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!

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.

“It’s Time!” -The Body

November 24, 2009

Think of traffic. The faster we go, the harder to avoid collision. We are many. We are diverse. Our empathy mechanisms are on overdrive.

Result? We pull back, shut down, isolate.

Kids do it. Teens do it. Family members do it. Workers do it.

Teamwork? Community? Family? Too tired, too hard, too much!

Think of the economy. “Do more with less.” Work harder for the same or less pay.

Result? Fatigue. Overwhelm. We strive for resiliency, tools, but self-help won’t fix this.

Think of school, health care, work, religion. Sit side by side. Nose in a computer. Face your teacher/Dr./Boss. Concentrate. Get the message. Individual effort and achievement = success.

Result? When we fail, we think something’s wrong with us. Leave education and religion.

Throw in trouble, mental illness, trauma. Governments, lawmakers, school administrators, insurance, and police step in, our least creative, compassionate solutions.

Result? Humans need connection, fun, inspiration, challenge, compassion and noble causes MORE THAN EVER!


In Teaching Compassion, educator Kimberly Post Rowe for the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development identifies the need to build connection in a classroom to move people from empathy to compassion.

InterPlay is twenty years old. Like a visionary, energetic young adult, its creative methods and simple ideas move people in all kinds of circumstances from overwhelm to ease, isolation to connection, and more importantly than ever, from withdrawal to compassionate engagement! A deep breath and a sigh, a quick round of naming things that we have in common, shaking out whatever we’re sitting on, bringing our fingertips together and lifting up common concerns. It’s the little things that will change the world.

InterPlay Dream

September 1, 2009

It’s happening in my dreams.

Last night I dreamt that waiting in line with others, a friend and I took a deep breath, let it out with a sigh and laughed. People nearby laughed too. Ease, relaxation, and connection were suddenly present. At another place a friend and I started laughing and shaking out our voices. Bubbles of life were released. Others joined in.

InterPlay’s spirit spread into social realities beyond the walls of InterPlay sessions.

InterPlay connections generate health. Pittsburg InterPlayer Rich Citrin says InterPlay gives us “stress resilience.” Complex, diverse human interactions challenge us. Stress is often unavoidable. Conscious practices are crucial. Identifying and choosing what brings us grace is a key. Simple, fun, at-the-ready practices change our world.

21st century lives require not only conscious individual practices, we need collective practices. This month’s entire ODE Magazine is dedicated to laughter. Laughing is a great group practice. So is shaking out our tension and breathing together. Of course, the most phenomenal practices for human health are dancing, singing, telling stories, affectionate contact, and hanging out: what I call the Five Recommended Daily Requirements. That’s why Phil and I are developing a body wisdom tool kit for work groups, service groups, and communities to practice healthy body wisdom together.

One of the secrets in my dream was being with a friend. Deep breaths and sighs didn’t feel forced. We do it all the time TOGETHER. The power of two or more is a mighty power.

Out in front of InterPlayce last Friday, Lauren and Lisa set up an art cart, inviting people to make a 5 x 7 drawing about HOME. Each Friday they’re on the street sharing art and building community. I showed them our studio. Lauren asked, “Are you living your dream?” I thought for a moment and said, “YES.” It’s with the support of a life time practice, friends, and divine guidance. But I have bigger dreams. I dream of healthy connections and meaningful lives for everyone.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To appreciate beauty; to give of one’s self, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — that is to have succeeded.”

Coming up…

InterPlay Community Development Tool Kit Workshop

September 24 at InterPlayce in Oakland, CA.
To register call 510-465-2797.

November 12th in Portland, OR
at the Applied Improvisation Network Pre-conference.
To register go to the Applied Improv Network website

InterPlay in the Jailhouse

July 20, 2009

First if all, Wednesday, July 22 at 1pm PST, Phil and I are guests on GREEN VISIONS radio program hosted by Carolyn North. We’ll be talking about how dancing and singing and creativity connect us to each other and our world. Its all about human bodies playing! To hear the show live, go to Click on GREEN TALK NETWORK; then click GREEN VISIONS. To hear this show, and all shows archived, go to Carolyn’s website (The show will be up by Friday, July 24).

An expression of this, came this week from Laveria Bogan, an InterPlay leader from Texas. She shares her own story of how InterPlay snuck up on her, sent her to jail (so to speak) and changed her life.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times Sheila Collins asked me to get involved in InterPlay’s Jailhouse Ministry.  I told her ‘no’ each time she asked.  She would always respond with how beneficial my presence would be.  I still said ‘no’.

