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“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. ” — Maya Angelou

heARTful is a word I made up to mean awareness from and leading with the heart. heARTful Action posts focus on how to stand up and create a culture of health, inclusion and kindness. heARTful Action posts are calls to love warriors everywhere.

“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” — Eckhart Tolle

When it comes to social action, a positive intention behind is important to me. I want to focus on what I want and what I for rather than what I’m against. I even refuse to put negative bumper stickers on my car, no matter how funny or clever they are.

So when I look at the current landscape and decide where to put my time and energy, I tend to go with the Eckhart Tolle approach of non-fighting, non-resisting. Fighting only puts energy into something I don’t want.

Recently, though, I’ve read good arguments for fighting and resisting:
“You may not like the idea of being purely defensive …our natural inclination is to talk about the things we’re for …. the things that move us. But the hard truth … is that we’re not [the ones setting] the agenda….” – excerpt from the Indivisible Guide

When I have the privledge of leading the conversation, I’ll do it in a positive way about what I am for and what I care about. But when someone else sets the agenda, here’s how I’m looking at it:

Fighting FOR instead of Fighting Against

Shouting NO feels like a tantrum unless I also point to what is a YES. Even in the midst of protest, it is important for me to stay clear about what I want to see happen.

Persisting FOR instead of Resisting Against

Resistance feels like tension, persistence feels like endurance. I want to continue to consistently show up and speak up about what I value the most. Not just make a fist but also point directly and insistently toward that which will make the world a kinder, more inclusive, healthier place.

And there may be times when I can get in the way and gum up the works to slow or stop something that will cause suffering. When those occasions arise, I’m up for that, too.

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, 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.

For those of you who have been stationed on Neptune for the past 18 months, today is the U.S. Presidential election. There is no doubt that I will spend much of this highly charged day asking the question that Eckhart Tolle suggests that we ask ourselves regularly: What is my relationship with the present moment?

I am certain that during this day I will feel all kinds of emotions, and this is a question that is appropriate to ask at all kinds of times in a variety of situations, not just super-dramatic ones. This is a powerful question to ask whenever I’m feeling

  1. Afraid
  2. Worried
  3. Excited
  4. Hopeful
  5. Angry
  6. Irritated
  7. Impatient
  8. Bored
  9. Distracted
  10. Upset or rattled in any way

Whatever is going on in my experience – whether my hair is on fire or my panties are in a twist, whether I’m bouncing with anticipation or zoning out in boredom – check out what you’re bringing to your relationship to the present moment. The three most helpful things to check into are

  1. Breath
  2. Body
  3. Thinking

And not necessarily in this order. I usually start wherever the sensation or awareness is strongest and investigate from there.

Breath

What is my breath doing? Is it shallow or ragged? Am I holding it? Am I laughing or making sound? Is it deep and full? What happens if I make a conscious choice to change my breathing?

Body

What physical sensations am I experiencing? There may be big sensations but there are always something you can feel and check into. Am I bracing or tense? Is my jaw clenched or my stomach tight? Does my heart feel fluttery or my throat like I want to squeal? What happens when I make a conscious choice to pay attention to sensation without attaching any story to it?

Thinking

Where are my thoughts going? Am I worrying that something will happen or won’t happen? Am I envisioning the smoking wreckage of my future or a glowing tower of eternal bliss? Do I believe that whatever is happening will be so forever?

This practice of asking the question – What is my relationship with the present moment? – can be used any time to deepen our awareness in the moment and remind us of the choices that are always available. It can be helpful when I feel when I feel upset and angry, disconnected or neutral, when I feel excited and giddy.

Who knew that watching election returns could be a spiritual practice?

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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:

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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.

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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.

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They started tearing down the forest behind our house this morning.

The screaming sound of grinding trees started before 7:30am and I felt sick like I’d both eaten a bad egg and hit my head on a rock. We knew it would happen eventually. The land behind us is part of a big tract that has been slated for development for years.

But the sound of it. The sight of it. It was almost more than I could bear.

I rode my bike fast away from the arboreal carnage, swimming in bad news and bad feelings: another unarmed black man has been shot, and now another, another bomb, and the election, this election that flirts with hatred, chaos, violence and fascism is only 43 days away.

