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Practice


The practice of setting an intention is a way of consciously making a difference in our movement, our lives, and in the world. We make a difference whether we realize it or not. Setting an intention is a way of choosing the difference we want to make. (Check out last week’s post for more on this including a genius quote from Jane Goodall.)

What’s interesting, of course, is that we are human. Even if we set an intention, we won’t be able to stay with it. Not all the time. (Even though we know that it’s impossible, writer Leo Babauta suggests aspiring to that goal in his post Mindfulness All The Time. It’s a good read and I recommend it.) We’ll get distracted, get pulled into habit, go on auto-pilot. We’ll get pulled or pull ourselves away from our intention. That’s just the way it goes…for everybody.

The cool thing is that getting off track is not a bad thing. It’s actually fantastic. The moment that we find ourselves no longer connected to the intention we set is what Sharon Salzberg calls The Magic Moment (read her wonderful blog post about it here.) In her post, she’s talking about following the sensation of the breath in meditation as the intention. She writes,

if something arises — sensations, emotions, memories, plans, whatever it might be — that’s strong enough to take your attention away from the feeling of the breath, or if you’ve fallen asleep, or get lost in some incredible fantasy, the moment you realize you’ve been distracted is the magic moment.

It’s in that magic moment that we have the opportunity to really practice. We have the chance to begin again and to choose our intention again.

Stephanie Bennett Vogt teaches the A Year to Clear course that I’m taking right now (you can check that and other offerings at the Daily Om). She says that when creating a new practice, changing a habit or endeavoring to make any change, it requires four things:

Intent
Action
Non-Identification
Compassion

Her approach is that we need all four in order to create real and lasting change. If we only have Intent and no Action, the thought or desire just stays in our head. If we just have Action and no Intent, the action is unfocused, and arbitrary. If we have intention and action but don’t have non-identification and compassion, we’ll beat ourselves up when we get distracted and we’ll tend to quit.

I see it as a cycle more than a list. I see Intent as being the first step, knowing what we want to happen. Then Action is essential for embodiment and manifestation of what we want to occur. The Non-Identification (or as Buddhists would say, Non-Attachment) is not getting hooked on the outcome. Non-Identification is an allowing for things to unfold as they do without fighting against it. And then Compassion is the recognition that we are human and that we’ll forget and mess up in any number of ways and that’s just part of the process. I see it this way:

The Magic Moment happens with the Non-Identification and the Compassion: it’s when we realize we’ve veered from our intent in some way and that it’s time to return to it and make another action.

This mindful practice that we do together is impossible. No one can do it. And that is the whole point. It’s not about being perfect or never messing up. It’s about realizing we’ve lost our intention and then gently, kindly, beginning again.

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If you’ve been a Focus Pocus Follower for a while, you might remember a post from several years ago called Be An Ant. It’s a favorite of mine in that it explains a core philosophy that I learned from my husband, Frank. “Be an Ant” is a powerful approach that I do my best to apply every day: do what’s in front of you, little by little, one step at a time. Be an ant. (If you don’t remember the post, do go check it out!)

In the intervening years, I’ve watched Frank “be an ant” over and over. Most recently, I’ve watched him take on the enormous project of building a house with that “ant-y” perseverance. He has a vision for where the project is going and every step of the way, every single day, he moves in that direction. Whether it was building the foundation, framing the walls, hanging the siding or making 15 hand-papered lanterns to hang in our new dining room, he has plugged along without letting the enormity of it all overwhelm him.

And now we have 13 hand-papered lanterns drying all around the house!

 

These days, I can find myself quickly overwhelmed by the enormity of the suffering in the world. And yet, I can apply the “be an ant” principle to the state of the world just as we did to making lanterns. When I am talking to a bullied gay teen, or listening to a woman stuck in an abusive marriage, or reading the relentlessly hopeless headlines, I can choose to do whatever little thing I can do to help.

Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg says, “Do the good that’s in front of you even if it feels small.”

Step by step, little by little, we can make a difference. That’s being an ant for a hurting world.

CLASS NOTE: This week, Mary Linn Bergstrom and I will be teaching together for these classes:
Tuesday, Nov 6, 840-940am at acac downtown
Tuesday, Nov 7, 545-645pm at acac Albemarle Square
Wednesday, Nov 8, 11-1215pm at acac Albemarle Square
Please join us!


