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Letting go

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

On Thursday, I get on a train for Boston to teach a workshop and visit long lost friends. I’ve got piles of work and projects and books for the long train rides and then clothes, of course, dancing and otherwise, and hair products and green tea and all that. I expect I’ll be laiden down when I climb on the train and I can already feel the relief of stowing my gear and settling in for the ride.

There is something that shifts profoundly when we choose to put down whatever we are carrying. The first order of business is paying attention, noticing what we are carrying with us. Particularly if we’ve been carrying it for a long time, it can feel “normal” to worry about your children, for example, or obsess about your weight.

Here are 10 things to investigate: what am I carrying and what does it feel like to put it down?

1. Tension

The body is always a good place to begin. Investigate with a body scan (here’s a body scan for beginners) first large body parts and then narrowing down to smaller and smaller spaces. Where are you holding, can you let it go, even for a little while, and how does that feel? After exercise or just before bed are great times to experiment with this.

2. Stories & Voices

In the dance.sit.create. retreats, we talk a good deal about The Voices: the noise in our heads that we first picked up from other people and the culture at large and then sustained in our own noggins. Pay attention to the stories that bounce around in your head, perhaps unnoticed, and play with gently letting them go. You don’t have to scream at them to go away, just see what it feels like without them for even a few seconds.

3. Beliefs

Beliefs are similar to stories and voices but they can be even sneakier in that we can hold them as unassailably true. A belief along the lines of “I’m too old to do that” might be stopping you in one way and a belief like “I am strong and can do anything” might trip you up in another way. More institutional or cultural beliefs like “it’s not patriotic to do that” or “we don’t do it like that here” might be preventing you from seeing other possibilities or points of view. This isn’t to suggest that you need to abandon your beliefs, just see what it feels like to put them down for a little while.

4. Assumptions

Assumptions live in the future. When I see something and my mind quickly unspools a whole story about what has or will happen, I’m making an assumption. Assumptions are slippery devils to catch since we all make them all the time. The practice is to notice when it happens (it helps when my assumptions are disproved) and put it down. Let the next moment unfold brand new, with nothing attached.

5. Expectations

Similarly to assumptions, expectations are what we create around the future in an attempt to control what will happen. But as Anne Lamott points out, “expectations are resentments under construction.” My expectations for myself, other people, institutions are a set-up. See what happens if you simply put them down and come into direct contact with the present moment.

6. Anticipation

Another resident of the future, anticipation is what we carry when we step toward the unknown. It can be a mix of excitement, anxiety and fantasy (I had an anticipation dream last night, for example, in which I showed up to the workshop and I couldn’t find the stereo, and then couldn’t find my music and as usual in these situations, I couldn’t find my pants). It’s helps me to notice when I’m weaving a sticky web of wondering what will happen that keeps me out of what is actually happening right now.

7. Worries

One of my favorite uses of the word worry is to tear at, gnaw on, or drag around with the teeth. As in, “I sat in the waiting room, worrying a hangnail.” This definition gets at the feeling of continually returning to something over and over again even if doing so is unproductive or even painful. I can worry about something that happened in the past – replaying it on a loop. Or if I’m worrying about something in the future, Bhagavan Das reminds me that “worrying is praying for something you don’t want.” Either way, past or future, worry is an excellent thing to just put down.

8. Fears

Fears are just big worries that similarly live in a future which does not exist. Only the present moment exists. So putting down our fears makes space for responding to the present and making skillful choices. If I’m tied up in fear, I don’t have the same resources or vision of possibilities that I do when I set fear down and be present.

9. Excitement

It seems like a positive thing, excitement, but really it’s like worry, only it’s a positive illusion instead of negative. When I get that fluttery feeling in my chest, I know it’s taking me out of the present and actually living. So I play with putting down even excitement.

10. Hope

As excitement is the other side of worry, hope is the other side of fear. Thich Nhat Hahn says, “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.” But hope does not reside in the present moment. If just for a little while, to feel the relief of not constructing a better tomorrow, put down even hope. Allow yourself to carry nothing even briefly to create space for what is possible.

