Beginner Mind

Beginner’s Mind unfolds to become a new kind of Expert Mind which relaxes to be a beginner once more – and on and on – beginner / expert / beginner…

                                                                                                     Dr. Stuart Heller

“Curiosity makes you want to learn about it. Clara 8yrs. old”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

                   Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

 Aspects of Somatic Consensus work comes out of my life long love for wandering and practices that engage the people I meet with what I call divine curiosity. This is a hunger to want to know in each of us where we all meet. This attitude is what in the Aikido tradition is called “shoshin” or beginners mind.

When I was just 12 or 13, to my mother’s consternation, for fun I’d walk out to the road, pick a direction and hitchhike somewhere unknown. I’d leave to chance who I met and what would unfold next. The randomness of these encounters brought me together with a wide variety of characters, some brilliant and generous and others unsavory and suspicious. I met people that I most likely would never meet again and learned to enter these encounters with as few prejudices and assumptions as I could muster. This attitude, in almost no time at all, led to honest, frank, candid and revealing conversations. For the most part, I felt at home with strangers and the scary encounters were very rare.

My father who worked in the clothes business moved us to different suburbs seeking better job opportunities several times throughout my childhood. I found it difficult to make new friends each time we moved and I think I was pretty lonely as a child. Traveling fed so many of my needs, in particular my deep curiosity of wanting to know what made myself and others tick. After high school, I left home to go to college and apprenticed for 3 years as a goldsmith in Detroit. Through out my college years and apprentiship, I was never quite out of the field of my family and its cultural imperatives with its messages of who I should be. My urge to step away was undeniable and at 24, as a journeyman goldsmith, I left a promising job, a lovely girlfriend, some family and friends to go on an extended sojourn.

I metaphorically and literally left the village on my walkabout, my vision quest, and my hanbelycha. When I reflect on what moved me to leave it all behind what it was that I was seeking was a deeper understanding of what my life was really all about?

I loved the adventures and meeting people and there was one unshakable set of questions that were always with me:


How are we different?


What is it that we all have in common?

At that time I did not fully trust my intuition, I needed to experience things and to find my own points of reference.  As my 8-year-old neighbor once told me, curiosity makes you want to learn about it. The beginner mind is an actively curious state of being. Curiosity is a question that invites, not demands an answer. It is a question without attachment to what comes in response.   Whether the question is to yourself, to someone else or the mystery of life itself, how the question is asked invites the answers that you receive.

Next time you are struggling with some one, imagine that you are in the presence of a wise elder and that you have the privilege of asking a question or two. In this situation you’d be sure to choose your questions with reverence and great care. Imagine what it would be like to speak to our children with that kind of reverence. What it would be like if our teachers asked the children in their classes regularly, “What do you care about?” and “What would you love to learn today?” with great respect and anticipation, awaiting their answer.

School would be a whole other awakening experience for our children and they would grow with a self-knowing and cultivation of their inner compass.

A questioning curiosity, coming from a place of truly not knowing and listening with your whole being is a creative act that invites profound responses in surprising ways not just with words, but also through feelings, image, sense, and vision.

To my surprise, on the night I packed my bags to go off on what turned out to be a 3 ½ year sojourn, my housemate in Detroit pulled out a deck of tarot cards and in regards to my 2 questions, his reading was this:

“You’ll find what you are looking for, and yet it will not be what you thought it would be”

The answers to my two questions are still unfolding. I did come away with some basic understanding and more importantly found confirmation for trusting my intuition.

To say it in a sentence or two it might sound something like this:

  • Deep down in each of us there is a part of us that we all share.
  • It’s our personal, familial and cultural strategies that are so different.
  • Move from love and learn to trust intuitive messages.
  • And if we always choose from that place, that is enough.

With out knowing at the time, as I traveled I learned the basics of Shoshin, beginners mind. In any art, even the art of the traveler, these basics apply.

A child walks in wonder as everything is new, and the elder walks with deep gratitude for the preciousness of life, together you have beginner mind.

Through out this book there are readings and practices. My hope is that you cultivate an attitude of emptying your cup and allowing it to be filled.

Shoshin, is an attitude of “beginner mind” and cultivated within the practice of Aikido. It is practicing with the openness and humility that there is much to see and learn everywhere, within ourselves and with each person we meet. There is a cliché that “we are all a universe onto ourselves”. Seeing each other as a universe unto ourselves is Shoshin. When I look at my wife, if she is a universe onto herself” that would mean that surely there are parts of her that I know. I know the foods she enjoys, I know she likes the tub scrubbed and enjoys singing and such. Alongside that there is an infinite side of her that I do not know. That perspective, I believe is one of the secrets to longevity in relationships. Being able to see one another as new is a practice of beginner mind.

Here is a story I heard about 30 years ago when Sensei Robert Fraeger visited my teacher’s dojo. He was one of those rare people who had trained years earlier in the Hombu Dojo, the main Aikido dojo in Japan with the founder of Aikido, Morhei Ueshiba. Morhei Ueshiba, affectionately known as O’Sensei or great teacher died in his seventies in 1967. So when our guest, told us stories we listened with great interest.

He shared that, as a younger man, he had gone to train every day and loved the exhilarating pace and fluidity of training with the many skilled practitioners in his class. Each night he would come home tired, drenched in sweat, and satisfied.

In each class, O’sensei or in his absence, a sempei(head student) would teach some aspect of Aikido and then the students would break up into partners to practice the dynamic throws, strikes, pins, and exercises demonstrated.

This particular day a sempei was teaching and our storyteller had been assigned to work with a first day beginning student. He let go of his hope of a fast paced exciting training, he began teaching his partner the basics of Aikido, slowly and patiently. He assessed the beginner’s abilities and paid attention to what was too much or to little for him to assimilate, breaking down the moves, correcting, and and taking note of his partner’s capacity and unique-ness.

O’Sensei came into the dojo and watched the student teacher, and all the students moving and practicing their techniques. Now at this time he was an old man and very much desired to pass on Aikido to his students. His health was failing too and he was known to have a potent temper sometimes.

Although he looked like a frail old man, when O’Sensei gave out a ki-ai (a powerful sound) the walls shook. After taking in what was going on in the room, suddenly he raised his arms and shouted, “Nobody gets it”, “Nobody understands!!!” The room was silent. And then he turned and pointed to Bob Fraeger and said………..Except you.

What I imagine O’Sensei saw was lot of people enjoying themselves and working hard to practice the techniques but doing it in a way that was missing the essential ingredient-loving connection, the consciousness that all the techniques are in service of.

As Robert Fraeger worked with the beginner he had to pay close attention to his partner. He noticed who it was that was in front of him in order to contribute reflections and corrections in ways that were safe and effective. What happened here was very much like how a group of musicians slowing at the end of a song, while playing together, must really listen to one another to end beautifully and with each other. This attitude of care, openness and presence is beginner mind, and it is what deepens any practice in order to eventually become embodied.

In any training discipline, it takes vigilance to not fall into just going through the motions when things are repetitive. Remember you are always practicing something. Intention gives practice meaning and builds that meaning into how your comport yourself. Practicing without intention is disempowering. Combining physical practice and intention, brings that intention into your muscles, cells and bones.

When a master swords man practices a sword cut a thousand times a day, each cut must be embodied. To imbue meaning into his training, he may practice for the sake of cutting away illusion in his life and making room for what would be enriching. His work and focus is on making each cut new. He must muster his curiosity and the intention to correct and improve each cut. Never wrong, always better. Slowing it down, to make it understandable, practicing, correcting, and practicing again, each time with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of an elder who knows with confidence the value of intentional deliberate, committed joyful practice over time.


Beginner’s Mind Practice

Here is a practice that builds on the SURF practice to give a felt sense of Shoshin, beginner mind.



Part 1

Ask yourself: How would that feel to feel a little bit more like a child? To have a child-like perspective on the world? What would it feel like in my body to feel that child-like sense of wonder and awe?

Let your body answer and notice the way it shifts.

Then walk, and let your body shape itself and shift, as your breath changes and your posture changes and youchannel the child. Be the child. Walk across the room with that sense of childlike-ness, then walk back.

Part 2

Now, Ask yourself: How would it feel if you felt a little bit wiser, like an elder? What would that be like? Let your imagination run. Think about what need or quality you would like to have a little more of.  Think of this as a quality you can access from within yourself, something that would make your life a little more wonderful. Perhaps dignity, clarity, happiness, l understanding, etc..

