February 27, 2018
Awakening the Dakini and Loving the Body
I had the great blessing and opportunity to offer Charya Nritya, the Newar tantric Buddhist dance that I learned in Nepal to a group of artists this past weekend during the event ‘Drawing the Dakini: A Ritual Art Salon with Live Model and Music.’ I was the model embodying the goddess Vajrayogini (see more info about her below) and a number of other Buddhist identities. It is truly beyond my ability to express what it was like to share this deeply meaningful, ancient practice in this ritualistic way; honoring each movement and each position that calls in each enlightened quality and holding them from 10 seconds to 10 minutes, while remaining fully present. Not to mention to be witnessed in this way and to receive the vision and reflections of those talented artists present through their drawings! Super-blow-me-away-kinda-wow-awe that this is my experience in this lifetime!
As I have been reflecting and processing what came up in response, much of it is about my relationship to my body and my body’s needs. While you may look at me and see a beautiful woman (and often I do feel like a beautiful woman now after many years of inner work and practicing self love), I still struggle at times to see myself clearly beyond my own judgements and ideals.
I have been looking at the photos taken during the event. I’m mostly nude, embodying the goddess, and have looked at these photos in awe–I can’t believe I’m seeing myself! I notice I sometimes want to nitpick or judge what I’m seeing: checking out my cellulose, or looking to see if my mudra is perfect for example, and then I check in with my body. The harshness that I feel then melts into tears, and the recognition of how tender and scared I am to be truly seen: to walk and dance this way in relationship and in community. If I am going to follow this calling, then I need to take immaculate care of my body, my heart, and my spirit. This is a daily practice of inquiry for me, asking, “what will be most generative to my highest self now? And now? And what about now?” There are many practices that are needed, and sharing them is my great pleasure (and supports my own self care too)! If you’re curious about how the tantric Buddhist teachings and/or somatic/movement based therapy may be supportive to you, feel free to reach out to me and schedule a consultation and/or a session. I’ll also be offering more events and videos bridging these topics in the coming months.
Move in Grace through the Stillness of Winter . . .
January 17, 2018
This is the creek next to my home as it overflowed forming new icicle banks as its new temporary boundaries in its fullness. It reminds me of how sometimes I overflow or vastly expand my expression, my own flow at times and how great that feels! Like this past Sunday I went to a local grief ritual led in the Dagara tradition from Burkino Fasso as taught by Malidome Some. I am so grateful for this opportunity to acknowledge the pain that I have carried around my whole life, feeling separate, isolated, disconnected and lost much of the time. And then to let it out publicly and to hear, see and feel how our pain is all so similar even when we feel different and separate. What a relief it is to grieve! The ritual this time was taught by two empowered white women who have been trained in Malidome Some’s traditions and have moved through much of their own grief so that they can offer this space of grieving to others. I felt my capacity to show up, allow a massive flow of grief to move through me and to step continually back into service as the flow fueled my song and dance.
This is the work of loving each other in community down to the roots. I was in these expanded banks for a couple days after the ritual while being in collaboration, prayer, meditation as well as receiving support and being in wild expression as I released my own oppression so that I can show up with greater integrity to help shift unconscious structures and help others to release their own oppression. We are all water, we are all flowing life and we need to clear what is in the way to allow the flow to continue changing us as the environment changes with the seasons. A shamanic teacher Will Taegel shared on the Why Shamanism Now podcast that I listen to that if we want to be a part of the New Earth, we need to learn from water. Water has the wisdom to guide us into our own rebirth. How are you joining in the flow?
October 7, 2017
Harvest Full Moon Writings
This summer has been one of deep integration and settling for me. Letting the muck settle to the bottom of the lake so that the clarity can emerge and allowing whatever wants to flow in to do that with greater ease. Read on below to find out more about what the journey was like . . .
Changing the Race Dance: Interplay
After feeling the call to address the horrific inequity related to racism, after the tragedy in Charlottesville, I decided to go to this weekend workshop in Bethlehem, PA in June called Changing the Race Dance. At the workshop we used a modality called Interplay to address racism directly, through our bodies, telling our stories and allowing our bodies to do even more of the telling that our minds didn’t know yet. I experienced this workshop as having a transformative effect not just at the time in the gathering with those who were there. I also felt how telling my ancestral stories and then dancing them allowed me to not just feel into the pain that I carry but also to express it and release it in a healthy way. Too often in anti-oppression trainings I’ve experienced little support in how to release the pain that I carry around my harmful beliefs that have been passed down to me from generations of misunderstanding and confusion. This experience supported me to trust that my feelings are ok and that they are good to feel and express with others in a connective way. That they don’t have to be released as harmful emotions, they can be channeled into movement, into dance, into song and shared with others. The energy that I carry, even if it comes from pain can be generative and supportive for others, those who are like me as well as those who are not like me.
Somatic Body Training Graduation ~ Elemental Earth Body
I graduated along with 8 other incredible somatic students this July from Christine Cole’s Somatic Body Training. We have been meeting every month or two for the last 2 years at Dharma Door retreat center in Northern Vermont to complete our 500 hour training as we went into our bodies and moved with what was present for us learning system by system who we are as bodies and how to support ourselves and others to be in bodies. I shared my final project, a performance called Elemental Earth Body. It came from developing curriculum for 4 classes each one focused on one of the 4 elements in which I connected the body systems to the Earth systems that correlate to those elements. For example, for the Earth element I guided people into their skeletal system and ligaments encouraging them to feel the stones and roots in the Earth through their visualization, movement and touch. I then offered a performance version that shared the highlights of the insights that arose from the classes as a guided somatic meditation and songs that we joined in together to honor and thank the elements. Here’s a photo of our graduation together.
