March is Meditation Month. It’s a great time to begin a sitting practice or to come back to a neglected cushion. I’ll be offering occasional posts from and about my own practice. May they be of benefit.


“Do you feel that tingling? Right below the surface of your skin? That tingling is more who you are than bones or blood or skin.” ~ Kelly Stine

Mindfulness practice, at its core, is a gratitude practice. If I really take it in, if I really pay attention to life, it’s breath-taking. Amazing. If I really notice the world, I cannot help but be grateful (for all of it, even lost earrings and taxes and reality TV).

Most of the time, though, we just blithely move through our days without noticing how flipping incredible the world is. Mostly, we’re outrageously casual about the miracles that are unfolding in and around us. Strawberries in February? Of course. Airplanes that can get us to the other side of the world in a day? Sure, but does it have WiFi? The warm roughness of my best friend’s hand? Nice, but did he take out the trash? The fizzy, bubbling-over feeling of a sneeze. Yeah, but it’s such a goofy sound.

Mindfulness helps me truly receive the amazingness of living ~ even when it’s difficult or painful. Being fully present to what is on offer in the moment, is an act of waking up to the gifts of life. I mean, right now I’m wearing a sweater that was made in Iceland! Iceland, people! And there are pine trees and butterscotch (I don’t even like butterscotch, but still!) and Japanese Wallpaper. Incredible.

And then there is the mystery. What about that tingle just under your skin? What is that? Is it what keeps my heart beating year after year? Is it what makes my breath and blood flow? Or is it something else? Is that tingle what makes me me?

Out in the world, in my day, mindfulness helps me fully receive the gifts of living. The tangible, present moment wonderment of smells and tastes and color and sound. The amazement of art and technology and Nature.

And on my cushion, I can feel that tingle. On my cushion, I can feel the enormous mystery of it all. That which we can see and touch and taste and that which is invisible and we know nothing about.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 14
Saturday, February 14, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

For two months, I’ve been creating a new routine called No Words ~ all instrumental music, taught in silence. For a word-centered, lyric-loving, chatty-Cathy like me, it is a creative edge. Last night I taught it for the first time.

This morning, as I “meditated”, my mind obsessively analyzed and chewed on every part of the class. I could have been simpler, more impeccable. I could have set it up more clearly. I should have taught it differently and it would have been better. In the pit of my heart sat the dull ache of disappointment.

My writer friend, Whitney (aka The Coconut Girl), reminds me that any work of art, however flawed, that is brought out into the world is infinitely superior to perfect art that remains in our heads. Without question, Seth Godin would agree that we have to take the vulnerable step out and share our work. (One of my favorite Godin quotes is, “This may not work.”)

Even so, the gap between my vision and its execution yawns wide.

All of which reminds me of the Three Noble Principles. Pema Chödrön describes them as moving through any practice or work focusing on “good in the beginning, good in the middle and good at the end.”

In regards to the No Words routine, I certainly started with “good in the beginning.” I began with an aspiration to create a fun, meditative, movement experience focused on the mover, undistracted by lyrics in the music or teacher shenanigans. My intention was for No Words to lead to happiness and reduce suffering.

First of the Three Noble Principles? Check.

The second principle, the “good in the middle” part maaaay be where I went astray. Pema describes this as proceeding through an endeavor with openness and, as best we can, without grasping. Oh, see? There’s the rub. I really, really wanted the routine to turn out just like I envisioned it. I was attached to the outcome. Yes, I was.

This is the paradox of practice: to set a clear, pure intent that I care deeply about, then proceed without attachment to what actually happens. When I am grasping for things to go certain way, for me to be a certain way, for others to feel a certain way, I have dropped the proverbial ball of the Second Noble Principle. Plus, the next morning I’m obsessing on my cushion feeling poopie.

Right here, smack dab in the middle of the challenge is a good place to focus on “good in the middle.”

choosing challenge MLK marching

This week started with Martin Luther King Day, one of my favorite days of the year to teach and dance. Inspired by his life and work, we focused on choosing challenge to build our resilience and calm when things are uncomfortable, inconvenient and difficult. For sure, practicing doesn’t stop me from getting twisted up when things don’t go the way I like them to, but it helps more than anything I know.

