Improvisation is a Divine Love Thing

July 25, 2011

I spent the weekend in New Mexico with Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault learning about soul-stirring, heart opening, divine love in real people. How we find the real deal.

In ancient practice three actions lead to Great Love. 1) Let go. 2) Deeply welcome life. 3) In singular fullness, unite with self, other, all.

It hit me. Improvisation is the discipline of letting go. And, it’s hardest when we’re scared, stressed, or upset. In other words, most of the time.

But an improviser loves to play with life and ride it into the big “YES!”  An improviser will gladly flop if the payoff leads to making love with creation. This is why InterPlay is my playground, discipline, and where I feast on love for life.

Clinging is the opposite of letting go.  I need both dynamics to be human, but to get to Love, InterPlay sets up practices that build confidence in the flow of our own voice, moves, stories, connection, and self understanding. Incrementality!

Adult play gives us a “safe enough” place to follow and go with the materials of experience until we can do it for longer periods with all we encounter, even death. We discover we are alive, powerful, and that we are having fun!

In community we get strong enough to merge with a greater field that helps our social body heal from the bumps of daily life. What does this look like? A dance. A song. Drumming. A community sharing the quiet. When we point toward Something Bigger we touch ecstasy. Peace, joy, hope, laughter, tears return.

What is your discipline for letting go? Do you practice as a mover, a teller, a person with voice, breath and stillness?  Is it fun?

What if peace-making required more lovers and fewer problem solvers? Would you know how to play into love?

Are you ready for the disciplines of this strange age: learning to improvise and love? Come InterPlay! Maybe you are called to come learn lead it!

admitted we were powerless…

June 13, 2011

Ever been in utter overwhelm, down-on-your-knees-I-give-upness? You may have discovered that the first step is to admit it.

I am always glad when I get to that place. Why? Because spaciousness soon follows.

I don’t know about you but I find a lot of life overwhelming. National budgets for instance. The weather. My inherited privileged position. Parenting. Being parented. Cooking dinner. Insidious nonverbal messages which tell me to eat more, do more, buy more and to feel bad when I do. Crazy. Over the last few weeks I admitted it. “I am deeply disturbed.”

Yet, body wisdom has other advice. There is another way. Slow down, touch stillness, rest, and if  lucky get with people with arms wide open to mystery, people who sing or dance with abandon to remember who they really are, or at least readily admit they are not in charge. When this happens answers can arrive without force.

Can we do something like this on a wider collective level, welcome that spaciousness that begins with admitting and opening the body to something greater?

We need to allow room for it. It won’t come with a 5 year plan. Oddly, it comes most quickly when we “hook up” our strangely wonderful dance-song-spiritbody.

Yeah, this still surprises me, too. They get it in India. But, it’s a hard sell in a country founded by super serious guys who tried to talk, write, and decree everybody be free the same as them, with NO DANCE on Sundays.

The body knows best how to get to greater wisdom. That is why Phil and I cooked up the InterPlay Secrets of Effective Groups: “bodies, not machines.” When groups can shake out some rampant expectations, take some deep breaths around the fury of activity, learn what the body wants, and let it communicate– we see something new. Most of the time they don’t even have to dance to see it.

How do I know? I watch and listen to the body. People feel better. They start to like each other. In their powerlessness, space opens. They get some power back.

Phil and I will share the Secrets for Effective Groups in Oakland and also in Berkeley at the Pacific School or Religion this summer. When we are in your area we’d love to share them with your work or community.

Don’t tell Mom I’m just playing?

May 8, 2011

Don’t tell Mom that I’ve gone public with my testimony about her brave, beautiful journey of dancing with Alzheimer’s on my other blog, Mystic Tech. Here’s the link. I’m proud that InterPlay offers ways to uplift our community members who suffer with dementia, depression, and other d words. We’re more than a disease, we’re dancers.

Don’t tell Mom that little by little I’ve learned that I don’t have to work so hard. Mom works hard even with Alzheimer’s. Nap? Naaaaaa. Fortunately, she always told me to do what I love. Thanks Mom! I am working on it!

