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Mindfulness

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail speaks to an essential truth: everything, all life, is interconnected. Everything affects everything else.

The examples are everywhere.
We know this in the body: when I have pain in my knee, it impacts my whole body.
We know this in our relationships: one angry member of the family impacts everybody.
We know this in on the Earth: the extinction of a species sends a ripple of change through an entire eco-system.
We know this in our society. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

To honor the work and life of Martin Luther King, expand your perspective. Notice with deep awareness how everything affects everything else.

And if you could use a little additional inspiration in these days of darkness and tumult, I recommend either reading or better yet, listening, to Dr. King’s Love Your Enemies sermon from November 17, 1957. This is a reminder I need every day.

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NOTE: Due to unexpected travel for a family funeral, we never did get to dancing this focus. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to it.

Ponder this for a moment.

Nature and experience show us that everything is connected. Nothing exists in isolation. The body, mind, and emotions are the same: utterly and inextricably interconnected.

Not long ago, I was running late to teach class and I was all up in my head about what I was teaching and how I really needed to stop rushing around and how I wished my low back would feel better than it did. As I slid through the employee breakroom to clock in, there was a basket I’d never seen before with an Alice In Wonderland sign on it:

Inspirational Words ~ Take One.

So I did.

It said, “Your body hears everything your mind says.”

Of course. I know this and I forget. My body is always doing its best for me. Like a loyal and kind friend, it is always doing whatever it can to support me. And it believes me. It believes everything I say.

So if my mind says, “I don’t like the way you look” or “my stupid old low back” or “I hate my knees/thighs/skin” my body hears it all.

If I say out loud, “I’m not angry” when my body knows full-well that I am, what can result but confusion?

If I think, “everybody moves better than I do” or “I am the oldest/fattest/most injured person here” or “nobody is suffering the way I am” or “nobody is as crazy as I am,” my body believes the illusion of disconnection.

The practice is to pay attention to what my mind says and ask is that something I want to say to a loyal, supportive friend who unconditionally loves and believes me?


If I asked you to list your senses, most of us would go with the obvious five: touch, hearing, taste, smell and sight. These are huge, for sure. To deepen mindfulness and awareness, these are rich and important to pay attention to.

There are, however, two additional sense systems that are essential to our healthy, integrated functioning: Proprioception and Interoception.

Proprioception is the 6th sense: the body’s ability to sense itself in space. It’s a fascinating system that resides largely in receptors in the joints and the hands and feet. It’s the system that allows you to scratch an itch you cannot see, to move without looking and to move fluidly. I love playing with proprioception and I’ve written about it before.

For a deep dive into it, please go to The Secret Sense post from Nov 29, 2015. For proprioceptive practical particulars, please check out Art In Action: 4 Ways to Strengthen Proprioception from Dec 1 2015.

The 7th sense is Interoception: your ability to sense yourself from the inside. Interoception is what allows you to feel your heart beating and tells you when you are thirsty, hungry or need to go to the bathroom. Interoception also allows you to feel your emotions. Many of us don’t pay close attention to these sensations and can confuse them. Ever eat when you’re actually thirsty or bored or stressed? That’s just muddled interoception. (This great article about Interoception and Autism isn’t just for people on the spectrum, I certainly find myself having similar experiences as those described here.)

The practice of mindful movement invites us to pay attention to both proprioception and interoception with focus and clarity. Strengthening the 6th and 7th senses allows us to move through the world with more ease and grace.

In a recent Contact Improvisation class with experienced teacher and mover, Brad Stoller, he taught about the sensations of full and empty. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the feelings of full and empty in physical movement, in breath and in awareness. Can I feel full without overflowing, without being overwhelmed or overdoing? Can I feel empty without feeling depleted?

Brad taught that full and empty allows for a wider range of movement, sensation, and experience than we might typically feel. Full and empty sounds both mundane and esoteric. We know the idea of full and empty, but how often to we embody them? I’ve been thinking about and experimenting with full and empty in three primary ways: breath, weight and attention.

Breath

“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.” ~ Andrew Weil

How often am I breathing in the mushy middle? Most of  my breaths are shallow ones that don’t really fill or empty my lungs. There is aliveness, groundedness, and energy in breathing in fully and emptying completely. You can do it right now: take three deep breaths, drawing as much air as you can in — then take a little extra sip at the top — and then letting go as much air as you can out — then squeezing the last drops out. It’s like working a muscle, stretching and strengthening what hasn’t been used to allow your body to expand its ability to nourish and cleanse itself. It can be a heady business so take your time but full and complete breathing is one of the most healthful, centering, and empowering things you can do for your body, mind and spirit.

Weight

All movement is weight shift. The only way an earth-bound being can move is by shifting weight. It’s common to shuffle or drag our feet, to not really push off the ground but to hesitantly scuffle along with the mistaken notion that it’s safer. I notice this scuffle-tendency in particular when I’m walking up stairs or doing movements that are unfamiliar. Experiment with movement with clear weight shift: really engaging whatever is in contact with the floor to put your full weight into and out of each movement.

