This summer marks the ten year anniversary of Wisdom Dances. In 2012 I said yes to a leading I could no longer resist and quit my steady job in a hot mess of burnt-out exhaustion. Now I’m grateful to get up every day and continue to learn and serve through my work. In celebration, I am writing a series of blog posts reflecting on how I’ve dedicated myself to embodied spiritual practices – dance and qigong in particular – to cultivate personal as well as collective healing and transformation.
Today, in the first of five posts, I want to honor my teachers.
Michael Bischoff. I live in Minnesota because I wanted to work with my friend Michael. Michael was my boss at Friends for a Non-Violent World, and with his super-power of appreciating others, he taught me about group facilitation, giving and receiving feedback, play, and listening to the spirit’s movement through my work. Later Michael was among the first to seriously incubate the idea of Wisdom Dances and was my most reliable sounding board for strategic challenges and conflicts I encountered.
While Michael had a profound impact on the course of my professional life, I think of him foremost as a teacher for how I create family. We became family to each other, sharing a family dinner together every week for 17 years. He officiated our wedding but more than that, he is the friend who most guided me in choosing how I want to be family, rather than simply inheriting patterns or social expectations. His final gift to me was intimately sharing his adventure with brain cancer which moved him on from this world in 2020.
Laura Shannon. I first traveled to New Hampshire to study with Laura Shannon in 2005 because I had tasted something more – a vitality I could vaguely name – coming through traditional dances. I wanted more of that aliveness. Laura’s now 30 plus years or research in dance is totally unique because unlike most other dance ethnographers who would learn dances from the men in the village, Laura concentrates in learning from the village grandmothers. She created an approach to unlocking the wisdom within the dances by studying the step patterns, song lyrics, costumes, and related folktales and mythology. She has done the research which reveals that women’s ritual dances practiced today in the Balkans, Greece, and Asia Minor have a living, unbroken (although certainly evolved) connection to ancient European culture that values community, sustainability, and reverence for the Earth.
Dancing with Laura has taught me how to consciously learn through the body. Through her unique approach to teaching, I have been able to sense for the first time with my whole being what reciprocity really feels like. Before this experience I had only thought of sustainability in a mechanistic sort of way. Experiencing mutuality in my body while dancing changed my whole approach to living well with the Earth and community. Laura continues to teach me the gifts and responsibilities that come with being part of a lineage and carrying a tradition towards the future. She has been a powerful example about the of generosity and hospitality.
Master Chunyi Lin, founder of Spring Forest Qigong. I sought out Master Lin when I experienced a health crisis in 2006. At first my heart would race when he walked into the room because I was so excited that this renowned healer might make a miracle happen. It was three years and a recurrence before I relaxed enough to fully receive his healing gifts and then my recovery, finally, was miraculous. That healing experience awakened in me a whole new understanding of myself in the universe and it changed everything.
I have only grown in appreciation for how beautifully simple and powerful the Spring Forest Qigong system is for not only healing, but also longevity, connecting with life purpose, and spiritual growth. Master Lin is always learning, experimenting, and evolving in his teaching and this is also a great inspiration. At first I thought his guidance for healing the world was too simple but I have learned how he has experienced true suffering (he is not naïve at all) and find his approach the best for my sanity. I would not have found my way in Spring Forest Qigong if Master Lin had not also been cultivating teachers to teach teachers to teach teachers. Spring Forest Qigong Masters Jim Nance, Katrina Tobey, Glenn Tobey, Gadu Doushin, and Jaci Gran have also played a huge role in my development.
Sharon M Day. I met Sharon Day in 2014 during the St. Louis River Nibi (Water) Walk that she was leading. Sharon is enrolled in the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe and is a part of their Grand Medicine Society called the M’dewin. She has been leading extended ceremonies for the water, called Nibi Walks, since 2011. She has walked over 10,000 river miles. I’ve joined her on 10 of those walks and have become deeply involved in communications and fundraising for all things Nibi Walk. I also served on the curatorial team for an art exhibit about Nibi Walks in 2021.
Sharon’s leadership is based in commitment to fulfilling the Council of Seven Fires prophesy that human kind must evolve into a new people grounded in spirituality. This commitment is behind the generous way she teaches and leads the ceremonies. It is what drew me to her. The walks immerse me in learning how to be in a community based in sharing and mutual support, breaking down my inner silo of individualism. While I don’t teach or lead water walking – that is not mine to do – my experience has profoundly shaped how I show up in every other practice I teach. I want to make my water family proud!
Ilia Delio. Ilia is a Franciscan Sister with doctorates in both science and religion. We met very briefly when she spoke in Saint Paul in 2015 and I facilitated an embodied counterpoint to her brilliant lectures. Unlike the other teachers listed above, she might sort of remember me, but basically we don’t know each other. Nonetheless, she has been a huge inspiration because she is able to use Christian language to talk about science, evolution, and the story of the cosmos. She opened the door that has stopped me from abandoning the Christian tradition I was raised in.
Christianity is part of my lineage and I’m committed to both restoring and transforming this spiritual lineage into a blessing for the future. Ilia’s definition of a Christian inspires me (from the Unbearable Wholeness of Being): “One who is connected through the heart to the whole of life, attuned to the deeper intelligence of nature, and called forth irresistibly by the Spirit to express creatively their gifts in the evolution of self and the world.” Ilia’s writing is super dense and I’ve found it helpful to branch out to more keepers of the wisdom within the Christian tradition, including Valentin Tomberg (admittedly even more dense), Cynthia Bourgealut (still pretty heady), and Richard Rohr.
Joanna Macy, Ph.D and scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking and deep ecology. The framework she created for personal and social change – The Work That Reconnects – was one of my first anchors, even though I have never met her. She created the term the Great Turning to describe the shift from the Industrial Growth Society to a life-sustaining civilization. Michael Bischoff introduced me to Joanna Macy’s work when I was just out of college. Her work has become part of the foundational fabric of who I am and created a context for how I sought out the other teachers I’ve named above. I now directly engage with her work less, but feel like I am working towards different aspects of the Great Turning with each of my teachers. There is a rare free opportunity to learn from Joanna coming soon.
Now how about you? Who have been your important teachers?