Writing into the Holy We

It is an honor to be asked to endorse a book. I’ve endorsed three recently, all InterPlay friends and folk– Christine Painter’s The Wisdom of the Body, Connie Pwll Tyler’s Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet, and Beverly Voss’ book of poems Sycamore Skies

Words offer a sacred path. An early mentor taught me that words are alive, that they dance. The stories of life can gradually take form outside our body creating a trans-formation that is alchemical. Thickets of body data having daunted us, begin to reveal new paths. The deeper we go the more our bodies change. Our minds change. Next thing we know life has changed.

At the same time, wise language requires artful levels of love and attention. As an improvisor I know too well that off-the cuff words carry the power to harm. In this regard I make it a practice to try to speak to my own life rather than about others. While fear doesn’t stop me from improvising, it requires disciplined levels of consciousness and craft. I take it as a teaching when my words hurt others, learning that unless I embed my word in my own lived experience, treat them as anything less that holy, I reduce words to being merely tools or worse, weapons. To render a living thing into a utility is dangerous. Sadly, we kill the sacred in our words everyday. Words want to play. They don’t want to be dead.

Enter the artist and storyteller. I am grateful for the way craft and practice slow me down. To write a book is holy work, for the writer most of all. To endorse a book is to bless a soul transaction.

Last weekend at a writing workshop with Deena Metzger– elder teacher, healer, and author, I watched my words simultaneously agitate her and meaningfully connect. Deena is a medicine woman and author who helped bring an African community healing practice into the U.S. Her parents were Russian Jews. She is intimately alive to first people. In retrospect I know I need to learn to speak with full respect for first peoples, people that I have tried to protect by standing back from their ways even as I hold them in reverence. Gratefully, the retreat brought me into the teaching place.

At one point Deena told me that my words erased first nation peoples. I was stunned. It wasn’t my intention. But I knew to listen. I was speaking to my lineage as a descendant of Puritans exiled by the early Boston colonizers for being committed to grace-making. But, I spoke without mentioning any awareness of the permeating genocidal injustice that ensues from “colonizing mind.” As a white person to skirt the horrendous impact of damage is not only insufficient, it creates further harm.

Praying again for mindfulness, humility, as well as bravery to speak exactly as I speak, as an artist and speaker I take full responsibility for my words. In order to offer my voice as worthy I acknowledge that words that I think are loving can add to pain. (In racial transformation work this is called intent vs. impact.)

Post retreat I am both more clear and more challenged. Can I marry my personal, limited consciousness with a sacred consciousness inextricably interwoven into the current socio-political reality? How can all realms be intertwined in a creative and health filled way in order to serve through this particular white, middle class, mystical, teachable, dancing body?

As a writer and a thinker I seek a way to true my words  to the lineage story, earth story, and the intricate interplay of stories. This requires community. Everyone else’s story and their reactions to the story I tell are the only dependable way that truth comes. As Deena said, “In the end good writing is one of the great communal projects. You can see it in the acknowledgements.”

So reader, here is to the Holy We in writing. I bow to you and the Holy. Thank you reader, listener, and friend. I welcome comments of all sizes and wonder what you are practicing as you speak and write life into your world.


Christine Paintner’s 10th book Coming Home to Your Body from Ave Maria Press includes four InterPlay exercises, (The Hand Dance p. 19, Shape and Stillness p. 46, Story of redemption p. 70, Dance on behalf of p. 86). 


This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it SHRINE!

It’s going to be a big shrining weekend for me.

As some of you know I have a shrine workshop in Jingletown near Alameda. Its been five years or so that kooky, wonder-filled shrines have been flowing out of me. 

The word shrine comes from the old English scrin “ark (of the covenant); chest, coffer; case for relics,” from Latin scrinium “case or box for keeping papers,” of unknown origin. From late 14c. as “a tomb of a saint” (usually elaborate and large). 

Someone said that “shrines are external representations of interior mysteries…showing in tangible form what might be happening in our hearts and spirits.” In my studio I have shrines to the turkey, to my alternate dream of a diverse fourth of July, to old holy cards, to India, and to Lewis Mahlman’s doll collection, the creator of Children’s Fairyland, puppet theater! This is the centerpiece of my space.

I love finding things to which I am attracted, both things mundane and that ooze with transcendence. I love accumulating containers, boxes, frames. I love watching objects compose themselves in 3-D testaments to mystery!  Most of all, I love curating the shrines as they engage people–the shy viewer, the over-stimulated shrugger, and the soul that feels absolutely inspired and at home in my mardi gras like soul menagerie.

This weekend, Saturday and Sunday 12-6, I will be selling my old sole shrines and other arty items at Jingletown Art Studios. Jingletown Art Studios, 3001 Chapman St, Oakland.  I have several pieces up in the gallery, too.



