When I’m looking to make changes in the way I do things, I need to know what’s actually happening first. Otherwise, I’m working from faulty information.

Recently, I’ve been playing with going deep into what I’m actually feeling.
Not what I’m thinking about what I’m feeling
or what I’m afraid of feeling
or what I plan to do about what I’m feeling
but what I’m actually feeling.

A freaking revelation.

Here’s my habit. I feel a little something and quick-like-a-bunny, I wrap an idea around it.

Instead, what happens if I look at what’s under the blanket?

When I do this, I can respond and take care of what’s actually happening instead of the blanket idea I’ve wrapped around it.

This happens a LOT with hunger.

In an effort to avoid the feeling and the fear around getting hungry, I quick wrap it up and go eat something. Or a bunch of somethings.

Instead, I can determine if that’s really what’s happening. Or if I need to support myself in another way. (Often, I need water.)

This “blanketing” habit happens with lots of feelings.

Distraction is sneaky and can draw me away from something I want to avoid. If I find myself doing something mindlessly like a zombie, then it’s a pretty sure sign that I’m wrapped up in the blanket.

Again, looking under the blanket tells me more about what’s actually happening and what I really need. (As in, “Ah, I don’t want to do my taxes. If I just get it done, then I will free up time and energy to do what I want to do and not mindlessly scroll through Instagram.” OR at the very least, I know why I’m doing what I’m doing so I have a choice to keep doing it or not.)

The best place to start is in the body. If you feel the blanket descending, take a moment to feel whatever physical sensations are arising (including numbness or “no feeling”).

When I drop the blanket, I can make real choices for change that get to the heart of what’s really happening.


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.

Welcome to the NO-AUTOPILOT ZONE.
Instead, let’s make something interesting happen.

I’m not talking about doing anything dangerous or reckless, careless or thoughtless.
I’m talking about choosing something interesting instead of what you usually do…even if what you usually do works really well.

Making it interesting could mean playing with the way you move in class: stretch further, draw yourself in closer, make sound, shake things you don’t usually shake. Changing your movement patterns trains, conditions and heals your body and it also changes your brain. Making it interesting opens up possibilities that we never even saw before.

But making it interesting isn’t just about movement:
– make a project interesting by bringing someone else in on it (if you usually go it alone) or doing it by yourself (if you usually have help)
– make a chore interesting by doing it a different way or in a different order or whilst listening to Dizzy Gillespie
– make a conversation interesting by asking an unusual question
– make an argument interesting by saying something (or NOT saying something) completely outside your norm (keep it kind, y’all)
– make your thoughts interesting by imagining a scene that you love
– make your emotions interesting by getting curious about what the physical sensation is of each one
– make ANYTHING interesting by going into it by asking yourself, How can I make this interesting?

This week, I’ll be posting art every day along this theme. In the piece above, I’ve started with what I usually do: me and my favorite Bic pens in bright colors. Keep coming back to this space and check out my experiments in making something interesting happen!

Monday, Nov 13 ~

I got out my watercolors, something I occasionally dabble in and have very little confidence with, and played with using them “dry” (the letters in red) and “wet” (the letters in yellow and blue). The wet colors came out kind of muddle but then I wondered what would happen if I used water with my Bic markers. At the top, I painted water over something I drew. At the bottom, I drew on wet paper.

Tuesday, Nov 14 ~

Yesterday’s experiment made me wonder about using washes of water over Bic pen drawing. Here’s what happened:

Wednesday, Nov 15 ~ 

Now for something totally different. I got out a bunch of tissue paper and some Elmer’s glue and went a little Modge Podge-y I even added some 3-D pom-poms which made the scannning a little oddish but that’s all part of the process.

The last piece I made borrows from all that came before: Bic markers made into vivid washes with water, tissue paper stripes.

And this from Pete Kashatus who doesn’t like to color inside the lines!


And check out this genius poem by Jay Perry!

Here’s another playful one from Pete Kashatus!

If you want to play along, here is a blank version of the art. Print it out and make something interesting happen. Share what you create (email it to me at with how you’d like me to list your name — or not — and any comments you want to share on what you did to make it interesting), and I’ll post it here! (If art isn’t your thing, print it out anyway and post it somewhere to remind you that making it interesting can happen in a zillion ways.)

magic mundane mandala 010216

“All chat is sacred and magical.” ~ Marcus, MailChimp Help Desk

“People think life is about marriages and graduations and celebrations but it’s really about doing the laundry. The mundane is what life is.”

