The week is gone, time to move on

Both universities that I teach for right now are primarily online (though I just finished spending time with some of them this weekend face to face as we began the Spring Quarter for the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology’s MA in Spiritual Guidance). This means we spend one week on each discussion topic; one week to probe a few questions, speaking and listening to the group wisdom and thoughts about a particular idea. It goes by very fast, and I am grateful to the students who post early in the week to get the ball rolling. By Sunday night, as the stragglers get their posts in, I have a sense of frustration that there really is not enough time. In that last rush to get something said before we move on to the next topic, there are openings and possibilities for further conversation, but we are moving on.

It’s like that with my food collages, too. I manage to keep up and then realize I have a whole week’s worth that have not been posted. I throw them all out here, and there’s barely time to look at each individual day or meal. And yet, there are patterns that emerge and something is gained by just looking at the flow of the week. Both in the student discussions, and in my eating patterns. And then we move on to what’s next.

Checking in

I am truly grateful that I have so many places where I can check in – with friends and family and colleagues who I love and respect and who love and respect me, and who care about what is going on with me. Not just the stories of what’s happening, but the thoughts and feelings and struggles and joys that I experience as I go through days and phases of my life. When I am with a group, all of us checking in, one by one, going around the circle to each speak what is true for us in that moment, in our lives right now, and being witnessed and held by that circle, I am grateful. And even more so when I hear from some in the circle, as is often the case, that this may be the only place this person has to speak and be heard in this way.

I am reminded of how much I value checking in even beyond my usual home groups that I rely on for this, having just returned from 2 days with the Saybrook College of Mind-Body Medicine residential conference. At this conference where we hold our new student orientation, and coursework for many of the MS and PhD students in the program, there is still room for check-ins. I am so grateful that check-ins are an important part of our work, along with the serious academic rigor of the research work. The best of both worlds!

I rely on the people in my life, the people in my communities, to hold a space for me that I feel even when I am not with them. Knowing I am held in this way, I can go forth and take action in the world, and I can come into my own center when meditating and/or moving alone, and know that I am not truly alone. This means a lot to me, and I thank all of you who are part of the larger community that I belong to. Just by reading this, just by being someone I have contact with in whatever small way, you are part of the community I belong to. In my meditations, I reach out my sense of community even beyond that, to those I don’t know, those I don’t understand, those I struggle with because of actions that they take that seem to me to be harmful to the earth and to other beings who live here. But what helps me to do that reaching beyond is knowing that I have a closer community to come back to, people to check in with on the simplest levels of what it is to live. Even as simple as sharing the food that I eat every day.

Ponderings on my path

A student wrote asking me about the training, experiences, career choices, realizations that have brought me to my present work. As I began my response, I realized that I had written some of this already, and that perhaps others might be interested as well. So, after a bit of updating, a very non-food oriented blog post about my work, past and present.

My mother was a dance teacher, and my earliest memories involve toddling through her dance classes. My dance focus receded into the background from the age of five through ten as divorce shook my world and left me living in an emotionally difficult situation with my father for several years. Returning to life with my mother and the stabilizing influence of my stepfather, I begged my mother to start teaching dance again, which she did. It was my stepsister who introduced me to theatre classes and productions, which had an enormous impact on my way of being in the world, opening up my shyness to new possibilities. As my mother’s dance school grew and morphed into an arts center run by my stepfather, with artists-in-residence, students, and dance and theatre teachers surrounding me, I lived two almost separate existences – the dancer and the consciousness explorer.

When I was eleven years old, I went to a slumber party where our group of prepubescent girls spent hours into the night ‘hypnotizing’ each other. I had never seen anything like this and couldn’t tell how much was real and how much was just ‘faking.’ Already at that age my critical mind worked in high gear, often keeping me from experiencing because I was so busy analyzing. But there was enough in what I saw that night to leave me wondering. I was fascinated by the idea of non-ordinary states of consciousness allowing us to access deeper parts of the mind.

I spent many hours reading science fiction, especially stories involving psychic skills. Not content with fiction, I searched for ways to develop my own psychic abilities. I was intrigued by the idea of astral travel, ready to get ‘out of the body’ and have adventures in other realms. I began experiments with self-hypnosis, meditation, and visualization techniques, applying myself to these practices with much the same zeal that I brought to my training as a dancer. I’m grateful to whatever drove me to begin self-development training at this early age, as it became a foundation I drew from in struggling through adolescence and early adulthood. What began as an attempt to gain some control in my turbulent life led me along a path into spiritual connection and an ongoing dance towards consciousness.

After graduating high school, I ricocheted back and forth for a few years between the dance world, which I found unsatisfying, and the world outside the arts, in which I couldn’t find a meaningful place. There were several dance teachers who saw my struggle and encouraged me to explore the edges of spirituality and dance, notably Laura Dean, and Sara Shelton Mann, both of whom were working on those edges themselves.

Teaching dance in a program introducing underserved kids from Cleveland, Ohio’s inner city to the arts, I had a revelation. These kids were not interested in dance technique, and in my attempt to find ways to turn them on to their own bodies, their own rhythms, their own creative possibilities, I found what I’d been missing in the arts world. I discovered my interest is in the arts as a means of expression, exploration, connection with each other, and connection with the realms of spirituality.

From that program I explored further experiments in dance/theatre as ritual, looking to other cultures where dance and the arts are an integral part of daily life. I searched for ways not to duplicate the rituals of other cultures, but to create time and place appropriate applications of those ideas to my life, my culture. Realizing that my intuitive work could be enhanced by further knowledge, I returned to university, taking the classes that I felt would help me to understand what I was doing, and seeking out the teachers I needed.