Don’t tell Mom that I broke the secret pact that gives her dibs on being the only good cook in our family. Turns out that I wrote a cookbook for the heart, What the Body Wants: InterPlay. It’s full of recipes for the secret sauce, chewy morsels, and creamy centers of life. O.K., it’s not an actual cookbook. I’ll never cook a meal like you, Mom.

Don’t tell Mom about the other Mother’s: Mother Earth, the Great Mother of us all, Mother Death, and the Mom in me. Tell her, though, that She Alone is mother of my dancing heart. I love you Mom.

I wish I could tell Mom

• that InterPlay got a $25,000 county grant for innovations in mental health to work with Homeless Seniors and how Phil is leading the team that is offering that program through 2012.

•  that I am off to England to lead the first Arts and Social Change: Secrets of InterPlay and that my sister and I get to visit her ancestor’s villages.

• about meeting and mentoring young artists from the US, Australia, India, South America, and Rwanda who are signing up for InterPlay’s Arts and Social Change Next Gen program

or that granddaughter #1 got her first paid gig as a makeup and hair artist, and that granddaughters #2 and #3 are equally gorgeous, smart and about to graduate from 9th and 12th grade.

Mom would probably nonchalantly say, “As long as you’re all happy,” cuz a good mom knows she did her job if her offspring find happiness.

I AM HAPPY with a plus sign. I AM AWAKE, ALIVE, LOVED and AN ARTIST, teaching others how to play, find ease, and create a good life. Thanks, Mom(s)!

8 secret powers useful when change is afoot (no pun intended)

February 28, 2011

Phil Porter, Cynthia Winton-Henry photo: Carly Rosin

Somewhere in the midst of improvising with body and soul, listening to life, and honing 26 core InterPlay practices Phil Porter performed 8 of our key tools as a set. We were in North Carolina at the beach. He got up in front of thirty folks and the 8 tools flew out in a fun, powerful, body intellectual lecture in Phil’s inimitable style! Today, wherever people lead the life practice program these 8 tools form the foundation, the bones of InterPlay. When change is afoot they help us navigate.

Noticing any changes in the world?

The 8 tools are part of a larger set of 26 core elements. When people think of InterPlay they often reference forms like sighing, shaking, Babbling, Hand-to-Hand Contact, the Warm-up, Walking, Stopping & Running, One-Hand Dances, Toning, and one breath songs. Yet, it’s the 8 tools that are the backbone organizing our beautiful, brainy beings to be able to amplify and enjoy embodied thought, movement, breath, voice, speech and connection. What are they?


1) Easy Focus or… how to lighten a stifling, serious look on life.

2) Body Data, Body Knowledge, Body Wisdom or how to catch  on to what’s right under your nose.

3) Internal/External Authority or how to honor your knowing even when you can’t articulate it.

4) The Physicality of Grace, or how to become a grace operative, amplifying what brings healthy energy in a crazy world.

5) Exformation, or how to find and let loose the wisdom inside you in creative, easy, and mind-blowing ways.

6) Incrementality or how to be an overnight success by being in your body, taking a step at a time, and celebrating more.

7) Body Wisdom Practices (aka Spiritual Disciplines), or how to use fun, ingenious practices to have more of what you want.

8) Affirmation. Affirmation. Affirmation or, how affirming others makes a world of difference.

On the printed page these 8 tools are just words. It’s when you actually play with them on a body level that they make sense. Would you be shocked that this is the stuff that 1000 graduates have found encouraging, helpful, and life changing?! Nothing replaces doing InterPlay and joining the real web for which your body was designed.

If you are curious to know more about the 8 tools, leave a comment and we’ll send you a free pdf of Phil’s book, Having It All: Body Mind Heart and Spirit Together Again At Last.

Readers say: “Master-teachers Porter and Winton-Henry have discovered a new way of “being” in the world. This book is foundational in an understanding of the philosophy which they both teach and live. I recommend it to anyone seeking greater integration and wholeness in their lives.”