Become that wise elder and walk. Notice how it shapes you, notice how it changes your body. Walk across the room and thenwalk back.

Part 3

Notice the difference between those two ways of being.

Ask yourself: How would it feel if I felt like a child AND a wise elder? Practice both at the same time.

Take a walk and notice how this feels and what it is that like? What did you notice in your body? In your thoughts? Emotionally? What you tell yourself?

What do you appreciate about these two qualities separate and together?

Go through this practice throughout the day as much as possible.

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Shape Shifting

Shape Shifting Practice (formerly Elemental Needs)

Click here for the video   or go to:


“Versatility as well as all of the core virtues, including authenticity, character, and self- control, cannot be manufactured. True excellence must be cultivated through a process that integrates our thoughts and feelings with our muscles.”   Stuart Heller


The Shape Shifting practice is designed to increase our versatility, resourcefulness and clarity to what we need in any given moment. This practice is inspired by Dr. Stuart Heller’s creative Tai Chi teachings. Derived from the Latin versatillis meaning “turning easily,” versatility is the ability to bring forth a way of being, thinking, feeling, and/or responding that best fits the situation you are in and the people you are with.

On an emotional and mental level, it is helpful to imagine the elements as movements of energy that develop qualities associated with their movement. As you explore and visualize the elements, notice the shifts in your body.

As you practice, engage your imagination and pay attention to the sensations, feelings, and changes in your body. You can develop whole body/mind impressions or “somatic impressions” of the qualities of being that you wish to cultivate, such as dignity, clarity, understanding, joy, play, appreciation and security.

In time, you can develop a richer relationship and understanding of these qualities. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to call up these somatic impressions of our various “elemental needs.”

In time and with intentional practice, accessing a greater range of qualities becomes far more instantaneous and creative.

With deliberate, creative and intentional practice over time the qualities will gravitate from a thinking process into a whole mind/body experience.

Like a divining rod moves towards water, your body will inform you and flow more easily to the elemental shape and intelligence that you have practiced into it.

Practice this set of shapes and movements on your right side and left side. I suggest learning these shapes and intentions in the sequence shown here. As you develop and explore Shape Shifting, I invite you to be creative, change the sequence and adapt the shapes and needs expressed to your own liking. See if you can notice how these elements relate. In truth, they are all facets of the same gem. As you go about your day, notice how your thoughts and feelings are effected by the wind on a windy or icy day. Do they get more clear or crisper? How does it feel to walk with more gratitude for the ground you stand on and along with that connection a responsibility for stewardship? The elements can teach you about your larger purpose in life, by affirming your harmony with Nature. Notice which element seems most meaningful to you, and as you explore, you can find guidance about the directions you are taking in your life.


Group or single person practice/Daily practice




What’s your predominant element and which do you practice least?

We each have all the elements, but we tend to practice certain ones more than others. Each element has advantages and drawbacks in any given moment.

Ground- Do you see yourself as a person who’s really solid, firm in what you care about and grounded in what you love and know? You can learn to align yourself with the earth to find centeredness and balance as you walk on your path. You can appreciate beauty and perfection of even the smallest forms of life as essential

Qualities- meaning, stability, understanding, centering and focusing

Shadow side- stubbornness


Water- Are you adaptive, calming, fluid, and do you have a strong sense of belonging and connection within your self and relationships? By merging with the water elements you can explore and let go of conditioned responses and move towards unconditional Love and greater acceptance.

Qualities- Belonging, flowing, surrender, acceptance and harmonizing

Shadow side- wishy washy


Fire- Are you expressive, creative and focused? By merging with fire you learn a more purposeful focus and power. Fire can be purifying, stimulating and expansive.

Qualities-expression, creativity, decisive, focused

Shadow side- explosive, overly intense


Wind- Are you playful? Do you have a lightness of being that does not get hung up or too attached to what other people are saying or doing? By merging with air you gain perspective. Moving from me-ness to We, wind can be freeing and uplifting.

Qualities-lightness, broader perspective, ease, joy and freedom

Shadow side- brittle, ungrounded, air-headed

Space- Are you often present, accepting, somewhat empathic and in the moment?

Shadow side- Spacey, not present


The more you bring your imagination to the practice and explore each of these elements of your self, the more they become a part of you and the more quickly you can access them.

Practice as fast or slow, as you want, spending just a few seconds in each position or several minutes. Enter this like an actor moving into different roles. Explore the feelings, the sensations, how your breath changes, how you feel when you’re in each of these different modes and the stories that enhance each. See if you can notice the relationship between each of these elements as you flow and shift between them.



To Begin:

Stand in an open stance, straight up, with your head above your heart, and your heart above your belly. Take a relaxing breath, settle into your full length; not too stiff and not collapsed. This, I like to imagine as an up-right stance of dignity.

*Practice all these elemental shapes on both your right and left sides.



GroundMeaning, Clarity, and Understanding

With your left foot forward, bend your legs slightly so that you feel grounded and centered. Have your hands down by your side and about a foot in front of you. Have your palms open and facing the ground and your fingers spread open. Keep your body vertical, head above heart above belly. Move into this position consciously with your whole body. In your own way, muster a sense of gratitude for the ground that is supporting you, that is under each of us and that brings under-standing and meaning to our lives.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you shape yourself:

  • What do I deeply care about?
  • What is the ground I stand on?
  • What brings meaning to my life?
  • What can’t I truly get enough of?

All of these questions lead to the same answer.

Each day articulate what you care about in a word or sentence. Be as succinct and to the point as possible. Each day feel your way to what is on center and what is not.   The clearer your answer, the more it can become an organizing reference point for your life. This can become a personal vision statement to help you organize your life.

You can speak it as a quality(s) to yourself or out loud such as “Integrity.”

You can shape it as a short sentence such as, “I care about dignity” or “I care about walking and expressing my truth with honesty, integrity and compassion.”

And you can ground your statement with:

“For the sake of……”

Ex: “I am committed to walking and expressing my truth with honesty, integrity and compassion for the sake of contributing to a better world for the children to flourish in.”

Find ways to say what you care about and what ground you stand on in your own words, so that when you speak it, the words resonate and inspire you.

Whether it is one word or a sentence that expresses a quality of a need and/or commitment, you can learn to feel how that feels in your body. Explore it, and as you move to the next element, see if you can hold the somatic impression of the later previous element.

A powerful practice is to develop a somatic impression of a need’s qualities and explore it for a month, several months or a year; in this way you can really get to know it deeply and intimately. In time, understanding of these qualities will become more expanded and accessible.



Fluidity, Belonging, Adaptability


From the “Ground” position you are going to shift directly into “Water” position. Take your left foot (which is currently forward for Ground position) and move it back so that it is behind your right foot. Keep your hands open to receive and offer, with your arms wide out in front of you, as if you’re holding a 3-foot beach ball. With fingers pointing out, reaching, imagine you are receiving what’s coming to you and offering what you

Before you move from water, you can bring your hands to your sides and slightly behind you. In one movement bring what is behind, to the sides and in front of you forward. Bringing these resources forward as you move to the next position, helps to stabilize and empower your words and actions (See pictures).

Use your imagination to remember, appreciate and find gratitude for those all around you, both past and present- all your relations.

  • Behind- The teachers in your life, the great teachers of our world (past and present), older relatives and ancestors that were healthy and whole (be mindful about who you invite) and the nature around you and the wisdom contained in your genetic history since the beginning of time.
  • At your sides- Friends, brothers and sisters, partners, associates.
  • In front- The younger ones in your life.

More about water:

Water is about belonging and relationship. As we shift to water, your body moves back and down. As we back down, we can take some rest and solace in the knowing that we are always connected to all the relationships around us. Resourcing all our Relations is a practice of elder wisdom cultures around the world. In our culture, we often forget these powerful resources and imagine that we are alone in this world. Take time to feel what is at your back and around you and choose wisely what you choose to invite.


