Archive

Eyes

FOCUS POCUS NOTE! As you may have noticed, I’ve been rolling the two weekly FocusPocus posts (art and content on Sundays, playlists and announcements on Thursdays) into one complete post. So whether you come to the blog for the art, the information, the music or the latest happenings and offerings, you are in the right place. Every week on Thursdays, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

In Zulu culture, there is an ancient greeting: “Sawubona!” which (as indicated in the art above) is a rich and complex word that means many things. At its essence, it means “I see you and WE see you.” But more deeply, it means that you are accepted, you belong, you are valued and important. The response when someone says this is “Yabo Sawubona!” or “I see you seeing me” indicating a willingness to be seen.

In the U.S., the most common greeting is “Hello, how are you?” which is usually both insincere and asking the other to respond in a socially acceptable way, “Fine, thank you, how are you?”

What strikes me is the superficial nature of the American greeting as opposed to the depth and care of the Zulu one.

This week, we focused on the practice of “Sawubona” and “Yabo Sawubona”: the presence to really connect with another and allow another to connect with you. We also explored the neuroscience of how we direct our eyes. Lowering the gaze lights up the egocentric part of the brain while looking up fires the allocentric or other-centered section.

Play with the sensation of really seeing as well as using the eyes mindfully.

Here are some resources to explore a little deeper:

Global Oneness Project with a beautiful explanation of Sawubona.

Sawubona TEDx Talk by Julie Pilat — an American’s experience of the word

In regards to the brain science of using the eyes, an article from the Buddhist magazine, Tricycle called Eyes and the Brain.

Here’s an excerpt of the piece:

Another fundamental duality arises as the brain interprets information received by our eyes, formulating two different views of visual-spatial reality. The egocentric perspective always sees things subjectively, in relation to “me,” while the allocentric, or other-centered, point of view represents an object as “out there” so that it can be identified and interpreted objectively. These two systems operate unconsciously and for the most part seamlessly, although the strong psychic representations of our ego-self tend to dominate our weaker perception of the outside environment.

The first of these processes, the one that determines where things are in relation to “me,” is deactivated during kensho, Austin contends, while the second, which decides where objective “things” are in relation to one another, is enhanced, leading to a startling experience of self-less reality. During kensho, “perception seems to be realer than real and fundamentally the way all things are,” he explains. “The other-centered landscape comes in, occupies the whole mental scenery, and lacks all self-referential ties. This happens for the very first time in an individual’s experience, which makes it startling. It’s actually been there all the time, but many veils of the personal stuff had been interposed, distorting the way in which the real world enters our consciousness. Let all that stuff drop out, and you start seeing the world through an allocentric prism. So two things go on simultaneously, and they reinforce each other in the final experience. One of the Buddhist terms for that remarkable allocentric perception is ‘suchness.’ Suchness is the way things really are, without self in the picture.”

And if you’re feeling science-y, Zen and the brain: mutually illuminating topics by James H. Austin

(Thanks to my friend and TEDx Charlottesville speaker, Tim Cunningham, for connecting me with those last two articles.)

Below are our playlists for the week. If you’d like to listen to the music, you can find almost all the songs on Spotify (you can listen for free)! As always, please let me know if you have any questions about any of the music we dance to!

Before the playlists, here is the scoop on a whole slew of great things happening!

Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water on Thursday mornings at 11am!
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 11am ~~ my mix of guided and unguided movement, meditation and creativity! Please go to http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop for the details. Come join us in the trees by the river for grounded, flowing, spacious movement. Second Thursdays are followed by a pot luck lunch! Nourish yourself with movement and bring something nourishing to share! There is space in upcoming classes so please go HERE to sign up!
* The Studio at Dancing Water is at 2370 Old Lynchburg Road ~ detailed directions at http://www.susanmcculley.com and via email when you sign up!

