Written by Kerry Hartigan
Earlier this year, I received an invitation from a friend and colleague, Dee Brooks, to join in an experiment. She was part of a host team for an AoH that had been called in Ballina, Australia. She was inviting me and another person in to ‘co-steward’ the gathering. My response was ‘oooohhhh, exciting’. It felt a little naughty, I was apprehensive and my curiosity was aroused. I was definitely in.
Before this, I had experienced two perspectives of AoH, through a participant lens and an apprentice lens. There were some commonalities across each. All AoH gatherings had encouraged me to take a deep dive into self reflection and collaboration, and I always left with deepened connection and a sense of contributing to ‘something better’. There were also some things that sat as disturbances that I could not seem to shake.
As a participant I often felt in awe of the inner circle, the hosting team. They were the ones huddled down in corners and out of bound rooms, deep in discussion. ‘We Are In Circle’ seemed to be code for ‘do not interrupt, we are doing important business’. Clearly they had direct connection to some sacred source that I did not yet have a gold pass to.
Lucky for me there was a clear pathway to getting the gold pass. It just meant being humble, not being paid for my contribution and accepting a title that sat a few rungs down a ladder. I have never been good ceding, and considered that this may be my lesson.
I must confess that my inner rebel struggled to maintain curiosity, and I do not think that I took to the apprentice role well. For starters, the other apprentices were surprised to learn that I was one. Participants also assumed that I was not an apprentice. I stepped up and contributed, felt appreciated, and learnt. At times I did as instructed, and sometimes I grumbled about this. I also questioned how I could possibly host myself in a space that felt so pressured.
After my last apprentice role, where I donated a few weeks of my life, organised care for my children and pets, and went without income, I wondered why I thought I deserved to punish myself in this way. I vowed to not do this to myself again.
Some time after this, I had 2 experiences in circle that caused this tension to resurface, both came from Aboriginal women. In one closing circle, the participants spoke about ‘being blown away’ by the processes and what they had generated. When we got to the last woman, she said, ‘c’mon guys, this is not new, this is the way it has always been done’. In the second experience, the woman chose not to touch the talking piece as she regarded using one as cultural appropriation. I started to wonder, how does this fit with ‘honouring the lineage’ and stewarding?
I know that not all participants end up being practitioners. I know that not all stewards have been apprentices. I believe that there are natural AoH practitioners who come with innate wisdom and experience, without ever joining an AoH gathering. I began to wonder what it would look like if people were asked: ‘Tell me about your AoH journey?”
With trepidation and excitement, I joined the call for Ballina, and the Art of Coasting.