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Art In Action

I’m headed to northern Minnesota to celebrate my father-in-law’s 90th birthday but progress on the book continues!

While I’m packing up our camper and hitting the road, so is Buddha Cat. She is zooming to the printer and soon soon proofs will be flying to my in-laws for me to check!

I really don’t know what I’m doing, but the ride is exciting! Want to come along? Go to www.susanmcculley.com and sign up to be a Buddha Cat Backer. It’s free, of course, I’m not asking for money — just some energy. I’ll send you news and updates as well as discounts and goodies. I’d love to have you along!

I’ll be back in August and until then
Dance on. Shine on. Purr on.
Love,

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

For those of you who have been stationed on Neptune for the past 18 months, today is the U.S. Presidential election. There is no doubt that I will spend much of this highly charged day asking the question that Eckhart Tolle suggests that we ask ourselves regularly: What is my relationship with the present moment?

I am certain that during this day I will feel all kinds of emotions, and this is a question that is appropriate to ask at all kinds of times in a variety of situations, not just super-dramatic ones. This is a powerful question to ask whenever I’m feeling

  1. Afraid
  2. Worried
  3. Excited
  4. Hopeful
  5. Angry
  6. Irritated
  7. Impatient
  8. Bored
  9. Distracted
  10. Upset or rattled in any way

Whatever is going on in my experience – whether my hair is on fire or my panties are in a twist, whether I’m bouncing with anticipation or zoning out in boredom – check out what you’re bringing to your relationship to the present moment. The three most helpful things to check into are

  1. Breath
  2. Body
  3. Thinking

And not necessarily in this order. I usually start wherever the sensation or awareness is strongest and investigate from there.

Breath

What is my breath doing? Is it shallow or ragged? Am I holding it? Am I laughing or making sound? Is it deep and full? What happens if I make a conscious choice to change my breathing?

Body

What physical sensations am I experiencing? There may be big sensations but there are always something you can feel and check into. Am I bracing or tense? Is my jaw clenched or my stomach tight? Does my heart feel fluttery or my throat like I want to squeal? What happens when I make a conscious choice to pay attention to sensation without attaching any story to it?

Thinking

Where are my thoughts going? Am I worrying that something will happen or won’t happen? Am I envisioning the smoking wreckage of my future or a glowing tower of eternal bliss? Do I believe that whatever is happening will be so forever?

This practice of asking the question – What is my relationship with the present moment? – can be used any time to deepen our awareness in the moment and remind us of the choices that are always available. It can be helpful when I feel when I feel upset and angry, disconnected or neutral, when I feel excited and giddy.

Who knew that watching election returns could be a spiritual practice?

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

I’ve been teaching wearing a superhero cape this week and I LOVE it. I may never take it off. Maybe this post should be called 4 Ways to Be Your Own Superhero: the first of which is to wear a cape all the time. Done and done.

Even if that sartorial choice doesn’t work for you, there are ways to bring out your inner superhero.

Being your own superhero is really like setting a super-intention: identify the qualities that matter the most to you and make them a priority in the choices you make. Of course, that can be way easier said than done. Here are three ways to support your superhero self.

1. Body Language Shapes Who You Are

The research of Harvard Business School social psychologist, Amy Cuddy (whose TED Talk is one of the most popular of all time and is totally worth watching ) indicates that how you hold your body affects your emotion, mind and even your physiology. Her findings show that holding a powerful position for 2 minutes (think Wonder Woman pose) makes you feel more powerful … and actually makes you more powerful. Notice and choose how you hold your body and pay attention to both how you feel and how others respond to you.

2. Act As If

There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.” – Theodore Roosevelt

What happens if you act as if you have the superpower you want to cultivate? While this isn’t a great idea if you want to fly or walk through walls, it can be extremely helpful if you want to be patient or courageous or kind. Pretend you are what you want to be and pay attention to how it is different than your habit. You may find yourself standing, moving and speaking differently simply by pretending you are what you want to be.

3. Bring in an Ally

When you’re going into a tricky situation or starting something you’re anxious about, bring an ally with you! Think of someone who you admire or who has the qualities that you want to have in this situation and imagine them coming with you. Before making choices or taking action, ask yourself, What would my ally do? Sometimes, I take a breath and ask my ally for help or advice. Maya Angelou has helped me out of more pickles than I can count!


