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I love this quote and was confused since I kept finding it attributed to both Jay Z and Shawn Carter (turns out the latter is Jay Z’s given name).

Ricky Gervais wrote a good post about this a while back. You can read it here. 

 

Kelly is my yoga teacher. She’s all about waking up and breaking habit.

Andy Hunt is a programmer and author. You can find out more about him here.

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It’s worth noting that bringing what’s easiest isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Look at the intention behind bringing the easiest: am I exhausted or sad or generally low on resources? Then, bring on the easy! But if bringing the easiest is based on habit or depending on someone else to carry the load, another choice might be yummier.

Again, coming empty-handed is not necessarily a bad thing…since your presence means you are bringing something. You are giving others a chance to offer generosity and care which is a gift. Again, looking at habit and intention is always the best way for me to decide if it’s a healthy choice.

Use your awareness and witness to notice all that you are bringing to a situation. Not just what you say but what you don’t say. Not just what you do but what you don’t do. It’s more than just what’s in the pot…

This is often a question I ask myself before (or less skillfully after) a gathering. How do I want to show up? Knowing that I can only control what I bring, what do I want to do or say?

When I’m bringing my best, it’s easy to focus on that. Notice if you only want to talk about your idea at the meeting or if you forget to ask everybody about how their day went at the dinner table. The whole point of being together is to share what we all have to offer.

Question 3 may seem to imply that you have to taste something that everybody brings. But if you feel terrible when you eat sugar, then don’t have the cupcakes! If someone is dancing big in class and that feels unsettling to you, dance in another part of the room. AND remembering that everybody’s offerings are what makes the whole experience. Appreciating the gift of everybody (whether or not you eat the cupcake) is what makes pot lucks nourishing.

Happy Pot Lucking, everybody! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Pot Luck of Life … and how the illustrated posts are landing!

“The best way to prepare for the next pose is to be fully in this one.” – Kelly Stine

When I was in 3rd grade Mrs. Schneider had us do an exercise: write down and then tell the class something that you are good at. That clever Mrs. Schneider was way ahead of her time, assigning self-love to 8-year-olds in the early 1970s. I remember feeling uncomfortable to identify something I thought I did well, but I was nothing if not a direction-follower, so I did it.

Here’s what it was: I am organized.

My 3rd-grade-self loved keeping track of things, keeping my notebook in order and organizing what I was supposed to be doing. Even then, I was a list-making-planner, getting ready for what was coming.

To this day, I like having a plan. I like the neatness of a plan. A plan relaxes me and makes me feel ready. And yes thankyouverymuch, I do recognize that it is a way for me to pretend I have control over everything when I utterly and completely do not. I also recognize that this is a nervous person’s strategy. Thinking back on it, I feel tenderness for my little girl self that was already looking for ways of battening down the anxiety hatches.

These days, when my teachers talk about the almighty present moment and about staying in the Now instead of looking forward or back, I chafe a little. I mean, I get it. I know that Now is where life is happening and “Now is a gift; that’s why we call it the present” and all that. But we have to plan things, otherwise, the kids have no money for college, there is no food in the house at dinner time, and we’re homeless when we retire.

My genius yoga teacher, Kelly Stine says, “The best way to prepare for the next pose is to be fully in this one.”

My mind likes to think that I am already doing that, but my body knows different. I can feel it when I do yoga. Before I’m completely in Warrior I, I’m already beginning to open my hips and arms to get into Warrior II. Then, before I get into Warrior II, I’m flipping my front palm and reaching up and back for Reverse Warrior. If I keep projecting myself into the next pose, I’m never really in any of them.

I can feel it in Nia, too. I know another movement is coming up and I don’t really finish the one I’m doing to get the class ready for the next one. Kelly teaches that instead of mushing the two movements together, or having one dribble out, to be fully in the first right up until I’m in the next.

Like my organized, nervous 3rd grade self, I can see that this tendency to be projecting ahead happens often when I’m anxious about something.

Have you ever been at a cocktail party, having a conversation with someone, but they aren’t really looking at you? With eyes and attention wandering, they are casting around the room to see who is there and who might be the next person to talk to.

