Here’s a question to ponder: What’s the difference between destruction and transformation? (I’ll let you noodle on that for a bit.)

When things feel dangerous, difficult and dark, I long for the miracle of a transformation. I love the idea that change, even radical change, is possible. Not only over glacial eons but real-time, witness-able change.

Take the classic: caterpillar to butterfly. Especially after a long winter, that’s what I’m all about. Until relatively recently, here’s how I thought about the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis:

  1. Bumpy, lumpy caterpillar gorges herself on leaves.
  2. Bumpy, lumpy caterpillar gets more bumpy and lumpy.
  3. Bumpy, lumpy caterpillar cleverly makes a chrysalis. Like I Dream of Jeannie’s bottle, this chrysalis is a groovy little apartment with a little makeup table, velvet pillows and nice-smelling lotions.
  4. As she rests comfortably on her soft sofa, the caterpillar’s sticky, knobby feet elegantly turn into delicate, slender legs.
  5. Out of the bumpy, lumpy caterpillar’s back iridescent wings gently unfold while her body lengthens and narrows.
  6. She gingerly cuts open her groovy little apartment, hangs out for a bit to get her bearings, and then off she flutters looking for lovely flowers to sip on.

As nice as it sounds, it actually doesn’t happen anything like that. This is how Scientific American describes it:

To become a butterfly, a caterpillar first digests itself. But certain groups of cells survive, turning the soup into eyes, wings, antennae and other adult structures.

Digests itself?? Caterpillar soup?? What about the glamorous apartment with the comfy couch and the cute pillows to rest on? What about the calm, organized process of changing from one thing into something else? The science of it sounds like a complete mess and incredibly, unavoidably uncomfortable.

Think about a time of change in your life, when something big was happening. You have a baby (or want to have one and don’t). You get a new job (or lose one). You move to a new city, go on big trip, get a divorce, or your kid moves away. Whatever it was, think about it. Was it neat and organized with soft music playing and a cashmere shawl around your shoulders?

(Not for me, anyway. If it is for you, please start writing a blog so I can read it.)

It’s nerve-wracking and crying and fear and mud tracked into the living room and maple syrup spilled in the fridge and pickled herring on the floor. It’s a mess. It’s a life soup. And it’s out of that that something new emerges.

So, back to the original question: what’s the difference between transformation and destruction? On the surface of it, the two seem to be made from the same ingredients. But the difference? Resistance and intention.

Things are going to change. Everything is going to change. Sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly. Resisting change, wanting it to be different than it is, is a recipe for suffering. Intentionally flowing with change, seeing possibilities for growth, is a recipe for metamorphosis soup.

It’s not neat. Or pretty. Or organized. There are rarely velvet pillows. It’s better than that. It’s a miracle.

If you’ve taken a class from me in the past few years, you might notice that at the end, we offer this dedication of merit:

May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.

I’ve been practicing mindful movement for 20 years, but I don’t practice to get better at moving. I practice to get better at living. I don’t practice to be a better dancer or to be able to do Bird of Paradise pose. I practice to get better at being human. I practice in class and on my mat and on my cushion so I can go out into the world and live more skillfully. Dedicating merit is an acknowledgment of this deeper intention behind the physical movement and form.

The idea of dedicating merit is that by practicing, we are doing something beneficial, something wholesome, and that we can then choose to take that benefit and offer it into the world. While my personal practices definitely offer me personal benefit, dedicating the merit expands my view of it. Rather than making my practice all about me and the good things it does for me, I can choose to send it out to where it’s needed. This broadens my view not just of my practice but of my place in the complex web of the world. (Lama Palden Drolma wrote a wonderful piece on dedicating merit that articulates the desire to expand the goodness beyond the self. I hope you’ll read it. You can find it here.)

May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.

They are interesting questions, aren’t they? What are the seeds and roots of happiness? What are the seeds and roots of suffering? I might say swimming in the ocean or dancing with my friends or a square (or three) of dark chocolate make me happy. I might say that an achy low back or witnessing the abuse of power or losing someone I love cause me suffering. But those are just specifics. What are the seeds and roots?

