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LIfe As Art

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.

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For me, Martin Luther King Day is January’s bright spot.

The past couple of years, especially.

Every year, I hghlight an MLK quote and create a focus around it.

This year, I bring three.

Only the first isn’t actually an MLK quote.

Last January, I listened almost obsessively to Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem. It struck me as the most beautiful and hopeful of songs in the middle of hopelessness. I think it speaks to our illusion of perfection. Our sense that we have to have it all together before we can really do anything.

One of the downsides of having a hero like MLK, is that we think we have to be as great as he was in order to make any positive change in the world.

Which is snorgle hockey, of course. But we forget. Cohen’s song reminds us that we just have to bring what we have.

It’s okay to be a mess. Everything’s a mess.

Thank you to Laura DeVault for reminding me about Cohen’s genius song but for pointing me to this wonderful Dharma talk by Sharon Beckman-Brindley from a couple of weeks ago that uses the song as a jumping off point. Check it out here. It is well worth the listen.

As is the song. Even if you’ve heard it before. Listen again. 

And from the man himself:

I love the idea of a “disciplined nonconformist.” Not someone who is bucking the system just to do it, but someone who is discerning, acting from their own sense of value and not afraid to go a different way than the crowd. Nia movers know all about this: our practice is all about sensing first, then acting rather than following for the sake of it.

Be a disciplined nonconformist and ring the bells.

I thought I was going to make a third piece of art around a third quote. But nope. It didn’t happen. Lots of other things happened this week, but not that. I guess I can forget my perfect offering.

One of the sub-foci of the Sacred routine choreographed by Kelle Rae Oien is spirals and rotations. Since I’m not ready to leave Sacred entirely, this week I’ll be spiraling the routine with others. This post from a few years ago plus some new spiralicious art captures some of my fascination with the spirals around us and in us.

(originally posted on November 9, 2012)

I’ve been an admirer of straight-shooting for most of my adult life.  Tell it like it is.  Say what needs saying.  Cut to the chase.  I’m a bit ham-handed with it, to be honest, often saying the blunt rather than incisive thing, but in principle I’m down with telling it straight.  After reading Real Love by Greg Baer  and A Complaint-Free World by Will Bowen, as well as living with my kind and clever husband for 13 years, I’m beginning to understand the wisdom of less-direct, more spiral communication.

Especially in regards to sensitive topics, my husband, Frank, has shown me the skillfulness in quietly listening.  Where I might jump in and say my piece, he will be still and then circle back to something later when everybody’s more receptive to questions and conversation.  The wisdom of spirals.

I started the complaint-free challenge on October 26: endeavoring to go 21 consecutive days without complaining, criticizing or gossiping.  It’s been humbling.  So far, I’ve made it as long as 3 days before having to restart, and my tongue has a definite bite mark in it.  I’m being far less direct than usual, and I’m discovering that spiraling, when it comes to relationships, is often the wise way to go.

Not a surprise, really, since spiraling is The Body’s Way, too. There are few straight lines in the body.  As Amanda Latchmore’s beautifully writes in her Harrogate Yoga Blog:

Our bodies are composed of spirals. The heart is both an organ and a muscle that spirals in and around itself – formed by the gushing of blood from the Mother’s placenta into two tubes of spiraling muscle. The bones spiral, recede and curve, the striations within them spiraling downwards, so that the force of weight can be transferred to the earth. In turn, our muscles wrap around the bones in a continuous network of spiraling movement.

Nia movements reflect the power of spiraling and invite movements that rotate, wrap and revolve.  Moves like Knee Sweep, Palm Directions, Sink and Pivot Table Wipe all create systemic spiraling that echo the spirals in the body.