Imagine, with gratitude and appreciation:

  • Your genetic history that goes back to the beginning of time, and the wisdom contained within that.
  • Your ancestors who came before you- who were wise and whole. Leave the crazy ones out for now. Though you might not invite those difficult ancestors right now, in time, you can actually have some conversations and even arguments with whomever you choose to reconcile; to learn from, to connect with and resource.
  • With gratitude, remember the teachers who are at your back, the great ones on this planet and the ones who have been in your life. Remember, at times when you don’t know what to do or say, you can learn to bring these wise voices through you.
  • Now, take a moment to remember those who walk beside you in your life: your associates, your partners and friends. In time, with practices, you can get more familiar with some of the difficult people who walk beside you as well. They are the ones who actually can shine a light on places within you that the easy relationships rarely do.
  • As a daily practice you can learn to empathize with those difficult ones around you; to appreciate those whom you love and to allow those connections to become resources accessible to you at any time.
  • Bring your attention in front of you- to those young ones in your life who remind you about the beauty of lightness of being, playfulness and joy. This is a moment to be grateful to these young ones who are so full of life.
  • From this place of belonging and inclusion of all your relations, you can actually express yourself. (see Shape Shifting Role Play Practice). Fire is more often a place to express and to advocate strongly for what it is we would love. When we speak and request to another from the place of water, it comes from a place of inclusion. But this is by no means the only way to use these conversations…. be creative.
  • Extra practice- Needs as a whole mind/body/spirit experience: Imagine an ancestor (that was healthy and whole) as a supportive person at your back. Think about a quality you might love to have more of that you like (admire) about them.   Let that wash over. you Build an impression.

As you move to fire to express yourself, you can imagine these qualities coming through you. You might not know what to say, but they do. To add to this practices and bring through you one quality at a time. You can also bring qualities from those who walk beside you or from the young ones in front.




 Document3Expression, Creativity, Decisiveness

Now bring your left foot in front again, putting you in the same stance as you were for the “Ground” position. Bring your hands up to head level, with your hands flat, palms toward each other and about a foot in front of you. Now bring your right hand forward enough so that your left thumb is a few inches from your right hand’s pinky finger. Imagine that your hands are like a sword and that you are preparing to cut through, cut away or clear the way with this sword. Open your hands and have your fingers pointing toward the sky with the blades of your hands reaching, pushing forward. Have your arms extended, but not too stiff or collapsed with just a slight bend in the elbow. Hold “the ground you stand on” within the “ocean of all your relations” as you enter this shape of expressing yourself with the fire of your unique creativity.

More about fire:

  • By knowing where we stand and by remembering we are not alone and that we have many resources around us to draw from, we can relax and better express ourselves with dignity and graciousness. The more relaxed we are, the more aware we can be.
  • As you move the blades of your hands in front of you, bring them to a place that is not too close to your body and not over extended away from your torso. If the blades of your hands are too close to your body, connecting with another is weak. If your blades are too far from your torso, it feels disconnected to your core. In this practice of fire, your blades are there to meet the other, to cut away what is unnecessary and to make room for that which we choose to bring into our lives. As a cook uses sharp knives to create beauty in the kitchen, sometimes we must be very decisive, articulate and creative to manifest the beauty we want in our lives.
  • By evoking and practicing with the impressions of (ground) what we care about and (water)qualities we appreciate and admire, we can draw up whole body/ mind/spirit felt impressions and over time with practice, embody them.






Autonomy, Joy, Playfulness, EaseFrom the “Fire” stance, do not shift the placement of your feet. Turn your feet and your body 90 degrees so that you are now facing sideways. With your left foot pointing forward and your right foot pointing back, open your arms and hands wide as if you were a bird that has spread its wings. Bring a lightness and buoyancy to this shape and let it evoke a sense of joy and freedom. Like the matador, as you turn, remember to get off the line of attack. As you do so, watch where it comes from, let it go by, and then- again- bring your attention to where it actually came from.

This practice helps us to differentiate clearly between what others say and what we hear and to not take things other say and do quite so personally!

More about Wind:

  • Wind is a lovely element and one that we often forget to access. REMEMBER, If you feel stuck and don’t know what to do, go to wind. When you feel overwhelmed, stuck or frozen and don’t know what to do, go to wind and imagine whatever is overwhelming you, blowing by. This is like a matador stepping off the line as he guides the bull to go by.
  • Wind is about lightening up, about playfulness, and most importantly it is about not taking what other’s say personally. Let it go by and remember to not take another person’s pain on as your own.This can be very hard to do in intimate, caring relationships where we can lose our sense of self and get confused in those arguments filled with blame and shame.




Presence, Empathy, Spaciousness

Come back to that original open stance. With both feet directly under each respective shoulder and facing forward, breathe deeply while you imagine and explore a quality of spaciousness within and around you. Feel your presence. This is a shape of being in this moment with your head over heart over belly. Settle into this shape with empathy and curiosity as you listen intuitively. Breathe.

Space happens between all the other elements. It is the backdrop to all that is going on. The other practices help give us the space we need to be present. Including another in this field is the essence of empathy and empathic presence.

You can enliven space by drawing up a quality that you would love to feel more of. (See S.U.R.F. Practice).



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January Newsletter

click here to see the January Newsletter



Check out Jan., Feb. and March  events with Liminal Somatics. Come be a part of this flourishing, learning community.
Liminal Somatics
My wife, Judith, and I just returned from the second gathering of a six month training in Duncan, BC. and we are celebrating her recent choice to assist in the trainings and how well they are going.  We have been together for 27 years and since 1990 have lived within an intentional community we helped found. With its regular meetings, meals, collaborative tasks, conflicts and gatherings, we are discovering how well practiced we are at holding a caring and safe environment for others to “conflict well” in.  Conflicting well, to me means entering conflict in ways where it does not become violent, when the messages below the conflict are received,  where new understanding is found…… and from that well we all drink deeply.
I would like to share  this wonderful practice that materialized last week in a kids’ class after that inspiring three day intensive training with adults. This practice is empowering at any age, still, working with these 6 to 12 year olds was such a joy!

“Better than Chocolate!”
After a bit of play and getting to know one another, I asked this question to the nine children sitting around the circle,
What do you really love?”
This is a question so rarely asked, that most of us find ourselves struggling for an answer when asked. As a child, were you ever asked that question? Answering it puts us directly in touch with our deeper needs.

One of the children, exclaimed, “ice cream!”.
I suggested that she imagine a tall building, and if ice cream was one of the upper floors, what would love be on the ground floor?  Her voice softened and a tiny bit of color came to her face as she said, “My family and dog.”  I asked her to point to where in her body the center of that loving feeling was and to say how it felt.  She pointed to just below the center of her chest and said, “nice!”

Then, I walked about ten feet away, turned, faced her and asked her to imagine that I was a stranger, someone she had never met before.  I asked, “Am I in your space now?” to which she replied, “no”.  If she had said “yes”, I would have backed up until she felt relaxed and was sure that I was not in her space.  Her task was to say, “stop” when I was in her personal space as I slowly walked toward her. 
Right about four feet away she said, “stop”.  I asked, “Where in your body do you feel the feelings that tell you that I am in your space?”  These are unusual questions to ask anyone, but with a little coaching people will notice the tensing and contractions that occur somewhere in their bodies that alert them to a possible danger.  She pointed to her chest and said that it felt tense.

Together, we connected the dots.  This was the same spot where she most acutely felt that feeling of love as well!

I suggested that the tensing might be her love and caring trying to get her attention to warn her so she would be safe. She agreed.  I coached her to say to that place in her chest, “Thank you for warning me and caring for me”.  She realized, that when she brought her attention to that place, the tenseness relaxed and she felt much better.

I moved a little closer and again a slight triggering came up in her chest.  I suggested that she engage that tense spot in a conversation, beginning with, “ I am listening” and “What are you suggesting I do?”  She did this and to my amazement she simply walked around me like a passerby on the street. She then thanked this “inner voice” for the caring and guidance.

She lit up, immediately understanding the value of being able to turn inward to find clarity and council from a place that cared deeply about her safety and well being.

I asked how that felt to have this “inner friend”.  She exclaimed, “It’s better than chocolate!” We high-fived and then I proceeded to do the same process (with minor variations) with each of the 15 kids in the two workshops. I had a very similar experience with each child. What a joy it was for me to plant these seeds so early in their young lives!
Imagine how it would be to grow up cultivating such a friendship with our own bodies.