Buddhists have been thinking about these questions for thousands of years and they identify greed, hatred and ignorance, or The Three Poisons, as the root causes of suffering. (I love this down-to-earth post by Kaitlyn Hatch about this.)

While it can be intellectually interesting and enlightening to explore Buddhist philosophy on these questions, I am a simple woman who can easily get lost in the weeds of thought. Here’s how I think about it: suffering is simply wanting things to be different than they are. When I want things to be different than they are, I either want more of something or less of something. The seeds and roots of suffering are grasping (wanting more) and aversion (wanting less). The seeds and roots of happiness are letting go of wanting more or less and being with whatever is happening just as it is.

May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.

Dedicating the merit is dedicating ourselves not just to our own betterment, to our own well-being but to the betterment and well-being of all. All people, all creatures, all beings everywhere. Given the state of the world, this is insanity, of course. Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, recognizes the enormity of the undertaking and calls it making the warrior commitment. Pema writes

It’s said that when we make this commitment, it sows a seed deep in our unconscious, deep in our mind and heart, that never goes away. This seed is a catalyst that jump-starts our inherent capacity for love and compassion, for empathy, for seeing the sameness of us all. So we make the commitment, we sow the seed, then do our best never to harden our heart or close our mind to anyone.

We’ll fail, of course. We’ll get caught in wanting more of this and less of that and being greedy and hateful and ignorant. Oh heck yeah, we’ll fail over and over. That’s why we practice over and over. And why, at the end of our practice we dedicate whatever merit we might have gained toward nourishing happiness and dissolving all suffering.

What does dedicating the merit mean to you? What do you experience as the seeds and roots of happiness and suffering? It would be a gift to share your thoughts in the comments below.

For months now, I’ve been noticing the connection between healing and creativity. As I pay deep attention, as I find the willingness to step into whatever is happening (in my body, my heart, my mind, my spirit, the world), creative energy becomes available — energy for expression, for insight, for solutions, for presence.

When Mary Linn and I decided to focus on this connection in our classes this week (we’re teaching together on July 4! Do join us at acac albemarle square 11am-1215pm!), we didn’t really know what we were doing.

She mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert…that’s where I found the quote for the art piece above.

Then I read this genius blog post from Lisa Jakub, called Can You Make Art During a Crisis? (Spoiler Alert: YES. Hell YES you can and must and YES please. But read her post since she says it better than I did.)

And then this from Graeme Seabrook came up on my Facebook feed:

All around me I hear artists, writers, musicians, coaches, healers – all kinds of creators – questioning themselves and their work in the world.
Should they stop writing jokes, or painting, or making t-shirts, or candles, or poetry, or, or, or? Shouldn’t they put away these frivolous things and fight?
At the same time I see people all over social media thirsty for good news, for inspiration, for joy. I see my friends and family in my offline community searching for peace, for some comfort.
To the creators, to the makers, to the healers and the coaches, the writers and all the bringers of light I beg you: PLEASE KEEP CREATING.
We need to be reminded of what life can be.
We need to be shown our highest selves.
We need to remember what we are fighting FOR and not only what we are fighting against.
We need hope.
So please keep creating. We need you now more than ever.

And then Mary Linn and I kept finding music that we wanted to create new choreography for and there it was, flowing through me, the energy that is released when I have the courage to heal.

Step into this with us. Dance in it — however you do. What we create out of our healing is what makes all the difference.

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<h4>Coming Soon! Buddha Cat: my first book!</h4>
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I’ve finalized the pages and the cover mechanical is done (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.

Sohpia FloatiesA Focus Pocus guest post by Sara Marks

This week’s Focus Pocus post is by my friend and Nia student, Sara Marks. She’d told me about her “floaties” and I loved the image. I knew she was a writer, so I asked her to guest post. The first part (posted yesterday), I love as as an awesome depiction of recent posts: Rush the Resistance and Structure, Expression & Wasabi Peas. The second part, below, I just love. I hope you do, too. Thank you, Sara, for sharing your art. ~ Susan

Floaties, floaties, floaties. I just like saying it, so I do — again and again. If I close my eyes I can see her. My daughter, my beautiful, curly-topped Sophia. Her bright eyes are all intensity, intelligence, and strength. I’m amazed at her will and tenacity and filled with wonder how I could have even partially created that. I see her bobbing around the water in her purple Nike floaties. She looks like a red and white fishing bobber, bobbling along in the Coralla pool.

