Below is my general account of a method of inquiry I call primary theatre

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Primary theatre

Below is my general account of primary theatre, or co-creating. The inquiries developing this method, in which I participated, were conducted in Italy in 1996, 1998 and 1999;  in an ongoing inquiry group in New Zealand meeting regularly from 1994 to the present; and in several inquiry dyads between 1996 and the present (May 2003). See also Shekinah. John Heron

This kind inquiry is a  form of spiritual enlivenment. We respond to the spontaneous promptings of our indwelling spiritual energy, giving dynamic form and voice to, and inquiring into, our immediate relation with what there is. We explore, reveal and affirm, in nonverbal and verbal ways, our original participation in creation.

People may work in pairs or small groups or in the whole group, each taking a turn with the silent, supportive witness of the others:

• Stepping  out of and transforming ordinary, culturally conditioned ways of being.
• Originating authentic forms of posture, movement, sound and speech; liberating and reclaiming metaphor and analogy, the revelatory power of symbols.
• Gifting the other people present, sharing with, revealing to, and interacting with them

In these ways each person is engaged in:

• Releasing, expressing and celebrating personal presence and connectedness; remembering my original and archetypal self, rejoicing in who I am.
• Opening to being, cosmic presence, our go-between divinity.
• Opening to powers and presences, interrelating different levels of being.

Degenerate forms

• Contracting the person into the alienated, distressed ego.
• Inhibiting personal presence, constrained by embarrassment, and not wanting to embarrass others.
• Seducing the audience, showing off, hiding behind the props.
• Inflating the distressed ego.
• Conforming to imagined expectations, doing-it-right.
• Competing with the other people present.


• Own, express and move out of embarrassment, fear, shame, avoidance, shut-down, competitiveness, copying, showing off, etc.
• Explore the dramatic interface between the contracted ego and the expansive person.
• Explore fully symbolic use of posture, gesture, facial expression, eyes, movement, breathing, sound; and verbal use of metaphor, analogy, myth, story. Try things out. Explore acting into charismatic dance, sound, gesture, speech.
• Talk to, with or as, what there is in every respect without let or hindrance, or any part, aspect or dimension of it: people, culture, the audience, nature, the solar system, the galaxy, the cosmos, archetypal powers, presences, immediate experience, complementary realities, life indwelling, universal consciousness…
• Let awareness go down into body being, the belly brain, the hara, centre of timing and spacing; and let expression charismatically emerge, as in a spontaneous dance, rather than be fully prepared in advance, with smooth transitions in and out of the flow, in and out of the session.
• Explore a within focus, or an interactive, connectedness focus.

• Be open to emotional processing as part of the ebb and flow.
• Take time, allow pauses, silences - for their own sake, and for gestation and emergence.

Procedural issues

What is the role, if any, of the following?

• Self and peer feedback after each turn, or after all have taken a turn.
• Peer feedback during each turn, as discreet gestures with a prearranged meaning.
• Coaching and transpersonal facilitation to release authentic expression

Forms of primary theatre

We have had experience of all of these and they are all very promising.

• People take individual turns in a group or in pairs, each person exploring their unique relation with creation - verbally, vocally, in gesture, posture and movement. The audience gives full, supportive attention.
• One person takes an individual turn, and one or more members of the audience respond, either as discreet mirroring, or as a discreet response, or as full interaction.
• Group members are expressive together nonverbally, with vocal toning, gesture and movement. They may do their individual thing, resonating with each other side by side, or explicitly interact, as moved.
• Group members are expressive together verbally, each being a spokesperson for an archetypal power or a presence.
• Two people explore verbalized co-visualization, focusing on some entity within, or aspect of, creation, such as a planet within the solar system.

Lean ritual

The group as a whole explores its original relation with creation, collaborating in the design and execution of a ritual. The leanest rituals are free of any explicit theology, that is, any language or artefacts which are loaded with ancient or modern religious beliefs. They are designed using only the primal meaning of basic gestures and simple words and everyday objects. Thus the group may choose to stand in a circle with arms reaching upward and say 'above', then kneel to touch the ground and say 'below', then stand and cross their hands over the heart and say 'within', finally reach out to take the hands of those on either side and say 'between'.  Or each person in turn may hold up a key to the next person saying 'This is a key', touch it from heart to heart, and pass it on.

