We would like to share a recent interview that Sandra Pribanic, a 2007 CIL graduate, recently held with us. Sandra’s probing questions gave us pause to reflect on our over 30-year relationship with CIL and with one another. Sandra, who lives in Toronto, will share this interview as part of her organizing a CIL program there. Please pass this on to anyone you know who might be interested in joining the Toronto program, and, as well, to anyone who may be interested in CIL in Woodstock, New York.
And to all, wishes for a year of inner and world peace.
Alexis and Judith
Interview with Alexis and Judith
1. How did CIL start and what made you start it?
I loved doing my PhD, but it was Humanistic Psychology that generated my heartfelt desire to help people move through times of distress into their personal growth. Wanting more knowledge, I found first Al Lowen and then John Pierrakos and their models of deep body work. While I was teaching with John, Judith and I connected. She and I had an immediate rapport as perennial students who loved and still love to read, study and teach, and as women who could teach and inspire one another. Through her, I learned imaginal work, which is the way I prefer to work with dreams to this day.
By the early 80’s, after leading several groups together in the study of object relations, we knew we wanted to work together and teach in our own learning environment. And so, we began to develop a three year curriculum starting with what is known about very early infant and childhood development and integrating that personal foundation with spiritual and transpersonal development. Our intention is always to bring integration, aliveness and wholeness for ourselves as teachers and to our students. The general template of our integrative curriculum has remained in place through all these years although topics have evolved each year as new research and ideas emerge, particularly in the area of neuroscience. For example, we have been teaching the work of Daniel Stern and Ken Wilber since CIL’s inception and have added the work of Dan Siegel, Allen Schore and Pema Chodron.
My doctoral dissertation, ‘Psychotherapy as Paths of Being’ addressed how, when we enter psychotherapy, we are not only entering a path of healing but also a path of how to understand and be in the world. This is true not only when we are immersed in a psychotherapy journey, but it is also true when we enter upon a professional enrichment or training journey.
After earning my PhD, I found my way to the Core Energetic Institute. I had been inclined to enter a Jungian therapy but because my body was speaking, I found my way into a more body based psychotherapy. I guess there are no accidents, since, aside from grounding in my body and facing the trauma that lived there, I met Alexis who had come to the Institute several years before me and was already a teacher there. I smile remembering: boy, she was good! And still is! I don’t want to repeat what Alexis has already shared, except to echo that we found in one another a quality of excitement, even wonder, for the study of Winnicott and the British and American object relations people. Don’t forget, this was the early 80’s and these people were not yet in the forefront. And so, there we were, out on our own, in long periods of study, discussing, bringing together, synthesizing, making our own personal and professional meaning of it all; and we are still doing that. In the late 80’s, I found my way to Jerusalem to study Waking Dream Therapy with Collette Muscat and that opened a door into my personal healing home.
I still recall the day that CIL was officially born: We were sitting on the dock at a friend’s beautiful lake, our feet dangling in the water, having a discussion, maybe about Winnicott or Wilbur and, then a long silence, each of us in some kind of reverie. And when we looked up, we had both returned with the same thought: why don’t we begin our own institute. And we did.
2. What do you believe to be something that the CIL program offers to students that is uniquely valuable?
We offer the interweaving of experiential learning and theoretical ideas across the spectrum of consciousness. We know that the inner spark within each person wants to grow and develop through the life cycle. When studying a theory, we apply it to each person, to their life situation and their clients. This is true whether we are talking about Winnicott’s ‘there is no such thing as a baby’ or the multigenerational work of Pesso or Hellinger. All of our learning circles involve the spiritual: every teaching is held in meditation, breath, mindful awareness. While our teachings are psychologically oriented, they are always infused with a sense of the sacred, with reverence for the I-Thou relationship and all of life.
We use many ideas and techniques that have been developed throughout the history of psychotherapy: insights from Freud, empathy from Rogers, injunctions from the systems thinkers, imaginal and spiritual work from Jung and others, body work from many sources, structures from family therapy, mindfulness from Buddhism, as well as current information from neuroscience. However, we have developed our own process which we call the Practice of Presence, a synthesis of empathic immersion with the Other while staying true to our own sense of self and what is needed and wanted in this particular moment.
