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Art

I took a week off from regular teaching to work on my book, Octabusy: How To Let Go in a Sea of Doing and was grateful to have a chance to move together at Dancing Water on Thursday morning. All week, I’ve found myself contemplating the creative process ~ whether you’re creating collages, cookies or kids, spaghetti sauce, spreadsheets or sculpture. We are in the midst of creating whether we acknowledge it or not. How can you approach your life with the lens of creativity and possibility? What if there were fewer rules than you thought? What would be different if you thought of yourself as an artist and your life as your art?

Below is Thursday’s playlist! If you’d like to listen to the music, you can find almost all the songs on Spotify (you can listen for free)! As always, please let me know if you have any questions about any of the music we dance to!

And friends, I am always ALWAYS looking for new music. Do you have a song that you love to move to or that moves you? I’d love to know what it is! Please respond in the comments below or email me at sjmnia@gmail.com!

Before the playlists, here is the scoop on a whole slew of great things happening this summer!

SUMMER SPECIAL for Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 9am ~~ my mix of guided and unguided movement, meditation and creativity! Now on SUMMER SPECIAL ~~ You and a friend move in the trees by the river at a discounted rate of $20! Please go to http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop for the details. Come join us in the trees by the river for grounded, flowing, spacious movement. Second Thursdays are followed by a pot luck brunch/tea/snackie! Nourish yourself with movement and bring something nourishing to share! There is space in upcoming classes so please go HERE to sign up!
* The Studio at Dancing Water is at 2370 Old Lynchburg Road ~ detailed directions at http://www.susanmcculley.com and via email when you sign up!

Saturday July 27, 9-12noon – Moving & Writing with Light: Nourishing Body & Eyes with Susan & Rebecca
Susan & Rebecca offer a morning to expand your perspective on two things that everybody has: a body and a smartphone. The word “photography” means “writing with light.” A photo isn’t a copy of something— it’s a story written *by light*! And light is weaving stories all around us, all the time. Using the simple cameras that we all carry —the ones in our phones! — we’ll play with the stories of light around us and experience how changing our perspectives can change everything. Susan will weave movement and mindfulness into the morning to practice being with light & shadow. No experience in photography or movement needed, just bring a phone or tablet with a built-in camera and your body. If you like, from 12-2pm, bring a lunch and savor it on the porch, on the bench overlooking the river or on a rock in the middle of it. Bring water shoes and you could even sit in the water. $75. Register at http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop.

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom ~ Video Series with Cecily Armstrong
Over the past few years I’ve been inspired and energized by the teaching and guidance of Cecily Armstrong. She is so generous with her offerings ~ her latest is a three-part video workshop Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom. If you’ve ever felt confused about how best to nourish yourself and live your healthiest, happiest life, Cecily offers amazing insights. You can sign up for the video series here.

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom

Nia Moving to Heal with Rachel ~ Sundays at 330pm
Join Rachel for an hour of Nia Moving to Heal on Sundays in Studio A, ACAC Downtown. The intent of every Nia Moving to Heal class is to feel better. You are invited to seek self-healing for your body, mind, emotions and spirit as we engage in simplified Nia routines, adaptable for all. Treat yourself to an hour of slowing down.

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Aug 2 at 11:25am
Nia Freedance is an opportunity to play and tap into the creative wisdom in our body, emotions, mind and spirit. For a full hour we get to dance together with the intention of stimulating our own unique movement creativity. The next Nia Freedance will be at ACAC Albemarle Square Friday, Jul 5 from 11:25 -12:25.

Nia White Belt Training with Kelle Rae Oien Aug 15-21 at SoulShines in Richmond
Whether for personal growth, developing your practice or preparing to teach, the Nia White Belt training is a life-changing experience. Join stellar White Belt Trainer, Kelle Rae Oien at the new SoulShines Studios in Richmond. Go here for more information!
https://www.facebook.com/events/796684947329568/ (NOTE: A belt can audit 3 sessions for free. (They will need to pay for classes with Kelle – not included in the free offer) A retake (anything more than 3 sessions) is $99 to HQ and $400 to Kelle. That includes all classes.)

