Your Presence Requested

By Steven Libowitz   |   September 6, 2018

Last year, Michael Russer and his partner, Jacqueline Lopez, created Entheomedicine Santa Barbara to bring expertise on the health and spiritual benefits of medicine journeys to the community. Now they’re diving into something even more valuable, and much easier on the systerm, than those chemically induced experiences: a process for awareness and connection they call Deep Presence.

It was seven years ago this month that Russer had his first experience with presence. Back then, he said, he was deeply unhappy both in his career, despite making “tons of money,” and his marriage, “although it wasn’t about my wife.” Despite a dozen years of seeking help through psychotherapy and life coaches, things hadn’t improved.

“I didn’t know what it was, but I just knew I was in big trouble,” recalled Russer, who owned several businesses at the time. “Nothing came close to helping with my feeling of disconnect. I was the antithesis of what this talk is about.”

So, after his son went off to college, and he ended his marriage, Russer decided to take more concrete action.

“I was determined to step over, jump into the abyss, allow myself to be vulnerable and authentic and tear down all that armor I put around my heart,” he said. “When I made the declaration and totally jumped into it, it was my first experience of Deep Presence, although I couldn’t articulate it at the time. But that’s exactly what was happening. The world shifted immediately as I began waking up, being authentic, being me.”

Fast-forward a few years, and Russer – who has been diagnosed with several cancers, including prostate, rendering him impotent – found the power of the practice in his first sexual experience with his new partner.

“At first I tried to perform for her, anyway, but of course, all the methods failed,” he recalled. “I had the feeling of ‘It’s over before it began.’ Earlier in my life, I would have done anything to not feel that feeling. But I chose instead to be present rather than detached. And that transformed into compete surrender. That allowed us to have an experience that most couples can’t even begin to fathom of the depth of our emotional sexual intimacy. And that’s all because of presence, of not running away from whatever comes up.”

Russer defines Deep Presence as “a state of deep awareness, without judgment, expectation or distractions… that goes way beyond mindfulness.” Lopez and Russer began developing the practice within their relationship and eventually Russer, who used to be a programmer, codified it into an “internally self-consistent protocol” that the couple practices throughout the day.

“It’s the most inviting way to connect with another human being, because it implies complete vulnerability,” he said. “It’s about putting the ego in the back seat, but it requires practice just like any muscle.”

That’s the point behind the free talk titled “The Power of Presence” that the couple will be delivering at 7 pm on Wednesday, September 12, at Karpeles Manuscript Museum (repeats October 2 in Ojai, and October 9 at Karpeles). The talk will introduce the process via an interactive experience where participants pair up to address probing questions designed to elicit a presence response, Russer said. People can expect to leave “knowing that there is a whole different way of looking at their lives, what’s driving their beliefs and their fears,” he said. “Perhaps also an intuition if not a complete understanding that presence can solve many issues, especially with relationships of any kind. When you’re fully present, it changes everything.”

The talks serve as a preview to one-day workshop the couple has conducted previously only in Northern California, which takes a much deeper dive and teaches the full process. “The talk the what of presence, while the six-hour workshop is the how,” Russer explained. That longer workshop also puts the process in the context of non-duality, which also explains the link to entheomedicine, said Russer, who found greater peace with his terminal diagnosis through the use of psychedelics. “Those experiences deepen it further, but you don’t have to do any sort of journey to practice presence.”

For more information or to reserve a spot for the talk, visit

September Sounds at Yoga Soup

Concerts, singing workshops, and soundscape sessions in a variety of formats almost outnumber classes containing cat pose and other classic yoga positions at Yoga Soup this month, with events and styles ranging from ambient to folk to kirtan and beyond, including several that all about participation. Shane Thunder kicks things off on Friday, September 7, with a 7:30 to 9 pm 432hz Sound Healing session employing alchemical gemstone and Tibetan singing bowls, chimes, drums, aromatherapy, and guided meditation to take participants into a deeply meditative and rebalanced state. The sound bath aims to cleanse and purge emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual blocks among the chakras, resulting in the body, mind, and spirit having a blissful, transforming, and uplifting experience ($20 in advance, $25 day-of). That’s also the same evening as the monthly First Fridays Ecstatic Dance, which takes place 7 to 9:30 pm “barefoot, substance-free, live DJ get-down dance party.” A Contact Improv Warm-Up takes place from 7 to 8 pm, followed by the ecstatic dance til 9:30, which features music that loosely follow an ecstatic dance “wave” with slow and mellow music building to chaotic intensity and then returning to stillness at the end. Admission is $15, and proceeds are donated to a local charity to support our community.

Saturday, September 8, brings an East Forest Ceremony to Yoga Soup, an event where a concert meets ritual in a multi-level experience that incorporates elements of music, meditation, and sound healing. With 14 albums already produced, East Forest’s shamanic, ambient electro-pop music has the fundamental mission to create sonic architecture and open doorways for listeners to explore their own inner space. Listeners are invited to rest and relax while enjoying a musical concert, mixing traditional East Forest songs with deep ambient soundscapes. Admission to the 7 to 9 pm experience is $40.