I suppose there will come a day when I will hear the words of the “Dream” speech and I won’t cry. But so far, that day has not come. Below are the playlists from the week. Grab a tissue.

But first…

Announce-y type things:

Join me for Sharon Salzberg’s 28-Day Meditation Challenge! One of my favorite meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a yearly 28-Day Meditation challenge during the month of February. I will be one of the bloggers writing about the experience on her site and you can follow me and the other meditator-writers here. Commit to 28 days of meditation by signing the pledge and being part of a month of mindfulness.

No Words launch at Buck Mountain Episcopal Church in Earlysville. I’m excited to be debuting my No Words routine on Friday, February 13 at 6pm at the Buck Mountain Parish Hall at 4133 Earlysville Road. Music and movement are human expressions beyond language. This routine combines all-instrumental music with wordless teaching to offer a meditative, energizing, and personal experience. Hosted by the Buck Mountain Wellness Ministry, the class is free and open to everyone with the request for donations toward the committee’s work in the community.

Helen Terry returns to Charlottesville for a special Nia class on Friday, February 27 at 545pm at acac downtown! It’s a chance to dance with a gifted and experienced trainer to her routine “Rising.” Space is limited to early registration is strongly recommended. You can get details here. $20/members and $25/non-members. Please register with acac downtown member services ~ 434.984.3800

– Our friend and teacher, Mary Linn is taking one day at a time after the death of her only daughter, Chloe, in a car accident on December 22. Much gratitude for the Invisible Net of Love that has surrounded her in these darkest of days. As her needs shift, I will keep you posted as to how best to support her here on this blog. You can also check here and here for information. Donations are still needed as the realness of lawyers and legal proceedings and therapy of all kinds continues.

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.

Dance on. Shine on.

Susan sig

Monday, Jan 19, 2015, 1045am ~ Choosing Challenge (Martin Luther King Day)

Freedom 3:07 Madonna
I Shall Be Free 6:13 Kid Beyond
May all Beings 6:27 EarthRise SoundSystem
You Might Die Trying 4:44 Dave Matthews Band
Pride (In the Name of Love) [Live] 4:27 U2
One World, One People 4:43 Xcultures
So Beautiful Or So What 4:09 Paul Simon
Higher Ground 3:22 Red Hot Chili Peppers
Black Or White 3:19 Michael Jackson
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free 4:09 Derek Trucks Band
Woke Up This Morning 3:55 Ruthie Foster
Spiritual High, Pt. 3 5:14 Moodswings
Love Rescue Me 3:48 Playing For Change
MLK 2:34 U2

Tuesday, Jan 20, 2015, 9am ~ Choosing Challenge

Freedom 3:07 Madonna
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
Shame (Feat. Eve And The A Group) 3:34 Jill Scott
Just the Way You Are 3:41 Bruno Mars
May all Beings 6:27 EarthRise SoundSystem
Pride (In the Name of Love) [Live] 4:27 U2
Complicated 4:07 Yonder Mountain String Band
So Beautiful Or So What 4:09 Paul Simon
Born This Way 4:20 Lady Gaga
Higher Ground 3:22 Red Hot Chili Peppers
Black Or White 3:19 Michael Jackson
Terrapin 4:31 Bonobo
Try 3:45 Colbie Caillat
Love Rescue Me 3:48 Playing For Change
Plegaria para el Alma de Layla 3:19 Pedro Aznar

Wednesday, Jan 21, 2015, 1055am ~ Choosing Challenge

Wish You Were Here 6:12 Bliss
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
Shame (Feat. Eve And The A Group) 3:34 Jill Scott
Just the Way You Are 3:41 Bruno Mars
Complicated 4:07 Yonder Mountain String Band
The Sound Of Winter 3:27 Bush
Drop It Low 3:45 Kat DeLuna
Fever (Adam Freeland Extended Remix) 7:03 Sarah Vaughan
Fly 3:33 Bart Hafeman
Terrapin 4:31 Bonobo
Butterfly 4:30 Bob Holroyd
Serengeti (Bliss Mix) 5:30 Infernal

Thursday, Jan 22, 2015, 9am ~ Choosing Challenge

Big Sky 4:04 Annie Lennox
Down To Earth 5:59 Peter Gabriel
Let The Groove Get In 7:12 Justin Timberlake
The Fire From Within 4:12 Tryptamoon
What Do You Say 5:00 Haley
Oye Como Va (Latin/Trance Mix) 4:17 Celia Cruz
Freedom 2:50 Tyrone Wells
Drop It Low 3:45 Kat DeLuna
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Fever (Adam Freeland Extended Remix) 7:03 Sarah Vaughan
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Mad World 3:03 Alex Parks
Jai Radha Madhav 6:27 Deva Premal


For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at…;

If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.

Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. They are offered all around the world so you can find one near you or where you may want to go!

And if you’re a belt, Helen Terry is coming to the Charlottesville area for a Blue Belt training in February! An exciting opportunity to deepen your practice!

obstackles warning signResolutions get a bad rap. Yes, most are vague, idealistic and rarely live to see February, but still, intentionally creating change and choosing to grow is skillful living.

The key is to see what can be and to see what stops me. If I don’t foresee the obstackles, they will trip me up for sure.

Gabriele Oettingen uses WOOP to both dream the dream and see what may get in the way.

Self-observation is the key to both the vision and the obstackle-identification!

Sometimes, if I identify the obstacles, they disappear on their own. If not, I’m ready for them.

melting expectations sjm xmas stocking 1967“Expectations are resentments under construction.”
~ Anne Lamott

‘Tis the season of expectation. I mean, honestly, it’s practically what December in the U.S. is about. What with the Christian season of advent (complete with an expecting mother and expectation of salvation), children everywhere writing lists of expected gifts, and all of us expecting the light and warmth to return to our side of the planet, expectation is woven into everything.

Desire and intention are one thing … but expectation has teeth. Expectation has an edge. There are inevitable consequences if expectations aren’t met. An expectation means that somebody is attached to an outcome and as a Buddhist teacher once pointed out, “Attachment to outcome: BEEEG problem.”

Especially at this time of year, it seems we have expectations for everything. We have expectations for meals and decorations and celebrations. For the way our friends and families should behave. For the way our children should respond. For way this time of year should feel. And Lord knows we have expectations of ourselves: to give a certain kind of gift, to look a certain way, and to be calm or cheerful or reverent or jolly.

Expectations are tricky and sticky. Trained as we are to gain approval and love from outside sources, most of us are programmed to do whatever we can to live up to expectations. But striving to get love for meeting someone’s expectations (including our own) is the prelude to resentment.

“The genius Taoists constantly give their full presence to scanning their whole body, locating any blocked or hard-to-describe discomforts, whereupon they say ‘Ice to Water, Water to Steam’ and literally use their imagination to SEE that place dissolve and the steam leave their body”. ~ Jamie Catto (see his full post here)

Expectations are the way we think things should be and that feels tight. There is next to no wiggle room in an expectation. Expectations are breath-holding brittleness and they are such a part of our lives that we often don’t realize they are there.

Expectations create tension in our activities, our meals, our parties, in our bodies. Expectations constrict. Something that started out as “I like to do it this way” (or “our family/religion/country likes to do it this way”) can morph into “I always do it this way” and then can mutate into “I have to do it this way.”

Stop reading for a second and notice anywhere where you feel tension in your body. Tension is where energy is stuck. Whether it is in your hamstrings or your heart, your thighs or your throat, tension is the body’s way of signaling to release and let flow. Release tension and more energy is available.

Especially at this time of year, our bodies and our minds can feel tight and dry. Mindful movement is a way of melting the dry tightness and introduces more liquid warmth to our experience. Whether mental, physical, or emotional tension, movement can allow the bristly edges of expectation soften.

Physicality affects the mind and emotions. Even just getting up from your desk to stretch and clear your mind can break up and melt the brittle hardness.

Our thoughts and imaginations affect the physical body. Imagining breathing space around you or light and love in and out of you can relax tension wherever it is lodged.

Sweat and tears and imagination all lend themselves to melting the hard edges of expectation and by extension, reducing the inevitable resentment that follows.

Let your intention be the hot skillet to icy expectation…Ice to water, water to steam.

eyebrow yoga cobra guy“He was thinking that in nearly every person there was some special physical part kept always guarded. With the mute his hands. The kid Mick picked at the front of her blouse to keep the cloth from rubbing the new, tender nipples beginning to come out on her breast. With Alice it was her hair; she used never to let him sleep with her when he rubbed oil in his scalp. And with himself?”