P.S. I can only aspire to his mastery of it, but I’ve used it, too, for big projects and small. Most recently, I used “ant-ing” to create my book, Buddha Cat: Learning Awareness, Presence & Self-Care from a Teacher who Sometimes Barfs on the Bed. Read about my evolving practice of being an ant, in a recent piece I wrote in Streetlight Magazine. Please do take a look.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
― Pema Chödrön

‘Tis the season of March Madness: the thrilling culmination of the college basketball season. March was once my least favorite month given its not-quite-spring-enough-with-the-winter-already damp, chilly grayness. But then I moved to Charlottesville and married a UVA grad and now I’m right there all month in my orange and blue pulling for the Hoos.

Over time, I’ve discovered that during March Madness (and, well, all year) I need to cultivate two things: the courage to allow myself fully into the energy and excitement and the skill to settle myself down.

It’s not just the way of college basketball. Shaking up and settling down is the way of life. Things pull in and spiral out. Our muscles contract and then lengthen. Breath draws in and relaxes out. My heart and mind and spirit get stirred up and then they quiet again.

Despite this reality, I often fear and resist the excitement, the turmoil, the uncertainty. It feels easier and safer to stay in control, in comfort, in habit.

This is, in part, why I practice on my mat, on the dance floor, and on the cushion. I practice getting stirred up and then settling down. I practice literally shaking myself and finding my center and ground. I practice remembering that this is the way of things and that happiness is rooted in my ability to move in and out of both.

No matter how much I want to avoid the tempest swirl, life doesn’t work that way. Inevitably, I get stirred up. Inevitably, I get activated. If not by March Madness or Wheel Pose or the latest headlines, then by a health crisis or a relationship rift or the loss of a friend. And when this happens, can I be in the swirling stirring with skill and then can I find my way out again to a state of peace?

Join me this week to dance with this courage and skill, to shake it up, shake it off and settle down…and then do it again.

 

This is my yoga mat. At the end of every class, I draw a heart. This is a picture of a process. All together, the hearts create not just an image but a practice.

And, would ya look at that? A routine created itself this week. I put together music that focused on the process and taking one step at a time, and this routine emerged. I’m calling it One Step Closer and we’ll keep playing with it to see what happens. I’d love feedback and thoughts from those who danced (or listened) to it this week!

Our variations on the One Step Closer playlist are below. If you’d like to listen to them, you can find almost all the music on Spotify where you can listen for free! Put the music we dance together with other pieces that lift you up, calm you, and challenge you!

But first, here are a couple of things I know you want to know about:

Moving to Heal classes with Sheila Queen Fridays 12:30-2pm at Northside Library
Join Nia Blue Belt and Moving to Heal Instructor, Sheila Queen for a class designed for anybody looking for a gentle movement practice to complement and facilitate healing of body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Introductory classes offered at the Northside Libary Meeting room on Fridays, 1230-2pm, Jan 26, Feb 2 & 23, Mar 2, 9 & 23, Apr 6, 13 & 27. Contact Sheila with questions and for more information at squeen125@gmail.com and 434.882.4129.

Freedom to Move Workshop with Life Coach Heidi Shaner ~ Saturday, January 27, 2-5pm
Do you wish you could DANCE WITHOUT INHIBITION like you dance when you’re alone? YOU CAN! Join Edwin Roa, founder of Zabor Dance and Heidi Shaner, Strategic Intervention Life Coach, for an intensive workshop.

You’ve set your new year’s resolution so why not include EMOTIONAL WEIGHT LOSS? Yes! We’re integrating the best of both worlds: physical and emotional for an amazing experience of creativity and freedom.

What’s holding you back from moving your feet, hips, and shoulders freely? What obstacles prevent you from experiencing joy in your body?

We’ll explore the mind/body connection, how obstacles are created, what we really want, and how we can shift resistance through movement and discussion. We’ll create and perform a group dance to celebrate in this 3 hour workshop.

Join us for this self care, self love exploration and find freedom, joy, and connection in movement.

All are welcome, open to everyone.

Get out of your own way! Unleash your soul!
https://www.facebook.com/events/196616744225290/
Nourish Yourself & Live Life to the Fullest in Puglia – Southern Italy
April 28 – May 5, 2018 with Sandra Savine, Balanced Hedonist

Join Sandra Savine and Cinzia Rascazzo for a retreat: “Nourish Yourself & Live Life to the Fullest” in southern Italy (Puglia) at the beautiful 4 star hotel Tenuta Centoporte Resort – Giurdignano (Lecce), Puglia Italy http://www.tenutacentoporte.it/en/home/

Slow down and live life to the fullest: Take cooking classes, eat simple, delicious and nutritious Italian food. Savor the healthiest extra virgin olive oil. Pamper yourself in lovely Mediterranean style. Release yourself from stressful habits that do not serve you as you nourish the self and embrace the beauty and joy that is available to you in every moment.