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Thursday, Jul 11, 2019, 9am Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ The Art of You

One Good Dub 8:16 Kaya Project
State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.) 5:17 Jim James
Rafiki (Sidewalk Mix) 6:25 Bob Holroyd
Don’t Say 5:47 Deep Dive Corp.
Crayola Doesn’t Make a Color for Your Eyes 3:35 Kristin Andreassen
Oye Como Va (Latin/Trance Mix) 4:17 Celia Cruz
Reconfluence 6:19 Bob Holroyd
Sometimes 4:06 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Freedom (feat. The Mail Pilots) 4:39 Nossa Toca
Fireflies 3:31 Mofro
Shanti (Peace Out) 6:59 MC Yogi

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT NIA?

For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at http://www.nianow.com…
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!

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Three years ago today, we saw the land that we now live on for the first time. I think of it as a birthday of sorts. Below is an essay that I wrote then and never shared until today..

Come join us at The Studio at Dancing Water on Thursday, July 11 from 9-1015am. If you’ve not been out to the space, this is a great week to do it! We’ll move in the trees by the river and then, if you like, sit on the porch with tea and potluck snacks! I would love to have you there to be part of the nourishing movement and a little celebration.

Dancing Water

July 2016

This weekend, I fell in love. Which is crazy since I’m nearly 52 and I’ve been happily married for almost 17 years and we just moved into a new house he renovated less than a year ago. But love is like that. Love sneaks up on you at inappropriate times, and takes your breath away and there is just not a damned thing you can do about it.

My husband, Frank, fell in love this weekend, too. He looked at me with wide eyes and said, “I can hardly breathe.” I said, “I know” but really, it’s not my breath… it’s my heart. My heart is beating out of my chest.

We could hear it before we could see it. We walked through the ironwood trees and over lichened rocks and skittered a little down the steep hill and then there it was. They are called the falls at Natural Dam on the North Fork of the Hardware River and they are part of a property that we now very much want to buy.

I started laughing and shaking my head. Unbelievable. Only Frank could do this. We shucked off our clothes and stepped into the frothing water. I let the cool green current swirl around my shoulders and between my fingers and I looked at Frank with tears in my eyes and said, “You did this.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Two weeks before, we’d been traveling with our little camper in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There are mountains there, of course, but what we were looking for, what we always look for, are rivers and waterfalls. Most days found us hiking along creeks and rivers, doing dramatic crossings over rocks, sharing a granola bar while perched on a miniature island, playing in found swimming holes and whenever we could being near water falling over stone.

Near the end of our trip, we were in the middle of a river on a mossy rock dappled with sunlight alternately snapping crisp bites off an apple. My shoes were off and I let my feet play on the moving surface of the water.

Frank said, “I know we just moved into our house and we both love it but we both also love water. Have you ever thought about living near water? Near the ocean or a lake or something?”
I laughed and closed my eyes and leaned against him. I smelled his rich sweaty dirty smell after hours of hiking.

“I love the ocean and I love lakes,” I said, “but the only water I would consider living near is a river. I love this sound. I love the feel of it. That’s the only water I’d move for.”

“Well, then we should manifest a piece of land on a river within 10 miles of Charlottesville for the money we have that I can build a house on!” he said, just like that, as if there are such things.

I laughed in a hard burst since it was the silliest thing to even say, let alone pretend to manifest.

“Yeah, okay Frank,” I said, closing my eyes again and feeling the warm sun on my face and the strength of him sitting next to me. “We’ll do that.”

But I should know better. After all these years, I should know that he can do it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Since we’ve been home from the Smokies, I’ve been working like a wild thing – teaching more classes while my colleagues are out of town and working on writing and art pieces that had been neglected while we were away. Frank is looking for a house to renovate. He finds one that looks promising but it’s already got an offer on it. And then another, that could work but no, it’s got not only an offer but back up offers. He tells me he’s going to check out Craigslist just in case there is something there.

On Saturday, when I come back from teaching I’m famished and making lunch. He walks into the kitchen holding open his computer and hands it to me. “What about this?” he says.

I’m chopping an egg and I’m distracted with hunger and I lean over to see what he’s showing me. It looks like a waterfall.

“Wait, what?” I say, “What is that?”
“It’s a property. It’s for sale. It’s got a waterfall on it.”

