Tag Archives: Chaos


In second grade, my (beloved!) teacher Mrs. Schnieder gave us a baffling and challenging assignment: she asked us all to write down and share something that we liked about ourselves.

My second grade self scrambled to find something that followed her assignment without overdoing the self-love thing. (The fact that I found this assignment baffling and challenging and that my young self had already learned that it was really bad to brag or to feel too good about yourself is the subject of another post. And it bears noting nonetheless.)

So after much mental gymnastics, here’s what I wrote down: I’m organized.

Even then, my 7- or 8-year-old self (or however old I was when I was in second grade) knew this about myself and saw it as a positive thing. Life as a kid felt chaotic (or at least teetering on out of control), and my little self saw my organizational skills as a good way of keeping myself safe and loved.

Life, as it turns out, does not get less chaotic in adulthood. And while I know now that my safety and lovability are not reliant on my ability to organize, I still solidly lean on the skill.

And yet some times, no matter how I try, it eludes me.

Right now, as I write this, my office is filled with piles of (unread) books, an overflowing folder of Buddha Cat marketing materials, a pile of unwritten political postcards, a basket of my prints, another of art postcards and a box of book-signing materials (no books, though, I’m waiting for the second printing!). On the coffee table is a scatter of art materials, a stack of square paper, two rulers and a box of envelopes for sending those books (just as soon as they arrive).

It’s a crazy-town mess.

The root of the mess is all good, non-traumatic stuff. It’s self-imposed chaos, disorder, and stress but there it all is, nonetheless.

In the midst of this, I gratefully read Leo Babauta’s post, Herding Cats: A Simple Method for Working with the Disorder of Our Lives. After writing a book about a cat, I’m well-acquainted with the untamed feline temperament. (For evidence, this is the picture Rebecca George took when we were attempting to get Phoenix to sit in meditation with me.)

Leo’s post and the metaphor of herding cats perfectly describes the way my life feels right now. He speaks in this piece directly to my feeling of drowning in my attempts to keep everything neat and tidy and efficient and … GAH. I can exhaust myself with it all.

His wise invitation is to count on the chaos rather than try to fit it into perfectly stacked and sealed bins. Know that chaos will happen, is always happening and not to see it as a bad thing. Rather, Leo suggests to gently nudge the sprawling mess into the general direction we want to go. (His post is wonderful and not long, so I hope you’ll read it.) He says,

When things go astray, it’s not a problem. There’s never a problem, it’s all just beautiful chaos with a loving intention.

Which is something I think I need to tattoo on my forearm and forehead and paint on the walls, so I’m reminded over and over. Right. This is the nature of things. Any attempts to keep it from swirling are futile. So relax and breathe and dance with it.

Do you feel this in your days? Do you feel the swirling spiral of erratic uncertainty? (What is it like to read a post full of parenthetical asides?) What would happen if you breathed all of that in, allowed it to be and gently scooted the cat’s butt in the direction you want it to go?

That’s what I’m practicing. Some days go more smoothly than others, and luckily the supply of crazy chaos is endless so there’s always an opportunity to practice again. What happens if, as Leo suggests:

The wild flow of our lives is a thing of heartbreaking beauty and joy.


What if chaos isn’t anything to be afraid of? What if chaos is a way of finding new patterns and possibilities? This week we played with the 5 Sensations of Fitness, noticing how they reorganized movement and our bodies. Also chaos freedances.

Here are a couple of videos on Chaos Theory & The Butterfly Effect videos that you might enjoy in light of this week’s practice:

And speaking of chaos, check out the brilliant (Charlottesville Nia practitioner) Dahlia Lithwick’s 2012 piece on…well, a certain kind of chaos.

All the playlists from the week are below or you can listen to them by going to Spotify! Dance for free at Spotify! Sign up, follow me at “susanmcculley” and you’ll find my public playlists ~ just click and listen!