Wild Earth Intensive at Nine Mountain
I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of offering this deep immersion at Nine Mountain with my dear mentor and friend Bill Pfeiffer or Sky Otter as he’s playfully known. He wrote the book Wild Earth Wild Soul that outlines the event and the Earth honoring culture created within it. During this 10 day transformational training teaching and co-creation of Earth honoring culture, the group of us dropped into the land together and found our authentic relationship to ourselves, to each other and this sacred place. The power of the land was palpable and we took in a deep taste of how to relate to the elements and each other with deep reverence and respect for the unknown. I feel so immensely grateful and changed by how we challenged each other to show up and care with great gentleness and fierce love. I was opened beyond my edge and found myself held in this vast expanse by the medicine of the land and each other in very unexpected and beautiful ways. I offered a somatic practice called Our Stone Bones in which we felt and moved into our bones and how they are like the stone bones of the Earth as we walked with great presence to a special moss covered stone sanctuary on the land and moved with simple yet profound stone bone awareness together. Here’s a WEI video created by Leo who participated with us to give you a sense of the insights and transformation that emerged for us. We are looking forward to next year!
I followed this intensive in community with a four day vision quest alone on Nine Mountain’s land fasting. I chose to stay where we had been cultivating this relationship with the land as a collective and where I’ve been living for 5 plus years as a way of integrating and saying goodbye. I settled on a creek with massive reishi mushrooms and found myself spending time with the water as I pumped each sip that I drank, with the fire as I tended it throughout much of one day, with the insects as they became my friends and the trees as they became my parents and elders sharing their wisdom. I will deeply miss this land and not living in this community and yet felt the blessings of this place penetrate my bones during this time of inner nourishment for my soul. I will always be connected to this place as I believe we all are to each place that has changed us.
Mandala Dance at Dance Camp
During Dance New England’s (DNE) annual Dance Camp held in Freedom, NH for the last year, the Mandala Dance crew came and offered three events. Our first an improvisational band for the family dance, then a morning co-created contemplative mandala made from magnificently scented flowers, leaves and spices and a Sunday morning version of our usual Mandala Dance complete with rainbow sari’s hanging around the entire tent, two full mandalas made from sand, flowers, spices and beans, the full band and special guest Jason Cohen playing with us. It was a flourishing success and we look forward to returning next year at Camp Timber Trails the new DNE camp location!
ForestDance at Camp Timber Trails
In early August sixty plus dancers, drummers, singers, musicians, fire tenders and Earth-honorees gathered at the newly purchased Camp Timber Trails in Tolland, MA that the Friends of Dance New England now own. This was the first event held by our community on the land since the purchase as a ceremonial gathering with three all night long fire circles, a closing celebration fire and workshops during the day to give guidance on the fire circle culture. I jumped back into being on core staff and teaching Moving in Grace after a few years of being away while holding Nine Mountain. It was a blessed homecoming to be with the lake and to dance and sing around the fire as we prayed for what is happening within us and around us in the world and for where we can bring our co-creative culture as destruction creates the space for new opportunities to emerge. This is the way of fire in nature’s cycle, to destroy and bring renewal. These fire gatherings have a way of releasing what is no longer needed and nourishing what is arising from the flames. May we continue to gather around these fires on this land for many years and generations to come sharing sacred songs, dancing our prayers, drumming to our collective rhythm, honoring the abundance of the land, celebrating what is most true for us and letting go of the rest.
Body of Nature Photography with Rowan St. John
My dear friend Rowan St. John and I collaborated this summer on a body of photography called Body of Nature that was mutually inspired and co-created. From my side, I was inspired to ground into my body, my embodied soul, through connecting to the elements and specifically in these cases to stone, water and dead wood through presence, movement and touch. Rowan has been taking photographs of bodies with the elements for years and recently started a business making stone sculptures. I found it simplifying to be present with the elements especially with stone and dead wood, to breathe and listen and to allow the flow of my own movement and curiosity to guide me. The stones tell of ancient wisdom in the stillness of knowing. The dead wood spoke of slow decomposition towards the bare truth. And water offers guidance to clear and release into the unknown. Here’s more of Rowan’s work at Spiral House Studios.
Awaking Up and Sharing in Michigan
While I was with my family in Petoskey, Michigan I offered a service at their Unitarian Universalist church that was on “Finding Inspiration in Present News from Ancient Wisdom.” I offered a reading called A Hopi Elder Speaks that offers a vision of us being in a fast running river at this time. That we are called to let go of the shore and to flow in the center of the raging waters and notice who is with us and celebrate with them. I feel this calling very strongly myself at this time. I shared my story of how I came through being suicidal at times in my life and having suicidal partners including one who took his life eight years after the end of our relationship. I see how this pattern is connected to my grandfather’s mysterious death that was either by suicide or he was murdered likely by a Jamaican man while serving in the British Royal Air Force at the end of WWII. I realized that he must have felt great inner conflict and terror as so many have during war throughout the ages. I felt called to address this terror that I have felt in myself and to be a voice against racism by canvassing for the Southern Poverty Law Center and bringing more people of the global majority (people of color) into my world and entering into their worlds beyond the fear of difference.
I need to cross the internal and external barriers to being with those who are different from me to actually feel what I have been missing in my life and to learn what I don’t know. While I grew up around black culture spending a fair amount of time in Detroit growing up, it was not my culture and it always felt so separate and out of reach even though I wanted to engage in it. What if we don’t have to feel so separate and we can enter into each other’s way of being together through mindful curiosity and care? What if terrors such as the hurricanes this season and shootings can be the cause for us to come together across our differences and hold each other in a wondering witness and a creative uprising? I have a number of friends who deeply inspire me in their commitment to living this way, specifically Lindsay Swan and Gus Ganley who are creating a documentary on their travels through the Great Lakes region to show what’s left of industrialization and the destruction it’s caused and continues to cause. They are sharing the stories of those whose lives are being radically changed by gas pipelines as it goes through native lands and those who lived through the race riots and are still feeling the terror of possible police brutality fifty years later. It was profound to hear the stories they are carrying and then to talk to my parents with them about their experience of the riots in Detroit and of the threat of water and sewage pipelines coming through their quaint village life as members of the white upper middle class. White privilege makes the relative ease of their lives possible and mine as well. I am so grateful and called to let go of the shore and flow with the current as it takes me to a completely new destination, wherever that may be and whoever may be there to dance with me in the wild waters of change.
May 30, 2017
Post Memorial Day reflections . . . I took a job canvassing on the streets as an advocate for the Southern Poverty Law Center with the intention to practice speaking and acting on my belief of equity for all, cultivating my own voice and embodiment as an activist and to learn how to be of support to other activists. I learned a whole lot and especially about the art of canvassing: how to grab people’s attention and talk to all sorts of folks about issues of discrimination in our country both from a script that is ‘proven’ to ‘work’ and from my own research and heart. I did alright at raising money and know that the high ask and encouraging people to take the action where their beliefs are in the moment (rather than do it later at home) is the challenging part for me. And there is definitely more work for me to do here around my relationship to money.
