I Feel I Have Come Home

Dear Heartbeat Family,

I have recently returned from Iona and one of our Pilgrimage Weeks. The island was in its autumnal wildness of beauty. There were days of unspeakable glory in the sun’s lowering light. And there were times, including our pilgrimage walk around the island, when we were showered with that other blessing that Scotland so excels in! Our bodies and souls felt washed.

John Philip Newell on the Iona

John Philip Newell on the Iona

One of the young Heartbeat scholarship recipients said to me, ‘I feel I have come home’. Some of that, of course, was the island itself, always such a sheer gift of blessing. But much of it also was the shape and focus of our community life and study. To enter silence together, as we do at the beginning of the day in the Michael Chapel, is a simple spiritual practice that people are hungering for but haven’t necessarily known how to access. Some of our Iona pilgrims learned for the first time how to take this simple discipline forward in their lives to be rooted more deeply in prayerful awareness. And the teaching sessions, always circling around our threefold vision of Celtic Spirituality – nobility of soul, the sacred earth, and the grounding of vision in compassionate action – more deeply equipped us all to be part of the holy work of transformation.

So many of the pilgrims spoke to me with deep gratitude about our mixture of pilgrimage participants, and especially for the intermingling of generations. This simply would not happen without the financial support that many of you have generously offered the Heartbeat scholarship programme over the years. You need to know just how many young lives you are helping shape and how many older lives are being blessed by relationship across the many boundaries, whether of age or race or class or faith, that have separated us. We need one another.

I came away from Iona with a new sense of urgency. It isn’t necessarily that we need to be ‘busier’ in our work for transformation. Feeling busily driven can speak more of franticness than faithfulness. I wasn’t feeling driven. I was feeling drawn. I believe the time is ripe for the vision we are trying to serve. Whether it is our pilgrimage work, our refugee and interfaith initiatives, or our earth-honouring teachings and School of Celtic Consciousness, Heartbeat has an urgent role to play now. The Spirit is inviting us into greater intentionality about choosing to work together in this Sacred Journey Toward Earth’s Well-Being.

I thank you for being part of this. Please continue to gift Heartbeat’s work with your support.  I urge you forward in the unique role that is yours to play.

With my blessings to you and much gratitude,


John Philip Newell

Report: The Sanctuary Walk for Refugees

Sanctuary Walk for Refugees 2

Recently I wrote to you about the planned Sanctuary Walk for Refugees in Scotland. Well, last weekend we walked with fifty students, faculty and friends of the University of Edinburgh in pilgrimage to an ancient Celtic site of hospitality to support the growing vision of sanctuary for refugees in our university, city, and nation. Importantly we were joined by six young Syrian men who have found new beginnings among us.

One of them, Ibrahim, shared his story with me as we walked together over the great Forth Road Bridge that connects the Lowlands and Highlands of Scotland. He had managed to escape from Syria after being tortured by the Assad regime in Damascus. His path to safety took him over vast stretches of Europe as far as Calais on the west coast of France. But there, because of restrictive British Government immigration policies, he was allowed to travel no further in his hope to join his brother in Scotland. Ibrahim decided to buy diving equipment and bravely entered the cold waters of the English Channel, swimming beneath the surface to a ship bound for England. Successfully clambering on board he was able, in international waters, to claim refugee status. A number of hours later he arrived safely in Dover to be processed officially as an internationally displaced person. As soon as he could, Ibrahim headed for Scotland to join his brother. The night he arrived in Edinburgh was the beginning of Advent. The streets and tree-lined paths of the park beneath the Castle had just been lit for the Christmas season. When he saw such a city of welcoming light he said to himself, ‘This is my place of new beginnings’.

Light at St Bridget's KirkThank God, it has been such a place for Ibrahim. He has found welcome here. He is working hard at his English as well as volunteering with a Scottish charity. The hope is that by next year he will be ready to study at the University.

It is for young people like Ibrahim that we walked in pilgrimage last weekend. The University of Edinburgh is the first Sanctuary University in Scotland, waiving tuition fees for refugees. It has also agreed to match the funds that we raise for the University’s Humanitarian Assistance Fund. So far, through the Sanctuary Walk for Refugees, we have raised over £8000. This means that already there is over £16000 of additional support for the subsistence of refugees during their time of study in Edinburgh. Please help in building this amount even further so that others like Ibrahim may say, ‘This is my place of new beginnings’.

