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Awareness

In Heart of the Matter, Don Henley wrote “the more I know, the less I understand.”

In Say Hey, Michael Franti sings “the more I see, the less I know.”

As she was healing from breast cancer, I wrote to a friend that I felt like I really became an adult when I stopped knowing what the hell is going on.

The longer I’m on the planet, the more I feel the mystery of everything. My mind has no way of grappling with the deep, dark mysteries that are all around me. All I can really do is stay present and dance with whatever unfolds.

There is no figuring out the mystery. There is only Mystery Dancing.

 

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The timing of Thanksgiving — at the precipice of the darkest and coldest days of the year — turns out to be a helpful thing.

Just when the speed of life picks up and the weather closes in, we have the chance to pause and frame it all in the context of gratitude.

Our focus this week was inspired by a recent post by James Clear, one of my favorite bloggers. In it, he suggests that by changing one word, we can shift from being stressed to thankful, from harried to happy. Changing “I have to” to “I get to,” changes everything. It’s a wonderful, perspective-changing post and I hope you’ll read it.

These days, what with building a business as an author and artist, and my husband building us a house and the holidays building in intensity, the list of things I want to accomplish every day is long. Sometimes when I look at everything that is asking for my attention, my head spins…and sometimes I get crabby and resentful.

Recently, I’ve created a practice around my To Do List ~ espeicially when it’s got me feeling a little wobbly in the knees and tight in the heart. I practice looking at each item on the list in one of three ways: Self-Care, Service or Both.

I’m finding that at least one of the categories works for everything. When I’m carving out time for my yoga practice, I remind myself that getting on my mat is an act of self-care. When I’m cleaning the cat box and filling her food bowl, I think of it as an act of service. When I’m planning healthy, whole-food, plant-based meals, I remind myself that the time and effort it takes is an act of self-care for me, and service to anyone I’m feeding.

My favorite scenario is when I find a way for whativer I’m doing to be BOTH self-care and service. This morning, for example, when cleaning out the cat box, I squatted down in such a way as to stretch my hips and low back. Suddenly * BOOM *- the chore which I was doing in service to the Buddha cat ALSO became an act of self-care.

We all have full and busy lives and this season tends to pick up speed, momentum… and stress. See if changing your language from “I have to” to “I get to” changes how your To Do List feels. And while you’re at it, you can experiment with making everything on that list an act of self-care, service…or both.

Thank you, dear reader! I’m grateful for you. Happy Thanksgiving. 


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.

“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.

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