Thursday, 20 December 2012

Walking on earth

"People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth."
—  Thich Nhat Hanh

How DO we want to spend our lives walking on this earth?  We have a lot of power in our voices and choices.  How we live our lives matters.  Our stories matter. We are constantly given choices.  And these, in broad strokes, boil down to 2 main leanings:  Love or Fear.

Which leads neatly on to guns. I have never been a part of a school massacre per se and yet I realise that it is time to speak up from my experience. This week, in light of recent events, I've been contemplating a great deal about guns, as many people have. I often think about guns. This is partly due to the fact that there are extremely few guns where I live at the moment in Southwest England. The Southwest happens to be not only an incredibly low crime area, but also in a country where gun control is taken very seriously and where the police, by and large, do not carry weapons. I find this incredibly civilized.

I have also been thinking about guns due to the fact that I grew up in an altogether opposite sort of place. I realise that this combination of contrasting experiences give me a unique and perhaps clearer perspective than most.  So rather than fear that this is not important enough or let the old habit of shame that I have often felt when sharing about my childhood experiences stop me, I will choose love and share my thoughts.

In the USA people with guns currently shoot 100,000 every year and kill 30,000 of them. I am often asked, as an ex-pat, to explain this.  I cannot. It does not strike me as civilized…but more like terrorism.

Guns have had a huge impact on shaping me personally. When people ask me where I grew up, especially here in Europe, I usually give them the shorthand version and say that I grew up in a "war zone" where I spent ten of my most formative years from 3 years old. If I am in the USA, I might say that I grew up in the place known as the “armpit” of America which most people know refers to this place. The average life expectancy for a man in Gary, Indiana is 20. When we moved from Gary at last, we were proud survivors of a place with the second highest murder and rape rate in the US for a city of its size at the time. There was not a family amongst my schoolmates that hadn't been touched by violence of some sort. And this in spite of the fact that WE were the privileged few who were lucky enough to go to a posh private Catholic school. Apparently bullets know no socio-economic level or religion.

Like many families in the Midwest, when deer hunting season came, my father and brothers went up north to hunt. If it was a good year, they brought back a deer strapped to the car and we feasted on venison for an entire year. I have never held a gun apart from an occasional shot from my brothers BB gun/airgun when I was little. I was more interested in painting and creating things and shooting at targets and tin cans. But I can appreciate that we benefited gastronomically from the common cull every year.

And this time of year ALWAYS makes me think of guns.  I cannot help it. The holidays are always a bit funny for me. The day after Christmas, when I was 11 years old, my 13-year-old brother was shot by a man who was “protecting” his property. My brother was trespassing. He walked too close while taking a shortcut between the houses. This older man shot first and asked questions later. The only problem was that he meant to shoot OVER my brothers head, but somehow failed in his intention.  Tommy was shot in the temple.

My brother died a few days later on New Year's Eve after an interminable week for my tender-hearted 11 year old self. I can still remember it so clearly.  I never knew my body was capable of crying so many tears nor could produce so much snot.  My red-nosed face must have been quite a site. My younger brother and I were taken under the wing of trusted friends of the family for that whole week so my parents could tend to my brother and what must have been unbearable decisions.

I remember much of those days in fine detail, as you do when you have a big life-altering shock.  The warm comforting slippers that our hosts gifted me and my little brother with, the handkerchief I was offered so my nose would feel some relief from all the harsh tissues, the unfamiliar foods and over warm house, and the interminable waiting for news about my brother the “genius” who was going to invent the next big cure for cancer.

Regarding the shooter, I do not recall his name. I never met him nor saw him.  I DO recall being afraid of him "coming to get me" as if this would really happen…and I dreamt of him doing so for years after. (To a young child, this is a common response when exposed to violence.) But most of all, I remember the impact of the way in which my parents dealt with what to do with this man who killed their son.  I can recall not so much the words, but the process and the unbelievable access to compassion that they found for this man.  This was a pivotal moment for all of us.

They said things like:

“He’s afraid. He's afraid like every other person who lives in this town. He was protecting his elder disabled wife.”