And first the announce-y type things:

• Love Warrior: embody a movement ~ Friday, Mar 3, 6-730pm
a moving experience of activism in support of five local refugee families
Buck Mountain Episcopal Church Parish Hall
Join Susan for the launch of a new routine called Love Warrior. This is a movement experience that allows us to experience the sensation of the change we want to see in the world. We can then translate that sensation directly into action.
“Knowledge is only a rumor until it is in the muscle.” – Papua New Guinea Proverb
In times of uncertainty, our first reaction can be to “figure this out.” It is a common approach to go straight to our minds to think our way out of a difficult situation. And nothing will shift, we won’t change a thing until we feel it in our bones, until we embody the change we want to see.
This is a donate-what-you-can event. All proceeds go to 5 local refugee families. Authentic Syrian treats available for sale after class, too! Please join us and bring a friend.

• FREE Workshop: Conscious Communication with Mary Linn & Susan ~ March 25, 3-5pm
A FREE heARTful Action gathering, Saturday, March 25, 2o17, 3-5pm
at the Quaker Meeting House at 1104 Forest St, Charlottesville
In our polarized, highly-charged political environment, a simple conversation can be tricky, scary and even dangerous. More and more, we may find ourselves avoiding conversations about the things that matter to us most for fear of an argument or damaging a relationship.
In this free workshop, we will explore practical ways to approach conversations (either in person or on-line) that promote connection, curiosity and clarity. Join us to learn ways of talking to even the prickliest people with calm and kindness. Bring a journal and a friend!
Please RSVP to or on the Facebook event page ( so we know how many people to expect. Wear comfortable clothes, bring a journal and a friend!

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

*** PLAYLIST NOTE: My playlists can also be found on Spotify by following “susanmcculley” (no space) and look for Public Playlists. Sometimes music is not available on Spotify so I may replace with another version or skip songs . ***

Monday, Feb 27, 2017, 1045am ~ Reorganizing: Chaos Theory

Awa-Awa 4:34 Wes Welenge
Rafiki (Sidewalk Mix) 6:25 Bob Holroyd
Don’t Say 5:47 Deep Dive Corp.
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Sweet Inspiration 4:41 Derek Trucks Band
Wristband 3:18 Paul Simon
The Wait 3:36 The Pretenders
Relator 2:34 Pete Yorn, Scarlett Johansson
Fly 3:33 Bart Hafeman
Revolution 3:40 Coco Love Alcorn
Lovetown 5:29 Peter Gabriel
City Knows Your Name 4:59 Chris Coco
Kyamdro Semkye 3:11 Choying Drolma/Steve Tibbetts
The Light 4:29 The Album Leaf

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2017, 840am ~ Reorganizing: Chaos Theory

Awa-Awa 4:34 Wes Welenge
Rafiki (Sidewalk Mix) 6:25 Bob Holroyd
Don’t Say 5:47 Deep Dive Corp.
Sweet Inspiration 4:41 Derek Trucks Band
Wristband 3:18 Paul Simon
Full Moon Low Tide [Fantasista Re-Formation Remix] 4:34 Afro Celt Sound System
Here Comes The Sun 3:05 The Beatles
Fly 3:33 Bart Hafeman
Suddenly I See 3:22 KT Tunstall
Revolution 3:40 Coco Love Alcorn
City Knows Your Name 4:59 Chris Coco
The Garden of Mirrors (Pt. 2) [Passing Cloud] 5:18 Stephan Micus

Wednesday, Mar 1, 2017, 11am ~ Chaos & The Butterfly Effect

The Rising 4:47 Bruce Springsteen
Beauty & the East (Banco de Gaia Remix) 6:51 Bombay Dub Orchestra
Succumb to Me 5:15 Terence Trent D’Arby
What Do You Say 5:00 Haley
Ain’t No Man 3:34 The Avett Brothers
Black Betty 3:27 Spiderbait
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free ((Remix)) 3:51 Nina Simone
Desert Days 5:31 John Kelley 41
Artichoke Funk 5:56 Zeb
You’re the Ocean 3:49 Teitur
Long Bone 5:17 Sofa Surfers
Give Me Strength 4:03 Sally Taylor
One Zero Two 3:02 Alucidnation

