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Choice

At the heart of the practice of Nia is the principle of awareness. We pay close attention, we invest ourselves in witnessing how we do what we do so we can make conscious choices rather than be carried along by habit.

It is a powerful practice that has served me well for nearly two decades.

I have always thought of awareness and the witness as being objective, non-judging, almost clinical. This is important for seeing things as they are.

But last weekend, at a Mindful Self Compassion workshop with Laura DeVault and Sharon Beckman Brinley, they introduced the idea of Affectionate Awareness. What if I observe myself with both objectivity and kindness? What if I see what is so with tenderness? As if I was observing a close friend or a child? 

Take a moment and think of a time that a friend came to you with a difficulty and they were suffering in some way. Think about how you spoke to them, what tone you used, what your posture was. Then think of a time that you were struggling or that you messed up or failed in some way. How did you speak to yourself?

Imagine for a moment, saying what you say to yourself to your friend. The thought of that took my breath away.

The practice of Mindful Self Compassion is based on the work and research of Kristin Neff and it is full of eye-opening and heart-opening practices. And if you, like me, thought that it all sounds like unicorns and rainbows and that there is really important work that needs doing and other people are suffering more than you are and you don’t deserve this kind of work, think again. MSC is a courageous choice to feel your suffering and others’. It can shift not only your relationship with yourself and those around you, but can shift the discord in our communities and the world.

Learn more about Dr. Neff’s work and the practices that can support you whenever you need them in this Google Talk and her TEDx Talk. Her book on Mindful Self Compassion is here.

Breathe deep and offer yourself some Affectionate Awareness.

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When I get clear about what I’m grateful for, lots of other things get clear. Mindful gratitude guides me and helps me make decisions about how to spend my time and energy, what to work on, what to stand up for, what to take care of. And once I’ve made those decisions, gratitude helps me abide by them.

Gratitude Guides.

Gratitude Decides.

Gratitude Abides.

Or, said more eloquently…

Thanks to Kate Bennis for sharing this poem.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

This week, we’ll play with the inspiration of two quotes. First, Albert Einstein. What if real intelligence isn’t about what you know or think or do, but rather your ability to shift and change?

Then, from Seth Godin’s book/work of art, It’s Your Turn. Think of a situation – in your body, your life, your community – that is changing and the tension that results. Think of somewhere where there is tension – in a muscle, in a relationship, a company – and the change that inevitably, eventually, results.

Hidden within these quotes is not just the sensation of adaptability but of strength and flexibility.
Are you willing to change?


Sometimes, I think I’m doing something and really I’m not.
Or I think I’m not doing something but I actually am.

Lately, I’ve been exploring new music* with the particular intention to expand the variety of what I listen to and use in my classes. I’ve been working on a playlist for weeks: combining a variety of styles and rhythms, tempos and lyrical themes. Satisfied, I sit back, look at what I created…and see that it was a playlist of entirely white artists.

Dang it.

In conversations, I can get excited. I want to share something so I interrupt people. It’s an annoying habit that does nothing to create connection or build relationships. Just ask my husband. So, I pay attention and breathe when I have an urge to jump in and say something. But when I ask Frank how he likes it now I’m not talking over him, he raises his eyebrows, “You mean you were doing something differently?”

Double dang it.

I notice this in Nia and yoga, too. I’ll be moving around the studio, feeling like I’m really breaking into some new moves only to realize that I’m doing the same exact thing I always do with my feet. I think my hips are nice and square in Twisted Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana). But when I put my hand on my low back, I can feel that it’s all cattywampus. I catch myself in the mirror, or someone catches me in a photo and there it is: I’m doing what I usually do the way I usually do it.

It’s normal to find a groove and stick to it. Habit is, as an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon said, the most powerful force in the universe. Habits develop to save energy and allow us to focus on threats and problems that haven’t been solved yet. But if I walk on the same parts of the carpet all the time, those parts get worn down to the nub while others go untouched. It is healthy to break out of habitual patterns and find new pathways in the body and brain.

