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Kindness

MLK do the right thing

I have this idea: rename “Martin Luther King Day” as “Martin-Luther-King-E.D.-Nixon-Ralph-D.-Abernathy-Mahalia-Jackson Day.” Dr. King was great and inspiring. My hero. But I don’t see myself leading a national protest. The suffering in the world overwhelms and paralyzes me.

But smaller things I could do.  I could call a young minister to ask him to join a bus boycott (as E.D. Nixon did). And I could encourage my best friend to do the right thing (as Ralph Abernathy did). And seeing that Dr. King needed a nudge with his speech, I could say, “Tell them about the dream, Martin” (as Mahalia Jackson did).

Every one of us can make a difference with words and acts of kindness, support, encouragement and love. They might seem small, but just imagine if those three people thought there was nothing they could do.

Mahalia-Jackson

halloween 2013Deepening our attention to our own experience. It seems like it would be selfish and self-absorbed to do that. But instead I find that when I connect to what is actually happening for me, I am reminded of the realness of others. How we all just want to be happy. How we are all struggling with something.

Metta meditation is one I often use when I feel disconnected from myself and others. (Metta roughly translates to lovingkindness or friendliness in Pali.) It’s also a helpful way to open my heart to everybody. Metta begins with simple statements of well-wishing to myself that expand in ever-widening circles to others. Phrases such as:
May I be safe & well.
May I be happy & content.
May I be healthy & strong.
May I be peaceful & at ease.

Can then be extended to teachers, friends, family, neighbors, neutral people, people we are in conflict with, people in our country, those in other countries, (any categories you like, actually) and ultimately to all beings everywhere.

Below is the music from classes this week. Many people asked me about Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Now. It’s a beautiful song that really reminds us that we’re all up to our necks in it and need some kindness and care.

May you be safe and well and happy on this Halloween.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan

sjm halloween 2013

PS Here’s me in my Halloween costume (I think it’s my 7th Annual Word-Play Costume). If you can guess what I am, put it in the comments below.

Monday, October 28, 2013, 1045am – Practice on Your Own Mat…And Practice With Other Mats Around

Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes – 5:48 – Paul Simon
Living In The Moment – 3:55 – Jason Mraz
The Obvious Child – 4:10 – Paul Simon
Drifting Away (Paradiso Mix) – 5:07 – Faithless
I Know What I Know – 3:13 – Paul Simon
Drop – 4:56 – Cornelius
Fill Her Up – 5:39 – Sting
So Beautiful Or So What – 4:09 – Paul Simon
Sorrento Moon (I Remember) – 4:54 – Tina Arena
Sacred Love – 6:03 – Sting
Spirit Voices – 3:56 – Paul Simon
Under African Skies – 3:37 – Paul Simon
Mercy Now – 5:51 – Mary Gauthier

Tuesday, October 29, 2013, 9am – Practice on Your Own Mat…And Practice With Other Mats Around

Aquarius – 4:48 – Hair, the Musical / Renn Woods
What I Got – 3:21 – Gift Of Gab, Michael Franti & Spearhead
Quero Saber (fest. Orieta Pines) – 6:29 – Rodney Hunter
No Quiero Nada Mas – 4:46 – Sancti Spiritus
Qalanderi – 6:55 – Cheb I Sabbah
A Little Bit Of Riddim (Featuring Cherine Anderson) – 4:19 – Michael Franti
Oye Como Va (Latin/Trance Mix) – 4:17 – Celia Cruz
Deeper (Into Places) (Silk Spinner Mix) – 6:23 – Afterlife
Just Say Yes – 4:41 – Snow Patrol
Sacred Love – 6:03 – Sting
Mercy Now – 5:51 – Mary Gauthier
Bruno Groening Track 4 – 2:21 – Bruno Groening & Friends

Wednesday, October 30, 2013, 1055am – Practice on Your Own Mat…And Practice With Other Mats Around

Qurna – 7:09 – Banco de Gaia
Mulatica Mia (Cuba Remix) – 5:32 – The Tao Of Groove
Palais Mascotte – 5:47 – Patrick Duvoisin
No Quiero Nada Mas – 4:46 – Sancti Spiritus
Keep On Searching – 5:08 Kraak & Smaak
Mafich Aravi – 8:03 Banco de Gaia
Ooh La La – 3:24 – Goldfrapp
Cantaloop – 4:38 – US3
Kissing (Instrumental) – 6:14 – Bliss
Lux Aurumque – 4:16 – Eric Whitacre Singers