“Phil outlines exactly what it takes to “heal the split” between body, mind and spirit. I have followed these suggestions, and they really work. For those of you who are looking for ways to improve and/or heal your connection with yourself and others, this is truly a winning way to go.”

Or, better yet, get thee to a Life Practice Program, now in its 17th year. If you did it ages ago, come again. Long time InterPlayers revel in the new developments and the price break. In the next few months the Secrets of InterPlay and the Life Practice Program will come to MN, Kansas, the UK in May, and to Oakland for Next Gen Leaders 18-30. The secrets are out! Come play. Change is afoot.

What is body wisdom?

September 20, 2010

“Our biography is in our biology. Whatever goes in has to come out. If it doesn’t it gets stuck. Who wants that?”  Trish Watts.

Everything you experience is an aspect of your physicality. Yes, even spirit.

Are you aware of sensations, thoughts, memory, energy, emotion, tension, space, pulls, drives, tastes, imaginal states?

Are you aware of the little bits and overall gestalt of your experience?

Are you aware of the effect of other bodies, fields of energy, and places on you?

Wow. So much!

Though it seems like a lot. We can be aware of fleeting bits and pieces of experience.

In InterPlay we call this body data. I am focused, warm, and searching.

We can also notice familiar patterns: what kind of music, food, color, activity, etc. we like.

We call this our body knowledge. I enjoy reflecting and communicating.

We can notice what is good and desirable for others and us and create more of it.

We call this body wisdom. I am energized and am choosing to do this instead of other projects.

Body Wisdom is at the base of humanity’s move towards connection, growth, life and security. In the past some humans thought we might get beyond our physical nature. Now, brain science shows that physicality is basic. If we find ways to develop as whole persons in holistic communities we may have a greater chance to not only be wise, creative, and deeply connected, we may subvert disasters. We can listen to our body wisdom!

Enjoy this interview of how Trish Watts discovered that the body is wise.

The wisdom of the body is best discovered in community practice. Singing, dancing, story, and stillness give rise to creative states that amplify our wisdom. If your body is affirmed by others and welcomed, you can notice it and choose the wisdom and joy that is yours.

Spirituality and Body Wisdom

February 22, 2010

NOT LONG AGO relief, prayer, connection, and courage were primarily accessed through rituals of the body. Gatherings were in a domain of dance, song, and enacted revelations of spiritual imagination, all imparted with care by leaders from generation to generation, body to body, teacher to student. Remarkable technologies of healing, communal regeneration and divine support were bred through the body. Five paths- breath and movement, stories shared in plain speak or poetry, connecting hands, feet, earth and hearts, raising voice in cry and song, and easy stillness that offered unconditional space to just be.  Movement, voice, word, connection, stillness: five great freedoms, five routes to wisdom, five ways to receive life and let it go.

These five aspects of embodied experience, (accessible in InterPlay sequences) are begging to dance us and free us, body and soul, and lead us from one moment to the next. But, three things are necessary: we must be willing to enter the real, physicality of the dance of life, often easiest for the poor in spirit who humbly sense a need for love and guidance beyond current resources. The second need is a single step. Moving one step at a time is our body’s way to both have life and let go.  Dancing is gain and letting go.  The third need is to open our focus beyond sight, beyond the mono-vision of word, to the simultaneously complex and simple life within and around us. In InterPlay, we call this practice easy focus. It doesn’t mean minles of focus-less. It is a physical practice of opening, relaxing and welcoming more information. It is a great way to have  more life without the need to resolve it.

Clergy, rabbi’s, chaplains, healers, mindfulness teachers and interfaithful leaders are finding InterPlay a helpful route back to the immediacy of spirit. What relief to have our whole being (mind, heart, spirit, flesh) find ease, direction, comfort, and profound connection in what seems like play. In a phone conversation this week Liz Ellmann, Executive Director of Spiritual Director’s International, called to invite me to a twentieth anniversary gathering of their organization. Having been a member of an InterPlay group for spiritual leaders in the Seattle area for years she shared her gratitude for her InterPlay practice. Their event is attracting hundreds of international participants. At InterPlayce, April 7th the Wednesday before it starts we’ll host a gathering for spiritual leaders to InterPlay, dine out, and attend the first 7 pm session on InterPlay and Mindfulness led by InterPlayers Prashant Olalker from India, Connors McConville, Chinh Nguyen, and myself. This day will include celebrating Betsey Beckman and Christine Painter’s almost released book Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction and The Dancing Word: Mary Magdalene, a DVD and class both of which incorporate InterPlay practices for spiritual direction. My new book Dance: A Sacred Art: Discovering the Joy of Movement as Spiritual Practice published by Sklyight Paths Publishing is also a great resource for personal and collective practice.

