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obstackles O Brother Wherre Art Thou blind manOLD BLIND MAN: And you will find a fortune – though it will not be the fortune you seek…But first, first you must travel a long and difficult road – a road fraught with peril, uh-huh, and pregnant with adventure. You shall see things wonderful to tell. You shall see a cow on the roof of a cottonhouse, uh-huh, and oh, so many startlements…I cannot say how long this road shall be. But fear not the obstackles in your way, for Fate has vouchsafed your reward. …

DELMAR: How’d he know about the treasure?

EVERETT: Don’t know, Delmar – though the blind are reputed to possess sensitivities compensatin’ for their lack of sight, even to the point of developing para-normal psychic powers. Now clearly, seein’ the future would fall neatly into that ka-taggery. It’s not so surprising, then, if an organism deprived of earthly vision –

PETE: He said we wouldn’t get it! He said we wouldn’t get the treasure we seek on account-a our obstackles!

EVERETT: Well, what the hell does he know – he’s an ignorant old man!

~ from “O Brother, Where Art Thou” by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Obstackles.

Like a pile of old all-in-one school desks tipped over and jumbled together, obstacles get in my way and I hardly know what to do to get past. All those poking-out metal legs and hard surfaces tangled up just waiting for me to get snagged in. Sure enough, I am forever awkwardly tripping and falling over the (often self-placed) pile of school desks, all those obstackles in my path.

Like Everett, though, my tendency is to turn a blind eye to the obstacles.  I fall hard and fast if I pretend those desks aren’t there.

Resolutions, of course, are traditional in early January. Seems like every blog I read these days is about them: what to resolve about, how to think about them, how feckless they are. However you feel about January resolutions, at times it is a healthy thing to consciously create a vision for change, even transformation. I appreciate pausing and asking myself what I want that currently is not (or what I would like not to be that currently is).

I notice, though, that it’s rare that a resolution lives a month. If resolutions are traditional in early January, breaking those resolutions is traditional in mid-January.  Recently, though, a friend shared an article about Gabriele Oettingen’s book, Rethinking Positive Thinking and, well, it’s gotten me thinking.

Dr. Oettingen’s research shows that visioning and dreaming, in and of themselves, don’t actually help us make the changes we want in our lives. Instead, she advises four steps: wish, outcome, obstacle, plan (WOOP, of course!  You can get a free app to help you apply her theories here.). Her research indicates that visions become reality by dreaming them, and then identifying and making a plan for what will, inevitably, get in the way.

I see in my own resolution history that I get caught up in the energy of my vision and somehow forget that January 22 is going to feel different than January 2. Obstackles will get in my way but I pretend they won’t. Despite how many times it happens, I convince myself that my energy won’t flag and there won’t be a pile of over-turned school desks between me and my plans.

This year, I’m interested in the resolution but even more in the obstackles.

Identifying obstacles requires that I observe myself honestly and notice, really notice, how I do what I do (and how I find ways not to do what I want to do). This means turning off my autopilot and paying close attention to my thoughts, habits, and behaviors.

Do I troll around on Facebook and file my nails instead of writing a new essay or creating new choreography? Why, yes, sometimes I do.

Do I automatically reach for chocolate after lunch even if I’m full? Would you look at that? I sure do.

In conversations, do I sometimes feel defensive and care more about being right than listening to the other person? Wow. I do indeed.

Dream. Vision. Imagine what could be. By all means, spend time seeing a new reality. And also, open your eyes to the obstackles. Witness yourself so you know what stops you. Use kind, mindful self-observation to help you manage the startlements and stay balanced when you run into that mess of school desks. Your own compassionate self-knowledge can not only help you safely get over the obstackles, it might also lead you to turn over one of those desks, sit down and get to creating the life you are dreaming of living.

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rushin refugee report vegetarian-foodJune is Savoring Month (as designated by my very own self) and every Wednesday this month, I’ll be checking in on how I’m doing as a recovering Rushin’ Refugee.

Sometimes I’ll be talking to a friend and they are telling me about a screenplay they are writing or a stained-glass mural they are grouting and they say, “I was so into what I was doing, I forgot to eat.”

At which point I get to giggling which kind of gums up the whole conversation. But truly. I ask you. I have been alive for almost 50 years and I have never, never ever once, not for one meal have I ever forgotten to eat.

As I watch myself, though, I’m wondering if is really true. While I can say for sure I’ve put food in the ol’ pie hole at every meal every single day, I can also say for sure that I wasn’t really paying that much attention for many of those feedings.

I’ve never forgotten to eat, but now I am remembering to eat.

At the front end of a meal, I’m usually awake and aware. As I sit down to eat, I stop and take a breath. I look at my plate and offer gratitude to all the miracles and all the hands that made the meal possible. When I eat with my family, we say a grace. I take a sip of water (or wine). I pick up my fork and…

…everything goes kaflooey.