Other rituals may awarely adopt and integrate elements drawn from variety of sources, ancient and modern. These elements are always adapted and reframed for use in a context of independent inquiry. Innumerable lean rituals can be designed by a group open to the presence of being. They generate sacred space and create a means for inquiring into its coming into being.

Benefits of primary theatre and lean ritual

• Primary theatre practices are forms of enlivenment and fulfil in action inward practices of attunement, such as high prayer and meditation, traditional forms of enlightenment. They may also lead over into, and be consummated in, such inward practices.
• They nourish us, and they empower us to bring the spiritual into our everyday life. Thus:
• They help develop charismatic presence and timing at home and at work and at play.
• They can be built directly into the the process of mothering and fathering, and of education at all levels.


Shekinah practice is a distinctive version of primary theatre and lean ritual. 

It has developed as the bedrock of our ongoing inquiry group.

Shekinah in Hebrew means 'residence', 'dwelling'. In Jewish tradition it is the name for divine immanence, for the divine presence as it makes itself known in the material world, 'overshadowing', 'hovering', 'indwelling'. It is also associated with the feminine aspect of the divine, concerned with interpersonal relationships. In the mystical system of the Kabbalah, Shekinah is linked with the tenth Sefirah of Malkhut and the manifestation of the divine kingdom on earth. In what follows Shekinah refers to the spiritual reality that is between humans, and between humans and presences in other realms.  It is the reality of the relation between. I give below an account of what goes on in a current inquiry group meeting at the SPCHI.

(1) As people arrive and gather we socialize with cups of various kinds of tea.

(2) When we are well settled in, round a low table with candles and other items, someone proposes or starts a check-in round. This round accommodates a whole diversity of options: simple reportage of current life-events, routine, joyful, challenging or traumatic; an account of current spiritual, psi, psychological, interpersonal, energetic/sexual/somatic dynamics; a cathartic release of some current and/or archaic distress with self-generated insight; self-transfiguring spiritual assertions; etc., etc. Group members support and bear witness to the person checking-in, but rarely interact or comment, because the check-in is somehow directed to what is between us.

(3) There may then be a period of silence, or a period of silence plus someone stroking the rim of a Tibetan bowl with a stick of wood to produce a tone.

(4) At a certain point there is a very distinct and spontaneous qualitative shift in the group energy field, and one or two people are moved, and gradually and idiosyncratically each one is moved, to open their bodily, incarnate energy to what is between us, and between us and presences in other realms, by posture and gesture, by movement, by vocal toning, by rhythmic sounding of a diversity of rattles, drums, bells, tambourines, etc. This is also an opening of the heart. The posture, gesture, movement, toning and sounding are improvised in the living moment out of a heart-communion with the between.

(5) This dynamic, charismatic body-heart opening goes on for a considerable period, with series of crescendos and diminuendos which are potently co-created with the rhythmic life of the between.

(6) There is an unmistakable final diminuendo. We become entirely still. We draw together and hold hands, or sit silently apart, and for a long period feast on the extraordinary depths and presence of Shekinah.

(7) This also has an unmistakable ending. It may, or may not, be followed by a sharing, an affirmation, an inquiring review, of what has been going on.

 (8) We close the meeting and people depart for their homes.

What may be interwoven with the above are spontaneous episodes of in which one or more members may speak out of, and speak as, archetypal powers interfused with the event. 

And there are three types of inquiry with which we engage. The first is our bedrock inquiry process which occurs at every meeting. The second and the third are procedures we adopt at varying intervals:

(1) The active discrimination during charismatic expression, exercised on-the-hoof, with regard to how we are doing it and in relation with whom or what.

(2) Co-deciding an intentional project beforehand about how we do our charismatic expression, then doing this, then sharing feedback on it, then building on this in a second action-reflection cycle, etc.; or in the milder version of this, simply reporting back on what has been going on for each of us during our emergent Dionysian charismatic expression.

(3) Using part of a fortnightly meeting to plan individual or agreed spiritual practices to be taken as an action inquiry into daily life before the next meeting, when each of us report back on our inquiry strand.

For more on Shekinah practice see Papers on the inquiry group