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Intent

This quote from Jane Goodall struck a chord with me. She said,

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

There have been times in my life when I’ve turned my eyes away and decided that my choices didn’t really matter in the big scheme of things. Sometimes I convince myself that it doesn’t really matter if I buy water in plastic bottles or don’t send a thank you note or don’t vote in all the elections. There are so many people and the world is so big, what difference can it possibly make if I leave the lights on or don’t write to my senator about the latest injustice? So I throw up my hands and figure it doesn’t matter.

On the other side, there have been times when I have poured myself, dedicated myself, committed myself to what feels like skillful and right action. My choice, for example, to eat a whole food plant-based diet and not to eat meat or factory-farmed eggs is grounded in my understanding of the catastrophic impact of livestock farming on the environment and that meat is unnecessary for good health. I know that the diet I choose is better for the earth, for my body and it’s definitely better for the animals but when I see that well over 90% of Americans eat meat and a lot of it, I feel the utter futility of my choices. Why bother recycling or writing a blog every week or being kind to strangers?

I’m a drop in the ocean. A grain of sand in the desert. Nothing I do or don’t do can possibly make any difference whatsoever.

And yet my body knows this isn’t true. The small choices I make every day to move mindfully, to drink plenty of water, to sleep and breathe and take care of myself does make a difference. Just one week of sitting in a car and not eating / sleeping / hydrating / moving as I usually do showed up in all kinds of discomforts.

My mind knows this isn’t true. The daily choice to meditate even for a few minutes ripples out in how I approach the world and myself.

My heart knows this isn’t true. My intention to connect with people — my family and friends, my students, my co-workers, cashiers and waiters and delivery folks — has a powerful impact on my sense of my community and my place in it.

I am a drop in the ocean and at the same time I am, as the 13th Century Persian poet Rumi said, “[I am] the entire ocean in a drop.”

I know in my bones and breath and heart that I am connected to everything. My choices matter. This is why I set an intention at the beginning of every class. This is why I choose One Word at the beginning of every year. I know I can’t help but have an impact on the world around me. I get to decide the kind of difference I want to make.


IMPORTANT NOTE: All of this is not to say that I’ve got all this figured out and that when I set an intention I always do it all the time. In fact, that’s absolutely not the case and that’s actually a great thing. We’ll dance with that, my friends, next week.

On a sunny Friday morning, I rode my bike to the gym for a yoga class and a workout. Yoga was on the deck in the balmy summer air with a teacher I love. I was looking forward to a swim and then a leisurely ride home.

As I walked to the locker room, the sky suddenly went dark and rain roared on the roof. I threw my gear in a bag, ran out to my bike, and was soaked through before I had the lock off. I bumped my bike through the puddles in the parking lot but pedal as I might I couldn’t make it through the first traffic light before it turned red.

As the rain poured through my helmet and dripped down my nose, I stared angrily at the red light. I imagined riding home miserably, uncomfortably, grimly.

I’d missed my swim, but realized I was still getting wet on a summer morning. I took a breath and felt the rain on my skin. It felt tingly and alive. I wondered what would happen if I rode the rest of the way home happily. Or gratefully. Or joyfully. What if I changed the adverb to adventurously or curiously?

I felt the muscles in my face and shoulders soften. The light turned green and I turned onto the next street gleefully.

What happens when you choose your adverb with intention? How does that change the sensation? How does the adverb transform the experience?


I’m teaching extra classes and will be diving into the Adverb Dance with three classic Nia routines:
TranceVision ~ Monday 1045am acac square, Tuesday 840am acac downtown
Moodfood ~ Wednesday 11am acac square, Thursday 840am acac downtown
Fantasia ~ Friday, 6pm acac downtown (101 at 545pm), Saturday, 1245pm acac square (101 at 1230pm)
Inspired by the teaching of Brad Stoller as well as the Nia Blue Belt, we’ll explore how intention and focus changes movement, sensation and experience! Please join me.



My first book! Coming Soon!

I’ve finalized the pages and the cover mechanical is done (doesn’t that sound official and cool? I have no real idea what it means). Please join me in the adventure of the publication of my first book. Go to http://www.susanmcculley.com and sign up to be a Buddha Cat Backer! You’ll get updates, insights, goodies and discounts! Can’t wait to do this together.

Last week I took a break from teaching in order to put my attention on some creative and healing projects. I had this idea that in this week, I’d be able to clean up the corners, tuck in the edges, and close the files on these things I wanted to do.

The week was full of everything. I did much of the art and health work that I’d intended. I worked on my book and made some real strides. I did yoga every day, danced at home, played with new music, and listened deeply to what my body is telling me. I also met with a couple of friends, got distracted, did a bunch of cooking, got stuck in my head, felt discouraged and spun my wheels.

It might sound like the latter things were a pull away from my intention. It might sound like in those times I wasn’t doing what I’d promised myself I’d do. As it turns out, all of those things contributed to a really wonderful, surprising, and productive week.

I needed to do it all.

I went into my time away with this piece of art

I come back from the week realizing that there are many nouns that I need to remember are actually verbs. Balance, health, and life aren’t destinations, they aren’t a place to land and stop. They are all processes and ways of approaching the flow of our days.

This week, if you find yourself thinking there is some place you’re supposed to be, some state you think you ought to end up in, play with making whatever that word is into a verb.

Especially this time of year and especially as Americans, we can get hyper-focused on goals. “THIS,” I say to myself, “is what I want to achieve/do/be!”

But what if goals actually get in our way more than they get us where we want to go?

Writer James Clear in his article Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on Process Instead, argues that goals actually discourage us and don’t motivate us to keep going. By focusing on the process or the system, we get to what we strive for (and beyond) with more ease and success. Read his great piece here.

I love how Eric Thomas puts it. I can really relate to focusing on falling in love with the process over looking far ahead to a big goal. You can hear him talk about his own story of falling in love with the process here.

OK, so I adulterated the famous Chinese proverb from Lao Tzu a little. But you get the idea. Looking into the future doesn’t help us as much as focusing on what we can do now to get where we want to go. Set up a system and put your energy there. This short video explains it succinctly and persuasively.

Bonus Extra Opportunity to Apply This Wisdom!

Here’s something that you can play with: write down goals for each of the realms – body, mind, emotions & spirit. (This is actually optional, but I find it to be helpful to get to the next step.) THEN write down the processes and systems that will move you little by little, day by day, step by step in that direction. For example, here is mine for my mental realm:

Susan’s System:
Make art every day and share it. Learn new approaches every week – new songs, new drawing materials/exercises, new subject matter. Every week, challenge my habits and learn how to reach more of people who are turned on by what I do.

Susan’s Goal/Mental Realm (again, this is optional, but it’s helpful in creating the system):
I am a professional artist who creates images and experiences that awaken, inspire & delight as many people as possible.

I recommend actually writing these down — even better if you do it with a real pen on actual paper! It changes the brain to do this clearly and explicitly. Then post it somewhere you can see it and put your system into your schedule.

I’d love to hear how this works for you and even examples of your Goals/Systems if you’re willing to share them.

Breathe Deep, my friends. Shine Bright. Show Up.

mlk-injustice-anywhere-011517-b
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.

BOTH
I am my own rescue. – Lisa Nichols
(click here for her interview with Steve Harvey)
AND
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

Resolutions.
Gah.
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.

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