Well, during our last Leadership Training in Austin, I just happened to be in the car with Sheila and Lila.  Well, Sheila saw an opportunity and she and Lila actually double-teamed me.  They came right out and told me that they needed me because I’m black!  I couldn’t believe my ears!  Because I’m black?  I’ve worked with a lot of people of various ethnic persuasions, and none of them have ever come right out and told me that they wanted me to do something because I’m black!  After I got over my shock,  I was really impressed!

I said to myself. ” These women are special.  They’re honest and straightforward.”  I was really impressed.  I already liked Sheila and Lila, and when they told me that they needed me because of my blackness I knew we would be friends for life.  And now, I can see what they meant.  My blackness has made it possible for the other women who are black to talk about some of the things that really bother them.

Needlesstosay, the Dallas Jailhouse has been an incredibly healing and transformative experience for me. I’m not nearly as angry as I used to be.  I didn’t know how angry I was until some of the women started to tell their stories.  Suddenly, I could relate to what they were saying, and I wasn’t angry anymore.  When they released their anger, I also released mine. Lila and Sheila said that my presence would make a difference, and I suppose it has. The biggest difference has happened within me.  But most importantly, it has helped me to see the transformative power of InterPlay in action.

I’ve been ‘playing’ with Lila and my ‘jailhouse’ playmates for over a month now. I plan to continue to do so. I love all of the women and we all look forward to seeing each other every Monday.  We ‘play’ together for two hours.  The time goes by so fast!  When it’s over we all wonder where the time went.  Everyone leaves with a smile on their faces.  Sometimes they leave singing the lyrics of a song that I made up.  I’ve grown so much.  The women have given me so much.  They’re beginning to feel safe enough to reveal their true ‘inner’ selves to us.  They are also beginning to share their God-given gifts and talents with us and to share some of their stories.  I am so excited and blessed to have been chosen by a Higher Power to be a part of this wonderful organization.

A thought came to me in the night that one of the reasons that InterPlay is so powerful is that it gives the women a ‘voice’ that expresses itself through ‘play’.  Yeah, that’s what it does for me!

Take care,


I hear voices…

July 7, 2009

OK. I am giving you the first chapter of my memoir. Giving it away… that’s right. But not the whole story. Not the part about drowning. Not the part about the angel that gave Wing it! it’s wings. Not the part about adopting Katie after Mary-the-mother-of-you-know-who told me I was going to have my own immaculate beyond conception conception, not the part about holy nipples, or my PHD death in dying, and not the part about why after loving those gotta-love-em churches, I undid my oath to the church in exchange for my real oath, the vow I made decades ago. This chapter is for you… because InterPlay is what rose from the ashes of my passion and because it takes us years to tell our story and when we go that is all we ever leave behind.

The Fire in My Flesh
“Your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
-Walt Whitman

OK, I admit it. I hear voices. I see things. Especially when I dance. Flannery O’Connor said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” I’ve had mystical experiences that are barely footnoted in America’s everyday lexicon and charted my life course by them. As a result, my work is not only difficult to describe, but I can’t decide what to wear to work: a suit, a funny hat, a robe or sweatpants? Being the Gemini I am, I change costumes as needed.

What do you do if you hear voices or see things? As an American woman with plenty of common sense, I’ll tell you what you should do. You should shut up. However, if there are voices that prod you to quench the thirst for big human needs like Love, Justice, and Freedom, you might become a blabbermouth performance artist like me. You might try to demystify dance, healing rituals and communal peacemaking enough to wave a flag in sight of the mainstream. The Voice of Love is that compelling. Mechtilde de Magdeberg, a twelfth century mystic said, “Love transforms, love makes empty hearts overflow. This happens even more when we have to struggle through without assurance all unready for the play of love.” She understood.

By the time I was thirty I was well prepared for the voice that gave me my “instructions.” Driving down the freeway on my way to see a horrific movie about nuclear holocaust, a neutral voice simply and clearly spoke to me and said, “Here are your three directives: Clarity of Vision. Efficiency of Energy. Courage to Love.” Being both undeniably gullible and unflinchingly faithful, I listened, not realizing I was downloading a mystic’s grocery list.

The voices I hear are always wiser than I am. Their messages are to the point, astute, and take me off guard. When I share them with other people they often ask me to repeat them. Should I warn them that when you actually follow the advice you get from “on high” you get into trouble? Things that make sense in a spiritual realm can make you look unusual in ordinary time. “Voices” have incited me to dance in academia, sing improvisational ditties at United Nations Association meetings, and confess mystical encounters from rational, left-leaning pulpits. They made me an iconoclastic prophet of the body and its one true love, play. In spite of all of my best attempts at being taken seriously, my voices have doomed me.