What was most important to me in the experience is that I put myself outside of my comfort zone in many ways, on the streets, talking to 20-30 people a day and hearing their perspectives, sometimes even changing minds and hopefully helping people who are victims of discrimination either through the funds I helped to raise or by giving people my attention, curiosity and openness on the street who are often judged, passed by and victimized themselves showing them that there are some people who care. I also learned so much from my colleagues who’s energy and inspiration for this work was so motivating! I learned when I wasn’t staying present in my body that it is much more challenging to grab other’s attention and canvassing was much more work. I used my moments and minutes between conversation to stretch, bounce, hum to myself and even to dance at times. I could renew my energy in seconds and return to being present to engage with others. I also learned that I have resistance to high fives as well as love them! When I’m feeling open and confident they are a great way to find even more motivation and when I’m feeling a bit stuck, discouraged or isolated it can take a moment for me to remember that a good energizing high five can open me back up again. And they aren’t a cure-all when the body and heart really just need some extra attention.
After a full week of training and practice around Western Mass on the streets, I decided to quit yesterday because of the hour long commute and driving up to 3.5 hrs per day that was not sustainable, and my back was not liking my standing for 4-5 hrs each day either. I dedicated my last day on Memorial Day to my grandfather, Herbert John Lake, who died at the end of WWII in 1945 while in service in the Royal Air Force in England. It is unclear whether he was killed possibly by a Jamaican man that he was in charge of or if he committed suicide, and it is very unlikely that my family will get clarity on the story anytime soon. I partly took this job as a way to acknowledge the complexity of his likely inner conflict around his role given there must have been great discrimination against the Jamaicans especially since Jamaica wouldn’t let them return home after the end of the war and the British didn’t want them in their country either. I can only imagine the struggle and fear he felt as well as how racist he probably was even if some part of him didn’t want to be.
I will admit that I have felt fear around black men and terror to take on this canvassing job, in large part because of my ancestral history. Gratefully something shifted for me on the streets. I felt it was the easiest for me to connect and talk with the men of color in a way that felt deeply healing and comforting for me. I probably would have been a better canvasser if I didn’t have this underlying interest and I’m so grateful for the experience and will take what I learned into my own efforts to bring people together to engage publicly and more personally in transformational spaces to share their stories and experience of discrimination and oppression. I’m offering InBody Spiritual Guidance with a focus on supporting individuals to step into InBodying the change they want to make as activated courageous movers and shakers.
As one of my next steps I’m attending a workshop in PA this coming weekend called Changing the Race Dance that offers the tools of Interplay to learn the power of respectful body-to-body connection and why internalized oppression and racism is hard to stop if not treated on a body level. I organized and co-facilitated a retreat at Nine Mountain last August called The Sacred Social Justice Dance in which I opened the day with Moving in Grace and my co-facilitator, Agnotti Benedict, from Chicago, led Interplay practices during the rest of the day. While the group was small it was surprisingly diverse across different ethnic, class, age, sexual and race identities. Our time together was nourishing, joyful and easeful throughout the weekend as we got to know each other in play with movement, sounding, story telling and just plain silliness. By Saturday evening we were sharing some of our most challenging stories and deepest dreams as we walked and moved around a circle and even rolled on the floor in bliss with each other by the final morning. I was surprised and inspired to practice Interplay more and now I’ll have my chance!
I look forward to sharing what I learn with anyone who is interested to hear and practice with me. Let’s try it out on the streets too!
March 30, 2017
March 16, 2017
Pre-Azores Prep . . . Diversity, Movement and Travel . . .
As I’m preparing to fly to the Azores, I’m reflecting a lot on movement and how much I need in my life to feel grounded, embodied and alive in my body the way that I want to feel. Now feeling the way that I want to feel certainly is certainly not always be possible and yet if I feel good it helps me to be a lot more loving and supportive person. I also need a certain level of awareness and compassion that is brought to the movement in order to for it to feel good. This movement can be to cross continents to visit other places and it can be stacking my own firewood or any other experience of movement and how it happens for us. It does matter how I do it and the consciousness that I bring to it. And it just matters that I do it too rather than paying money for more propane to use my gas heater rather than the wood stove or sitting reading a book or watching YouTube videos to learn about places rather than going there.
In my prep to go to the Azores and while reflecting on what I’ll teach while I’m there offering a workshop, I’m looking at my personal need to move to feel vibrant and seeing how it’s related to my need to travel to experience more diversity. I also value stillness in the movement and the stillness out of which the movement comes, which is just another way of being in relationship with movement.
Movement offers me a way of being in choice with how I am doing everything that I do and to experience energetic diversity in my day, which feel important. I also find that I need to travel in order to experience as much diversity as I can as well, which I don’t get living alone in a rural village in Western Massachusetts. I need this diversity and I believe that we all need it more than we often know until we experience it. When I get it I remember how important it is, but I don’t always remember that I need it since our society is so built on an isolated, segregated and sedentary way of being in which we’ve out sourced so much of the movement and diversity from our lives through technology. I’m curious how we can build back in the movement and the play of life as we explore, create our daily habits, engage with people we don’t know and especially as we travel. So often traveling finds us stuck in small spaces with out much opportunity to move for long periods of time or also with more leisure time in which to make choices to move. Travel also brings us into relationship with many new people who are different from us and places that are unfamiliar to us. How we move with them informs them how they can relate to us and expresses how we want to be in relationship especially when language is a barrier.
