On a bus at the moment travelling from Tartu to Tallinn, through the Estonian countryside. We pass by fields and forests that remind me deeply of the southern Ontario countryside I grew up, differing only in the occasional ruins of old Soviet collectivist farms and apartment blocks that housed their workers when this was part of the Soviet Union.
This is my second trip to Estonia and it is perhaps not my last one. There is some much that is interesting about this country and my friends here, including a close connection to land and culture and a strong sense of both contemporary identity and traditional practices. It somehow for me embodies the Art of Hosting.
This week we were running a Learning Village – a sort of training where we come together to work and co-create community for a week and share learning that deepens our practices of hosting and supporting authentic human being in community and organization, family and life. We were at that Sänna Kulturmoise, an old German manor that was bought by a group of families who are running it as an intentional community and a place of learning and co-creation. We lived half our time in Open Space, half our time hosted in beautiful process with a local team led Piret Jeedas and Ivika Nögel and Robert Oetjen along with Dianna, Kritsi, Kristina, Helina, Paavo and other AoH practctioners. James Ede, Luke Concannon, Anne Madsen and I represented the visiting contingent.
As beautiful as the Art of Hosting Learning Village was, for me the journey was also about exploring something deeper here in Estonia. I have noticed in my practice lately that it is hard to sustain the kind of energy, interest and creativity that I have always tried to bring to my work. I have been reflecting on this and why it is and what it all means. So the Art of Hosting gave me a chance to work with new and old friends, and to host in a radically different context where I had to be sensitive to language and culture. But it also took place in a part of the world that has something to teach me.
Travel of course, always does this…gets us out of our patterns and ruts. I have had very little opportunity to reflect on my work this year, and so I have been treating this journey to Europe (which includes a leg in Turkey and one in Ireland as well) to be a time to discover something new.
Here in Estonia, it has felt like I have gone through several gates. Arriving in Europe, arriving in Estonia, spending one night in the capital Tallinn, travelling to the rural and traditional south to work at Sänna, and then a journey with friends deep into the heart of Setomaa, the region of Estonia that is home to the Seto people, a small Finno-Ugric tribe that I have come to love. Our friend Piret has a piece of land she is working on in the village of Harma, very near to the summer home of our friend Margus, who works for the Seto Nation. Eight of us packed down to Setomaa the other night to spend the night at Margus’s house, to practice sauna together, eat at a traditional Seto guest house, sing songs from our traditions, take part in local traditional social protocols of sharing a local moonshine called hanza which is used kind of as a talking piece by Seto hosts and to rest on the land. Yesterday morning we woke up and went walking and harvesting in the forest, picking many mushrooms, blueberries and lingonberries, visiting Piret’s land, and a new local chapel called a tsässons, which is a traditional worship place of Seto people. It was a journey that seemed to go every deeper into an ancient landscape of human activity, human community, deep friendship and powerful connection. We were hosted by the land and each other and we were blessed with a quality of time and space that seems rare.
Yesterday as we were leaving, across the fields behind Margus’ place, we witnessed what I think was the teaching that this container held. James and I stood and looked across a field at two women, a man and a horse who were taking hay from a field by hand. The women were cutting it and carrying it to the man who was pitching it into a horse drawn hay wagon. It was an incredibly powerful scene of continuity and tradition and also sustainability, practicality, simplicity and clarity. We remarked that perhaps if we could simply undertake to practice these kinds of ancient human practices with such clean volition, it would be our ideal.
I am leaving Estonia for Turkey this afternoon with the thought that this simplicity of practice is what will renew me. We humans are in love with our brains, and in making things complicated and confusing. Sometimes harvesting the hay is so simple that we can do it the way we have always done it. I think much of our work in hosting is the same. We may be facing novel situiations and mproblems in the world, but there is very little that is different about how we as humans can deal with them. To practice the ancient arts of conversations, meaning making, connection and community in the service of meeting needs, and to do that simply is the lesson.
And in some small but not insignificant way, Esotina works the obvious into my tired spirit, and the close friendships and colleagueships I share here along with a land I somehow know in my bones have hosted a little insight around simplicity that may unfold more in Turkey or Ireland.
I’m staying tuned.