Habit-breaking is not only healthful for the nervous system, but it give us options when circumstances shift and we are unable to do things in our habitual way. If you never, ever use your non-dominant hand to open doors or brush your hair or eat, what will happen when you injure your dominant arm? (Answer: You will stay in one room with messy hair and be hungry.)

Much of any body~mind practice focuses on us noticing our habits and making different choices. In Nia, many principles focus on creating movement variety and breaking out of our habitual patterns. We use the Principle 2, Part 2, The 9 Movement Forms (and a bevy of other Principles) to create new skills and possibilities in the body.

However, not one of those principles will effect a single pingle thing unless we witness how we do what we do. We have to actually know what we’re doing if we’re going to choose something different. Without that awareness, we are swimming in an unconscious sea of habit. Even after years of practice, I find myself continually going back to doing-it-the-way-I-do-it – and the only way I can make that statement is that I know how I do what I do. It’s only from there that I have a choice.

Whether you dance Nia or garden or chase after toddlers, spend some time and attention on noticing how you do it. Without judgment or criticism, be a witness to your own patterns:
Oh, I tend to step back onto the ball of my foot and lift my elbows when I free dance.
Ah, when I pick up my daughter, I always put her on my right hip.
Hmm, no matter what the time of day, whenever I get home, I have a snack.
Look at that, I interrupt people.

The first step in creating real, actual change is to witness how I do what I do. There is no skipping that step. From there, the possibilities are endless.

* I’m always interested in knowing what you’re listening to and especially what you are dancing to in the car/kitchen/shower. I’d love it if you’d share your current favorites in the comments below, on the Focus Pocus Facebook page, or email me at sjmnia@gmail.com

First, the difficult news: it is with deep sadness that I share that our friend and long-time Nia dancer, Marie-Therese Pain died unexpectedly last week. We will miss her bright smile and generous, positive energy in classes. When it’s ready, her obituary will be here and a funeral mass will be held at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church (401 Alderman Road Charlottesville, VA 22903) at 11AM on Saturday, May 13th.

It’s been a week of wobbles. Which is a good thing…albeit often an uncomfortable one. Whether it’s in body, mind and emotions, it’s easy to run from awkward wobbly feelings but then we lose the chance to learn and grow and get stronger. So wobble on, my friends.

All the playlists from the week are below or you can listen to them by going to Spotify! Dance for free at Spotify! Sign up, follow me at “susanmcculley” and you’ll find my public playlists ~ just click and listen!

This week’s announcements and news:

• Interview on Home Grown on Sunday, May 7 at 10am
Listen in on Sunday, May 7, to an interview on Home Grown: Your Show about Local Art on 94.7 WPVC FM, Charlottesville. Susan will talk with hosts Leslie M. Scott-Jones and David Vaughn Straughn about movement, stillness and art…and dance.sit.create. It will also be on a Facebook Live Stream https://www.facebook.com/HomeGrownWPVC/

• Love Warrior: embody an evolving movement ~ Sunday, May 7, 3-430pm
a moving experience of activism in support of a local Syrian immigrant family
Join Susan to experience a new and evolving routine called Love Warrior. This is a movement experience designed for everyBody that allows us to experience the sensation of the change we want to see in the world. We can then translate that sensation directly into action. If you’ve not done this routine before, this is a great time to experience it. If you have, come do it with us again ~~ it’s always changing.
The way we treat the most vulnerable among us says the most about who we are. Enjoy an evening of movement, music, and community and at the same time offer support to a Syrian immigrant family. Home made Syrian baked treats will be available for sale after class!
Donate-What-You-Can ~ All proceeds from the event will go to our Syrian neighbors

Memorial Day Nia – Monday, May 29 from 11-12:15pm
For the holiday, acac has a slightly modified schedule so on Memorial Day (and all Monday holidays), Nia at acac Albemarle Square will be from 11am-1215pm! Come spend some of your day off with your body and with us!