Heartbeat is committed to acts of compassion. Please join us. You can make a gift which is tax-deductible in the United States here (please designate for Refugee Fund) or through the ‘Just Giving’ tab at the University of Edinburgh’s Sanctuary Walk contribution page.

With my gratitude to you and blessings,

John Philip Newell

Co-founder, Heartbeat

(You can also send a check to HEARTBEAT, 5431 NE 20th Ave, Portland, OR, 97211)

Interfaith Northwest Coastal Pilgrimage

Join us on an interfaith walk as a sign of peace in Oregon, USA. Apply by June 29, 2017.

NW Coastal Pilgrimage with Ben Lindwall and Stephanie Escher, Oregon USA

Religion is at the heart of some of the most conflicted places of violence and hatred in our world. Peace between us as nations and the healing of the earth will be served by peace and healing between us as religious traditions.

IMG_3390Our 2017 Northwest Coastal Interfaith Pilgrimage, will consist of 14 people (intergenerational) from many religious traditions and spiritual backgrounds walking 35 miles from Astoria to Arch Cape, Oregon as a sign of peace.

Each day will include various spiritual practices (yoga, salat, or meditation), hearing each other’s stories, and about 10-18 mi/16-29 km of walking. There will also be short periods of time set aside for silence as we walk along the coast.

Application fee:  $10

Standard registration fee: $449 (due upon notification of your acceptance by the selection committee)

 A reference form must be completed by a mentor, teacher, advisor, or religious/spiritual leader as soon as possible.

Scholarships Available!

Scholarships in the amount of $400 are available for those unable to pay the full amount. If applicable, please indicate your need for a scholarship in the application form. Scholarship recipients will be required to pay a $49 registration fee.


Walking 35 miles from Astoria to Arch Cape in Northern Oregon, this pilgrimage will traverse rainforest, sand dunes, and many miles of picturesque beaches. Included in the registration fee and scholarship are guided walking along Oregon’s North Coast, guided contemplative exercises, spiritual accompaniment, meals, lodging, and van shuttle to the coast and back from Portland, OR. Lodging will include yurts, a hostel, and a church community room. Showers are available at each location. Most of the meals will be prepared by the group (gluten free and vegetarian options available upon request).

Our days will begin with morning prayer before settling into a rhythm of sharing meals, holding space for contemplative practice, and intentional group discussion which will focus on exploring our participation in meaningful action towards healing and transformation in the world. Registered participants and scholarship recipients will meet in Portland, OR at 12pm on September 21. A van and trailer shuttle will be provided for ferry to the coast, making some food and supply drops along our route. Our walk will conclude in Arch Cape, OR and we will shuttle back to Portland, OR on September 25, returning around 11:00am. FullSizeRender


photoBen Lindwall lives in Portland, Oregon USA where he and his family experiment with sustainable living inside their tiny home. He has been leading group experiences in various capacities for over a decade. Ben has been mentored by John Philip and Ali Newell since 2011 and is a certified Spiritual Director. He has been the Executive Director at Heartbeat since 2013, working with people from all over the world to advance a vision of healing, transformation, and peace. Coming from an evangelical Christian background and now like many of his generation, Ben considers himself spiritual (and a Christian) without any formal church membership. He and his wife Jen have been married since 2003 and have two young children.

“A pilgrimage is always an opportunity to be re-born. I’ve seen and experienced the impact of leaving behind the safety and comfort of home on a quest for deeper understanding, awareness, and connection. The act of moving our bodies, moving our feet gently upon the earth in unison can be a kind of soul-march. It reminds us of our true identity, our oneness, and creates liminal space to hear and know our calling. In co-leading this pilgrimage I hope to cultivate an environment for each of us to learn and grow.”  -Ben Lindwall

IMG_1973Rev. Stephanie Escher, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, lives in St Paul, MN where she presently serves as a Hospice Chaplain and engages in faith-based ministry on a volunteer basis at Hennepin Ave UMC in Minneapolis. Stephanie is a pastor in the United Methodist Church via a colorful and delightful route as a banker, IT analyst, church choir director, and keyboardist in an all female R&B band in Atlanta. Stephanie has lived in Alaska, Atlanta, Ann Arbor, Boulder, Chicago and Madison, WI. She received her undergrad in Boulder, CO and her master’s degree in Evanston, IL. Stephanie is a Native American and a former pilgrim from the 2015 Camino peace pilgrimage in Spain.