You already have all the qualities in you that you want to cultivate. Really! Being a superhero is consciously choosing those qualities you want to bring forward. So put on your cape and go flex your superpowered self.

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

On Thursday, I get on a train for Boston to teach a workshop and visit long lost friends. I’ve got piles of work and projects and books for the long train rides and then clothes, of course, dancing and otherwise, and hair products and green tea and all that. I expect I’ll be laiden down when I climb on the train and I can already feel the relief of stowing my gear and settling in for the ride.

There is something that shifts profoundly when we choose to put down whatever we are carrying. The first order of business is paying attention, noticing what we are carrying with us. Particularly if we’ve been carrying it for a long time, it can feel “normal” to worry about your children, for example, or obsess about your weight.

Here are 10 things to investigate: what am I carrying and what does it feel like to put it down?

1. Tension

The body is always a good place to begin. Investigate with a body scan (here’s a body scan for beginners) first large body parts and then narrowing down to smaller and smaller spaces. Where are you holding, can you let it go, even for a little while, and how does that feel? After exercise or just before bed are great times to experiment with this.

2. Stories & Voices

In the dance.sit.create. retreats, we talk a good deal about The Voices: the noise in our heads that we first picked up from other people and the culture at large and then sustained in our own noggins. Pay attention to the stories that bounce around in your head, perhaps unnoticed, and play with gently letting them go. You don’t have to scream at them to go away, just see what it feels like without them for even a few seconds.

3. Beliefs

Beliefs are similar to stories and voices but they can be even sneakier in that we can hold them as unassailably true. A belief along the lines of “I’m too old to do that” might be stopping you in one way and a belief like “I am strong and can do anything” might trip you up in another way. More institutional or cultural beliefs like “it’s not patriotic to do that” or “we don’t do it like that here” might be preventing you from seeing other possibilities or points of view. This isn’t to suggest that you need to abandon your beliefs, just see what it feels like to put them down for a little while.

4. Assumptions

Assumptions live in the future. When I see something and my mind quickly unspools a whole story about what has or will happen, I’m making an assumption. Assumptions are slippery devils to catch since we all make them all the time. The practice is to notice when it happens (it helps when my assumptions are disproved) and put it down. Let the next moment unfold brand new, with nothing attached.

5. Expectations

Similarly to assumptions, expectations are what we create around the future in an attempt to control what will happen. But as Anne Lamott points out, “expectations are resentments under construction.” My expectations for myself, other people, institutions are a set-up. See what happens if you simply put them down and come into direct contact with the present moment.

6. Anticipation

Another resident of the future, anticipation is what we carry when we step toward the unknown. It can be a mix of excitement, anxiety and fantasy (I had an anticipation dream last night, for example, in which I showed up to the workshop and I couldn’t find the stereo, and then couldn’t find my music and as usual in these situations, I couldn’t find my pants). It’s helps me to notice when I’m weaving a sticky web of wondering what will happen that keeps me out of what is actually happening right now.

7. Worries

One of my favorite uses of the word worry is to tear at, gnaw on, or drag around with the teeth. As in, “I sat in the waiting room, worrying a hangnail.” This definition gets at the feeling of continually returning to something over and over again even if doing so is unproductive or even painful. I can worry about something that happened in the past – replaying it on a loop. Or if I’m worrying about something in the future, Bhagavan Das reminds me that “worrying is praying for something you don’t want.” Either way, past or future, worry is an excellent thing to just put down.

8. Fears

Fears are just big worries that similarly live in a future which does not exist. Only the present moment exists. So putting down our fears makes space for responding to the present and making skillful choices. If I’m tied up in fear, I don’t have the same resources or vision of possibilities that I do when I set fear down and be present.

9. Excitement

It seems like a positive thing, excitement, but really it’s like worry, only it’s a positive illusion instead of negative. When I get that fluttery feeling in my chest, I know it’s taking me out of the present and actually living. So I play with putting down even excitement.

10. Hope

As excitement is the other side of worry, hope is the other side of fear. Thich Nhat Hahn says, “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.” But hope does not reside in the present moment. If just for a little while, to feel the relief of not constructing a better tomorrow, put down even hope. Allow yourself to carry nothing even briefly to create space for what is possible.

