In December, my father-in-law died. He was both an accomplished and warm-hearted man who loved babies and hated sour things. He was deeply loved by his big family and his small town. He is sorely missed.

He had been declining for some time and on Thanksgiving Day we drove to Minnesota to say goodbye. Less than three weeks later, we drove back for the funeral. It was a sad, exhausting time. And yet, when I think back, all I can remember is the kindness.

My husband’s enormous family is the biggest bundle of gracious welcome and care that I’ve ever been part of. The whole town of Roseau, Minnesota offered a flood of generosity in the form of food and hugs and cards and words and presence. When I returned home, feeling bruised and foggy, my people – friends, colleagues, students, everybody – were easy with me, gave me space, cut me slack, and were just so kind to me. I was and am grateful beyond words.

A month or so later, I came across this wonderful essay by John Pavlovitz, “Everyone Around You is Grieving. Go Easy.” He describes what I experienced better than I ever could. I hope you’ll read it. It reminded me how held I felt by my family, my community and even by strangers and what a difference it made.

As the months slide by, it hits me every once in a while. I’m in line at CVS and I wonder what weighs on the young person with the tattoos and piercings behind the register. In traffic, I wonder what the bearded trucker is worried about. I see hospital helicopter fly over the house and wonder about the person inside. I remember sometimes that everyone around me is grieving, but not as often as I wish I did.

Not long ago, I came across this extraordinary video about empathy made by the Cleveland Clinic. I have watched it over and over and I sniffle my way through it every. single. time. And it inspires me to remember. Please please be brave (if you need to, grab a tissue) and watch it.

This is Memorial Day. Unless you come from a military family or you’re a politician who needs a photo opp laying a wreathe on a soldier’s grave, most of us see this as a day off, a day for picnics, and the unofficial start of summer. This year, my invitation is to see this as a day to remember that everyone is carrying something, everyone has lost something, everyone is grieving. Go easy. Go gentle. With everyone you meet. And with your own sweet self.

Have a Happy – and Gentle – Memorial Day.


One of my long-time teachers, James Yates says, “To make any life transition, you need three things: support, support, support.”

(And, I would add, since life is just a series of transitions, we all need support all the time.)

Support is all around us and in us. What’s curious is how often we don’t lean into the support that’s available.

The earth itself is always ready to take our full weight and hold us unconditionally. And yet, I find myself not relaxing into this steadfast support. Notice right now, are you?

I have internal resources that I can draw on, too. My physical strength (no matter how ill or injured I am), my very bones, my life force — until my dying breath are all there for me.

We are available to support each other. Know who you can go to for whatever support you need. Who can you go to when you need someone to listen? Who can you go to for advice? Who can you go to for inspiration? Who can you go to for laughter?

It doesn’t matter what you call it: the Universe, Nature, Spirit, God, the Mystery. That which is larger than we are is there to support you, too. Can you trust that this support is available? Can you be awake enough to feel it?

Earth support. Internal support. External support. Spirit support.
Tap into it.

It’s unclear if he actually said it. But it’s possible that Woody Allen said something to the effect that 90% (or 80%? or 99%?) of success (or maybe life) is just showing up. Or he might have been quoting someone else.

Whoever said it, I think the sentiment is genius.

Except for one thing: I would never say “just” showing up. Sometimes showing up is incredibly, dreadfully, dauntingly difficult. Sometimes it is more than I can manage. Sometimes getting there is really, truly all I can do.

Showing up is stepping in and saying, “I’m going to be in relationship with this. I’m going to be part of this. I’m going to bring myself to this in some way.”

The choice to show up, to really show up, is a big one. I know that there are many times when I literally or energetically choose to stay home and hide. Once I do decide to show up, though, then the question is how? Bravely? Kindly? Tentatively? Defensively? With curiosity? With judgement? What will I choose to bring to the relationship?

The three “showing ups” that I’m curious about are how you show up for yourself, how you show up for each other, and how you show up for the world.

What would you say if I told you it was all the same? What if I said that how you show up for yourself is how you show up for everyone and everything else?

In his seminal book, Be Here Now, Ram Dass said, “I can do nothing for you but work on myself…you can do nothing for me but work on yourself!”

What if the only way you can heal the world is to heal yourself? What if the only way you can make an positive impact on the people in your life is to do your work, do your practice? What if working on yourself is all you can do?

Coming Soon! Buddha Cat: my first book!

