Author Archives: dorothycharles@gmail.com

Death and Portlandia

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Last weekend, I participated in the first official meeting of Tribal Ground’s Full Circle project, which is a series of workshops relating to the process of death and dying. The weekend was called “No one is getting out of here alive: choices in living dying” and we spent it contemplating, as a community, who we want to be our health care proxies if we’re not conscious as well as several other issues to help us prepare for our own deaths. Thinking about these questions was challenging, to say the least, and it was helpful to do it in a group led by Chris Price, Steve Waldrip, and Gail Stewart who have tools for making hard choices, have extensive knowledge about what this process looks like and what I might expect, and deliver those with such compassion and care. And humor. That’s very important.

Sitting in that group reminded me of sitting with my friend, Natalie, as she faced her own dying process. Natalie (a.k.a. Natalia Rae, a.k.a. Nat) passed away at the age of 42 on July 21, 2008. She was a dear friend, a fellow Gazebo teacher, and a long time GAP student. When she died, she very generously gifted money to Chris Price, my friend and business partner at Tribal Ground Circle, in order to support the dream of having a place for Tribal Ground to land outside of Esalen. That money has helped us pay for some of the business expenses that allow us to function as we do and continue the legacy of gestalt education in the tradition of Dick Price.

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For me, turning 60 last year has been a big milestone. I’ve made many changes and have had the chance to reflect on recent years and what I want for the future. How do I want to balance work and living in this next phase of my life? What trips do I want to take? What experiences, relationships and conversations do I want to have? In thinking about Natalie, and about my own mortality, I find myself over and over again coming back to feeling grateful for so many things — for being here at Tribal Ground Circle, for all that I have in my life, and for the ways that Natalie and so many others have helped us continue this legacy. I hope and like to think that she would be happy with the work we are doing here, and I wish she were able to be here to participate and contribute in the many ways she did while she was still with us.

One gratifying new development in my life has been helping to create a gestalt community in Portland where several long-time students have migrated over the past few years. Christopher and Mick put together a group of awesome people and we got to sit together by the fire in the living room of Jake and Jerilyn’s Portland home. The group was a mixture of some travelers from other areas, some newcomers (including the 9-week-old, Mr. Jack Walsh), and some native Portlanders.

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I was really happy with the work we did together and that we were able to enjoy each other’s company in such a vibrant, artistic, community-minded city. If you happen to visit Portland, my recommendation – visit Forest Hill Park and Voodoo Doughnuts (their motto is “good things come in pink boxes” and beware you may want to partake in too much of that good thing). I’m looking forward to going back and have worked out three dates next year for weekend workshops in Portland. (Feb. 6-8, July 10-12, and Sept. 25-27). I’m excited to support my Portland-based students in continuing Relational Gestalt Practice, to stay connected with them, and to see Jack Walsh on a regular basis.

In spite of the challenges and uncertainty of life, I feel hopeful for what’s to come.

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Remembering Eric Erickson

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August 19th is my birthday. And this year, marked the one year anniversary of Eric Erickson’s death. Eric and I were students of Esalen co-founder, Dick Price, and together we taught the work that we had learned from him. We spent years teaching together and separately, learning from each others’ different styles. He had a gift for putting the theory in simple and eloquent terms that helped people connect their thinking mind to their feeling core. He used to say that the best part of him came forward when he was working with someone on the seat and I so enjoyed seeing him in his element. I’d imagined that we would go on working together and his absence at Esalen impacted me profoundly. I am grateful for what I’ve learned from him and will continue to use it in my own work for years to come.

Thank you to Nieves Morlan Ortiz and Nicole Nelch for capturing on video some of his thoughts about the work.

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Completing the Circle: Taking Gestalt to Asia

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Completing the Circle : Taking Gestalt to Asia is the title of Paula Bottome’s book, a diary that describes a series of her workshops as she navigates the excitement and challenges of cross-cultural encounters.

Like Dick Price, Paula was a student of Fritz Perls at Esalen in the 60’s, and like Dick, she was drawn to the similarities in Gestalt and Buddhism and Taoism.

I have been traveling to Asia for the past fifteen years or so, primarily to Japan, teaching workshops at gestalt centers, centers that a handful of Paula’s students began in the 1980’s. Her desire to bring gestalt to Asia and have it take root and be fed by it’s roots in these cultures succeeded .

As I approach each trip I am curious about the issues that we will work with and how the cultural differences will show up, and each time I am struck by our commonality and the simplicity of what is brought forth—”we” statement alert— we want to be happy and avoid suffering, we want our loved ones to be safe and well, we want work that has meaning and supports us, we want to be held in grieving what is past and to have company in our hopes for the future. We want to recover from trauma and lead fulfilling lives. We want to work for the good of the planet and help to create sustainable relationships and systems. http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/07/07/buddhist-economics-schumacher/

Gestalt is a tool that can help us inquire into our personal and cultural conditioning and to explore whether or not what we have adopted is in our best interest—if it is— to honor it and if not, to have the courage to begin again, re-creating and completing our own  circles.IMG_3524 Read the rest of this entry

Road Trip to Big Sur

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Early this week, I drove down to Big Sur for the record launch of the Range of Light Wilderness to support some Big Sur artists I care about. Having watched these guys work on their art for years, it felt so nice to be present as they celebrated. I was appreciating how the avenues to express creativity are so much broader now and more versatile given the increased accessibility of production technology. Fletcher can have his own label and a local band can make a record without making a deal with a giant corporation or getting a big city agent. It was also touching to see how many other people came out to support them as well and to have a chance to visit the Henry Miller Library, which is one of my favorite venues, as it has yet to be Post Ranchified.