BONUS: Habit

It has been said that the strongest force in the universe is the force of habit. We all carry habits in our bodies, minds, emotions, relationships, schedules — everything! Habits are so strong that putting them down unleashes a wave of energy (that often feels awkward and uncomfortable). Playing with breaking habit, even for short amounts of time is a practice that can offer big benefits.

The practice of putting it down doesn’t mean that we will never carry any of these things again. It only gives ourselves the opportunity to feel the relief of not holding on. Instead of habitually toting these things around, putting them down creates the space to make choices about what we really want to carry.

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

“ ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” ~Matthew 25:40

When it comes right down to it, Matthew 25:40 is the litmus test for me.

How a person, a company, a congregation, a country treats the least among them reveals everything about character. And while I can see how corrosive it is when others treat the powerless poorly, I don’t always recognize when I do it in myself. Treating my most vulnerable, least powerful parts with anger, callousness or by ignoring them is equally revelatory about me.

Here are 4 ways of looking for and connecting with “the least of these” in yourself. First, give yourself a few minutes to get quiet. Sit comfortably somewhere where you can be undisturbed for a while and take a few breaths to let thinking and doing settle down.

1. The Least of the Body

Scan your body and notice the part that is giving you the most sensation or presents itself as needing the most healing right now. It may be the place of a recent or past injury. It may be an illness or disease or where the repercussions of habitual movement gather. Whereever the place is, first notice how you feel and talk about it. Are you impatient or frustrated with it or do you ignore it? Then spend some time sensing this part of you directly without story or judgement. Simply notice the direct sensation without adding anything to it. Be open to feeling what it most needs. From there you can make a choice about how to respond.

2. The Least of the Mind

From the same quiet place, notice the lines of thought that feel difficult or that drain you in some way. Notice what Jason Mraz calls the “thoughts that do not make me strong” and which ones are predominant right now. You might be worried about something or angry about something. You might have a recurring cycle of thinking about your circumstances (or job or children) or you may have thoughts that circle around fruitlessly in an obsessive cul de sac.

Then notice thoughts about those thoughts. Do you get exasperated with yourself for thinking like that or do you just buy into the thoughts and see them as true? Separate the thoughts from the thoughts-about-thoughts and inquire what the “thoughts that do not make me strong” need, what would ease them. Sometimes just paying attention and being kind to the worried or frightened part of you who is thinking this way can ease the relentless thought flow. Other times, realizing that it only hurts you to worry or stew in your own angry juices can help to disentangle from the “not strong” thinking.

3. The Least of the Emotions

Not long ago, I was with a friend who was telling me about a difficult situation at home. With fire in her voice, she detailed the thoughtless things her partner had done and then she stopped abruptly and said, “I should just not get angry.” I wished for her and for all of us that when painful or vulnerable emotions come up that we can treat them gently and give them attention. Ignoring feelings only pushes them underground to resurface in unexpected and often unskillful ways. Giving them our awareness and tenderness can help get to the root of them and allow them to heal.

4. The Least of the Spirit

When my spirit is hurt and limping along, I often can’t quite identify what’s happening. As Avicii sings, “I didn’t know I was lost.” This is what it feels like when I lose touch with awareness: I’m lost but I don’t know it.

One way I can tap into how my spirit is faring is to ask myself about my aliveness: do I feel alive and engaged with my life and the world? I might well be angry or passionate or afraid of things that are happening but if I also feel alive, my spirit is likely doing fine. On the other side, my life might be fine on the surface with the kids’ lunches getting packed and the calendar full of events and the work getting done but if I also feel numb or disconnected or even dead inside, it’s likely that my spirt needs tending. Rather than poo-pooing the feelings, ask what would wake me up? What would help me feel more alive?


Once I am more connected to my relationship with “the least of these” in myself, I can open my awareness to how that manifests in my relationships with others, and what groups I want to invest my energy in. When connecting with a community or business or political party, one question I always want to ask before I join them is, What do you do for the least among you?

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

I’m all about feet.

Since 1999, I’ve been dancing barefoot and exploring what happens in the body when we take off our shoes and move as we were designed. I’m always interested in ways of stretching, massaging, strengthening, and generally caring for feet since happy feet are the foundation of a happy body (just ask me after I’ve spent the evening standing in pointy, pointy high heeled shoes how happy I’m feeling).

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But when I stumbled on this video I learned something that set up a cascade of unexpected discoveries that surprised even a foot health fan like me.