Price is 2990 euro per person (based on a double/twin room accommodation – only 10 rooms available).
http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/649296/ae6f060099/289604645/9977cedc66/
As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Monday, Jan 22, 2018, 1045am ~ Loving the Process (One Step Closer)

Step Into Your Skin 2:24 David Wilcox
One Step Closer To You 4:41 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Walk Into The Sun 5:21 Dirty Vegas
Every Day is a Winding Road 4:23 Sheryl Crow
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Bizuru dub (Eccodek Stepper’s Dub Mix) 5:08 Eccodek Remixtasy
Steppin Out 3:44 Kaskade
One Step Beyond 6:06 Karsh Kale
Homeward Journey 2:46 Satish Vyas
Little By Little 5:30 Groove Armada
Feelin’ Good 4:21 The Pussycat Dolls
Journey Into Stillness 4:41 Gary Stroutsos

Tuesday, Jan 23, 2018, 840am ~ Loving the Process (One Step Closer)

Step Into Your Skin 2:24 David Wilcox
One Step Closer To You 4:41 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Walk Into The Sun 5:21 Dirty Vegas
Every Day is a Winding Road 4:23 Sheryl Crow
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Steppin Out 3:44 Kaskade
One Step Beyond 6:06 Karsh Kale
Homeward Journey 2:46 Satish Vyas
Feelin’ Good 4:21 The Pussycat Dolls
Journey Into Stillness 4:41 Gary Stroutsos

Wednesday, Jan 24, 2017, 11am ~ Loving the Process (One Step Closer)

Step Into Your Skin 2:24 David Wilcox
One Step Closer To You 4:41 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Walk Into The Sun 5:21 Dirty Vegas
Every Day is a Winding Road 4:23 Sheryl Crow
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby? [Rae & Christian Remix] 4:59 Dinah Washington
Steppin Out 3:44 Kaskade
Fanfarra_(Cabua-Le-Le) 4:05 Sergio_Mendes
Things Can Only Get Better 3:56 Howard Jones
Homeward Journey 2:46 Satish Vyas
Feelin’ Good 4:21 The Pussycat Dolls
Journey Into Stillness 4:41 Gary Stroutsos

Thursday, Jan 25, 2017, 840am ~ Loving the Process (One Step Closer)

Step Into Your Skin 2:24 David Wilcox
One Step Closer To You 4:41 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Every Day is a Winding Road 4:23 Sheryl Crow
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby? [Rae & Christian Remix] 4:59 Dinah Washington
Steppin Out 3:44 Kaskade
Fanfarra_(Cabua-Le-Le) 4:05 Sergio_Mendes
Things Can Only Get Better 3:56 Howard Jones
Homeward Journey 2:46 Satish Vyas
Feelin’ Good 4:21 The Pussycat Dolls
Journey Into Stillness 4:41 Gary Stroutsos

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT NIA?

For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at http://www.nianow.com…
If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.
Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. They are offered all around the world so you can find one near you or where you may want to go!

Especially this time of year and especially as Americans, we can get hyper-focused on goals. “THIS,” I say to myself, “is what I want to achieve/do/be!”

But what if goals actually get in our way more than they get us where we want to go?

Writer James Clear in his article Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on Process Instead, argues that goals actually discourage us and don’t motivate us to keep going. By focusing on the process or the system, we get to what we strive for (and beyond) with more ease and success. Read his great piece here.

I love how Eric Thomas puts it. I can really relate to focusing on falling in love with the process over looking far ahead to a big goal. You can hear him talk about his own story of falling in love with the process here.

OK, so I adulterated the famous Chinese proverb from Lao Tzu a little. But you get the idea. Looking into the future doesn’t help us as much as focusing on what we can do now to get where we want to go. Set up a system and put your energy there. This short video explains it succinctly and persuasively.

Bonus Extra Opportunity to Apply This Wisdom!

Here’s something that you can play with: write down goals for each of the realms – body, mind, emotions & spirit. (This is actually optional, but I find it to be helpful to get to the next step.) THEN write down the processes and systems that will move you little by little, day by day, step by step in that direction. For example, here is mine for my mental realm:

Susan’s System:
Make art every day and share it. Learn new approaches every week – new songs, new drawing materials/exercises, new subject matter. Every week, challenge my habits and learn how to reach more of people who are turned on by what I do.

Susan’s Goal/Mental Realm (again, this is optional, but it’s helpful in creating the system):
I am a professional artist who creates images and experiences that awaken, inspire & delight as many people as possible.

I recommend actually writing these down — even better if you do it with a real pen on actual paper! It changes the brain to do this clearly and explicitly. Then post it somewhere you can see it and put your system into your schedule.