BONUS: Habit

It has been said that the strongest force in the universe is the force of habit. We all carry habits in our bodies, minds, emotions, relationships, schedules — everything! Habits are so strong that putting them down unleashes a wave of energy (that often feels awkward and uncomfortable). Playing with breaking habit, even for short amounts of time is a practice that can offer big benefits.

The practice of putting it down doesn’t mean that we will never carry any of these things again. It only gives ourselves the opportunity to feel the relief of not holding on. Instead of habitually toting these things around, putting them down creates the space to make choices about what we really want to carry.

home 004
“Make the pose feel like home.” ~ Liz Reynolds, yoga teacher

In a few days, Frank and I leave a house we love and step out into the next part of our life together. There are countless things in this house that I love: all the light and the windows and the arched openings, the view to the woods behind us, the front door that I refinished and the knocker we bought in Guatemala. And the kitchen. It has been just the most lovely kitchen to be in.

As good as these things feel, they aren’t what make it home. When Liz suggested making my yoga pose feel like home, it got me thinking. What is home really anyway?

“Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.” ~ Cecelia Ahern

I’ve felt at home in houses that were not my own and in many natural places with no walls and recently in a very small camper pulled by a big red truck. And there have been times in my life when my own house hasn’t felt like home to me. Ultimately, it is the feeling, the ease and peace and connection that I feel there that make a home. Circumstances and other people may contribute to those feelings, but the one who has the greatest impact on the hominess of any situation is me. It’s up to me to make myself at home.

“Just keep coming home to yourself. You are the one you have been waiting for.” ~ Byron Katie

I have laughed a lot in this house. I’ve cried, too. I’ve felt calm and relaxed and I’ve felt rattled to my very bones. In the five years that we’ve lived here, I’ve deepened my practices, my marriage has gotten stronger, and made better friends with myself. One of the main reasons I get on the cushion, on the mat, in the studio, at the computer is to cultivate more ease and friendliness with my body, my mind and my emotions. Whenever my (multiple and easily accessible) buttons get pushed, I ask myself, how can I be easy and peaceful with whatever is happening in or around me?

“Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

The coming weeks will be a slow motion transplanting, with our roots hovering in the air for a while until our next house is ready. As we’ve prepared for a summer of peripatetic adventures, we’ve talked a good deal about the difference between “need” and “want.”

When I’ve felt most upset by the uncertainty, that’s when I’ve been most attached to what I “need.” I get tight and make lists: my favorite sundresses, my yoga mat, blue tea cup, my computer, my four-color pens. I need my pillows, my hiking boots, my decaffeinated green tea and all my earrings.

The more I can relax and be present, the more I can trust that everything will work out, and that I have the power to change what I need to, the less attached I am to what I “need.” The less I need, the freer, the more peaceful, the more content I am. And the more at home I feel.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~ Maya Angelou

This is my intention for the summer and beyond. May it be so for you. Make yourself at home wherever you are and however you are.

809 last days 007

P.S. For more on this topic, read Rick Hanson’s post Be Home from Just One Thing

You were a precious gift, our joy, our dreams
You were a sparkle through the darkness;
Our hope for a brighter tomorrow
You warmed our hearts, gave light to our minds and beauty to our spirits.
We gave you our love, wrapped you in our care, caressed you with our smiles.
Now you are gone.
We grieve.
We miss you so much.
The loving memories of you will keep you forever close to us—in our hearts, our thoughts, our souls.
~ author unknown (offered by Sara Marks)

mary linn and chloe
As some of you have heard and some of you must now hear, Nia Black Belt teacher Mary Linn Bergstrom’s 6-year-old daughter, Chloe was killed in a car accident on the night of December 22, 2014. This is an inconceivable loss for which I, frankly, have no words. I do, however, believe in the invisible net of love that surrounds us all and in times like these, we need to pull that net close around Mary Linn.

We have set up a meal brigade via the Take Them A Meal site. Please follow this link if you’d like to offer food.

We’ve only set it up for two weeks, but we undoubtedly add to that when we get a clearer idea of what they need and want.