“Heartbeat’s interfaith Camino pilgrimage in 2015 changed my life. It was all about exploring our diverse cultures, sharing our broad spectrum of faith and spiritual foundations, and celebrating our individual journeys as unique human beings and carriers of the divine spark, through the intentional art and practice of both storytelling and storycatching. All the while, we were moving: feet on the earth, sun at our backs, wind swirling about. Talk about embodiment; shared breath with each other and Spirit; a creaturely approach to the nuances of a struggling planet; the integration of the sacred and the profane; and practical approaches to peace and justice and good stewardship of the earth…one step at a time, one connection at a time, one shared meal at a time…and yes, even one blister at a time.”

Expectations and Requirements

  • Bring a water proof rain jacket and pants, as well as any gear needed to complete packing list below.
  • Access to restrooms will be minimal while walking – at times trees, shrubs, and beach grass may be the only available coverage.
  • While usually sunny this time of year, the possibility always exists for high winds and rain. Our group will be expected to walk rain or shine unless dangerous conditions are present.
  • The route consists of approximately 65% beach walking, 30% state park forest trail, and up to 5% roadside walking on scenic Hwy 101.
  • Some of the hiking will enter forested areas with an approximate 1000 ft climb, going up and over Tillamook Head.
  • A couple creek and stream crossings will be necessary.
  • To maximize walking during low tides, some mornings may begin as early as 5:00am.
  • Each participant will be required to sign Heartbeat’s release and indemnification waiver.
  • Each participant will be required to carry up to 3 lbs of group food and supplies in their backpack.
  • Each participant must be able to walk up to 20 miles in a day and must train for a brisk walking pace beforehand with a loaded pack.



Packing list:

*Please be mindful that the packing list includes what you will be wearing (for instance, you will wear one pair of socks and pack two— three total). You may plan to leave some luggage locked up in the trailer to avoid excess carrying on the trail.

Socks (3) light wool for hiking

Sock liner (3) prevents blisters (optional)

Underwear (2) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)

Shorts (1) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)

Pants (1) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)

Shirts (2) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)

Long sleeve shirt (1) lightweight, quick dry (mostly poly/nylon fabric)

Lightweight hiking shoes

Light sandal (like these or these)

Waterproof rain jacket


Moleskin (or other blister treatment)





Laundry detergent

Toothpaste (small tube)

Soap (small all purpose bar for body and hair, if possible)

Water bottle (at least 900ml/32oz)

5 safety pins (for hanging wet laundry – sometimes on your pack while walking)

Plastic plate, bowl, fork, and spoon

Hiking towel (small quick dry)

Toiletries (optional: biodegradable toilet paper)





Pen or pencil

Necessary travel documents if arriving from outside the USA

Camera phone and waterproof container

*sleeping sheet bag liner and blanket (for first and last night’s accommodation)

*Sleeping bag and sleeping pad (for third nigh’s accommodation)

*items will be dropped at a specific site and will note be carried in backpack

Cancellation policy

A full refund is available up to 45 days before the event. After the 45-day deadline, a refund will be available if the spot can be filled.

In case of injury or fatigue

If you are unable to walk with the group for any reason, transportation to the next destination on the itinerary will be arranged at the participant’s expense. If for any reason a participant needs to leave the group, transportation to Portland, OR will be arranged at the participant’s expense. Before registering please have emergency contact and personal medical insurance information available.

Apply Now for a Heartbeat Scholarship

IMG_9696Each year Heartbeat provides several scholarships to make the practice of retreat and pilgrimage accessible to all. Our goal is to deepen an individual’s spiritual journey and to ground, sustain, and enhance their efforts towards healing and transformation in their own unique context. While on pilgrimage, participants learn spiritual practices to cultivate compassion, mindfulness, and foster a spirit of collaborative action. Ideal candidates demonstrate experience and ongoing work towards peacemaking, healing and transformation in the world. Demonstration of financial need is a requirement to receive scholarship funds.