In adult workshops, it’s pretty clear that those “inner friends” that put us in touch with our needs are often ignored for a very long time. The deep pain and joy of reunion can be profound.  After class, one of the children came up to me and said, “My father works so hard, I wish that he would listen to that part of himself more. I think he would be a lot happier.”

Real change can happen when we listen to our bodies and our deeper motivations.

Feel free to call if you are interested and would like to learn more,

Many Blessings,

David Weinstock and the
Somatic Consensus community

January, February and March 2014


Embodying NVC
Conflict to Connection and Healing

When: Saturday Feb. 8th
Where:  Port Townsend, Wa.

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Somatic Consensus
Conflict to Connection and Healing

When: February 14th- 16th
Where:  Duncan, British Columbia
(Children’s classes will be available)
Read More

Leadership for Peace
Conflict to Connection and Healing

When: March 7-12
Where:  Chang Rai, Thailand
Read More

Embodying NVC Retreat
Nonviolent Communication
and Somatic Consensus

When: April 3-6
Where:  Los Angeles, TBA
Read More

Embodying NVC
Conflict to Connection and Healing

When: May 11th – 16th
Where:  Holland
Read More

For more information about the workshops call or write:
David Weinstock

The Moment

The moment when, after many years
Of hard work and a long voyage
You stand in the centre of your room,
House, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
Knowing at last how you got there,
And say,
I own this
Is the same moment when the trees unloose
Their soft arms from around you,
The birds take back their language,
The cliffs fissure and collapse,
The air moves back from you like a wave
And you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
Climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

~Margaret Atwood


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A Ki Moment

The Awassa Peace Dojo in Ethiopia

by David Weinstock

IMGP0885In October of 2008, I travelled to Awassa, Ethiopia, to offer aikido training to Tesfaye Tukulu, a very talented martial art instructor with a background in Karate, Tai Kwon Do and Wu Shu. A year earlier he had come to Cyprus for “Training Across Borders”, an event organized through Aiki Extensions. This event brought Israeli and Arab martial artists from across the Middle East to train together in the peaceful art of Aikido.

Tesfaye’s gentle, powerful and respectful demeanor drew the attention of several of the teachers presenting there. Aikido ignited Tes. After the summit, he immediately began Aikido training in earnest and opened the first Aikidodojo in Ethiopia.

Several teachers, including myself went to Awassa to teach aikido to Tesfaye. Tes was co-directing the Awassa Youth Project (AYP), a tiny community center he had co-founded in the heart of the city. When I arrived, the center was bursting with activity. Kids of all ages migrated between a very small aikido dojo, an even smaller music room, an art nook and an outdoor area with mats. They used the mats for dance, acrobatics, and theatrical rehearsals for their circus show. Their travelling troupe raised awareness about aids and social justice issues as they performed around Africa.

The first night after landing in Awassa, Tes and a few of the other organizers took us out on the town. After some tibs (a traditional goat dish), chororsaa- (spicey beans) and injera (Ethiopian flat bread) we went out to a bar to dance.

My son, Sam was with us. Already a masterful tap dancer at 19 years of age, he had brought 20 pairs of tap shoes with him so that he could teach dance to the children at AYP. Also proficient at hip-hop, salsa, and other forms of dance, Sam, a tall strapping redhead was used to having all eyes on him when he got on the dance floor. This night, as Tesfaye stepped out, all we could do was stand and stare at this young man who danced so joyfully, powerfully, gracefully and fully in his body.IMGP0871

Into the night we danced, tasting some of the local drink and having a lot of fun.

Then at one point, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Tes quietly escort two of the women that had come with us out of the bar. In close pursuit was a very large, muscular man.  Something didn’t feel right to me, so I followed them at a discrete distance. Tes ushered the two women into a taxi and as he turned around, this very large and now angry looking man stepped up to him. I could not understand what was being said, but the tone and posturing of the big man was clearly confrontational. Later, Tes translated what had transpired in English for me.

Once outside, the man accused Tes of getting in the way of his advances toward one of the women. Clearly trying to provoke a fight, his voice grew louder as he took off his shirt and exposed his rippling muscled chest and six-pack. Looking on at this spectacle, my heart began to race. I had studied martial arts for 30 years and reflexively began to ready myself if I was needed. In the face of this menacing posturing, Tes, surprisingly calm, looked at him and said in a clear and genuinely curious manner,

“Wow! You are really built. Where do you work out?”

The angry look on the man’s face shifted to one of surprise. Somewhat dumbfounded, the man just said, “What?”Ethopia 080

Tes said, “ I was wondering where you work out? You’re in incredible shape and I am looking for a new gym to work out in too.”

At that point, the man’s demeanor began to soften as he responded to Tes’s genuine interest in something he clearly valued himself. The subject soon changed to workout regimes and it was right about that point, I went back into the bar.

Tes walked back in to the bar and did not know that I had witnessed the interaction. When I asked him what was going on, he said amicably,

“Oh nothing, I was just talking to a new friend”.

My aikido teacher, Sensei Koichi Barrish, once said to me:

“When someone attacks, you surround them in kindness, a ‘ki‘ field” and he/she will have nothing to resist.”

In that moment of impending conflict, Tes’s practice kicked in. He allowed his embodied learning to lead. Creatively listening with all his senses, he waited for a moment of clarity to guide his intention into action. The above story reflects his ongoing commitment to a way of peace and the recognition that we are all in this together.

IMGP0868David Weinstock and Tesfaye Tukulu

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Better than Chocolate

“Better than Chocolate!”
After a bit of play and getting to know one another, I asked this question to the nine children sitting around the circle,
What do you really love?”
This is a question so rarely asked, that most of us find ourselves struggling for an answer when asked. As a child, were you ever asked that question? Answering it puts us directly in touch with our deeper needs.

One of the children, exclaimed, “ice cream!”.
I suggested that she imagine a tall building, and if ice cream was one of the upper floors, what would love be on the ground floor?  Her voice softened and a tiny bit of color came to her face as she said, “My family and dog.”  I asked her to point to where in her body the center of that loving feeling was and to say how it felt.  She pointed to just below the center of her chest and said, “nice!”

Then, I walked about ten feet away, turned, faced her and asked her to imagine that I was a stranger, someone she had never met before.  I asked, “Am I in your space now?” to which she replied, “no”.  If she had said “yes”, I would have backed up until she felt relaxed and was sure that I was not in her space.  Her task was to say, “stop” when I was in her personal space as I slowly walked toward her. 
Right about four feet away she said, “stop”.  I asked, “Where in your body do you feel the feelings that tell you that I am in your space?”  These are unusual questions to ask anyone, but with a little coaching people will notice the tensing and contractions that occur somewhere in their bodies that alert them to a possible danger.  She pointed to her chest and said that it felt tense.

Together, we connected the dots.  This was the same spot where she most acutely felt that feeling of love as well!

I suggested that the tensing might be her love and caring trying to get her attention to warn her so she would be safe. She agreed.  I coached her to say to that place in her chest, “Thank you for warning me and caring for me”.  She realized, that when she brought her attention to that place, the tenseness relaxed and she felt much better.

I moved a little closer and again a slight triggering came up in her chest.  I suggested that she engage that tense spot in a conversation, beginning with, “ I am listening” and “What are you suggesting I do?”  She did this and to my amazement she simply walked around me like a passerby on the street. She then thanked this “inner voice” for the caring and guidance.

She lit up, immediately understanding the value of being able to turn inward to find clarity and council from a place that cared deeply about her safety and well being.

I asked how that felt to have this “inner friend”.  She exclaimed, “It’s better than chocolate!” We high-fived and then I proceeded to do the same process (with minor variations) with each of the 15 kids in the two workshops. I had a very similar experience with each child. What a joy it was for me to plant these seeds so early in their young lives!
Imagine how it would be to grow up cultivating such a friendship with our own bodies.

In adult workshops, it’s pretty clear that those “inner friends” that put us in touch with our needs are often ignored for a very long time. The deep pain and joy of reunion can be profound.  After class, one of the children came up to me and said, “My father works so hard, I wish that he would listen to that part of himself more. I think he would be a lot happier.”

Real change can happen when we listen to our bodies and our deeper motivations.