ImageI saw so many people who I knew in many different ways and felt connected to a larger social web – some who I knew through group, some through being at Esalen, and some through living up on Partington Ridge. It felt good to be with my current Aptos community, to visit our Big Sur roots, enjoy a Nepenthe Ambrosia burger, listen to the music under the redwoods, and see Fletcher hawk records on the back deck of the library.

It was also a pleasure to come home, because living here on the property in Aptos and working with Chris is a long-held dream. With the support of Maria and Paul and many other people, we get to make this dream a reality. I so value the opportunity to have a longer lasting community, one that isn’t as transient as a retreat center where people come for a weekend or 5 days or even 28. It’s inspiring to see people come to group week after week, month after month, and bring their real-life day-to-day feelings and experiences. I’ve watched friendships form and healing happen through community and connection.

I’m a believer in the idea that it’s never too late to begin to heal trauma, no matter how large or small, no matter how ingrained in her soul a person believes it to be, nor is it too late to develop relationships that help us celebrate what’s good in our lives. Science is with me on this – “the epigenome is life’s Etch A Sketch: Shake it hard enough, and you can wipe clean the family curse.” And even more than just family curses, it’s also about healing from routine misattunement inside the family, as well as in other relationships. I read a fabulous article recently on Atlantic.com about the importance of parents reinforcing children’s pleasant, expansive attempts to communicate so that they don’t learn that their efforts will only be taken seriously if they are distressed.

I appreciate the conclusion of the article and I’m extrapolating that looking at traumatic experiences isn’t about blaming parents but rather how those experiences are keeping us from participating fully in our lives. Being in group can be about being part of nourishing environments that help to build the skills that support us in living fulfilling lives filled with love, work, and friends. Many of you have heard me say that very often what we’re working on in group are the things that should have happened that didn’t happen and the things that happened that shouldn’t have happened. I’ll say it again – it’s not about blaming parents but recognizing what needs healing and providing an environment of support to help people cope with what has happened in the past. I remember my teacher, Dick Price, saying that sometimes what is being explored on the open seat is how what happened in the past prevents us from making use of who and what resources are available in the present. I’m grateful for our community and the opportunity to show up for each other in this inquiry.

I am leaving soon for groups in China and Japan and I’ll be posting along the way….

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Photo Credit: Michal Ingber

 

 

Here goes, I’m blogging…..

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Ok – so I’ve been told I need to be more “techy.” For those of you who know me well, you know this is a bit of a tall order. I love my gadgets as much as the next person, and yes, maybe I don’t always know the shortcuts and secrets or remember to charge them everyday; maybe it’s a challenge to read that tiny text without grabbing my reading glasses or asking the person next to me the dreaded question, “can you read this?”

That said, I’m taking the big step of committing to blog more regularly so I can keep in contact with those I’ve sat with and those who I might sit with in the future.  I might check-in by blog, or tell you about some new developments in the gestalt community in Aptos and beyond. I might write short articles from time to time responding to things online and in current events that have grabbed my attention.  I might write didactically about a topic that’s been coming up frequently in my work, comment on lessons I’ve learned recently, or talk about a person whose work inspires me. Whatever the subject matter, my hope is to connect with you on a more regular basis, keep you up to date on what I’m working on and what’s currently sparking my interest, and give you a little gestalt infusion here and there should you be craving it between groups.

If there’s a topic that you’ve been curious about or have been encountering in your life more regularly, feel free to message me or comment on a future post and I will try to address it in an upcoming entry.  If you have a response to something I’ve written about, feel free to comment and begin a dialogue with me or with others who might be interested in discussing the topic. Our discussions don’t have to end when the circle closes – that’s the beauty of the internet, right? I’m learning…Image

Tribal Ground Circle finds a home!

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Tribal Ground Circle finds a home!

We have wonderful news to share! Through the generosity of Paul Matthews and Maria Cardamone Matthews, we are establishing an educational and congregational organization in the evolving lineage of Richard Price.

Maria and Paul have provided us a meeting place dedicated to gestalt practice, in the hills above Aptos, California. Their support offers us long-term stability to firmly establish and disseminate this work and sustain ourselves in the process.

Early in the new year, you will receive details of our upcoming programs. From congregational afternoons to long-term groups, we intend to offer a variety of opportunities for the study and development of gestalt practice.

So many of us benefited from the teaching of Richard Price. What we learned from him continues to serve us and evolve through us. It is our privilege and deep desire to nurture the exploration he began.

Your participation is key to the success of this new venture. We hope that you will take your place in this circle as we transplant our practice to new ground.

With excitement and deep gratitude,

Christine Price, Dorothy Charles,
Steve Harper & Steve Waldrip

The Power of Vulnerability

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Below is a video of Brene Brown giving a presentation at Ted Talks, discussing shame and vulnerability, as only she can. I hope its useful to you.

I admire Brene a great deal.  She has very simple and compelling ways of talking about both shame and vulnerability.  Exploring these emotions is central to healing and developing a sense of belonging.   In a Gestalt group of kind and helpful people, our most shameful experiences, can be held with love and compassion which can lead to growth and healing. The compassion and understanding of one person is healing; that compassion multiplied by the number of group members is much greater than the sum of the parts.

The issue of shame comes up so often in  group.  We all have it, its hard to tolerate the feeling, and finding safe places to express and explore it is not easy.  Brene Brown’s work on shame has had a powerful effect on how I’ve come to work with, and discuss this often debilitating emotion.