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)!


Heard About Sheila?

March 14, 2011
I would never ever call Sheila Collins a senior, except that her wisdom, clarity, and courage in InterPlay and life reveal unsurpassed wisdom. She’s one of the world’s grandmothers whose purpose is “to dance with everything.”

It’s true, Sheila has InterPlayed almost as long as Phil and me. When we met her and Rich Citrin, her equally playful, smart husband, they ran a counseling center in Texas. She’d left academia and written a book, Stillpoint: The Dance of Selfcaring, Self Healing having already performed in film, onstage, and with a Jewish Dance Community.  She’d played along side famous and ordinary teachers, served on boards, won grants, amassed expertise, and never stopped dancing even when two children died from AIDS and breast cancer. (Read more in What the Body Wants.)

Sheila could have done anything. Her vitae is intimidating, although she never once intimidated me. Why did she look at my picture on a bulletin board on that flyer about Body Wisdom and call me up.

Her belief in InterPlay flies beyond love of creativity or call to offer healing.  Sheila knows that our arts are the best way to promote “noble causes.” The arts move us into action. We become the thing we desire and can no longer suppress our desire for it. Her life and role are visionary.

In Texas, Sheila helped bring InterPlay to women in prison and prison to women on the outside. Now in Pittsburgh, she leads an intergenerational performance group, Wing and a Prayer, that takes InterPlay to after school programs, seniors, hospitals, multicultural gatherings, therapist groups, universities, stages, and intergenerational community centers. With her, InterPlay Pittsburgh has fostered a vibrant community of colleagues, male and female leaders of organizations, non-profits,  classes and religious communities, who now share an artistic language that bridges cultures and religions. Just play?

Last week journalist Margaret Smykla wrote a fantastic story in the Post-Gazette about ways that the Pittsburgh InterPlay group is teaching adults to play again using music and storytelling to promote healing, self-discovery, and change. Link to it here.

Sheila serves on the Body Wisdom board and supports InterPlayce. She remodeled and shepherds the InterPlayce five star condo that functions both as vacation rental and InterPlayer landing spot.

She blogs, shares a newsletter, plans to publish a new book, and has begun her next InterPlay Life Practice Group because it is the most powerful thing you can do or teach. I am pretty sure she stays up some nights thinking of how to support InterPlayers and has a couple of great ideas moving though her.

Sheila is dancing everywhere with EVERYTHING! That is why I am dedicating next Friday’s participation in global Dance Anywhere Day to Sheila!

Thanks for inspiring us and showing us the way to InterPlay every day!

To participate in Dance Everywhere Day March 18th see http://www.danceanywhere.org/event/140


InterPlayful Gift Giving

December 2, 2009

Gifts love to move. When a gift passes between one person and another a bond happens. That’s why I have notorious gift giving tendencies. Connection is too much fun!

When Anita Bondi gifted InterPlay with 100 sets of the InterPlay Inspiration Deck, a new 21 card deck and 42 page booklet based on the principles and practices of InterPlay, I immediately gifted a set to my sister. She has a great sense of humor and works hard at a corporate job and as a fun-loving mom. She emailed,  “So I brought my fun pack of round cards.  I was drawn to the Loosely and Tightly card…..I am thinking take it loosely….yeah…relax…then take it tightly….yeah….strangle it…till it can’t breathe…..back and forth back and forth…loose and tight. And then I turned the card over……Loosely and Lightly.  Aaaaah.  Ok.  No strangling involved whatsoever….interesting concept.  I am having to rethink this whole thing now….soften my grip and relax.”

InterPlay Inspiration DeckPhil and I used the deck at the Oakland InterPlay Leaders Reunion. After partners did a dance-talk on a project or concern, each person picked a card. Each card has a principle on one side (e.g. side by side), a story with character, color and symbol to bring it to life on the back (see the Virtual Friday Morning InterPlay on Nov. 20th for the story of side by side). A tiny booklet shares what InterPlay says about the tool and gives 3 “try this” exercises to use in day-to-day life. The leaders reflected on projects or concerns from the point of view of the tool they picked: witnessing, easy focus, affirmation, etc. In the group each person shared their tool and how they might apply it. Leaders loved the cards. We sold 33 sets!

Will they work for non-InterPlayers? “Yes.” Anita says, “We have people using them in doctor’s offices, hair salons, with their families.” See examples on FACEBOOK or at www.anitabondidesigns.com or www.mandaladesignworks.com

For InterPlayers or InterPlay wannabes, how ’bout an InterPlay gift certificate? We’ll send the person of your choice a gift certificate in any amount for a Body Wisdom produced event, Untensive, Life Practice Program, Training, class or workshop, and we’ll include a green feather and a “You’re one in a million” button. Call us with their name, address, and your method of payment.

Of course, we have other cool stuff. People are sharing Dance: The Sacred Art: Discovering the Joy of Movement as Spiritual Practice as a companion for anyone looking for a new way to pray, heal, or soulfully connect or to renew their passion.

You can order the Inspiration Deck, Dance: The Sacred Art, and other books and CDs from the InterPlay website.


The Wedding of Lives

September 14, 2009

Have you seen that great InterPlayful video with the guys and gals dancing down the aisle? As far as I know Jill and Kevin and their gang are NOT InterPlayers, but I think we should make them honorary ones! Anybody know them?