“He thought he was dealing with a full-grown adult.  Tommy was 6 feet tall and had a remarkably full beard for a nearly 14-year-old. He never intended to kill anyone. He certainly never intended to kill a child.”

“The killer’s been devastated ever since the events occurred. The neighbors told me that he's been drowning his sorrows in drink and is completely and utterly filled with remorse and guilt.”

And this was what really sealed the deal for me:
“He's so guilt ridden that he is already in jail in himself! If we send him to prison, it will be as if he’s imprisoned twice over, and then his poor wife will lose her carer.”

My remarkable ordinary parents chose love. We were protected from the gore of legal, police and medical. We were, on the other hand, empowered and included in the loving act of creating a rite of passage for our brother, our  family and our community. We were fully included in the conversations around how to deal with the shooter and the preparations for and execution of the funeral.

There were many gifts that came from this process, too many to name. But amongst the top contenders were:
• learning that at a very young age anyone can die. And each time since, I've used the death of friends and relatives as a wake-up call. Am I choosing to be a force of love or fear in my life?
even in the midst of intense grief and “injustice” love can be accessed and used to keep hearts open. I am completely convinced that because of the way my parents handled this man with so much compassion, their marriage survived and our family was made closer.  (Statistically speaking, parents who lose child have  high incidence of divorce.) 
• And lastly guns do not save lives.

In my very biased but educated opinion I would like to say that it's completely and utterly ridiculous to call for armed guards, armed teachers and increased weaponry. When I hear this call in order to protect the students on the off chance that another under-supported troubled young man will go on a shooting spree, I am tempted to despair. But that's not what I'm interested in. I know that guns do not stop violence. And here we are again with choices.  And these choices,  Like the choices made by my parents, really matter right now.

But here are some things that ARE useful from Brené Brown, Ph.D.
in her response to this incident that I feel are well worth passing on:

Politics is easier than grief.To skip over feeling and rush to policy-making dehumanizes the process and weakens policy.

Blame is simply the discharging of pain and discomfort.It has nothing to do with accountability. Accountability requires long, difficult, respectful conversations. Blame fizzles out with rage, where accountability is in for the long haul.
Self-righteousness is a sign of fear and uncertainty.It has nothing to do with activism or change. The loudest and most vitriolic among us are often the most afraid. As Harriet Lerner says, “Change requires listening with the same level of passion that we feel when we speak.”
You can't shame a nation into changing any more than you can shame a person into changing.Shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, violent behaviors than it is to be the cure. We need courage, vulnerability, hard work, empathy, integrity (and a little grace wouldn't hurt). [i]

And I would add that this is about US not THEM. We are all one.  If someone walking this earth amongst us is hurting badly, we really need to address this. We all benefit from this.  We are all at choice. And I would love to really see us start addressing systemic causes like fear, mental health, education and lack of connection/community support.

We need to speak up from our deep presence and invite leaders and policies that will take into account the connectedness, and the non-dual and consider the causes of our malaise. I pray we make choices based on compassion and love and that will take into account deep listening and the long term. And our choice to choose love over fear is always available as we take one step after the other and walk here on earth together.

I would love to hear your stories.

[i] ‘our stories matter because we matter: thoughts on the power of our voices’ Blog posted December 17, 2012

Friday, 14 December 2012

Patience has never been my biggest virtue

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.
-Linda Hogan

Most of the time we are simply not patient enough. And, even a few moments of pause and presence can transform everything about an hour, a whole day, a lifetime. In the midst of the busyness that is the year end and holiday preparations, it is so easy to try and squeeze in another job (or 6) before dinner needs to be prepared.

And today, as I paused to take the time to write these words, I was reminded of an artist whose work inspired me. She made a shift one day in her practice where she decided, essentially, to stop saying, “ when I have time I will make art”. She decided that if she could take 5 minutes a day and make one “block of art", then by the end of a few months she would have something substantial. As you may well imagine, this practice opened up a whole new world for her. And this little practice that she did to stay sane and to keep her creative practice going ended up transforming  her level of happiness, her joy at doing the practical things that needed to be done and ultimately her livelihood.  she has published many books on creative practice that  fateful day when she decided to be patient enough, quiet enough, the pay attention to the story in her heart.