This weekend I’m also building a communal advent shrine for my church, First Congregational Church of Berkeley– a Shrine of the Times. (Punster moment.)  The seasonal theme is Watch. This references the radical power of witnessing the new birth that could be as overwhelming as stars falling and trees greening. Check us out. 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley CA at 10 on Sundays.


Also on Saturday night I get to be enshrined in a book launch! Long time bay area dancers featured in a book called Beauty is Experience: Dancer 50 and Beyond Over Fifty will occur at InterPlayce from 6-8:30, 2273 telegraph Avenue. I’m one of the dancers which is like saying “InterPlay Rocks!”

You are invited to any and of this shrini-ness. Even if you cant come play, thanks for your witness. That’s how we enshrine someone we love, with eyes of wonder.



Soul Retrieval– A standard medicine when one loses a natural ability?

Sadly, soul loss today is so common that most don’t know that we are experiencing anything out of the ordinary. Our beings have a built-in survival strategy that put beautiful parts of our soul “on hold” or get sent off for a holiday in a better place. That is how we protect our very essence. By the way, I don’t believe in soul injury. That language does not account for the brilliant, eternal, enduring and generous resilience of Creation.

Historically, family and shamans could see when a person needed soul support. They would cease to want to dance, sing, drum, or be at peace. These behaviors were part of common life. As such it was easy to see when someone was acting lost. The dancing body also served to restore soul on a daily basis.

When we lose easy access to any aspect of moving, speaking, vocalizing, rhythm, thinking, rest, or affection it can indicate a bodily response to trauma. It can also mean our soul is malnourished.

I consider InterPlay a natural soul retrieval practice for our times. It reignites easy access to our humanity and keeps our soul humming along. In times of hardship it is a place to honor what the body needs and to receive care among the embodied artful care of others.

When there is group soul loss due to trauma in a group, it is not the group that is most able to retrieve itself, but the loving bodies of others who dance, sing, tell, and pray them home. 

A trauma usually requires a soul doctor, someone competent in the imaginal realms, initiated, and called to care for souls by the highest spiritual intelligence. I’ve put some resources below.

As soon as I heard about soul loss it made sense to me. I’ve had three soul retrievals that helped me reincorporate key capacities like my sense of rhythm, my deeper voice, and my sense of taking care of business. I’ve also watched family and friends gradually recover core energy and capacities. The irony is that recovery doesn’t alter us. It simply makes us stronger, more resilient, more of who we are.

Trish Goedecke shared her soul retrieval story in her private MOL (Meaning of Life) group on facebook, I asked if I could share it. She said yes. Here are her words.

I’m going to share a personal story here that some of you will find implausible, others painful, some I hope redeeming. Those of you who have known me longest may have the most reason to believe.

When I was very young, so I am told, I had a natural way with words. I would wander the house singing, making up the words to songs as I went along.

I don’t recall that part of my childhood. I recall the part where I could barely get the words to come out, barely make my voice loud enough to be heard, barely get a word in edgewise. Childhood trauma, not physical but of an emotional type typical of dysfunctional families, had contributed to my silence.

Once, a family member told me I stopped talking from the time I was 2 1/2 until I was 5. Mostly my family didn’t tell me about it, and I really don’t recall.


A few years back, after my father had passed away, I was encouraged to try “soul retrieval,” with a friend of a friend trained in Tibetan shamanism. I believe we had a theory going in, that my father had taken part of my voice. We planned to ask to have it back.

During the retrieval session, I relaxed deeply, perhaps a semi-trance state (I go into these fairly easily). My friend’s cat sat on my chest ~ perhaps, as my friend said, facilitating travel. The shamanistic practitioner told me she met my dad and asked for my voice back. My dad was surprised, she said, not having taken my voice intentionally, nor realizing that he had it. He gave it to her willingly, in a box I’ve imagined like a small toy chest, to return to me.


I honestly don’t recall which year I met with this shamaness, but Dad passed away in 2006. Between then and now most would agree I’ve retrieved my voice. I’ve retrieved it enough to say things that alienated and angered family members; I’ve retrieved it enough to make many new friends. Most people who meet me these days don’t think I am shy. Communication skills, even verbal, are now viewed as one of my strengths.


I loved my dad very much in life ~ including when I was young, when he took my voice. Dad was born 40 years before I was, and in my 20s, I formed a connection with him that has inspired the formation of this Meaning Of Life group. I took our name from a philosophy course Dad taught; he took it in turn from a Monty Python movie.

I can easily believe that Dad and I were contracted in this way ~ to love, to also be victimizer and victim, to also forgive, and in my case, to also be restored. Having been silenced, I have a value for the power of voice. I have been willing to fight, when necessary, for the right to express mine. A 13-year love affair ended when I found my voice.

Even before this, I’ve spent much of my adult life helping others find their voice ~ not least in my early career, teaching communication skills to learners of English as a Second Language.