Thursday, Mar 2, 2017, 840am ~ Chaos & The Butterfly Effect

The Rising 4:47 Bruce Springsteen
Beauty & the East (Banco de Gaia Remix) 6:51 Bombay Dub Orchestra
Succumb to Me 5:15 Terence Trent D’Arby
What Do You Say 5:00 Haley
Ain’t No Man 3:34 The Avett Brothers
Black Betty 3:27 Spiderbait
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free ((Remix)) 3:51 Nina Simone
Desert Days 5:31 John Kelley
You’re the Ocean 3:49 Teitur
Long Bone 5:17 Sofa Surfers
Give Me Strength 4:03 Sally Taylor


For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at…
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!

Utter confusion.
Complete disorder.
In Physics it’s defined as “behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions.”


The original word in ancient Greek (khaos) meant a gaping void or a vast empty abyss. But mostly, when we use the word now, we’re talking less about groundlessness and more about intense unpredictability, incomprehensible disorder, and absolute confusion.

In Gabrielle Roth’s movement practice of 5 Rhythms, the body goes through movements that follow the patterns in nature.

Flow to

Staccato to

Chaos to

Lyrical to


I was fine with Flow and Staccato. Lyrical and Stillness were totally approachable. But Chaos intimidated me. It felt scary. Teachers warned, “Relax in chaos or get hurt.”

How in the world do you relax into utter confusion?

Chaos is not my favorite feeling and it can’t be avoided. Chaos is part of life. In the routine I’m choreographing*, chaos keeps bubbling up in the music, the movements, even the process. My schedule feels chaotic, too, with much more teaching than usual in unfamiliar settings with unpredictable variables. These days the very world feels deeply unpredictable, teetering precariously on the edge of chaos. I keep reminding myself to relax but…dang.

When I told a friend about all the chaos swarming me, he smiled slyly, “You know about chaos theory, right?”

Um. No. I’m an English major, remember?

In chaos theory, he explained, the utter randomness and confusion is actually a way of reorganizing. Self-organization theories in a wide range of disciplines – from physics and biology to computer and social science – demonstrate that chaos is a way of finding an organic and highly stable order. Let a whole gaggle of things happen higglety pigglety, and new patterns and possibilities emerge.

I’m no scientist. I’ve just told you the sum total of what I know about chaos theory. And yet, as a dancer, this idea of self-organization makes sense to me.

In Nia, we use a huge assortment of movements to train, condition and heal the body~mind. The practice is based on 9 different movement forms and we energize those forms with 5 Sensations of Fitness (Flexibility, Agility, Mobility, Strength & Stability). We take movements at all different speeds and ranges of motion and we take them through the three planes of high middle and low. We use sound and breath to strengthen the core and move energy. We use emotion and expressiveness to enliven movements from the inside out. We use form to gather our collective attention and to break habit. There is also a boat ton of freedom. A Nia class in full swing can definitely look and feel chaotic.

It’s actually one big reorganization project.

All those different movements and patterns and speeds opens new possibilities. I reorganize my muscles: the ones that are tight and sore and the ones that haven’t been used. I reorganize my bones and joints by lubricating them and nudging them into better alignment. I reorganize my mind to pay attention, to invest in what matters most: what’s happening in this precious present moment.

Sometimes the most healing thing we can do is shake things up and allow them to find new patterns. The notion that life is solid and unchanging is an illusion anyway. Why not relax and find a new order out of chaos?

* The new routine is called Love Warrior and I’ll be launching it on March 3 at an event to raise money for 5 Charlottesville refugee families (this is a special event routine and not one I’ll teach in my regular classes). You can get the details here. I hope you’ll come.

If you enjoyed this post, I’m delighted and I hope you’ll share it.

You might also enjoy these two:
Dragonlily (or the Dance of Mobility and Agility)

Stability Within Instability

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