You can also do this in your metaphorical weight in life. Decide when to show up with your full weight, your full presence. If something feels important to you, step in fully. If something isn’t important or feels dangerous in some way, step out completely. When you are engaged, engage fully. When you disengage, really disengage. Notice when you are scuffling along in a situation.

Attention

There is a scene is the 1997 movie, As Good As It Gets in which Carol (Helen Hunt) is driving with Simon (Greg Kinnear) and Melvin (Jack Nickolson). Simon is telling her a difficult story about his past and she says, “I’m going to pull over so I can give you my full attention.” Melvin squirms in the back seat since her full attention is exactly what he wants and she is ignoring him. Attention is a powerful thing when we direct it.

Much of the time, our attention is diluted. I’m making dinner and listening to a podcast. I’m driving and thinking about my next class. I’m watching a documentary and making art. As with breath and movement, there is a completely different sensation when I bring my full attention to what I’m doing.

Notice where you are putting your attention and make the choice to bring it fully or to let it go.

Our culture is one of distraction so few of us are comfortable with the sensations of full and empty. This week, see if you can stretch the edges of how completely you are willing to step in…and out.

How do I know that I’ve had enough sleep?
Enough food?
Enough movement?

I can feel it.
My mind might want to over-rule it, but the “enough” feeling remains.

Cultivate clarity with the sensation of enough.
It’s an important thing to be intimately familiar with.

Knowing the feeling of “enough” can help us avoid injury and stay healthy in our physical lives but it’s also helpful in the rest of our lives.

How do I know when I’ve had enough with a stressful job?
How do I know when I’ve given enough to a relationship?
How do I know when I have enough money?

I can feel it.
You can feel it.
Our minds might want to over-rule it, but the “enough” feeling remains.

Cultivate clarity with the sensation of enough.
It can support us in a myriad of ways.

This week’s post is about intensity. More specifically, it’s about the benefits of mindfully choosing intensity. Even so, the topic can be a little, well, intense. So I offer the post in illustrations and color with a black cat on the side…

I know I find myself doing this. Avoid riding my bike because it’s easier to drive. Avoid doing another back bend because GAH! Do you do this, too? If so…Click here on the link to the research. It’s kind of amazing.

You can do that right now. Take a moment to take a deep breath before you keep reading. Okay, two more reasons to mindfully choose intensity.

To be clear, mindfully choosing intensity does NOT mean to beat yourself up, push yourself to exhaustion or anything like that. This is about feeling the urgency of intensity and allowing yourself to find the place where you are challenging yourself and able to keep breathing, stay balanced and present. Mindful intensity is an opportunity to offer kindness and strength to yourself. SO…

Meow, y’all.


P.S. Let me know what you think about the illustrated post!

I have to take a breath and pause. Stop talking. Sometimes even stop moving. When I do that, I can feel it. Usually.

It can be around something big like Do We Buy This House? Or something small like Do I Put Elephant (Dub) In My Playlist AGAIN? It’s often around, What’s The Best Next Thing For Me To Do Right Now?

If I stop and listen and pay attention, I can feel the sensation of Yes and I can feel the sensation of No. We all can. We’ve all had the sense that something is right – a Yes – or that something is off – a No. For those of us with busy minds, this “gut feeling” can take practice to feel and listen to.

You can do it right now. Think of something that you’re wondering about: maybe what to make for dinner or what to work on next week or what to plant in the garden. Think of one of the options, imagine it happening (imagine that you actually made the eggplant parmesan or planted the pieris japonica) and feel what you feel. Notice particularly what you feel in your belly and heart. It might be subtle and it might take practice but your body knows and will tell you if you listen.

Yes and No are the language of the Body. As I practice, though, I notice another answer that I get a lot. Sometimes, I take a breath and pause and what I feel isn’t Yes or No… it’s GAH.

I get GAH when I think about doing my books, or doing push ups, or emptying the dishwasher. I don’t want to do it even though I know I’ll be glad if I do. I get GAH when I think about squeezing another meeting into the afternoon, or joining another art class, or eating another piece of chocolate. I want to do it but I know that I’ll be sorry if I do.

GAH is what I feel when I want to do something but I know it’s not a real Yes or when I don’t want to do something but it’s not a real No.

Yes and No are the language of the Body. GAH is the language of the mind. The body never lies. The mind, on the other hand, is sometimes a sneaky, no-goodnik, huckster selling a seductive illusion of better-ness.

My mind is always sidling up to me and saying things like, “It’s fine. You don’t have to do all that annoying accounting. You can do it later.” Or, “You’re not THAT tired. You should do more. Do more. Make another call, write another post and take another meeting.” OR, “Dark chocolate has antioxidants in it, you know. And even though you’ve already had two pieces, you should have another.” Sneaky, tricky, no-goodnik stuff like that.

Luckily, the body is still there speaking its Yes and No language while the mind is doing its GAH thing. So when you feel the GAH, relax. Know your mind is just playing around to see what it can get you to do or not do. Relax and feel the Yes and No in your bones, your gut, your heart.

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