I’ve driven to dozens and dozens of houses and properties with this man. He renovates old houses and he’s got vision. So when he sees something that looks like it might work he says, “Want to drive out and see it with me?” I always say yes. Almost always, it’s in a terrible neighborhood or built on top of the train line or it’s falling right down to the ground. Almost always, it doesn’t work.

We drive to where we think this property “where you can hear the water from anywhere” is and we can’t see or hear a thing. We wander around and we both find ticks crawling on us. Another disappointment. Oh well.

But when we get home and he calls the number on the ad. The man tells us we were in the wrong place. So we put on our hiking boots again and as we head back out. Frank drives and I hold the hand-drawn map he’s made: past the old farm house and the meadow and down the gravel road and under the power lines and there’s the turn out.

We get out of the car and I can hear the water.

It’s 9 miles from Charlottesville. It costs exactly the amount we have. And it’s got a waterfall.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Love is a funny thing. Maybe the funniest thing there is. Even after being struck with lightning-bolt love, it’s never simple. Even when your heart pounds and your breath catches, maybe especially then. Love is full of everything and drags you all over tarnation.

Two days after seeing it, less than 48 hours after we slid down the hill and into the green water, we placed an offer on the land. Early that morning Frank came into the kitchen and said, “Here’s what I think: I think we should put in an offer. My whole life, I’ve made decisions with my heart and I’ve never once regretted it. When I met you, I could have said it was too soon and you didn’t really want kids and it was too complicated, but I didn’t. You could say the timing isn’t right on this land and it’s going to be complicated to build, but I just looked at the video I took on Saturday and I saw this…”

He handed me his phone. After we’d swum in the river on that first day, after we’d stared in wonder at the woods and rocks and water, we got dressed and Frank took a video. I hadn’t realized it but in the first split second, he caught me in the frame. I was beaming.

“Look at your face,” he said. “That’s why I think we should make an offer.”

The offer was contingent on figuring out the road into the property. Maybe we could share the existing road that led to two nearby houses. The property has a right of way through a neighboring property but it would require taking out dozens of trees. Or we thought so but the actual location of not only the right of way but the property itself wasn’t clear. We knew we couldn’t build near the river or at any grade of 25% or more. We knew we needed 30,000 square feet of buildable land on this side of the river. But the deed and the county’s on-line topographical maps were full of discrepancies. The county said we didn’t have enough space to build on. The owner assured us we did.

While the owner made arrangements for a surveyor to come re-measure the property and the right of way, Frank started learning. He learned about county regulations. No, you can’t share a road with two other houses. He learned about how much tree removal and putting in culverts and buying tons of gravel would cost. He learned about how the county’s topographical maps were drawn and that maybe they weren’t particularly accurate in forested areas. He learned about challenging interactions between adjoining property owners and arguments about how the land could be used. He learned about engineered septic fields and how much it would be to dig a well. In the first week he designed and redesigned the house four times. He measured and remeasured where he would position it on the land, shifting it again and again to avoid the biggest hardwood trees. He relearned the Sketch Up software so he could see the design in 3D and how the sun would come in the windows.

He learned about chiggers. After a couple of times to the property, we both discovered our bodies – especially our most tender places – covered with wildly itchy bites. Chiggers are nymph-stage arachnids that hang out on long grasses in wet places. They hop onto birds and turtles and people. They are so small as to be invisible and can go right through most fabric. They find a tender spot, inject an enzyme that liquefies the skin which they then drink down and hop off, leaving an irritated bite that made us want to take belt sanders to our ankles and crotches.

After reading a series of alternately disgusting and hilarious sites about chigger avoidance, we determined where we were picking them up and how to stop the itching. We’d have to keep the grass by the river cut short but we figured we could even work around the chiggers.

But we couldn’t work around anything if we didn’t have enough buildable land. Without 30,000 square feet on the south end of the property, everything else was moot.

The owner arranged for a surveyor to come out to measure everything the day before we left for a trip to Minnesota to visit Frank’s family. Frank went out with them in the hopes of getting a definitive answer before we left but all the measurements had to be fed into a computer for the final results.