If you’d like to make a donation to help Mary Linn with the upcoming expenses, please write a check to Anne Wolf with “Mary Linn & Chloe” in the memo. Anne will consolidate donations and get them to Mary Linn. You can hand Anne a check at acac or mail it to her at 5030 Rutherford Road, Charlottesville VA 22901

The funeral for Chloe will be Sunday, December 28, 2014 2 pm at Hill and Wood Funeral Home (across from Lee Park).

Please also send prayers for Krishan’s mother in law, Ilina Singh who was also in the car last night. She is in critical condition at UVA hospital.

Above all, please please know that your love and care in all forms make a difference. And in honor of Chloe and Mary Linn be an agent of love and peace in your own family and community.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me at sjmnia@gmail.com with any questions.

May There Be Peace on Earth,
Susan

rushing refugee calendar screen shotMy life is full. Full of things to do. Activities I’m passionate about, writing that brings me joy, work that is fun and purposeful, people I want to know better and spend time with, chores and errands and work to create the home I want to live in. It’s full, my life.

My calendar is color-coded with mostly no white spaces. I’m busy. Often, I’m rushing.

My husband marvels at this. He wonders why, since I am in charge of much of my own time (the gift and the curse of the self-employed), I manage to be running around so much.

I toss my hair at this: I’m passionate! I’m joyful! I’m fun, dammit. So hush up about it.

Sometimes, after I’ve stopped stomping around about how guldang passionate and fun I am, he reminds me about what he’s learned about happiness. People find happiness, he tells me, in lots of different ways but all happy people share three traits:
1. Happy people are grateful.
2. Happy people are generous and help others.
And (here he pauses to be sure I’m listening)
3. Happy people savor.

I’m poised over this like a little Happiness Scorecard, holding tight to one of those little half pencils from mini golf.

1. Grateful? Check.
2. Help others? Do my best to. Check.
3. Savor? Um. Well. Sometimes. I do … a little … savoring.

Here I drop my little pencil and put my head on the table since he knows as well as I do that I don’t savor. I don’t let chocolate meditatively melt in my mouth, I chew it. I don’t sip tea, I gobble it. And mostly I ride my bike to yoga because it’s faster than driving.

It’s true. I rarely choose to savor. There are just so many cool things that I want to DO and I don’t want to miss out on DOING any of them so I rush from one to the next.

But here’s the rub: by rushing, I’m actually missing out on those cool things.

My addiction to the rush of rushing, to the feeling that I’m important, and that I have a passionate, purposeful life is getting in the way of me actually feeling my passionate and purposeful life.

It is a habit for me to hurry, to over schedule, to squeeze as much as I can into a day. Even if I’m meditating regularly. It doesn’t matter that I’m mindful whilst I zip about. Even if I’m paying attention and aware, rushing often squashes the life out of my time. I know why I’m addicted to rushing and I feels like a good idea to make a different choice. I stand before you — a rushin’ refugee.

Savoring is worth doing. As I wrote about last year, mindful savoring makes memories. The more we are deeply attentive to what is happening, the more likely it is that we will remember our experiences, that we will remember our life.

So I’m pledging to savor: to put my fork down between bites, to listen to music without doing something else at the same time, to let the chocolate melt on my tongue. I expect this may be a challenge for me, but rushing is a habit I want to break, so I’m doing what every over-scheduling over-achiever would do: I’m naming June 2014 Savoring Month.

On Wednesdays in June, I will report in a comment on this post and on the Focus Pocus Facebook page about how I’m doing with savoring. In particular, I will focus on eating (fork down, chew, swallow breathe, relax), drinking (sip and breathe, sip and breathe, even after yoga), and driving (leave extra time to get there without the adrenaline rush).

I’ll let you know how it’s going. And if you’re a rushin’ refugee and you’d like to come along for the (leisurely) ride, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you.

keep calm and qe2It’s a good thing, now and again, to be reminded that even if we plan like crazy, we never really truly know what is going to happen next. Every once in a while, it’s a helpful thing for me to intentionally set up my day so that I’m surprised by what happens.