Nia Jam: Balance is a Verb ~ Saturday, September 21, 1230-145pm at acac Albemarle Square Studio A with Susan, Kate & Jeanne (No Nia 101 and class will start at 1230!)
Balance isn’t something we have, it’s something we do. Balance is a constant dance of push and pull, squeeze and release, reach and root. In our fall equinox jam, we’ll focus on balance in the body and in particular in shoulders and hips. Jeanne, Kate & Susan will play with all the balances that happen between upper/lower, left/right, front/back, diagonal lines as well as fast/slow, challenge/recuperation, sharp/fluid and everything in between. Please note that there will be no Nia 101 and that the jam will begin at 1230! And don’t forget, you can bring a friend for FREE so grab a buddy and join us!

Saturday September 28, 9-12noon – Moving & Writing with Light: Nourishing Body & Eyes with Susan & Rebecca
Susan & Rebecca offer a morning to expand your perspective on two things that everybody has: a body and a smartphone. The word “photography” means “writing with light.” A photo isn’t a copy of something— it’s a story written *by light*! And light is weaving stories all around us, all the time. Using the simple cameras that we all carry —the ones in our phones! — we’ll play with the stories of light around us and experience how changing our perspectives can change everything. Susan will weave movement and mindfulness into the morning to practice being with light & shadow. No experience in photography or movement needed, just bring a phone or tablet with a built-in camera and your body. No experience with movement or photography is needed or expected. If you like, from 12-2pm, bring a lunch and savor it on the porch, on the bench overlooking the river or on a rock in the middle of it. $75. Register at http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop.

Octobusy Launch Celebration at New Dominion Bookshop ~ Saturday, October 19, 7-8pm
I’m thrilled to be celebrating the release of my new book, Octabusy: How to Let Go in a Sea of Doing at the wonderful New Dominion Bookshop on the Charlottesville downtown mall on Saturday evening, October 19 from 7-8pm. I’ll read a little, talk a little, sign a little, snack and do a happy dance! You can get the information here and here and if you can’t be there, you CAN preorder from NDB!

Saturday October 26, 9-12noon – Nourishing the Nervous System with Mindful Movement
NOTE from Susan: I am thrilled, honored, excited to welcome Emily Wright to teach at Dancing Water. She is an extraordinary, approachable, gifted teacher. I can’t wait to do this with her. Will you join me?
The body is a central portal to nervous system regulation. When we are regulated and integrated, we have the capacity to be our most awake, available, creative, curious, flexible selves. Using a blend of guided movement work, journaling, visual art-making, poetry, and mindfulness practices, participants will explore states of autonomic nervous system regulation as a means to establish safe, nourishing connections to ourselves, each other, and the natural world. 
About the instructor:
Emily Wright, MFA, PhD, is a movement educator, author, and practitioner. She offers classes and workshops in functional movement, contact improvisation, and intergenerational community dance informed by her extensive background in dance and other somatic disciplines.

Nia resumes in Studio A at acac downtown
Nia is back in Studio A at acac downtown:
Mondays 4:15–5:15pm ~ Rachel
Wednesdays 6-7pm ~ Jeanne
Fridays 9-10:10am ~ Loring
Saturdays 9-10:10am ~ Anne
Sundays 3:30-4:30pm ~ Anne
PLUS
at acac Albemarle Square, Tuesdays 12-1pm Nia Moving to Heal ~ Rachel (starting Sept 3)

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom ~ Video Series with Cecily Armstrong
Over the past few years I’ve been inspired and energized by the teaching and guidance of Cecily Armstrong. She is so generous with her offerings ~ her latest is a three-part video workshop Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom. If you’ve ever felt confused about how best to nourish yourself and live your healthiest, happiest life, Cecily offers amazing insights. You can sign up for the video series here. And/or you can get access to a longer 1-hour on-line workshop with Cecily here! https://cecilyarmstrong.com/decoding-your-bodys-wisdom-workshop/

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom [optin]

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Sep 6 at 11:25am
Nia Freedance is an opportunity to play and tap into the creative wisdom in our body, emotions, mind and spirit. For a full hour we get to dance together with the intention of stimulating our own unique movement creativity. The next Nia Freedance will be at ACAC Albemarle Square Friday, Sep 6 from 11:25 -12:25.

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Monday, Sep 2, 2019, 1045am ~ Sawubona “I See You” ~ Labor Day!