She lifts her arms when her head gets too hot (much to the dismay of the lifeguard who now thinks for the third time today that she is drowning) and dunks herself under the cool water. She pops right back up and smiles, amused with her little game with the unsuspecting lifeguard.

We had argued earlier. I knew she could swim. I made sure before we went on vacation that she could swim. I had watched her in her swimming lessons and I knew she was a good swimmer. She knew, I knew. Somehow however, in a hastily packed pool bag, her floaties made it in. At four, I think she’s too old for floaties. They are for babies I told her, not for big girls. “Are you a baby?” My words sound harsh as I remember them now, but frustration and expectation had pushed me to the edge.

I couldn’t see it yet. I couldn’t see what was right in front of my face, smiling at me. “Look at me! Take my picture! Look at me here in my floaties.”

I use floaties. I use them all the time. Not actual floaties, of course, because ( A) they don’t make purple Nike floaties in my size and (B) people might think I’m odd. I don’t want to be odd, I want to be the normal, well, normal like the cool people. That’s why I’m afraid of writing. I’m certain that if someone read anything I wrote, they would think I was a fake. Or odd. And not in a cool way. I’m not enlightened or brilliant or anything, because if I were, then naturally, by now, I would be a writer.

My secure, safe, spectacular floaties carry me through my day. Effortlessly, I drift along, and I miss things. I miss connections, relationships, and joy. Real joy takes energy…and risk. “I’m sorry, I can’t play now. I have to clean this, bake this, do this, avoid that. I’m sorry, I can’t engage in conversation about politics, it’s too hard, I feel too strongly. How many children were killed? Where? I used to live near there. I’m so tired.” It’s scary, so my floaties are on.

“Slip sliding away.” I nap. I daydream. I read rubbish and trashy magazines about reality TV stars. I give in to fantasy and block out anything I deem too hard. I do everything I can to not engage in reality, to not be actively involved in my own space. This was my life. “A good day ain’t got no rain.” Everyone knows the song, and I am sure that if I asked Paul Simon what he wrote this song about, he would answer, “Floaties. I wrote it about floaties and I wrote it for you.”

But, after years of floatie-wearing, something is happening. I am happening. I’m not really sure when it started, how it started, or why it started. I started. I’m starting.

Whatever the reason, I began to see. I go to Nia as always, though now I raise my eyes in class. I used to tell myself that I needed to look down at my feet so as not to fall. Raising my eyes requires effort, and it is startling, strange, and surreal. The faces I was so apprehensive about are reassuring, smiling, comforting, and inviting. I doubt at first that the smiles are directed at me, the awkward tall woman who can’t keep on beat to save her life, stumbling around aimless, alone, and afraid. I’d tell myself, “just go dance in your little corner of the room, they’re not smiling at you.” But they are.

I am dancing my own dance to my own beat. All I need to do is show up, really show up. I was looking at my joy all along — my rhythm is mine and I am the one who needs to be happy and at ease with it. I smile back. I begin to raise my eyes in other places, too, and see more smiles and feel myself smiling back.

For some reason, I reach out to Susan while she’s on sabbatical. A radical act of bravery and courage that led to more. A domino effect. Susan, my friend and my teacher, is one of my hero-ific friends. The friends and the people who inspire me to aspire. It occurs to me that we all affect each other in ways that we might not realize. So I wonder: what affect do I have with my floaties on … and with them off?

I begin to spend less time in the floaties and more time on my real legs. Treadmills give way to long, quiet walks in the woods where I really look at what was blooming and growing and really listen to all the buzzing and chirping. I walk with my family, and my dogs too. Board games and UNO take the place of the trashy magazines. Daydreams become more embedded in reality. When I engage, I became more engaging. My conversations become richer. I talk with strangers, who then are no longer strangers. My wit becomes less snarky and my relationships blossom.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love my floaties, but I use them differently now. Floaties are part of being human. I use them for fun and rest as long as I put my feet down more than up. My floaties now have a surgeon general’s warning imbedded on them. “Use when necessary, DO NOT OVERUSE.”

