Photo by the wonderful Kathleen Hunter
Francesca Morfesis, LPA, HSP-PA and Kristin Leonheart, M.S., LMFT met as 19-year old undergraduates, while attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We were both wounded young women, trying to find our way, and while we have both changed enormously since that time, our deep connection is one of the things that has remained.
Francesca and Kristin's individual and relational growth led us to want to start FCS in 2021, in order to address the particular barriers to awakening that exist in our modern Western culture.
Francesca (She/They) was first exposed to spirituality and meditative practices during her graduate training and in the therapy she needed as a result of graduate school 😉. In the following year she was given the gift of tickets to see the Dalai Lama speak, and this experience sparked a resolve that has carried her ever since. Her practice is rooted in modern Theravada and informed by numerous lineages. Early on she practiced in Burma, Thailand and the USA, and eventually took temporary ordination in 2013 during a three month intensive practice period in the Mahasi method. This practice period was a profound turning point in her process and practice.
Taking temporary ordination felt deeply soulful and inspiring at the beginning of the three month practice period. Within the first three weeks there was a deep settling into the body and profound experiences of balance, stillness and openness to life. After these first three weeks she moved into a more remote and rigorous practice space rooted in the Mahasi method. This method layered on top of the openness and balance that had been established and paired with a healthy dose of striving allowed Francesca to push into profound forms of concentration and letting go/clear seeing. At some point in this process it began to feel right to disrobe in order to honor the unfolding and to further let go of fear - After much time, this shift was felt as a softening into the feminine in a much deeper way, with a healthy dose of naïveté (Francesca has some skill and shadow in this!). What she did not anticipate was the way this shift would shift the conditions of her container and anticipate how to support herself and protect herself around that.
Leaving robes in an environment that saw this movement as bad/a failure triggered attachment trauma rooted both in patriarchal white supremacist culture and her family’s particular navigation of these systems. Intense shame, terror and self hatred were evoked and the well collected mind fragmented painfully while the mind and body remained incredibly sensitive. Suddenly the concentration was much too high for the objects of practice and she found herself spiraling out of control. Unfortunately the teachers in this space didn’t know how to offer support to balance the process/practice and address the trauma.
Upon returning home Francesca spent months unable to function in ‘normal’ ways within our capitalist culture. Over the 10 years since this experience, what has been needed to navigate this deep opening and intense upheaval has led her to cultivate deep and real community/inter-dependence with friends and loved ones, to study and internalize Organic Intelligence, Somatic Experiencing and other forms of body-based trauma resolution training, to find healthy sources of disinhibition, connection and joy, like singing, dancing and play, to dive into an analysis of systems of oppression both within the wider culture and within spiritual communities and to learn ways to listen to and integrate the many aspects of her self (Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing). In other words, to find her way into healthy human-ing… Becoming more fully human as a foundation for spiritual practice. This healing process also demanded that she reclaim the many parts of the practice that have been left out as these practices have been re-articulated by white western dharma practitioners. This has included diving into devotional practices, chanting, ritual, earth-based practices, practicing with unseen beings and reclamation of the feminine forms of practice and wisdom that are so often denigrated.
She is most directly influenced by (and deeply grateful to) Brian Lesage (her current teacher), Sebene Selassie, Audre Lorde’s teachings on the erotic, Kittisaro and Thanissara’s blend of the Quan Yin Dharmas and Thai forest lineage, Rob Burbea’s Soulmaking Dharma, Lama Rod Owens, and John Makransky’s Sustainable Compassion practices. Francesca has completed 2 years of interfaith chaplaincy training through the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, and until recently served as the Buddhist Chaplain to Duke University.
Here is Francesca's website for more information about her individual practice and process. Francesca is an LPA, HSP-PA, an ordained Buddhist Minister, and is in the process of completing her Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) Certification.
Francesca's Wheel of Power & Privilege (side note - I identify as queer, but have had heterosexual privilege and protection much of my life, hence the ambiguous markers on sexuality)
Kristin (She/Her) can trace her longing for the numinous back to a moment of presence she experienced in nature at the age of 16. This experience unconsciously guided her to seek out a grad school program that was, well, different. During a grad school interview for the Virginia Tech Marriage and Family Therapy program in 2008, the director of the program led the group in a guided meditation before beginning the formal interview process - she was sold. She began studying mindfulness and its applications for therapy in her MFT program. She also went to therapy, because she really needed it! In addition to training in mindfulness-based therapeutic models, she also studied Internal Family Systems, Emotionally Focused Therapy, and attachment theory in depth while in school.
She graduated in 2011 and immediately hopped on the Appalachian Trail and hiked about half of it. This helped her decompress from school and allowed her to have a practice period of disconnection from capitalism and distraction. She also began to feed herself again. She then worked for two years in Intensive In-Home services, where to be honest she wasn’t super effective. It was a heart-warming and heart-breaking time for her.
She left to start her own private practice in 2013, and began attending ecstatic dance, which she quickly became addicted to. Over time, intuitive dance became a practice of deep listening for her - an opportunity to access the flow that the body naturally enters when one stops inhibiting its wisdom. She attended her first retreat in 2013 as well, and was likewise addicted. Initially retreats were super helpful for her, and she quickly signed up for more and longer retreats, but in 2015 she attended a 3-month retreat with Francesca where her management strategies broke down and she had to face the spiritual bypassing she was doing.
With the support of her now teacher, Erin Treat, she stopped all the ultimate practice she had been engaging in and began to study the nervous system, first with Embodied Recovery, then with Somatic Experiencing, Organic Intelligence, and Somatic Touch work (through Steve Terrell). She also dove into embracing feminine practices and forms of spirituality, like soul work, womb work, and earth-based spiritual practices. And she began working to deconstruct her internalized white supremacy.
At the same time she started having weird physical symptoms, and while it was apparent to her that her psychology was healing, her nervous system was becoming more dysregulated in particular ways. She ended up in the hospital and sought medical support, but nothing from the frameworks she knew could truly touch what she was experiencing. She realized in 2019 that she was experiencing kundalini awakening, and almost at the same time experienced a powerful spiritual opening that was transformative. Since that time she has lived mostly as a monastic, devoting almost all her time outside of work to opening to kundalini process and the awakening process and allowing her conditioning to be metabolized.
She began teaching in 2019, when authorized by her teacher. Spiritually, she has been most influenced by Erin Treat, Adyashanti, Julia Hartsell, Wildflower Cove in Celo, NC, Brian Lesage, Marion Woodman, Maya Luna, Sera Beak, Lama Rod, adrienne maree brown, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Susanne Marie, Reggie Ray, Andrew Harvey, Bernadette Roberts, John Welwood, Father Greg Boyle, Joanna Macy, Chas DiCapua, a very special, very fierce cat named Dali, and of course, Francesca Morfesis.
Here is Kristin's website for more information about her individual practice and process. Kristin has an M.S., and is a Licesensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
Kristin's Wheel of Power & Privilege (side note - I am currently exploring my queerness but also have heterosexual privilege - hence the ambiguous marker on sexuality)
Want to make your own Wheel of Power & Privilege?
Photo by Kathleen Hunter