Then a conversation we had with our 25-year-old daughter, Reade, floated back to me. On the morning radio show she listens to (Elvis Duran’s syndicated show) they suggested that when something bad or difficult happens, to expand your view of the situation. Rather than zeroing in on this upsetting thing, open up and see what else is going on.

So while my heart felt tight and my gut felt stony, I opened my eyes and also saw the pink early morning clouds and felt the cool September breeze and the excitement of teaching bubbling in my chest.

I still find it devastating that they are destroying all those beautiful trees. And that the world is on fire. But it’s not the only thing that’s happening.

Eckhart Tolle speaks to this in a recent interview. He was asked if he thought that the state of the world is particularly bad at the moment or if it only seems that way since we are bombarded by instantaneous news from all directions. He responded (in part):

The news is a manifestation or reflection of the collective mind which operates like the individual mind. The individual mind (and people may be able to verify from their own experience) tends to dwell on things that are more negative than positive. If someone offends me today my mind can dwell on that for hours on end or for several days. But if I watch a beautiful sunset, it’s less likely that the mind will dwell on that for hours or days. … Through the media we get a considerably distorted impression. Yes, these dreadful things are happening but there are also many other things happening that are actually good that are not considered newsworthy. (Eckhart Tolle, Awakening to Higher Consciousness Interview with Deepak Chopra)

Spend 10 seconds with the headlines and I expect you’ll see the truth of this. There are constant reports of horrendous things happening everywhere…but that is not all there is. The double whammy of the news’ skewed emphasis on the terrible and my mind’s tendency to dwell on the negative can leave me feeling hopelessly hopeless. And with a throbbing head and a sick stomach.

When I drop into my body to really feel how an expanded view works. Right now, when I sense my body, the first thing that I’m aware of is tension in my lower back and my feet are cold. Right away, my attention goes to what is unpleasant or challenging. But then if I expand my view, I can feel that my breath is moving fully and my hair feels good on my shoulders and there is a pleasant soreness in my legs and core from class this morning. And then, if I expand it even further, I notice what I’m not noticing: the backs of my knees, my ears, my forehead. Suddenly, there is a lot more going on than a squinchy back.

Taking an expanded view doesn’t mean that I ignore the difficult bits. An expanded view gives me perspective. Everything is not a mess. There are all kinds of things going on. Spinning on the negative only offers me a distorted view of the situation and leaves me paralyzed. From an expanded view, I can make choices: stretch, take a ride downtown, have hibiscus tea with a friend, plant some trees, reach out to an African American friend, make a campaign contribution.

An expanded view helps me from collapsing into hopelessness and gives me the space to do what I can to make a shift.

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, 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.

After a lifetime of wrassling with my outer belly, generating all manner of suffering around what I thought it should look like and how it definitely did not measure up, I felt a wave of relief when my yoga teacher, Lizzie said, “The outer belly is going to do what it’s going to do. The inner belly is where it’s at. That’s where the fire is.”

Lizzie’s words help me release my attachment to the outer and get busy with what’s going on inside. Today’s Art in Action digs into the inner belly, inner body, and inner purpose.

Inner Belly

Over and over again in my physical practices, I am reminded about the radiating effects of cultivating a strong core. I mentioned some of what I’ve noticed lately in this week’s post but simply put a strong core will help you do everything better. Our culture tends to put a heavier emphasis on the outer core, and truly the two are deeply intertwined.

Of course, what with the World Wide Interwebs and fitness experts all over the place, you can find all kinds of core exercises:

• I offered some in an Art in Action post earlier this year a couple of my favorites for deep core are Plank Pose and Air Chair (it looks simple, but if you keep your hips and knees at 90 degrees, you will feel your core turn on — SHAZAM!).

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• Yogis use a root lock (Mula Bandha) to strengthen the pelvic floor and an upward abdominal lock (Uddiyana Bandha). I wrote about them some last year.

• Aikido and other martial arts practitioners put their awareness on the center point of the body, sometimes called the Hara or Tan Tien, to ground and balance. Try this exercise with a friend: stand with your feet shoulder width apart with soft knees, focus your attention on the tip of your nose and have your friend gently but steadily push your shoulders with their index and middle fingers. It probably won’t take much to push you off balance. Then do the exact same thing but focus your attention on your inner belly, two inches below your belly button and two inches inside your body. Your friend probably cannot budge you when you drop your attention to your center.