I recommend reading Sandra Ingerman Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self. Here is a good article by her.

I also recommend Lenore Noorgard. She works with ease online and in person and is one of the most grounded, justice oriented people I know.

“It all turns on Affection” Wendell Berry

I looked across the waiting area at Gate 22 out of Oakland and saw Mary Busby, the fairy godmother of one of the most beautiful sacred bookstores on the planet, Sagrada. We were both heading to Albaquerque. Because of Southwest’s open seating arrangement I grabbed a couple of seats and we sank into two hours of divine time that only heaven could have arranged!  Love was at work.

Our conversation flowed as I would expect, igniting imagination, politics, mysticism, and art. We both curate little worlds dedicated to imagination and soul. We do our best work by inhabiting our spaces and welcoming people into deep solace, friendship and beauty.  I call these places “hidden monasteries.”

We contemplated a mysterious challenge that we share, that of being somewhat shrouded in mystery. Sagrada is at the heart of thriving cultural center, yet frequently unmentioned when the area gets national attention.  InterPlayce, on the corner of 23rd and Telegraph is at the heart of Oakland’s First Friday, a remarkable and huge pop up event that has received national press.  InterPlayce too is a hidden gem. 

It makes me wonder about the heart of neighborhoods. Are mystics at work wherever cultural centers emerge? I think of Julie’s Tea in Alameda. Julie, too, has a unique quality of humility, consistency, joy, and imagination. Mystery herself may be at the heart of these affectionate centers.

Mary and I would define profit in ways that transcend the normal growth model. But our souls are practical. Alongside our business partners, Carlos in her case, and Phil in mine, we work steadily and quietly in care of ourselves and the “work.”  


I told Mary that I just heard David Vasquez-Levy, seminary president, talk about being in the Age of Acceleration. Time is one of the great casualties of our era, time to think, especially theologically. Thomas Friedman names the accelerations of globalization, migration, technology, climate change etc, as moving faster than our human capacity to change. He says we all feel it. Perhaps this is why he calls his book Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.

Mary and I talked about the challenge of keeping hopeful. I shared the beautiful faith healing work of Bruno Groning, a German mystic who catalyzed massive healing in the midst of the World Wars.

Then Mary mentioned Wendell Berry’s 2012 Jefferson Lecture “It All Turns on Affection” In it he borrows from E. M. Forster’s Howards End. “This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years. It may be followed by a civilization that won’t be a movement, because it will rest upon the earth.”  Berry compares the economic attitudes of what Wallace Stegner called the Boomers and the Stickers. “The boomer is motivated by greed, the desire for money, property, and therefore power…Stickers on the contrary are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it.” Berry goes on to speak of his grandfather’s attitude toward his place. “While the soil was exposed, a heavy rain fell and the field was seriously eroded. This was heartbreak for my grandfather, and he devoted the rest of his life, first to healing the scars and then to his obligation of care. In keeping with the sticker’s commitment, he neither left behind the damage he had done nor forgot about it, but stayed to repair it, insofar as soil loss can be repaired. My father, I think, had his father’s error in mind when he would speak of farmers attempting, always uselessly if not tragically, “to plow their way out of debt.” From that time, my grandfather and my father were soil conservationists, a commitment that they handed on to my brother and to me.

Mary was on her way to be with her sister Beth, who has a farm outside of Albaquerque. They would celebreate their birthday, yes, and there was work to be done to get the fruits of the land in place to be sold in the coming weekends. 

Affection for each other, the land, and the fruits!

I was headed to the Hidden Monastery Retreat at Synergia Ranch, a community and farm with long roots in imagination and affection. Marie Harding, artist, has been welcoming guests here for ages. Fifteen of us will step into holy time. Time will not be something to be filled, but a spacious gift to tend. We will not need to explain to each other than we are mystics, that we have touched the heart behind the heart. We will not need to teach each other about the role of art in our spiritual practice. Each person already knows that as Allen Tate said, ” It is by imagination that knowledge is “carried to the heart.”

More importantly, our bodies will align with the land’s time. And as Great Love wants to do, it will all turn on affection.

Blessings and bows to you in your own hidden monasteries.


Carolyn North, in her 80th year mystic on “HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HAVE?”

Carolyn sends me her writings. THANK GODDESS! We share our intuitive research and discover we are often on a parallel track! 

Like me, Carolyn is a life-long dancer and embodied researcher of life and wisdom. She’s been a scholar of 12th century manuscripts at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, a midwife in India, an English teacher at Fudan University in Shanghai, a member of a geological expedition to the Galapagos Islands, and a gospel singer. Check out her website Healing Improvisations or her facebook page to get her most recent communiques. 


Here she is on a haunting question:  How Much Time Do We Have?