I’ve finalized the pages and the designer is doing a cover mechanical (doesn’t that sound official and cool? I have no real idea what it means). Please join me in the adventure of the publication of my first book. Go to and sign up to be a Buddha Cat Backer! You’ll get updates, insights, goodies and discounts! Can’t wait to do this together.

A couple of weeks ago I got a message from my friend, Pam:

Hi Susan, Manu wanted me to tell you about a show he just watched, The O.A., and he thought of you. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check it out on Netflix, as he describes it as “a metaphysical show about the power of movement.”

Pam and her husband, Manu are religious studies/Buddhist studies scholars who are also fascinated with popular art and culture. When Oscar night comes around, for example, they’ve already seen every nominated film and they have rich, thought-provoking things to say about each one.

A recommendation from Pam and Manu, then, is serious stuff … but with the lure of “the power of movement”? My husband and I had the first episode of The OA queued up to watch that very night.

We devoured all eight episodes in less than a week. Its unusual story line, unconventional storytelling style, excellent acting with a tendency toward mysterious loose ends all appealed to me. But even if I hadn’t loved it, the whole thing would have been worth watching for the incredible and (literally) moving last scene.

No spoilers, but if someone asked me what The OA was about, I would say:

Two different sets of five people
each person is isolated and alone (for a variety of reasons)
each group comes together to learn 5 movements
when those movements are moved together
magic happens

Intellect and thinking are highly prized in our culture while the wisdom and power of movement is hardly even an afterthought. Physical movement that is revered in Western culture is centered on sports and competition. Domination and winning is everything. Collaboration and connection are only considered in the context of a team working toward that winning and domination. Even dancing is turned into a win-lose competition.

By overlooking the wisdom of moving individually and together, our culture clouds the truth of our interconnectedness and dismisses one of the joys of being human. The simple fact that each of us has a body gives us the fundamental right to the pleasure and power of moving uniquely and the pleasure and power of moving together.

Often, when I’m preparing to teach, I choreograph alone in my studio. The movements feel good and connected to the music, but nothing ever prepares me for what happens when a room full of people do those movements together. Each in their own particular way, and all together. It is breath taking. Every single time.

What’s true in the body is true in all realms.

I am my own rescue. – Lisa Nichols
(click here for her interview with Steve Harvey)
We are all just walking each other home. ~ Ram Dass

Life is full of paradox. Here’s a big one: we are all responsible for ourselves and we are utterly and inextricably connected to each other. Each side of this paradox is absolutely true. American culture celebrates self-sufficiency and independence to such a degree, though, that we forget that it is impossible to separate ourselves from each other. Impossible.

Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and work we celebrate this week, spoke to this paradox in his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. (my emphasis)

If suffering or injustice doesn’t precisely effect us, it’s easy to turn away. But that choice is a turning away from ourselves. The adage “every man for himself” is based on a deep misunderstanding of the inherent interconnection of all life. Instead of freezing or ignoring, bring all your particular skills, talents, and gifts and participate in the movement of everyone.

Dance your own dance and dance it together.

PS: Manu writes a blog about religion and pop culture and one of his recent posts was about The OA (check it out here but note that unlike me he DOES include a spoiler).


What is my relationship with the present moment? –Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

Some days, I think this election might just kill me.
Or at least make me even crazier than I am already.

Over and over in the past few weeks I hear something on the news or see something on my Facebook feed or, heaven help me, see a lawn sign or a sticker on someone’s sweater that either makes might heart leap a little with excitement or clench with fear. My mind careens into the future either to a hopeful vision or a smoking catastrophic distaster.

Either way, it has been a rough few months in my mind space.

When my sense of ease and well-being is determined by the latest polls and headlines, I know I’m in trouble. I am looking outside myself for the peace and calm that intellectually at least, I know I can only find within.

In the moment, though, it happens so fast. I can feel my mind get spin and get hooked into
like or dislike,
hope or fear,
anger or – GAH! — more anger.
It happens so fast that it feels like there is no space for another choice.

In his book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle frames this struggle in a clear and practical way. He writes:

A vital question to ask yourself frequently is: What is my relationship with the present moment? Then become alert to find out the answer. Am I treating the Now as no more than a means to an end? Do I see it as an obstacle? Am I making it into an enemy? Since the present moment is all you ever have, since Life is inseparable from the Now, what the question really means is: What is my relationship with Life? (A New Earth, p. 203)

When I get twisted up and frightened or furious, I ask myself,
What is my relationship with the present moment?

In Nia, we understand relationship as a three-part deal. Any relationship (between two people, between two groups, between a person and an activity, or an object or anything) is actually three things: Self, Other, and the Relationship. We can look at it like this:


The nature of the relationship is made up entirely of what Self and Other bring to it.