My first bite is like the push-off down a ski jump. It doesn’t take long for me to gather momentum until I’m just rocketing along pushing food in without tasting it. The reasons for the speeded up disconnect are many: I might be talking to my dinner mates or distracted or over-hungry or emotional or on auto-pilot. A few minutes later, I look up from my plate with quinoa kernels in my eyebrows and avocado on my chin. First to finish again.

Where the habit of scarfing started I don’t know but I’m doing my best to shift it. In the past weeks, when I notice the meal time ski jump launch happening, I stop and put down my fork and take a breath. Reset. Restart. Re-thank. Take a bite and notice. Remarkably, one day last week, I made myself a salad that was very lovely. I sat down to eat it, took a bite, and realized I didn’t want it. I put it away for later. Amazing.

Just like the drinking habit, this one is not going away soon or completely. But it feels better, and frankly, more nourishing to take time to remember to eat.

playing favorites arugula salad 1Here’s what I love: salad. For me, there is nothing like a big pile of greens, some interesting add-ins, and a yummy dressing to make my heart go pitter pat, my mouth water and my tummy go rumbly.

And friends, I have come across the absolutely most delicious fabulous wonderful dressing. I found it on Heidi Swanson’s brilliant food blog, 101 Cookbooks. First, thinly sliced shallots are cooked until crisp in oil to make (what else?) shallot oil, then add a little soy sauce and honey and SHAZAM: Shallot Oil Dressing. (You can see the recipe from which it comes here.) I’m telling you right now, a shingle would taste awesome with this stuff on it.

It is my favorite dressing and here’s the thing: I just. Keep. Making. It.

We all have favorites. Favorites are fun. I’m always a little bit happy when my favorite yoga pants are clean or when my favorite song comes on the radio or when I’m watching Jon Stewart.

It’s helpful for me to remember, though, that at one time all of those things weren’t my favorites. At one time, I didn’t even know about them. My (fully opaque) LuluLemon yoga pants and Michael Franti and shallot oil dressing were just out there, floating, waiting for me to discover them.

Then there are old favorites, something I used to lovelovelove but haven’t worn, done, listened to, or cooked in a long time. This happens to me a lot in my closet at the change of seasons: Oh YEAH, I love that blue sundress (or those felt fingerless gloves or those cowboy boots)!

Sometimes, a favorite was once something I thought I wouldn’t like so I wiggled away from it with my nose scrunched up. Take hot yoga and Brussels sprouts and The Wire, for example. I was circling around them, staying clear of them, until something shifted and I gave them a try. And then, hey!, turns out it was pretty great!

All kinds of favorites are fun.  And a favorite can become a habit. Not a bad habit, necessarily, but a limiting habit. Doing something different takes more effort and energy.  Why bother when I like this thing so much?  Yet it’s so much fun to discover something new and wonderful.  Why not branch out?

The answer may lie in a paradox of what the brain leans toward. The brain loves familiarity and repetition. The brain also loves novelty. (This is why marketers put the words “New” and “Improved” on the same old products and put new packaging on products without changing them. “Same great taste!  Fresh new look!”) Depending on your personality, you may tend more toward one or the other. The key for me is to notice when I’m leaning too heavily on the repetition and when it’s time to shake things up a bit. Like maybe make a Morrocan Carrot Salad or go out to watch the basketball game.

In which direction do you lean?  Do you favor favorites or are you always trying new things?

This week, celebrate your favorites – really savor how much you enjoy them. Go back to some old favorites and reconnect to the pleasure of them. And be open to the possibility that a future favorite might be something that you are avoiding. A Brussels sprout favorite awaits you! There are a world of favorites just floating around, ready for you to find them.

Last night, I found a bottle of Goddess dressing in the cabinet. It used to be my favorite. I think I’ll crack it open. Well, maybe after one more batch of Shallot Oil dressing.

COMMUNITY COLLABORATION:  If you take Nia classes with me, write your one of your current favorite Nia song, a old favorite, and maybe a Brussels sprout favorite in the comments below.  I’ll do my very best to include them in classes next week.  Together, we can make some spectacular playlists!  Whether you take class with me or not, I’d love to hear your favorite favorite stories!

habitI do love writing Focus Pocus.  So much.  My sincere hope is that you love reading it.  To do my best to make it of service, I’m asking its readers to guide me to make sure I’m touching on things that are touching you.

This week, I’m curious about habits:

  • What are some habits that you would love to break?
  • What are habits that you would love to form?
  • What stops you from breaking or making a habit?  What is your pattern?  What tends to happen?
  • What has allowed you to break or make a habit in the past?
  • What would be helpful to you in regards to habit making/breaking?

I’m fascinated by this but what I really want to know is what UP with you!  Please respond and connect with me  —  let me know what you think and what you’d like to hear more about.  PLEASE do respond in the comment section below or feel free to email me directly at sjmnia@yahoo.com!  (And thank you SO much to all of those who responded last week!  I’m noodling on your questions!)  I can’t wait to hear from you.

Dance on, my friends,

Susan

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