And the spirals are, indeed, systemic in the human body!  In her article, The Double Spiral Arrangement of the Human Musculature, Carol Porter McCullough describes Raymond Dart, a 20th Century anatomist, anthropologist and Alexander Technique enthusiast who discovered the double spiral design of the body.  She explains,

The spirals of the human musculature are mirror images of each other. Designating the right side of the pelvis as a starting point, the muscle sheet of one of the spirals travels diagonally around the side of the torso, crossing over the front mid-section to wrap diagonally upward to the left side of the torso, where the road of muscle makes a “Y,” one avenue junctioning with the muscles of the left arm, the other avenue snaking its way diagonally across the back, continuing on its diagonal journey across the neck to hook onto the head behind the ear in its original hemisphere of the right side (Dart 1996, 69).

Dart  believed in ‘the universality of spiral movement’ and said “all things move spirally and … all growth is helical (Dart 1996, 57).”  I can see the truth in this when watching a morning glory bloom or a baby roll over.  And when I circle back around to a conversation a few days later and find that it is easeful and healing to say what I want to say and that my words can actually be heard.

This week, we’ll focus on rotation and spirals in class.  Whether we are dancing together or not, I invite you into the practice of noticing how spirals have a healing effect on body, mind and relationships!  I’d love to hear what you discover!

For the next two weeks, we’ll be dancing a new-to-me routine called Sacred, choreographed by Nia Trainer Kelle Rae Oien. The focus of the routine is the bones with the intent of creating sustainability in the body. In my White Belt Nia training, I studied the bones for the first time, in part by using an Anatomy Coloring Book. In working with the routine, I deepened my fascination with the art of the bones: their names, their functions, their sculptured design. 

 

The word “sacrum” is from the Latin for “sacred” or “holy bone.” The obvious question is, why sacred? Here are some of the theories:

  • the pelvis is the container of the scared organs of procreation
  • the sacrum is the last bone to decompose after death so ancient people perhaps saw this as the bone from which the afterlife begins
  • the sacrum may have been used as a vessel for holding offerings or sacrifices

What do you think the sacrum resembles?

The xiphoid process at the tip of the sternum is made of cartilage in a child and gradually changed to bone by the time an adult is around 40.

The manubrium, connects with the clavicles or collarbones (we’ll look at those in detail next week!) and connects to the 1st pair of ribs. The body of the sternum, the gladiolus, connects with the next 6 pairs of ribs. Together, these 7 pairs of ribs are known as the true ribs, beneath those are two false ribs (indirectly connected to the sternum) and two floating ribs (not connected to the sternum at all).

The neurocranium is the part that is around the brain as opposed to the viscerocranium which are the facial bones.

The sphenoid bone is one of the most complex in the body due to its connection to facial bones, ligaments, and muscles. It’s in the middle of the skull near the front and forms much of the nasal cavity.

The ethmoid bone (Greek for sieve) is a small bone with a lacy construction (hence the name) separates the nasal cavity from the brain.

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These days as winter approaches. These days that get darker and darker. These days when the cold settles in. Every single year, these days challenge me body, mind and spirit.

In search of inspiration last week, I stumbled upon a poem that I wrote two Decembers ago when the world felt as dark as I’d ever remembered. Like a friend giving you back your own words of encouragement, it was oddly helpful to read what I myself had written 24 months ago. It reminded me of the constant cycle of things and that it is, as ever, our own light that is needed in the darkest of days.

Be the light, my friends. Blessings on this solstice.

Shine On

Darkness descends on our little city
(Maybe on yours, too. Or maybe on you.)