For more information on applying for a Heartbeat scholarship, please see below. To contribute to our Pilgrimage Scholarship Fund, please click here.

Iona Pilgrimage, St Columba Hotel, Isle of Iona, Scotland

IMG_8579 - Version 216-23 September 2017 | Award: $1,140 | Application deadline:  2 April 2017

Application fee: $10

Registration fee for scholarship recipients: $100 (invoiced through PayPal)


Each day on Iona will begin and end with the rhythm of prayer and meditation together, either at the Abbey or elsewhere on the island. John Philip will teach on themes related to the oneness of the human soul and the healing of creation, asking what sacrifices we are to make in our lives as individuals, as nations, and as a species, if we and the world are to be well. Click here for more event information.

This scholarship includes lodging, breakfast, dinner, and program fees. Because of limited availability applicants must be willing to share a room (if applying with a friend or family member, please indicate in the appropriate field on the application).

Instructions: fill out the online form by clicking here and have a letter of reference from a mentor, teacher, or advisor sent to Ben Lindwall (ben@heartbeatjourney.org) by 2 April 2017. A Heartbeat Selection Committee will review all applications and notify successful candidates by 12 April 2017. The funds will then be transferred to the St. Columba Hotel in the recipient’s name, pending the payment of the registration fee.

Additional cost to recipient: travel expenses to get to Iona and lunch each day.

Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico, USA

17-23 July 2017 | Award: $1,015 | Application deadline: 2 April 2016

Application fee: $10

Registration fee for scholarship recipients: $100 (invoiced through PayPal)


One of the most cherished images in the early Celtic Christian world is the memory of John the Beloved leaning against Jesus at the last supper. It was said of him that he thus heard the heartbeat of God. He became a symbol of the practice of listening, listening for the beat of the Sacred deep within ourselves, within one another, and within the body of the earth. This spiritual tradition has many resonances with Native American spirituality and the wisdom of indigenous peoples throughout the world.


In our signature week at Ghost Ranch, we will honor this wisdom through Native ceremony and look to the treasure of Celtic spirituality as a rich resource for transformation in our lives and world today. Our days will consist of prayer at the rising of the sun in Ghost Ranch’s Agape Center courtyard, teaching and sharing in the mornings and evenings, and rest and silence in the afternoons. The program will be led by John Philip and Ali Newell who this year will be deepening and expanding their Celtic teachings, along with the musical talent of David and Winona Poole and the Navajo wisdom of Alta Begay-Piechowski and Terrell Piechowski. They are all good friends of Ghost Ranch and have worked together creatively in the past through word and song and ceremony. For more details, click here.

This scholarship includes lodging, meals, and program fees. Because of limited availability applicants must be willing to share a room (if applying with a friend or family member, please indicate in the appropriate field on the application).

Instructions: fill out the online form by clicking here and have a letter of reference from a mentor, teacher, or advisor sent to Ben Lindwall (ben@heartbeatjourney.org) by 2 April 2017. A Heartbeat Selection Committee will review all applications and notify successful candidates by 12 April 2017. The funds will then be transferred to Ghost Ranch in their name, pending the payment of the registration fee.

Additional cost to recipient: travel expenses to get to Ghost Ranch.

Virginia School of Celtic Consciousness, Richmond, Virginia, USA


Heartbeat has four $374 Scholarship Awards available to go towards meals, lodging (sharing a room with someone of similar gender), and program fees at the Virginia School of Celtic Consciousness. There are also two $184 Scholarship Awards Scholarship for commuters to go towards the program fee and meals. Recipients are responsible for their own transportation to/from the event as well as the remaining registration balance of $100.


Apply by filling out the online application and have a letter of reference sent to Ben Lindwall (ben@heartbeatjourney.org) by May 1, 2017. Heartbeat’s Selection Committee will review all applications and notify successful candidates by May 10.


Space available at the Colorado School of Celtic Consciousness, April 4-6


Join us April 4-6, 2017 for an experiential time of learning, prayer, & chant rooted in the Celtic vision with acclaimed Scottish teacher, Rev. Dr. John Philip Newell at the beautiful Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado.

