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)!

How to Dodge Suffering When It’s Toooo Much!

April 11, 2011

When Penny Mann had breast cancer she got tired of noticing everything. She was known as the queen of savoring but chemotherapy ruined it. Pain sucks. She needed to leave pain alone. Noticing and exformation didn’t help.  She needed new practices. Reflecting with her, I saw her move her center to a spot above her body.

Dissociation has a place! Personally, I believe it’s a wonderful part of body wisdom. When is it the right time to distance yourself? Detach? Distract? Die to the moment to get back your life? We humans have amazing tricks up our unconscious sleeves for dealing with hard stuff.

Recently, my athletic seventy nine-year-old dad was clearing a mountain trail when he took a bad fall downhill. When he “came to” he had a banged up face and NO memory of the fall. How cool is that? His body’s grace program eclipsed the trauma saying, “No need to remember that!” When friends found him they fed him a piece of homemade pie and drove him home “just to be safe.” Home safe! Hallelujah!

In InterPlay we spend time remembering the great things about being in a body. We reintegrate body, mind, heart, and spirit, and attach velcro to grace experiences. We remember how to sing, dance, speak freely, be still, and intimately connect to the real world. Joy awakens and thrives as we relax our fixer-upper mentalities and, like children, delight in creativity.

Many of us suffering from depression, disease, physical or interpersonal pain, get relief and learn the secrets of what our body wants, simple hungers too easily overridden in this mechanistic era. Communal creativity boosts energy, leavens suffering, and then gives us pie and a ride home, too.

But sometimes suffering is still too much. What then? How sensitive are you? What are your limits for dealing with suffering?

To somatically embrace the world is not the only choice for consciously embodied people. You might need to know when to dim your somatic lights, pull back from political and social banquet tables and “drop connection” as an act of faith in something greater at work. You might need to focus on beauty even during the horrors. It might even be your great service.

Eastern religions address suffering with practice-able tools. Recognizing that “suffering exists,” the Buddha found meditation to be a prime way to alleviate rather than resist suffering. Yogi’s, Tibetans, ascetic monks and indigenous shamans give lifetimes to the body’s hidden wisdom using it to intervene on behalf of the suffering of others.

In InterPlay we use moment-to-moment practice-able ways that allow us to play with breath, moving or voice to activate kinesthetic imagination. With conscious intention we can

shift beyond our immediate body and grow big as spirit,

momentarily pull or shake pain out of our body,

shift attention  onto something other than our suffering,

get all the way in our body using breath and grace-makers,

cultivate enjoyable trances other than pain trances.

As a sensitive body with low-grade depression, I use numerous tricks to function well: service to others, laughter, celebration, dimming and relaxing my sensations, telling my village the truth about how I’m doing, getting sleep, seeing a doctor, massage, taking medications, eating well, getting absorbed in art-making, asking or help and feedback.

And, in the long run, I honor, and dance with many unavoidable sources of suffering, the d words: death and dying, disaster, depression, decay, disease, disability, dread, despair, disorder, diagnoses, drugs, drunks, danger, downers, and darkness to name a few.  I’ve learned it doesn’t work for me to disguise my underlying malaise. Talking about this with my husband, a hospice chaplain, we created this limerick.

“The feeling you don’t want to feel

feels like falling into an abyss.

You don’t want to feel it

because YOU can’t heal it.

And that’s the way it is…”

To this end, I am powerlessness. Accepting that I can’t play with it all and survive, I am grateful to belong to something bigger, wherever two or more are gathered and serve pie. I am glad for my grounding in a sense of a higher power that holds me in the Great Web even when disaster strikes.

Do you suffer? Step one is to learn to suffer just enough that you don’t make it worse. Step Two: Learning that you are not asked to suffer to your own detriment. You are not asked to revisit past sufferings to get better, or to forcefully revisit past suffering on others. You are not even asked NOT to suffer.

You are not required to walk on rocks or bear unnatural burdens. You may do all of this. but it is not required. You and I are only asked to be wise, to care for each other and ourselves, and as we can create life.

Life wants to play us, even after earthquakes, in prison, and when we lose everything. While we are still here, we can find ways to alleviate suffering, starting with our own. Sometimes we use the great tools of detachment and dissociation. It’s the wisdom of the body.

Come InterPlay, even if you feel lousy, especially if you feel lousy. And if that’s too much, let us know and we’ll dance on your behalf!  Leave me your thoughts about how you dance with suffering.

For more thoughts on the soft side of body wisdom visit me at Mystic Tech: Things that They Didn’t Teach in Sunday School, Temple, or PE.

Be each other’s healthcare

December 21, 2009

Play like you mean it! Life depends on it.