A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
Papasus 6:08 Loop Guru
Shut Your Eyes 3:16 Snow Patrol
Cotton Eyed Joe 2:50 The Chieftains & Ricky Skaggs
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
Suddenly I See 3:22 KT Tunstall
Carnival 5:59 Natalie Merchant
In Your Eyes 5:26 Peter Gabriel
Mirrors (Radio Edit) 4:37 Justin Timberlake
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station
Plegaria para el Alma de Layla 3:19 Pedro Aznar

Tuesday, Sep 3, 2019, 840am ~ Sawubona “I See You”

A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
Papasus 6:08 Loop Guru
Shut Your Eyes 3:16 Snow Patrol
Cotton Eyed Joe 2:50 The Chieftains & Ricky Skaggs
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
Suddenly I See 3:22 KT Tunstall
Carnival 5:59 Natalie Merchant
Mirrors (Radio Edit) 4:37 Justin Timberlake
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station
Plegaria para el Alma de Layla 3:19 Pedro Aznar

Wednesday, Sep 4, 2019, 11am ~ Sawubona “I See You”

A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
Shut Your Eyes 3:16 Snow Patrol
I’m Looking Through You 2:24 The Beatles
Sawubona 3:57 Lucky Nabavimbezeli
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
Suddenly I See 3:22 KT Tunstall
Sawubona 4:01 Nicolay
Mirrors (Radio Edit) 4:37 Justin Timberlake
Jets 4:35 Bonobo
See Yourself 3:44 Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station

Thursday, Sep 5, 2019, 840am ~ Sawubona “I See You”

A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
burundi 6:26 Star Sounds Orchestra
Doctor My Eyes 3:21 Jackson Browne
I’m Looking Through You 2:24 The Beatles
Sawubona 3:57 Lucky Nabavimbezeli
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
I Can See Clearly Now 2:43 Johnny Nash
Jets 4:35 Bonobo
See Yourself 3:44 Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station

Thursday, Sep 5, 2019, 11am Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Sawubona “I See You”

Relaxer 7:58 Deep-Dive-Corp.
A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
burundi 6:26 Star Sounds Orchestra
Doctor My Eyes 3:21 Jackson Browne
I’m Looking Through You 2:24 The Beatles
Sawubona 3:57 Lucky Nabavimbezeli
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
Jets 4:35 Bonobo
See Yourself 3:44 Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station
Devorzhum 6:13 Dead Can Dance

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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FOCUS POCUS NOTE! If you’ve been reading Focus Pocus for a while, you might notice that I didn’t post about our focus this week on Sunday as I usually do. Instead, I’ve decided to roll the two weekly posts (art and content on Sundays, playlists and announcements on Thursdays) into one all-encompassing post. So whether you come to the blog for the art, the information, the music or the latest happenings and offerings, you are in the right place. Every week on Thursdays, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

In the past few months, any time I see someone looking down on their phone, I make a point to look up and release my head and neck. As you might imagine, I have an opportunity to practice this ALL. THE. TIME.

As I practice lifting my gaze and mobilizing my neck, I noticed that this awareness changed my breathing. Whenever I look up, my breath deepens. Which makes sense, since as I look up and around, I make more space for my breath to move. The diaphragm muscle also lifts up when it relaxes (somewhat counter intuitive) so the more I exhale, the more it lifts.

As I expanded this Look Up When You See Someone On Their Device practice, I noticed that the stronger and more pliable my feet are, the deeper I can breathe and the broader my vision.

Arch of the foot. Diaphragm. Eyes. How much awareness and mindful practice can we bring to all three of them? Here are some resources offered to inspire and support you:

Most of us have spent almost all of our lives in shoes. Even if you have something you’re healing in your feet, it’s a good idea to spend some time barefoot stretching and strengthening your feet. Here are some simple but powerful foot exercises that anyone can do.

(Speaking of feet, here’s a fascinating piece on The Superpower of Walking.)

Leslie Kaminoff is one of the world’s experts on breath. He talks about breathing as the act of changing the shape inside the torso…and as one of the keys to healthful living. Here is a short video on Harnessing the Breath.

I mentioned Katy Bowman’s podcast on how social media is shaping your body. Her approach to looking at how we use (or don’t use) our bodies actually changes their shape and functionality. You can find the recording and transcript here
and here’s another good post on eyes.