It’s possible that my love of planning and organizing is a way for me to get myself ready. It’s also a way to dissipate anxiety (social or otherwise) and disengage from whatever is happening in the moment. Instead, I could see whatever I’m doing right now as my planning. Fully engaged, present … and ready.

I don’t want to be a distracted flitting-ahead yogi. I don’t want to be that preoccupied person at the cocktail party. I want to be the one who is fully up to her eyebrows in the conversation she’s having right now. And when it’s over, it’s over and I have another full-on conversation.

I want to be ready now.

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It’s a miracle that I never threw my computer out the window when I was building my web site. Not a Mother Theresa kind of miracle, but a miracle nonetheless.

All I needed was a simple site where I could tell people about my teaching and events, showcase my writing and art and maybe, if I wanted to get fancy, take payments for my work. The site-building platform ad said “the simplest way to create a beautiful website.” Simple and beautiful was what I wanted. The ad said I could have a site up in 15 minutes. I’m not a dimwit. I am well aware that I’m a not-tech-savvy middle-aged artist. I figured it would take me 45 minutes. Maybe 50.

It took me weeks. Weeks and weeks. I watched dozens of tutorial videos starring hip groovy people younger than my step kids. I looked at pages and pages of templates. I had an intimate relationship with the help desk. (Those poor people must have seen my facile messages come in and arm wrestled for who had to respond to me. They were always kind and cheerful, bless them.)

I didn’t want to build a web site. I would have preferred to hire someone to build it for me. But my business is small and not only did I not want to spend the money on a designer, I wanted to have the flexibility to make changes and additions on my own.

It took me weeks and weeks to build my site. I swore a lot. And more than once I really really wanted to throw my computer out the window. But I didn’t. And now I have a simple site where I tell people about my teaching and events, showcase my writing and art, and it even takes payments.


Here’s how I like to do Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana): I like to put my elbow on my bent leg and extend my top arm over my head. Annoyingly, my teacher Kelly often has us do the pose differently. Sometimes, she’ll have us “cactus” the top arm so the shoulder blade draws toward the spine, opening the chest. Sometimes, she has us lift the bottom arm so it’s parallel with the top one to build core and side-body strength. I hate it when she does that.

Here’s what she says when I make grumpy faces at her: “Move into skill by moving away from preference.”


In his fascinating book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg says that 40-45% of what we do every day is habit. Many of those things feel like decisions, but they are actually deeply ingrained unconscious patterns.

Habits are the brain’s way of being more efficient and saving energy. But if we want to keep our brains and bodies strong and robust, we have to be willing to recognize and break habits. Or as Kelly says, we have to be willing to move into skill by moving away from preference.

Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet, Dr. Norman Doidge explains in his book, The Brain that Changes Itself that

…just doing the dances you learned years ago won’t help your brain’s motor cortex stay in shape. To keep the mind alive requires learning something truly new with intense focus. That is what will allow you to both lay down new memories and have a system that can easily access and preserve the older ones. (p. 88)

This is why mindful, attentive movement is more beneficial to the whole body-mind system than mindlessly watching TV or texting while on the treadmill. It’s not just the muscles of the body we want to keep strong and healthy but the “muscles” of the mind/body system.

Feldenkrais, one of the foundational movement forms of The Nia Technique focuses on moving out of habit and preference and into a wider range of possibility. By paying attention to the details of how we do what we do, we can recognize parts of the self that are not moving, efforting unnecessarily, or are out of awareness. As the brain recognizes additional possibilities, the new information is organized and distributed through the whole body leading to overall improvement of ease in the nervous system. Practicing mindful movement like yoga, Feldenkrais and Nia helps us live more fully, comfortably, and effectively by expanding the repertoire of possible ideas, options, and movements.

Paradoxically, moving away from preference (and perhaps through some uncomfortable computer-throwing moments) not only moves us into skill but into greater health and ease. Move into skill by moving away from preference.
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My beloved yoga teacher, Kelly Stine, shared this quote from child development researcher and author, L.R. Knost this week. It was just what I needed.

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

If you missed my post on noncomplementarity and tonglen, please find it here. The stories and practices you’ll find there speak directly to the practice of turning toward suffering with love. Thanks to all who joined us for classes this week and to those who join us remotely. You all matter.

