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I know how she felt. I’ve been in plenty of classes when I was hating on something. The room is too hot or someone throws open the window to winter winds. The music is too loud or I can’t hear it or it’s that annoying screechy electronic or repetitive Native American stuff. The teacher isn’t cueing enough or he’s talking too much.

And those are just my grumbles in Nia classes.

The list of things I’ve hated in life is laughably wide-ranging. It includes (but is certainly not limited to) pants without pockets, any nuts or fruit in stuffing, missed free throws, television in the morning, smoking, climate change protesters who drive Suburbans, and okra in anything.

Oh yes. I hate all kinds of things. So I know exactly where she is coming from when she approaches me after class and says, “What do I do if I hate it?”

She is quick to point out that she usually enjoys my classes but the freedance song I played that day, she really, really hated. So what should she do?

We all have preferences. Everybody likes some things and dislikes others. That’s just the way people roll. The problem isn’t preferences. The problem is what we do with them.

My freedance-hating friend wondered if she should leave the room when I play a song she doesn’t like. Or if she should ask me not to use that song/artist/genre in my classes. Or she could hum another song to herself to block out the song she hates.

The options are endless and I’ve heard them all.

“Don’t do freedance.”
“Do all freedance.”
“That music is objectively awful.”
“Those movements are too difficult.”
“Don’t make us get on the floor.”
“Do a whole class on the floor.”

And those are just things I’ve said (usually to myself but not always).

In Buddhism, avoiding that which we don’t like and clinging to that which we do is called shenpa. Traditionally, shenpa is translated as “attachment” but I prefer (ha!) Pema Chodron’s definition “being hooked.” She says,

It’s an everyday experience. … At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That’s the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us. … Someone looks at us in a certain way, or we hear a certain song, we smell a certain smell, we walk into a certain room and boom. The feeling has nothing to do with the present, and nevertheless, there it is.  (see Pema’s post on shenpa here.)

When I began teaching, I knew not everyone would love my classes and I pretended that was fine. Bull hockey. I wanted everybody to love my classes all the time. If they didn’t like something, I would change it so they would. You can imagine how well that went.

Instead, the most skillful choice when we are hating something is to lean into it, to feel the direct experience of it without pushing it away, without running, without ignoring it. As Pema says,

The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face to face. When we feel resentment because the room is too hot, we could meet the heat and feel its fieriness and its heaviness. When we feel resentment because the room is too cold, we could meet the cold and feel its iciness and its bite. When we want to complain about the rain, we could feel its wetness instead. When we worry because the wind is shaking our windows, we could meet the wind and hear its sound. Cutting our expectations for a cure is a gift we can give ourselves. There is no cure for hot and cold. They will go on forever. (from When Things Fall Apart)

So when she asks, “What do I do if I hate it?” I answer, “Feel that feeling. Where is it in your body? Is it tight or hot or jangling? Work with that. Dance that feeling. Are you angry or annoyed or irritated? Use what is actually happening in the moment and go with that.” The ability to meet whatever it is – whether we love it or hate it – is skillful action — and it’s a skill I wish I’d learned a long time ago.

Perhaps paradoxically, by neither clinging nor pushing away, we can taste the uniqueness of the moment and actually be in our lives without wanting to be somewhere else. When you hate it, love on the hate.

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Recently, I noticed that when I hear unwelcome news I say one thing – “Oh no!” Whenever I say it, I feel the resistance to whatever I’m hearing, the clench against what is happening. Since then, I’ve been playing with saying Yes. It might be, “Yes and I’m so sorry.” Or it might be, “Yes and I see I have no control over that.” Or, “Yes, that’s not what I expected and this can work, too!” There is power in Yes. This week, five mini-postlettes about just that.

How many times do I find myself all grumbly-cranky over someone’s behavior?
Many many times.

How often do I get all snarly-gnarly when someone chooses something that I think they shouldn’t choose?
Ridiculously often.

Especially when our kids were young, I spent a good bit of my time wanting them to do something they weren’t doing or not do something that they were. And it wasn’t just the kids. I felt that way about lots of people…including myself.