December with its Solstice silent blanket
And shadows darker under Nature’s night:
Disappearance and death
Violent violation
Agony, isolation
Fear

Even so
There is the moon
Luminous, listening
Receiving, reflecting
Illuminated from the source
Bright enough to wake us
So we can marvel

The city’s sinew
Its strongest femur
Bruised blue-black
Deep-rooted dis-ease
Stories and secrets
Defensive denial
Tangled doubt

Even so
There is the sun
Radiant, reassuring
Ever-generous, if shy these days
Self-sourced force toward which
the amaryllis aches and arches

Darkness is part of us
Shadows spiral in our fibers
Charcoal curtains can narrow vision

Each of us glow, reflect, radiate

But in these dark days
We bundle and trundle it
Beneath heavy coats of despair
Zip up and button down
Tuck in and turn out
Crossed arms over lost heart
Sighing sideways eyes
Furtively looking to see
Who will spark the shift
And shine the light

You
You are the light
You are the sun
The very source
You are the moon
Tender reflection

In the darkest of days
Unwrap
Show up
Shine out
Shine on.

savoring seeing millicent pieceMillicent is a sculptor. She is a serious artist and a serious person. She creates with her hands sunk deep into soil and clay. She reads poetry and makes intricate and mysterious art from horse hair and stones. She is a sculptor and an artist and when I met her I felt intrigued and intimidated. Fascinated and shy.

Millicent’s pieces – whether built of wood or clay or plant – strike me. I don’t fully understand them and that is part of why I love them. It seems that they’ve grown rather than been made. As if they emerge with their own genealogy and history. I love being around the complexity and ambiguity of her work.

Years ago, Millicent created a series of clay globes – some the size of a softball that fit perfectly in a palm, others bigger than a beach ball that could be seen from a distance. Each one perfectly round with imperfectly smoky glaze. Like the eggs of mythical birds, she displayed them in gardens and studios and writer’s desks. Perched in mounds of thyme or on a rough cut slab of pine or on an espresso saucer to keep it from rolling to the floor.

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I commissioned two of her extraordinary extra-large globes for our garden. One nestled perfectly in a triangle of hostas. Another I kept moving around until it found a home under to a dwarf pine behind some columbine.

She came to visit one summer afternoon near my birthday. She came to the door and we walked around the garden, looking at what was blooming, looking at what was dying back and looking at what needed weeding. She kept wandering back to the front step with a strange smile.

When it was time for her to go, she took my hand and led me to a bed of Solomon’s Seal by the front door. We had walked around it for half an hour, but I hadn’t seen the basketball-sized globe that she had secretly set by the front step.

prayer flags and globes 008

“This is for you,” she said. What she didn’t say, or maybe she did, was that I hadn’t seen it.

There is a hotly disputed story that natives standing on the shore were unable to see Columbus’ ships on the horizon. Their eyes had no expectation of such things. Their brains had no stories for them. So the ships remained invisible until someone pointed them out.

I felt abashed once Millicent pointed out her Columbus globe. I was the mindfulness teacher who had mindlessly walked past the new addition to the garden. Even so, there was magic in her revelation. A gift both literal and figurative. The difference between looking and seeing.

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writing life 003A couple of months ago, I went to a friend’s birthday luncheon. It was her 40th and it was at a restaurant and I wore nice shoes so it was a “luncheon,” not a “lunch” thankyouverymuch. At said luncheon, I was introduced by two different people as … a writer.

Both times, I cast sideways eyes to see who the introducer was talking about. Both times, I froze a little and attempted to get into my glass of iced tea.

Me? A writer? Am I a writer?

I’m not suffering from a case of the impostor syndrome – the psychological phenomenon in which a person cannot take in their accomplishments and see them instead as luck, timing, or a fluke. It’s just that I’ve been a movement teacher for years and that’s how I see myself. As I write more and even publish some, my view of myself is running to catch up with what I’m actually doing.

Oh, that’s some happy crappy. It’s the impostor syndrome.

So when a new writer friend, Zsofi McMullin, invited me to participate in a blog hop about my writing life, I had to laugh and say “My what??” and then take a breath and say, “Yes, this is actually something I do.”

