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This week’s post and art are from a couple of years ago. I found the approach to be helpful to revisit. I hope you do, too.

~~ Originally posted October 11, 2015 ~~
The first time I hear the phrase it pops me awake in a 615am yoga class at Kripalu . I’ve been on the road for a week. I haven’t slept well for days. It is, as I mentioned, just after 6am. I am fuzzy foggy at best but as soon as the instructor says it, I snap to attention:

How you do anything is how you do everything.

She says it and I think, Wait a minute, no, wait. That’s not right. Is it? We have only just started the class. I am only in Child’s Pose. How is it possible that I am doing Child’s Pose in the same way I do Wheel pose or teach my classes or hug my husband or write my blog?

For an hour, it ricochets around in my head: my argument about it couldn’t be true that how I do anything is how I do everything.

A few years later, I hear it again in another yoga class with an added phrase that also wakes me up:

How you do anything is how you do everything. Let your practice be a metaphor for your life.

The intervening time — that has included a sabbatical from and then a reinvigorated return to teaching and an equally reinvigorated yoga practice — has me more receptive to the idea. I begin to get it that the qualities, the intentions, the habits I bring along with me onto the mat are the same ones I bring everywhere else.

But not just that: Let your practice be a metaphor for your life. I have a choice about how I do everything I do.

The whole concept is intriguing enough that I want to investigate. It seems that the laboratory of the yoga studio is a good place to start. My first step is a down-to-the-bones honest observation. When I think about my yoga practice in the abstract when I’m off the mat, I go quickly to the distortions of I-suck-beat-myself-up or well-hey-I’m-pretty-darn-good-at-that – which is neither accurate nor helpful. Instead, I honestly observe myself as I’m doing my practice and ask myself How do I do this?

This is what I find:
1. I put in a good deal of effort – sometimes more than necessary.
2. I am dedicated to the point of obsession.
3. I am easily distracted until I get in the groove and then I’m focused.
4. I love learning but can get frustrated at the beginning when things are awkward.
5. I compare myself to others (especially in the distracted stage of #3).
6. I am strong and open in some ways, weak and resistant in others.
7. I tend to rush through and want to get to the next part.
8. For better or for worse, I easily fall into habit.
9. Interruptions (especially once I’m in the groove of #3) and the unexpected can upset me.

I’m sure there are other things that are also observable and true about my practice but Yes. That is how I do yoga. But is it how I do everything? Really?

I take my How I Do Yoga list and start running through my life: Writing, teaching, meditation, relationships, art, cooking. Gosh, would you look at that? Spot on. Every one. Every. Single. One.

Dang.

This is somehow simultaneously humbling and comforting. There I am. On the yoga mat, on the dance floor, at my desk, in my kitchen, in my life.

So the question is, what do I do with this metaphor for my life? I look at how I do yoga and ask, Is this how I want to do yoga? Is that how I want to teach? And write? And draw? And make dinner? And love people?

Some of it yes and some of it not so much. The truth is I can take the current metaphor and I can edit it. Just like I rework sentences and paragraphs in my posts so they are in closer alignment with what I want to say, I can choose to adjust my practice to be in closer alignment to how I’d like to live. And those edits on the mat will expand into everything I do.

Aritostle, widely remembered as an extremely clever guy, said [2019 NOTE: Turns out that not Aristotle, but Will Durant said this. More on that here.]

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

I have a choice about the habits I cultivate on the mat and in my classes and in my writing and everywhere. As I make even small changes to doing anything, how I do everything will change, too.

It’s like an essay that I am reworking or a routine I’ve taught many times: Observe. Edit. Repeat.

So. (And you knew this was coming, didn’t you?)

How do you practice? How do you do the chores? How do you drive? How do you talk to people? What are your habits? Are they what you want them to be? Observe. Edit. Repeat.

How you do anything is how you do everything.

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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 more complex art pieces for the Focus Pocus blog, I make little cartoons like this one that features characters from the book. This week, Octabusy is counseled by the sea turtle and hatchet fish to remember to BOTH mix it up and keep it stable.

How does the wisdom of an ancient Greek philosopher (as interpreted by a 20th Century writer) and a Belgian psychotherapist intersect? What does that wisdom have to do with movement and living in the human body?