Take my relationship with my cat, Phoenix, for example. I bring consistent care and feeding (including fish oil on her kibbles and wet food at 4pm), affection, amusement and annoyance (when she pickpickpicks at the comforter or gets so close to me at night that her whiskers go up my nose). Phoenix brings affection, a relaxed friendly presence (except when she has to run down the hall really really fast), and unassailable cuteness.


If I want to improve the quality of my relationship with Phoenix, I might choose to bring more attention to her even when I’m busy or I might put a sheet over the comforter so her clawing annoys me less. I cannot change what she brings to the relationship (she’s a cat, after all), I can only change what I bring.

I can look at any relationship in this way: what am I bringing to it? If I want to change the nature of the relationship the only thing I can do is change what I put into it. Which brings me back to Eckhart Tolle’s question: What is my relationship with the present moment?

When I get wound up in fear or anger or frustration or even hope, that’s what I bring to my relationship with the present moment. As Tolle suggests, I am treating the Now as a means to an end, as a way of getting somewhere else. Or I am seeing Now as an obstacle, stopping me from feeling how I want to feel. Or I am making Now into an enemy by fighting against what Now offers – when I have no control over that whatsoever.

From the point of view of my training, the present moment is bringing whatever is happening, whatever is so. I’m bringing tension, expectation, and assumptions to the relationship. I’m bringing hope or fear or anger. If my relationship with Now doesn’t feel good, I can’t change what Now is, but I can change what I bring. I can choose to bring discernment about where I put my time and attention. I can bring breath and awareness to keep me present and relaxed. I can bring a choice to do what I can and leave the rest.

As often as I can these days (and especially when I’m freaking out or living in the smoking wreckage of the future), I keep asking the question, What is my relationship with the present moment? What is my relationship to Life? I keep reminding myself that the only thing I can control in any relationship is what I bring to it. It amazes me how often I’m back in my habit of fighting against what is.

Lucky for me, with only a few days to the election, I have lots of opportunities to practice bringing something different.

Choice you 031916

Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

Four years ago, I was hatin’ on my work as a Nia instructor and program director. Teaching felt like an uninspiring grind. Administrative work gobbled my time and ate at my spirit. But what could I do? I was good at my work and people expected me to keep doing it. It didn’t feel good but I wasn’t sure how to get out of it.

This was a feeling I’d had before: in my first marriage, in a whole string of office jobs, even in my relationship with myself and my body. The red flag in these situations was thinking (or saying), I have to or I can’t.

We always have far more choices than we realize. It takes practice to notice when we’re doing things that are out of alignment with who we are (or want to be) and then to recognize that it’s possible to go another way.

5 Ways to Practice Choosing to be yourSELF:

1. “Small” Things

Next time someone asks you what you want for lunch or what movie you’d like to see, make a choice. Make “I don’t care” or “It’s all good with me” or “You pick” phrases that you don’t use. Practice choosing even “small” things to pave the way for choosing the bigger stuff.

2. Movement

A couple of years ago, I had a bout of plantar fasciitis in both my feet. I experimented with lots of stretches and exercises but also started paying attention. I noticed that when I sat at my desk or at the dinner table, I almost always lifted my heels off the floor. Tightening in my lower legs was aggravating the condition in my feet. It was a chance to choose to sit differently.

In yoga class, I sometimes choose to do postures that the teacher is doing or that the person next to me is doing, without really checking in to what feels right in my own body. The moment I realize I’m following from the outside in instead of choosing from the inside out, I take a breath and come back to mySELF on my mat.

3. Food

It’s easy to get into a pattern of choosing what to eat out of habit or convenience or the illusion that a whole sleeve of chocolate chip cookies will make me feel better. Geneen Roth writes and teaches brilliantly about breaking the cycles of choosing mindless eating. On her Facebook page today (3/22/16) she wrote about two kinds of foods: “Hummers” and “Beckoners.” (If you’re on Facebook, you can read her short post here. ) Hummers are foods that you know you want without seeing them. You can imagine their textures and fragrance and colors without any external prompting. Beckoners are the doughnuts you want only when you smell them at the bakery. Beckoners are the cheeseburger and fries you hadn’t even thought about until you saw the ad but that now are calling your name.

Ms. Roth suggests keeping track of when you choose Hummers and when you choose Beckoners to get more in touch with where your food choices are coming from. Are you choosing from the inside or being pulled from the outside?

