Origin Story

Part II: The Shift

I had been teaching writing workshops a number of years. My partner Amber had been teaching movement workshops for a long time as well. On this evening in January 2013, two friends were joining us for an inaugural "lab" bringing the two forms together. We drew upon experience and instinct in the hour before they arrived, creating a sequence we called "Movement into Writing." It went something like this:

A movement warmup.
A prompt, something about art and childhood, to initiate a period of freewriting.
"Harvesting" something from the freewriting to bring into a guided movement exploration.
"Harvesting" something from that movement exploration to bring back into writing.

Essentializing the story into one sentence.

Pairing that with a movement, sharing.

Expanding the story into one page.


Something magical happened in those couple of hours. I think of it as "the shift," although I want to find language that is even clearer and more specific. Shifting between modalities brought us all to the deep heart of our stories, amazingly quickly. I'd never seen anything like it in all my years of teaching, and Amber hadn't either.

We had an instinct, of course, that there would be something valuable in bringing our forms together. We thought it would be fun, a place to creatively stretch and play, a way to help others find entryways into our respective art forms, as we had been doing for each other. But we had no idea the magic until it happened. And then we witnessed it happen again and again, over a "Writing into Movement" lab, over two six-week "Embodied Memoir" courses, and we grew to trust the magic of the shift.

Eventually neuroscience will explain what's happening here, if it hasn't already, but I don't need neuroscience to believe it and I don't think explanations make it any less magical.

I've seen the shift work with various combinations: sometimes just writing and movement, often bringing in other modalities such as drawing or playdough. I've seen it work in the lengthy sequences of our writing and movement labs and I've seen it work in a twenty-minute sequence designed to tap one's inner wisdom about whatever question one brought to it. It doesn't seem to matter whether it is our most "classic" sequence or one customized for the specific occasion or people: the shift happens.

I call these sequences "embodied arts journeys," or sometimes just "journeys." I've built up a canon of them at this point, and continue to create more. Some were co-created with Amber or others. What they all have in common is the shift.

Here's a guess about what is going on. The first modality (usually freewriting or drawing), starts to loosen us up, but eventually if we kept going with it, we would hit a rut of resistance. Shifting modalities circumvents that rut, bringing the most resonant content into a different place of our awareness. We play with this content in the second modality, and it takes us somewhere we couldn't have easily gotten by the first modality. We harvest again and bring in yet another perspective, another type of awareness. With each layer we are getting deeper and clearer, but because of the shifting, we evade the familiar resistances meant to keep us safely comfortable. When we return to the original modality, we are able to integrate the learning of the others.

Part I: Amber and Me

None of this would exist if not for Amber and our relationship. When we began dating, she was a movement and improv artist, scared of writing. I was a writer, scared of movement and improv. We were curious about each other's art, wanted to find a way in. Liked each other enough to try to create entryways, to break down the fears, to be super patient and tender and understanding. When walking into a dance studio or writing a single sentence is terrifying, how do you make it safe enough for someone?

Through the fabric of our relationship, we found the ways.

And as we found the ways, we became curious about what would happen if we brought these art forms together.

I don't remember which ideas came first. There was dreaming. There were queries out into the universe. There were pitches for workshops and classes. I'd taken a sabbatical from teaching creative writing to explore other art forms, and I pitched the first "Embodied Memoir" class to the Cambridge Center for Adult Education where I taught as a solo class. When I pitched it, I didn't know much beyond the title and a hopefully-compelling description. It got listed in the catalog before our first lab, but started afterwards. Amber was my sounding board throughout, helping to craft the journeys, and we added her as a co-teacher for the second time around. We wrote a college course syllabus and tried to bring this work to school vacation programs and middle schools. Although not much landed, sadly, and we found our individual attention shifting in different ways to life's demands, all of this collaboration was foundational, and our relationship continues to inform and infuse my work today.

Part III: Core Action Circle Genesis

Once we'd experienced the magic of the shift for telling personal stories, I began wondering where else it might be used. Could it help people with more practical projects? Almost as soon as I sourced the question, I sensed that the answer was yes, and I started to think about how I could try it out.

The necessary elements of the Core Action Circle came to me quite clearly, all at once, one morning as I was waking up. I still have the scrap of paper where I wrote them down. I wanted this to be a holistic, spiritual experience. I wanted it to be accessible and caring and not overwhelming. I wanted it to bring in the best of every group experience I'd been part of and not have the flaws that so often kept me guardedly apart.

The center was the embodied arts Journey, that was clear from the beginning. Other elements came from the Embodied Memoir workshop (Sounding, the Cloud), my own needs and intuition (Successes, the Next Layer), other group practices (Wisdom Sharing, setting Intentions — although calling them "intentions" instead of "goals" was my own wisdom speaking), and my religious heritage (Closing).

I talked out my ideas with a friend as we walked around Fresh Pond in Cambridge MA on Patriot's Day in 2013. Driving home afterwards, I heard about a bomb going off at the Boston Marathon. Late that Thursday night, I sent my first email to friends, seeking folks to take part in a Core Action Circle. I woke up the next morning under lockdown, and my idea languished until the following fall, when I gathered six participants for a 6-session Core Action Circle pilot.

After the first session, I sat in my living room, where the inaugural Core Action Circle had just taken place, and I felt such calm. My instincts were on target. It had been a powerful evening. The shift, the journey, the other elements of the structure — all had worked beautifully together.

The participants gave me feedback throughout and at the end. We tweaked the structure here and there, but about ninety percent of it stayed solid from my first vision. From that first group, two people completed a certificate program, one finished a masters thesis, two made progress on a business, and I established Core Action Circles in the world.