As I’m preparing for this trip I’m learning some bits of Portugese and also feeling a lot of excitement energy moving through me. I’m also experiencing fear knowing that I’ll be with my parents for about a week and also introducing my partner to my parents. Not to mention the excitement to connect with my paternal grandfather’s spirit who was in the Azores during WWII and painted many buildings with his watercolors during his stay. He mysteriously passed away at the end of the war and I’ve heard that my grandmother always felt a sense of guilt and responsibility for his depression and possibly his death. I’ve noticed this dynamic showing up in my life and my relationships. Feeling like I’m responsible for my partner’s (and historically my parent’s) feelings and bringing this pattern present before going on this journey. The question that I bring into relationship with this dynamic is: How can I stay present in my own movement in a way that supports generative engagement with others (with my parents, with strangers and of course with myself and the place)? And when I say movement that also includes energetic movement and stillness and the movement that is inspired by and through the senses. And how do my movement choices change how I relate to my past, the present and the future as well as the people and places in which I find myself? And to take it to the next level if and when I feel ready, I’m curious how I can identify this movement in the different systems of the body and make choices about which system I engage in order to ensure I have as much diversity engaged within me as possible.
I’ll be continuing to blog throughout my journey on these questions and how my experience informs them as well as my relationships to myself, to the place, to others and to the Infinite all of which are always present.
February 27, 2017
Glands To Bodies ~ Activating the Physical Body
This autumn I really got into the Endocrine system and just ate it up! I could feel that the glands supported a deeper embodiment that was simpler, deeper and more grounded than what I have known before. I could dive into the body to feel the truth of my energetic centers or chakras that before were somewhat nebulas, always changing and unruly. We all have so many energetic experiences moving through these centers, and I’ve had a lot of uncomfortable ones, which is what happens when one decides to really do the energetic re-patterning work and there’s any history of trauma (which we mostly all have). That said, it’s caused me to pull back from some of the energetic work that seemed to kick up so much material, which at times felt unmanageable. I had been doing a lot of Kundalini yoga at one point in my mid twenties. I felt super energized when I did it, and also not so present in my body. I wanted a way to be with my body more and less in the chaotic flow of energy, more with the physical reality. So long story short, life was revolutionized for me with discovering the glands and I found that I could activate these centers with ease, precision and clarity to bring greater rootedness, sensuality, activation, heart, breath, expression, insight, expansiveness, awareness and more. Just a simple touch or even just bringing my awareness to these places opens up the energy and is based in the physical organ of the gland (that releases one or more hormones) or body (which is a gland that doesn’t have a specific hormone, at least not called by a name yet).
Since our session together in October when we climbed Mt. Mansfield and activated our glands one by one from our perineal body up to our pituitary, mammillary and pineal in the head into the sky, I’ve been exploring how to offer this kind of journey through Moving in Grace in various settings. The setting that was the most successful and inspiring was the most recent during the Vital Signs: Creative Community Residency that we had at Nine Mountain during early February. I felt that actually activating the glands through this embodiment journey would support our revitalizing together throughout the residency, and while I’m not sure that it was the case for everyone. I did get some superlatively positive responses and I definitely felt the vitality flowing in myself. I encouraged the participants to explore their glands and bodies one by one up the body and to notice if they feel called to engage with others through movement or touch that emphasizes that particular gland or body.
We started with a meditation, as I always that focuses on a place of home where one can focus on the breath most strongly as it comes in and goes out. We then call in energetic guidance and support into this place of home. Next we breath into a part of our body from this home and encouraged a focus in the pelvis since we would be starting with the perineal body at the perineum where our energetic roots begin. I encourage participants to be present to whatever physical gland they can access with touch and with their awareness to allow a supportive flow of the hormones from the gland or body to move through the circulatory system. While these hormones have their particular effects on the body that can be scientifically shown, there is also the more sensual and relational effects that these hormones and the energy that comes from these centers have on us and others.
Returning back to perineal body, which is also where the notochord is (the fluid spine that we develop in utero before our skeletal spine begins), we can grow our roots down from here to create support and receive nourishment. We then went to the coccygeal body at the base of the tail bone that give an activation up the physical spine propelling movement upward. Next was the gonads, the ovaries or testes (physical or energetic since we don’t all have both but we can imagine having both), which offer a sensual erotic arousal that can be spread throughout the body expanding our eros. Then was the intestines that are ancient nourishing wisdom with endless layers and wrappings that help to calm and digest all the eros. From there is the pancreas and adrenals that offer an activation of both digesting and engagement energy. The adrenals are on the kidneys and so they give a vitality boost to the clarifying, cleansing, expansive nature of the kidneys, and the pancreas brings a sweet boost of extroverted energy as it releasing digestive juices. Upward from there is the thoraco body that provides an expanded breath when needed bringing in more space and perspective. Next the heart bodies open the channels of connection, belonging, trust, and relatedness between all parts of the body through the blood. And we come to the thymus in the upper chest that activates the immune systems protection. In the throat we have the thyroid, parathyroid and carotid body. These glands and bodies support the intake and release of breath as well as how that breath is used in expression and communication in relationship.
In the head, we accessed the pituitary that is more frontal in the skull between the eyes that provides focus, insight, intuitive guidance and more. Then to the mammillary body that offers an orientation of the body in space and it’s relatedness spatially. Lastly the pineal glad that is further to the back of the skull supports us to find our own rhythm in synch with nature’s rhythm. We were in state of expansive restfulness having literally moved through the glands and engaging with each other through touch and movement that brought depth and ease to both being with ourselves and all that was present in our connections with others, energetically and physically if that was desired.
While what I shared here is my own personal experience I encourage you to explore yourself and see what you discover by bringing your awareness to these centers and seeing what arises and changes for you.
November 19, 2016
Returning to and Honoring the Oceans of Our Origins
During this autumn I’ve been offering Moving in Grace in various locations exploring the pre-spinal material of going back into the ocean of our origins and then evolving from this common original home into the myriad forms of life. A number of these offerings were specifically offered as benefit dances for Standing Rock and I created an altar and talked in the opening circle about the efforts to protect the waters at Standing Rock and how we can do our own part here and wherever we are through our own bodies as water and with any body of water that we find ourselves at. Especially as women, we have a strong connection to the flow of our cycle and the flow of water in and through us. I’ve been curious how I can use my embodied experience of the fluids to share my deep motivations to want to help save the water through more activism and these opportunities emerged as the perfect opportunities to share my curiosity and explore with others. These benefit dances have provided a space in which I can speak my deep feelings and motivations and help to create space for others to feel their own feelings and call to do more to protect the waters and the land and to support those who are on the front lines doing exactly that. I’ve also found the space to share in deep connection with others that has led to the deepening of our relationships and care for each other as we find our unique way to embody the water and the creatures that emerge out of the flow together and to live our gifts and life callings with greater integrity and support from each other.
