A couple of weeks ago I got a message from my friend, Pam:

Hi Susan, Manu wanted me to tell you about a show he just watched, The O.A., and he thought of you. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check it out on Netflix, as he describes it as “a metaphysical show about the power of movement.”

Pam and her husband, Manu are religious studies/Buddhist studies scholars who are also fascinated with popular art and culture. When Oscar night comes around, for example, they’ve already seen every nominated film and they have rich, thought-provoking things to say about each one.

A recommendation from Pam and Manu, then, is serious stuff … but with the lure of “the power of movement”? My husband and I had the first episode of The OA queued up to watch that very night.

We devoured all eight episodes in less than a week. Its unusual story line, unconventional storytelling style, excellent acting with a tendency toward mysterious loose ends all appealed to me. But even if I hadn’t loved it, the whole thing would have been worth watching for the incredible and (literally) moving last scene.

No spoilers, but if someone asked me what The OA was about, I would say:

Two different sets of five people
each person is isolated and alone (for a variety of reasons)
each group comes together to learn 5 movements
when those movements are moved together
magic happens

Intellect and thinking are highly prized in our culture while the wisdom and power of movement is hardly even an afterthought. Physical movement that is revered in Western culture is centered on sports and competition. Domination and winning is everything. Collaboration and connection are only considered in the context of a team working toward that winning and domination. Even dancing is turned into a win-lose competition.

By overlooking the wisdom of moving individually and together, our culture clouds the truth of our interconnectedness and dismisses one of the joys of being human. The simple fact that each of us has a body gives us the fundamental right to the pleasure and power of moving uniquely and the pleasure and power of moving together.

Often, when I’m preparing to teach, I choreograph alone in my studio. The movements feel good and connected to the music, but nothing ever prepares me for what happens when a room full of people do those movements together. Each in their own particular way, and all together. It is breath taking. Every single time.

What’s true in the body is true in all realms.

I am my own rescue. – Lisa Nichols
(click here for her interview with Steve Harvey)
We are all just walking each other home. ~ Ram Dass

Life is full of paradox. Here’s a big one: we are all responsible for ourselves and we are utterly and inextricably connected to each other. Each side of this paradox is absolutely true. American culture celebrates self-sufficiency and independence to such a degree, though, that we forget that it is impossible to separate ourselves from each other. Impossible.

Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and work we celebrate this week, spoke to this paradox in his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. (my emphasis)

If suffering or injustice doesn’t precisely effect us, it’s easy to turn away. But that choice is a turning away from ourselves. The adage “every man for himself” is based on a deep misunderstanding of the inherent interconnection of all life. Instead of freezing or ignoring, bring all your particular skills, talents, and gifts and participate in the movement of everyone.

Dance your own dance and dance it together.

PS: Manu writes a blog about religion and pop culture and one of his recent posts was about The OA (check it out here but note that unlike me he DOES include a spoiler).


intent feeling first 122615
Your heart knows the way.
Run in that direction.
~ Rumi

The very word is grim. It rings of steely determination. Of buttoning up and buckling down.
There is no breath or life or joy in being resolute.
Resolutions grumpify me.

But intention?
That’s the kind of juicy goodness that I can get behind.
Intent is a powerful pursuit any time ~ not just at the end of the year.

But here we are, in the last week of 2015, so why not dig into the vital energy of intention?
(Especially since you’re reading a blog that explores “The Magic of Inquiry & Intent”?)

We are thinky creatures, we humans (especially we American humans), hell bent on our pursuit of happiness. Which is a cool and natural inclination, of course. With our resolutions, though, we go at it backwards. We start with What? instead of Why?

Resolutions are Whats: go to the gym every day, meditate in the morning, cut back on the coffee and the chardonnay, and of course, the ubiquitous, lose ten pounds. All fine things to do but they skip over the real question: Why?

Intentions are Whys. Intentions get at the root of what we want. Intentions are about how we want to feel. Going to the gym and cutting out caffeine and losing those pounds are really just means to an end. They are things that we think will make us feel a certain way.

Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. My suspicion is that one of the reasons people almost never keep their New Year’s Resolutions is that they don’t feel the way they think they will, so they quit.

Why not start with the feeling and build the Whats around that?

Think of something you really want and imagine yourself fully possessing it. What do you see when you have it? What do you hear? What do you smell and taste? Who is with you or are you alone? And most of all, what do you feel? Inside and out? Physical and emotional? What do you feel like when you have this thing you want?

Get really clear on that feeling. Then think of as many activities/situations/people that either already give you that feeling or other ways that you can get it. Focus on the feeling and expand your imagination to include as many ways as you can that you can get that feeling…including perhaps, but not necessarily, the thing you started out wanting.*

And there you have it: a list of Whats for creating a year that feels the way you intend.