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The Seven C’s of Empathy

Somatic Consensus Series

Care, Curiosity, Courage, Center, Confidence, Creativity and Commitment


  • Care- One Heart
  • Curiosity –Makes you Want to Learn About it
  • Courage- Willing to Feel what you Feel
  •  Center –Me, We
  •  Commitment –Dedicate Your Practice
  • Creativity- Imagination and all the Senses.
  • Confidence- Trust your Training

IMG_0543 copy


On August 11th, 2006, president Barak Obama said this:  “You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this – when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers – it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.”

Our First Language

You might say that empathy is our first language. It’s how mother and child initially communicate. From early on, in our culture, we have been taught to value what we think over what we feel.  A general somatic understanding is “use it or lose it”. Our natural empathic abilities become atrophied if not used. After a lifetime of practicing otherwise, to reclaim and hone empathic skills requires purposeful, deliberate, rigorous practice over time and a personal commitment to do so. The 7 C’s make the practice of empathy more understandable. Empathy take us on an adventure where we are at the rudder, accountable and even though we might not know where things will end up, we have what is needed to navigate the journey.

Empathy connects us to our innate and unique gifts that we each bring to the table and opens possibilities for greater healing of self and the world.

Listening empathically requires taking responsibility for our own moods, emotions, thoughts and feelings to quiets the enemy images we project on to others and listen more intuitively.

When listening empathically, in the time between our asking the question and receiving the information, there is a state of openness and not knowing. This not knowing is where creativity and intuition arise. Most of us give ourselves grief for not knowing. Instead we can learn to tolerate this state and let our inner wisdom arise to answer.


“If you speak from the heart, there is never any waste”                                  Lucrica

“When someone truly sees us and in caring urges us into the warmth of a loving embrace, we leave the darkness in which we have taken refuge and come once more into the light.”                                                                      Stephen Harrod Buhner

To live a meaningful life it’s essential to know what you deeply care about. Touching in on our deeper motivations is not what many of us were taught growing up.  Were you ever asked in school, “What do you really care about?” or “What would you most love to learn today?  It’s sad to say, but in my workshops I find that it is about 1 out of 30 people who were ever asked such questions. Consequently we practice choosing from a narrow selection of classes being offered while motivated by grades and approval of others rather than an inner desire to learn inspired by what we care about.

IMG_0085 copyCare is the ground level of our being. It is what’s meaningful. We know what we care about through bodily sensation, the aliveness we feel as we are moved in one direction or another and find the ground we stand on by listening to our hearts. “Under-standing” the ground under our feet that we stand on is a metaphor for what we care about and the deeper needs we all share, our common ground. As illustrated in Tes’s “confrontation”, our common ground and connection can happen in a moment. Empathy is a quality of presence that values and tends to everyone’s needs.  My Aikido teacher, Sensei Koichi Barrish once said to me, “When someone attacks you, direct your attention surround them with kindness, a “Ki” field.”  The attacker’s whole being registers that there is nothing to resist and relaxes. This is a good beginning to harmonizing conflict.”

To be deeply listened to with care is one of the most lovely and healing things we can do for one another.  It is also one of the most disarming. My wife, Judith, once told me a story about a friend of hers who was hitchhiking and got picked up by a man, who proceeded to take her off the road and force her to take her clothes off.  When he climbed on top of her, she said she felt a deep love and compassion for him and what kind of pain he must be in to do such a thing.  She put her arms around him and looked him right in the eyes, with a profound care, telling him that he really didn’t want to do what he was doing—that he wouldn’t want to live with that weight in his heart.  He got up, helped her back to the car and took her where she wanted to go. This is an extreme example, and yet the principle is the same.  The better you can appreciate what you and another care about the more readily and deeply you can connect to what is needed in the moment.   Care is an expression of connection that recognizes that to harm another is to harm one self.


“In the place my wonder comes from, there, I find you”                  Bruce Cockburn

I once asked my 8 year-old neighbor, “What is curiosity?”  Her brilliant and concise answer was, “Curiosity, makes you want to learn about it.” In relationship, our curiosity is what makes us want to learn about each other.

Curiosity is that compelling, infectious quality that urges us to walk into the unknowns of life, love and relationship purely to “under-stand” and to find meaning. Curiosity is not forceful.  When it is associated with compassion it leaves us feeling connected and good about ourselves.


A grounded touch and a listening face

When I am lost, your smile I trace

Back to the source, to change my disposition,

Right on course, with my heart I listen


Listening to the Nature and the nature of me

Igniting my soul with curiosity,

It’s that and that alone, something that I yearn to learn,

burning to know what’s around the next turn.


 What we are most ashamed of is often what is most common.”  Carl Rogers”

Regardless of age, when someone is genuinely curious about who you are, it feels good and gently moves us to offer windows into our worlds to one another. One Friday night, when my youngest son, Sam, was in 2nd grade we were out on a drive together.  Sam and I have always had open conversations about most anything. We have always enjoyed a mutual curiosity about each other. This particular night, from the shadow of the cab of my pick up truck I heard his little voice ask a very different kind of question for us, “Dad, what is your deepest darkest secret?”

The question this surprised me and the earnest voice behind it conveyed seriousness. Pulling the truck over we sat quietly together as I thought about his question.  After a while, I took a deep breath and said,“ Sam, I don’t know what my deepest darkest secret is, but I’ll share something that is close to my heart and that I have truly never shared before.” I spoke vulnerability and honestly to him and in confidence revealed a deeper part of my self to him.  He listen and appreciated what I had said as a calmness grew between us.

I asked, with genuine curiosity and care, “Sam, what is your deepest darkest secret?” In that moment my whole being wanted to know this lovely person behind the fear. This is empathy.  My son gave me a window into his world.  A courageous little voice said hesitantly…… “Well…There’s is a girl in my class… that I like… and whenever we play or talk together the boys in the class, especially Lyle, makes fun of me”.

IMG_0682 copyQuestions are more powerful than answers sometimes. I shaped my questions to better understand his feelings and the situation. Empathic guessing is empty of judgment, conveys care and inspires connection.

With my help, Sam really heard himself, some of pieces started to fall into place. He guessed that the other boys must feel uncomfortable and afraid to talk to girls and that was probably why they made fun of him. He realized that girls are just people and that no matter what others said; he knew that there was nothing wrong with being friends with them. You could almost see a light bulb switch on.  All hesitancy left him. He said excitedly, “And dad, you’d like her too.  She’s got a great sense of humor and pretty eyes… and she has a hamster, just like mine…and on an on he went”.  His discomfort around girls shifted forever.

I think of divine curiosity as listening for that divine being that is beneath our actions and words within each of us that we all share.


“Think of fear as part of doing what we have to do. When I get scared and I am pushing out of my comfort zone, my heart is going crazy and pounding. Instead of thinking that you are going crazing say, “ Oh those are inner applause”.                                                                                                                             Alice Waters

“Courage is resistance to fear, acceptance of fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”                                                                                                      Mark Twain

Courage is the act of mustering ourselves to face our fears and be present with them. Many of us learn at an early age to protect our hearts.  Whether a threat is real or imagined, there is emotional pain involved. Fear and pain are contracted states of being. Empathy is an expanded state. It is extremely difficult to offer genuine empathy to another when we are feeling contracted.

Often the more powerful the needs are, the more intensely the emotions are being expressed and this can make it very difficult to fully listen to them. How you naturally respond to others pain will tell you much about its nature just as it will tell you about your own. Courage is not so much about going off to fight dragons as it is about facing our own demons, tolerating our feelings and not reacting so quickly, in order to actually listen to what our emotions are trying to tell us.

Courage is a quality that, when connected to a heart felt caring, is ennobling.

IMG_0927_2The word, courage, comes from Old French, a noun-“corage” which means heart, innermost feelings and inner strength; and to temper,” The word “temper” fills it in nicely.  It comes from the late Old English word, “temprian”, which means to bring to a proper or suitable state or to modify some excessive quality. It is usually described as from “tempus”, as in a sense of proper time or season.

Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to quiet our minds in order to listen empathically. Courage is also the practice of speaking your mind with your heart. We are wired to tell our stories. The culture does not let us tell our stories of imperfections, and we have learned to be ashamed and afraid to show ourselves. Through the years in my workshops there is nothing more moving as when someone who is afraid, musters the courage to speak out for the sake of connecting and contributing to the others in the room.  When someone brings their whole self to the conversations, with all their imperfections, it opens the heart of all who listen and draws admiration and appreciation.

