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.

“ ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” ~Matthew 25:40

When it comes right down to it, Matthew 25:40 is the litmus test for me.

How a person, a company, a congregation, a country treats the least among them reveals everything about character. And while I can see how corrosive it is when others treat the powerless poorly, I don’t always recognize when I do it in myself. Treating my most vulnerable, least powerful parts with anger, callousness or by ignoring them is equally revelatory about me.

Here are 4 ways of looking for and connecting with “the least of these” in yourself. First, give yourself a few minutes to get quiet. Sit comfortably somewhere where you can be undisturbed for a while and take a few breaths to let thinking and doing settle down.

1. The Least of the Body

Scan your body and notice the part that is giving you the most sensation or presents itself as needing the most healing right now. It may be the place of a recent or past injury. It may be an illness or disease or where the repercussions of habitual movement gather. Whereever the place is, first notice how you feel and talk about it. Are you impatient or frustrated with it or do you ignore it? Then spend some time sensing this part of you directly without story or judgement. Simply notice the direct sensation without adding anything to it. Be open to feeling what it most needs. From there you can make a choice about how to respond.

2. The Least of the Mind

From the same quiet place, notice the lines of thought that feel difficult or that drain you in some way. Notice what Jason Mraz calls the “thoughts that do not make me strong” and which ones are predominant right now. You might be worried about something or angry about something. You might have a recurring cycle of thinking about your circumstances (or job or children) or you may have thoughts that circle around fruitlessly in an obsessive cul de sac.

Then notice thoughts about those thoughts. Do you get exasperated with yourself for thinking like that or do you just buy into the thoughts and see them as true? Separate the thoughts from the thoughts-about-thoughts and inquire what the “thoughts that do not make me strong” need, what would ease them. Sometimes just paying attention and being kind to the worried or frightened part of you who is thinking this way can ease the relentless thought flow. Other times, realizing that it only hurts you to worry or stew in your own angry juices can help to disentangle from the “not strong” thinking.

3. The Least of the Emotions

Not long ago, I was with a friend who was telling me about a difficult situation at home. With fire in her voice, she detailed the thoughtless things her partner had done and then she stopped abruptly and said, “I should just not get angry.” I wished for her and for all of us that when painful or vulnerable emotions come up that we can treat them gently and give them attention. Ignoring feelings only pushes them underground to resurface in unexpected and often unskillful ways. Giving them our awareness and tenderness can help get to the root of them and allow them to heal.

4. The Least of the Spirit

When my spirit is hurt and limping along, I often can’t quite identify what’s happening. As Avicii sings, “I didn’t know I was lost.” This is what it feels like when I lose touch with awareness: I’m lost but I don’t know it.

One way I can tap into how my spirit is faring is to ask myself about my aliveness: do I feel alive and engaged with my life and the world? I might well be angry or passionate or afraid of things that are happening but if I also feel alive, my spirit is likely doing fine. On the other side, my life might be fine on the surface with the kids’ lunches getting packed and the calendar full of events and the work getting done but if I also feel numb or disconnected or even dead inside, it’s likely that my spirt needs tending. Rather than poo-pooing the feelings, ask what would wake me up? What would help me feel more alive?

Once I am more connected to my relationship with “the least of these” in myself, I can open my awareness to how that manifests in my relationships with others, and what groups I want to invest my energy in. When connecting with a community or business or political party, one question I always want to ask before I join them is, What do you do for the least among you?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????“Grounded is clarity and simplicity.” ~ Mia Hamza

Stability is the mother of all movement sensations. Without stability, no other movement is possible. Given the reality of our bodies moving in gravity, we have to stabilize against the earth and against our bones in order to move.

As a teacher and a mover, I know that stability is essential, but I sometimes am at a loss about how to explain it.

Nia describes the sensation of stability as “energy moving out from center in all directions equally.” I love the sensual nature of this description but in some ways it’s counter-intuitive.

Many teachers, including me, describe stability as being “grounded.”

“Ground into the four corners of your feet.”
“Ground the outside edge of your foot into the mat.”
“Ground into your legs.”

In a recent yoga class with Mia Hamza, though, she spoke practically about grounded stability.

“To get grounded,” she said, “get clear and keep it simple.”

I was surprised that she wasn’t talking about planting the edges of my feet or spreading my toes or rooting my energy into the earth. But hey, I’m a mover and a writer so I was happy to play with Mia’s mathematical poetry

Grounded = Clarity + Simplicity

As I practiced, I kept a little mantra going of “clear and simple, clear and simple.” Sure enough, when I’m not sure what to do, if I’m not clear in my movement and alignment choices, my poses take on a confusing, unbalanced feel. If I compare myself to the next door yogi or think about my current writing project, I am as likely as not to tip over.

