Thursday, August 25, 2016

Holding onto Dreams: Swimming with the Snakes

SWIMMING WITH THE SNAKES.  I dreamed I was swimming with two "good" snakes--companions. Then flying out of the water was this giant water moccasin with its mouth wide open. It was angry, and I was discombulated and yes, frightened. What does this dream mean? (c) art by Hallelujah Truth
Hallelujah for the darkness of night and sleep! Hallelujah for the visual quality of dreams! Hallelujah for our ability to rest, to dream, to swim with the snakes, and to mediate on their relevance! Hallelujah for our subconscious and conscious minds!

"Can water moccasins swim under water and bite you?"  was one of the questions that came up this past summer of 2016 in Albany, Georgia, at Jim Fowler's home and animal park. I was there with my Chiboogamoo in attendance with the Atlanta's Explorer's Club. A friend of Jim's was wrangling a rattlesnake he had found the day before and detained to show those of us who were visiting Jim's home for the afternoon and evening supper. The snake was released later, but it left a big impression on my psyche, for the snake has been one of my dream totems since 1988 when I was turning 30 years old.

"Anytime a snake shows up as a totem, you can expect death and rebirth to occur in some are of your life." Animal-Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small. 

When I was turning 30, my LIFE as I knew it was changing cataclysmically. Previously having earned my living as a writer, editor, and professional graduate student. Suddenly, I grew verbally silent. Then my thoughts started erupting in visual imagery--beginning with snakes! In my dreams, snakes the size of pine trees cluttered the pathways before me. Clearly, symbolic "death and rebirth" were taking place in my life! 

HOLDING ONTO THE DREAM. I like to explore what my dreams mean. They are a part of me and hold wisdom for my life. Dreams speak a universal language and our lives are enlarged by one another's dreamings. How does my snake dream expand your thoughts about your own life? (c) art by Hallelujah Truth
Instead of being grossed out, horrified, or intimidated by the appearance of the snake in my dream life, I embraced HER. Researching snake symbolism and significance in other cultures, I determined I was fortunate to have "Snake Medicine" in my life!

And, now, turning 58 years old (not far from 60), Snake Medicine is reasserting itself in my dreams. What am I to make of my "Swimming with the Snakes"? Yes, like most of us, I am always in the process of HEALING. And birthdays offer opportunities to review and assess where we are, what healing has taken place and what additional healing needs to occur.  

For now, thanks to SNAKE MEDICINE, I am going to play around with the following:

1. Releasing old perceptions no longer serving me
2. Opening my eyes to SEE anew
3. Continuing to practice trusting my feelings/intuitions
4. Looking more closely and directly into my own heart and that of others   
5. Being attentive to my excellent since of smell (Using aromatherapy to heal? Or discriminating if things "smell right" around me) 
TRANSFORMATION. Snake Medicine came to me in my dreams. I open myself to new keener sight. I release old perceptions. Thank you Dear Readers to be present with me here both by viewing my artwork and reading my meditations. (c)art by Hallelujah Truth
That's Coffee with Hallelujah! I invite you to SOUL BLOG with me and share your experience with dreams, understanding, and art making. What do you know about SNAKE MEDICINE?
Atlanta Explorer's Club, Albany, Georgia

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Big thanks to my Chiboogamoo whose sense of adventure takes us to places like Jim Fowler's home in Albany, Georgia, and other places where people talk about water moccasins dropping into boats and places dinosaurs have roamed. Thanks to Donna Mazzola, who I met at the InterPlay Leader's Gathering in Racine, Wisconsin, and who is leading an online class on playing with dreams. As a person who has working ongoingly with my dreams since I was in my early twenties, I appreciate having my community widen through friendship with those who study their dreams. As a visual artist (since my 30s), I have worked with my dreams in isolation other than when my blogging and art work bring me into discussion with others. Gratitude to Cynthia Winton-Henry who supports so many of us in finding ways to connect with one another.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

THE EMBODIMENT OF AMERICAN ENGLISH: Increasing Fluency Through Physical Activities

written by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth
BE POWERFUL WITH YOUR BODY LANGUAGE. The first team presentation assignment was to  develop a short PowerPoint Presentation to persuade/convince their audience of the power of body language. This team's audience was the professional international business person.
Our nonverbals govern how other people think and feel about us.  
Amy Cuddy, Harvard Social Psychologist

Physicality is basic
PhilPorter, co-founder InterPlay

“Shake one hand. Shake the other hand. Shake your foot. Shake your other foot. Shake what you have been sitting on….”