This is why, once a season, I dip into the river of the unknown and draw routines out of my polka dotted bag instead of planning them. It takes me out of my habit, stretches my muscle memory and creative imagination, and invites the class to come along for the ride. Over and over this week, I found myself fretting about what routine would get pulled out of the bag. Would I know it? Would it fit our focus? Would it fit for the class? Over and over, I kept reminding myself to trust that the right thing would happen. And it did. Or I think it did, anyway.

Experiment with this for yourself. Leave space for chance. Let the unplanned and the unknown to be part of your day. For someone like me, this takes some courage, but the more I do it, the more I breathe into the sensation of the unknown, the more it feels like play. So go out and breathe, sense your body, and be a big boat (or a big ship, rather).

Dance on. Shine on.

Susan

Monday, December 2, 2013, 1045am ~ Keep Calm and Be a Big Boat (Music, Movement & Magic routine pulled by Diana)

North – 6:49 – Afro Celt Sound System
North, Pt. 2 – 3:01 – Afro Celt Sound System
When You’re Falling [Featuring Peter Gabriel] – 5:14 – Afro Celt Sound System
Ma’ Africa – 4:49 – Mahotella Queens/Ulali
Braided Hair – 4:03 – Neneh Cherry/Speech
Ta Moko – 5:10 – Mako Black
Passion – 5:46 – Michael Franti
Daphne – 7:03 – Eddi Reader/Mahotella Queens/Revetti Sakalar
Persistence of Memory – 4:29 – Afro Celt Sound System
Inion/Daughter – 4:15 – Afro Celt Sound System
Devorzhum – 6:13 – Dead Can Dance

Tuesday, December 3, 2013, 9am ~ Keep Calm and Be a Big Boat (Universal Mind routine pulled by Zan ~ who, incidentally, was in the original video for this routine when it was taught by Carlos in 1999 ~ how tremendous is that?)

Life Love And Unity – 5:43 – Dreadzone
Little Britain – 5:15 – Dreadzone
A Canterbury Tale – 8:41 – Dreadzone
Captain Dread – 5:16 – Dreadzone
Cave Of Angels – 6:37 – Dreadzone
Zion Youth – 5:39 – Dreadzone
One Way – 6:00 – Dreadzone
Shining Path – 7:23 – Dreadzone
Out Of Heaven – 5:56 – Dreadzone
Cristofori’s Dream – 6:07 – David Lanz

Wednesday, December 4, 2013, 1055am ~ Keep Calm and Be a Big Boat (Clarity routine pulled by JuJu ~ welcome home!)

Clarity (melting snow mix) – 11:12 – Makyo
Dubuasca (with Michael Kang) – 6:55 – Bassnectar
Nostalgia Worship – 6:46 – Bassnectar
Freek – 7:16 – Shakatura
Jogando Capoeira – 6:20 – Beatfanatic
Red Alert – 4:17 – Basement Jaxx
Long Bone – 5:16 – Sofa Surfers
Yu – 9:59 – Ishq

Wednesday, December 4, 2013, 545pm ~ Keep Calm and Be a Big Boat (TranceVision routine pulled by Lori)

On The Forest Floor – 5:05 – Bob Holroyd
Alhambra Pt 1 – 1:21 – Natacha Atlas
Duden – 6:41 – Natacha Atlas
Vision – 6:08 – Heldegard von Bingen
Desert Wind – 7:48 – Banco de Gaia
Amor Real – 7:26 – Jon Anderson
Fun Does Not Exist – 6:21 – Natacha Atlas
Through Cinemas – 5:55 – Loop Guru
Ho Doi – 13:40 – Yulara

Thursday, December 5, 2013, 9am ~ Keep Calm and Be a Big Boat (Firedance routine pulled by Pat ~ John Regan, where were you??)