If I close my eyes, I can see her again: my bright, bobbing Sophia. Maybe she was tired that day and her little legs and arms didn’t want to swim. After all, she was on vacation, too, right? Maybe she wanted to float for a bit, her big brown eyes facing up to the sun and dream big and fantastic and unflawed dreams.

She was right. Everyone deserves to use floaties once in a while. Occasional floaties give us a respite from bills, stress, and troubles until courage to deal presents itself. I’ve learned to recognize when I need them and when I don’t. I see how useful they are, but how tight and restrictive they can be. Mine help me stay on my rocker until I can get a firmer grip, but then off they come and out I go on my long, strong legs.

Sohpia jumpingA Focus Pocus guest post by Sara Marks

This week’s Focus Pocus post is by my friend and Nia student, Sara Marks. She’d told me about her “floaties” and I loved the image. I knew she was a writer, so I asked her to guest post. The first part, I love as as an awesome depiction of recent posts: Rush the Resistance and Structure, Expression & Wasabi Peas. The second part (which we’ll post tomorrow), I just love. I hope you do, too. Thank you, Sara, for sharing your art. ~ Susan

Susan asked me to write about floaties her blog! My first reaction is complete joy and eagerness, followed almost immediately by humongous fear and resistance.

How do I explain floaties? Where would I even begin? I should just sit down and write, that typically gets my creative juices flowing. But no, I think I most assuredly need to think about it. A lot. I need to really ponder what a blog is. I’ve never written a blog. Blogs are honest. I should be honest. No, I should be funny; people will think I’m crazy if I’m honest. Who am I kidding? Who do I think I am?

Immediately, I get busy, very busy. I clean the bathroom, and there is all that laundry. I certainly can’t expect everyone to wear dirty clothes because I have to write a blog. Here’s the issue though: I want to write this. I want to feel confident and at ease enough with myself to just sit down and spill it out. All of it.

“Slip sliding away.” Thus, begins the ritual and the habit. “A good day, ain’t got no rain.” Singing to myself is part of the ritual of avoiding things I don’t want, or can’t bring myself to do. Avoiding mirrors at all costs in my house despite having to clean them. Avoiding having to look, to really look at what it is I’m avoiding.

Disappointment. I write all the time, why can’t I do this? Isn’t this what I want? What good is a writer who won’t let anyone read what they write? What good is a poet who cannot bring herself to actually show up and read her work aloud when asked? Only once in my “grown up” life have I let someone hear me read what I wrote. My father’s eulogy. It brought the house down in a funeral-y kind of way. If I had looked up, I might have seen the smiles of love and support and felt the sweet connection of grief.

For encouragement, I get out a college paper I wrote for Professor Anslement. Twenty-six papers for the man: fourteen B+s, eleven A-s, and this one, an A. I remember my millisecond of pride, the teacher who never gave As, and somehow I got one. Closely following the pride was my decision that he knew I was graduating, so it couldn’t have been real, it couldn’t have been deserved. Encouragement turned into further disappointment. Did I peak with this paper? Have I wasted myself? I cannot write this blog piece, I cannot write it because I’m afraid. I’ve let anxiety and insecurity eat up a good portion of my life. What if nobody likes it? What if nobody reads it? What if they don’t agree and the comments are mean? So before I even begin, I make the decision not to even try.

And that decision is where I actually do begin. I see how I let my floaties cut off the circulation in my arms and my spirit. I see how I put them on instinctively when faced with a challenge and begin to drift securely away.

resistance we are all artists nowWho knew that the resistance could be so much fun?  Nice to know that those uncomfortable feelings just mean we’re on the right track.

So, for our video selections this week, first, the Song of the Week (a.k.a. A Private Gathering of the Silly Creatures, and quite possibly the best music video I’ve seen all year), Do It Anyway by Ben Folds Five. (In another life, I will play piano like this and get to dance with Fraggles.)

A lovely accoustic version of Lyle Lovett’s You Can’t Resist It — complete with cello!  Mmm-hmm.

And, Switchfoot’s This Is Your Life — a song that I got from my mentor, teacher and friend, Helen Terry.