Spirit in Song

Two community singing offerings are next up on Yoga Soup’s events calendar, beginning Sunday afternoon, September 9, with another installment of the WHOLEHEARTED Workshop with Lisa G. Littlebird. A self-described song leader from the heart. Littlebird – who has more than 25 years of vocal training and compassionate awareness practices – leads in call-and-response style with an accessible, easy grace and infectious joy intended to rekindle the love of singing. The 3 to 5 pm workshop weaves vocal invitations, body movement, and improvisation, and draws on a repertoire of more than 400 oral-tradition songs to invite everyone to expand and delight in the full potential of their voices. The “evening of play” designed for people of all ages and abilities. You don’t need to be able to read music or even think you can sing ($25).

A more in-depth exploration of connection via singing comes the following day, at 7 pm September 10, when the inCourage Chorus launches its 13-week fall season. Newlyweds Britta Gudmunson and Ben Gould co-lead the no-audition, non-denominational, all-ages community choir that welcome singers, recovering “non-singers,” breathers, and talkers of all experience levels to commune in songs from around the world that span culture, tradition, and language. The concept is that as song is among the most ancient forms of human expression, this allows participants to open their hearts and minds not only to joy but to the expanse of the human experience, a celebration of the wholeness and harmony of life through the medicine of music. Gudmunson and Gould, who are both trained in community singing and who together or alone also teach yoga and mindful eating at the yoga studio and elsewhere, teach all the songs in the oral tradition, meaning eschewing written music in favor of a call-and-response style. So, no music reading or experience is necessary to participate.

The official introductory session took place last month, but those who are new to the chorus can drop by the first session the first Monday (or any other single one during the season) for just $15. The cost for the full season, which meets every Monday through November 26 (save for October 8) is $200. Audio recordings are available to the choir members during the season, with each section’s part separately recorded so that members can practice on their own or catch up on a missed session. The season concludes with a benefit concert on December 16. 

Commitment to Kindness & Mindful Pause

Santa Barbara clinical psychologist Dr. Diana Hill’s Workshop in Compassionate Mind Training is based on the research that shows that current neuroscience and contemplative practices support the notion that our experience of compassion is central to living a happy, effective, and flexible life. Yet our brain architecture and modern stressors continuously overstimulate our threat and drive systems. Hill’s workshop, which takes place 1 to 4 pm on Sunday, September 9 ($65), draws from evolution science, affective neuroscience, and ancient practices to explore this dichotomy and cultivate practices to increase the flow of compassion. She will experientially teach the underlying principles and processes of Compassionate Mind Training, which includes awareness of emotion regulation systems, rhythm breathing, cultivating a compassionate self and using it to both heal the inner critic and receive and give compassion to others.

In her private practice, Hill takes a holistic approach drawing from her rigorous background in the science of behavior and her training in cognitive behavioral, mindfulness-based, and contextual behavioral therapies, which includes a biopsychology degree from UCSB, a master’s and Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a collaboration with Stanford University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry in researching Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She is a specialist in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and has advanced training from ACT co-founders Drs. Kelly Wilson and Steven Hayes.

Emily Benaron’s Mindful Pause class takes place every Thursdays from 4:30- to 5:15 pmbeginning September 13. The supportive mindfulness meditation practice includes gentle instruction and guided meditations to cultivate awareness, well-being, concentration, presence, curiosity, connection, and compassion by offering clear and kind attention to our ever-changing human experience. Admission is by donation.

Anthropology Straight Up

The live science talk series “Anthropology Straight Up” returns with a presentations on the subject of the afterlife this coming Tuesday, September 11, at the University Club of Santa Barbara, 1332 Santa Barbara Street. The evening begins 5 pm with full bar service followed by three different speakers: psychic-medium Tony Morris, past-life regression hypnotherapist Peter Wright, CPLT, CHT, LBLT, and cultural anthropologist Dr. Kohanya Groff. Morris held management posts with Fortune 500 firms including MCI Telecommunications and Coca-Cola for 27 years until he had a major spiritual awakening and discovered he had special intuitive gifts. He will share his experiences with connecting with the spirit world and discuss his upcoming first book, Little Red Wagon, which details his own spiritual journey. Peter Wright will then share his experiences with past-life regressions. Wright, a certified hypnotherapist with a master’s degree from University of Pennsylvania, is one of only 40 Past-Life Regression Therapists in the U.S. certified by the International Board for Regression Therapy. He also serves on the Board of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the International Association for Near-Death Studies. Groff, who received her master’s and Ph.D. in anthropology at UC Riverside where her research involved revitalization practices, polices, and rights of contemporary Chumash American Indians, will discuss cross-cultural views on death and the afterlife.

Tickets are available at the door or in advance online at The suggested donation is $15 for general admission, or $25 for VIP seating and wine. All proceeds benefit BOAS Network, a non-profit providing a free and education, information, and entertainment forum for anthropology through public outreach, social media, and videos featured on their website Email for more information.


You might also be interested in...