I’d love to hear how this works for you and even examples of your Goals/Systems if you’re willing to share them.

Breathe Deep, my friends. Shine Bright. Show Up.

This week, I’m taking a couple of days away from teaching and my regular life. This choice is both part of my practice and a result of my practice. In fact, times like these are why I practice.

A cancelled vacation in January and the addition of new activities and responsibilities have drained my battery. What I need is a couple of days in Nature with my best friend being astonished by spring.

One part of the way that I know I need a break is mindfulness practice. The daily practice of listening to my body and mind gives me clues when something is out of balance. Which is not to say that I always listen with complete purity to said clues. In fact, I often ignore them.

And that leads to the second part of the way I know that I need a break: my friend suggested it.

Based on her observations, she thought I needed some time away. “Do you feel at all like you did before you went on Sabbatical?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say surprisingly, even alarmingly, quickly. “Yes, that’s how I feel.”

At which point she offers to teach for me and that was that.

Both of these things happen in my formal practices: on my cushion, on my mat, on the dance floor. I practice paying attention. I do my best to listen to subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) signals and sensations and respond to them. And when I either don’t notice something or when I ignore what I’m noticing, I am lucky enough to have teachers to help shine light on what I can’t see.

Why do I practice?
It’s not to get better at meditation.
It’s not to get better and doing yoga postures.
It’s not even to get better at dancing.
I practice to get better at life.


So, Anne will be teaching for me on Monday at 10:45am at acac Albemarle Square and Mary Linn on Tuesday at 8:40am at acac Downtown. I’ll be back on Wednesday at the Square and Thursday Downtown.

If you’re interested in this topic, you might enjoy reading these fanglorious posts:

Voluntary Discomfort from November 11, 2013

and

Why I Meditate, Part 2 from February 27, 2015

willing-to-feel-012717

“What do you do when you meditate and dance and you still feel angry?”

Her hair is sweaty, her cheeks are pink and her eyes exhausted.

It’s a good question…and I draw a complete blank. What do we do?

Alice Walker said “Hard times call for furious dancing” and heaven knows that’s what I’ve been doing. But the knot in my heart doesn’t seem to shift. The tightness in my belly and the swirl in my brain don’t go away.

As I look into her tired face looking for an answer, what pops into my mind is what my therapist, James Yates says: the only way out is through.

Gah, I hate it when he says that and he says it all the freaking time. I usually roll my eyes and make a face at him since it means I can’t skirt around the pain. I can’t take a pill or say a mantra or distract myself and think it will shift or heal. The bumper sticker truth is: The Only Way to Heal it is to Feel it.

One of the Nia Technique founders, Debbie Rosas told me once that when people ask her about what she does for work, she says, “I teach people to feel.” Which I thought was all woo-woo and gauzy dresses and Enya at the time. But after 17 years of teaching, I see that she is right. Somatic practices like Nia and yoga (and any body~mind method) are all about feeling sensation.

And doesn’t take much self or human observation to notice how much effort we put into avoiding feeling anything.

Maybe it’s natural to do the easiest thing. Water flows down the path of least resistance, why shouldn’t we? Our car seats have gotten cushier and smooshier. Our houses and offices can be heated and cooled to the precise degree. Our sneakers have air pockets, our jeans are prewashed, our fleece jackets are so soft and light that it’s like wearing a warm cloud. In the midst of all this comfort, we spend most of our time denying, avoiding, and running from any intense feeling.

Life has a way of overturning all our ardent efforts to make our days comfortable, easy, and convenient. It doesn’t matter how much money I pour into my custom-made luxuriousness. It doesn’t matter how obsessively I secure myself against difficulty (Check out Evan Osnos’ New Yorker piece, Survival of the Richest on people who are attempting this now.). It doesn’t matter. One way or another, discomfort and challenge will happen. It is the nature of human life.

The question is, how will I handle it when it inevitably arises? The answer lies in how much I’ve practiced being present in the face of difficulty. The skillfulness of my thoughts, words, and actions in adversity comes down to how comfortable I am with discomfort.

“Hard times call for furious dancing.” I’ve always thought that meant that dancing makes it feel better, makes the hardness not so hard. But now I’m realizing that furious dancing allows us to feel.

She asked a good question: what do you do when you’ve practiced and you still feel angry (or sad or afraid or…)? The answer is that practicing Nia or yoga or meditation isn’t meant to make the sensations go away. Practicing is meant to increase our capacity to feel all of it. Since without feeling it, it will never ease, it will never heal.

Dammit if James isn’t right: the only way out is through.


If you enjoyed this post, great! Please share it!
And you might also like this one from November 2013: Voluntary Discomfort

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