With these instructions from InterPlay’s warm up activity, I begin each Advanced Oral Communications class with business professionals from Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Colombia. As they shake out their bodies facing one another standing in a circle freed from the confines of their desks, I observe the stress disappearing from their faces and smiles appearing.

“I’m not used to moving,” one participant from Korea told me. “I’ve been sitting at a desk for seven years.” Ranging in age from their mid-twenties to forty-something, these newly arrived internationals experiment with “embodying English” using the improvisational activities from InterPlay to enhance their language skills before starting a two-year MBA at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School this fall.
PLAYING WITH EXPANDING THEIR VERBAL AND PHYSICAL RANGE. Here's the international group of professional business participants exuberantly displaying the high-end range of enthusiasm at the conclusion of four weeks of intensive English language instruction. Surrounding me in the center, they are graciously sporting t-shirts from the Georgia Tech Language Institute, my place of employment.
With more than 20 years of teaching experience at the Georgia Tech Language Institute, I know that advanced-level language students like these business professionals require a new and radical approach to speaking English if they are going to gain the kind of proficiency that enables them to compete for speaking opportunities in-and-out-of class and successfully communicate what they want. 

I aim for students to not only understand how English rhythm and intonation is different from their respective languages but also to produce that English musicality when they speak. That goal is not easily achieved. Why?

The first obstacle involves classroom protocol. I confront traditional expectations of the roles teacher and students typically play. It is assumed that my job is to be the “sage on the stage” instructing while the students are “beings in a cage” ensconced in desks learning. Instead, my first act in the classroom is to liberate students from their seats and to engage them in being “sages” who energetically manage their communications through physical actions and in relationship with other participants. My role is that of a “coach,” setting up exercises, delivering instructions, and championing my language students’ experimentation with “embodied” musical English communication.
MATCHING FOCUS WITH GESTURES.  In this exercise, students practice "embodying" English by walking around the room reading a speech out loud while using their hands to emphasize key words and modulating the pitch of their voices.
Another challenge is to invite students to “behave” in ways incongruent with their cultural norms. “I experienced shame,” one Japanese professional wrote in his daily reflection after the first class. My goal is to offer choices and strategies for successful communications and not to coerce students into uncomfortable behaviors. Responding in writing to their daily reflections and orally to the shared “noticings” or observations with partners in class, I offer rationales behind the activities and acceptance of however they wish to respond to my directions.
INTERRUPTING THE EXPERT. In this energizing activity, the three listeners are charged with the responsibility of interrupting the speaker with questions as frequently as they can. The speaker, in turn, responds graciously, learning how to manage the disruption in the flow of his speech. Experiencing both the challenge of breaking into someone else's talk and  the discomfort of being interrupted really stretches participants English language coping skills.
Gradually, through incremental steps, as trust is established, I observe more than subtle transformations in students. By the end of our 36 hours together, many students, like the Japanese one mentioned before, have enthusiastically embraced the invitation to “play” around with movement, to take risks, and to make mistakes.
RISK TAKING VOLUNTEER. Standing up and improvising in another language is filled with risk taking and mistake making. Volunteering to do that in front of others takes courage. Here one student at the end of the class accepts the challenge of speaking on "two sides" of an issue, changing his opinion as his classmates clap their hands.
Still another hurdle that makes it difficult for internationals to embody and display the musicality of English is how their languages differ in rhythm and intonation. English is a time-based language and their languages--Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish--are syllable-based languages. A syllable-based language stresses every syllable, establishing an even rhythmic pattern of “beats” across a sentence. Therefore, these speakers tend to stress each word with equal time and force across a sentence. The production of these “strong beats” makes it difficult for the native speaker’s ear to hear the “message” and sometimes conveys a strong emotion that was not intended. 
PHYSICALLY EXPERIENCING ENGLISH. Students clap in groups on the strongest beat in each phrase or thought group to use their bodies to express the superlative pitch, length, and volume.
Physicality, or the “embodiment” of English, offers students a concrete way to experience this significant difference in rhythm or musicality between English and their languages. Bobbing their heads with a slight nod or extending their hands out at waist level serves in part as ways to produce strong beats (words that carry the message). In contrast, the omission of movement assists in the manufacture of weak beats (words that while serving a grammatical function are not needed to be heard clearly for the communication to succeed).