Thursday, October 31, 2013, 9am – Practice on Your Own Mat…And Practice With Other Mats Around

Spirits In The Material World – 4:09 – Pato Banton Feat. Sting
Witchy Woman – 4:11- Laurie Horn
Superstition – 4:26 – Stevie Wonder
Deja Voodoo – 6:10 – Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Werewolves of London – 3:29 – Warren Zevon
Twilight Zone – 7:52 – Golden Earring
Zombie Jamboree – 3:33 – GrooveBarbers
Diavolo In Me (Devil In Me) – 4:05 – Zucchero & Solomon Burke
Mysterious Ways – 4:04 – U2
Ghosts in My Machine – 3:33 – Annie Lennox
Men In Black – 3:47 – Will Smith
I Put A Spell On You – 3:08 – Queen Latifah
I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You – 4:09 – Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra

practice on your mat stick pose classMost of us are acutely aware of our own struggles and we are preoccupied with our own problems. We sympathize with ourselves because we see our own difficulties so clearly. But Ian MacLaren noted wisely, “Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.” – Chicago Tribune, 1965

Practice on your own mat, my yoga teachers remind me.

Bring my gaze inward, and I deepen my connection with myself. Practicing on my own mat gives me the information to more skillfully make choices based on what is actually happening, rather than what my mind thinks is happening (or thinks should be happening).

It’s true in yoga and it’s true in my life: when I stop distracting myself with shallow stories about those around me, I can actually sense what is true right now for me – the only person I hold any sway over.

The instruction of practicing on your own mat might lead you to practicing alone, just you and your mat. No sweaty, grunting guy behind you, or perfectly bendy girl next to you. And it can be good: solitude and quiet can be meditative and healing. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, taking time alone without distraction is deeply restorative.

We need to practice on our own mats, and maybe alone … but at least sometimes, we need to practice with other mats around.

When my yoga teacher, Sara, instructed me to bring my attention onto my towel, she helped me get out of my head, off of everybody else’s mat, and into my body. What it also did was to remind me of my real connection to other people. Her instruction, counter-intuitively perhaps, helped me see that we are all have suffering and that we support each other by practicing together.

In the midst of a 90-minute yoga class in a 105 degree studio, it’s fairly likely that I’ll be faced with some internal resistance, if not outright struggle, at some point. When I’m caught in some tangle of discomfort, it’s easy to distract myself with stories about how mean the teacher is, or how easy this is for everybody else, or how a cool shower and a cold beer is all I ever really needed to be happy.

It takes real courage to practice on my own mat and show up for whatever may be happening, no matter how stressful. But when I do, when I make that brave choice to show up for my own practice and really notice everything that is happening in my body and mind, something else shifts. I begin to see beyond the superficial in myself … and in everybody around me.

When I quiet the distraction of stories about others and about myself, I can actually feel my direct experience. Instead of “Dang, I’m good. I got my head to my knee!” or “Heavens, that guy sweats himself a lake!” I can focus on what I’m feeling. When I admit that the heat is kicking my ass, that my knees in Fixed Firm are screaming bloody murder, and that I am feeling a little desperate to be finished, I can use it as a reminder that everybody has something that is kicking her ass, screaming bloody murder, and making him desperate. As I deepen my connection to my own experience, it can (perhaps paradoxically) deepen my connection with everybody else.

When I find myself twisted in my own trouble on the yoga mat (or out in traffic), it helps to open my eyes and look around at the other mats (or cars). Instead of fabricating a empty story about them, practicing with other mats around reminds me to cultivate an attitude of compassion, inclusion, and care for all of us.

MLK w quote

Even when I want more love, often when faced with hate, anger, or fear, I bring hate, anger, and fear.

Anyone who hurts is hurting.  The dog may bark and seem dangerous, but her leg is in a trap.  Suddenly, we see why she snarls.