Click below


This is the second annual gathering of the Colorado School of Celtic Consciousness, to nurture a community of shared vision and spiritual practice for transformation in our lives and world. Open to all, both to those who attended the first gathering in 2016 and those who wish to explore. Teachings will focus on the central themes of Celtic Spirituality, the sacredness of the earth and the human soul. And practices will concentrate on sustainable contemplative disciplines for individual wellbeing and collective healing.

Our daily schedule will consist of prayer at the beginning and ending of each day, presentations by John Philip Newell, followed by meditative practices, silence, and sharing. Meals will be shared in common and there will be free time to hike and rest as well as a party on the last evening to celebrate our time together.

Located in the Northern Rockies of Colorado,  The Shambhala Mountain Center is a peaceful retreat nestled between breathtaking mountain views. The event will be held in the main lodge with plenty of space indoors and outdoors for quiet reflection, and space to converse with old and new friends. We will gather at 4pm on Tuesday, April 4th and conclude after lunch on Thursday, April 6th. Space is limited so register soon!

Lodging options

Rates include retreat program fees, meals, lodging, and use of the Shambhala Mountain Center facilities. Due to accommodation constraints, all attendees are required to stay on-site. Click here for more information about the rooms at the Shambhala Mountain Center.

$418 – Lodge Dormshared room, twin bed, shared bathroom

$494 – Lodge Double, shared room, queen beds (2), full private bath (partners and friends wishing to share a room must register separately and enter roommate requests under “special requests”)

$534 – Lodge Single Monk, private room, full size bed, shared bathroom

$618 – Lodge Single (price for one guest), private room, full or queen size bed, private bath

(You may add up to one additional person to the Lodge Single Suite for $284)

FULL $726 – Lodge Junior Suite (price for one guest), private room, queen size bed, full private bath

(You may add up to one additional person to the Lodge Junior Suite for $368)

Registration instructions:

1. Enter your personal information

2. Select lodging option – you may register up to two people for the “Lodge Junior Suite” or the “Lodge Single”. After selecting either of these options, please fill out the guest information portion of the form and select the corresponding lodging option. “Lodge Double” is single registration only but you may request a roommate, or we can assign a roommate with a similar gender.

3. Enter your payment information via Paypal or send a check to:

5431 NE 20th Ave
Portland, OR 97211
Questions? For event related questions, please contact Jan Silverstein at rjrace@earthnet.net. To inquire about registration, please contact Ben Lindwall at ben@heartbeatjourney.org 

Click below


Joy As a Form of Spiritual Resistance | John Philip Newell

Iona SunriseRecently I returned to Edinburgh from San Francisco and the launching of the California School of Celtic Consciousness. It was a strong beginning, both in terms of numbers and depth of engagement. Many arrived feeling overwhelmed by this moment in time, struggling to know how to confront the falseness of a system that is denying the sacred right of refugees to sanctuary, the inviolable right of religions to equality, the holy right of women to reverence, and the divine right of the earth to protection. Through teachings and spiritual practices drawn from the well of Celtic wisdom we moved together to a place of deeper hope and vision.

unspecifiedAlways in our lives we need soul-force to confront what is wrong, just as we need soul-force to powerfully witness to what is true. Perhaps part of the sin that we need now to confess is that we were lulled into a false sense of wellbeing and consequently thought we didn’t need to intentionally access the soul-force of God that is within us. If that was the case, then we are at a waking-up point. Maybe now, like never before in our lives, we are realising the need for spiritual resistance to what is false and spiritual insistence of what is true.

One of the young mothers at our California School remembered that when her son was a baby she used to hold him in her arms and dance around the kitchen, singing a chant. Over the years, through changing circumstances, she let go of this practice. At the California School she vowed to find again a spiritual practice of joy that she could share with her son. She realised that joy is a form of spiritual resistance. If she is to be strong for this moment in time, and if her son is to receive true strength through her, she needs to nurture joy of soul.
I hope you will join us for the upcoming gathering of the School in Colorado, or at one of the other locations over the coming year, to build on the joy and vision and spiritual discipline that are essential for the work of change at this moment in time. More urgently than ever we need to access soul-force.
With love and blessings to you,
John Philip

Heartbeat Announces $5,000 Grant to Annunciation House

Ruben GarciaHeartbeat announces $5,000 grant to Annunciation House to

support refugee relief on U.S. – Mexico border

“When I speak to congregations, everybody understands the gospel meaning of welcoming the stranger.”  So said Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, when I spoke to him last week. While the moral imperative to welcome the stranger is clear in the abstract, it is often difficult to put into practice for many.  Father Garcia has been welcoming migrants and refugees for nearly 40 years at his center in the heart of his downtown El Paso, at the geographic center of the U.S.-Mexico border.  The humble building on a triangular lot has provided shelter to more than 100,000 migrants.  Today he considers the political climate chilling and our immigration system increasingly unjust with devastating consequences to families.