Here is a worship service incorporating InterPlay called Dancing with Loss and Letting Go, led by InterPlay Cofounder Cynthia Winton-Henry with Carla DeSola, Maggie Kast, Jaime and Ligia da Fonseca of India, Leo Keegan, Rev Melinda McLain, PSR chorale and guests.

InterPlay and Miraculous Weight Loss

December 7, 2009

I am pretty sure that someday I will write an essay on the InterPlay miracle stories about Cathy Ann Beaty, Susan Pudelek, and others.  Here’s one about miraculous InterPlay “weight” loss…

Miracle on Carroll and 4th Streets: Huge Woman Slims Way Down, Then Naturally Expands
Reported by Kathryn Sparks of Washington, DC

During the weekend of October 1-4, 2009 a huge woman was caught playing in 2 beautiful locations of the festive village of Takoma Park, Maryland.  The story goes that she was taking part in a variety of secret activities at a church called Seekers and quite by accident realized later that she had lost about 65 lbs of weight over the course of just a few days.  At the time of this interview, the woman (who shall remain anonymous) said that a good friend of hers had told her it would eventually happen but that she was skeptical.  She also said that she didn’t think it would happen so dramatically.  Upon reflection however, she realized that in actual fact she had taken incremental steps all along to get to this point.  During my discussion with her she cited “easy focus, body wisdom, and looking for the good” as major steps in the weight loss program, though noticing herself instead of critiquing herself was also a key factor in the transformation.

Apparently there were 15 witnesses of the miracle, but since the whole group was playing together, i.e. having fun, she didn’t really stand out in the group as someone who needed much help.  In her own words, she says “I can’t believe how light I feel: tingly, buoyant, alive, and energetic.  It’s such an amazing feeling that I’m not quite sure if I need sleep or if I’m hungry.”  Clearly, her new body-spirit, or coherence (as it is sometimes called), will take some getting used to but she says she is really looking forward to the challenge.  When asked about this cryptic “challenge” she merely laughed and said something about not being as afraid of bears as she once was.

The woman’s history might provide some clues as to how the weight was gained in the first place.  An independent source told me that she comes from a good family of people who have worked hard for change and goodness in the world, but that there was still some lack in her upbringing.  I also discovered that in her 20s she dealt with an illness that claimed most of her energy for that decade of her life.  I learned that the dead weight consisted of trying to do things the “right” way, carrying heavy loads of responsibility, and an obsession with “figuring things out” disguised as endless time and energy spent on discernment and “call.”  In addition to this I also discovered that a major source of her pain and suffering was an excessive dependence on others’ opinions of her, and she readily admitted that she is not proud of this.

The woman, entirely self-actualized at the time of our discussion, was practically beaming and happy to talk about the change.  “My weight was really a habit, even addiction, of contracting and playing small in the world.  It’s ironic to me that playing small actually made me huge but that getting this weight off has allowed me to naturally expand into my full self.  Granted, the habits are pretty ingrained and might be easy to slip back into, but I am hopeful.”  When asked about this hope and what she will do when she falls into the old habits, the woman talked about exformation and laughter as important spiritual practices she intends to engage in frequently to ward off the demons.  She noted several changes made already which signify to her that she’s on the right path: unsubscribing from numerous do-gooder email lists, eating only part of a pint of ice cream instead of the whole thing, confidence in her abilities and increased satisfaction in her work, which now seems fun.