1. Stretch the feet and release the back of the legs

The Pilates foot release video has a nice protocol for stretching that I’ve been enjoying but it’s not that different from other stretches I’ve done on my feet with a variety of balls (tennis, Yamuna , foot rollers , etc.). What fascinated me was the connection between releasing my feet and releasing my hamstrings.

Not only did it feel good to stretch and open my feet, I loved that I could also feel the release through my back legs. That discovery had me looking for other connections…

2. Release backs of legs and release low back

As I noticed a lengthening and release in the back of my legs, I noticed a corresponding release through my low back. I have a tendency towards lumbar lordosis (or duck butt)

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but as my feet and back legs released, my tailbone dropped down allowing my lumbar spine to let go. So I kept following the thread…

3. Release low back and engage core

As my low back released from its habitual hyperextension, my low core and belly naturally turned on. <a href=”http://As we’ve talked about before in this space” target=”_blank”>As we’ve talked about before in this space, core strength is key to moving in a with grace and power but a perhaps surprising benefit of core engagement is…

4. Engage core and get lighter and more flexible feet

…that a strong core, allows me to step more lightly, with more mobility and agility without taxing my feet which allows them to stay (you guessed it) more flexible.

This chain works in both directions: I can also focus on stepping lightly, without dropping my foot, and that strengthens my core, which releases my tailbone and lumbar spine, which lengthens my hamstrings which creates more ease in my feet.

Cool, huh?

And all of this connection sleuthing has me curious about other unexpected connections in the body. Some of the ones I also play with:
• Relaxing my jaw allows my hips to let go
• Pressing my feet into the floor and opening the arch of my feet allows me to breathe more deeply (stretching my diaphragm)
• The thoughts and images I have in my mind profoundly connect with how my body feels and moves

As ever, I’d love to hear how this chain of connection reverberates in your body and any surprising connections that you’ve discovered in your own practice! Do tell.

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

You wake up (or sit at your desk all day or trip over a root or try carrying ALL the groceries in) and something in your body doesn’t feel good. Instead of focusing and dwelling on what hurts, here are 6 ways to expand your view:

1. Notice what’s happening in detail. Is the pain throbbing, steady, hot, sharp, sporadic, steady?

2. Notice what’s happening around the part that hurts. If it’s your knee, for example, what’s happening in your hip? Your IT band? Your foot? Your ankle? If you take care of the parts around the pain (stretch, for example, or roll on a foam roller, or massage), does it affect the hurt part?

3. Notice what things soothe the pain and what things exacerbate it.

4. Notice what doesn’t hurt in your body, what actually feels good or open or free. Notice that just because one part hurts doesn’t mean that everything is a hopeless mess.

5. Notice how you talk about the pain. Do you call it your “bad knee” or your “stupid back” or your “annoying shoulder”? Do you talk about how much it stinks to get old and how that’s just what happens when you reach a certain age?

6. Notice how you feel about the pain. Do you live in what my friend calls “the wreckage of your future”? Does a pain in your knee spiral into “never hike again,” “never walk again,” “knee cancer”? Notice if your emotional story makes it more than it really is.

With an expanded view, see how it feels to reconnect with the injured part of you. Are there more possibilities? More perspective?

You can use the same approach when something in your life or in a relationship or in the world feels bad. See what happens when you expand your view:

1. Notice what’s happening in detail. Do your best to understand the full situation and then investigate what it is that you are feeling. Stay concrete rather than rushing to the philosophical. Check out the physical sensations in your body around the situation. Is your stomach tight? Does your head hurt? Your heart?

2. Notice what’s happening around what feels bad. Investigate what is happening around the situation. What might be contributing to it beyond the obvious? Is someone afraid, desperate, embarrassed or angry? Are you?

3. Notice what things soothe your suffering about the situation and what things exacerbate it.

4. Notice what is working in the situation. Notice the good. As Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

5. Notice how you talk about the situation. Do you call someone “an idiot” or a company “heartless” or a decision “crazy”? Do you lump a group of people together or make the situation black and white with the way you talk about it?

6. Notice how you feel about the situation. Do you live in “the wreckage of the future”? Does the situation spiral into “everything will be terrible,” and, “the world will end”? Notice if your emotional story makes it more than it really is.

With an expanded view, see how it feels to reconnect with the difficult situation. Are there more possibilities? More perspective?

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