A Call to Courage                                                                                                     One day a young woman, Joanne, in her mid 20’s showed up at my home. She was strung out and wanted help to come down from her heroin addiction. My wife and I and the community around us knew her when she was a teen, friends with our son, Sam and an Aikido student of mine.  She had once been a very bright, capable and caring person.  A darkness had welled up and enveloped her life.  With her mind and body compromised by drugs; she was now fighting for her life.

With the help of our neighbors she spent the next month at our house coming down from the drugs while using methadone and marijuana to ease her detox. She was never completely clean and her ability to be honest with herself and commitment to stopping were patchy and tricky.

She had a lot of work to do and we had little experience with this sort of thing. A friend of mine, Peter Hassen, stepped in to help. Peter, an extraordinary 60ish year old, artist across many mediums and a former junkie, was familiar with what Jo was up against. He had given up drugs many years ago and since had poured out his heart many times trying to help people struggling to get off drugs.  Many beloved friends had died. You could see how difficult it was for him to enter yet another situation where he might lose someone he cared for. He sensed that the chances of Jo getting through this were marginal, at best.

Peter, having wrestled his own demons, gave her an ear that she could trust. He listened, suggested, asserted and supported her as best he could.  Then there was a moment, a call to courage.  That moment was moving for all, especially for Jo.

He offered to go to Narcotics Anonymous with her every day for the next 30 days if she committed to it. He was not a professional and it scared the hell out of him to open his heart, yet again, to this young woman because he knew that she could very easily fail to go clean, go back to the street and possibly die. He courageously kept his heart open willing to face the unknowns and the pain that the future might hold all for the sake of caring for this young woman.  He knew that he could not save her life.  That was up to her.  He did know within himself how important it is to care for one another. He did not help because he felt he “should”, he chose to step in to help because he was moved by her courage to fight for her life.

When I speak of courage I’m speaking about the willingness to trust your senses to listen and deeply feel what it is that you’re feeling with out cluttering the moment up with words, strategies and busyness. Often the more intense the emotions are, the more powerful the needs and the more difficult it is to fully listen to them.  It takes courage to listen to our emotions, to trust our senses, and to stay open and centered in the face of intense feelings.


“Center is the eye of the hurricane, it is the place where you are able to be calm in the midst of the spinning without spinning.                                         Karen Sella

“There is only one Heart “                                                                          William Blake

 Centering cultivates emotional stability, physical equilibrium and spiritual composure. It brings balance between body, mind and the world we live in. When centered, your mind is alert with a heightened awareness of surroundings and an uncanny ability to focus on essentials. Centering opens us to a mindset of discovery that is willing to embrace change and where there is no end to the learning.

The world’s shortest poem was by Mohammad Ali.  It goes like this: “Me, Whee!!”   

Listening empathically requires centering in order to separate our own stories, frameworks and perceptions from our listening. Sometimes the emotions stirred within us when we’re listening empathically to another can be triggering and overwhelming. How do we hold anxiousness, irritation, anxiety and loneliness?

It is important to fully feel these feelings and yet not indulge them. If we are not centered we are much more likely to get stuck in old and unwanted feelings. Our own reactions can be our worst enemy. Taking moments to let patience and stillness replace the anxiety and high pace activity in our lives is certainly good advice.

Somatic Consensus is essentially a plethora of centering techniques that synchronize the resources of our head, heart and belly with what brings meaning to our actions in the world. The intention of practice is not about being centered all the time, it is to learn to come back quicker when you notice your off. To be centered all the time would seriously overload our systems.  We are not built for that.

Centering practice helps us understand how our physical, emotional, and spiritual balance are inextricably linked. When you center yourself physically your mind and spirit come into balance too. If your body is off balance you can shift it almost as easily through a balanced state of mind.  Centering practices that include mind, body, emotions and meaning are potent.

Tapping deep into our center we can uncover both our core nature and the reality of our collectiveness. It is how we can recognize that as an individual, we are an integral part of the collective whole. Centering is a resource for addressing the challenges we face in our personal relationships and for finding solutions to global problems.



If you lost and riding in the dark, let the horse lead.

The more secure we become in our selves and our practices the more confidently we comport ourselves and share our gifts. The confidence that is embodied is reflected in a powerful yet calm resolve, skillful movement, an increased awareness and capacity to adapt and learn. Confidence is the presence we have when we trust where we stand and what we have come to know. You feel it and those around us feel it.

IMG_4905As a child, like most of us growing up in 20th century America, I developed strategies to keep others at a certain distance in order to protect myself. Sometimes being a kid is like being in a room with the doorknob only on the outside. Adults can access you, but you are limited in ways to access them. The strategies we learn when we are young were the best we could do at the time and hard to change as adults. Some of the old strategies for safety are like training wheels on a bike/ Once you have learned to ride, if you don’t take them off, they get in the way and slow you down.

From early on we learn to build emotional walls believing that we will be safer and more able to deal with people from behind them. Aikido offers a different approach, which at first might seem counter productive: inclusivity keeps us more aware of others intention, improves our timing and increases our resource-fullness. It actually keeps us safer. After 3 decades of Aikido training, I am confident about its validity.

Just the Basics

In 1997, I was teaching Aikido in a local community center as a Shodon, or first-degree black belt.  One day, one of the other Shodons, and at the time a student of mine, told me that he was preparing for his Nidon (second-degree black belt) test.

I felt an overwhelming, competitive urge well up in me and felt compelled to call my teacher, Sensei Koichi Barrish, to see about getting a promotion of my own!  When I called, I reminded him that it had been eleven years since my last promotion, and that I felt ready for my next.  I asked what was required that he would need to see from me.  His response was simply; “Just the basics… pause……… the way we do them now.”

My teacher is a master from the old school. Always creative, this gifted martial artist was the real deal. It had been several years since I had trained in his dojo.  As I watched the class I was both mesmerized and confounded by “the way the were doing it now”. I recognized the moves, but everything seemed altered.  It was like a classical musician walking into a jazz session. It was music, I could recognize and appreciate what I was seeing, but to do it myself was a whole other thing.

So, in earnest, I began to take all of the classes offered, beginner through advanced.  Although I already had a strong Aikido base, in many ways I was beginning my training anew. I had to come to it with a beginner’s mind, to continually stay open to learning new ways of improving. Imagine a swordsman, practicing a sword cut movement 500 times a day and what it takes to stay with it and strive to improve with each cut.  In a sense, I had to keep emptying my cup in order to allow more in. This open state required me to maintain a quality of commitment, humility, curiosity, determination, and purpose. This is the essence of what it takes to embody a practice over time.

It was about a year later that I started to notice something different and exciting.  I began to feel the interactions with others on the mat directly through my body.  When I was attacked, my movement was spontaneous, informed by what I felt intuitively rather than a calculated response coming from my head. In that same moment that I noticed this shift from “thinking” my way through an interaction to “feeling” and “sensing” my way, my teacher, noticed the shift as well and promoted me. I had gained a new level of confidence.

Relaxation is key.  The more relaxed we are the more aware we can be.  When we are tense we are less flexible in any given situation both mentally and physically. Relaxation does not mean limpness or collapse; using just the energy that is needed. Watch a cat lying on a sofa, its body is completely relaxed, but when startled it quickly organizes and is gone in a heartbeat.

Confidence is a physically expansive state.  Insecurity is a contracted state with elements of mistrust and fear.  It’s difficult if not impossible to be contracted and empathic simultaneously.  When we are tight and contracted, it is hard to feel the nuanced feelings that guide intuitive choice.  It is also hard for someone to relax and feel trust around some one who is contracted. Messiness and getting lost in relationships is unavoidable. Confidence that comes through deliberate practice and experience provides reference points and resources to navigate unchartered relationships.

In my early forties I participated in an 8-month initiatory rite of passage modeled after a Lakota tradition called Hanbleycha. It culminated in my leaving the “village” and spending 4 days and nights “on the hill”, alone without food. In the forest, I sat alone with Nature and with the commitment to face myself. I listened and re-membered something I had once found in my twenties after years of travel. That is, no matter what I may think or where I am, “I am loved”. This simple knowing has become a foundation for my personal practice and professional life. I continue to find my footing and draw confidence in this simple and profound knowing through the practice of this basic understanding.