Today, I live on the bread of dance and sense things on freeways and in malls that others do or don’t see: spirits, voices, hungers, and curses. Hunting for a tribal dance to feed the soul, I gather people to song, story, beat, and breath. I seduce the cosmic dance out of a thousand starry gaps. I ponder all of this constantly like a mad scientist. Add my troublesome tendency to wax poetic and use jargon that people don’t quite get, and you get my problem. Chasing the dance of life inspires me like nothing else. It has also gotten me into trouble.

You’d think that dancing and loving the Divine would create bliss, but putting these two together is like playing with dynamite. Maybe that’s why the western world split them apart. Anytime you put your body where your spirit is even the mundane becomes extraordinary.

Jeremiah, that insanely upset Old Testament prophet scribed, “I will not mention God, I will not speak in God’s name any more. But then it becomes a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, and I cannot.” Jeremiah’s pals called him a laughingstock. No one wants to go that far over the edge of mystery, be denounced for loving God, or cursed as touchy-feely. Not Jeremiah. Not me. But the costs of shutting down the wild ambushes of compassionate imagination are also great. I’ve met many a person whose body screamed with the symptoms of repressed dreams. Their throats are on fire and their bowels scream with ulcers. Giving up one’s imagination isn’t worth the price of admission you pay to a “dominant” culture.
I’ve reassured myself that the ancestors knew what they were doing. They sent us into the woods to receive visions and meet our guides. Initiations and vision quests gave us strength to do great work. Thank God I am an artist. When I tire of trying to fit in I remember that an artist who isn’t weird is in the wrong profession.

So why go on about this? Because I believe that it is our weird lives that lead to answers needed for a world in dire shape. I think we need to reclaim our wisest magic, not the puff and zap kind, but the kind that employs imagination to attract solutions when nothing else works. In my case, dancing, improvising, seeing things, and listening to the wisdom of my body has shown me how to accelerate peace and grace in a world that dances too vigorously, too mechanically, and too violently. I’ve seen peace born between people who bring their hand to a partner’s hand in an extemporaneous, experimental two-minute hand dance. I’ve seen walls crumble as a person describes to a coworker what they had for breakfast, a favorite place in their home, or someone who has come to their mind. Without effort people can move mountains of division. I’ve even seen individuals recover from depression to take on their life’s work with the support of an imaginative, embodied community.

The big challenge is creating a society that is willing to bet its future on such practices. Usually it’s only the desperate who are open to radically simple and crazy ideas: the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, women, the disabled, the oppressed, visionaries in developing countries, people of color, the usual revolutionary suspects.

I learned that you have to be sneaky to subvert the average person’s self-conscious fear of flakiness. If you want to nudge someone to fall down the rabbit hole of mysticism into Wonderland, humor helps. So do parables and enticing, insignificant little steps.

Once in a worship service with an academic crowd, I placed boxes of corn flakes on pedestals. We confessed our overwhelming fear of flakiness and how fear keeps us from admitting our strangest encounters with each other and the Divine. From puberty, it too often keeps us from doing normal things like dancing, laughing, breathing, and offering affection. I should know. My own fear of flakiness is why I wrote all this down. There is some relief in seeing one’s truth in black and white.

Buy Chasing the Dance of Life from Body Wisdom and support InterPlay or from Amazon and comment on the book.

InterPlay with Vets

June 30, 2009

Dorothy Finnigan and I met in Connecticut. We were at an “Untensive” hosted by Lisa Laing. Irresistibly confronted by all 4 feet 11 inches of her vibrant, open hearted, 100-mile-per-hour creativity, I learned that she had just “walked out” of Yale University, (“walk out” is a term created by Shilpa Jain of Y.E.S. and her brother Manish in India to describe students who purposefully move out of factory style educational settings). Dorothy was in search of something more than Oz. She wanted wise “elders.”

As one of the brilliant young activists working at the intersection of art, green spirituality, slow activism, and community development, Dorothy had already traveled the globe, busked on the street, served the Rainbow People, started a community at Yale, and held onto her Irish Filipino family that includes Davy, an older brother with CP. Someday soon you’ll read her story. It’ll be in some crazy book about growing up in a motorhome with the amazing Finnigan family juggling troupe, teaching community building to school kids all over the US and winding up at Celebration, a Disney planned community.

After we met, Dorothy flew to California last summer for the International InterPlay Conference, stayed for both Fall and Spring Life Practice Programs, joined the National Board, is doing the Secrets of Leading InterPlay, and assists with Bay Area outreach projects. As a twenty-something community artist and activist, Dorothy is actively using InterPlay to create the world she desires.

That’s where the Vets come in. To learn what happened when she took InterPlay to Vets, read her story on Gretchen Wegner’s blog. (Gretchen is an InterPlay board member, inventor of the MuseCubes, Wing It! member and learning activist.)

P.S. Dorothy and I attended the Y.E.S. collaborative gathering in Berkeley this weekend. Click here to be inspired by the international leadership of young visionary colleagues.