Annunciation HouseAbout a month ago, Annunciation House was receiving roughly 1,000 refugees a week; that number has slowed to a trickle.  The U.S. has moved to a detention model for many asylum seekers, and Annunciation House usually receives migrants who have recently been released from detention.  Mexico is ill-equipped to handle the global refugees that continue to pour into their country headed north, after a trek across the Central American jungle, often through as many as eight countries.

We at Heartbeat are concerned with the global refugee crisis, which according to the U.N. Refugee Agency saw numbers of displaced people reach a global high in 2016, surpassing even the numbers from World War II.  The Refugee Fund that we established last year in honor of John Philip Newell’s father has already funded a group of students who set up solar charging stations on the island of Lesbos.
Today, we announce that Heartbeat is providing a donation of $5,000 to Annunciation House in El Paso as they continue their refugee work, meeting not only the immediate needs of individuals and families, but advocating for a humane response to the plight of migrants and fighting against the rampant misinformation that is informing recent policy decisions in the U.S.  While this amount is nominal based on the needs of this organization (food, diapers, clothing, formula, maintenance), we hope to challenge others to support this important work.
We recognize the plight of migrants worldwide, we celebrate the universal human family, and we say to those who are coming here fleeing war and violence, “We Stand With You” and “Estamos con ustedes!”
Vanessa Johnson, Treasurer for Heartbeat
El Paso, Texas
To support future initiatives responding to the refugee crises, please make a contribution to the William James Newell Refugee Fund.

Rob Bell Interviews John Philip Newell

JPN & Rob Bell
“There is an awareness that Christianity as we know it is in trouble.”
-John Philip Newell
Rob Bell interviews John Philip Newell in a discussion that delves into his most recent publication,  The Rebirthing of God . Recorded for the “Robcast at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, USA,  Rob skillfully guides a fascinating conversation that explores the movements within Christian spirituality in our time. The chemistry between these two teachers makes for a conversation that you don’t want to miss!
Click here to stream the Robcast

From Pilgrimage to Creativity Workshops

Last year I received a Heartbeat scholarship for a pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona with John Philip Newell.  It was a unique experience in a magical place, and I am still incredibly grateful to have been gifted that experience.  To be on that island, which has such a long history, where the weather changes every half an hour and the land is so often shrouded in mist, it’s not hard to feel a strong connection to the spiritual.

One of the messages I took from my time with John Philip was that it’s up to me to create the world I want to live in, for myself and for others.


Iona pilgrims Kathryn Shanks (left), Cami Twilling (center), and Ian Brownlee (right)

There’s a thread that runs through all Celtic Christian teaching that says the world is just fine as it is, and you are whole as you are.  This idea is counter to mainstream Christianity, which is based around the idea of original sin.  When we see the world as a place that has fallen from grace, nature is not sacred, trees are not alive, and nothing that comes innately from ourselves is good.  What a sad philosophy.  It’s no wonder that this attitude has given way to secular western materialism.  The philosophy that comes from the Celtic tradition is much healthier.  It says that what comes from nature is good, and therefore our own human nature is good.  We don’t need to be purified of the evil that is within us, we accept ourselves and embrace our own nature, which includes our sexuality and our creativity.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be an artist.  It has always come naturally to me (though whether it’s coming from me or through me I don’t know.)  I have always found that when I try to steer my creativity, or in any way to impose my conscious will on this unconscious process, it doesn’t work.  Creativity is a wild thing that must be given its independence.  If you try to cage it, its spirit will die.

 To be an artist is to be a complete person: to embrace all the parts of ourselves.