Obviously, communicating successfully in another language requires more than just an intellectual or brainy understanding of it. To learn a language is to learn a culture, I often tell my students. I ask them, “How is that accomplished?”

I offer my answer to this question, explaining my brand of language instruction that I have cultivated using the improvisational system of InterPlay:

Speakers must “athleticize” or embody this new language, this American English.  I encourage them to step into the American culture with a physicality, suggesting that they create an American personality, a new way of behaving, that can be accessed as needed. How else can they succeed in manufacturing syllables with increased length, a higher pitch, and louder volume to produce a strong beat? And coordinate that production of syllables with the opposite qualities that are shorter in time, lower in pitch, and softer in volume?

Language learners’ bodies are significant resources for English language production. Standing up and leaving the confines of a desk, allow students to walk around the room, to connect socially with other language learners, stand with a partner or in a group to talk, use a hand or both hands to emphasize words, or make facial expressions to communicate emotions.
FACIAL EXPRESSIONS CHANGE WHEN SPEAKING ENGLISH. To speak another language is to alter the way you appear. When I witness students (like the one here) playing around with expanding their expressive skills, changing the way they smile or raise a brow in excitement or use broader hand movements, I am moved with awe.
Our bodies are wonderful instruments that allow us to inhabit and play with the language. Amy Cuddy says in her 2012 TED talk, “Your Body Shapes Who You Are” that “Our bodies change our minds, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes.” Powerful stuff!

On the last day of the Advanced Oral Communications course, I asked students to reflect on their four-week experience of “embodying” English. Using improvisational forms from InterPlay, they did “short tellings” and “moved” with a variety of different partners.  The concluding activity invited them to summarize their experiences in three words. Here are a few of their three word summaries:




New Start

As a certified InterPlay leader, I know that everyone can do InterPlay but that not everyone is an InterPlayer. During this intensive four-week program, the majority of students embraced the challenge of gaining American English fluency and embodying it through improvisational activities.

However, there were the students who struggled with this kinesthetic language instruction methodology because it did not suit their learning styles or personalities. I tried to be clear about my acceptance of their choices and to direct them to experimenting with expanding their range verbally and physically as much as they were willing.

Now, I know for certain and have evidence that while everyone can embody American English not everyone wants to be an embodied American English speaker. This realization is a good thing to know.

It takes a village to develop a methodology.  I am fortunate to have numerous people impact how I instruct American English fluency. First, I want to thank Linda Grant for her instructional book, Well Said: Pronunciation for Clear Communication. As a Georgia Tech LanguageInstitute Instructor, I used her book numerous times in our highest level oral skills class. Her exercises challenged my own physicality when speaking English and transformed the way I understand my mother tongue. Huge thanks to Lesly Fredman, who assisted me in developing an Improv ESL course for the advanced level oral skills class the GT LI and being a guest lecturer at different times while instructed this course. More recently, I owe my deepest gratitude to InterPlay co-founders, Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry, for the improvisational system of InterPlay which fosters authenticity through movement, story-telling, voice, and shape and stillness. InterPlay forms and tools allow me to instruct American English language fluency with grace, ease, and joy. I can now offer my students improvisational practices to develop and embody the strategies for communicating in English effectively while respecting their choices as to how much they want to physically engage and playfully communicate. My instructional mission? To assist internationals in becoming empowered embodied confident communicators in English while having fun.