My artist friend Harriet Arthur is telling me about a piece she created last summer called Life Line. Strung between two trees in a front yard in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlottesville, the sculpture is a line of pillow cases and underwear and dishrags and dresses stitched and strung together with multi-colored threads and glow-in-the-dark floss sewn into the jagged line of an EKG.

Life Line by Harriet Arthur detail 092015

Kids are running around it. Three women are sitting in lawn chairs turned toward the street. I stand and gaze gaze gaze at the white cotton floating in the warm September air.

Life Line by Harriet Arthur 092015

Building a Web site pushes all my “I-can’t-do-this-I’m-not-smart-enough” buttons. The slick SquareSpace TV ads say that their interface is easy and that you can have a beautiful site up and running in 15 minutes. I snap snarky things to the television. Those ads are either ludicrous bull-hockey or I am a total technological dummy since it took me more like 15 weeks. Either way, I’m annoyed.

I’m not a patient learner, I’m discovering, when it comes to my Web site. I know what I want it to look like and how I want it all to work and it makes me crazy with frustration when I can’t even figure out how to make the typeface blue.

Luckily, there is this fanglorious thing called The Help Desk. I can send a pleading email asking the most basic of questions and – BOOM! – a nice person writes me back and tells me how to do the ridiculously simple thing I’m stumped on.

As part of the Web Site Odyssey, I also want to integrate an email management program into the mix, so I plunge into the “easy-to-use” MailChimp system. I was instantly gritting my teeth and throwing things.

In a snit, I logged onto the MailChimp Help Chat and in moments Marcus The Help Chat Guy is typing a cheerful greeting and “how can I help you today?” I rant on and on about the painfully basic thing that I cannot figure out and Marcus slowly and patiently talks me through every step. At the end, our session looked something like this:

Susan: Well. Thank you so much for your help. I think I know what I’m doing now.

Marcus: You’re very welcome.

Susan: Sorry my questions were so basic.

Susan: Admit it. That was the lamest chat session on record.

Marcus: All chat is sacred and magical.

Susan: I officially love you.

At New Year’s gatherings and celebrations dressed in sparkly dresses and cuff links and funny hats, we ask,

What was your favorite moment of 2015?
What was a sweet, delicious snapshot of your year?

And it was

the hike up the Montana mountain
the concert at Red Rocks
the spa vacation
the extraordinary Christmas
the sunset swim in Superior

But home in sweatpants by the woodstove, I realize it actually was

How did your day go?
Would you like tea?
Thanks for unloading the dishwasher.
Dinner’s ready!
I’m doing a load of laundry. Want to throw anything in?

contrasts coexisting concurrently colored 122115
Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, 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.

Watch any political debate these days and what you see is a whole lot of black and white. It’s all or nothing, you are with us or against us. Gray is not a color that politicians readily sport.

Which is unfortunate, since real life is full of everything: good fortune and loss, gratitude and sadness, grief and joy. And while it is a cultural tendency to avoid the dark and make the light fluorescent, whole-hearted living requires that we are able to contain all of it, not just the happy bits. What’s more, life asks us to allow the contrasts to concurrently coexist.

Especially in the holly-jolly, jingle-bell-rock, Christmas-sweaters-that-light-up season, it can be a radical act to allow contrasts of sensation, thought, and emotion to reside together. In fact, it is a radical act that takes practice. Here are 4 ways to allow yourself to hang out in the Both/And.

1. Heart & Breath
Right now, or in any moment, slowly take a breath in and feel your heart beating at the same time. Notice the physical contrast of the pulse of heart and the flow of breath as they happen together. You might begin to feel the pulse in places other than your chest – perhaps your hands or face or belly. And you may notice, too that your breath can flow beyond your chest and into your hips, your neck, your feet. Both pulse and flow are always happening simultaneously, right in your own skin.

2. Heavy & Light
A wonderful meditation on Insight Timer by Jennifer Piercy called Yoga Nidra for Sleep invites awareness of heavy and light at the same time. Begin by inhaling and feeling the sense of lightness, even floating or dissolving. Then exhale and feel a grounded heaviness, a rooted density. Alternate with the breath: inhale, light; exhale, heavy. Then continue to breathe and feel both at the same time.