Last week, we focused on Mixing It Up and how variety — whether it is in our diets, our movement or our relationships — brings health and aliveness to any system. As we practiced together, I noticed that variety was not the only thing at play. There was something at the root of the experimentation and exploration.

Aristotle wrote, “as it is not one swallow or a fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy….these virtues are formed in man by his doing the right actions.” You might be more familiar with Will Durant’s explanation of Aristotle (words which are often misattributed to Aristotle himself):

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Will Durant (Not Aristotle)

Accumulation of repeated actions that give a result. What we do over and over builds our lives. Mindfully choosing what we do over and over, then determines the kind of life we live.

As much as I teach and practice changing things up and breaking habit, I also know the deep importance of intentional, value-driven, positive habit formation. As human beings, our brains respond to repetition and predictability. We are wired to expend a large amount of mental energy on learning something. Our brains then quickly shift to making it a habit.

Think about a time when you learned something new — whether it was a movement pattern or a foreign language or a new app. What did that feel like? I sometimes call the feeling of leaning “egg beater brain” — as if my neuropathways are scrambling to reconfigure themselves. Once we’ve learned something, our brains then do their very best to make it routine. This is when we are *practicing* something that we’ve learned. This is an utterly different sensation, right? This is the difference between roughly bushwhacking a trail through the forest, and walking it every day, clearing the way and making it easier and easier to walk that same path. After a while, taking that path becomes familiar, easy, peaceful. Walking that path might allow you to be so relaxed that it’s transportive and expansive.

Athletes and artists often call this the flow state. And we need this, we need the stability of familiarity and the groundedness of the known in order to open to creativity and possibility.

Relationship therapist Esther Perel’s amazing podcast Where Should We Begin? looks squarely at the intricacies of intimacy and reveals that human beings fundamentally need both stability and excitement. She writes:

“Love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning.” ― Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic

Without stability, we have nothing to launch off from. Security allows us to relax. Without adventure and change, parts of ourselves wither and die. Whether you are in a long-term relationship with another person or not, we all have one relationship that we all have had since day one: our relationship with our body.

How can you create this balance of security and adventure, of practicing and learning, of stability and mobility in your body, your movement, your life?

anything & everything yin yang
The first time I hear the it, I am popped awake in a 615am yoga class at Kripalu. I’ve been on the road for a week. I haven’t slept well for days. It is, as I mentioned, just after 6am. I am fuzzily foggy at best but as soon as the instructor says it, I snap to attention:

How you do anything is how you do everything.

She says it and I think, Wait a minute, no, wait. That’s not right. Is it? We have only just started the class. I am only in Child’s Pose. How is it possible that I am doing Child’s Pose in the same way I do Wheel pose or teach my classes or hug my husband or write my blog?

For an hour, it ricochets around in my head: my argument that it couldn’t be true that how I do anything is how I do everything.

A few years later, I hear it again in another yoga class with an added phrase that also wakes me up:

How you do anything is how you do everything. Let your practice be a metaphor for your life.

The intervening time — that has included a sabbatical from and then a reinvigorated return to teaching as well as a reinvigorated yoga practice — has me more receptive to the idea. I begin to get it that the qualities, the intentions, the habits I bring along with me onto the mat are the same ones I bring everywhere else.

But not just that: Let your practice be a metaphor for your life. I have a choice about how I do everything I do. It’s not about getting it right or being perfect, but about writing my own story. It’s about showing up the way I want to show up.

The whole concept is intriguing enough that I want to investigate. It seems that the laboratory of the yoga studio is a good place to start. My first step is a down-to-the-bones honest observation. When I think about my yoga practice, I go quickly to the distortions of I-suck-beat-myself-up or well-hey-I’m-pretty-darn-good-at-that – which is neither accurate nor helpful. Instead, I honestly observe myself as I’m doing my practice and ask myself How do I do this?

This is what I find:
1. I put in a good deal of effort – sometimes more than necessary.
2. I am dedicated to the point of obsession.
3. I am easily distracted until I get in the groove and then I’m focused.
4. I love learning but can get frustrated at the beginning when things are awkward.
5. I compare myself to others (especially in the distracted stage of #3).
6. I am strong and open in some ways, weak and resistant in others.
7. I tend to rush through and want to get to the next part.
8. For better or for worse, I easily fall into habit.
9. Interruptions (especially once I’m in the groove of #3) and the unexpected can upset me.