Empathy is a presence that opens the way to seeing the world through another’s eyes. Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu stated that true empathy requires listening with the whole being. The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing.  The hearing of understanding is another.  But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear or to the mind. The whole being listens.  There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.”

Communication, done artfully, is felt in moments of connection. Empathy is the medium in which listening moves inspires and connects us. Around the world there are many names used to describe this creative medium:  Ki, Pranna, Élan Vital, Spirit, Life, our deepest Needs and within its field who we are is revealed.

Just before the stroke of the brush, the artist quiets and centers herself to listen to what is deeply felt. Imagination sparked, feelings grow, the skillful painter, divinely curious, musters the courage to step into the unknown. Her imagination connects what her mind perceives with what her body feels and knows.  Things that we touch, see and hear coalesce via the imagination. Imagination is essential for understanding what it might be like to walk in another’s shoes.

Albert Einstein said, “Imagination … is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

Webster’s Dictionary says: Imagination, different from fantasy helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of the world, and plays a key role in the learning process.

IMG_5351We are each a story.  When we talk, our whole history, culture and unique personalities are communicated behind the words. When we listen empathically, what is said can move and excite our senses and imagination. We are touched by more than the words, we can taste, smell, see and imagine as we take it in.

Listening from our whole self is how we hear another’s whole self. Gathering all of our body’s faculties to listen, imagine and perceive is like discovering the part of an iceberg that is below the surface of the water.

Our bodies send and receive volumes and by incorporating our bodies into our listening we can hear nuances through gesture, tone, inflection, movement and shape that we can never hear through words alone.

After four decades as a goldsmith, I’ve narrowed my business down to what I truly enjoy: co-creating the symbols that are meaningful for my clients. Making someone’s wedding rings is a sacred and intimate process for me. Some clients come to me with elaborate ideas drawn out in detail of what they would like me to make, while others don’t know what they want at all. As we create together I listen with a deep curiosity and carefully questioning to see if I am getting what it is they are trying to convey. It is up to me to listen and translate what they would love into something visible. The medium is metal and stone. To listen fully in order to hear what is moving and meaningful to another and help make it visible is the essence of empathy

Listening empathically in any relationship is a sacred act that honors the creative life in each of us. Whether it’s a piece of jewelry or a mutual understanding we are creating, the 7 c’s describe the basics

I listen with care to what is meaningful. As I listen, I am curious who is in front of me and what is wanting to come forth. I muster the courage to fully enter into this new and unknown relationship. I center myself, to create a space to allow and listen to what is unfolding.

Resting in the confidence of my skills, I relax; open my attention and awareness without the worry of outcomes.  Staying present, feelings become known, common ground is sensed, a moment of connection approaches and presents itself. Synergy. Discovering the beauty of creating is at the heart of my commitment



Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions, which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.”

~ Abraham Lincoln

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.  Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.   All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in ones favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. 

What ever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”                      Goethe

IMG_4950 copyIn 1991 I helped start the intentional community where I raised my family and still live today. When I began, I had very little understanding about what it would really entail.  I did know how to work hard and what I cared about. That was a good starting place. A well crafted commitment creates the environment to fulfill on what you declare much like a compass helps to map a course and points towards our destination.  Without that compass, I doubt I would have weathered the intense conflict, relationship upheavals, overwhelms and disillusionment that are part of the natural cycle of Community building.  These days the community is thriving. It feeds me in ways that are far beyond what I imagined when I began!

My personal commitment has been to learn to live more fully within the bonds of community, to share resources where ever possible, to raise my children more collaboratively and, in the bigger picture, contribute to a more nurturing world for generations to come. This matters to me and has been worth working towards.


Our biological programing is wired, in part, to preserve a status quo. We gravitate to what is familiar. To create new ways of being, a commitment needs to emerge from a deep appetite and hunger. It must be powerful enough to inspire a shift towards new actions and through one’s own resistance to change.

New actions and practices can easily become lost in the bureaucracy of our historical habits. So it is the commitments that we come back to when we lose our ways. They remind us of the choices we have made and offer guideposts to refer to and come back to when we get lost. A well-crafted, meaningful commitment can light up a clear path.

Over the years, in my community, there have been those who have resisted or outright refused to make commitments. For them, commitments seemed to be obligatory structures imposed upon them that restricted their freedom. Follow-through on a commitment is difficult when there is a feeling of obligation or “should” rather than personal conviction and free choice. Too many rules and structures can hinder the creative process, while without structure it is easy to get distracted and lose sight of our goals.

The intentional practice of empathy begins and ends with commitment. To cultivate the qualities of Care, Curiosity, Courage, Center, Confidence, and Creativity the intention, practices and commitments need to be as clear and do-able as possible.

For example, one do-able task within my community commitment was to not talk about people in my community, negatively, behind their backs in ways that I would not speak directly to their face. Keeping to this commitment has served me well and it has cultivated more of the same with those around me. It is do-able and the results are viewable.

Another example was when I was an apprentice goldsmith, I asked Ted, an elder master goldsmith, what are the skills I need to master to become a goldsmith.  He said, “Learn the saw, the torch and files (he also added, don’t forget to pick up your pay check).  I committed to practicing the file, saw and torch. Those were do-able skills to learn and practice.  In time that became an embodied skill, the “known” as I went on to develop my creativity in that medium.

Until we articulate for clarity and power, through language a vision and shape our commitments it is unclear what we are moving towards. Declaring your commitments and living it, opens possibilities for new actions and draws others who might like to collaborate.  Life will go on and happens without this, of course. But articulating a possibility, choosing it, committing to it and being willing to take the consequences for the sake of a more enriching life sets a direction and galvanizes the resources within and around u.


*Conjures the question: What do I care about?  What do I want do bring forth in the world and why is that important? What are the actions I need?

**Specifics to Fulfill- Specific tasks for delivering on your commitment.  Note what it would look like if you were successful in completing each of these tasks.

***Regularly evaluate specific actions, progress and their completion


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The Heart of Community

IMG_0531As members of the U.S. consumer class and in this age of technology and communication, we experience a high degree of personal independence like no other time in history.  The price we pay is experienced in the decline of the kind of communities that feed our deep need for belonging and in the damage to the commons we all share.

Imagine for a moment that every interaction you have with another person creates a bond that connects you both.  After decades of daily and varied experiences, imagine how these bonds proliferate exponentially and intensify connection and understanding, much like what is found within healthy familial relationships. Now imagine that same quality of care and collaboration rippling outward exponentially to other households and the greater community.  In time, these bonds become so dense as to be empathic.

This web is made up of a collective wisdom that we all—young and old, get to tap into and appreciate how much we need one another.   Multi-generational community living is essential to our well being and it has become endangered.


Inter-Generational Living

Since 1990, my wife and I have raised our family within an intentional community that we started with 8 other families. An “intentional community” is where people come together with the intention and commitment to create Community.

Sharing resources, raising children together and nurturing the land made all the sense in the world and it still holds true. This path has been painfully difficult at times, and you will not find a greater advocate than me!

Reclaiming Community is similar to reclaiming a forest that has been clear-cut.  First we plantroad trees in rows that grow and eventually provide a canopy and compost for new growth to flourish below. Younger trees and undergrowth sprout up.  Diversity occurs and invites more. Animals, plants and organisms self-select.   Some thrive while others die off.  In time, a more robust, integrated, inter-dependent system evolves out of the original monoculture. Organisms develop more and more symbiotically as countless subtle connections form.

A mature ecosystem works as a collective whole.

In human relationships, Community provides the beauty found in the tapestry of life woven through seasons, generations, births, deaths, celebrations, struggles, traumas, meetings, playing, arguing, working together, taking steps, building structures, gardening, raising children, family conflicts, forgiveness, young ones becoming teens, teens growing older, marriage, divorce, sharing meals, caring for one another, becoming elders and so much more. Over the decades, like the symbiotic relationships of an aging forest, in my community, something organic and far bigger than it’s parts is developing.  Inter-dependence grows, Community is  felt, experienced and transmitted.

A basic somatic principle is this:

When in conflict and triggered we do not rise to our higher ideals, we fall to what we have practiced most in our lives, behaviors born out of the family and culture that nurtured us.

