Archive

Curiosity

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 sjmnia@gmail.com 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.)

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“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?

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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)!

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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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Shenandoah National Park, April 5, 2015

Simplicty, simplicity, simplicity! ~ Henry David Thoreau

It’s April and our house just went on the market. We are hiking in Shenandoah National Park on a Sunday afternoon while our realtor shows the house. It’s a beautiful spring day on one of our favorite trails and I am worrying.

Fretting, really, since Frank went ahead and said this out loud: What I want is for the house to close in June and then we spend the summer in the camper travelling.

Frank has this way. I don’t know how he does it but he says these things, he bids them into reality and…they happen.

So we’re hiking, and Frank says this thing, drops this seed into the fertile soil of the Universe, and I am fretting. How would that work, exactly? What would we do with all our stuff? What about the cat? Really, though, it’s fear. Frank has an expansive courage about life. He sees the possibilities. As he’s doing that, I’m clutching at what I like about my life and afraid of letting those things go. In this moment on the trail, I see my life start fraying around the edges — my teaching and writing, my practices and my people, my diet, my fitness, and all these things that I need.

I’m afraid of not having what I need. How can I possibly ever have what I need if we store everything and drop everything and leave everything?

After jabbering about the details and how in the world would we do such a thing, I stop and tell him the truth. I’m afraid of not having what I need.

Frank’s known me a long time. He’s lived with me almost as long as my parents did. He knows me. But even so, sometimes I baffle him. Well, he says, when it comes right down to it, what do you really need? You need clean air and clean water and good food and a safe place to sleep. What else do you need?

I stopped on the trail, My tea, for one thing, I say, decaf genmaicha tea. And I need to do yoga and dance, and I need green leafy vegetables and blueberry smoothies and my friends and, and, and earrings! I need at least 10 pairs of earrings.

Frank is a sturdier soul than I. Which isn’t saying that much but still. Lucky for me, he’s also patient. And kind. He knows I just need time. And that damned tea. He knows that I’m afraid of change and afraid of suffering.

And really, we were talking about two different things: Frank was talking about survival, I was talking about the bare necessities for happiness. The question is, how far apart are those two things?

During the next few months, we talked about need and want and simplifying almost every day. We let go of piles of possessions and stored what was left in generously-offered spaces. Our neighbors took the cat for the summer. We stayed in a friend’s cottage and traveled in our tiny camper for six weeks. We found that we really didn’t need that much. A little more than Frank’s air and water and bed, but less than I thought, too.

The bare necessities. For us that included food that we love that we knew we wouldn’t find on the road – his granola, my smooties, his cinnamon tea, my green, quinoa and polenta and peanut sauce. My favorite hiking pants and boots, his Big Lebowski shirt and the memory foam mattress. We danced on the trails. I did yoga under the camper awning. I texted and emailed with friends when I could. I brought ten pairs of earrings … but I didn’t wear them all.

Turns out I needed far less than I thought. Not only wasn’t it suffering, it wasn’t even terribly difficult. It was even freeing, spacious, relaxing.

We’re moving into a smaller house now. It feels cavernous compared to the camper (and miraculous: look! Hot water comes out of the faucet!). As we unroll rugs and unpack boxes, we’re asking the same questions: what do we need? What do we want? Can we make it simpler? What are the bare necessities?

In Walden, Thoreau wrote about two years he spent in the woods near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts during the mid-19th Century. Henry David was the bad ass of simplifying. He wrote

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest.

And while Frank and I didn’t come even close to Thoreau’s level of “[sturdy] and Spartan-like” living, I understand HDT’s writing now in a way I didn’t before. Making life simpler is a practice and a gift.

And he was right, I didn’t even need my ten fingers to count my earrings.

Gift

“Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do.” ~ Khalil Gibran

My husband, Frank, is walking in our neighborhood with one of his workers on the way to a job site. A woman approaches them, distraught, desperate-looking, asking for $15 so she can get a prescription for her child. Frank immediately gives her the money. His worker looks at him in disbelief. “What’d you give her the money for? You know she’s just going to buy booze or drugs with it.” “Maybe,” says Frank, “but I’d rather err on the side of helping someone than to find out later they really needed it and I didn’t help.”

Generous and stingy.

Not to get all English major-y with you, but the words have an onomatopoeic quality. Generous sounds spacious and open and free. Stingy sounds rigid and tight and closed. And that’s how they feel, too.

Author and meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg teaches that when we feel the impulse to give to follow it. She tells a story about thinking of giving a book to someone and then her mind going on a stingy rant of “she won’t appreciate it” and “you might need it later” and “you don’t really know her well enough to give her something.” When my heart says, give, give.

Generous and stingy.

Stingy is different than frugal. Stingy feels sticky. Stingy is withholding what I have and could give. Right at the root of stingy lies fear.

One way for me to get past stingy is to give things away. Lately, I’ve been spending time clearing out closets and cabinets and bookshelves. I want to see how little I really need. My home is full of things that could help someone or at the very least are adding nothing to my life.  My practice these days is to give it away.

The process of giving away can be full of emotion, don’t get me wrong. In the clearing of my own home, I’ve found myself tangled in feelings of fear (“Gak, what if I need this second waffle iron some day!”) and grief (“That whole part of my life is gone and over.”) and even anger (“I paid so much for this fancy suit in 1988, I’ll be damned if I’ll just give it away!).  In her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (one of those marvelous books that I’ve gotten so much out of without actually reading), Marie Kondo suggests asking “Am I having trouble getting rid of this because of an attachment to the past or because of a fear for the future?”  Interesting questions, those.  Particularly when I’m looking at cards from my students and journals from past trainings and books of any kind.

Despite the sometimes conflicting feelings about giving, generosity feels good. Think of a gift you’ve given that you were excited about. Even if it was more expensive than you were planning, how did it feel? For me, there is enormous energy in giving, a spaciousness, a soaring, even. It feels good to be generous.

But while generosity of monetary and material gifts is, without doubt, a spiritual practice, in some ways, giving the physical stuff is the easy part. Tomorrow, we’ll dip into the real deal of generosity.

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