During the journey I drop us into our bodies as we find our own space and then generally go into a meditation on our breathing that I guide. This leads us into a greater awareness of our bodies and the sensations we are having internally and deepening our concentration through focus on our breathing. We find a single place to focus on our breathing and then call in guidance and support into this place of home as our breathing moves in and out to the rest of the body. I then guide people into a visualization of each breath being like a massive drop of water that is creating the ocean, and that you are now that ocean of drops of breath. As we expand and liquify we also merge with each other as everyone else is also an ocean around us. We then imagine that we dive deep into this ocean through the layers of deepening blue and when we hit bottom we become a single celled creature. I invite everyone to feel the insides of themselves, to feel their membrane and to feel outside of themselves and to tone into these three different layers and follow the movement that flows naturally from you. This creature can move around and explore, engulf others or just move around them or even form to them. We have ultimate flexibility in this amebic form and I’m curious how sound can give us a different maybe even more awareness of our choices. I then invite everyone to evolve into any creature from this form that they feel called to embody. How are you called to embody life at this time? I gave some suggestions of various sea life and how one might want to interact with others, possibly getting away, seeing if they were good prey, getting some warmth or having playful curiosity. We then evolve into various creatures and I encourage everyone to eventually become human and to realize the unique and special nature of being human in this lifetime. What are they called to do as humans? What are their gifts that are uniquely needing to be shared so that they can actualize their calling? How can we all share these gifts with at least someone very day? I encouraged dancing and playing with each other throughout the whole second half of the dance by demonstrating it myself. I then brought us back to our watery selves with some water evoking music at the end. The music ended simply and with many people back on the ground or in connection with each other in a deep state of reflection on gratitude. I then closed with a closing circle everyone sharing what they are feeling now and their names.
I look forward to continuing to offer guided meditations and dance with these themes from the fluids, embryology and evolution to bring greater awareness to our relatedness to all of life and that we are so much water ourselves and can feel it more consistently for our own and other’s empowerment.
September 8th, 2016
I’ve been offering Moving in Grace this summer with a focus on the embryological exploration that we learned during the Embryo flow workshop that Christine and Bonnie offered at the end of June. I offered it at the Touch and Play Festival in July, a festival that explores the edges of Contact Improvisation including spirituality, gender, emotional work, power dynamics, sensuality and sexuality. I also offered it at a retreat that I co-led here at Nine Mountain in mid August called the Sacred Social Justice Dance on the second morning and at Dance Camp in late August and with a friend at Nine Mountain in a more personal exploration together. Each offering has built upon my learning and experience in the previous ones and here I’ll offer a reflection on my last exploration that includes what I’ve gleaned from the previous ones.
During my time exploring with my friend who is an energetic and sound healer at Nine Mountain, we were able take a deeper dive together into the unknown of embryology and our inner workings given it was just the two of us. He is just diving into his exploration of embodiment with private yoga classes over the last 5 months and then just the day before being taught about following and paying attention to his own blood and tissues, which was a brand new concept and experience for him. He is feeling called to ground his spiritual healing work more in the actual experience of the body, which is what I have also been called to do and is a large part of why I’m focusing on the Somatic Body work right now. He shared with me that he is having thoughts about having another child and that he is curious about how to go through the process more consciously. He wanted to learn more about embryology even though he didn’t know that’s one part of what he was coming to explore with me. He did know that he was coming to learn what I do since we have been doing exchanges with each other to learn about each other’s healing work with the possibility of collaborating together. I gave him an overview of the practice and we jumped in together.
I started with the presence of the body with the floor and land beneath and then with the breath as it moves through the body. We then found a place of home in the body to focus on the movement of the breathing. From this place with called in energetic support, which could be spiritual, a relationship in ones life or even a value that one is calling in. Then we continued to notice and follow our breathing and to focus on sending our breathing to our pelvic bowl area. Here we felt our creative energy and whatever sensation arose as a place of fertile possibility and potency. We then felt how this energy was a part of our fullness and imagine that we were an egg or a seed, whole, complete and full of potential. We were moving and even starting to sound a bit with this visualization. I likened this state to being asleep each night, waiting, preparing in the darkness, in the unknown. We were the seed of our beginnings transversing from the ovary to the fallopian tube on a journey. Then there was louder music and more movement and the sperm entered the story, swimming frantically, seemingly chaotically towards the egg. We embodied the fertilization of the egg self and the pollinating sperm self that created a new dream being. We then sat with the gestation period before beginning to move more with cell division as we continued our journey through the fallopian tube. I felt more and more complexity becoming available to my awareness as the cell divided and differentiated and there was more toning and singing happening as well.
We made it into the womb and found our ‘planting’ spot into which to grow and receive nourishment. We grew our fluid spine notochord and the yolk sac and amniotic sac that grew over and around us as we matured and found more movement in our limbs as they grew. We then got to a stage where we were being constricted by the womb’s contractions and needed to emerge with birth. This birth took different forms for both of us as we acknowledged what be believed was ‘holding us back’ and exploring how movement and sound could support us to ‘labor through’ and emerge as our new being selves. After emerging I felt awkward and not sure how to continue guiding us, it felt vaster, more possibilities less just inside my body, but very unknown. I chose to focus on the joints and ligaments as a way to feel our connectedness since I was feeling disconnected from my partner and myself. That helped as I found myself making bigger arm, hip, leg movements in circular patterns that felt tensegritous. I found myself curious with what my movement partner was doing and how to engage with him rather than do my own thing, which is more of my pattern. We found ourselves moving and sounding in sync with each other yet in our own different ways yet I felt very connected and at ease with him.
As the day and practice was finishing up we sent out the offering of the energy that we had cultivated together to those in our lives that we wanted to share it with and to places, people and circumstances that also needed and are needing support. We made this offering through movement and sounding/toning together. We finished by coming back to our ‘home’ space and imagined entering back into bed where we return to rest. I found myself entering a very deep state of peace and inner quiet. We returned to be with our dream selves that we had grown and to acknowledge the dreams that we yet to come.
