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Awareness


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.

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“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Has anyone ever told you that you’re too sensitive?
That you’re touchy? Or overreacting?
Or that you shouldn’t feel as much as you do?
Whenever I’ve heard this, it was never a compliment.
It was a judgment. A criticism.

Too sensitive?
I say there is no such thing.

 In a world that moves fast, rewards hardness and runs roughshod, the willingness, the choice, the ability to be soft and tender is extraordinarily courageous.

The softer we can stay in the face of everything that life gives us, the stronger we are.
It’s a paradox of living that most people never even consider, let alone practice.

Many of us were told to toughen up when we were kids. We were taught that the world was a mean place and you’ve got to grow thick skin so you can take it. But what if the opposite is actually true? What if, in a mean world, the way to make it through is to stay tender and open and willing to feel? What if bullying and lashing out is the ultimate weakness? What if sensitivity is the ultimate strength?

In the body, we can start with the skin. Experiment with feeling details and nuance with every cell of your skin. Feel not just with your palms and fingers but with the backs of your hands, the spaces between your fingers. Feel with your wrists and the backs of your knees. Feel with your cheeks and your shoulders. Feel all of it with all of your sensitive skin.

Practice sensitivity with your imagination: let your dreaming mind explore and create something. Draw or write or sing or dance or just think up something you’ve never thought up before. It’s a tender place, the imagining place. Spend some time there, it’s a seriously brave move.

In every day, there are opportunities for softening your heart. Talk to a friend who’s struggling. Watch the aching ebb and flow of Nature. Read a headline or two. Whatever you choose, stay open and soft and take it in. Without trying to fix it or change it or look away or pretend it’s not happening, stay open and soft.

It’s challenging stuff, sensitivity. Most people armor up and build a hard protective coating around them in an attempt to avoid the discomfort of staying tender. The paradox is that only softening strengthens us to live deeply and fully.

“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times


“Oh. Your jaw.”
I’d been dancing with enthusiasm and energy when my wise friend caught sight of me. She gently touched her own jaw with her fingertips.
“Your jaw.”
As soon as she said it, I could feel it: my jaw was stiff and locked. I felt the tension in my face, neck and shoulders. It’s a long-held habit that somewhere in my awareness is connected with not saying what I want to say.
I shook my head a little, opened my mouth and stretched it wide.
Then my dance really took off.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Walking up the path behind my husband, I see his familiar walk, the way he holds his head, the stride of his long legs. And his hands. I see his hands curved into the shape of the hammers and drills and circular saws that he’s used for years. Holding tools that he’d put down long ago.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Where do you hold tension? Do you know? For many of us, the patterns are so old that we don’t even notice them. Is it in your eyes? Your shoulders? Your feet? Your belly?

Chronically held tension in the body isn’t a bad thing. It is a teacher, an instruction of where we are stuck and where needs attention. Chronically held tension is a direct link to our growing edges.

Notice where tension gathers in you. Get curious about it. Instead of immediately shaking it out, inquire into what it has to tell you. What is it doing for you? How is it attempting to help you? What does it need? And what would happen if you released it?

The human body is designed to move and function as a complete system. Everything is connected. Everything.
In movement, focus on spirals and diagonals to access and stimulate this holistic, systemic movement.

Diagonal movement includes both left/right and upper/lower bodies.

Diagonals integrate the side body and the inside and outside of arms and legs.

Spiral and circular movement incorporates all directions in 360 degrees.

Circles and spirals integrate intrinsic and extrinsic muscles as well as connective tissue.

Notice the sensation of diagonal and spiral movement in the body, mind and heart.
Notice how you might approach your day, your work, your relationships diagonally and spirally.

Move and create and live systemically, holistically. Include all your parts.


If I asked you to list your senses, most of us would go with the obvious five: touch, hearing, taste, smell and sight. These are huge, for sure. To deepen mindfulness and awareness, these are rich and important to pay attention to.

There are, however, two additional sense systems that are essential to our healthy, integrated functioning: Proprioception and Interoception.

Proprioception is the 6th sense: the body’s ability to sense itself in space. It’s a fascinating system that resides largely in receptors in the joints and the hands and feet. It’s the system that allows you to scratch an itch you cannot see, to move without looking and to move fluidly. I love playing with proprioception and I’ve written about it before.

For a deep dive into it, please go to The Secret Sense post from Nov 29, 2015. For proprioceptive practical particulars, please check out Art In Action: 4 Ways to Strengthen Proprioception from Dec 1 2015.

The 7th sense is Interoception: your ability to sense yourself from the inside. Interoception is what allows you to feel your heart beating and tells you when you are thirsty, hungry or need to go to the bathroom. Interoception also allows you to feel your emotions. Many of us don’t pay close attention to these sensations and can confuse them. Ever eat when you’re actually thirsty or bored or stressed? That’s just muddled interoception. (This great article about Interoception and Autism isn’t just for people on the spectrum, I certainly find myself having similar experiences as those described here.)

The practice of mindful movement invites us to pay attention to both proprioception and interoception with focus and clarity. Strengthening the 6th and 7th senses allows us to move through the world with more ease and grace.


One of my long-time teachers, James Yates says, “To make any life transition, you need three things: support, support, support.”

(And, I would add, since life is just a series of transitions, we all need support all the time.)

Support is all around us and in us. What’s curious is how often we don’t lean into the support that’s available.

The earth itself is always ready to take our full weight and hold us unconditionally. And yet, I find myself not relaxing into this steadfast support. Notice right now, are you?

I have internal resources that I can draw on, too. My physical strength (no matter how ill or injured I am), my very bones, my life force — until my dying breath are all there for me.

We are available to support each other. Know who you can go to for whatever support you need. Who can you go to when you need someone to listen? Who can you go to for advice? Who can you go to for inspiration? Who can you go to for laughter?

It doesn’t matter what you call it: the Universe, Nature, Spirit, God, the Mystery. That which is larger than we are is there to support you, too. Can you trust that this support is available? Can you be awake enough to feel it?

Earth support. Internal support. External support. Spirit support.
Tap into it.

Some visitors come to Virginia from Australia. Their first morning, they look out the window and scramble over each other to grab their cameras and run outside. “Oh my goodness! What is it? It’s so precious!”

They run into the front yard to take dozens of pictures of a squirrel.


The first time I visited Minnesota in the summer, the sight of enormous fields of canola and flax in bloom made my heart open. Acres and acres of rich, vibrant yellow and oceans of deep blue. It took my breath away. I said to my sister-in-law (who has lived there her whole life and farmed those fields with her husband), “The fields are astonishingly beautiful.” She looked a little surprised and said, “Huh. I guess they are pretty, aren’t they?”


My husband does much of the laundry at our house. Every time, he carefully hangs my dance clothes on the rack and folds my socks just as I like them. And when he brings me the piles of freshly laundered love, I do my best to always, always say, “Thank you so much for doing that.” And he thanks me every morning for the bowl of granola that I’ve made him for years and years.


What do you notice? What have you seen so many times that you don’t notice? What do you notice that others don’t? What if what you notice is your life?

Noticing is a physical practice.
Noticing is a creative practice.
Noticing is a spiritual practice.

Don’t piss God off. Notice.

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