Grounded = Clarity + Simplicity

When Mia gave an instruction, I paused and asked myself how can I make this clear and simple? My body figured out the physical details if my mind focused on simplicity and clarity. However, an edge crept into my internal dialog. My mind hijacked the whole situation and cracked down with harshness about what I should be doing more clearly, more simply and better (or how I should just be better general, for crying out loud).

So I altered her mathematics to

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

Whatever Grounding choices I make in the name of Clarity and Simplicity needs to be multiplied with Kindness.

Since Mia’s class, I notice that Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness is true for more than physical movement.

A grounded conversation is one that doesn’t go too fast or spiral into reactivity. A conversation that is clear, simple and kind stabilizes the connection between people.

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

A grounded decision begins with identifying clearly what is most important. I feel stable in decisions that are made with clarity and simplicity and infused with kindness (even if execution of those decisions might be more complicated or unclear or even (gasp!) disappoint someone).

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

The most grounded people I know keep things simple, clear, and kind ~ in their words, their actions, their lives. When I’m not grounded, I tend toward cascades of complicated thinking, dominoes of distracted action, laced with assy comments.

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

Grounded stability allows for all movement and change in the body … and for any movement and change in our lives. If I want to create stability in any realm, my focus is clearly and simply on being clear, simple and kind.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 22
Sunday, February 22, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf with snow pub dom

All week, it has been crazy cold in Charlottesville. We rarely get temperatures in the teens here but for many days last week it was in the single digits. Yesterday, it snowed stunningly and steadily all day long. The predicted few inches stacked up to nearly a foot. As it got dark last night, the thick white blanket was frosted over with a coating of freezing rain and sleet.

This morning I ventured out to see the state of things and to determine whether the noon yoga class was in the realm of possibility. All around me, everything was melting. I could see it dripping off the trees and the eves of the house. I could hear it falling through the magnolia tree and trickling down the driveway. Everywhere, everything was melting.

Melting is the sensation of metta. Lovingkindness meditation melts the frozen places in me that want everyone to think, act, and live like I do. Metta softens the hard, irritated parts of me that push away others’ messy habits and feelings. It melts my tendency to see strangers in two-dimensions and reminds me that everybody – everybody — just wants to be happy and free from suffering. Metta chips away at the crystallized part of me that sees some people as good and others as bad. It thaws the crunchy delusion that we are separate and disconnected from each other.

But most of all, metta softens my own heart toward myself. Metta warms the icy places of harshness and self-criticism. Lovingkindness reminds me of my own humanness and that I, too, am worthy of care and compassion.

Metta melts.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 7
Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dear Susan,

Be kinder than necessary.

In all circumstances and all situations, be kinder than you have to be. Stretch your kindness muscles.

Your husband, Frank, is right. No matter if you are cheated, no matter if you look like a fool, no matter if someone else is shrewder, you will never, ever regret being kind.

When in doubt about what the kindest thing to do is, just stop and take a breath. Especially if you feel resistance or feel like someone’s taking advantage, pause and breathe. You probably know what the kindest thing is.

If you’re still not sure, broaden your perspective, think about what really matters, what’s most important, how you’d feel about this choice (even if it’s a tiny one) on your deathbed. From a place of Big Mind, you probably know the kindest thing to do.

If you still don’t know, ask Frank.

Tatoo this on your heart,
Post-it note this to your soul:
In all circumstances and situations, be kinder than necessary. To everybody. Including you.


Both And WebTitleWant to strike fear into my heart? Say, “Can I be completely honest with you?”

Good gravy. I just know whatever you’re about to say is going to hurt like crazy.

And if you’re treating me gently, I just know you’re keeping the truth from me.

Such is my relationship with Honest and Gentle.

I do it in my head and in my practice. Either I get all Dominatrix Discipline with whip harshness, or I go all Gooey Gentle and fall asleep.

Rather than either/or, it’s the space between them, the both/and of Honest and Gentle where awake and alive reside.

MLK do the right thing

I have this idea: rename “Martin Luther King Day” as “Martin-Luther-King-E.D.-Nixon-Ralph-D.-Abernathy-Mahalia-Jackson Day.” Dr. King was great and inspiring. My hero. But I don’t see myself leading a national protest. The suffering in the world overwhelms and paralyzes me.

But smaller things I could do.  I could call a young minister to ask him to join a bus boycott (as E.D. Nixon did). And I could encourage my best friend to do the right thing (as Ralph Abernathy did). And seeing that Dr. King needed a nudge with his speech, I could say, “Tell them about the dream, Martin” (as Mahalia Jackson did).

