People & Partners Archives - Whidbey Institute

The Magic of Saying Yes: An interview with Bethany Bylsma

Tender Wild is coming up October 18 through 20 at the Whidbey Institute. This workshop is described as a chance to explore the wild parts of writing, the tender stories that must be told, and ways to engage yourself and others in writing practices that bring life back. To understand more about the opportunity, I connected with facilitator Bethany Bylsma. Here’s our conversation. —Marnie Jackson

Learn more about the program and register here.



Marnie: What do you hope a participant will get out of this program?

Bethany: I hope participants in this writing retreat will collect much more than word counts on a page by the end of our weekend. Really Tyler and I want to create a place for creativity to flourish. Yes, there will be writing . . . but we hope those who join us will get to know the land of the Whidbey Institute, we hope they will walk, and listen, and tell stories to themselves and to each other. We want great rest and rejuvenation to be a piece of the process as well. It is a retreat about being well, with ourselves, with our stories, and with each other.

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September 9, 2019

Getting connected: Cynthia Price on Mindful Awareness Body-Oriented Therapy

This December, the Whidbey Institute will welcome a five-day intensive on Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy (MABT), hosted by Cynthia Price, Elizabeth Chaison, and Carla Wiechman of the Center for Mindful Body Awareness (CMBA). I connected with Cynthia, CMBA Director, about the program last week. Here’s that conversation. —Marnie Jackson


Marnie: Who is your audience for this program?

Cynthia: Our audience is primarily therapists who want more strategies to promote clients’ capacity to attend to their somatic experience. We typically have both bodyworkers who are interested in working more in the emotional realm and mental health therapists who are interested in working more in the somatic realm. We often have people come who are dually trained, both in mental health and in somatically-based work, and are looking for a structured approach that helps them bring these realms together. MABT is focused on developing interoceptive awareness, or awareness of internal body sensory experience—physical and emotional. Being familiar or experienced with mindfulness and the development of internal presence is important for learning MABT, as it is a mindfulness-based approach. 


What style of teaching can participants can expect? 

We’ll spend the majority of the program time experientially learning the different components of the MABT approach, practicing in dyads. The program also includes didactic elements, Q & A, and discussion relative to what comes up during experiential practice. 

There will be three instructors at this course as it is critical to provide a lot of individual support in the learning process. Carla and Elizabeth have been teaching with me for many years, and have also worked with me on multiple research studies. Together we’re very experienced in delivering this approach with people from all walks of life, including people with serious and co-occurring mental and physical health issues. 


What’s the ultimate purpose of this intensive, beyond providing education to the practitioners who participate? 

This is ultimately in service to clients. Through MABT, we teach people to bring their awareness into their bodies, which some people can do very easily but which many cannot. We help the therapist develop the ability to promote presence and mindful attention to the body in their clients.

For the client, whether they’re in therapy with a body worker, a mental health provider, or a physical therapist, we hope that MABT skills will give them a new set of tools in their toolbox—tools that let them become more aware of how they feel on the inside.

For the client, whether they’re in therapy with a body worker, a mental health provider, or a physical therapist, we hope that MABT skills will give them a new set of tools in their toolbox—tools that let them become more aware of how they feel on the inside.

Sensory awareness, emotional awareness, and an understanding of the link between emotions and other physical sensations can be highly useful for people dealing with chronic discomfort or pain. They can also be deeply supportive of symptom management for clients dealing with chronic health issues.

In my research, we find that people in recovery from sexual and physical abuse and substance use are often very disconnected from their bodies. MABT is highly supportive for their emotion regulation, and for helping people reduce their risk for substance use relapse. These skills can also reduce the likelihood of someone being triggered around trauma histories. This approach can change the way people understand their bodies and develop new ways of relating to themselves and to others, as they become more aware and embodied. 

Ideally there’s a next step outcome, besides the obvious training of practitioners to facilitate clients’ learning these skills for enhanced awareness and better self-care. This next step is to move this kind of work more into the mainstream. I’m interested in ways that this work can be integrated into more conventional health services and the services provided on a larger institutional level. As an example, MABT research in service to people with substance use disorders has been implemented within conventional community programs, primarily serving low-income and underserved populations. We are currently implementing a NIH-funded clinical trial of MABT in primary care settings for individuals receiving medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. These studies indicate the feasibility and benefits of MABT as an integral component of care.

MABT can be helpful for preventive care—promoting stress reduction, self-care, and symptom management—as well as for treatment of multiple physical and mental health conditions. At this point, this type of approach is only accessible for people with more resources who can afford to see a private practitioner. We hope to develop programs that can be instituted and integrated into care so that they are accessible for anyone. 


Why did you choose the Whidbey Institute as a home for this intensive?

There is tremendous power in bringing attention into the body and staying with sensation; clients develop a sense of freedom and empowerment. The enhanced ability to stay in brings a sense of peace.

This will be our second Intensive at the Whidbey Institute. We’re coming back because of the supportive environment that the Whidbey Institute provides —the beautiful space and wonderful food. We appreciate how easy it is to be there. The context supports intense work as well as replenishment through relaxed time together over meals, during walks on the land, and in the quiet of the woods. We also appreciate the graceful, experienced staff who hold space for these experiences. 


Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about? 

