Together they create a trustworthy conversation space where there is no fixing, saving, advising or correcting each other, where we support each other to listen to our inner teacher.
Sounds delicious, attractive and unusual? It is and it works. After some 5 years experiencing such life-giving space, I’ve begun experimenting with taking these Touchstones beyond retreats into daily life and work.
See the Touchstones for Creating Trustworthy Space PDF
An Unconscious Pattern
Setting ‘giving and receiving welcome’ as a daily intention can, and frequently does, make a significant difference to how the interactions of any day unfold. Let me explain. Some years ago, I began noticing a long held, unconscious pattern in how I showed up to new situations that I expected to be challenging, uncertain or uncomfortable. For me, this can be turning up to large networking events where I don’t know many people, a job interview, or running a workshop for an executive team I’ve not worked with before, and so on.
I noticed my default behaviour was to be guarded; nervous, uncertain, lacking confidence, overly concerned with what others might think of me. This was the opposite of how I wanted to be; a perfect form of self-sabotage.
As I observed my ‘defended’ pattern, I recognised its origin in our legitimate fundamental human concerns to belong; to be liked and respected by others. I traced its source to early childhood and the schoolyard. Like many, I grew up often feeling different to my peer groups, rarely part of the ‘in crowd’, leaving me uncertain about showing up in new situations.
I learnt to be ‘on guard’ against the perceived likelihood of ridicule, attack and rejection. I learnt to compare myself to whoever I’m with; who’s in/out, superior/inferior, better/worse, etc. Depending on my unconscious assessment I’d feel more or less confident in myself.
My Authentic Self
These interrelated patterns stopped me, of course, from simply showing up and being my authentic self.
What of this rings true to your experience?
How does the practice of hospitality (giving and receiving welcome) support me to shift such deeply entrenched patterns?
You’ll notice these patterns are generated by my own inner conversation. In the first instance, this bears no relation to what’s actually happening externally. I’m assuming the other person’s intention, projecting my ungrounded fears onto them, generating a self-fulfilling prophecy which dictates how I show up.
What I Practice
As an alternative, whenever I notice the old patterns being triggered, I practice sidestepping them by intentionally choosing to give and receive welcome firstly to myself AND secondly to the person(s) with whom I’m interacting:
- For Myself: I give myself a moment of silence, time to breathe and become comfortable in my own skin in the new situation. I acknowledge any feelings of nervousness as normal and don’t give myself a hard time about them. I allow time to gather my thoughts and choose my intention.
- For the Other: Instead of starting guarded, I choose to practice treating others as I want to be treated. I assume others will be open and welcoming of me rather than the opposite, especially if they experience this from me. I assume their best intention until I receive specific evidence to the contrary.
More often than not this is a simple, effective mental, emotional and physical circuit breaker allowing me to show up differently, setting off a positive self-fulfilling prophecy rather than a negative one.
I remain, of course, a work in progress, depending on the day or moment. But as Victor Frankl said, ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’
Practising this gift of hospitality is part on my ongoing journey toward welcoming and accepting my full humanity, my own flawed magnificence as described by neuroscience.
I will never be free of my habitual, reactive responses, they are deeply engrained neural pathways. I can, however, become better at noticing these patterns earlier and earlier, so they do myself and others less damage, and I am choosing, practicing and entrenching new, more life-giving patterns like ‘giving and receiving welcome’.
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