These days, I get tangled up in the rough, gray sheets of The ResentVille Hotel less often than I used to. And to this I largely credit my husband, Frank.

Whenever I go on a rant about how someone is doing something they shouldn’t be or not doing something they absolutely should, Frank kindly lets me rattle on about it. When I stop to take a breath (or a gulp of wine), he says something like, “I find I feel better when I love people for who they are and what they do instead of being angry with them about who they aren’t and what they don’t do.”

Yes. Right. That works ever-so much better.

The ResentVille Hotel is a wretched place to stay. I prefer Frank’s Love-‘em-As-They-Are Hostel. That’s where I’m bedding down for the night.

One February 14 years ago, I picked up my boy, Robert, from school. He was about 9 and he wanted to go straight home but I needed to stop at the grocery store. He was a little crabby about the delay and asked if he could stay in the car instead of trundle through Harris Teeter with me. Sure, I said, but do me a favor and count all the men you see leaving the store with flowers. He looked at me like sideways but shrugged and said he would. I was in the store no more than 10 minutes. When I came back he was bouncing on the seat with wide eyes. There were twenty-seven, Susan! Twenty-seven men with flowers! There’s another! Twenty-eight! He looked at me curiously, Why are all those men buying flowers? It's Valentine's Day. It's tradition, I told him. (And money-making marketing.) Romance, I told him. (And peer/culture pressure.) It’s a way to say I love you, I told him. (Without actually saying anything.) I explained that originally the holiday was a celebration of romantic love but that in our family and in his school, it was just about love. It was a day to tell the people you care about how important they are to you and the best way to do that is in your own words. These days, the word I love on Valentine’s Day is courage. In this week of champagne and candy, in a culture that values the money spent in place of connection vulnerably made, what we need is courage. As Brene Brown says, Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.’ Our culture creates lots of ways to spend money and avoid true connection with each other. If I buy you a bouquet, I don’t have to say what you really mean to me. It can be scary to tell from the heart, so why not buy some earrings and call it done? Rather than buying flowers or chocolates or diamonds, show your heart. Courageously say how much you love the people in your life…and not just romantic partners. Friends, colleagues, family, children, everyone. (If you want to do that on a beautiful, hand-made card, go for it! If you don’t make it yourself, here are some awesome ones.) To speak up, to say what is important, to reveal yourself are acts of courage and acts of love. May this be the focus of both Valentine's Day and Brownies for Breakfast on February 18. I was actually surprised that day in the Harris Teeter parking lot by the sheer number of blossom-bearing men (as I was yesterday in Whole Foods to see a similar parade men with flowers in their baskets). I hope they (and their partners) demonstrated not just floral generosity but also courage to tell all their hearts.

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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In celebration of Martin Luther King Day on Monday, this week’s post is published on elephant journal! Please click here to read it and if you’re moved, please share it with anyone who might benefit.

And if you’d like more MLK inspiration, enjoy these two archived posts on his legacy of love. Find one here that features new glasses and foot walking and other acts of love and a super short one (and one of my favorites) here.

Happy Martin Luther King Day.

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glennon doyle quote with text edit

I’ve heard that in Japan, drivers are mindful about their behavior on the road since they want to offer a good example to people around them.

We are all teachers. We teach by the choices we make. I always choose from love or fear ~ even if the action is the same, the source makes a difference.

 

We also can learn from everyone – sometimes what to do and sometimes what not to do.

We are all students. I can get annoyed or I can learn. I can be all that-person-is-so-great-I-could-never-do-that or I can learn. We learn by the perspective we take.

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white teacher with navajo students“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.” ~ Khalil Gibran

My stepdaughter is disappointed about the teacher she has for her course this semester. I don’t like her, she said, She didn’t teach us anything last time I had her. I taught myself everything from the book. I am sorry she isn’t happy with her teacher but I keep thinking wow, what was an extraordinary thing to learn.


“Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?” ~ Walt Whitman

My yoga teacher told us about one of her teachers who yelled at them in class and was generally nasty while holding them in difficult postures. Why in the world did you stay with a teacher who treated you like that? I asked. She stopped and got serious. Oh my gosh, she said, I learned so much from her. It’s where I found the serenity in my practice.