Cynthia and Stephen Winton-Henry

Thirty years ago, September 8th, 1979, Stephen and I danced right in the middle of an outdoor ceremony to a violin playing a tune from Fiddler on the Roof. Our “I do’s” were spoken under a willow tree. A homemade banner hung over the pool that said, “Together we jumped into a pool that wasn’t there until we jumped.”  Improv, here we come. Sure, sometimes it’s felt like we were in over our heads. Commitment, that never-ending dance of step-step-steppin’, has been hard, easy, rewarding and demanding. It turns out that hanging out with Stephen is one of the best things I do. He is good for me and to me.

Thirty years ago, Phil and I also began dancing together. Members of Body and Soul Dance Company, one of the first dances we shared, choreographed by Judith Rock, was called “Covenant.” Appropriate. Covenant is what you do when you choose to keep faith with a person or group. Covenant requires all of us. With unspoken promises from our hearts, our thirty years accumulated without a marriage. But anyone who has watched us dance remarks on the unique wedding of our lives. Covenanting and choosing to work together is not something we planned. It was gifted to us by each other and by some greater dream that asked us to create, serve, love, and inspire. Either that or we are just insanely obstinate.

This coming weekend InterPlayers Theron Shaw and Elizabeth Mendana start their marital journey. InterPlayers Randall Mullins and Sharon Pavelda will preside. Let’s wish them all the blessed anniversaries they can stand.

P.S. Did you dance during your wedding? Let me know about it. Want to know how InterPlay supports relationships? Share your story and I’ll spread the good news.
P.P.S. Happy Anniversary, Stephen and Phil.


Many Hands, Light Work

August 12, 2009
Cynthia Winton-Henry hand-dancing with young girl

Cynthia Winton-Henry hand-dancing with young girl

Nika Quirk, the president of the national InterPlay Board of Directors, stood before us. She said, “I was raised in Pennsylvania Dutch country. I grew up hearing the saying, ‘Many hands make light work.'” Last weekend regional InterPlay leaders and national board members gathered in North Carolina. A powerful intention was materializing: to celebrate the 20th anniversary of InterPlay this fall, we began dreaming of 20 MORE!

We had just tested a new InterPlay Community Development Tool Kit workshop with overwhelmingly positive response. We also heard how InterPlay was transforming our own lives and the lives of others through dozens of organizations in the US and other parts of the world with folks of many cultures and generations. InterPlay’s simple tools are unlocking body wisdom and increasing connections, two vital needs in a time when innovation and cooperation are urgent.

The entire world is connected. The question is, “How can these connections flourish and be as productive, energized, and joyously sustainable as possible?” InterPlay has many ideas.

The phrase “light work” can be taken a couple of ways. Many hands may also make “lightwork.” The InterPlay logo we adopted last year is a hand with a spiral springing from a heart, an ancient universal symbol for humanity’s power to make things, heal, bless, and greet one another. Hand-to-hand and heart-to-heart actions teach us the power of being light-hearted, how to release and alleviate burdens, and provide collective muscles and bones for common dreams.

In impossible times, the wisdom of “many hands make light work” is even more valuable. InterPlay is a dream whose time has come.

We’ll be sharing the dreams of the InterPlay community and how we can collectively give them wings in the next few weeks. Stay tuned. MORE is to come and as always in InterPlay…MORE will be revealed.


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.


Ancestry Matters

June 23, 2009
Delores as Family Tree

Delores as Family Tree

I was secretly ashamed of my ancestors. I had no idea who they were. Honor your elders? Respect the dead? What was there to respect?

Lineage is powerful and bodily. One might say “ancestry matters.” It’s who we are. Native Americans like Hunter Bear say ancestors, “dance from within the very essence of our own being.” The Maori in New Zealand claim ancestral energy as a fountain, a force supporting life. Mexican Dios de los Muertos altars and festivities foster grateful relationship with the deceased. African and Asian wisdom traditions rely on ancestral guidance.

Having restored connection to my ancestors, I can say that remembering my people affects prosperity, security, and community.

Masankho Banda and I began to make startling discoveries while dancing on behalf of each other’s ancestors. We witnessed disruptions in each other’s lineage and found ways to honor and repair relations with the past. Once, Masankho listened to my female ancestor who released me from “working on healing” the past. Oddly, the next thing I knew, my Mom’s partner, George, began to unravel her genealogy. We knew so little about them that it was a family joke. Astoundingly, George uncovered stories of pioneers, mayors, inmates, elites, and folks who had been “committed”. Then, he took Mom to visit every gravesite in North America. Vicariously, connection and pride grew in me. I was part of a tree that includes Wentworths, a name traced to the Magna Carta. I stem from Lutheran “Children of the Danube” immigrants.  The National Genome project confirms that my maternal DNA connects me to Ashkenazi Jews. In 2007 I traveled with Masankho back to his village in Malawi, the region of our first ancestors.

What is your family tree? Does it matter? Ra Ifagmewi Babalawo says Yes; they are “Hidden Hands, Healing Spirits.” How do we employ them? Tell their stories, sing their songs, dance with them, and give them a place of honor. Masankho and I will lead a special Untensive to do just that using the tools of InterPlay.

Honor your ancestors and the whole earth will be glad.


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.


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