IMG_2561When we first started out, our romantic ideas of community soon gave way to conflict, painful breakdowns and the inevitable disillusionment that is a part of the learning cycle of community building. We were hoping for the family we always wanted but soon found ourselves in the middle of the family we always had…with the chance to face it as adults.

Along with our familial reckonings we had to address the patterns of our culture and histories that regularly reared up from within us.  We watched as hierarchical power structures, sexism, classism, adultism, agism, racism, ignorance and the fears that sponsored them played themselves out in our circle.

Experiential learning that comes through daily play, work and shared struggles provides the compost for  community to continually grow.  We are learning how our breakdowns in relationships produce cracks in our ideals and from those cracks, seeds take root and new possibilities take shape.

These struggles took us far beyond our comfort zones, clarifying, at the very least, what we did IMG_0250 copynot know. The pain of our interactions provided ample motivation to find more inclusive, forgiving and responsible ways to be together.  As time went on we got glimpses of how a healthy community might navigate the complexity of multiple intimate relationships. Those glimpses galvanized our efforts.

As we shape community, it shapes us again and again.  It is a dynamic evolving process through which the world and ourselves can be effectively transformed.

We are learning to get back up more gracefully after our falls, to honor and add diversity to our mix and recognize that we are all in this together.  Shifting engrained power and control practices to consensus is a slow and deliberate practice.

Our original vision continues to become a reality in ways that we could hIMG_0089ave never known.  All ages offer their unique gifts to one another, mutually benefiting and illuminating.

We are learning how to conflict well and from that well we all drink deeply.

Young and old, we know that we each carry a part of the puzzle and together a collective wisdom is emerging.  Our sons and daughters and their children are building on this foundation.  They will certainly have their own struggles to work through, but their struggles will be different.   They have a solid sense of self and place. They are a beautiful testimonial to our values and efforts. The web of support that connects us is a tightly woven fabric.



IMG_0478 copy In the Somatic Consensus workshop series called, “The Heart of Community” we explore cutting edge linguistic, emotional and physical practices that put us in touch with our deeper values and effectively transform old habits and reactions into resources for healing and connection. Together we will learn to practice who it is we each choose to become to better bring our gifts to the world.

I  am excited to share how body wisdom holds keys to a treasure house of intuitive guidance and inspiring communication. Somatic Consensus’ body awareness practices integrated with Nonviolent Communication’s brilliant linguistic skills bring focus and intention to walking our talk with power and compassion.

You can  find out about upcoming trainings on my website:





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Somatic Consensus 6 month training program

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5 day Somatic Consensus workshop in Bangkok

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S.U.R.F. Practice

Questions are the mind’s way of trying to destroy a mystery.  Live with the questions while the heart dances with the answer.”

“Recalling an event of love or joy through creative imagination throws out a high frequency bridge from the prefrontal cortex to the limbic heart circuit. The heart automatically reciprocates on the that same frequency, lifting us into a higher level of the creative dynamic, defusing defensive reactions already in motion and opening an order of functioning not available to either intellect or imagination alone.”                                                                                                                                     Joseph Chilton Pearce



S.U.R.F. Centering Practice


Centering practices train us to await our own experience and to listen to the wisdom of our bodies. It brings clarity of the moment in through our senses.

Centering brings a wholeness that can shed light on the pros and cons of relative terms such as good/bad, right/wrong, nice/mean, and smart/stupid to define and judge ourselves and other. When centered we can observe and listen to another’s experiences and perceptions with less judgment and greater clarity.

2014-05-12 10.04.11

Our bodies are always communicating something.

Just like in meditation, posture is essential.  The way we shape ourselves effects how we feel, how we listen and what we communicate. Try talking to someone while leaning forward towards him or her or with your head cocked to the side.  It really is a different experience than if you are leaning back or sitting more vertically. If we genuinely smile at someone, we will create a different communication than if we’re frowning at someone. How we shape our bodies in certain ways, actually changes how we are received, what we perceive and what we communicate.

Our bodies contain the sum total of our histories and communicate a great deal more than we are aware of. The body is always communicating something and by shaping it intentionally we can walk our talk with greater integrity.

Lliving in relationship is so challenging, in part because we are always transmitting our emotional state.   Some days we feel centered and expansive, sometimes we feel tense and contracted. Contraction or expansion can be felt when you walk into the house and someone in the other room is angry. You can feel when another person is open to you or not by how your body responds to theirs. Emotions like anger, hurt, frustration, sadness, shame and guilt are contracted states. Qualities such as honor, grace, gratitude, empathy, playfulness, curious, caring, dignity and joy are expansive states.


Increasing your word vocabulary enhances your ability to articulate your thoughts, ideas and feelings. The SURF practice trains this word vocabulary across mind, body, emotional and linguistic domains. Over time along with a greater versatility and understanding of these qualities as a whole self-experience, they become felt and transmitted in your presence.

The Practice

Step 1: Shape Yourself

I practice this as a sitting practice, but it can be done while standing just as easily. First sit or stand in your full vertical length. Let your skeleton hold you up in alignment with gravity as it is meant to do with your head above heart above belly. If you are leaning, slouching or overextending, you are fighting gravity and using more muscle than you need to.

To aid you in relaxing:

  • Let your jaw go and let the back of your tongue relax.
  • Let your shoulders fall and relax as if you were letting any weight you might be carrying in your life fall off.
  • Let your sphincter muscles relax.
  • Imagine the bottom of your feet opening to the ground as you connect to the earth you are standing on.
  • If you are seated, feel your sit bone connect to your seat.


Step 2: Unify

Take one or two long, slow breaths in and then let them out with a relaxed “Ahhhh…” sound. Straighten your back as you breathe in, keeping the shoulders relaxed and uplifting from your back muscles- not by lifting the shoulders. Breathe up your back and release the breath down your front. Let your belly be relaxed. Continue to breathe in this way.

*If you have more time, after a while, just let your breath naturally flow without trying to control it.

Step 3: Re-source

Take a moment to connect to your deeper needs and consider one quality you would like to draw up from within yourself. Choose one word that represents what you would love to have a little more of in your life, such as: peace, dignity, respect, openness, acceptance, courage, joy, understanding, appreciation, gratitude, empathy…..

Ask your body:

What would it be like if I felt a bit more _________? (Fill in the quality, just one)

Live with the questions while the heart dances with the answer.

Try not to have a mental idea of the answer before you answer. Muster an attitude of open curiosity.

The quality you choose represents a forward movement of your spirit and by moving towards it, you embrace life. In the time between asking a question and getting an answer, there is a moment of not knowing, a state of openness. This is where intuition and creativity arise. We are trained from early on to want to know the answers and even give ourselves grief for not knowing. This is a wonderful practice for developing a tolerance for this open creative state.

Give yourself time and space for your body/soma to respond. Engage your imagination and just allow yourself to be curious as you let your body shift. Notice any changes in posture, breathing, body temperature, mood, etc. If you don’t know what it is like to have more dignity, for example, use your imagination to play with what it might feel like. Think of a person you know or a TV character that has that quality and try it on for yourself.


Step 4: Field

Sustain the shifts you felt inside in Step 3.

  • Bring your attention to the space from your body to a few feet in front of you. Now place that that much attention behind you, above you, below you and then to the sides of you. You can imagine this as if you are in the center of a bubble. Try to equalize your attention all around you.
  • Imagine the quality and feeling of the resource you feel filling the space around you.


In addition:

Remember that energy follows attention: Notice how you can enliven the space around you just by how you focus your attention. In the course of the day, as you engage others, practice holding them in this field. This is the essence of empathic listening. It is essential to that as you extend the space to include others that you extend this “listening field” in all directions, not just towards the person you are listening to. This gives you more width and depth to hold them.

As you do this process, do it with imagination engaged and curiosity. Be open and curious with an attitude of “Isn’t that interesting…?”It is important to make this work interesting for yourself; it must be compelling enough to draw you back from the drama of your life.

Maintaining these kinds of practices on a daily basis is how you make real changes in yourself. This practice can take only 15 seconds, less than a commercial break. So do it several times a day. Imagine your listening to a word from your sponsor.

This can also be a daily sitting or standing practice that you can enjoy for 15 minutes or more. My suggestion is to pick just one quality at a time and explore it in depth over a period of time such as a month, 6 months or a year.

*Adapted from Wendy Palmer’s Conscious Embodiment


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  • “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

    -- Albert Einstein

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