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!