Several professors at UCSC were mentors to me in my process of putting all the pieces together, and I am grateful to each for their part in my growth, and to the university for allowing me to learn from them in such individual ways. Stuart Schlegel, an anthropologist who was enthusiastic and encouraging to me, modeled a non-patronizing approach to learning not just about but from other cultures. Stuart steered me to Noel King, who invited me to speak to his History of Religions classes and headed my thesis committee. Through his deep understanding of my work, he mirrored for me a sense of the authenticity of my path. Frank Barron guided me through an individual study in the Psychology of Mysticism that took me beyond the classics and into the more specific materials that illuminate my work with movement. Philip Slater mentored me as I taught my first cycle of the class I developed, “Movement Explorations: Experiments in Ritual,” and helped me navigate through all the interesting issues that emerge in improvisational group process. My B.A. in Ritual and the Arts in Cross-Cultural Perspective was the result of all that, and I continued to evolve my teaching and ritual-creating over the years as I found studies that grew and supported the skills I needed to do my work, as well as learning from my own observations in my teaching and my practice.

Teaching Movement Awareness in a residential addictions program, I was once again struck by how powerful it can be to bring what I have to offer to those who wouldn’t ordinarily take my classes. My desire to be a more integral part of the treatment team led to my M.A. in Clinical Psychology and an MFT license. Along that path, I found that the psychotherapeutic work I could do with individuals and couples was profound and meaningful. I was somewhat sidetracked by that work for about thirteen years, while my teaching and ritual work became secondary process, just enough to remind me of the transformational possibilities of a group coming together in temporary community to do work on themselves together, and of the role I can play in facilitating that work.

Over my years of teaching movement/trance/ritual I’ve found this approach to be an extremely effective means to provide direct experience of something that I (or someone else) is attempting to teach through a more didactic approach. One profound application of my work has been my collaboration with Anodea Judith in teaching the chakra system. Realizing that her first book was reaching people only on an intellectual level, we co-created a nine-month intensive that provided experiential understanding of the chakras. I’ve been an adjunct in several fields in this way, introducing students to experiential ways to understand and approach Ecopsychology, Spiritual Emergence, Addictions, Eating Disorders, Ethics, and general therapeutic skills.

In 1999 I found my way to Stephen Gilligan, in my continuing effort to strengthen and broaden my skills. My approach to movement takes participants into trance first, to allow the movement that emerges to bypass some of the usual internalized censors that structure our movements in socially acceptable ways. In seeking more formal training in hypnosis/trancework with Steve, I discovered Self-Relations Psychotherapy, a wonderful framework and language to describe much of the work I do. My movement work is also an excellent way to teach and illustrate some of the principles of the Self-Relations model, and I see myself continuing to bring these two together.

My husband’s career path took a twist that brought us to the Seattle area, which allowed me to take a semi-sabbatical from my role as psychotherapist and pursue a PhD at Saybrook University, furthering my knowledge and understanding of my work, and researching some areas of particular interest. My dissertation was a multiple case study exploration of the challenges of integrating transformative workshop experiences into daily life. I continue to explore the process of creating the context for those transformative experiences to occur, and assisting people in bringing their new perspectives and sense of identity into their lives.

For my teaching at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology I was asked to state my philosophy of teaching. I realized that although I have a strong sense of what is important to my teaching, I had not articulated that in writing. Though it continues to evolve, this is my current understanding of what, at our best, we are doing as teachers, therapists, coaches, or just in connecting with others in daily life:
I believe that when we work with others what is most important is presence. As practitioners do their own inner work and become more present to themselves, they can share that presence with those they work with. We can learn theory and techniques, but they are bound into the art of our work by our own presence. My task as teacher is to provide opportunities for education, learning, and the development of presence. I think of education as the transference of information that will give students an intellectual understanding of the material, while learning is something that I can only midwife, creating a context in which exploration and inquiry can occur and participants can experience the next step of their process of integrating and synthesizing.

May we all continue that ongoing process of exploration, inquiry, integration, and synthesis!

So much to do and the year just started!

There is a lot I want to achieve this year, and to avoid overwhelm I am just plugging along, doing what I can do, one step at a time. No point in getting stressed about it – that will definitely not move things any faster. Part of me wistfully yearns for some serious down time to just relax and not worry about all I have on the to-do list. But I know myself well enough to know that having nothing I’m working on isn’t great for my general well-being. Best to have projects that interest me and feel worth doing, and to make sure that I give myself enough time to get them done so that I can enjoy the creative process and not get buried under too much deadline pressure.

Meanwhile, I continue to appreciate the reflective nature of putting together these food collages. I’ve made enough of a commitment to continuing them that I created a back for my business card just for that – something I can hand to people who see me taking photos of what I’m about to eat and ask about what I’m doing.

It’s about time to put together my schedule of workshops for 2012 and send out a mailing – one of my next tasks on the to-do list! Meanwhile, I’m pleased that my Guiding the Journey workshop that is part of the Sacred Centers Immersion is in the spring (May) this year, and in northern California. We will be at Institute of Noetic Sciences’ Earthrise Retreat for the Immersion this year, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be there for more than the brief visits I’ve had there. I’ll also be teaching a 2-day preliminary workshop this year, Exploring Psyche and Soma: Creative & Healing States of Consciousness. This is a response to requests from those wanting an introduction to my work, as Guiding the Journey is a more intermediate/advanced level of training. If you are interested in either or both of these workshops, please feel free to contact me, or go ahead and register through Sacred Centers.