Teaching and learning are happening all the time whether we realize it or not. But we often think about teaching and learning narrowly: the teacher is up there teaching and the students are out there learning.

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Sometimes teachers will say things like I learn so much from my students! Making the exchange of teaching and learning look something like this:

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But that’s not quite accurate either. Here’s what’s actually happening all the time. Everybody, whether they know it or not is both teaching and learning from everybody else. So it actually looks more like this:

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We’re all teachers. We’re all students.
We teach by the choices we make. We learn by the perspective we take.
What do you want to teach? What do you want to learn?
When I am clear on this, I know how to live.

Whatever it is, remember this little mind-blowing nugget of brilliance from Momastery blogger, Glennon Doyle Melton:

“You do not teach by teaching – you teach by loving.”

Imagine standing in this room

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if all those colored lines, were lines of love.

allowing new years ball“I find surcease from the entanglement of questions only when I concede that I am not obliged to know everything. In a world where many desperately seek to know all the answers, it is not very popular to believe, and then state, I do not need to know all things.” ~ Maya Angelou from Death and The Legacy

2014 has been a rough one. In my own little circle, my community, my country, there have been an unrelenting series of injuries and illnesses, injustices and tragedies, unexpected heartbreaking deaths. I’m not a fan of New Years parties but this year, that Times Square ball cannot drop fast enough for me.

To be more precise, my mind can’t wait for ball to drop. My mind reels after a year of frightening diagnoses and uncertain treatment plans. My mind staggers after so many distressing phone calls and emails and Facebook posts. My mind wants to understand why these things happen and what it all means. My mind wants to know.

My mind hates the mystery of living.

This week has been a particularly painful one. (As a friend said last week, just when we thought we were through it, 2014 saved the worst for last.) When every fiber of me feels raw and aching, my mind can sincerely kick into overdrive. Difficult circumstances stir up long-buried stories and emotional patterns from lifetimes ago. I hear words in my head like “you don’t deserve to feel this way” and “you’re going to do something wrong and make everything worse” and “you should be able to do this without help.”

Luckily, my wounded mind is housed within my wise body. When my mind is resisting the unfathomable and kicking up defended story lines from my childhood, my body is ready to tell me the truth. My body is fine with the mystery. My body tells me how it is.

When things fall apart, thinking only confounds me. From a place of reflexive recoiling, my mind can lash out and give me all kinds of confusing information. It’s much more helpful for me to go to my body: walk, move, dance, do yoga, meditate, or breathe deeply. If I go to my body, I don’t need a story, I don’t have to listen to the chorus of directives in my head, and I don’t have to understand or know anything. I can just feel what is happening.

This week I discovered a guided meditation called Soften Soothe and Allow by Kristin Neff on the Insight Timer meditation app. In it, Dr. Neff approaches difficult or painful emotions somatically by softening, soothing and allowing. First, she guides us to feel the sensation of the emotion in the body and soften into it rather than tightening. When difficult feelings arise, my natural reaction is to tense and pull away. Instead, I can make the choice to turn toward the pain and soften it. Even a little at the edges. Then, she suggests breathing into or touching the body to soothe the painful place. Even a little at the edges.

Finally, she directs to simply allow the sensation to be without pushing it away or masking it or running from it. Imagine that: just allow it.

Everybody responds differently to painful circumstances. There is no right way to be hurt or angry or frightened. There is no right way to grieve. Dr. Neff’s meditation creates space for all experiences. In times like these, it’s a helpful reminder to stay open to suffering, to respond to it with tenderness and to allow it to be. I find that I’m grateful for my life even in troubling and difficult times, grateful for this very moment.

There is no telling, of course, what 2015 holds. My mind sorely wishes for a promise that everything will be okay next year. Luckily, my body is there to integrate the pain with the gratitude, the bitter with the sweet. The integration gives me space to appreciate all my experiences and embrace the mystery of living.

Even so, my mind and I wish you a happy and peaceful new year.

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