I’m sure there are other things that are also observable and true about my practice but Yes. That is how I do yoga. But is it how I do everything? Really?

I take my How I Do Yoga list and run aspects of my life through it: Writing, teaching, meditation, relationships, art, cooking.

Gosh, would you look at that? Spot on. Every one. Every. Single. One.

Dang.

This is somehow simultaneously humbling and comforting. There I am. On the yoga mat, on the dance floor, at my desk, in my kitchen, in my life.

So the question is, what do I do with this metaphor for my life? I look at how I do yoga and ask, Is this how I want to do yoga? Is that how I want to teach? And write? And draw? And make dinner? And love people?

Some of it yes and some of it not so much.

But I’m not stuck with it. It’s not just “how I am.” I can take the current metaphor and I can edit it. Just like I rework sentences and paragraphs in my posts so they are in closer alignment with what I want to say, I can choose to adjust my practice to be in closer alignment to how I want to live. Those edits on the mat will expand into everything I do.

Aristotle, widely remembered as an extremely clever guy, said

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

I have a choice about the habits I cultivate on the mat and in my classes and in my writing and everywhere. As I make even small changes to doing anything, how I do everything will change, too.

Like an essay that I am reworking or a routine I’ve taught many times: Observe. Edit. Repeat.

So. (And you knew this was coming, didn’t you?)

How do you practice? How do you do the chores? How do you drive? How do you talk to people? What are your habits? Are they what you want them to be? Observe. Edit. Repeat.

How you do anything is how you do everything.

brave mr rogers“There is only one way to avoid criticism:
Do nothing
Say nothing
And be nothing.”
~ Aristotle

I thought that if I got thin and nothing was soft or poochy on my body that I would be free from judgment and criticism. I thought I would be loved fully. But no. Love and connection requires vulnerability, and vulnerability is brave.

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” ~ Fred Rogers

obr logo 1“A society is judged by its treatment of its weakest and most vulnerable members.”

– U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moonin in a 2007 speech which echoed sentiments of Aristotle, Mahatma Gandhi and many others

 Sometimes, I have moments when I realize how extraordinarily lucky – and, at times, naive – I really am.  I had one of those moments this week:  two friends and I were in my kitchen.  I was telling them about the One Billion Rising campaign to raise awareness and inspire action to end violence against women around the world.  I told them the chilling statistic:  one out of three women in their lifetime will be beaten or raped.  “It’s appalling,” I said, “and in our community of wealth, education, and privilege that statistic must be much lower so it must mean that it is higher in other communities!”  They both looked at me steadily.  Unbeknownst to me, both of them had been victims of domestic violence.  Right there at my kitchen table the statistic wasn’t 1 in 3, it was 2 in 3.

Make no mistake.  Violence against women happens everywhere, not just in 3rd world countries and impoverished neighborhoods.  Make no assumption.  Laws don’t always protect:  marital rape is legal in dozens of countries and condoned in far more.  Make it perfectly clear.  Rape and domestic violence happens in every socio-economic stratum, every race, every culture.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Fred Rogers

The One Billion Rising campaign and the One Billion Rising routine are designed to raise awareness and inspire action.  Sometimes, when faced with an issue that is this frightening and this widespread, I find myself either turning away or losing heart.  I often feel that I cannot bear it or I feel overwhelmed by the largeness, the pervasiveness of the suffering.  The invitation of this campaign and this routine is to look squarely at the tragedy and terror of violence against women, with a strong, compassionate heart and the resolve to be part of the change.

One of the songs I chose for the One Billion Rising routine, Shaking the Tree by Peter Gabriel and Youssou N’Dour, is one of my favorites (shared with me years ago by one of my favorite friends ~ thank you, Louisa).  The lyrics of the chorus are, “Souma Yergon, Sou Nou Yergon / We are shakin’ the tree.”  The Sengalese words translate to, “If we had known, if only we had known!”  As if they were speaking directly to me, I can now say that I do know and I am strong enough and courageous enough to shake the tree of complacency and ignorance.  I hope you will join me.

Go to the One Billion Rising web site and take the pledge to be part of the wave of love that ends violence against women everywhere.  As Mother Theresa reminds us, “We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”  Commit to doing one small act of great love.

Tomorrow, part two of the One Billion Rising post will look at the heart of the practice for the One Billion Rising routine.