I recall how, when we were forming CIL, I had a rabbi in treatment with me. I asked him, “What is the meaning of havannah, translated from the Hebrew as ‘intention’?” “Oh, havannah is everything. Let me give you an example: when a rabbi wants to pray with his people, he first goes into a room to pray that he should be able to pray, that he should manifest his deepest heart’s desire, his intention.” I was very moved by this and after sharing it with Alexis, we decided that we wanted our institute to carry that spirit, that vision of deep intentionality. We have remained devoted to hearing from our students, both in their spoken words and in the unspoken field of resonance what of their heart’s desires they want to unfold in their CIL experience. In this way, I see the foundation of our program as the Practice of Presence and I treasure when I see it live and breathe between us in our learning circles, pulsating like a group heart. The Practice of Presence focuses on repairing the inevitable breeches in the I-Thou field bringing light to shadow. This foundation of deep personal process creates a unique living -learning community of trust, intimacy and safety in each of the three-year cycles.
3. What do you each wish for every student of CIL to carry with them upon completion of the program?
Our intention is for each person who participates in CIL to leave with increasing access to their own unique grounded and centered highest calling. We know from feedback from our students that CIL enriches their lives on so many levels, from being more intimately connected to themselves and others and to their heart’s desire as well as to having a more grounded professional identity.
Alexis and I ask that the final requirement for graduation be for each student to present a project in which they give expression to their individual integration of their CIL experience with their personal and professional lives. It is truly an inspiration to witness the incredible diversity of what CIL has meant to each of our students. From paintings to pottery to poetry to scholarly papers, every project bears the fruit of each CIL three-year journey. It is my hope that each person who has learned with us carries the knowing that they can create themselves and their world from their deepest essence.
4. What has been the most rewarding experience you have had being a teacher/leader of CIL?
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching CIL is my working relationship with Judith. We share so many theoretical areas like body-work, mindfulness, object relation and neuroscience. Our personal predilections move us to present this material differently. Judith’s gift is the imaginal world while I am called to look at the internalized family by creating an out-picturing of what has been internalized. I love to synthesize and pass along exciting complicated concepts in meaningful and digestible form.
Another rewarding experience is how different each learning circle is and how each has its own particular aliveness, stumbling blocks, missteps and transformations. I am fascinated by this continuous unfolding of both the individual and the group; whenever someone understands an old story in a different way, I feel enormous gratitude for the process itself and grateful to be part of it.
First comes the reward of teaching and growing myself and CIL with Alexis. Her clarity of mind and gift for conveying psychological theory inspire me. As Alexis has mentioned, we each have our distinct theoretical and temperamental predilections. Sometimes, this challenges us to the Practice of Presence with one another and thus keeps us human. Our distinct differences also become a strong message to our students: there is no one way, don’t do your life or work my way, be true to unfolding your own selfhood. This message communicated by our authenticrelationship is deeply rewarding for me. Second, my deepest rewards in relation to our students come from witnessing the embodied healing that arises out of the mysterious and sacred spaces of dreamtime.
4. What are you passionate about?
I am ever passionate about learning and growing, experiencing emerging authenticity starting with myself. I am a perennial student, loving the discovery of a new book on neuroscience or Buddhist inspiration. As I age, it is increasingly important for me to be generative, to both learn and to give back. I love to translate and integrate what I read and experience in my therapy office into useful tools for people in any walk of life.
I am passionate about so many things, how shall I count them?
In my work and in my life, I am passionate about uncovering and nourishing the healing sparks of light with which we create our lives. I am passionate about writing and am working on a manuscript about my own personal journey of healing trauma using dreams and imagery. I am passionate about friendship and learning and practicing presence and gratitude. I am passionate about aging with dignity and grace. And about doing my bit of healing for our world to move from vengeance toward reverance.
5. Outside of CIL and your own practice, what are your favorite activities and hobbies?
I love the old fashioned habits of walking, novel reading, cooking and gardening. I don’t grow veggies as they are too difficult under the oak trees that surround our home, so I grow shade loving flowers and support my local farmer’s market. All of my personal relationships are very important to me: husband, kids, deep friendship-and this is where I love to spend time-particularly around a table.
I love to see a good movie on the big screen. I love to read and write poems, and reading a good mystery novel after teaching is great. Hiking is a joy when my knees are not acting up and sitting under a tree with a sketch- pad is great too. I love to talk over a leisurely cup of coffee with friends with my dog Bella listening beside me.