dance.sit.create… RESCHEDULED Saturday, Jun 24, 2o17, 8:30am-5pm
Turns out that Mother’s Day weekend is a terrible time for a retreat. So, we will dance.sit.create…now on June 24. Come spend a delicious day playing at the sweet intersection of movement, stillness and art. We’ll explore the creative magic of the number 7 and the power of play for inspiration and restoration. No experience in anything is necessary. All you need is a willingness to see what happens and eat delicious, healthy meals. The retreat provides everything you need for an uplifting, rejuvenating day. Susan offers the structure and guidance for movement, meditation, and creative jaunts. Rebecca caters extraordinary vegetarian, gluten-free, seasonal food (tea, snack, lunch). And it doesn’t stop with one day. Also included is a 6-week series of music, meditations, and prompts to keep you in the flow.
Early Bird: $100 if registered by May 24. Late Bird: $125 if registered by June 20
Limited to 20 participants.
Checks to SusaNia LLC and mailed to 1255 Sunset Avenue Ext., Charlottesville VA 22903 with registration form or at http://www.susanmcculley.com.

CHARLOTTESVILLE WHITE BELT TRAINING in September
Our friend, mentor and Nia Trainer, Helen Terry is coming to Charlottesville to offer a White Belt training! White Belt is the first level of Nia training, designed to provide body-centered training to anyone interested in living better in a body or teaching Nia. Helen is a First Generation Nia Trainer, chosen years ago by the creators of Nia to be one of the first Nia trainers. She’ll be retiring soon, so don’t miss your chance to learn from this amazing teacher and trainer! For more information and to register, please visit: https://nianow.com/node/1139984. Please feel free to contact Mary Linn at marylinnl@acac.com with any questions!
As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

*** PLAYLIST NOTE: My playlists can also be found on Spotify https://www.spotify.com/us/ by following “susanmcculley” (no space) and look for Public Playlists. Sometimes music is not available on Spotify so I may replace with another version or skip songs . ***

Monday, May 1, 2017, 1045am ~ Wobbly

Helpless 4:15 K.D. Lang
Sunday Morning, Up All Night 4:54 NYXYSS
Mulatica Mia (Cuba Remix) 5:32 The Tao Of Groove
No Quiero Nada Mas 4:46 Sancti Spiritus
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Red Alert 4:17 Basement Jaxx
Played A Live 6:46 Safri Duo
Little By Little 5:30 Groove Armada
In Focus [Intimate Mix] 4:49 Popcorn
Beguiled 4:46 Tim Story

Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 840am ~ Wobbly

Helpless 4:15 K.D. Lang
Sunday Morning, Up All Night 4:54 NYXYSS
Mulatica Mia (Cuba Remix) 5:32 The Tao Of Groove
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Red Alert 4:17 Basement Jaxx
Played A Live 6:46 Safri Duo
Little By Little 5:30 Groove Armada
In Focus [Intimate Mix] 4:49 Popcorn
April Come She Will 2:06 Tracy Grammer

Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 11am ~ Wobbly

Whole Thing 5:27 Big Blue Ball featuring Francis Bebey, Alex Faku, Tim Finn, Peter Gabriel, Karl Wallinger, Andy White
Habibe 7:12 Big Blue Ball featuring Natacha Atlas, Hossam Ramzy, Neil Sparkes, The Hossam Ramzy Egyptian Ensemble (Adel Eskander, Wael Abu Bakr, Momtaz Talaat
Shadow 4:28 Big Blue Ball featuring Juan Cañizares, Papa Wemba
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Kate 3:14 Ben Folds Five
Drumming Up a Storm 6:01 Bob Holroyd
New Shoes 3:22 Paolo Nutini
Life Is Better With You 3:19 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Champs Elysees (Stephane Pompougnac Mix) 4:51 Clémentine
Don’t Give Up 5:56 Peter Gabriel
Tibet Part II (Nia Movement Meditation, Stillness) 4:54 Mark Isham