I’d like to share some comments from my co-facilitator, Elizabeth. She said, “through learning MABT, I gained new skills for guiding clients into their bodies and staying with sensation in a rich and in-depth way—and how to meld a somatic focus with emotionally-based work. MABT supports clients in forming a connection with their inner world. Through this process, clients develop tools for self-care based on their own journey of self-discovery. . . . Clients learn mindfulness skills and develop body awareness practices that they can incorporate into their daily lives and that are specific to their individual needs. The hands-on approach of MABT helps to deepen clients’ physical and emotional relationship to self, facilitating a safe way to explore. There is tremendous power in bringing attention into the body and staying with sensation; clients develop a sense of freedom and empowerment. The enhanced ability to stay in brings a sense of peace.”

August 27, 2019

Grounded Gratitude: An interview with volunteer Sarah Goettsch

I  recently connected with Sarah Goettsch, a Whidbey Institute program alumni and volunteer who comes up from Seattle whenever she gets the chance. Here’s our conversation. —Marnie Jackson


What got you interested in volunteering with the Whidbey Institute?

I came to know the Whidbey Institute through Powers of Leadership (POL) in 2017. That came at a time of pretty big upheaval in my life, personally and professionally. Looking back, I see that I knew at the time, “this is the place that’s going to help rework who I am becoming.” I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have the grounding of the Whidbey Institute and Powers of Leadership at that time in my life. One of the things I’ve found about the Whidbey Institute is that all of you—staff, participants, volunteers—are filled with generosity and care. It’s a certain way of being in the world that allows individuals to shine. I’ve felt so cared for, and without a lot of funds it made sense to consider volunteering as a way to stay involved. Read More →

August 7, 2019

A practice in presence: an interview with Mindfulness Northwest’s Karen Schwisow

A practice in presence

An interview with Mindfulness Northwest’s Karen Schwisow, by Marnie Jackson

Better health. A brighter outlook. Greater life balance. Boosted immunity. Relief from pain, stress, and anxiety. Practitioners of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) experience these changes and more—and since 1979, the science supporting MBSR for health and wellbeing has stacked up. This August, Mindfulness Northwest is offering a 5-day intensive program at the Whidbey Institute to bring MBSR practices to beginners and experts alike. Read More →

June 4, 2019

Meet the Team: Spotlight on Sommer

Sommer Bowlin started working with us in October 2018 with a role on our housekeeping team. She’s a major part of the team keeping our lodging and gathering spaces clean, fresh, and inviting.

In addition to her work with the Whidbey Institute, Sommer loves spending time with family. She’s a homemaker with a six-year old stepson, Reece, and a partner, Jason. They have two dogs and a cat, and enjoy baking, cooking, board games, and movies. In addition to work and family time, she keeps life in balance with beach walks, art, and activism on behalf of our southern resident orcas, a critically endangered population. Read More →

March 30, 2019

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Mira Steinbrecher

Mira Steinbrecher and I first met at a Timber Framers Guild conference in Port Townsend. We came together again through our work with the Whidbey Institute five years ago, and we recently sat together to talk about her long history with the Whidbey Institute. Here’s that conversation. —Marnie Jackson


When Mira Steinbrecher arrives on this land, she feels the same spirit that captured her attention decades ago when she first came to a potluck and sauna. “The land keeps drawing me here,” she said. “I still remember the first time I drove down this driveway. I got out of the car and thought, ‘whoa—where was the veil I crossed?’” Read More →

March 30, 2019

Body, Soul, and Spirit: A nourishing conversation with Debra Baker and Victoria Santos

From May 17 to 19, Victoria Santos and Debra Baker will be at the Whidbey Institute hosting Nourishment: A Gathering for Women of Color. I recently had the opportunity to speak with them about the program and their vision for what women will experience here this spring. —Marnie Jackson


Victoria Santos, on how this program came into being:

I have been thinking of women of color . . . the amount of work we’re doing and have done in this society, and the amount of stress we’re carrying. I realized how important it is for women of color to come together and engage in nourishing practices. This is life-giving, and we really need to make the time to do it.

Reflecting on this idea, I asked myself, “who do I know, personally, who is living into the principles that need to be amplified right now in this culture, for all people but especially for women of color?” That’s when I thought of Debra. She really embodies a way of being that we need right now—for all of us. We ended up having dinner and I approached her about the idea. She said yes!


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January 30, 2019

Aligning Stars: Meet Meg Gluckman

Meg joined our team in November, with administrative and logistic roles including being a primary point of contact for program leaders from the moment they decide to bring their work here to the moment they arrive on site. In that window between, Meg helps work out all the kinks to make sure their experiences here are as wonderful as possible. Additionally, she keeps an eye on the facilities and helps monitor and schedule maintenance, upkeep, and outsourced repairs. Read More →

December 21, 2018

Everything is Thriving: Meet Breeze Gabrielson

Breeze Gabrielson joined the Whidbey Institute team as our Westgarden Intern this summer, and in that role she helps with the huge job of maintaining and improving the Westgarden. Breeze is currently focused on learning more about medicinal plants alongside Westgarden Steward Jules LeDrew, with the goal of incorporating the healing power of plants into her own life in order to help others do the same. Read More →

December 19, 2018

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Tom Buxton

Tom and Terra in 2006

Tom Buxton has worn many hats in his 20 years of volunteerism with the Whidbey Institute. Landscaper, carpenter, board member, treasurer—you name it, he’s done it. It’s a story that begins in the fall of 1998, when Thomas Berry Hall was just getting finished.  Read More →

November 15, 2018