Part IV: The Container

I had experimented a bit with coaching before, but One-on-one Intuitive Facilitation was born from Core Action Circles.

Once I'd seen the beauty of the Core Action Circle structure, I understood that something like it was needed for one-on-one work as well.

It was a container, that which holds the journey and everything else.

How many times have you shown up someplace with something else on your mind, and not been able to be present? Gotten caught answering someone's question and never made it to what you wanted to talk about? Needed a big scary thing to be witnessed but not focused on? Spent all your time on one important thing but not gotten to the others? Not had your voice heard?

We need the container. So often in life, even in helping relationships, pieces of the container are missing. With One-on-one Intuitive Facilitation, I brought over many of the container pieces from the Core Action Circle, adapting them as needed to this new structure. But I also added one more that seemed so so needed:

"Grounding into Self" — this was what was missing, I thought, from all the therapy and coaching and other one-on-one sessions I'd experienced over the years. A time to ask, what do I REALLY want and need to focus on today?

A time to acknowledge that maybe what we thought needed attention, maybe what DID need attention twenty minutes ago, isn't actually what needs attention right now, in this moment, with this person.

A time to change your mind.

A time to truly notice and value what is present, and to trust our own impulses and instincts about what most matters.

In all my offerings, the container is essential. I have come to understand that what I do, no matter where I am, when I am doing my core work in this world, is creating spaces for transformation. This includes attention to the physical space, the entryways, the container, the journey, the company. Whatever other wisdom I may have to offer is secondary.

I first learned this, I suppose, as a writer and as a creative writing teacher. For me, most of being a creative writing teacher was about creating a space where people felt safe enough to take risks and reassuring them that what they were experiencing was a normal part of the process. I could do this because I knew it in my bones. And because I'd learned it from other people's bones. And because I'd cared enough to pay attention, and to figure out how to create the space I knew was needed, and how to recognize if it was missing.

Part V: Witness, and Empathy

A comment relayed to me years ago, from a friend's sister to my friend: "Stop always trying to give me advice. Sometimes I just need you to listen and say 'that sucks!'"

And a video from a resonant practitioner, about why it is so hard to give to ourselves what we create so well for others, "We need witness."

We need witness to our lives. And so witness is on the menu for One-on-one Intuitive Facilitation, and it is also an integral part of the wisdom sharing for Core Action Circles.

The power of witness is in being seen.

And I think it is also in being trusted.

Criticism is arrogance, no matter how well-founded. Advice can be helpful or harmful depending on the context. Interference is sometimes necessary — there are times we are called to be an upstander, not a bystander, if others are being harmed. Yet witness conveys faith — not necessarily in a person's individual choices but in the person themselves — that they are capable of making their own choices and navigating the path that arises from there. Witnessing is a mature and compassionate act, and it is a gift for both the receiver and the witness.

Thank you for sharing, I say, with an open heart. That sucks, I say, with empathy.

Part VI: Who Am I To Offer This?

I'm still in process myself, I'm a fellow journeyer. I put that in my first coaching ad, "I am a fellow journeyer...." I was advised to take it out. People want to feel held. They want a guru. They want to believe that someone else has figured it out already.

Is this true?

Or do people want to feel connected?

Is it true that the student can only advance as far as the teacher is? That the student eventually becomes the teacher?

As a creative writing teacher, I was often the youngest one in the room. My students taught me so much from their life experience, from their open sharing on the page of family dynamics and life situations I'd never known. Yet I brought something too — a knowledge of a creative process, its ups and downs and twists and turns, a familiarity and skill with storytelling and working with words.

I think both are true.

I create spaces for transformation. I don't transform you.

I show up as a fellow journeyer, a leader of a congregation who is also a member of that congregation, one who can step back while someone else leads part of the service, one who needs the religion just as much. Although I have created these forms, I do not show up as a god or as a prophet, I show up as a congregant, needing them myself, and as an occasional preacher, sharing what I know to bring us all closer to each other and ourselves and something greater. I am a receiver myself, called to do this and called to create entryways so you may find your way in and receive what you need and offer what you can. And sometimes, I show up with my skill for creating these spaces, with my experience as a guide, to offer service for a more narrow "you," seeking out those whose pocketbooks and quests are aligned with economic viability for me, conscious of the formulas whereby rich support poor in receiving and thereby both support me in giving.

Who am I to offer this? I am a creator and a visionary, I am a seeker, I am a fellow journeyer. I am wise yet not all-knowing. I am imperfect. I may fumble.

Can I offer this if it is built in part on a relationship that is in flux? If I may yet change my mind? I doubt myself sometimes. And yet I think strength comes from here too.

Can I offer this if I find comfort in extinction, in knowing that my own lack of sustainability is reflected in the planet itself? I hope so.

I have a vision guiding me, and that vision is unwavering even when I show up with my own doubt at ever reaching it. I have beliefs that hold steady over time, and as best I can I make plans that befriend change.

Part VII: Vision

I have a vision of holistic and reciprocal support — for humans across the lifespan, spanning our days and weeks and years. I have a vision of individuals feeling whole, growing, and connected. I have a vision of communities that truly support individual uniqueness and human connectedness over time, with mindful attention to the delicate and magical world and universe around us.

I believe that the shifts we make in our own bodies and minds ripple out into our interactions with other people and the world around us. I believe that the shifts we make in our interactions with those closest to us ripple out into communities, countries, and beyond. I believe we need room for our whole imperfect selves, for fumbling, for forgiveness, for amends, for learning, for growth, for possibility.

ABS :: crafted sept-nov 2016