Reel Around the Sun – 8:42 – Bill Whalen / Riverdance
The Heart’s Cry – 2:28 – Bill Whalen / Riverdance
Countess Cathleen/Women of the Sidhe – 5:42 – Bill Whalen / Riverdance
Shivna – 3:38 – Bill Whalen / Riverdance
A Mhuirnín Ó – 5:01 – Clannad
Firedance – 6:04 – Bill Whalen / Riverdance
Slip into Spring – 3:46 – Bill Whalen / Riverdance
Siamsa – 4:28 – Ronan Hardiman /Riverdance II
Riverdance – 5:45 – Bill Whalen / Riverdance
American Wake [The Nova Scotia Set] – 3:09 – Bill Whalen / Riverdance
Lift The Wings – 5:00 – Ronan Hardiman / Riverdance II
Bonny Portmore – 4:20 – Loreena McKennitt
Caoineadh Cu Chulainn (Lament) – 4:11 – Bill Whalen / Riverdance

wobbly changw sign“ ‘The old is not old enough to have died away;

The new is still too young to be born.’ ”

– from John O’Donohue’s poem For the Interim Time

The past few weeks have been full of everything at our house: family visiting from Minnesota, planning for upcoming travels near and far (including buying a camper!?), a parent’s serious illness (and then amazing recovery!), and then yesterday, we took our second (and last) child to college. Lots of broken routines and unexpected twists, lots of emotions of every color and intensity.

After all that, I feel fragile. Like I might crack if I move too quickly. Or at least bruise at the smallest thing: like when I see a parent laughing with (or angry with) their child, or an elder slowly and gingerly crossing a road, or the rich blue late summer sky filled with plumes of white clouds.

My friend calls it “wobbly.” It’s true. The past few days, I’ve felt all kinds of wobbly.

This week, on her (wonderful!) blog, author (and Nia student!) Deborah Prum posted a quote from Frederick Buechner that is full of paradox and wisdom and speaks directly to how I’m feeling. In part it reads, “We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old.” This is the interim time that John O’Donohue’s perceptive poem blesses. This is the uncomfortable, in-between time when even a familiar path feels uneven and strange. It’s the time when one thing is over but the next hasn’t yet begun. We’ve cast off from shore into a fog bank with no land is in sight.

In part, it’s the time of year. Kids are going to school, sometimes for the first time, or leaving home. I suspect I am not the only one who watched my boy walk away and wondered how my days will be, how my relationship with my partner will be, and who I will be with him gone. Wobbly questions, indeed.

But it’s not just a fall thing and it’s not just a child-going-to-school thing. We are all in transition all the time. We are all letting go of something and waiting for whatever comes next. For you it may be making plans to move, have or adopt a baby, change jobs or embark on a creative project. You may be preparing for retirement or travel or going to school. And of course, navigating the ultimate transitions of aging, illness, and death in ourselves and in others is so filled with uncertainty and fear that it can plop us smartly on our butts. Whether it’s an exciting something you want, or a troubling something you fear, there is always that in-between feeling when you’re leaving one thing and haven’t yet come to the next.

Most of us shrink from this interim time. The discomfort is intolerable and we will do whatever we can to avoid it. Our unwillingness to be in the awkwardness of transition can lead to all manner of poor, short-sighted decisions. Fear of the interim time is at the root of rebound relationships, ill-considered next jobs, and even trashy magazine reading in the doctor’s office.

Whatever transitions you are in right now, whatever interim time you are wandering in, remind yourself that this is fertile, important ground to walk. It’s worth spending time in the uncomfortable liminal space. It’s important to stay here, breathe, and not run. As John O’Donohue encourages us:

As far as you can, hold your confidence.

Do not allow your confusion to sqauander

This call which is loosening

Your roots in the false ground,

That you might come free

From all you have outgrown.

Fear not the wobblies. Welcome them, as they are necessary for growth. Fear not the transitional, in-betweenie feeling. Allow yourself to walk wobbly but wise through the transitions for it is the only way to recognize what you have outgrown and see clearly what is next.

woman in inner tubeMy take on the lovely posts of Sara Marks (much gratitude for both her Prelude and her Post):  Floaties can be the way of fear and hiding, of distraction and looking away.  Used mindfully, floaties allow rest, release.  Floaties are not asleep, tuned out, zoned out.  Floaties are a choice to let go, to feel the support all around.  Floaties are the body’s way:  engaging and looking out with clarity and then relaxing and looking in.  Floaties are a reminder to let go fully (sometimes more difficult than one might think).  EveryBODY needs a pair of purple Nike floaties sometimes.

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