Berkana Blog

Play, Connection and Resilience

by Erin Maile O'Keefe on December 29, 2011


A Community is Greater Than the Sum of its People

As we lived our passion for teaching, our mission became bigger than the two of us. It was clear that we needed to teach teachers in order to affect greater change. At first it was easier to teach the forms and more challenging to teach the principles of inclusion, connection, co-authorship and empathy—the pillars of our work. Now the latter things are all I want to talk about. As our network of teachers grew, I wanted our co-authorship model of facilitation to be the foundation of our organization. This is easier said than done. I recognized in myself and others that we tend to enter groups with ingrained roles—thinker, do-er, leader, follower, objector, etc. This is something I seek to free participants from when designing play activities. Having spent time in arts organizations and on boards, I noticed common hierarchal dynamics that employ imbalanced roles. I was tired of my own dynamic in a group and found myself looking for some kind of “map” that would lead groups to share responsibility and act more like effective, resilient networks.

In 2008, I attended a workshop called “Permaculture and Building Community Resilience” hosted by a local Vermont farm and Mark Morey, an Art of Mentoring facilitator. It was here that I found the map I was looking for. Based on the investigations of the Art of Mentoring community, lessons from many indigenous cultures were distilled into an eight-direction medicine wheel that reflected all of the aspects needed to form a healthy and effective organization, society or cycle. Most valuable about this map is its basis in nature and limitless application. In CircusYoga it has helped us to grow into a dynamic network of life-long learners serving many different kinds of communities around the world.

Open-Source Play

I love the Berkana value “We trust life’s capacity to create order without control.” In transformative play, we free up our codified thinking and surrender to the moment. The space between us somehow leads. Like in Push Sticks, it is in our connection that we spark new conversations. One person may lead the conversation at first, then the roles reverse. And if both people commit fully, you can lose yourself in the limitless possibilities of play. This is where neither person is in control, connection thrives, and greater capacity and brilliance is expressed. In essence, our practice of CircusYoga is simply a kinesthetic laboratory for playing with ideas and relationships. How can we open our relationships to allow in play as a vehicle for deep connection?

“Play is the exultation of the possible.”
—Martin Buber, Philosopher

Comments (4)

  1. Mjsattinger on December 29, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Your sharing elicited an unexpected reaction from me, weeping. My daughter has been engaging in various non-traditional yoga forms in the last couple of years and while I’ve maintained an interest in hearing what she is immersed in, not until reading your blog just now have I recognized the power and potentiality of what you are offering ! I want to thank you for your creative engaging and sharing with others. Perhaps one day I will find the courage to engage in Circus Yoga ! Namaste, Martha

    • Erin Maile O'Keefe on January 5, 2012 at 9:44 pm

      Dear Martha,
      Thank you. I’m so glad that my story landed in you, helping to shape your reflections on your daughter’s practice. I sense that INCLUSION is at the root of your moving reaction. Of course, Yoga takes many forms, but in its essence it excludes no one. I have found in most situations, I am, in fact, the one that excludes me. So, I continue to hold the question “how can I create a space and practice that supports anyone to feel included?” Sometimes this takes a bit of trickery—moving fast enough or with complexity of focus—so the typical self-excluding messages don’t come into play. I believe we all want connection. And I want to provide a direct experience of it. I hope you will muster up the courage and join us some day soon! Thanks, again.
      Erin Maile

  2. Lynda Meeder on December 30, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    I encourage any one who feels a connection to what Erin wrote in this article to find a way to do a Circus Yoga Event. The experience is a way to experience joyful transformation.