Afterwards we talked and I felt strongly that I want to create space for families to come to Nine Mountain where we can move together across generations and learn from how the children naturally want to move together. We also talked about how the different elements relate to the different body systems and that we can call on their power to support our lives within an open exploratory movement ritual like Moving in Grace.
August 7th, 2016
Sermon offered at the UU Congregation of Petoskey, MI
It’s such a treat for me to share this time with my parents and you all in their fellowship. I attend a very non traditional UCC church in the hills of Western Massachusetts that welcomes all faith perspectives, while also leaning towards neo-paganism as we live in a rural area and the seasons and weather guide much of our lives as it does here. It’s great to be back in a UU space, having spent my adolescence and up into my graduate studies in UU congregations.
In thinking about this service, I realized that it was just Lammas day in the Pagan calendar. Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass”), is the festival of the wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop, which began to be harvested at Lammastide. The loaf was blessed, and in Anglo-Saxon England it might be employed afterwards to work magic to protect the rest of the crop according to Wikipedia.
It is the harvest of the first fruits, the first harvest of the season. This awareness lead me to the question of: What am I harvesting from my life, from my heart and the truth of my body in relationships as well as with the environment around me while addressing the realities of our world?
To answer this question I’ll need to share more about myself, I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, an only child, dancing, singing, playing outside, connecting to nature and our pets as my siblings. I also travelled often and widely with my parents, the best education in my perspective. I saw a lot of diversity and was very privileged. I also became distracted by the world of higher education, ambition and success to a degree that I thought my worth was based on how I could achieve in those arenas. I came back to my self, to my body and sensation 12 years ago by studying sustainable development and Buddhism in Thailand where I lived with indigenous peoples in the forests, kayaked down the West coast only weeks after the tsunami had flooded through with devastating results, and meditated in silent, pitch black caves in the jungle facing the truth of my mind. It was a lot to integrate and a worthy task as I realized I needed true community, to learn about my environment and to learn to love myself.
I delved into yoga and Buddhism as best I could in Western Michigan at that time and found myself struggling to care for myself with one day of work a week at a philanthropic foundation called the Fetzer Institute that promotes the power of love and forgiveness to change the world. This job payed for all my housing and food for the month living in cooperative house in downtown Kalamazoo. I worked another 20 hours a week at a social service non-profit supporting folks with serious mental, physical and emotional challenges with their basic needs. Here I was making minimum wage at $7.50/hr which payed for gas, car repairs and spending money. I had a taste of multiple worlds and felt the need to ensure that I could get a well paying job doing what I loved to do, which I thought was inspiring people.
I went to Harvard Divinity School at age 24 on a full ride scholarship for UU ministry and thought I had it figured out. I would bring dance and song, meditation and prayer into all I did and transform the ministry. I hadn’t quite faced how confused and overwhelmed I had become by spending so much time with people and circumstances that brought my childhood trauma up to the surface until I was without a community that i trusted and felt so alone and so unworthy in one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. Luckily I found a great community yoga studio, a psychotherapist who was a shaman, the dance community and some brilliant friends who also felt like outsiders for much of their lives.
I delved into my personal healing work, swimming through the dark swirling waters to find a sense of peace in my body while facing my beliefs that I just wasn’t good enough to succeed at a place like Harvard. I must be an imposter and someone will find me out soon. With lots of furious dancing, contemplative psychotherapy, daily yoga and meditation, caring friends and a lot of grace I made it through. I decided during a chaplaincy internship that traditional ministry was not where my gifts could flourish at this time in my life. I shifted to studying Buddhist ministry instead and developed a sacred movement and sounding practice inspired by my Buddhist studies and practice called Moving in Grace for my thesis as I created space for my own body and other’s bodies to speak at Harvard.
After graduation, I needed a community that allowed for and understood deep embodiment and the need for deep rest in a nourishing natural environment. I found Earthdance, a dance and artist residency and retreat center in W. Mass, which built Nine Mountain, the home that I currently live in and help to run as a transformational retreat center right next door. I continued to deepen and expand my movement and spiritual practices, found my way to India and Nepal and back to study Buddhism and have clarified how I’m called to offer Moving in Grace through personal and group retreats at Nine Mountain and beyond. I’m now studying Somatic Bodywork (somatic meaning related to the body) in a learning community, which offers a way to access and learn about the physical systems of the body through hands on touch and movement while developing deep inner and outer trust with myself and others.
Coming back around to the question that I started with having shared where I’m coming from: What am I harvesting from my life, from my heart and the truth of my body in relationship as well as from the truth of the environment around me while addressing the realities of our world?
I now see that I’m harvesting a greater capacity to stay present with myself and others and to articulate my needs clearly and kindly while finding greater joy and pleasure in life and relationships. While this may seem like a simple thing, I’ve realized it’s a life-long practice to live in this authenticity. My parents can attest to my progress or not 🙂 What I do know is that my journey into my own body has made my progress and the seeming magic of the dream that I live in community possible. It has been the dance and movement practices integrated with mindfulness that has made all the difference. My community, friends and family at Earthdance, Nine Mountain and wherever I travel to offer my work are all a part of this movement of movement that is transforming individuals, relationships and communities.
You may be asking how is movement a movement? From yoga centers to youth groups, to benefit dances, ecstatic dances to new somatic therapies there is a movement of emerging dance and movement practices that are offering individuals and communities new old ways to experience, express and celebrate being embodied and how to relate more authentically to our environment as the myriad of teachers and lessons all around us. At the Parliament of World Religions that I attended and offered Moving in Grace at last October in Salt Lake City, there were at least two spiritual movement practices happening at any given time (in the 30 plus offerings in each time slot). I was amazed that I had around 50 people show up to Moving in Grace who were so ready to drop into the meditation like the one I lead you in and to start moving and dancing while allowing their bodies guide them into healing, into connection with others, into bliss during our journey together. (see post below on the Parliament to read more . . . )
Since then, I have been studying Somatic bodywork in a 2 year training and have come to have a deeper appreciation of the vastness of that available within me through bringing my mindfulness to by body with my breath whether I’m in jubilant celebration with others or alone on my yoga mat or eating dinner. I’ve also cultivated more enthusiasm for the intellectual practice of studying the body finding great resources that value experiential knowing as well as mental understanding. One of these is the podcast the Liberated Body in which Brooke Thomas interviews leading experts in somatic studies each week. One of the most recent episodes was with a phenomenological embryologist named Jaap van der Wal who says that through his studies of how we all grew as an embryo in our mother’s belly he has come to understand that soul and body are not separate entities. We are not a soul with a body, that the body IS a soul. You are constantly forming, shaping, creating your body as the performance of your soul. Every day and every moment we are creating a new body that is forming our reality. This is the process of life.
