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Courage


* NOTE: I have many many more allies than these few powerhouses…they were all I could manage to fit in my illustration!

Your human body is designed to be supported and powered from below and behind.
Almost all of the largest muscles are on the back body.
We can think of this design as something we can both relax into and be propelled forward by.
I’ve written about this before and you can find more on this here and here.

In addition to our back-supported-and-powered physical bodies, ask yourself, “Who has my back?”
It’s always great to have people who stand with us through difficult times and circumstances but we can’t always have them there. In any situation, you can choose to bring along an ally of your choosing. It could be a person from your past: a beloved family member, a treasured teacher, or a writer or artist who touched your life. Whenever you are stepping into a situation in which you feel you need support, choose an ally to have your back. Two years ago would have been my grandfather’s 100th year and 25th birthday, he is an ally I take with me always.

Feel the physical support of your own amazing, beautifully-designed body.
Feel the mental, emotional and spiritual support of the allies you choose to bring with you.
They all have your back.

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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.

I may spend a lot of time dancing but at the heart of things, I’m a spaz. I trip a lot, bump into things, fart in public, and not rarely, I find myself wearing something inside out.

Which, you know, is fine. But what I really want is to think, create, speak, move, dance, live inside out.

We are all surrounded by things, experiences, people, events that we respond to. It’s easy to make choices about what we think, say, do, make based on what other people are doing or on how we will look or on what we think other people think we should be doing.

Dang. That gets tiring. But it can feel safe.

Instead, make the brave choice. Respond in the way only you can. The invitation is to respond to outside-ness from inside, authentically. Put more you into the world.

be-your-own-superhero-102716
Superheroes were never my big thing. Oh sure, I watched Super Friends on Saturday mornings in the 70s, but it was just what I did while I waited for my real love, Kimba (not Simba, the Disney one, Kimba the Japanese one) to come on.

Despite not being a huge superhero fan, I do love the question about what superpower I’d choose – to fly or to be invisible — and what it reveals. (Are you kidding me? No question whatsoever: I want to fly.)

When Mary Linn and I talked about doing a Halloween class together, I didn’t feel too inspired to come up with a costume and dance to Thriller again. But then we wondered, what would we be if we became our own super hero?

Improbably, this idea grew from the conversation we’d been having about Nia, the practice of mindful movement we both teach. After a talking a moth-path all morning, we determined that the ultimate goal of the practice is for the teacher to make herself obsolete. We agreed that what we really wanted for our students (and for ourselves) was to cultivate inner resources. Our dream is for everybody to be their own superhero.

Everybody needs teachers to turn their light onto the path and to encourage us to keep going. Our teachers are external resources that provide insights, reminders, challenges, and love. I am deeply grateful to my many teachers, past and present. All kinds of teachers – family, friends, writers, thinkers, movers, guides, animals and nature, too, – all have offered invaluable help to me when I’ve needed it. But as much as I love and appreciate them, they aren’t always so portable. Ultimately, what helps me the most is when I can actually be their teaching.

My experience with teachers goes in three ever-circling and intertwining stages:
(1) Introduction
(2) Immersion (aka Superhero costume)
(3) Embodiment

Introduction

First, I am introduced – sometimes intentionally, sometimes serendipitously – to a teacher. They might be an actual teacher by profession or they might be an artist or a thinker or an inspiring new friend. Something about them sparks my attention and makes my heart beat faster. Like the lady in the deli scene in When Harry Met Sally, something in me says, “I want what she’s having.”

Immersion (aka Superhero costume)

Then I dive into their work or world view and try it on. At first, I often forget the teachings almost as soon as I hear them or I take them on in a superficial way. It’s as if I’m wearing a Dalai Lama kindness shield under my shirt, or Pema Chödrön bracelets of basic goodness hidden under my sleeves, or a invisible Maya Angelou cape of courage. I’ve got them on me, but they aren’t really mine. But this is an essential step in making these qualities my own.

Embodiment

Finally, comes embodiment. Harvard Business School social psychologist, Amy Cuddy describes it as “Fake it until you become it.” After practice and study and time spent with a teacher, trying on their superhero garb, I find that I’m walking and talking the practice in my own way. Even if I haven’t consciously summoned up my teacher and the bracelets of basic goodness, I simply find myself living what they’ve taught me.