One student’s three-word summary of our time together was this response (I love how he modified the rules!):

The class
And felt
And became

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


I AM A JOYOUS PILGRIM (Image #1). Hallelujah Life. Hallelujah Joy. (Art (c)by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
"The way to live a JOYOUS life is to CREATE. In the act of CREATION, we are BEING, MOVING, and DISCOVERING. Living life in this manner is challenging, hence the need to practice doing it with the languorous ease of a cat napping, suspending judgment and working from our dreams!"  

-Hallelujah Truth (December 2011), "Joy Equals Living with Ease of a Cat Napping"
(Art by Hallelujah Truth, 2009)
Dear fellow Pilgrims, I have been chasing JOY most of my life, as you probably have too! In 2009, I began a focused pilgrimage to experience that JOY and to have more of it. From some where deep in myself Hallelujah erupted and merged with "Ruth Truth," a more didactic and serious person, resulting in HALLELUJAH TRUTH.

In 2009, with her presence I began this blog, "Coffee With Hallelujah," and established for me the high necessity of having FUN and EASE. CREATE what was mine to discover and express. 

I gave birth to my motto for my DAILY CREATIVE PRACTICE: 

If you have time for a cup of coffee (or a hot beverage), you have time to CREATE.   

WHAT IS UNIQUE TO ME? I asked myself. What is mine to create each day that only I can say, draw, paint, dance, and love? It is a question I have cherished and, yes, struggled with in the past 7 years of Hallelujahing every morning! 

In order to sustain my way of CREATIVE BEING based in "the languorous ease of a cat napping," I needed community, a tribe comprised of other JOYOUS PILGRIMS committed to sharing their creative pulse. Those who would appreciate suspending judgment about their work and find PLEASURE in the ACT of making it!

Here on COFFEE WITH HALLELUJAH, the years of blogging have connected me with other SOUL PILGRIMS from around the globe. Then three years ago, I established the Facebook Group, "The Daily Creative Practice," to engage with others seeking to share their creative acts in a warm supportive online community. My FB world is now outrageously populated!!! as of March (2016) close to 1,100 people are members on the DCP. I invite you to join us if you already haven't.

A wonderful reminder of my commitment to JOY came to me at the 2016 New Year's InterPlay Untensive in North Carolina with Tom Henderson and Ginny Going. The word that randomly chose me from words written on pieces of paper being distributed around the room was JOY! Hallelujah JOY!

The photo above shows my word, JOY, beside the spirit animal I chose to support me during 2016. Months have passed since I began this blog post on JOY in January in the first few days of 2016. Upon my return from the InterPlay New Year's Untensive, I confronted challenges in my JOYFUL PILGRIMAGE. They were the usual suspects: health issues that needed to be resolved, relationships that needed healing, and meaningful employment that would be accompanied with a life sustaining wage/salary. At first, I floundered. I did not operate from JOY. We all go through periods of darkness. BIBO (Breathe-in-Breathe-out). 

Slowly, I have eased my way into finding solutions to my challenges. And best of all? Based on nothing, I am making a choice to BE IN ACTION (thanks Artist Conference Network and InterPlay), I am presently practicing unlocking and embodying my JOY using my CREATIVITY. For it is when I am in action that I experience a satisfying way of being on this beautiful Earth.

UNLOCKING AND EMBODYING JOY. I am deep in my spiritual journey and yet I feel so new and renewed. What does it mean to unlock and embody joy? How does one savor grace? How does the making of things connect me to the Mystery I seek? And really? Can having fun bring me in closer connection with the Unknown? --Hallelujah Truth (February 2015), "Unlocking and Embodying Joy: Savoring Grace, Making Things and Having Fun"

That's Coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me. What is your word for 2016? How is it serving you right now?  Are you unlocking and embodying your word?