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Courage

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

a in a courage 021516Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

Strength, courage and wisdom
It’s been inside of me all along
Strength, courage and wisdom
Inside of me
— India Arie

Heart is the root of courage. The English word, courage, comes from the Latin cor (which led to the French coeur) which means heart. Courage, then, is bravery with heart. As we face mid-winter and political uncertainty on top of any personal challenges we have, the practice is to be with it all with heart, with courage.

Here are 4 ways to approach your days with the brave heart of courage:

1. Move Your Body with Courage

Your body was designed to move and movement is the best thing you can offer your physical self. But in our all-or-nothing culture, we can have a tendency to push, force and over-do or to sit at a desk/dining table/couch for the lion’s share of the day. Even for those who move regularly, the body thrives when we give it variety, but getting stuck in habit is the norm.

Courageous movement is about deepening your awareness and connection to what your body needs. Move every day and be open to experimenting with new things, rather than only doing what you habitually do.

~ take a different class or run/hike/walk a different route, walk while talking on the phone or dance while making dinner
~ do a stretch you don’t usually do or do one you usually do differently and see how it feels
~ within your usual movement (either at the gym or through your day) play with details like foot placement, core engagement or body alignment and notice what happens.
~ play with speeding up or slowing down movement that you usually do and see what you notice

2. Use Your Mind with Courage

Be open to ideas and opinions that are outside your usual sources. Read a different columnist or the lead story from a source or on a topic you might usually avoid. While you might not agree (or understand), see if you can simply be open before either launching into your argument against or abandoning the experiment entirely.

3. Express Your Emotions with Courage

As I mentioned in this week’s main post, Brené Brown reminds us that “in one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’”

Even though most people would agree that love and relationships are at the core of life, many of us are taught to be cautious with our expressions of love, gratitude and joy.

Instead, express with courage. Think about someone you care about deeply, someone who is important to you. Think about how you feel about them. Make the courageous step to express those feelings – in person, in writing, or over the phone. If the person you are thinking of is no longer living, write them a letter anyway. Tell all your heart.

4. Live with Courage

Once you’ve warmed up your courage muscles with the first three, it’s time for the big one. In her book Top Five Regrets of the Dying, palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware says that the number one regret of dying patients is:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Says Ware, “This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

Living true to ourselves takes more courage perhaps than the author or we realize, but it is essential to living a life of passion and purpose. Take some time to get clear on your heart’s deepest desire. Get that desire down to its essentials rather than hooking your dream to that which may be out of your control. For example, if your desire is to have a child and you are not in circumstances that allow that, find a way to spend time with children. If your dream is to have a home, ask yourself what is at the root of that – security, perhaps, or groundedness or relaxation – and do what you can to cultivate those feelings. If your dream is to write a book, start writing a few pages a day in a journal.

Take a step, even a small micro step, in the direction you want to go. Move even incrementally toward a life that is true to you.

Any day lived in the service of our highest purpose – no matter how far along we get in the fulfillment of that purpose — is a good day to die.

One February 14 years ago, I picked up my boy, Robert, from school. He was about 9 and he wanted to go straight home but I needed to stop at the grocery store. He was a little crabby about the delay and asked if he could stay in the car instead of trundle through Harris Teeter with me. Sure, I said, but do me a favor and count all the men you see leaving the store with flowers. He looked at me like sideways but shrugged and said he would. I was in the store no more than 10 minutes. When I came back he was bouncing on the seat with wide eyes. There were twenty-seven, Susan! Twenty-seven men with flowers! There’s another! Twenty-eight! He looked at me curiously, Why are all those men buying flowers? It's Valentine's Day. It's tradition, I told him. (And money-making marketing.) Romance, I told him. (And peer/culture pressure.) It’s a way to say I love you, I told him. (Without actually saying anything.) I explained that originally the holiday was a celebration of romantic love but that in our family and in his school, it was just about love. It was a day to tell the people you care about how important they are to you and the best way to do that is in your own words. These days, the word I love on Valentine’s Day is courage. In this week of champagne and candy, in a culture that values the money spent in place of connection vulnerably made, what we need is courage. As Brene Brown says, Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.’ Our culture creates lots of ways to spend money and avoid true connection with each other. If I buy you a bouquet, I don’t have to say what you really mean to me. It can be scary to tell from the heart, so why not buy some earrings and call it done? Rather than buying flowers or chocolates or diamonds, show your heart. Courageously say how much you love the people in your life…and not just romantic partners. Friends, colleagues, family, children, everyone. (If you want to do that on a beautiful, hand-made card, go for it! If you don’t make it yourself, here are some awesome ones.) To speak up, to say what is important, to reveal yourself are acts of courage and acts of love. May this be the focus of both Valentine's Day and Brownies for Breakfast on February 18. I was actually surprised that day in the Harris Teeter parking lot by the sheer number of blossom-bearing men (as I was yesterday in Whole Foods to see a similar parade men with flowers in their baskets). I hope they (and their partners) demonstrated not just floral generosity but also courage to tell all their hearts.

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