And then I forget. And get twisted up. And fall on my face with my foot in my mouth. Which is also part of the process. I just go back to the teachings, back to the closet of superhero outfits, back to the external resources, while I bolster my inner ones.

As Mary Linn and I thought about our Halloween Superhero class, I realized that I don’t want to fly or be invisible or be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. What I want is to be a

Enthusiastic heARTful Creativity Ninja

Looks like I’m going to need a pretty long cape.

expanded-vision-092216

They started tearing down the forest behind our house this morning.

The screaming sound of grinding trees started before 7:30am and I felt sick like I’d both eaten a bad egg and hit my head on a rock. We knew it would happen eventually. The land behind us is part of a big tract that has been slated for development for years.

But the sound of it. The sight of it. It was almost more than I could bear.

I rode my bike fast away from the arboreal carnage, swimming in bad news and bad feelings: another unarmed black man has been shot, and now another, another bomb, and the election, this election that flirts with hatred, chaos, violence and fascism is only 43 days away.

Then a conversation we had with our 25-year-old daughter, Reade, floated back to me. On the morning radio show she listens to (Elvis Duran’s syndicated show) they suggested that when something bad or difficult happens, to expand your view of the situation. Rather than zeroing in on this upsetting thing, open up and see what else is going on.

So while my heart felt tight and my gut felt stony, I opened my eyes and also saw the pink early morning clouds and felt the cool September breeze and the excitement of teaching bubbling in my chest.

I still find it devastating that they are destroying all those beautiful trees. And that the world is on fire. But it’s not the only thing that’s happening.

Eckhart Tolle speaks to this in a recent interview. He was asked if he thought that the state of the world is particularly bad at the moment or if it only seems that way since we are bombarded by instantaneous news from all directions. He responded (in part):

The news is a manifestation or reflection of the collective mind which operates like the individual mind. The individual mind (and people may be able to verify from their own experience) tends to dwell on things that are more negative than positive. If someone offends me today my mind can dwell on that for hours on end or for several days. But if I watch a beautiful sunset, it’s less likely that the mind will dwell on that for hours or days. … Through the media we get a considerably distorted impression. Yes, these dreadful things are happening but there are also many other things happening that are actually good that are not considered newsworthy. (Eckhart Tolle, Awakening to Higher Consciousness Interview with Deepak Chopra)

Spend 10 seconds with the headlines and I expect you’ll see the truth of this. There are constant reports of horrendous things happening everywhere…but that is not all there is. The double whammy of the news’ skewed emphasis on the terrible and my mind’s tendency to dwell on the negative can leave me feeling hopelessly hopeless. And with a throbbing head and a sick stomach.

When I drop into my body to really feel how an expanded view works. Right now, when I sense my body, the first thing that I’m aware of is tension in my lower back and my feet are cold. Right away, my attention goes to what is unpleasant or challenging. But then if I expand my view, I can feel that my breath is moving fully and my hair feels good on my shoulders and there is a pleasant soreness in my legs and core from class this morning. And then, if I expand it even further, I notice what I’m not noticing: the backs of my knees, my ears, my forehead. Suddenly, there is a lot more going on than a squinchy back.

Taking an expanded view doesn’t mean that I ignore the difficult bits. An expanded view gives me perspective. Everything is not a mess. There are all kinds of things going on. Spinning on the negative only offers me a distorted view of the situation and leaves me paralyzed. From an expanded view, I can make choices: stretch, take a ride downtown, have hibiscus tea with a friend, plant some trees, reach out to an African American friend, make a campaign contribution.

An expanded view helps me from collapsing into hopelessness and gives me the space to do what I can to make a shift.

from brave to home 050116

On the wall of the studio where I taught my first Nia classes hung a small print that read:

Come home to yourself.

Home: a place where you are accepted and loved for who you are. A place where you can relax. I’m sure that was the artist’s intent.

But every time I looked at it, I thought, what if home isn’t a relaxed place where you can be yourself? What if there is tension at home? Struggle? What if there is anger, resentment, criticism, bullying or even violence at home? What then? Then where do you go?


In a scene from Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, a circle of women move (are they dancing or writhing?). They wear white dresses with long sleeves that extend far past their hands. Their sleeves are tied together.

Poetry is tied to the music and images:
“I tried to change, closed my mouth more.
Tried to be soft, prettier, less …awake.”


Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live. — Jim Rohn

If your body is your house, it’s a rental.
A rental that you didn’t choose.
And you can’t move. It’s the only rental you’ll ever have.

There is no landlord to fix things up if you go on a rampage and break the windows and tear down the walls. There is no cleaning crew that will come in if you neglect the place for decades and fill it with hoarded up bacon and chocolate bars.

It’s up to you to do your best and take care of this place you’ve landed but even that can go too far. You can obsess about how clean it is or what kind of paint you put on it. You can decorate it with expensive boots and dangly bangles but that doesn’t make it a healthier happier place to live.

Some people will judge you by the house you live in. And while it may be an important place, it isn’t who you are.
As Nutritionist Michelle Allison says,

…your body is the space within which you exist. It’s the material assertion that you have the right to exist in this world, that you have a place in it. It’s the concept of ‘home’ — not a house, a thing to be remodeled at whim, bought and sold — but a cherished, adored, childhood home comprising memories both sad and sweet.

The physical structure needs care, of course, but it is the feeling of home that matters the most.


Two years ago, I created the routine Brave, focusing on body love and gratitude. Your body. As it is. Right now. Loving and valuing everything it allows you to do. As I said at the time (you can read my original post about it here), I’ve been working on this routine since I was 14.

And my work on it is evolving. While I appreciate what I’ve done so far on the Brave routine, already I want to change the name… and the approach.

The word Brave feels girded and armored. Brave feels tight, like an inhale with no exhale. Brave feels tough and defiant.

If I were to name it again, I’d call it Home ~ a place where you feel at ease, relaxed and secure.

We are given these “houses” to live our days in and my invitation as we return to this routine is to create a home in your own bones. Imagine yourself as an 8-year-old getting off the school bus to go home. Is she walking into a place of kindness or criticism? Can he relax there or is he not allowed to eat a cookie while sitting on the couch? Is it a place where she feels loved and important or ignored and annoying?

Take care of the structure, absolutely. Care for your body-house in a way that honors all that it allows you do to and feel and be. But more than that, create a feeling of welcome and ease in that place. Create a home. Pay (at least) as much attention to the thoughts and foods and activities and relationships you allow into your body-home as you would choosing the art or dishes or carpeting for your house.

Consciously create the home that you want inside yourself, the kind of environment you want to live in. You can’t choose the structure, but you can choose what it feels like within that structure.

Make the space inside your skin a home that you love to be in. Make it yours. Make it a place that you would run into from the bus.

If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious. ~ Beyoncé, Lemonade

courageous love all out 021716
Lots of love and courage and powerful good music and movement this week. We celebrated Valentine’s Day with One Billion Rising, danced to the rich sounds of Big Blue Ball, and today, Brownies for Breakfast with a playlist of favorites about taking care of each other. Want to listen? Of course you do! Just to go to Spotify and listen to all our playlists from the week! You can do that for free at Spotify! Sign up for free, follow me at “susanmcculley” and you’ll find my public playlists ~ just click and listen!

Below are the playlists for the week, but first here are some groovy things you want to know about:

• 28-Day Meditation Challenge Throughout February!
Interested in learning more about mindfulness and meditation? The 28-Day Challenge is a great way to get an introduction. Need some help strengthening your existing practice? This is a month when you have thousands of people practicing with and supporting you. Join me in Sharon Salzberg’s 28-Day Meditation Challenge. I’ll be blogging about my experience throughout the month and would love to have you be part of it. It’s all free and open to anyone and you can join in any time during the month. Check it out and join here.

• dance. sit. write. draw. Saturday, February 20, 2016 – ONE SPOT LEFT!
At last we are having our day-treat dancing at with our creative selves! There is just one spot left for this day of exploration at the intersection of movement, stillness and creativity. There is still time. Join us! Find all the information at http://www.susanmcculley.com/workshops-retreats/ and register at http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop/dance-sit-write-draw-day-retreat-1 on http://www.susanmcculley.com

• Leap Day! ~ Monday, February 29, 2016
Leapin’ Lizards! On what would have been my beloved maternal grandfather’s 100th birthday (or 25th depending on how you look at it), we’ll do a special routine that will make our hearts leap for joy (whether or not you choose to leave the ground)! (In memory of Richard Crocker Reed ~ Feb 29, 1916 – Jan 27, 2008)