4. Work

For a while, I worked at a catalog company that sold stereos and TVs. I started to notice that lunch was my favorite part of the day. I found myself being a careless, half-hearted lackadaisy. The day I got fired was no shock: I wanted to be creating experiences to help people connect with themselves, not selling equipment that let them tune out.

Work can feel like one of those places where we have no choice. When you’re feeling stuck or that the work you are doing is out of alignment with your values and yourSELF, take some time to reimagine what’s possible. Could you approach your current work differently? Could you do something else? Could you spend less to give you more financial flexibility? What choices can you make right now that would move you into a work direction that is in more alignment with you?

5. Relationships

Some relationships we choose, some we are born into. And in all relationships we have a choice.

Do you find yourself staying in relationship with people not out of love but because you think you have to or you think others expect you to? On the other hand, what relationships make you shine? With whom do you feel most yourself and most alive?

As with other choices, it’s always interesting to see if you are choosing from the inside out or the outside in. For example, when my step-kids were small, I noticed that I was parenting he way I’d seen other people parent, not necessarily the way that felt authentic to me.

My teacher, Carlos Rosas said, Relationships are the fastest path to personal growth. Relationships show where we are out of alignment in a hurry. When my relationships take me out of synch with mySELF, it’s time to reevaluate and look into other choices. That might mean limiting contact with someone who drains me, or it might mean changing the way I think about them (Oh, that’s them just being them!). It might also mean spending more time with someone who inspires me, who cheers me on or who gets me laughing until I snort.

Today, notice if you hear yourself saying you have to or you can’t. In every moment, we have choices. The practice is to choose that which is in alignment with yourSELF.

You’re original, with your own path
You’re original, got your own way
Leftfield, Original

echoes reverberating with echoes 020616Love like a signal you call
Touching my body my soul
Bring to me, you to meet me here
Moodswings, Spiritual High, Part I

Everything’s a remix. Everything. Everything is derivative. Even the things we think of as wildly original. Everything is an echo of what came before. Even you.

When I heard Queen Latifa’s 2004 album of standards, The Dana Owens Album (Dana Owens was her name before she Queened herself), my favorite track was Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. It’s an awesome song that I love to use in class. If you listen to Queen’s version, you’ll hear her talk at the beginning. Check it out.


But then I heard Cannonball Adderly’s 1966 original Mercy Mercy Mercy in the jazz appreciation course I’m taking. Evidently, one thing Cannonball was famous for was doing a little talking introduction to his numbers. Listen to what he says in his intro.

Super cool. Not only was Queen Latifa creating a kickin’ cover of a classic, she was echoing Adderly while she was doing it.

When it comes to humor, I am totally low brow. Show me a clip from America’s Funniest Home Videos of someone wiping out on a sledding run and I will laugh myself senseless. (A trait that was perhaps once endearing to Frank now is just an eye-roller.)

corkystclairIt stands to reason then, that a Christopher Guest mockumentary complete with ridiculous wigs and goofy songs about terriers and “armadillos in their trousers” is right up my alley. In Guest’s spoof on folk music reunions, A Mighty Wind, we meet the daft trio The Folksmen. Their series of 60s-era albums (covers complete with matching outfits and silly poses) include Ramblin’, Wishin’, Hitchin’, Pickin’.



pickinWhich cracks me up.

But then I learned about The Miles Davis Quintet. In 1956, in a dash to fulfill their contract with Prestige records so they could sign with Columbia, Davis’ first great quintet recorded four albums in two days. The names of those great albums? Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, Steamin.’

Suddenly, Guest’s joke about the lame folk trio is even funnier for its echo to one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.

Every time you move your body, whether you are doing a lay-up or swinging a golf club or bustin’ a bad-to-the-bone dance move, you are echoing movement that has come before you. Someone taught you to walk, but no one walks like you. Someone can show you how to swing a tennis racket or do downward dog, but only you do it like you. There is the form of the movement and the form of your body and the form of this moment and the three come together in an alchemy of originality.

Every movement choice you make with your body, or for that matter, every thought you think and emotion you feel echoes in your bones. Especially choices you make regularly – always carrying your bag on your left shoulder, always running without stretching, always telling yourself that you aren’t good enough – will leave lasting impressions. Like the wind that blows and blows and blows to sculpt the pines, the choices we make echo into our future.

We have a similar impact on each other. Right now, you can think of a time when the words or actions of someone left a lasting impression of love and healing … or of pain and suffering. Just like your own choices, connections with others echo in our bodies and minds far into the future.

We are echoes reverberating with echoes. Original echoes. What is the tone you want to send into your future self and the future world?

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