So this day, I would like to especially honour the small moments where we are patient enough, and quiet enough to be the space through which our hearts can express things that matter.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Rely on the Kindness (and Co-Creative Curiosity) of Strangers

There is masses of research in the wonderful field of Psychology of Happiness, Neurobiology and more [1] that proves something we all knew all along deep in our hearts: that when we give to others we are much happier.  What’s more, when we are part of a community and connect to others, we are also happier. Put another way, giving to others helps us connect with people and meets one of our most essential human needs - relatedness[i].

I love this!  I know this in my own life… and I am passionate about how being aware of this can increasingly influence our lives and decisions about how we go about things.

Oprah Winfrey recently shared about Biologists Jennifer D. Calkins, PhD, and Jennifer M. Gee, PhD, who raised $4,873 to study quails in Mexico. Scott Wilson pulled in nearly $1 million to design a wristband that turns the iPod Nano into a watch—and his creation is now sold in Apple stores. Musician Jenny Owen Youngs came up with $38,543 to record an album. Each of these projects owes thanks to Kickstarter, a Web site for creative types.  What's Kickstarter? - Well, it allows you to post detailed proposals online and solicit pledges to make them happen. International artist, film-maker and director of the Passionate Presence Center for Creative Expression,  Katheryn Trenshaw is definitely such a "creative type" and now her In Your Own Skin Project is doing just this.

The Kickstarter fundraising campaign is currently live to build the co-creative support that happiness is partly made of, and raise $20,000 for a community art project, enabling the In Your Own Skin documentary short to be produced. This will be the first milestone in a far-reaching social art project.

The fabulous online platform provides you the opportunity to discover the power of creative projects like In Your Own Skin. For as little as $5 you can become a part of this. In exchange you can receive rewards, such as signed posters, signed copies of books illustrated by Katheryn, DVDs, photo shoots with the artist, or even your own private In Your Own Skin documentary screening (with up to 20 friends) in a Devon eco-venue complete with sauna and views of Dartmoor with the film-maker.

This is where the community and social nature of In Your Own Skin comes in. Check out the Kickstarter Link at and then join in the excitement and help build momentum for this Social Art by sharing this link with your friends and networks. You and your friends can even become involved by simply sharing the link because you love it and want to share the wealth and happiness it spreads; or support with a financial pledge in exchange for fine rewards to allow the next stage to happen. Cool huh?

Together, with the kindness and curiosity of strangers, we can take In Your Own Skin forward and provide the opportunity for more people to experience the power of revealing hidden truths. We're all potentially part of an incredible, international art exhibit with the power to bring happiness and freedom to so many others.

So if you want to feel good, do well!

FYI: Live events coming up:

EdenRise nr Totnes:               
Autumn: 7 Oct, 4 Nov, 2 Dec, and then mainly last Sundays in 
2013: Jan 27, Mar 3 & 31, Apr 28, May 26, and June 30.

IN YOUR OWN SKIN: A multimedia social art project inviting authenticity and connecting us all by asking people around the world a simple question: What is true of you but not obvious to strangers? What would you share?

GREAT NEWS!!! We have lift off.  The IN YOUR OWN SKIN Kickstarter* campaign is officially live!  Please share on your Facebook page, Twitter, E-mail and telegram with your peeps? Thanks loads!

*Kickstarter is a collaborative funding platform for creative projects in return for rewards.
Sunday Evening Passionate Presence Practice Group - Freedom of Being  EdenRise nr Totnes: Autumn: 7 Oct, 4 Nov, 2 Dec, then mainly last Sundays in 2013: Jan 27, Mar 3 & 31, Apr 28, May 26, June 30.
Oct 18 In Your Own Skin FUNdraiser at Totnes Civic Hall w/ Chris Paradox, Madrum, Jo Hardy & more Totnes Civic 7.30
Please join the IYOS community on FB and share the wealth with your friends. And please support this touching dynamic artful series of portraits in art and a documentary to come to the world. 