Intention is about the feeling. What do you want to feel like in 2016? Let’s start there.


* With gratitude to Jamie Catto for his Practical Magic workshop which reminded me of this approach of feeling first.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy these:
GPS of Intent Pt I
GPS of Intent Pt 2

melting expectations sjm xmas stocking 1967“Expectations are resentments under construction.”
~ Anne Lamott

‘Tis the season of expectation. I mean, honestly, it’s practically what December in the U.S. is about. What with the Christian season of advent (complete with an expecting mother and expectation of salvation), children everywhere writing lists of expected gifts, and all of us expecting the light and warmth to return to our side of the planet, expectation is woven into everything.

Desire and intention are one thing … but expectation has teeth. Expectation has an edge. There are inevitable consequences if expectations aren’t met. An expectation means that somebody is attached to an outcome and as a Buddhist teacher once pointed out, “Attachment to outcome: BEEEG problem.”

Especially at this time of year, it seems we have expectations for everything. We have expectations for meals and decorations and celebrations. For the way our friends and families should behave. For the way our children should respond. For way this time of year should feel. And Lord knows we have expectations of ourselves: to give a certain kind of gift, to look a certain way, and to be calm or cheerful or reverent or jolly.

Expectations are tricky and sticky. Trained as we are to gain approval and love from outside sources, most of us are programmed to do whatever we can to live up to expectations. But striving to get love for meeting someone’s expectations (including our own) is the prelude to resentment.

“The genius Taoists constantly give their full presence to scanning their whole body, locating any blocked or hard-to-describe discomforts, whereupon they say ‘Ice to Water, Water to Steam’ and literally use their imagination to SEE that place dissolve and the steam leave their body”. ~ Jamie Catto (see his full post here)

Expectations are the way we think things should be and that feels tight. There is next to no wiggle room in an expectation. Expectations are breath-holding brittleness and they are such a part of our lives that we often don’t realize they are there.

Expectations create tension in our activities, our meals, our parties, in our bodies. Expectations constrict. Something that started out as “I like to do it this way” (or “our family/religion/country likes to do it this way”) can morph into “I always do it this way” and then can mutate into “I have to do it this way.”

Stop reading for a second and notice anywhere where you feel tension in your body. Tension is where energy is stuck. Whether it is in your hamstrings or your heart, your thighs or your throat, tension is the body’s way of signaling to release and let flow. Release tension and more energy is available.

Especially at this time of year, our bodies and our minds can feel tight and dry. Mindful movement is a way of melting the dry tightness and introduces more liquid warmth to our experience. Whether mental, physical, or emotional tension, movement can allow the bristly edges of expectation soften.

Physicality affects the mind and emotions. Even just getting up from your desk to stretch and clear your mind can break up and melt the brittle hardness.

Our thoughts and imaginations affect the physical body. Imagining breathing space around you or light and love in and out of you can relax tension wherever it is lodged.

Sweat and tears and imagination all lend themselves to melting the hard edges of expectation and by extension, reducing the inevitable resentment that follows.

Let your intention be the hot skillet to icy expectation…Ice to water, water to steam.

snow crocusShould I move or stay here? Should we break up or get married? Even if I did know what to do now, I don’t know how to do it.

When is the last time you weren’t sure what to do? When was the last time it felt like you were smack in the middle of nowhere with no clear idea where to go? Last year? Last week? Right now?

We’ve all been there: in the place of betwixt and between when it seems like there are either too many or too few options. Some call it the interim time. It’s also called liminal time, which literally means “relating to a threshold.” For most of us, it doesn’t matter what you call it: what it is is flippin’ uncomfortable.

In 2012, when I took a four-month sabbatical from teaching Nia, I was eye lash-deep in liminal time. I felt confused and disillusioned and did not see a clear path in any particular direction. I had a pile of things I was interested in and another pile of things I didn’t give a rip about and I spent a good deal of time fiddling around with those piles. After a couple of months, it became clear to me what mattered and what made my heart beat and what I was ready to toss into the recycling bin. Slowly in some cases and like a AED shock to the heart in others, during my time away from teaching things got clear.

After the Radical Sabbatical, I noticed that interim times are happening all the time. They might not be dramatic, but nonetheless, there I am standing in the middle, unsure what to do. I am discovering that whether it’s a big deal or small, what moves me through the liminal times is to show up with intent and trust that things will get clear.

Just this afternoon, I set aside an hour to write this post. But first I felt like I needed to do some things for the family, and I had to run to the store, and then couldn’t find some information I needed, and then I only had 20 minutes left of that hour. What to do? I could show up and write for 20 minutes. Orrr, I could organize my desk, or read that article on Facebook, or look at that cute bunny video. Besides, I wasn’t really sure that the idea I had for this post was all that great anyway.