One of the messages I took from my time with John Philip was that it’s up to me to create the world I want to live in, for myself and for others.  He encouraged me to share my perspective and my experience, because my impact on the world is greater than I realize.  As an artist, my way of communicating with others is through paintings.  Art is an extremely valuable form of communication, but it’s not very direct.  I wanted to engage with people more fully, to make myself useful in the world. Through talking with friends, the idea for creativity workshops was born.

I’ve taught art to children and adults, and I’ve found that each requires a different style of teaching.  Kids have a lot of enthusiasm for art: it comes to them as naturally as walking or breathing.  Teaching them is about managing their energy-levels and introducing art-making methods and materials.  With adults it’s much more complicated; they come to me to learn technical skills, but what I find they need more is a renewed connection to their creativity.  They want to be creative, but they find themselves blocked.  Somewhere in adolescence, we’re introduced to the idea that there’s such a thing as “good” and “bad” art, and we want to make sure we’re not doing it badly.  We become self-conscious, and we stop doing things that we love for fear of judgment.  This is very sad to me, because I feel that art belongs to everyone.  Drawing, sculpting, writing, singing, dancing: these are integral parts of being human.  For someone to give up doing something that brings them joy is to bury a part of themselves.

The idea for the creativity workshops was to take what I’d learned from teaching art to adults, drop the emphasis on technical skills and focus on the creative process.  This way the lessons are applicable to any discipline.  The roadblocks that stop one from painting are the same ones that stop one from dancing, playing an instrument, or writing: it’s all self-judgment.

Over the years that I’ve been working as an artist, I’ve also been practicing Zen meditation and mindfulness practice.  I’ve applied that awareness to the creative process, and I’ve confronted a lot of the obstacles that can get in the way of creative expression.  And here’s the funny part: there really aren’t that many.  If we can learn to spot just a few unhealthy thought-patterns, we can avoid the pitfalls that shut-down our creativity.  Once we see how unhelpful many of our thoughts are, it becomes easier to recognize them and move beyond them.


The baptism of one of our pilgrims, Kate Collins-Thompson, at Columba’s Bay

The other important part of any creativity workshop is play: we make things because it’s fun.  What are you doing if you’re not judging yourself?  You’re having a good time, experimenting, mixing things together, stacking them up, rolling around on the ground, climbing trees, making music with pots and pans: basically being a kid. It’s from that sense of expansiveness and experimentation that all art comes.  Even a novelist who writes about difficult and painful subjects takes joy in the way the words are put together.  So in each session, however deep the  subjects we’re discussing, we always leave time for fun.  We draw without looking at our paper, make sculptures out of unusual materials, and come up with new ways of composing poems.  We also do exercises that get us thinking outside the box, which can expand our capacity for creative thinking.

What I’ve found so far is that there’s a strong desire for this sort of workshop.  Everyone who I’ve spoken with would like a deeper connection to their creative side; everyone has a project or craft they’d like to start or work on more often.  Attendees have told me they found the exercises we did to be powerful and important.  The most exciting parts for me have been when I have stepped back and let the participants share their experiences.  There’s so much wisdom in every roomful of people; sometimes all we need is for someone to suggest a subject to speak on.  The group conversations foster a sense of community and of shared-experience that is vital to any creative life.

So far I’ve held workshops in Minnesota and California.  Those sessions were held to an hour and a half, but the more I look into this subject, the more I realize there is to do.  So next will come a four-part series in my home-town of Asheville, North Carolina, that will allow us to approach this subject in greater depth.

As I plan my workshops, I think about the time I spent on Iona and about the example that John Philip sets for all of us.  He embodies that spirit of play, of self-acceptance, and the willingness to look deeply into the darker sides of life when that is what’s called for.  To be an artist is to be a complete person: to embrace all the parts of ourselves.  When we live in cultures that are built around shame, conformity, and self-improvement, it takes a lot of bravery to accept oneself.  That journey to self-acceptance is at the heart of spirituality, and it’s also necessary to live a full, creative life.

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Ian Brownlee and his wife Kathryn Shanks live in Asheville, NC. Ian received a scholarship from Heartbeat to attend the Iona Pilgrimage with John Philip Newell in September of 2015. Please visit his website, Art By Ian Brownlee and learn more about his Creativity Workshops.