Through my own studies of embryology at a workshop in the somatic school, Body Mind Center, taught by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen earlier this summer I’ve come to absolutely agree with Jaap and continue to find deep integration of the truths that I have studied in Buddhism and Shamanism through these embodiment studies. We all have the same physical elements and yet we are all so unique in our expression and evolution of these elements into who we are and are becoming. We are forming our lives with each thought, each movement, each expression. Let us trust ourselves to harvest from our body what is most beneficial for ourselves, for others, for that which surrounds us and for the future.
May the movement of our souls continue to bring us deeper into who we are called to be as we come together to share in the fullness of who we are becoming with all that is.
April 19th, 2016
Moving in Grace : Growing from the Womb Being
Belly and Womb Conference and Beyond
I shared Moving in Grace at the Belly and Womb Conference this past weekend and have been practicing with others over the last couple weeks in various containers as we’ve delved into how we can move from an embodiment of our wombs and the pelvis below holding us as if we were our own mother. If there were men in the room then I was focusing mostly on the pelvis as holding us up like a hammock or nest.
We started with a meditation on our breathing that we focus on in one place in our bodies that we can home. We then brought that consciousness to our belly/wombs from our home with our breathing. We brought a curiosity to this exploration of our belly/wombs, sending loving presence with our hands and consciousness. I spoke of our embodiment being this re-mothering experience of becoming our own womb for ourselves that we bring our consciousness to as re-fathering to make choices on how to be active (masculine) or receptive (feminine) for our most generative awakening and rebirthing. In this place of wholeness I invite everyone to call in guides of support and protection be they spiritual, relational, values or places. We then went into and awoke out of a guided visualization of deep sleep to a seed egg emerging from an ovary and being met by the seed of our consciousness. As this seed we grew roots into our womb and out through our whole being as we explored the ligamental and boney edges and innards of the live nest of our pelvis. We then sounded into the ligaments of the pelvis as if they were our vocal chords, which became a very full expression throughout the room of groaning and toning. The music changed and we then shifted into a more full movement expression of how we wanted to create clear boundaries in our lives and cut any chords that are not supportive for ourselves. And we had a decrescendo into an integration of the energies back into our womb fires to receive the bliss of transformation and plant our seeds of intentions back into our womb selves. There were many variations on how I’ve been creating these containers and at the Belly and Womb conference it was a palpable deepening of my own process as a teacher with others with greater discernment and expression.
The ligamental focus gave a rocking, rhythmic, rebounding experience to it. I saw others swaying and rocking a lot and very deeply in their own process. The sounding was very deeply expressive and actually concerned me so that I brought us down from what was becoming a pretty intense energetic experience back into a more meditative awareness of our pelvic floor. While it felt a bit awkward to me as the music changed, I realize that it was generative for me to not keep going into the big energy and to pull back so that we could all continue to stay more in choice with our experience, especially myself as the facilitator. I do wonder how to continue growing my container for these kinds of experiences to support deep expressive release for groups, especially women and to stay focused on the physical rather than fly into the energetic experience with others, which is more of my tendency. I found that focusing on the physical bones and ligaments in this exploration brought in more energy and deeper connection than I’m used to experiencing within this container and it’s likely staying with my own physical experience and allowing it all is a big part of the answer to staying grounded and present.
March 20, 2016
Palm Sunday Sermon given at West Cummington Community Church
Here we are, it’s the first day of Spring and Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey colt, waved on by his supporters as he entered into a sacred city like many cities, with those who are in power, those who are in poverty, and those who are struggling with their power and their poverty in so many ways. Jesus came knowing that he was facing challenge in many ways and with great support and that he would not be supported by many who would not want to believe the message of nonviolence, peace and healing he embodied.
How can we relate to this way of entering? Maybe coming back to church each week? Or when we haven’t been attending for a while? Or maybe even following our own calling and deep sense of what we know we need to do, entering that path.
I can also relate to this journey of entering, entering my broader ministry recently by leaving my comfortable home and smaller ministry at Nine Mountain here in the hills and bringing myself to Salt Lake City this past October to go to the 6th Parliament of World Religions with the theme of Reclaiming the Faith of Our Humanity : Working Together for a world of Compassion, peace, justice and sustainability.
I went because my mother encouraged me to apply to share Moving in Grace, the contemplative movement practice I’ve been cultivating since divinity school over the last 6 years. I applied on a whim as a way to practice sharing what I do with a more traditional audience and when I was accepted it was clear this is what I needed to do to step into understanding myself as a minister and taking the next steps to develop Moving in Grace as a ministry that I share with diverse communities.
The Parliament was a gathering that happened first in 1892 in Chicago with the entrance of Hinduism into the religious consciousness of the West with Vivekananda, a Hindu guru/teacher, then again in Chicago a 100 years later and then every 6 years or so somewhere around the world since then. I don’t know how it was decided that it would happen in Salt Lake City, but it seemed appropriate to me. Jesus came to Jerusalem, the city of the temple, and all of us 10,000 from around the world, 80 countries, 50 faiths were coming to the city of the American Mormon temple, the temple according to the Church of Latter Day Saints. The American manifest destiny in the wilderness where they built the impressive tabernacle as their holiest of holies. This contrasts the photo on the cover of your order of service, which is also a tabernacle, the one made by the Israelites as they roamed in the wilderness for many years. Supposedly the time that they were closest to God.
Salt Lake City is a quite a contrast to fly and walk into coming from these hills. So dry and mostly flat and then surrounded by high rocky mountains. The leaves were in full color here when I left having had our first sweat lodge on our land the day before and down there were some yellow leaves on the trees but not so many trees in the paved streets. It was all so neat and clean, dry and undisturbed and oddly quiet for a city.