We’d been with his family for 24 hours before we told them about the land and our hopes to build. As Frank showed his design to his parents, sister and brother-in-law, my phone buzzed with a text. It was the owner. We had 30,000 feet and more.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

July 2019

At least a million things have happened since we got confirmation that we could build Frank’s vision. At least a million problems that looked like they made the whole proposition untenable. And yet one miracle after another kept happening: financing, a genius road builder, a hard-working creative engaged crew, materials off of Craigslist, a genius septic system installer (even if he was a teensy bit late), and Frank there all along working and creating every minute. A whole cascade of miracles leading up to today and right now. I am writing these words in the house the Frank manifested, designed, and built with his two hands. I can hear the water outside the window. And I’m beaming.

It’s Art Week! Next week, I’m taking the week from teaching at acac to focus on making art for Octabusy: How to Let Go in a Sea of Doing.

When I’m in the midst of a big project (read: up to my armpits or maybe my eyelashes), I find it helpful (and sometimes productive, we’ll see!) to take time to focus on it as exclusively as life allows. I know how slippery time can be, though, so it’s also helpful to approach time away from my normal schedule with intention.

My feeling is that it might not (who am I kiddin? probably won’t, most certainly won’t) go this way, but it truly won’t if I don’t set the intention.

I’ll let you know how it goes when I come back to acac teaching next week!

I will be teaching at Dancing Water on Thursday morning, July 11 at 9am! Please come ~~ I’ll be hankering to move with you!

Until soon, friends!

This week’s post and art are from a couple of years ago. I found the approach to be helpful to revisit. I hope you do, too.

~~ Originally posted October 11, 2015 ~~
The first time I hear the phrase it pops me awake in a 615am yoga class at Kripalu . I’ve been on the road for a week. I haven’t slept well for days. It is, as I mentioned, just after 6am. I am fuzzy foggy at best but as soon as the instructor says it, I snap to attention:

How you do anything is how you do everything.

She says it and I think, Wait a minute, no, wait. That’s not right. Is it? We have only just started the class. I am only in Child’s Pose. How is it possible that I am doing Child’s Pose in the same way I do Wheel pose or teach my classes or hug my husband or write my blog?

For an hour, it ricochets around in my head: my argument about it couldn’t be true that how I do anything is how I do everything.

A few years later, I hear it again in another yoga class with an added phrase that also wakes me up:

How you do anything is how you do everything. Let your practice be a metaphor for your life.

The intervening time — that has included a sabbatical from and then a reinvigorated return to teaching and an equally reinvigorated yoga practice — has me more receptive to the idea. I begin to get it that the qualities, the intentions, the habits I bring along with me onto the mat are the same ones I bring everywhere else.

But not just that: Let your practice be a metaphor for your life. I have a choice about how I do everything I do.

The whole concept is intriguing enough that I want to investigate. It seems that the laboratory of the yoga studio is a good place to start. My first step is a down-to-the-bones honest observation. When I think about my yoga practice in the abstract when I’m off the mat, I go quickly to the distortions of I-suck-beat-myself-up or well-hey-I’m-pretty-darn-good-at-that – which is neither accurate nor helpful. Instead, I honestly observe myself as I’m doing my practice and ask myself How do I do this?

This is what I find:
1. I put in a good deal of effort – sometimes more than necessary.
2. I am dedicated to the point of obsession.
3. I am easily distracted until I get in the groove and then I’m focused.
4. I love learning but can get frustrated at the beginning when things are awkward.
5. I compare myself to others (especially in the distracted stage of #3).
6. I am strong and open in some ways, weak and resistant in others.
7. I tend to rush through and want to get to the next part.
8. For better or for worse, I easily fall into habit.
9. Interruptions (especially once I’m in the groove of #3) and the unexpected can upset me.

I’m sure there are other things that are also observable and true about my practice but Yes. That is how I do yoga. But is it how I do everything? Really?

I take my How I Do Yoga list and start running through my life: Writing, teaching, meditation, relationships, art, cooking. Gosh, would you look at that? Spot on. Every one. Every. Single. One.

Dang.

This is somehow simultaneously humbling and comforting. There I am. On the yoga mat, on the dance floor, at my desk, in my kitchen, in my life.

So the question is, what do I do with this metaphor for my life? I look at how I do yoga and ask, Is this how I want to do yoga? Is that how I want to teach? And write? And draw? And make dinner? And love people?