Reported with deep gratitude to:
Tom, Ginny, Kate, Carol, Mary, Mary, Amy, Sarah, Hank, Del, Sharyn, Bernadette, Laura, Tricia, Sheri, Phil, Cynthia – and in memory of Karen Blomberg.


The Tools of InterPlay have been lifting spirits and lightening loads for twenty years. As you head into your holidays do what one 83-year-old InterPlayer did on Thanksgiving. Instead of over-indulging, she took time to dance and lay still. Her body needed it so much more than sugar, carbs, and alcohol. Check out Dance: The Sacred Art: The Joy of Movement as Spiritual Practice from Skylight Paths Publishing. Better yet, get thee to InterPlay in DC, Sydney, Mumbai, Kalamazoo, or at the mothership…InterPlayce in Oakland.

Epilogue to story: There was one last thing that the woman really wanted to say to those who might be reading this article and considering playing, especially on a Sunday.  “My dear Dad, a Presbyterian minister, called me when I got home from the weekend to tell me he had met someone that knew about me. When I observed that it was World Communion Sunday he asked if I had served communion in my capacity as an elder of the church I attend.  I said that I had not even gone to my church today but instead had been dancing, making music, resting and telling stories. Somewhat dismayed at my answer, Dad asked me to explain this to him since he is a Calvinist through and through.  I said to him, Dad, it’s not in your world view, but just trust me…I went to church today.”

Nika: A “Powered by InterPlay” Coach

October 13, 2009
Nika Quirk

Nika Quirk

Nika Quirk, president of the Body Wisdom Board, has interplayed for about 17 years. A dancer, systems thinker, and beekeeper with an M.B.A., she has served both for-profit and non-profit organizations. As a social entrepreneur she is a savvy small business consultant and EveryDay Leadership coach. Being a beneficiary of her coaching, I want Nika to share her work with us because InterPlayers need ‘nuts and bolts’ ongoing support to create InterPlayful work and lives. We need help to continually clarify our purpose, consider our use of time, energy, and money, and garner crucial encouragement to take new steps.

Nika says, “As changemakers (social entrepreneurs, artists, activists, InterPlay leaders, etc.), we often notice the personal wear and tear of holding the center of something new. It takes physical, spiritual, mental and emotional energy to make the new world that we want to live in. We need community that affirms our body wisdom, grounds our life practice, and supports our purposeful work. A circle, sustained over time, in which to witness, babble, shake out, discern.”

Nika is offering unique coaching in affordable small group tele-sessions- “powered by InterPlay” to support EveryDay Leaders who want to sustain a daily life practice and build a creative livelihood.  Wouldn’t it be great to get support from someone who knows what it means to “go the speed of the body” “use easy focus” “get rid of the icky stuff,” and proceed incrementally?

A visionary listener for times of change, Nika muses…

“Our planet shifts
Old structures fall
Feel the urgency?
Time to engage
With all we’ve got.
Notice the rhythm?”

What is your rhythm? Is it time to thrust, swing, shape or hang? Is it time for a solo, duet or ensemble? What do you need for your next clear, strong initiation? Can phone calls work for embodied activities?  Nika says, “Over the years, I’ve been integrating InterPlay into coaching by phone, teaching online, and facilitating groups like the Body Wisdom National Board via teleconference. We all know the joys of being body-to-body together but in casting a wide community web, I believe that maximizing the possibilities of telecommunications strengthens our interconnectedness.  Just like hand-dancing at a distance, we can stretch our kinesthetic imaginations to find the connection.”

Nika is forming coaching groups of 6-8 people. Interested? Email her at to learn how this form might serve you. Are there other people you’d like to form a group with? Let her know. Individual coaching is also available by phone or Skype, at sliding scale fees – you can schedule directly from her website. As she says, “My mission is to inspire both ease and action in these turbulent times, and to offer my services in a way that I hope is more financially accessible for you and still a self-sufficient livelihood for me.”

Nika’s blog, services and other information can be found by visiting Quirky Auntie’s “Sustainable Living” Room.

Are you a coach and InterPlay leader? Let me know how you blend InterPlay with your services at

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