Check out the upcoming InterPlay with the Ancestors Untensive July 9-12 with Masankho and me.

The Wisdom of Crowds

June 16, 2009

Mass Movements are popping up.

These are especially powerful when they exhibit random, purposeless joy. YouTubes of 4,000 dancers at Victoria Station, a mob of dancers in Japan’s Shinjuku District, and a recent release of a giddy dance erupting to “I got to be unstoppable,” started by a guy on a hill at the Sasqutch Music Festival, are sparking enthusiastic viewership.  It’s contagious stuff.

My alma mater, UCLA sponsored the largest student-organized philanthropic event on the West Coast, the eighth annual Dance Marathon. An LA Times article said, “726 sponsored dancers (along with 1,250 ‘moralers’) busted moves for a solid and sometimes grueling 26 hours…Emotions rose as the kids from Project Kindle and One Heartland (sleep-away camps for HIV-positive children) bravely got up on stage and told their stories. Things reached a fever pitch as the dancers slid into the ‘hour of power’ — the last 60 minutes, when all feet were on deck — singing along to Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and rocking out to Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer,’… Some were crying, some laughing, but all moving until the clock struck 1 p.m. When it was all over, the sweaty, 2,000-plus collective sat down together and the dance marathon steering committee held up signs to reveal the total amount raised — $362,742. Dance, dance revolution, indeed.”

Movement is no longer mere expression. It’s a form of community activism that is beginning to influence how we organize ourselves. Those who know how to incorporate body wisdom into group dynamics are taking the lead as we gradually move from old models of cog-in-the-wheel actions to an era focused on the development and exchange of knowledge – a knowledge society. Michael Wimmer, Director of EDUCULT, Institute for the Mediation of Arts and Sciences in Vienna, shares that “The ‘knowledge society’ requires competencies such as quick perceptivity, planning competencies, convincing presentation and negotiation skills, and the social and emotional know-how to behave adequately in a multi-cultural environment.” Sounds like InterPlay’s skill set to me.

I am thrilled that InterPlay is part of this grand evolution. InterPlayers are beginning to understand the best ways for body wisdom to guide us to our highest good. If joy were the only outcome it would be worth it. But when I check out the growing world of InterPlay online, I know something much bigger is at work. If you check InterPlay’s website, you’ll see that this movement is widespread, and there are some wonderful tales being told.

Mass movements need to be smart. That’s why we’re testing an InterPlay community development toolkit workshop at InterPlayce this week. Wheeeeeeee. I’ll keep you posted.

Planting Seeds in the Storm

May 4, 2009
Walking Stopping and Running is a pedestrian group movement practice. I call it the folk dance of InterPlay. In it, disparate people quickly attune and begin to co-create in seemingly choreographed ways.

But, last week I learned that “walk stop and run” is much more. It’s a wild and holy seed pod. I was at Georgain Court University in New Jersey, teaching a master class for ten dance department students whose professor is improv-friendly. I’d just learned that the new dance department is in a leadership transition, and the students were preparing to showcase their first campus wide dance concert. InterPlayers Rick Kakareka, Dina Claussen, Dorothy Finnigan, Donna Renfro and Mary Bilderback (who teaches biology on campus and paints on real leaves in her spare time) joined me in the class.

During the InterPlay warm-up the dancers seemed overjoyed to move in such an easy way. I led them into walking stopping and running. I only had an hour and a half. I taught them the power of following and stillness. Then I shared my belief that we can dance on behalf of things. Pointing to the back of my head, the center of our elegant, speedy, kinetic-emotive engines, I suggested that when we combine this part of us with a higher purpose, pointing to my forehead we can make magic. When we dance we unify these realms into one, formidable creative act. The students’ focus on me didn’t waver. They remained open and present. A good sign.

I proposed that we dance on behalf of their dance department. I divided them into two groups. InterPlayers joined each group. After a year of training together, these dancers were remarkably hospitable. Putting their hearts into the dance, employing their love of movement and their technique, these advanced dancers and companion InterPlayers (most of whom were in their fifties and sixties) fell into the same territory that rain-dancers and shamanic dancers inhabit. A choreography emerged. Moving in front of a window that looked out on a 350 year old oak, the dances were not about conformity, nor about one person’s vision. The dancers were not concerned with “what it meant.” They were moving, following, stopping, falling, and joining. They found each other in common motions. The shapes of stillness formed ritual space. Those who witnessed wept. Their beauty, clarity, and co-creative listening was a testament to them and to their teacher. Their dances were soul seeds planted by a community in the midst of storm.

None of this would have occurred if it hadn’t been for their GROUP BODY and something more. Love. Their teacher loved them. I remember thinking, “From now on I will practice saying I love you. It’s the truest power I know.”

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