3. Rhythm & Melody
Slide on a favorite set of headphones, get relaxed and alert, and listen to a piece of music. Notice first the rhythmic patterns and then the melodic flow. Notice how rhythm and melody weave and together to create a harmony that does not exist without the other. See if you can feel the melody within the rhythm and the rhythm within the melody.

4. Emotional Investigation
Whenever you are feeling a strong emotion, pause and allow yourself to feel the nuances. Whether you are listening to beloved music of the season, watching a child open a gift, feeling irritation at the dinner table or bereft because someone is missing – give yourself a moment and really feel everything about the emotion. It’s rare that any emotion stands alone: happiness can intertwine with wistfulness, anger and fear often stand together, grief and gratitude can nestle against each other. Whatever it is, notice the contrasts and generously allow them all to coexist.

Give yourself the gift of experiencing concurrent contrasts rather than the black/white, good/bad, us/them paradigm. How do you hold the contrasts of the season (or any time)? Share your experience in the comments below or at the Focus Pocus Facebook page (I’m offering a gift of art therapy to all commenters)!

be inspired 110915

Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, 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.

Creativity isn’t something that some people have and some people don’t. Creativity is a way of moving through the world, a way of approaching life. Creativity is a choice. And while we have no control over how and why we get inspiration (or don’t), we do have the ability to put ourselves in a receptive position to receive it. Get curious about the circumstances in which you are inspired.

Here are 4 Ws for intentionally seeking inspiration; four ways to increase your chances of being there when the light bulb comes on.

1. Who – Ever spend time with someone and walk away with your heart humming and your spirit tingling? Some people are just inspiring to be with. Notice how you feel when you hang out with different people and make a point to spend time with at least one inspiring person every day. It might be your child or your writer friend or it might be watching Oprah or reading Brené Brown. Whoever it is, make time to be with them today.

2. What – Notice what you’re doing when you have even the smallest feeling of – Ah! Cool! That’s it! Knowing what activities inspire you can be huge in creating a creative life – and what you notice may surprise you. I get great ideas when I’m weeding. A friend gets her writing inspirations in the shower. Another person I know gets insights while driving. Yet another when swimming laps. Meditation and prayer are a common time to have flashes of insight. Be aware of what you’re doing when the lightning bolts (or the tiny sparks) hit … then do those things often and with a notebook handy.

3. Where – There are places that open us up and light us up. Where are you when you feel the breath of inspiration? Walking in nature? Sitting in a chapel? Lying in the grass? Swinging on a swing? Working in your office? Going to those places doesn’t guarantee that inspiration will be there, but it’s like watching for shooting stars: it’s not a sure thing you’ll see them as you gaze at the night sky but you can be absolutely positive you won’t see them while watching Survivor.

4. When – Some times of the day are more fertile for creativity. For some people, it’s late at night. Or maybe after the kids have left for school. Some get great ideas when they are tired and others when they are well-rested. For me, I get all kinds of inspiration in that slippery sliver of time when I’m not really sleeping and not really awake. Over time, I’ve learned to take those little early morning bubbles of creativity seriously. They are ideas worth pursuing. Which leads to…

BONUS W – Work it. Once you’ve gotten a hit of inspiration, act on it. If you have an idea about a story to write or a way to solve a problem at work, use it, act on it, do it. If you get a flash that you should give someone that book you love or take your kiddo to a concert or plant 600 daffodils in your yard, go do it. You might come up against resistance (in yourself or in others). Check that. You definitely will come up against resistance. When you do, rather than giving up on the idea, get curious about what’s stopping you. It might be a valid issue (you live in an apartment with three flower pots – no room for 600 bulbs). And the resistance might be (it probably is) fear wanting to keep you from stepping outside doing things as usual. As Seth Godin says, resistance is great. It means you’re on the right track and onto something big. So instead of giving up, work it.

Inspiration feels great. It’s a worthy endeavor to pursue situations that inspire you. And once you get the spark … act on it. Follow through. See what happens. The outcome isn’t your business, your job is to show up and allow what comes through to actually come through you.

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