Some of it yes and some of it not so much. The truth is I can take the current metaphor and I can edit it. Just like I rework sentences and paragraphs in my posts so they are in closer alignment with what I want to say, I can choose to adjust my practice to be in closer alignment to how I’d like to live. And those edits on the mat will expand into everything I do.

Aritostle, widely remembered as an extremely clever guy, said [2019 NOTE: Turns out that not Aristotle, but Will Durant said this. More on that here.]

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

I have a choice about the habits I cultivate on the mat and in my classes and in my writing and everywhere. As I make even small changes to doing anything, how I do everything will change, too.

It’s like an essay that I am reworking or a routine I’ve taught many times: Observe. Edit. Repeat.

So. (And you knew this was coming, didn’t you?)

How do you practice? How do you do the chores? How do you drive? How do you talk to people? What are your habits? Are they what you want them to be? Observe. Edit. Repeat.

How you do anything is how you do everything.


At various times in the past week, my art room spilled from my office into the living room and occasionally onto the kitchen table. I’ve had watercolors drying on one table with pens and pencils scattered around on the floor and paper, notes, and quotes interspersed in all of it. At any given time, there were at least two pairs of glasses in the mix, a couple of rulers, scissors, and some glue.

After art-ing for a while, I take some time to go through what I’ve made and decide which pieces I might use and how. But then I pop up from my art bubble, survey the mess with uneasiness. Even if I know I’m going to make art again in the not-too-distant future, I’ll clean it all up and put everything away.

It’s the process of creating — whether it’s in an art studio, a kitchen, on a construction site, or in a relationship. We messy things up, get out all the tools, the paint, the ladders and then we chop, draw, sauté, talk. Then, we pause and evaluate where we are and clear things up before creating some more.

I know builders who leave the site a jumble of scraps and tools and sawdust throughout a project. I know artists whose studios are in a constant state of disarray. I’ve had times in my life when relationships resided permanently in tangle of unresolved conversations and issues. I’ve heard it said that it’s all a work in progress so why put everything away if you’re just going to get it out again tomorrow?

But when I do that, I can’t find what I’m looking for, I forget what I’m doing, and I get easily distracted from what’s important. Art gets damaged or lost. Time and energy and food gets wasted. People don’t feel heard or seen.

I know people with woodworking shops that are so meticulously organized that they rarely use them. I’ve seen gleaming kitchens of granite and steel that never have sauce on the counter or a pile of pots in the sink. I’ve known relationships that stay neat and tidy and polite and don’t get much below the surface.

When I over-focus on the tidy, creativity and exploration rarely happen. I stay in safer waters, where growth and possibility (and awkward feelings) don’t come into play.

For me, the best is a mix of the messy and the clean. In order to be more centered, clear, creative and adventurous, I have to messy it up, then clean it up, then do it again. Play around. Experiment. Muck about. Then clean it up. From there I can figure out where all my tools are, what the next step might be, and what I needfor the next round of creating.

It’s a cycle of chaos and order, over and over again that moves us forward and keeps us growing. It’s the back and forth from mess to clean that keeps us from getting mired in the clutter or hamstrung by the neatness.

Whatever you’re doing, messy it up, then clean it up, then do it again.


Embrace Form…

No matter what you’re doing, form is essential. Structure and boundaries make space for possibility.

but Soften around Form…

Give up getting it right. Nobody is getting it right. Get too tight around form leaves you rigid and unavailable.

Embrace Freedom…

Freedom is the opportunity to go in new directions, experience new things, create what hasn’t been created.

Soften around Freedom…

No matter what you do, habit and auto-pilot will wend their way into freedom. Originality is a myth. Relentless focus on freedom leads to chaos.

Grayson Perry is a fascinating modern artist with boat tons of wisdom about creativity…and some of the craziest outfits you ever saw. He has so many talks and videos and lectures that I really just recommend mucking about and see what you find. AND, I like this piece and this video and this series of lectures (especially the last one).

Every endeavor needs both form and freedom. Embrace them both without a strangle hold. Allow things to be messy and imperfect. Mistakes aren’t the problem. Soften around form and freedom to uncover creative possibility.

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