Every one of us can make a difference with words and acts of kindness, support, encouragement and love. They might seem small, but just imagine if those three people thought there was nothing they could do.


halloween 2013Deepening our attention to our own experience. It seems like it would be selfish and self-absorbed to do that. But instead I find that when I connect to what is actually happening for me, I am reminded of the realness of others. How we all just want to be happy. How we are all struggling with something.

Metta meditation is one I often use when I feel disconnected from myself and others. (Metta roughly translates to lovingkindness or friendliness in Pali.) It’s also a helpful way to open my heart to everybody. Metta begins with simple statements of well-wishing to myself that expand in ever-widening circles to others. Phrases such as:
May I be safe & well.
May I be happy & content.
May I be healthy & strong.
May I be peaceful & at ease.

Can then be extended to teachers, friends, family, neighbors, neutral people, people we are in conflict with, people in our country, those in other countries, (any categories you like, actually) and ultimately to all beings everywhere.

Below is the music from classes this week. Many people asked me about Mary Gauthier’s Mercy Now. It’s a beautiful song that really reminds us that we’re all up to our necks in it and need some kindness and care.

May you be safe and well and happy on this Halloween.
Dance on. Shine on.

sjm halloween 2013

PS Here’s me in my Halloween costume (I think it’s my 7th Annual Word-Play Costume). If you can guess what I am, put it in the comments below.

Monday, October 28, 2013, 1045am – Practice on Your Own Mat…And Practice With Other Mats Around

Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes – 5:48 – Paul Simon
Living In The Moment – 3:55 – Jason Mraz
The Obvious Child – 4:10 – Paul Simon
Drifting Away (Paradiso Mix) – 5:07 – Faithless
I Know What I Know – 3:13 – Paul Simon
Drop – 4:56 – Cornelius
Fill Her Up – 5:39 – Sting
So Beautiful Or So What – 4:09 – Paul Simon
Sorrento Moon (I Remember) – 4:54 – Tina Arena
Sacred Love – 6:03 – Sting
Spirit Voices – 3:56 – Paul Simon
Under African Skies – 3:37 – Paul Simon
Mercy Now – 5:51 – Mary Gauthier

Tuesday, October 29, 2013, 9am – Practice on Your Own Mat…And Practice With Other Mats Around

Aquarius – 4:48 – Hair, the Musical / Renn Woods
What I Got – 3:21 – Gift Of Gab, Michael Franti & Spearhead
Quero Saber (fest. Orieta Pines) – 6:29 – Rodney Hunter
No Quiero Nada Mas – 4:46 – Sancti Spiritus
Qalanderi – 6:55 – Cheb I Sabbah
A Little Bit Of Riddim (Featuring Cherine Anderson) – 4:19 – Michael Franti
Oye Como Va (Latin/Trance Mix) – 4:17 – Celia Cruz
Deeper (Into Places) (Silk Spinner Mix) – 6:23 – Afterlife
Just Say Yes – 4:41 – Snow Patrol
Sacred Love – 6:03 – Sting
Mercy Now – 5:51 – Mary Gauthier
Bruno Groening Track 4 – 2:21 – Bruno Groening & Friends

Wednesday, October 30, 2013, 1055am – Practice on Your Own Mat…And Practice With Other Mats Around

Qurna – 7:09 – Banco de Gaia
Mulatica Mia (Cuba Remix) – 5:32 – The Tao Of Groove
Palais Mascotte – 5:47 – Patrick Duvoisin
No Quiero Nada Mas – 4:46 – Sancti Spiritus
Keep On Searching – 5:08 Kraak & Smaak
Mafich Aravi – 8:03 Banco de Gaia
Ooh La La – 3:24 – Goldfrapp
Cantaloop – 4:38 – US3
Kissing (Instrumental) – 6:14 – Bliss
Lux Aurumque – 4:16 – Eric Whitacre Singers

Thursday, October 31, 2013, 9am – Practice on Your Own Mat…And Practice With Other Mats Around

Spirits In The Material World – 4:09 – Pato Banton Feat. Sting
Witchy Woman – 4:11- Laurie Horn
Superstition – 4:26 – Stevie Wonder
Deja Voodoo – 6:10 – Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Werewolves of London – 3:29 – Warren Zevon
Twilight Zone – 7:52 – Golden Earring
Zombie Jamboree – 3:33 – GrooveBarbers
Diavolo In Me (Devil In Me) – 4:05 – Zucchero & Solomon Burke
Mysterious Ways – 4:04 – U2
Ghosts in My Machine – 3:33 – Annie Lennox
Men In Black – 3:47 – Will Smith
I Put A Spell On You – 3:08 – Queen Latifah
I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You – 4:09 – Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Riddle & His Orchestra

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