The playlists from the week are below or you can listen to them by going to Spotify! Rock out 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 things:
• One Word 2o17 – Saturday, December 31, 10a-12pm
Instead of a resolution, choose One Word to guide you through 2o17. Join me and Rebecca George to choose a word for 2017 & Create a Talisman. The practice of One Word is a simple and powerful way to direct your energy and attention toward what you want to feel and experience in the new year.

Spend the last day of 2016 with your One Word for 2o17
We’ll provide you easy explorations to help you pick your word before the event
Come to the workshop with your word and we’ll explore it a more deeply
Make a talisman to remind you to return to your One Word throughout the year

Saturday, Dec 31, 10a-12pm at heARTful Action, 1255 Sunset Avenue Extd, Charlottesville
Fee: $30, including pre-workshop explorations, two-hour workshop with all materials and a healthful snack
Mail check to Susan McCulley, 1255 Sunset Avenue Extd, Charlottesville VA 22903 or register at susanmcculley.com/shop

• heARTful action ~ Join Us!
Whatever your political leanings, these are difficult days. Now more than ever, we need to use our creativity and art to make our community (large and small) a kinder, more inclusive, healthier place. Our intention: We are love warriors using our creativity and connection to sustain movement toward kindness, inclusivity, and health in our community and world. We are a community supporting each other in the expression of our unique gifts while we stay responsive and awake to the needs within us and around us. We act from a place of aliveness and positive purpose.
You can join us on Facebook here and/or ask me and I’ll add you to our email list. All are welcome, invite anyone who you’d like to include. And if you have a group doing similar work, we’d love to network with you and hear about what you’re doing!

• Make a Donation and Get Art on susanmcculley.com/shop
For the foreseeable future: You Make a doantion and I sent you art! It’s SIMPLE:
(1) Make a donation to CarbonFund.org (or your favorite environmental organization) or to Human Rights First (or your favorite human rights organization).
(2) Send me a copy of the receipt to sjmnia@gmail.com (alternatively, you can mail a check written to the organization to 1255 Sunset Ave Ext, Charlottesville VA 22903) and include your mailing address and the equivalent value art that you would like.
(3) I’ll mail you the art right away.
Go to http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop to see the full line up of available art. Make a heARTful difference today.

• dance.sit.create. day-treat on Saturday, Feb 18, 2017, 8:30am-5pm
We’ll be at it again – dancing.sitting.creating. together — on Saturday, Feb 18 (snow date, March 4) at Buck Mountain Episcopal Parish Hall, 4133 Earlysville Rd, Earlysville, VA 22936
What better way to spend a winter day than in giving power and time to your unique creativity? As a human being, you are an artist. While we can’t make creativity happen, we can provide fertile terrain for inspiration to land and take root. In this supportive, delicious, fun experience, step into your own creative life. Join Susan McCulley, Nia Black Belt, mindfulness teacher, writer and artist for a day-treat playing at the intersection of movement, stillness and your artist self. If you have dance.sit.created before, new surprises await. If not, this is the perfect time to join us.
Susan provides guidance and inspiration for the day. Rebecca George’s Dragonfly Kitchen provides extraordinary vegetarian, gluten-free, seasonal food (tea, snack, lunch). ALSO INCLUDED is a new 6-week series of music, meditations, and prompts to keep the flow of the day going. Early Bird: $100 if registered by December 15. Late Bird: $125 if registered by February 15. Limited to 20 participants. Go here for all the details and to register.