Give your deep, inner core attention, it has powerful benefits for your physical movement and more than that…

Inner Body

Similarly, it’s easy to get caught up in what the external body looks and feels like even though the inner body is where the real power is. Our culture tends to put a heavier emphasis on the outer body, and truly the two are deeply intertwined. Connecting to the inner body can quiet the mind, offer perspective, a reminder of what is really essential.

Right now, feel your outer hands: notice if they are warm or cold, what textures they are feeling and if there is weight or pressure on them in any way. Now sense below the surface to your inner hands: there you may feel a sense of flow or tingling or pulsing that is different from your heart beat. This is the sensation of life force, energy, what yogis call prana, what martial artists call chi, moving through you. Now experiment with feeling your inner body in other parts of you.

By dropping your attention into your inner body, you can get out of the flow of thought and reside more fully in the present moment. You can do this any time but it’s particularly helpful when you want to be fully present or when you feel upset, worried, or rattled in any way. And it’s best to practice when you are relaxed so you have access to it when you need it.

Inner Purpose

Again, similarly, we can get caught up in the externality of our lives – what we do and have and how it looks from the outside when our attention is really needed inside. Our culture tends to put a heavier emphasis on the outer purpose, but truly the two are deeply intertwined. For this part, I’ll let Eckhart Tolle explain:

So the most important thing to realize is this: Your life has an inner purpose and an outer purpose. … Your inner purpose is to awaken. It is as simple as that. You share that purpose with every other person on the planet – because it is the purpose of humanity. Your inner purpose is an essential part of the purpose of the whole, the universe and its emerging intelligence. Your outer purpose can change over time. It varies greatly from person to person. Finding and living in alignment with the inner purpose is the foundation for fulfilling your outer purpose. It is the basis for true success. Without that alignment, you can still achieve certain things through effort, struggle, determination, and sheer hard work or cunning. But there is no joy in such endeavor, and it invariably ends in some form of suffering. (from the wonderful book, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, p. 258)

Go to the inner – belly, body, and purpose – as Lizzie says, it’s where the fire is.

 

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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.

“The best way to prepare for the next pose is to fully be in this one.”
~ Kelly Stine, Yoga and Life Instructor

Live in the present moment. Be here now.

These are not new ideas.

Spiritual teachers have been inviting us into the present for eons. From before Buddha to Ram Das to Eckhart Tolle and to the body itself, the great teachers are calling us to Now.

The mind can get caught up in the slippery nature of now but not the body. The body thrives in now’s spacious, flowing and constant change. When the mind wants to wander to past and future, here are 5 ways to reconnect to now.

Now ~

1. Feel your body. The most direct way to be present is to feel the physical sensation that is happening in this moment. And you can do this in any place, time and situation. Just feel whatever sensations you are aware of: your feet on the floor, your butt in the chair, your heart beating, your breath flowing. If the moment is challenging and sensation feels indistinct, just wiggle your toes!

2. Use your senses. All of the senses bring you into the now, too. Stop and listen to whatever sounds are arising. Smell and taste, especially, when eating and drinking but at other times, too. What does the conference room smell like? Or your car? Or, of course, the flowers! Swallow and taste your own mouth. Look with curiosity especially at familiar objects and scenes.

3. Sense for details. The mind can get tricky with sensation. As soon as it feels something, it can attach a story (Oh, man, I must have overdone it in the garden and that’s why my back hurts) or a fear (I’ve hurt my ankle, and now I won’t be able to dance at the wedding!) or a plan (I should put ice on this and call the doctor and cancel my classes). Instead of all that, simply feel what is actually happening: does it feel tight or tingly? achy or hot? pulsing or numb? See how much detail you can sense.

Past ~

4. Memory Now. Of course, memory is essential and we all think about things that have happened in the past. When you find yourself thinking about something from the past, rather than spinning the story, feel what that memory feels like now. Does your stomach get tight? Does heart beat faster? Do your eyes well up? Ground memory in now.

Future ~

5. Future Now. Similarly, we all have to spend time planning and looking forward into the future. Instead of letting the mind get carried away with all the great things that will happen after you get that job or all the terrible things that happen if you don’t, feel what that dream/plan/fear feels like right now. Again, your mind may get tricky with calculations and research (which may well be important and necessary) but let Now weigh in, too. Before making a decision, feel what it feels like now.

My version of my yoga teacher’s quote is “the best way to prepare for the future or process the past is to be fully present now.”

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