We use our eyes so habitually and unconsciously, and if you’re like me and are super interested in eyes, here’s a podcast about eyes that is an excellent conversation about natural eye movement and a bunch of things I’ll bet you’ve never thought of before.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences lifting yourself up! Please do post in the comments below or pop me an email at sjmnia@gmail.com!

Before I get to the music, here is the scoop on a whole slew of great things happening this summer and fall!

SUMMER SPECIAL for Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 9am ~~ my mix of guided and unguided movement, meditation and creativity! Now on SUMMER SPECIAL ~~ You and a friend move in the trees by the river at a discounted rate of $20! Please go to http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop for the details. Come join us in the trees by the river for grounded, flowing, spacious movement. Second Thursdays are followed by a pot luck brunch/tea/snackie! Nourish yourself with movement and bring something nourishing to share! There is space in upcoming classes so please go HERE to sign up!
* The Studio at Dancing Water is at 2370 Old Lynchburg Road ~ detailed directions at http://www.susanmcculley.com and via email when you sign up!

Saturday August 24, 10am – 130pm – Moving with Ayurveda with Susan & Liz Reynolds
Just as we bring awareness and listen to our bodies as we move, Ayurveda teaches us to listen to both the signals of nature and our own body as a map for health and vitality. Join Susan and Ayurveda Wellness Coach, Liz Reynolds for a nourishing experience at Dancing Water on Saturday, August 24 from 10am – 130pm. Susan’s integrated approach to movement encourages deep responsiveness to sensation, sound and space. We will then transition to an exploration of Ayurveda cooking and wellness practices with Liz as she offers a delicious vegetarian meal perfectly suited for the end of summer. She will teach about the simplicity of the ancient practice of Ayurveda, and offer tips for transitioning into the fall season. Plus, you’ll get the scoop on what doshas actually are. (And if you have no idea was a dosha is, this is a great place to begin!) $75. Register at http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop.

Nia Jam: Balance is a Verb ~ Saturday, September 21, 1230-145pm at acac Albemarle Square Studio A with Susan & Jeanne (No Nia 101 and class will start at 1230!)
Balance isn’t something we have, it’s something we do. Balance is a constant dance of push and pull, squeeze and release, reach and root. In our fall equinox jam, we’ll focus on balance in the body and in particular in shoulders and hips. Jeanne & Susan will play with all the balances that happen between upper/lower, left/right, front/back, diagonal lines as well as fast/slow, challenge/recuperation, sharp/fluid and everything in between. Please note that there will be no Nia 101 and that the jam will begin at 1230!

Saturday September 28, 9-12noon – Moving & Writing with Light: Nourishing Body & Eyes with Susan & Rebecca
Susan & Rebecca offer a morning to expand your perspective on two things that everybody has: a body and a smartphone. The word “photography” means “writing with light.” A photo isn’t a copy of something— it’s a story written *by light*! And light is weaving stories all around us, all the time. Using the simple cameras that we all carry —the ones in our phones! — we’ll play with the stories of light around us and experience how changing our perspectives can change everything. Susan will weave movement and mindfulness into the morning to practice being with light & shadow. No experience in photography or movement needed, just bring a phone or tablet with a built-in camera and your body. If you like, from 12-2pm, bring a lunch and savor it on the porch, on the bench overlooking the river or on a rock in the middle of it. $75. Register at http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop.

Nia resumes in Studio A at acac downtown
Starting on Monday, August 12 Nia in Studio A at acac downtown:
Mondays 4:15–5:15pm ~ Rachel
Wednesdays 6-7pm ~ Jeanne
Fridays 9-10:10am ~ Loring
Saturdays 9-10:10am ~ Anne
Sundays 3:30-4:30pm ~ Anne
PLUS
at acac Albemarle Square, Tuesdays 11-12pm Nia Moving to Heal ~ Rachel (starting Sept 3)

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom ~ Video Series with Cecily Armstrong
Over the past few years I’ve been inspired and energized by the teaching and guidance of Cecily Armstrong. She is so generous with her offerings ~ her latest is a three-part video workshop Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom. If you’ve ever felt confused about how best to nourish yourself and live your healthiest, happiest life, Cecily offers amazing insights. You can sign up for the video series here. And/or you can get access to a longer 1-hour on-line workshop with Cecily here! https://cecilyarmstrong.com/decoding-your-bodys-wisdom-workshop/

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom [optin]

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Sep 6 at 11:25am
Nia Freedance is an opportunity to play and tap into the creative wisdom in our body, emotions, mind and spirit. For a full hour we get to dance together with the intention of stimulating our own unique movement creativity. The next Nia Freedance will be at ACAC Albemarle Square Friday, Sep 6 from 11:25 -12:25.