There’s the rub: I was afraid to start on something that might not turn out well. What if my point was pointless? What if someone makes a nasty comment? Or worse, what if nobody pays attention at all?

Liminal time is actually incredibly rich and essential and it’s helpful to get let yourself be there. When I’m feeling betwixt and between, it means that something interesting is waiting. Doctor and psychologist, Joan Borysenko calls it the time of “no longer and not yet.” Something is over and something else hasn’t started. If I avoid these times of not-knowing by rushing to a decision or staying the course because it’s familiar, it’s like tilling over seeds the day after I’ve planted them.

Rushing to SOMEthing to get out of the feeling of INBETWEEN is when I really lose my way. Avoidance of liminal time is the stuff that rebound relationships are made of.

I’ve come to perk up and take notice when I feel myself in interim time. I do my best to relax when I feel the uncertainty then show up and trust. When I feel like I don’t know what to do, the whole truth is that some part of me does know, knows exactly. My job in those times of doubt is to wait for that part of me to speak up. Desk straightening and trolling Facebook and pretending that I’m not feeling like I’m feeling just tills under the seeds of wisdom.

Show up, and trust. I’ve got to do both. If I just show up without trust, I’m likely to make the quickest, most obvious choice and not be alert when wisdom arrives. If I just trust and don’t show up (that is, if I only trust and don’t do the work), wisdom hides.

Show up, and trust. You may not know now, but it will become clear. Just keep showing up, being present, asking the questions, telling the truth, and doing the work even if you don’t know where it’s going. Trust that something will shift. A sprout will sprout. A light will come on. It takes courage to show up and trust. Take a breath, ask for help, and keep doing it.

And in case you’re wondering, I wrote the beginning of this post in those twenty minutes.

10000 teachers packing sjmWhatever is happening is the path to enlightenment. – Pema Chödrön

This week, my husband and I are leaving on a big adventure: a month in Costa Rica. For 16 years we’ve talked about this and right up until this past week my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea we are actually going.

Now here it is, just days before we fly off for a month, and I don’t quite know what to make of it. I’m excited, definitely. We have piles of clothes and gear and snacks (of course) on the dresser and the bed. We have lists of things to bring and things that have to get done before we go. There are colorful books of birds and beaches and monkeys and bats laid out on the coffee table.

I am excited … and I also feel anxious.

But it’s not the traveling that’s got me. (Frank and I could have fun together anywhere — as long as we have Scrabble and Frank’s willingness to repeatedly remind me that I don’t actually have control over anything.) No, as long as I remember to breathe and relax, I’m okay traveling.

I’m anxious about leaving my teachers and my students.

My normal life is so full of great good fortune that part of me is reluctant to leave it, even for a month. The instructors who lead my yoga classes and the students who I have the privilege to guide in movement each week are what I don’t want to leave behind.

But then I have to laugh at myself, since if I pay attention, teachers and students are everywhere. I’ve learned hugely from and been inspired deeply by the people who come to my classes and from my fellow yogis and yoginis who I get to practice with. All around me, a sea of teachers! I also know that the choices I make affect the people around me whether I know it or not. Everywhere I go, there are “students” taking in what I say and do.

So ask yourself, in this life, what do you want to learn? Are you willing to entertain the possibility that all of the following (and much more!) can be your teacher?

Your body and sensation ~ When I pay attention and listen to my body, I can learn to simultaneously challenge and heal it. I can learn when I can do more than I thought and what my body truly needs.

A beloved or admired person ~ Notice the people you admire, the ones you love to be around, and ask yourself what qualities they embody that you would like to emulate. Recognize that no matter how magnificent the other person is, you, too, possess those qualities. Use admired people to remind yourself to cultivate those qualities in yourself.

An avoided or annoying person ~ Notice the people you avoid, the ones who annoy you, and ask yourself what qualities they embody that you would like to curtail in yourself. Recognize that no matter how horrendous the other person is, you, too, possess those qualities. Use annoying people to remind yourself not to feed those qualities in yourself.

Nature ~ The wisest of teachers, Nature’s cycles and processes reveal the dharma of life (the way things are). If we pay attention, Nature shows us the many faces of beauty, life, and death.

Your self ~ Observing yourself with neutral, compassionate eyes can throw light on habits and tendencies that may be hurting you or getting in your way. See if you can loosen any defensive stance about the way you do things and simply witness yourself.

Your practice ~ Notice what’s happening in your practice (whatever that may be) and consider that your practice is a metaphor for your life. Consider the possibility that how you do anything is how you do everything.