Think of that dog when someone hurts you (or YOU hurt you).  When you are harsh, your brain wants you safe.  So ask “What else can I do to keep me safe?”  (Listen to Kristin Neff’s talk in The (FREE) Compassionate Brain series!)

Meet shortcomings or unskillful actions (yours or others’) with love, not hate.

MLK w datesDarkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  — Martin Luther King, Jr.

For a dozen years, I lived and drove in Boston.  The city’s twisting streets, heavy traffic at all hours and impatient, angry drivers are all notorious – and with good reason.  One afternoon, I was driving from Boston into Cambridge with my beloved friend, Joni.  We were going to a new gourmet store to buy something extraordinary (cheese, probably) and I wasn’t sure where I was going.  As I hesitated at an intersection, the car behind me honked hard and insistent.  I immediately felt embarrassed and upset.  I continued on and another car nudged out of a parking space hoping to merge into the flow of traffic.  I honked nastily to keep her back.  Joni laughed and looked at me, “What are you doing, silly?” she said.  “You just honked at her because somebody else honked at you.”

It seems obvious, doesn’t it?  If there is a dark place that we want to be lighter, we bring light to it, not more darkness.  And yet when there is hate or anger or fear, so often what we bring is more hate, anger and fear.

We see this everywhere:  in politics, between countries, between siblings, in marriages, and inside ourselves.  One side is angry or hateful and the other side pushes back with more of the same.  It’s an ancient response from our threat/defense system and ultimately, it doesn’t serve us.

Anyone who hurts is hurting.  Over and over, I’m struck by the truth of this.  If someone hurts you, it is because they, themselves are hurting.  Tara Brach, psychologist and Buddhist teacher, uses the image of coming upon a snarling, snapping, growling dog.  Our first reaction is to pull away, thinking this is a wild and dangerous creature.  Upon looking closer, however, we see that the dog’s leg is caught in a trap.  Suddenly, our response changes entirely to one of compassion, care, and a desire to relieve the poor creature’s suffering.

The next time someone honks at you in traffic, or speaks to you harshly, or even guns down dozens of elementary school students, think of the dog in the trap.  This perspective doesn’t make the hurtful, hateful actions right, but it gives us an understanding that is far more skillful than hating them back.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”― Gandhi

The place to start, of course, is where you are.  In your own skin.  In your own head.  I know that I spend a startlingly large amount of time each day judging, criticizing and chastising myself within the confines of my own noggin.  How could I miss that appointment?  Why did I say that thoughtless thing?  Why did I have to eat all of Kate’s chia seed cookies?  In some way, I think that if I stay on myself, keep the bar high, keep cracking the whip, then I’ll get better, be kinder, act smarter.  But imagine a close friend or a beloved child committing the same infraction.  Imagine them missing the appointment or eating the cookies.  What would you say to them?  Do you really think that harshness will beget happiness, or that relentless criticism will lead to love?

There is neuroscience that explains both our tendency to be hyper-self-critical and why self-compassion works to ease the suffering.  I notice something about myself that I don’t like (it could be anything from the shape of my thighs to the way I spoke to my teenager) and I react with anger or fear that awakens our threat/defense system.  The amygdala, in an effort to keep me safe, fires and shifts me into the lower, limbic brain to attack the threat.  The problem is that the threat is me!  So a more skillful approach is to ask “What can I do other than being harsh and critical to keep me safe?”  (Rick Hanson led an amazing series of talks last fall called The Compassionate Brain.  The sixth talk in the series was with Dr. Kristin Neff who is an expert in self-compassion.  She talks brilliantly about this phenomenon and how we can address it skillfully.  The series is free and I recommend it highly.)

This week, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we will play with moving with kindness and compassion.  This is an internal, personal practice that I can feel in my body.  When my eyes are soft and my hands are receptive, it is a way of being kinder to myself.  When I meet my shortcomings or unskillful actions with the recognition that I’m hurting in some way, I can recognize that I need love, not hate.  Only light can drive out darkness.  Only love can drive out hate.  And we have to start where we are, with ourselves.