Nia White Belt Training with Kelle Rae Oien Aug 15-21 at SoulShines in Richmond
Whether for personal growth, developing your practice or preparing to teach, the Nia White Belt training is a life-changing experience. Join stellar White Belt Trainer, Kelle Rae Oien at the new SoulShines Studios in Richmond. Go here for more information!
https://www.facebook.com/events/796684947329568/ (NOTE: A belt can audit 3 sessions for free. (They will need to pay for classes with Kelle – not included in the free offer) A retake (anything more than 3 sessions) is $99 to HQ and $400 to Kelle. That includes all classes.)

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Friends, I am always ALWAYS looking for new music. Do you have a song that you love to move to or that moves you? I’d love to know what it is! Please respond in the comments below or email me at sjmnia@gmail.com!

Monday, Aug 12, 2019, 1045am ~ Lift ‘Em Up: Arches, Diaphragm & Eyes

Heavenly Day 3:45 Patty Griffin
My Culture 5:39 Maxi Jazz/Robbie Williams
The Obvious Child 4:10 Paul Simon
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech
Wash It Away (Lift ’em Up) 9:27 Nahko and Medicine for the People
I Know What I Know 3:13 Paul Simon
Lift 3:55 Audio Adrenaline
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Proud 4:30 Heather Small
Lift 4:12 Mysteria
Under African Skies 3:37 Paul Simon
Father I Know (Mix 1) 3:08 Jamie Catto
Lift Your Gaze 5:17 Minna Twice

Tuesday, Aug 13, 2019, 840am ~ Lift ‘Em Up: Arches, Diaphragm & Eyes

Heavenly Day 3:45 Patty Griffin
My Culture 5:39 Maxi Jazz/Robbie Williams
The Obvious Child 4:10 Paul Simon
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech
Wash It Away (Lift ’em Up) 9:27 Nahko and Medicine for the People
I Know What I Know 3:13 Paul Simon
Lift 3:55 Audio Adrenaline
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Lift 4:12 Mysteria
Under African Skies 3:37 Paul Simon
Father I Know (Mix 1) 3:08 Jamie Catto
Lift Your Gaze 5:17 Minna Twice

Wednesday, Aug 14, 2019, 11am ~ Lift ‘Em Up: Arches, Diaphragm & Eyes

Heavenly Day 3:45 Patty Griffin
My Culture 5:39 Maxi Jazz/Robbie Williams
The Obvious Child 4:10 Paul Simon
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech
Wash It Away (Lift ’em Up) 9:27 Nahko and Medicine for the People
I Know What I Know 3:13 Paul Simon
Get Up 4:51 Badmarsh & Shri
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Get Up and Get Down 3:10 The Dramatics
Under African Skies 3:37 Paul Simon
Father I Know (Mix 1) 3:08 Jamie Catto
Lift Your Gaze 5:17 Minna Twice

Thursday, Aug 15, 2019, 9am Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Lift ‘Em Up: Arches, Diaphragm & Eyes

Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight 3:08 Amos Lee
Souvenir 5:39 Kaledj feat. Neko
Amazing 4:34 One Eskimo
Ibuki Reconstruction 3:33 Kodo
Dinner At The Sugerbush 5:17 Brent Lewis
Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That 3:31 Robert Randolph & The Family
Drum Trip 3:45 Rusted Root
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free 4:09 Derek Trucks Band
Salala (featuring Peter Gabriel) 3:24 Angelique Kidjo
Something So Right 3:56 Annie Lennox
Shanti (Peace Out) 6:59 MC Yogi

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!

