I have a friend who listens to me with his whole being. He sits absolutely still and just…listens. Not many people in our culture do this. At first, it was disconcerting. I thought that maybe he wasn’t understanding me because he wasn’t nodding or “uh-huh”-ing or anything. He gets still and listens with the intention to understand. He listens to really hear me. And his listening sometimes allows him to hear things that even I can’t hear. He can hear what I am saying and also what I’m not. There is something deeply nourishing about talking with him. I can feel it in my cells.

It’s as simple as this:

Deep listening = Paying close attention

Paying close attention = Love

Deep listening = Love

So my question for you is this: what are you listening to? who are you listening to? can you listen deeply? what are you half listening to? listening to while doing other things? listening to while deciding what you’ll say in response?

What are you deeply, fully, completely listening to?

Whatever it is, you are loving it.

Listen and love.

A NOTE about the Focus Pocus art: I am in the middle of a book project called Octabusy: How To Let Go in a Sea of Doing. I’m excited about it and want to focus my art-making energy on it in the next couple of months. So instead of making complex art pieces for the Focus Pocus blog, I make cartoons like this one that feature characters from the book. This week, Octabusy herself is demonstrating Octa-LOVE!


“See something in your hands that you love with all your heart. Something that lights you up. Let it sit in your hands without grasping. Let what you love feel your love and also feel free.” ~ Mia Hamza, Yoga Teacher/Genius

When I was in college, many a dorm wall sported a poster (usually with a picture of a white bird flying out of white hands) with the words:

“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

This always struck me as kind of cheesy and pat. I imagined the Unknown speaker hucking a dove into the air (“Go ahead. GO!”) to see if it would come back around.

Not bloody likely, if you ask me. Why come back to someone who tosses you away?

When my teacher Mia said, “Let what you love feel your love and also feel free” I found myself oriented utterly differently toward the idea of freedom. Not just how do I create it in myself but how I allow it in others.

How can I hold my cat, Phoenix, in my lap with love but without keeping her there? How can I be with my friends so that they feel that I love them and that they can be however they are, not only what is neat and tidy? How can I be with my body as it ages and changes with love and care but without expectation that it will do what it did when I was 25? How can I hold myself with love but also with the space for possibility and growth?

On Fourth of July week, my classes often focus on the sensation of freedom in our movement and in our lives. Instead this week, I invite us to focus on how we can offer the feeling of freedom to whatever and whoever we love. What does it feel like to hold without grasping, wholeheartedly offering both love and freedom?

When I say the word “kiss” what comes to mind?

Do you think of what you gave your grandmother?
Do you think of what you give your child?
Do you think of what you get from your dog?
Do you think of what you get from your love?

What if you expanded your view of kiss?
What if you thought of your touch as a kiss?
What if you thought of your gaze as a kiss?
What if you thought of your breath as a kiss?
How could you move and think and speak like a kiss?

Can you let yourself kiss the world and (and this is important) be kissed by the world?

Rumi’s poem is the kiss I long for. Let’s move into that kiss this week.

Some Kiss

There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of Spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl
to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild Darling!

At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face into mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language-door,
and open the love-window.

The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.

When I get clear about what I’m grateful for, lots of other things get clear. Mindful gratitude guides me and helps me make decisions about how to spend my time and energy, what to work on, what to stand up for, what to take care of. And once I’ve made those decisions, gratitude helps me abide by them.

Gratitude Guides.

Gratitude Decides.

Gratitude Abides.

Or, said more eloquently…

Thanks to Kate Bennis for sharing this poem.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.


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.

yes to love 042416

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.

%d bloggers like this: