Unlocking Joy and Building Community at Cordata Elementary School

Houttuynia cordataPictured: Houttuynia cordata

The word Cordata comes from the Latin adjective meaning ‘heart-shaped’. This heart love comes through at Cordata Elementary where staff are dedicated to creating a safe, loving, supportive environment for their kids.

I recently had the privilege of facilitating an improv workshop with approximately 40 teachers at Cordata Elementary here in Bellingham. The principal, Analisa Ficklin, was a participant in a multi-session improv class that I taught. Last year I told her about the book, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, Body, and the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk. (I have written about the book a few times on this blog.) She devoured it, and she started researching a group she had read about in the book – Urban Improv – a boston-based program that has impacted over 75,000 students in 125 schools in the Boston area.

I am more and more convinced that improv is a powerful tool for so many realms, not least of which are the children in our communities. I asked Analisa to respond to some questions after my improv workshop to give you a sense of her school, their vision, why she invited me to do improv with the teachers, and what impact it has had.

Here’s Analisa in her own words. Continue reading “Unlocking Joy and Building Community at Cordata Elementary School”

Addressing Homelessness through Presence and Play

Hans - painted face


Hans Erchinger-Davis, executive director of Lighthouse Mission Ministries

The Lighthouse Mission serves people experiencing homelessness in Bellingham. And they have been at it for nearly a century.

On February 14 – YES Valentine’s Day, AND also Ash Wednesday – I had the privilege of leading 22 staff from the Lighthouse Mission in a 90-minute improv workshop. It seemed a perfect day – remembering that besides the red hearts and romance, love is also about suffering and enduring. And it’s about Presence and Play.

Hans and I sat down afterwords on the window ledge in the park building at Maritime Heritage Park, so I could hear his thoughts about the improv workshop, what it was like for he and his staff, and why cultivating presence and experiencing Play are vital.

What was the improv workshop like for you?

Hans: It felt very freeing, because we got to play together, and also learn some real life application. Especially in the work we do – working with people experiencing homelessness — there is a lot of relational give-and-take that goes on between staff and guests, among the staff, and its really fantastic that your workshop requires us to tune in to each other… to really hear and see what’s happening and be able to respond in a way that is helpful. There’s a real power in people feeling like others are attentive to their presence – what they are saying, and who they are. Continue reading “Addressing Homelessness through Presence and Play”

let’s be friends


This morning I was reflecting on how Work and Play are often separated. And lo and behold a story spilled forth. : )

Once upon a time there was a boy named Dirk. He grew and became a man and every day he would go to the office and work. He dreaded these long hours, but he had bills to pay, and so he put his head down and just got through it. He was not happy in the least.

Meanwhile… Continue reading “let’s be friends”

the sweet spot

blue yellow bell curve

Picture a bell curve. It’s a continuum with Forcing on one end and Avoiding on the other. In the middle is the sweet spot. It’s not a compromise of forcing and avoiding, but a different entity altogether.

If I’m in an improv scene and i’m trying to force one story into being, and my scene partner is attempting to force another scene, it does not work. (Actually it can get quite ugly.)

Alternatively, if we avoid stepping into the scene because we are thinking, “What if it doesn’t turn out like I want it to,” then the scene can be stagnant because you are missing ripe opportunities to show up.

This is true in life as well. When we force something into being – a relationship, a project, anything really – it may seem to be working out in the short term, but often – due to the forcing – you are pretending that things are ripe when they really are not.

And when we avoid things in life, for instance a crucial conversation* at work or your personal life, things fester. And in the short term things seem okay, but they are not and the longer it festers the harder it is to get out of avoidance. Continue reading “the sweet spot”

In less than an hour: Improv with Skagit Valley College Faculty

If there was a pill that would relieve worry, promote bonding, and catalyze you coming out of your shell would you take it? I’m writing as someone who has most of his life been more anxious than the average person.  I know that drugs can be a help to some folks. AND, there’s another way.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to lead an improv workshop with my friend Stella at Skagit Valley College for ten participants. These faculty work in the Basic Education department providing critical education for those who are attending college for the first time. Some are immigrant people learning English; some are coming out of an incarcerated life; some have faced other difficulties that have created educational gaps for them. For many of these students just coming on a campus is big step in an unfamiliar world. So it’s not just the content they are learning, but a new way of being in the world. Continue reading “In less than an hour: Improv with Skagit Valley College Faculty”

Yes, I’m diving in, And I’m not alone


If ever there were a moment to Underthink It, it’s on New Year’s Day here at Lake Padden in Bellingham. It’s the annual Polar Bear Dip. And I decided yesterday that I would do it.

Here’s how it works: at noon on the dot, a bunch of people charge in the water, yelling and howling, dive in, and yell and howl some more as they make it back to solid ground. It’s quite exhilarating! And yes, it’s insane. I won’t argue with you on that point.

Yes, today the water temp was Continue reading “Yes, I’m diving in, And I’m not alone”

Healing from Trauma (Seven!)

If you don’t know how to say NO your YESSES don’t mean a thing” – Dr. Gabor Mate

Yesterday I had the privilege of going to a day-long seminar taught by Dr. Gabor Mate. The topic was ”When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease connection.” (He has written a book with the title of the same name). When I first read an article by Mate about seven years ago I was skeptical; now I find his logic and research difficult to deny.

When trauma occurs in a person’s life – especially early childhood trauma — it results in: Continue reading “Healing from Trauma (Seven!)”