~ Carson McCullers, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

1. Notice

I take my right shoe off before my left.
When I step forward, my little toe comes down before my big toe.
When coasting on my bike, I usually have my right foot in front.
When he’s absorbed in reading, he clicks his fingernail against his tooth.
She almost always wears navy blue.
There is a picture of purple and yellow flowers above the Martha Jefferson MRI machine.

2. Notice What You Notice

Sometimes all I see are the flowers. Sometimes, I only see the weeds.

Sometimes I put all my attention on what is working well. Teaching the same focus during the week with different routines for each class. Making meals like tacos and salads and sandwiches that everyone can customize for themselves. Following the 13 Moon Calendar and wearing the color of the day. Feeling the ease in my feet and neck.

Other times my focus is on what’s not working. My cueing is too late. I’m procrastinating around writing. I’m not sleeping well. My right shoulder aches.

I have good reasons for noticing both. And for noticing what I’m noticing.

3. Notice What You Don’t Notice

A dear, wise friend gave me a book, The Pen and The Bell by Brenda Miller and Holly J. Hughes. I love it.  It’s like Nia for writing!  The chapter I read last night suggests:

Each day, try to look closely at something you think you already know well….Observe it for longer than a few seconds. Can you pick up on any forgotten or unexpected details?

I love this idea but I don’t have time for that these days.

Later, stroking the hair I’ve stroked for 16 years I notice that it’s grayer than I realized near his temples, almost completely dark brown at the back. He hasn’t gotten it cut since he’s been hurt, so now it curls around his ears and along his neck.

* * *

As I lift up into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Sara says, “Look up with your eyes, not your eyebrows.” Oh my gosh.  I realize I’m straining so hard with my eyebrows, they’re practically up under my hair. I’d never noticed that before.  And then in every pose, I realize I’m almost always lifting my eyebrows. And when I’m brushing my teeth and trolling through the grocery store and talking and watching soccer…

* * *

“Swing your arms, sweetie!” says Frank as we’re hiking through a pine forest. I am often unaware that I’m walking with only my lower body and I’m not letting my arms swing free. Hmm. I wonder if that’s why my shoulder hurts?

rushin refugee report vegetarian-foodJune is Savoring Month (as designated by my very own self) and every Wednesday this month, I’ll be checking in on how I’m doing as a recovering Rushin’ Refugee.

Sometimes I’ll be talking to a friend and they are telling me about a screenplay they are writing or a stained-glass mural they are grouting and they say, “I was so into what I was doing, I forgot to eat.”

At which point I get to giggling which kind of gums up the whole conversation. But truly. I ask you. I have been alive for almost 50 years and I have never, never ever once, not for one meal have I ever forgotten to eat.

As I watch myself, though, I’m wondering if is really true. While I can say for sure I’ve put food in the ol’ pie hole at every meal every single day, I can also say for sure that I wasn’t really paying that much attention for many of those feedings.

I’ve never forgotten to eat, but now I am remembering to eat.

At the front end of a meal, I’m usually awake and aware. As I sit down to eat, I stop and take a breath. I look at my plate and offer gratitude to all the miracles and all the hands that made the meal possible. When I eat with my family, we say a grace. I take a sip of water (or wine). I pick up my fork and…

…everything goes kaflooey.

My first bite is like the push-off down a ski jump. It doesn’t take long for me to gather momentum until I’m just rocketing along pushing food in without tasting it. The reasons for the speeded up disconnect are many: I might be talking to my dinner mates or distracted or over-hungry or emotional or on auto-pilot. A few minutes later, I look up from my plate with quinoa kernels in my eyebrows and avocado on my chin. First to finish again.

Where the habit of scarfing started I don’t know but I’m doing my best to shift it. In the past weeks, when I notice the meal time ski jump launch happening, I stop and put down my fork and take a breath. Reset. Restart. Re-thank. Take a bite and notice. Remarkably, one day last week, I made myself a salad that was very lovely. I sat down to eat it, took a bite, and realized I didn’t want it. I put it away for later. Amazing.

Just like the drinking habit, this one is not going away soon or completely. But it feels better, and frankly, more nourishing to take time to remember to eat.

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