• Bluebeard: Identifying the Internal Predator, March 13, 2016, 2-5pm with Dianne and Mary Linn
Sunday afternoon workshop Using the powerful tools of an authentic teaching story, combined with guided movement with a master teacher Mary Linn, and time for discussion held in a sacred circle of women, we will work to recognize and understand the voice of our own internal predator. Cost: $65. For all the details, go here https://www.facebook.com/events/501637500008533/

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 . ***

Sunday, Feb 14, 2016, 1239pm ~ Courage: One Billion Rising with Mary Linn

Strength, Courage & Wisdom 4:58 India.Arie
Survivor 3:49 Destiny’s Child
Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) 3:42 Kelly Clarkson
Break The Chain 4:32 Tena Clark
One Billion Hands 4:05 Lourds Lane
Dog Days Are Over 3:41 Florence And The Machine
I Know 3:49 Dionne Farris
Shout Now 3:17 Melissa Etheridge
Perfect 3:34 P!nk
Holy Water 4:18 Big & Rich
Stand Up 3:41 Sugarland
Who You Are 3:51 Jessie J
meet me in the dark 5:35 Melissa Etheridge
Light of a Clear Blue Morning 4:15 The Wailin’ Jennys

Monday, Feb 15, 2016, 1045am ~ Cancelled Due To Inclement Weather

Tuesday, Feb 16, 2016, 840am ~ Courage: One Billion Rising

Strength, Courage & Wisdom 4:58 India.Arie
Survivor 3:49 Destiny’s Child
Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) 3:42 Kelly Clarkson
Break The Chain 4:32 Tena Clark
One Billion Hands 4:05 Lourds Lane
Dog Days Are Over 3:41 Florence And The Machine
I Know 3:49 Dionne Farris
Shout Now 3:17 Melissa Etheridge
Perfect 3:34 P!nk
Holy Water 4:18 Big & Rich
Stand Up 3:41 Sugarland
Shaking the Tree 6:28 Peter Gabriel
Phenomenal Woman 4:24 Ruthie Foster
Light of a Clear Blue Morning 4:15 The Wailin’ Jennys

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2016, 11am ~ Strength Courage & Wisdom: Big Blue Ball

Altus Silva 6:07 Big Blue Ball featuring Joseph Arthur, Ronan Browne, Deep Forest, James McNally, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Vernon Reid
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
Exit Through You 5:52 Big Blue Ball featuring Joseph Arthur, Peter Gabriel, Karl Wallinger
Everything Comes From You 4:42 Big Blue Ball featuring Richard Evans, Joji Hirota, Sevara Nazarkhan, Sinéad O’Connor, Guo Yue
Burn You Up Burn You Down 4:31 Big Blue Ball featuring Billy Cobham, Peter Gabriel, The Holmes Brothers, Wendy Melvoin, Arona N’diaye, Jah Wobble
Forest 6:17 Big Blue Ball featuring Levon Minassian, Arona N’Diaye, Vernon Reid, Hukwe Zawose
Jijy 4:00 Big Blue Ball featuring Arona N’Diaye, Rossy, Jah Wobble
Rivers 5:45 Big Blue Ball featuring Vernon Reid, Márta Sebestyén, Karl Wallinger
Big Blue Ball 4:52 Big Blue Ball featuring Peter Gabriel, Manu Katché, Karl Wallinger

Thursday, Feb 18, 2016, 840am ~ Strength Courage & Wisdom: Brownies For Breakfast

You’ve Got A Friend In Me (Duet) 2:39 Randy Newman & Lyle Lovett
Climb On (A Back That’s Strong) 4:16 Shawn Colvin
The Obvious Child 4:10 Paul Simon
The Sound of Sunshine 3:44 Michael Franti & Spearhead
I Know What I Know 3:13 Paul Simon
F**kin’ Perfect 3:34 P!nk F**kin
The Thing That Helps Me Get Through 4:35 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Drop It Low 3:45 Kat DeLuna
Stand Up 3:41 Sugarland
Sacred Love 6:03 Sting
Lean On Me 4:18 Glee
meet me in the dark 5:35 Melissa Etheridge
Light of a Clear Blue Morning 4:15 The Wailin’ Jennys

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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