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 https://www.spotify.com/us/ 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, Dec 12, 2016, 1045am ~ Golden Heart

King of Pain 4:59 The Police
Inlakesh 3:58 Lou Rhodes
Listen to the Music (DJ Malibu Mix) 5:01 The Doobie Brothers
Something To Believe In 4:44 Parachute
Heal Me 3:39 Melissa Etheridge
What I Know 4:14 Parachute
Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars) 4:31 Mark Ronson
Raag Trance 5:32 Biddu
Golden Heart 5:01 Mark Knopfler
Another Day ( Mal ) Nu 5:01 Jamie Catto*
Colour In My Name (Featuring Precise) 6:08 Spiral System
Subtle Body 7:02 Wayne Jones

Tuesday, Dec 13, 2016, 840am ~ Golden Heart

King of Pain 4:59 The Police
Inlakesh 3:58 Lou Rhodes
Listen to the Music (DJ Malibu Mix) 5:01 The Doobie Brothers
Something To Believe In 4:44 Parachute
Heal Me 3:39 Melissa Etheridge
What I Know 4:14 Parachute
Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars) 4:31 Mark Ronson
Raag Trance 5:32 Biddu
Golden Heart 5:01 Mark Knopfler
Another Day ( Mal ) Nu 1 5:01 Jamie Catto*
Nagual 4:03 Michael Hewett

Wednesday, Dec 14 2016, 11am ~ Golden Heart

King of Pain 4:59 The Police
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Listen to the Music (DJ Malibu Mix) 5:01 The Doobie Brothers
Something To Believe In 4:44 Parachute
Heal Me 3:39 Melissa Etheridge
What I Know 4:14 Parachute
Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars) 4:31 Mark Ronson
Love Is the Seventh Wave 3:32 Sting
Golden Heart 5:01 Mark Knopfler
New Morning 3:44 Alpha Rev
Another Day ( Mal ) Nu 1 5:01 Jamie Catto*
Breathe 6:17 Michael Stillwater
Somehow Familiar 3:40 Fabrizio Paterlini

Thursday, Dec 15, 2016, 840am ~ Golden Heart

King of Pain 4:59 The Police
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Listen to the Music (DJ Malibu Mix) 5:01 The Doobie Brothers
Something To Believe In 4:44 Parachute
Heal Me 3:39 Melissa Etheridge
What I Know 4:14 Parachute
Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars) 4:31 Mark Ronson
Love Is the Seventh Wave 3:32 Sting
Golden Heart 5:01 Mark Knopfler
Another Day ( Mal ) Nu 1 5:01 Jamie Catto*
Breathe 6:17 Michael Stillwater

* This song is unpublished. I have permission from the artist to share it. If you’re interested, email me at sjmnia@gmail.com and I’d love to send it to you.

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT NIA?

For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at http://www.nianow.com…
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!

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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.”

March is Meditation Month. It’s a great time to begin a sitting practice or to come back to a neglected cushion. I’ll be offering occasional posts from and about my own practice. May they be of benefit.

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“Do you feel that tingling? Right below the surface of your skin? That tingling is more who you are than bones or blood or skin.” ~ Kelly Stine

Mindfulness practice, at its core, is a gratitude practice. If I really take it in, if I really pay attention to life, it’s breath-taking. Amazing. If I really notice the world, I cannot help but be grateful (for all of it, even lost earrings and taxes and reality TV).

Most of the time, though, we just blithely move through our days without noticing how flipping incredible the world is. Mostly, we’re outrageously casual about the miracles that are unfolding in and around us. Strawberries in February? Of course. Airplanes that can get us to the other side of the world in a day? Sure, but does it have WiFi? The warm roughness of my best friend’s hand? Nice, but did he take out the trash? The fizzy, bubbling-over feeling of a sneeze. Yeah, but it’s such a goofy sound.

Mindfulness helps me truly receive the amazingness of living ~ even when it’s difficult or painful. Being fully present to what is on offer in the moment, is an act of waking up to the gifts of life. I mean, right now I’m wearing a sweater that was made in Iceland! Iceland, people! And there are pine trees and butterscotch (I don’t even like butterscotch, but still!) and Japanese Wallpaper. Incredible.

And then there is the mystery. What about that tingle just under your skin? What is that? Is it what keeps my heart beating year after year? Is it what makes my breath and blood flow? Or is it something else? Is that tingle what makes me me?

Out in the world, in my day, mindfulness helps me fully receive the gifts of living. The tangible, present moment wonderment of smells and tastes and color and sound. The amazement of art and technology and Nature.

And on my cushion, I can feel that tingle. On my cushion, I can feel the enormous mystery of it all. That which we can see and touch and taste and that which is invisible and we know nothing about.

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