1. What am I writing or working on?

My blog. After teaching movement and mindfulness for a dozen years, I started Focus Pocus: The Magic of Inquiry and Intent in 2012. My original idea was to write about the focus for classes every week, and provide links to further information and resource. It’s turned into a way for me to tell stories about my own practice in and out of the studio. What started as a way to share more information about anatomy and the body~mind connection became a new way for me to connect with people, to encourage them to take their practice out into life … and to play with the craft and art of writing. I love doing it. It’s challenging and mysterious, scary and exhilarating. And I keep finding more things I wanted to write about. Which then led to…

Non-fiction essays. I have a file of essays in various states of done-ness and/or disrepair that I continuously add to and work on. I have a vision for a book (or an e-book, or a live performance piece, or something) that is sometimes in clearer focus than others. In the meantime, I have submitted essays to sites that I enjoy and respect…and sometimes they get published! Which is tremendously exciting. But even when that doesn’t happen, I love the cocktail of discipline and inspiration and solitude and connection that writing offers. So I keep doing it.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It doesn’t if I’ve been reading authors that I admire. If I’m reading Anne Lamott or David Sedaris or Claire Dederer, I tend to write lame imitations of them. Honestly, though, everybody has their own voice, things that only they can say, and everybody who chooses to write (or speak or dance or teach or make art or, well, live) has their preciously unique style and message. In Buddhism, it’s called dharma: your purpose or calling, the medicine that only you can bring to the world. Everybody’s got their dharma, it’s just a matter of finding and following it. When the stars align and I get out of my own way, I write entertaining pieces that might provoke thought and inspire inquiry. I’m a sucker for a good metaphor so I look for ways of connecting ideas and images to make the confusing and confounding less so. And if what I write is only entertaining, that’s fine with me, too.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I’m a teacher at heart. I love to connect with people and share my own slapstick stumblings and banana peel dipsy doodles. I’m also an extrovert who needs to spend about half of her time alone so writing balances nicely with my teaching. I love the music and movement and magic that a group of people moving together creates. So I go out in the world with my funny pants on and dance around and invite people into their bodies. Then I come home and go into my dark little office den and create and connect in a different way. I love doing both ~ coming at the same thing from totally different angles.

4. How does my writing process work?

My process is in process.

I have little pads of paper all around my house and in my car. When I have an idea or see or hear something that catches my attention, I write myself a little note. “Serious Play,” “Act Your Age,” and (inexplicably) “Wear More Orange” are all recent ones. When I sit at my computer, I sort through the scraps of paper and pick one that feels like it has some juice in it and see what happens.

I’m a believer in Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft.” I blat out whatever comes then leave it for a day or so and come back to it. Then I delete the pedantic crap (or some of it, anyway) and get to the story. After all the deletions and changes, it doesn’t look like a mess thanks to the wonders of word processing technology. Which is lovely for someone who is just a teensy bit obsessive-compulsive.

I don’t write every day which seems like breaking a Writer’s Law. I’d love to be writing more, but I’d also love to be working on my teaching more and doing more yoga and gardening more and traveling with my husband more. So I do what I can do. Instead of writing at the same time every day, I make appointments with myself to write throughout the week. I set aside two days a week that I leave open for creative work and then slide other writing time into the other days when I can.

Sometimes, I have an idea brewing, I sit down and it flows out like melted butter.

Okay, that happened one time.

Sometimes, I look at my blank screen and decide my nails need filing.

As I recently wrote on my blog, I take the Be An Ant approach and figure if I keep writing, little by little, after a while, I’ll have something. Maybe what I’ll have is just a pile of not so-terribly-good essays and maybe I’ll have a book. Either way, I’m enjoying my (so called) writing life.

***

Now I’m passing the blog hop baton to one of my favorite bloggers who will share her stories and process! Check her out. You’ll love her, too:

Melissa Sarno is a writer and producer living in Brooklyn, NY. She studied Communications at Cornell University and received an MFA in Screenwriting from Boston University. After a few years working in television production, she made the switch to children’s media. When she’s not writing elegant prose for preschool toys and games, she writes novels and short stories. She’s currently seeking publication for her first novel and is at work on her second. She blogs at http://melissasarno.com and tweets at @melissasarno.

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