Katheryn Trenshaw
+ 44 (0) 1803 863552 

[1] More information for you on Happiness
(Thanks to the wonderful Action for Happiness organization)

Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness[ii]. It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, and improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too[iii].

Kindness towards others is the glue that connects individual happiness with wider community and societal wellbeing. Giving to others helps us connect with people and meets one of our basic human needs - relatedness[iv].

Kindness and caring also seem to be contagious. When we see someone do something kind or thoughtful, or we are on the receiving end of kindness, it inspires us to be kinder ourselves[v][vi]. In this way, kindness spreads from one person to the next, influencing the behavior of people who never saw the original act. Kindness really is the key to creating a happier, more trusting local community[vii].

[i]  Algoe, S. B., & Haidt, J. (2009). Witnessing excellence in action: the 'other-praising' emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(2), 105-127.

[ii] Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It's Good to Be Good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(2), 66-77.

[iii] Midlarsky, E. (1991). Helping as coping. Prosocial Behavior: Review of Personality and Social Psychology, 12, 238-264

[iv] Algoe, S. B., & Haidt, J. (2009). Witnessing excellence in action: the 'other-praising' emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(2), 105-127.

[v] Algoe, S. B., & Haidt, J. (2009). Witnessing excellence in action: the 'other-praising' emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(2), 105-127.

[vi] Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness. NY: Penguin

[vii] Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2010). Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(12), 5334-5338.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Already Home

Unpredictable as life itself, the practice of listening is one of the most mysterious, luminous, and challenging art forms on earth.
-Mark Nepo

As an artist, I have what many would consider an eccentric flair for living. I have been a practicing professional artist since I was 16 (but my mother says it all began when I got ahold of the opposable thumb.) I have lived in many countries and cultures. I have been torn between many pulls in opposite directions frequently: Creative Chaos, Moving Stillness, Empty Fullness. And, within this unpredictable wonderful paradox dance, I have also been passionate about finding “home” most of my life.

One day, in the midst of suffering from trying so hard to understand it all and feeling horribly displaced, I had an epiphany. In my seeking, I was like a woman trying to catch the wind with a butterfly net and eventually, I sat down and experienced the wind. This is a little bit like my journey home. I became more and more interested in simply being here. What a relief! I was listening. I was home.

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles
no matter how far, but instead by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very humble & arduous & joyful 
where we arrive at the ground at our feet and learn to be at home.

In addition to being a visual artist, I have been a movement practitioner since my early 20s. My movement work began in the USA, where I am from, with one of Gabrielle Roth very 1st student teachers named Lia. This 5 rhythms practice via Gabrielle Roth and Lia opened the door to this deep internal place called “home.” Authentic movement, contact improvisational dance, Qi Gong all form a base of my movement practice and foundation. These combined with my work in dynamic creative expression and art therapy. Thank goodness for such wise choices we make in our youth.

Life has been a powerful teacher too. Just over a decade ago I had the blessing of my life seeming to fall apart. I had 3 huge bereavements within a year: I ended a long term marriage, then lost a child, and then also a lover. I was forced, “kicking and screaming” at first, to stop and take stock. And as luck would have it this is when my practices of art and movement really came into their own.  I could even go so far as to say that these practices saved my life. I found a new teacher who met me in a whole new depth of presence way with whom I still work. I completely stopped everything I was doing and took space.  I moved to France for a term with my young son to a village of 300 in the Ariege, got clear, got lonely, got connect, skied a lot, had great fun in the snow with my son, learned much, got my French back into shape, and got happy deep inside. I hit the restart button for my life.

Such a big dark night of the soul has been a great University like no other.  It has had a huge influence on me, my life, and my work. And also my base of Movement, Art, Psychology: These seemingly disparate strands of my life interests have given me not only an incredibly interesting life but also a strong foundation from which to move and teach.

Throughout all of this I never stopped exploring with a mad passion and respect this place of belonging and connection. I love the power in revealing the concealed/shadow* aspects and find our greatest treasures. The passion and presence that live deep inside us.