When I say the word “kiss” what comes to mind?

Do you think of what you gave your grandmother?
Do you think of what you give your child?
Do you think of what you get from your dog?
Do you think of what you get from your love?

What if you expanded your view of kiss?
What if you thought of your touch as a kiss?
What if you thought of your gaze as a kiss?
What if you thought of your breath as a kiss?
How could you move and think and speak like a kiss?

Can you let yourself kiss the world and (and this is important) be kissed by the world?

Rumi’s poem is the kiss I long for. Let’s move into that kiss this week.

Some Kiss

There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of Spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl
to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild Darling!

At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face into mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language-door,
and open the love-window.

The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.

This is the sign that hangs by our front door.

peace-sign-on-wall-122516It says:

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

As I walk out into my days, I appreciate the reminder that skillful thought and action does not come from a state of panic. Relaxing my eyes, mind, and heart does not mean acquiescence, surrender or blind obedience, but rather finding the true power of calm and peace.

This week’s post revisits one I wrote on November 1, 2015. In these days of darkness, it’s helpful for me to reconnect with how I’m using my eyes and my vision — both literally and figuratively. As we look toward a new year, I’m practicing staying peaceful even in the face of discomfort, fear, and anger. Since it is only from peace that peace will happen.


It’s my favorite yoga class of the week: Sunday noon, 90 minutes of Power with Kelly. But I walk in all jumbly and rattly. As I pull out a block and unroll my thick blue mat, even as friends walk in, I feel jagged around the edges. I can feel my eyes strain as they dart around the room. Who’s that? Ooh, that’s a cute top. I wonder what the story is behind that tattoo?

eyes panic 102915

Oh girl, I think. If you keep up with the darty eyes, there will be no peace for you today.

I see it in my students sometimes, too. They walk in and look around to figure out if they belong or not. Did I wear the right thing? Am I the right age? Is this a thing for hippies and weirdies?

Oh friend, I think to the nervous newbie, relax your eyes or there will be no peace for you today.

In yoga, it’s called the drishti, the gaze, where we set the eyes and align the head, but more than that, how we direct our energy and attention. Every posture has a particular place to focus the eyes: Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), between the big toes; Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), front middle finger; Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana), up at the thumb. We practice steadying the drishti on something unmoving. By letting the eyes rest on one spot, the body and mind can focus letting our alarmed busy-ness drop like fall leaves.

Yogis know that when the eyes dart around, so does the mind. By settling the gaze on a steady point, we have a deeper access to our internal experience. When in the midst of an uncomfortable situation, whether it’s a long hold in Side Plank, (Vasisthasana) venturing into a new class, or driving in a downpour, my darting eyes only rattle me, stir up my mind, disperse my attention. Settling and relaxing my eyes invites patience with what’s actually happening instead of the distractions around me and in my own little head.

eyes patience 102915

One of my favorite online yoga teachers, Philip Urso, says that yoga helps us practice “going from panic to patience and from patience to peace.”

We are such visual creatures – from the moment we awaken, we are taking in the visual scene around us. We use our eyes so much that we are rarely even conscious of them (until we get something under our contact or we can’t read the print on the menu). Intentionally using the eyes instantly offers a way to connect the body and mind, and break the pattern of unconscious looking.

A soft eye relaxes both ocular muscles and active brain to allow the literal and figurative peripheral vision to expand. Suddenly, I can see that I’m really okay, that any intensity is temporary, and that I am part of a larger experience. An intentional gaze allows us to be fascinated with what is happening without becoming bewitched.

Like in yoga, in Nia we use the eyes to integrate body and mind as well as to stimulate healthful alignment and safe head movement. Perhaps more essentially, intentional use of the eyes trains us to go beyond superficial looking to seeing deeper, to what is so. Intentionally seeing the space, the other movers, and ourselves in the mirror allows us to shift from the panicky small mind through the patience of presence to the peace that really is available in every moment.

No matter what your practice – whether it is yoga or cycling or gardening or parenting – you can use the physical eyes to relax the brain and shift toward peace. Look with intention, to both relax the physical and mental bodies.