Thursday, May 4, 2017, 840am ~ Wobbly

Whole Thing 5:27 Big Blue Ball featuring Francis Bebey, Alex Faku, Tim Finn, Peter Gabriel, Karl Wallinger, Andy White
Habibe 7:12 Big Blue Ball featuring Natacha Atlas, Hossam Ramzy, Neil Sparkes, The Hossam Ramzy Egyptian Ensemble (Adel Eskander, Wael Abu Bakr, Momtaz Talaat
Shadow 4:28 Big Blue Ball featuring Juan Cañizares, Papa Wemba
One Hundred Lights (Grouch Remix) 5:31 Kaya Project
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Fall Down 3:22 Toad the Wet Sprocket
Drumming Up a Storm 6:01 Bob Holroyd
New Shoes 3:22 Paolo Nutini
Champs Elysees (Stephane Pompougnac Mix) 4:51 Clémentine
Don’t Give Up 5:56 Peter Gabriel

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!

photo by Rebecca George ~ find her art at https://www.instagram.com/bravedragonfly/

My friend and colleague, Loring Myles, is teaching her last Nia class at acac today. The mother of one of my closest friends is dying. And it feels sincerely unclear to me what the Sam Hill is happening in the world. Endings and uncertainty can leave me wobbly. Which seems like an excellent time to revisit this post from late summer 2013

 

‘The old is not old enough to have died away;

The new is still too young to be born.’ ”

– from John O’Donohue’s poem For the Interim Time

The past few weeks have been full of everything at our house: family visiting from Minnesota, planning for upcoming travels near and far (including buying a camper!?), a parent’s serious illness (and then amazing recovery!), and then yesterday, we took our second (and last) child to college. Lots of broken routines and unexpected twists, lots of emotions of every color and intensity.

After all that, I feel fragile. Like I might crack if I move too quickly. Or at least bruise at the smallest thing: like when I see a parent laughing with (or angry with) their child, or an elder slowly and gingerly crossing a road, or the rich blue late summer sky filled with plumes of white clouds.

My friend calls it “wobbly.” It’s true. The past few days, I’ve felt all kinds of wobbly.

This week, on her (wonderful!) blog, author (and Nia student!) Deborah Prum posted a quote from Frederick Buechner that is full of paradox and wisdom and speaks directly to how I’m feeling. In part it reads, “We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old.” This is the interim time that John O’Donohue’s perceptive poem blesses. This is the uncomfortable, in-between time when even a familiar path feels uneven and strange. It’s the time when one thing is over but the next hasn’t yet begun. We’ve cast off from shore into a fog bank with no land is in sight.

In part, it’s the time of year. Kids are going to school, sometimes for the first time, or leaving home. I suspect I am not the only one who watched my boy walk away and wondered how my days will be, how my relationship with my partner will be, and who I will be with him gone. Wobbly questions, indeed.

But it’s not just a fall thing and it’s not just a child-going-to-school thing. We are all in transition all the time. We are all letting go of something and waiting for whatever comes next. For you it may be making plans to move, have or adopt a baby, change jobs or embark on a creative project. You may be preparing for retirement or travel or going to school. And of course, navigating the ultimate transitions of aging, illness, and death in ourselves and in others is so filled with uncertainty and fear that it can plop us smartly on our butts. Whether it’s an exciting something you want, or a troubling something you fear, there is always that in-between feeling when you’re leaving one thing and haven’t yet come to the next.

Most of us shrink from this interim time. The discomfort can be intolerable and we will do whatever we can to avoid it. Our unwillingness to be in the awkwardness of transition can lead to all manner of poor, short-sighted decisions. Fear of the interim time is at the root of rebound relationships, ill-considered next jobs, and even trashy magazine reading in the doctor’s office.

Whatever transitions you are in right now, whatever interim time you are wandering in, remind yourself that this is fertile, important ground to walk. It’s worth spending time in the uncomfortable liminal space. It’s important to stay here, breathe, and not run. As John O’Donohue encourages us:

As far as you can, hold your confidence.

Do not allow your confusion to sqauander

This call which is loosening

Your roots in the false ground,

That you might come free

From all you have outgrown.

Fear not the wobblies. Welcome them, as they are necessary for growth. Fear not the transitional, in-betweenie feeling. Allow yourself to walk wobbly but wise through the transitions for it is the only way to recognize what you have outgrown and see clearly what is next.

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