If you need help or if you want to help, please see the list of resources on the One Billion Rising page on the Helpful Info menu to the right.

This quote from Aristotle has been the foundation of my Nia focus this week:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

My invitation is to investigate what you do repeatedly – in your movement, your mind, your emotions, your day.  For while we tend to measure and mark life by looking to the big decisions, the big events, the truth is that it is the thousand little events and decisions, the things we do over and over that really shape our experience and who we are.

This can be mind-bending.  In a culture that focuses on the drama and the trauma, it can be unnerving to think that it is actually the tiny little things that we do over and over (and over) that make the biggest difference.  One way to look at it is to see what my experience is, what I have created, and work backward to notice the thousand little habits and practices that got me there.  (This can be particularly helpful when I find myself saying, “How in the world did this happen AGAIN??!”)  Another perspective is to look at what I WANT to create and get there by making the thousand little choices that will get me there.  Aristotle says “we are what we repeatedly do” and for most of us, it is the habits that we do without even thinking that create our reality.  The trick is to make what I repeatedly do conscious.

So I’m doodling along with my focus for the week, and this morning I get an email from The Universe.  I’m not kidding.  I get a note from the Universe every day.  (And you can, too!  Just click here to sign up!)  And here’s what my note said today:

It’s not as if one could be bored enough, feel frustrated enough, or complain enough that their life would suddenly turn around. Doesn’t work that way.

Whatever anyone “is,” Susan, they become more of. And anyone’s is’ness is whatever they say it is.

Happily,
The Universe

Universe, your timing is, as ever, impeccable.  I love this reminder that no matter what is happening, I have a choice about how I think, feel and act on it.  And those choices, those repeated habits on a moment to moment basis are what really make my life and my experience and ME.

So what is my “is’ness” today?  Today, I my “is’ness” is curious, determined, excited, scared and open.  What is your “is’ness” today?  Do tell.

 

 

 

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

What do you practice?  If someone had asked me that before I’d started doing Nia, I would have said that I didn’t have a practice; that I didn’t practice anything.  A practice is something that one consciously chooses to do regularly, right?  Meditation or yoga or the piano.  I didn’t do anything like that.  “Having a practice” seemed like something for the deeply spiritual or the doggedly disciplined and exceptionally talented.  I certainly wasn’t any of those.

The truth is we all practice something.  Our practice is whatever we repeatedly do.  So the truthful answer would have been, “I practice worrying.  I practice arguing with myself.  I practice comparing myself to others.  I practice irritability and annoyance as well as cheerfulness and optimism.”  I still do practice those things sometimes.

“We are what we repeatedly do.”  I would only amend Aristotle’s quote by offering that whatever it is we create in our lives — whether it’s excellence, kindness, or acceptance, grumpiness, stinginess or nervousness — is what we practice.

So ask yourself:  what is your practice?  What is it that you repeatedly do?  Can you find evidence that what you repeatedly do is a habit and that, at least in some respects, it is who you are.

And then the follow-up question:  is that what you want to practice?  Is that the habit you want to cultivate?  Is it what you want to become?

As we get older, habits can get more and more deeply entrained.  So choose wisely.  The things that you “repeatedly do” get deep down in.  And habits can be broken.  Brave people stop drinking and smoking.  Others choose to sit on the meditation cushions every day.  And some break their habits of criticism and judgment.  Sometimes it takes a “wake up call” – a cataclysmic event or trauma – to break us out of our habits.  But why wait for that?

Take a look at what you repeatedly do.  In Nia, we call this “stalking the Self.”  Watch what you do and how you do it.  And then ask yourself, “Is that the practice that I want?  Is that what I want to create?”  If it is, then, by all means, continue and in a conscious and mindful way.  If it isn’t, take a breath, forgive yourself completely, with the recognition that you have done your best with every choice you’ve made so far.  Then ask yourself what your choice is now:  what do you want to create, what you do want to become?

The next step is to repeatedly come back and make that choice.  Over and over.  And over.

As many of my teachers have said:  “It’s a practice, not a perfect.”  I still worry.  I still argue vehemently with my own self in my own head.  And yet, as I practice, I notice what I’m repeatedly doing.  “We are what we repeatedly do.”  We are what we practice.  Keep practicing noticing what you repeatedly do.  Keep practicing the choice of what we want to become.

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