And in a bigger way, when we vision our lives and our world, we can also set our gaze on something unmoving, something steady. By setting our drishti on that which matters to us most, we can find a steadiness that moves from panic to patience, and from patience to peace.

eyes peace 102915

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.

Open your eyes 071116

Art 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.

When I came across this quote from Rachel Carson, its truth took my breath away:

One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?

Nothing in the world is solid or unchanging so of course, so everything is always new. And part of that ever-flowing river of change is that endings are unclear. We rarely know when our last time will be so this one, right here, might be it.

The practice of putting Carson’s words into action is simple. The challenge is to remember. The challenge is to wake ourselves up and open our eyes. It can be done at any time, of course, particularly when you feel bored, tuned out, stuck, or disillusioned. But the best time to open your eyes is now.

Never Before

1. Curiosity of a Child ~

Imagine you are looking at the world like a 5-year-old or that you are showing the world to a child. How does that change the speed of and the intention behind your looking? Be willing to learn even about things you think you know well.

2. Inquiry of an Alien ~

Imagine you have landed on Earth in a human body from another planet. What would the world and everything in it look like from that perspective? I practiced this today when feeling water on my skin, listening to the crinkle of a plastic bag, and tasting the bitterness of coffee. What I kept thinking was, “Whoa.”

Never Again

3. Poignancy of Terminally Ill ~

Imagine you’ve been given a prognosis of only a day more to live. What would it feel like to be doing things, seeing people, feeling things for the last time? This can be emotional so be gentle with yourself if it feels intense. Start small with less personal things like feeling gratitude for a favorite tea cup or a comfortable chair: take in their beauty and gifts and what they’ve generously offered you. As you’re ready, you can expand to activities that are important to you, communities and individuals who you care about, and even your own body.

4. Tenderness of Old Age ~

Spend time with an elderly person or imagine yourself decades older than you are now. What wisdom or insight can that elder offer around gratitude and attachment? I recall the last words of Mary Oliver’s poem In Blackwater Woods :

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes
to let it go,
to let it go.

 

eye never before never again 070916

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” ― Rachel Carson

I open my eyes, all I see is trees. Overlays of green leaves, columns of gray bark and lemon light. When we travel in our camper, we sleep windows-open-shades-up so when we wake, we see trees –and each others’ sleepy faces.

While traveling, I often think of Rachel Carson’s profound words. Since I’m going to new places, ones to which I am unlikely to return, both things are true: I am often seeing things for the first…and last time.

When we’re in a new place and I know this is the first and last time, I look with more than my eyes: I breathe in the smells, feel the sensations, listen deeply, taste the essence, and with my eyes, I look for all the details I can find.

Look out a window. Imagine this was the first time you’d ever taken in this view or that it was the last. How would that change the way you saw it?

Look at someone you care about, imagine this was the first time you’d ever seen their face or that it was the last. How would that change the way you look at them?

Look at your own hand. Imagine this was the first time you’d ever seen your hand or that you were leaving your body and this was the last. How would that change how you saw your hand, your body?

Never before. Never again. This is a courageous, whole-hearted way of looking at the world that requires the curious, open eyes of the very young and the tender, wise eyes of the very old.

Rachel Carson’s quote is related to the Zen concept of Beginner’s Mind (a previous Focus Pocus post is here and the original lecture from which the concept of Beginner’s Mind comes here). Writer James Clear wrote a nice piece about the concept last week in relationship to learning and mastering something. In it, he warns that expertise and experience can be hindrance that lulls the mind into a trance of “knowing.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen that, I’ve done that, I already know that.”

But have you really?

Clear writes:

The problem is that when you are an expert you actually need to pay more attention, not less. Why? Because when you are already familiar with 98 percent of the information on a topic, you need to listen very carefully to pick up on the remaining 2 percent.

The same is true for familiarity. When you’ve been somewhere often or done something a lot or lived with someone for decades, you actually need to pay more attention, not less.

So it turns out that going to new places and seeing new things is the easy part. In those situations, it’s natural to open up and really let them in. The real practice begins when we are in the familiar, where we must pay more attention to the things that make up our lives.

For while it may be obvious when you see something for the first time, we rarely know when we are seeing it for the last.

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