I’ve come to realize I don’t trust people who hide their shadows. Within those shadows lies our connection, the place we touch each other, the portal into intimacy. All of us are imperfect, so there’s no point judging each other or ourselves. 
In the understanding of this truth lies our perfection.
-Dr. Lissa Rankin

Consciousness dances with paradox. Imagination and creativity unlock juiciness and sexuality. I am an expert at failing. And, I have learned that by relaxing into our true nature we are free to fail, to be imperfect and flawed and real and human. In that freedom is, paradoxically, our magnificence. I love this and am so moved by this paradox.  The more I show my flaws, the more beautiful I am.  Go figure!  But it is my experience over and over. Just like the Wabi Sabi practices in Japan, when something is not truly beautiful unless it shows a slight flaw, a bit of rust or some asymmetry, we are more beautiful as we are, from the inside out.

Through this work my life has truly been turned inside out. This is not always been easy. And ultimately I find the Movement of Being work that I am part of combined with creative expression to be the most efficient and effective way of healing, and living fully and with greatest freedom. There is a natural intelligence that we all hold and long to live from.  There is deep passion bubbling up in each of us in a very unique way. When I relax more and more into being who I really am, it is all very simple. When I listen, there is a full emptiness and I am already home.

*Like in my In Your Own Skin Project: a multimedia social art project revealing hidden personal truths from around the world to spread authenticity and happiness. What would you share?
Find out more here.

** Wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.

For more info on one-to-one sessions, courses, art and events:

Monday, 18 June 2012

Happiness is: a walk to work

I walked to work today. Because I work at home this might seem a bit strange. But because I find the fresh air and exercise so beneficial, I try and walk to work as many days a week as I can. Today I was especially aware of the simple small things that can happen on a short 30 monute walk that set my day up in such a satisfied way. Feeling simple gratitude makes all the difference.

The trick of course is to notice. Today, I happened to notice. 

Here are 7 things that happened on the way to work:

1.) I walked across the field with high grass overlooking the local castle. Today I took a moment to enjoy this view on my way up that hill. Delicious. 

2.) So many flowers and plants are bursting out of their coiled state in and among the hedgerows along the road and path I take. This outrageous and passionate display of nature warms my heart and reminds me that I too am a part of this fertile display of natural expression.

2.) At the top of the path where I walk, I can see an incredible view of the natural outcrop that is the wonder of Hay Tor. Today it was clear enough to see for many miles up to this vast area of Dartmoor. The breadth and depth of this view keeps me connected to the bigger picture and the spaciousness within my life.

3.) I had a brief chat with the farmer on an all-terrain motorcycle. He was standing at a T junction and I wondered if his bike was out of order. He assured me he was fine and that this was the 2nd time today he had to get his bullock back after he escaped into neighboring field. Cows and sheep are a feature of Devon that I still find charming and a bit odd. I am definitely not in the urban “Kansas” I grew up in anymore!

4.) I admired the array of about 40 solar panels in a new land development that is partly buried in a hillside. I have no idea whether this is domestic or other, but I'm very curious and interested. I'm also delighted that whatever they do they're using the south facing angle of their great location.

5.) I got to throw a tennis ball for a beautiful 5-year-old golden lab “puppy” as I meandered down the footpath. She was very proud to be walking her human. 

6.) I chatted briefly with a man preparing his drain at the base of his driveway. As I approached I simply heard some swearing from someone a bit frustrated. When asked if he was okay, he smiled broadly showed me everything was great and invited me to enjoy the sunshine as he was.

7.) As I crossed before a line of bungalows, I found a heart-shaped leaf wanted to come home with me and remind me of the simple things… Like noticing things on this walk… to carry into my day-to-day work, play and parenting.

And with this I am like to and refreshed to begin my day starting with this simple blog.

 I feel incredibly grateful for the simple things that come my way. They are happening all the time if I notice. Enjoy the simple things in your day-to-day.


Katheryn Trenshaw, director Passionate Presence Center, is a teacher, consultant, artist and writer. If you would like to explore more about her passionate presence work or other courses, the next Sunday evening course is indefinite on July 1 from 7 to 9:30 PM. The next residential weekend is called Coming Home from the Inside Out.  More information at or feel free to join our mailing list for events or Email us.