I arrived excited and terrified. Where were the trees? How would I enter into this massive gathering where I would be sharing a practice of my own creation with people from around the world? Would anyone understand or appreciate it? Would I be ridiculed and challenged by those with more traditional religious perspectives and were challenged by free self-expression through the body? My first night I stayed at a hostel where it felt like the homeless drug addicted population had been sent to. I didn’t see any homeless actually on the streets my whole time there.
Jesus came into Jerusalem that day riding on a donkey colt, rather than riding on a horse how a king would have done during a time of war back then and probably did enter Jerusalem around the same time on the other side of the city with the Roman army. He had last been with a donkey in the scriptures at his birth in the manger. He was humbled and riding on his vulnerability in the face of power.
I came the first day of the Parliament exhausted from the journey, not sleeping much the first night and trying to move myself to another hostel early that morning that felt safer. I was humbled and yet stepped into a day full of vibrancy as it was the Women’s Inaugural Assembly all day before the official opening of the Parliament that evening. There were at least 3,000 women and men there to address the responsibility of the world’s religions to affirm women’s dignity and human rights and to look at the religious and spiritual inspiration for women’s empowerment from all traditions. It was a radiant group of at least 25 empowered colorfully decked women lining the back of the stage who came from all over the world. Each one got up and spoke, sang, chanted, danced, preached, prayed and held space for us all to step into an embodied relationship to ourselves, them and the other pilgrims around us who had come from near and far.
I even touched foreheads and noses with an Indian man sitting next to me as Dr. Rangimarie Turuki Arikirangi Rose Pere a Tohuna indigenous grandmother of the Maori from New Zealand guided us to greet each other as they do where she’s from. She was there with her son/nephew/father/brother/grandson Joe as she called him, a young Maori man who would go wherever she went and support her every move with an incredible presence of devotion. They love each other as if they were all relations to each other she told us. Later that morning I learned a dance to support the movement for 1 Billion Women to rise up against sexual and physical oppression and abuse with a troop of Sheroes. 300 of us or so danced together at the closing of the Inaugural Assembly as dozens of women were on stage drumming, beating their hearts into the great space that we and billions of other women had created and are creating for ourselves together!
There was no sense that any of these women were against men, the masculine or anything male. We were honoring the feminine or the yin quality of being which includes the vulnerable, the peaceful, humble and wild parts of everyone, male or female, young or old. Jesus certainly seemed to embrace these parts of himself and taught others to care for them in and outsides of themselves as well.
Back at the Parliament we entered into the opening ceremony that first evening with great expectations. I watched the procession of religious leaders from around the world lead by the local Ute tribe leaders and other Native American leaders, taking back this wilderness for a few short minutes. Then watched as on stage a row of 9 men out of the 10 speakers grew who were all wearing the traditional Western suit uniform. They spoke intelligently, of what they knew, of hope for the Parliament and what could come of it yet where were the women? Where was the color? Where was the heart? Where was the feeling?
I felt alienated and confused that we had such an expansive, inclusive, vibrant day with so many women, 3,000 out of the 10,000 or so there that night and that the Parliament officially began with this dry, exhausted, patriarchal offering of leadership. As we left that evening I heard others sharing their frustration and disappointment. How would this sit with the women who were to speak tomorrow?
The themes throughout the Parliament included a day each on indigenous people, war/violence/hate, inequity/poverty, global climate change, and the first day’s focus was on women. The speakers at that opening plenary session including Mariam Williamson (see photo below) who spoke with incredible transmuted anger into fierce passion calling on all women to stand up and speak out about our experience, to empower ourselves to listen to our inner voice and lay it down as she said everywhere we are. She spoke of all women leaders as being priestesses with a divine calling. And said that Passionate free thinking women women raise passionate free thinking children and passionate free thinking children grow up to be passionate free thinking adults and passionate free thinking adults are very hard to control. As women we have a capacity to give birth to life and we are all needed to help bring life back to the traumas and tragedies that we collectively face.
Afterward the plenary, I walked out a bit awe struck inspired, and there was a group of women all standing in lines together, holding hands in silence. They began walking with a deep peacefulness and inviting more women in. Someone whispered in my ear, it’s a silent women’s vigil for peace and I took a warm hand and walked on. We continued gracefully through the whole conference center and outside to the ceremonial fire urn used by the local Ute tribe leaders who were offering daily morning rituals. We circled together, held the silence and then a woman near me began singing and most joined in. Then some of us started moving together circling the fire, and then forming tableaus of co-creative harmony around the fire. This continued for at least 30 mins and by the end those who remained were improvising in celebratory song and dance under the sun together. We had given birth to great joy and could now share it with the rest of the parliament.
This experience of resurrection, although I realize that’s next week’s sermon for Easter, showed me that entering humbly, open and honest while staying present to the reality of my experience even if it was painful and not so welcoming is essential to have any hope of harmony and peace with all. That both passion and silence are needed. It takes presence and honoring of what is and then we can find our capacity to rise to celebrate again together because we are together in the pregnant unknown, surrendering to what is being created between us.
Josh Fox’s film How to let go of the world, shown in Ashfield on Maudy Thursday showed him doing just this with all the indigenous cultures he was encountering and filming to offer ways of how we can go back to taste the wilderness within and learn the enduring values that will remain despite the destruction of climate change that is upon us. Democracy, resilience, change, love, innovation, community, courage, creativity and more. How can we focus on living these truths with great commitment as we are present to the realities of what we face together?
The second to last day of the Parliament I shared Moving in Grace and found myself in deep presence and bliss holding a circle of 40-50 folks, mostly Americans who were eager to drop into their bodies. A few were even crying in the opening circle as we sat around a central altar together. And as we moved from meditation into dance together some people became ecstatic, some weeped and were held by constellations of empathetic supporters, some prayed at the altar, some laid on the ground and just received as I moved in blissful grace witnessing them all and myself.
I wasn’t challenged, I wasn’t burned at the stake or crucified (yet), I wasn’t thrown out. I survived and continued to share the practices, celebrations, prayers and petitions from religious practitioners from around the world and returned home feeling that I had a taste of arrival. There is a holy of holies, in the wilderness in each of us. I get a sense that we can each get there by riding on our own inner baby animal too.
October 19, 2016
Moving in Grace ~ Parliament of World Religions
Salt Lake City, UT