May you be safe and well,

Love,

Susan

Safely home after an amazing adventure in Arizona!  And today, an offering from the road…

Monday, February 06, 2012

Travel, especially plane travel in the reign of the TSA, is the ultimate example of a “don’t push the river” situation.  Paddle a little, sure, but pushing leads to unhappiness and not getting anywhere any faster.  So, when my 630am flight is delayed indefinitely whilst it awaits a mechanic who isn’t even UP yet, let alone working, I paddle myself over to the nearest agent and ask for help navigating the waters.  She kindly puts me in a taxi to another airport and even though I’m looking at an 8 hour delay, I feel lucky.

I didn’t always subscribe to the “don’t push the travel river” philosophy.  I would get desperately anxious and panicky.  I would beg and plead for other options.  I would be sharp with people.  I would be sharp with the only people who could possibly help me at all.  It’s really much better, I’ve discovered, to be soft with those people.

And by being soft with those people, I find I feel much softer with myself.

So with 4 hours to spend in the Chicago O’Hare Airport (or “Airplane Station” as my sweet husband calls it), I think I’ll paddle over and get myself a cup of tea.

As we wind up our week of classes on the core of the body (for those of you keeping score at home, that’s White Belt Principle 8, thankyouverymuch), I wanted to share a practice that I’ve been playing with for a while now.  As someone who has wobbled under the weight of depression and anxiety, I am interested in behaviors and choices that cultivate happiness and I’m always on the prowl for different perspectives on happy-making.

I’m not alone, of course.  The pursuit of happiness has been something people have been after, like, forever.  Just do a Google search and see what you come up with.  A couple of my current favorites are this round-up of positive psychology, and this 30 minute Ted Talk that Shawn Achor delivered in 15 minutes!

In my experience, I’ve found that the whole happiness thing is personal.  One person’s Happy Place is someone else’s Corner of Hell.  And as we dance with the core this week, I find myself connecting to three things that consistently help me turn my Happiness Volume up to 11:

1.       Savoring

2.       Gratitude

3.       Service

I find that each of these has a sensation and, for me, each connects to one of the three body weights.

Savoring – Pelvis

When I’m aware of my body and sensation, I’m in the present moment.  When I’m in the present, I can actually take in what I’m experiencing.  This connection to the present allows me to slow down and savor what I’m doing – whether it’s eating a slice of homemade bread, noticing the pink of a sunrise or laughing at chicken antics.  Savoring does not come naturally to me.  I’m a guzzler and a gulper.  If you’ve ever seen me attack my water bottle after a Nia class, you’ve seen me gobbling water (not particularly elegant, I grant you, and there it is).  It’s easy for me to go into auto-pilot, be thinking about the next thing and not truly receive the wonders that are happening right now.  And when I take a breath, feel my body, let myself be held in the bowl of my pelvis, that water tastes sweet and clean and amazing.

Gratitude – Chest

The chest is the container of the precious organs of heart and lungs.  These organs are all about exchanging energy.  For me, the sensation of the chest is that of gratitude and appreciation.  I sometimes imagine that I receive gifts – from people, from Nature, from life – like an inhalation of breath.  For me, gratitude is the natural exhalation in return.  The recognition, the appreciation, the acknowledgement of what I’ve been given.  And here’s a little extra credit gratitude experiment:  play with expressing gratitude for things you have lots of.  Especially things that you might otherwise take for granted:  clean air and water, a safe place to live, a full tummy.  That, my friends, is graduate level gratitude work.

Service – Head

If I’m having a craptastic day (week, month, prolonged period), one of the quickest ways for me to turn my perspective around is to do something kind for someone else.  Acts of service and generosity crank up my Happy Meter like nobody’s business.  When I was on my road trip this summer, I simply couldn’t wait to get to a toll booth so I could pay the toll for the car behind me.  If I see a stranger wearing an awesome shirt, I tell them.  Whenever I can, I make tea for my husband and buy my stepson his favorite pretzels.  Something about getting out of my own small-minded, selfishness and direct my energy outside myself feels better than any indulgent treat for me.

I’m always practicing.  I forget all the time and wonder why I’m in a funk.  It’s easy to forget and sulk and want someone to “make me happy.”  And over and over again, I learn that (as Sylvia Boorstein wrote) Happiness is an Inside Job.  I might even say that happiness is at our Core.

I bet you have your own practices for turning up your happiness.  I’d love to hear about them.  And  as you dance your core, your three body weights, dance yourself into your own Happy Place.