On Friday, twenty of us set a rhythm with feet, one step right and one step left. Over the beat, we spoke desires and concerns. That’s when Nika said, “Be each other’s health care.” What a beacon in the midst of US health care wars and the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

As an artist, family member, and teacher, I’m dedicated to health in body and soul. Meanwhile, my husband’s outpatient surgery, Mom’s Alzheimer’s, my athletic dad’s pacemaker, my siblings tussles with stress from success at work, and my communities’ big waves of disease and depression, I know I am one of the lucky ones. I have health care.

“Be each other’s health care.”

You are my body. Frank Forenich states in “No Body is an Island”, our health is profoundly extrasomatic or beyond the body… Emotions are not just experienced by individuals, but shared, unconsciously and unintentionally, across social groups… and so-called “non-communicable” or “lifestyle” diseases may in fact be “spread” through social networks, influence and mimicked behavior. To say that heart disease, diabetes and obesity are matters of “lifestyle” misses the point because lifestyle itself is highly contagious. An enormous percentage of our health and disease is “catching,” one way or the other.”

InterPlay and Body Wisdom, Inc. arose because Phil and I realized that modern thought, language and practice dismiss the creative, curative power of total physicality. Treating the body as an abstract problem to fix reduces health, joy, ideas, and love in individuals and groups. Nations? Yes. When the poor are ill, I am ill. When a prisoner is tortured, it comes back. When I treat earth as abstract, I become abstract. Connectedness is a fact. Our health depends on each other.

So here’s a little Rx for being each other’s health care:

Look for good: Something good crosses your path? Savor and pass it on like multivitamin.

Affirm. Praise others randomly, especially at home. Humans expect chaos. Random praise disrupts theories of suffering and reminds us of life’s benevolence.

Play like you mean it: Step over speed bumps of self-consciousness. “Out” your playfulness once a day. music, dance, word, food, doodle, silence, sport, games, make faces, wear costumes.. Embodying permission to play encourages the play genes elsewhere.

Forgive like a 7 year old: Dogs do it, so do second graders. Relax complaint. Get over “shoulda’s.” Move on. When someone can’t play nice, let them be.

Bring soup, hold hands: When things get real bad, showing up for 5 minutes or more if needed counts.

Hard to get over speed bumps, reactivate play, affirm body wisdom, or show up to beauty and health? Maybe, you are trying to do it alone. Don’t!

Check yourself into an InterPlay life practice program: multiple sessions in friendly groups with great leaders. Life changing, world changing health connections!

“…civilized human beings are alarmingly ignorant of the fact that they are continuous with their natural surroundings. It is as necessary to have air, water, plants, insects, birds, fish and mammals as it is to have brains, hearts, lungs and stomachs. The former are our external organs in the same way the latter are our internal organs.” Alan Watts -Does it Matter

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.”

“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

5 Recommended Daily Requirements

May 18, 2009

Oh, I get it. When I’m free to move, have my voice, tell my story, receive touch and just be (hang out) its like getting the five recommended daily requirements for healthy living. I might have these things anytime with anyone. When I pet my dog, Christopher, and hang out with him on the couch I enjoy two of these health conductors. When I take a deep breath, let it out with sigh, or sing in the shower, voila, my voice fills with presence. When I hear a tune on the radio and move just because it feels good, something unlocks in my soul. When I go to a group where people take a moment to reflect and tell their truth, words become beacons of clarity. When all five of these things are moving and breathing and playing themselves out in community the effect can be… life-saving. I know because this is what happens in InterPlay. As I heard someone recently say, “I feel like I found the other half of myself.”
When I traveled to Malawi to Masankho’s village, happiness exuded from the way these five forms of human expression were intrinsic to village life. In India, too, another dancing, singing, praying, playing, storied land, people constantly transform suffering through ritual and spontaneous uprisings of healthy art. These places are rich, fertile homes of communal bodyspirit.

Our desire in InterPlay is to re-encourage people to enter the warm waters of personal and communal health. We use incremental steps and lots of affirmation to invite real moments of grace and goodness, hilarity and beauty in each other. This is so much fun and we get so much pleasure out of it many InterPlayers get spoiled. For us the artful life IS a healthy life. We don’t need to make a much bigger deal out of it than that. Gratitude results. We have our health, our movement, voice, stories, contact, and stillness, even when we struggle. Somehow when we dance and sing and speak into a welcoming stillness, the answers and reassurance we need await us.

Getting your five recommended daily requirements? Gretchen Wegner reflects on them in her blog.

If you need a booster shot…check out an Untensive Retreat on the InterPlay website.

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