Your life ~ as Pema Chödrön says, “Whatever is happening is the path to enlightenment.” Whether I’m balancing in Tree Pose or waiting in a serpentine TSA line or walking through a dripping rain forest, I have the opportunity to see it all as a teaching me something and leading me a little further along the path.

And how about your students? As you fly through a yellow-light-almost-turning-red, what are you teaching the teen-aged driver who sees you? As you interact with a gate representative at the airport, everyone around you is learning from and affected by how you choose to speak to her. We are all teachers offering guidance and modeling choices to the people around us. So, what do you want to teach?

Teachers are not always the ones at the front of the room. Explore the possibility that you are a student surrounded by teachers and that you are a teacher yourself surrounded by students. What do you want to learn? What do you want to teach? If we pay attention our life can be our practice and our practice can be our life.

Berglandia continues 013In-law family holiday celebration in northern Minnesota.
Sub- sub- sub-zero temperatures.
No walks on the river.

Instead I dance in the basement.

I brought the Nia HQ routine Fly on a whim.
Moving to it every day
I feel strong and flexible.
I feel crisp and fluid.
I feel awesome.

In this new year, I ask you, not what is your resolution.
Rather, how do you want to feel?
What do you intend to feel more often?

Peace. Strength. Relaxation. Courage. Creativity. Playfulness. Power. Excitement. Love.


Before making choices this year inquire: will this bring more of that feeling?

What do you want to create this year? Not
what do you want to do, but why do you want to do it? How do you want to feel? If you’ve made a resolution, ask yourself why you want to do it. If you haven’t made a resolution, just ask yourself how you want to feel in 2014. Noodle on it. We’ll get back to it.

Berglandia Christmas 2013 I 013

If you’ve taken classes with me for a while, you might have noticed that when I go to Minnesota to visit my husband’s family, I usually learn a new routine while I’m there. I don’t mean this the way it sounds, but there’s something about being in my in-laws’ house that makes me want to go to the basement and dance. Seriously, though, for years when I traveled to northern Minnesota, I loved the time away to sink myself deeply into a new routine and embody it.

Since my sabbatical in the summer of 2012, though, I haven’t really learned anybody else’s routines. Since then, I’ve focused on my own work: creating routines, writing blog and book, and inventing workshops (there’s one coming up on January 11, want to come?). I’ve looked at some of the routines created at Nia headquarters, I’ve listened to the music, and I just felt, “Meh.”

As Frank and I were packing for our Christmas trip to Roseau this year, we promised each other that we’d get our movement in every day by stretching and walking outside. But when my sister-in-law said that it had been minus 10 for more than a week, on a whim I threw a couple of the Nia routines into my bag.

Interlude: Are you thinking about it? What do you want to feel more of this year?

When we arrived for the family Christmas celebration, it was in the 20s (above) and we took some lovely walks on the frozen river.

Berglandia Christmas 2013 I 035
And even as the temperature dipped into the single digits and the snow started to fall, being outside was exhilarating and fun.

Berglandia Christmas 2013 I 048

But when most of the family left Roseau to go back to work, the temperature plummeted to 30 below. Our son tossed a cup of hot water into the air and it exploded into frozen snow before it hit the ground. Just to say we did it, we went out for a walk that morning bundled up to our eyelashes. It was fun in a crazy way but after about 20 minutes, we started getting tingly in a we-might-lose-some-digits kind of way.

The deep freeze temperatures continued for the rest of our trip. We never did see it get even close to above zero again. So, I pulled out Fly, one of the Nia routines, and danced in the basement, just like old times.

I wasn’t expecting much.

After doing it once, I kind of liked it. I sweat up a storm in that basement, that’s for sure. The next time, I liked it even more. Every time when I was done, I bounded up those basement stairs two-at-a-time. I felt strong. I felt flexible. I felt amazing.

The feel of our trip to arctic northern Minnesota and the feel of Fly mirrored each other. The movements in Fly are full of crisp agility and deep release. During our time with our family, the snow squeaked sharp under our boots and every breath was clear and intense. The frigid temperatures also required me to let go of my expectations of how the holiday would unfold. Just like our visit, Fly invited me to be super-duper crisp, and to let go.

This week, we’ll start playing with Fly ~ cultivating crisp and fluid, super-sharp and super-relaxed. I’m excited to share with you the feeling of this routine and the power and mobility it invites into the body. (As we go along, it’s possible that I’ll start replacing some of the music. I am, after all, me.  We’ll see.) If you’re in Charlottesville, do join me. If you’re not, go to and get Fly to do wherever you are.  Let me know if, like me, you feel like bounding up the stairs two-at-a-time!

Postlude: So? How do you want to feel this year? What do you want to create? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll integrate some of your intentions into Fly this week.

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