This week, a happy, belated, Firedance birthday to John and a welcome to Charlottesville Nia to my longest Portlandia friend, Zan!

Next week, I’ll be away — hiking in the mountains. All my ACAC classes, including on July 4 will be covered by the amazing Nia Team, so check the ACAC Schedule page for the details. Happy 4th and I’ll see you the following week.

EnJOY, every-body!

Rush the Resistance – Monday, Jun 24, 2013, 1045am

This Is Your Life – 4:18 – Switchfoot
Deeper In – 3:15 – Aluta & The Mystics
Calling – 5:52 – Bliss
Lovers House – 4:49 – City Reverb
One World, One People – 4:43 – Xcultures
City of Light (Reverso 68 Remix) – 5:53 – City Reverb
Shakin’ It Up – 6:15 – Ganga Girl
Do It Anyway – 4:23 – Ben Folds Five
You Can’t Resist It – 3:11 – Lyle Lovett
Shine – 4:12 – Joshua
Speck of Gold – 5:37 – Afterlife
Song Of The Nile – 8:00 – Dead Can Dance

Rush the Resistance – Tuesday, Jun 25, 2013, 9am

This Is Your Life – 4:18 – Switchfoot
Deeper In – 3:15 – Aluta & The Mystics
Sun Is Shining (Out Of Sight Remix) – 7:30 – ReUnited
Find It (Featuring Farda P.) – 5:46 – Rodney Hunter
City of Light (Reverso 68 Remix) – 5:53 – City Reverb
Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) (DJ Escape & Tony Coluccio Club Remix) – 6:57 – Beyonce
Shakin’ It Up – 6:15 – Ganga Girl
Do It Anyway – 4:23 – Ben Folds Five
Bodyrock – 3:36 – Moby
Shine – 4:12 – Joshua
100 Billions Stars – 5:10 – Lux

Rush the Resistance (Firedance, belated for John’s birthday and summer!) – Wednesday, Jun 26, 2013, 1055am

Reel Around the Sun – 8:42 – Bill Whalen, Riverdance
The Heart’s Cry – 2:28 – Bill Whalen, Riverdance
Countess Cathleen/Women of the Sidhe – 5:42 – Bill Whalen, Riverdance
Shivna – 3:38 – Bill Whalen, Riverdance
A Mhuirnín Ó – 5:01 – Clannad
Firedance – 6:04 – Bill Whalen, Riverdance
Slip into Spring – 3:46 – Bill Whalen, Riverdance
Siamsa – 4:28 – Ronan Hardiman, Riverdance II
Riverdance – 5:45 – Bill Whalen, Riverdance
The Flowing Bowl/Marie Breatnachs #1/The Doon/The Mason’s Man – 3:55 – Solas
Lift the Wings – 5:00 – Bill Whalen, Riverdance
The Buzzard – 3:50 – Old Blind Dogs

Rush the Resistance – Thursday, Jun 27, 2013, 9am

This Is Your Life – 4:18 – Switchfoot
Deeper In – 3:15 – Aluta & The Mystics
Calling – 5:52 – Bliss
I Know I’m Not Alone – 4:04 – Michael Franti, Spearhead
One World, One People – 4:43 – Xcultures
Ghosts in My Machine – 3:33 – Annie Lennox
The Thing That Helps Me Get Through – 4:35 – Spearhead, Michael Franti
Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) (DJ Escape & Tony Coluccio Club Remix) – 6:57 – Beyonce
Never Coming Home – 5:00 – Sting
Do It Anyway – 4:23 – Ben Folds Five
You Can’t Resist It – 3:11 – Lyle Lovett
Drive – 3:53 – Incubus
Speck of Gold – 5:37 – Afterlife

Resistance The Icarus Deception“The resistance is not something to be avoided; it’s something to seek out.” – Seth Godin

That’s really the heart of it. What Seth said. When uncomfortable resistance arises, I know I’m right where I need to be: dancing on the edge of challenge and healing. Between what is and what is possible. I can’t heal what is without resistance. I can’t get to what is possible without resistance. Resistance isn’t futile…it’s essential.

Where do you feel resistance? Celebrate it. Rush to it. Resistance is the lifeblood of doing something meaningful.

And please read Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception — soon.

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