Lately, I’ve been wondering about civilizations long before ours, curious about what evidence of long-ago lives might be resting beneath the seas of the world. I am reading about “mythic cycles of creation and destruction by flood stretching back hundreds of thousands of years,” and of ruins recently uncovered in Indonesia dating back 28,000 years, making the pyramids in Egypt seem recent in comparison.

People lived there, loved and died on the same earth we now inhabit. Who were they and what did they know? How many eons of life and experience are hidden beneath the earth and oceans, unseen and unknown by us? 

How old are we as a species, anyway? Meanwhile, I watch myself age, although I could swear I was still a kid figuring it all out. 

I had lunch recently with a man who won a Presidential medal for Science from President Obama. The last time I saw him, during our year in India in the late sixties, he was a four-year-old, the son of my friend Rumi.

It just so happens that his daughter – Rumi’s grand-daughter – now lives in Berkeley, so I am one of her ‘aunties.’ She actually reminds me a bit of her great-grandfather, who I met in Calcutta on a trip with Rumi to meet her parents, so I can tell Akaina about the great-grandparents she never knew. In the short years of my own life I have met four generations of the same family! 

Where did the time go? 

But that’s what time does, it goes by. And fast! Why was I thinking I could actually change the world during my own little lifetime – the brevity of which came home to me last week when I had a love-at-first-sight experience with a man I met. It was mutual, I think, and we were both a bit dazzled. I began daydreaming, and then we discovered that he and one of my children were in first grade together! 


Somehow, this reminds me of John, my bullying boyfriend who clung to me like a limpet when we were both seventeen. For two years I tried unsuccessfully to shake him off until one night, in despair on a cold and windy streetcorner in Manhattan, I begged him for release, sobbing, 

“It’s because I want to be good!”

I will never forget that moment of truth and how it felt. It was my soul speaking through my stuck frustration, reminding me that I had an essential self that was not being met. John was good looking, smart and even played the violin, but I did not love him and knew I never would. Some deep instinct for authenticity burst out of me that night and John finally could hear it. In that moment, I knew that ‘being good’ was the same thing as ‘loving.’  Nothing less. He was not happy, but finally accepted that I did not love him. 

A few years ago, just days before he died, he phoned to tell me goodbye. We talked about our leavetaking that long ago winter night, and he admitted I had been right, that I was way too idealistic for him, and eventually it would have driven him crazy. 

Me too, I thought, deeply touched by his call after all those years. For the first time, I told him that I loved him. 

It was around that time in my late teens that I was reading Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who was also both a geologist and paleontologist, and I suspect it was his vision of evolution and love in the world that helped me to know that John could never understand this, but I would. 

Teilhard wrote,

“The most telling and profound way of describing the evolution of the universe would undoubtedly be to trace the evolution of love.” He measured evolution, not in terms of our short human lifetimes, but in terms of rocks and bones resting in the earth for untold millenia. “Deep hope flows over deep time,” he wrote, noting a definite upwards movement towards consciousness on the cosmic scale, however the rising and falling of the human story ran from day to day. He claimed that when we lost sight of this longer pattern, the result was anguish and impatience.

Yes! I have known both the anguish and the heart-pounding love, even when it seems entirely inappropriate – like with my child’s friend.

I’ve come, since John, to judge my own evolution by how spontaneously I am able to love, especially when I least expect it, when love slips into crevices I had no idea were there. A boy on a bus; a woman on the checkout line at a grocery store.

I experience it as this sifting up of joy beneath all the comings and goings of everyday life. When I fall in love, which is fairly frequently, I can feel its sounds in my body like the vibrations of an ethereal bell making me happy.

I wonder if our evolution resides in the impulses of that profound instinct for love that persists in the world no matter what gets in its temporary way. Wars and violence, of course, but also the earth changes that last thousands of years – ice ages that lock whole continents under ice and snow; massive floods covering parts of the earth for millenia? Not once, but again and again. 

We humans have persisted, haven’t we? I wonder about those people, the animals and plants that lived and died in those days and nights uncountable – what did they learn from their lives? Do we carry their DNA and hold, in some fashion, what they experienced and learned? Who were they, and who are we?

Who knows? But for better or for worse here we are, making one mistake after another and falling helplessly in love over and over again, right? 

And for each of us it all takes place for a meager handful of decades, while we learn whatever we can learn through every adventure imaginable, and when it’s over we have to make way for the next generation to do the same. 

But even when we think it’s over, I believe it’s not over. The end of one phase transitions to the beginning of the next and beneath it all – even when things look hopelessly bleak – the deep hope persists and the trend is ultimately towards the good.

We can lean towards one another and press our combined weight onto the ever-moving wheel of love. We know how to do that, so why wait?

As Teilhard has said,

“Deep hope flows over deep time.” And then,

“There is an almost sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.”

Yes, my dear love. 

The only thing I would take out is the word ‘almost’ before the word ‘sensual.’