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The practice of setting an intention is a way of consciously making a difference in our movement, our lives, and in the world. We make a difference whether we realize it or not. Setting an intention is a way of choosing the difference we want to make. (Check out last week’s post for more on this including a genius quote from Jane Goodall.)

What’s interesting, of course, is that we are human. Even if we set an intention, we won’t be able to stay with it. Not all the time. (Even though we know that it’s impossible, writer Leo Babauta suggests aspiring to that goal in his post Mindfulness All The Time. It’s a good read and I recommend it.) We’ll get distracted, get pulled into habit, go on auto-pilot. We’ll get pulled or pull ourselves away from our intention. That’s just the way it goes…for everybody.

The cool thing is that getting off track is not a bad thing. It’s actually fantastic. The moment that we find ourselves no longer connected to the intention we set is what Sharon Salzberg calls The Magic Moment (read her wonderful blog post about it here.) In her post, she’s talking about following the sensation of the breath in meditation as the intention. She writes,

if something arises — sensations, emotions, memories, plans, whatever it might be — that’s strong enough to take your attention away from the feeling of the breath, or if you’ve fallen asleep, or get lost in some incredible fantasy, the moment you realize you’ve been distracted is the magic moment.

It’s in that magic moment that we have the opportunity to really practice. We have the chance to begin again and to choose our intention again.

Stephanie Bennett Vogt teaches the A Year to Clear course that I’m taking right now (you can check that and other offerings at the Daily Om). She says that when creating a new practice, changing a habit or endeavoring to make any change, it requires four things:

Intent
Action
Non-Identification
Compassion

Her approach is that we need all four in order to create real and lasting change. If we only have Intent and no Action, the thought or desire just stays in our head. If we just have Action and no Intent, the action is unfocused, and arbitrary. If we have intention and action but don’t have non-identification and compassion, we’ll beat ourselves up when we get distracted and we’ll tend to quit.

I see it as a cycle more than a list. I see Intent as being the first step, knowing what we want to happen. Then Action is essential for embodiment and manifestation of what we want to occur. The Non-Identification (or as Buddhists would say, Non-Attachment) is not getting hooked on the outcome. Non-Identification is an allowing for things to unfold as they do without fighting against it. And then Compassion is the recognition that we are human and that we’ll forget and mess up in any number of ways and that’s just part of the process. I see it this way:

The Magic Moment happens with the Non-Identification and the Compassion: it’s when we realize we’ve veered from our intent in some way and that it’s time to return to it and make another action.

This mindful practice that we do together is impossible. No one can do it. And that is the whole point. It’s not about being perfect or never messing up. It’s about realizing we’ve lost our intention and then gently, kindly, beginning again.

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This week, the practice was all about the presence. I found myself tipping in and out of being in my body and in the moment and cascading into the future or the past. I wonder how it went for you?

As I mentioned in a couple of classes, I’m not much of a Christmas-y person but I do love the song Little Drummer Boy as it speaks to the gift of bringing our unique selves as the greatest gift of all. And I discovered a new version of the song that rocked my world. You can check out the video here.

Also helpful to me this week was Leo Babauta’s post about navigating stressful holidays (or any other stressful time). You can find that post here.

You can find our playlists below. If you’d like to listen to them, you can find almost all the music on Spotify where you can listen for free! Please let me know if you have any questions about any of the music we dance to!

acac Holiday Hours + Nia Classes
Monday, December 31
Albemarle Square & Downtown: 5:00am – 6:00pm
Susan teaching 1045-12noon at The Square
Tuesday, January 1
Albemarle Square & Downtown: 8:00am – 10:00pm
Susan teaching 840-940am downtown

Buddha Cat & More at the Cville Arts Cooperative
I’m delighted to announce that my work has been accepted at Cville Arts Crafts & Art Cooperative (www.cvillearts.org) on the downtown mall at 118 E. Main Street (near the fountain and next to the mosaic sofa)! This beautiful, eclectic gallery offers a variety of art and crafts made by all Virginia artists. My display is up ~~ you’ll find it in the back gallery! I am honored to be included in this talented gathering of artists! Please do some of your holiday shopping at Cville Arts!

Buddha Cat Now on Amazon
Buddha Cat is now also available on the world’s largest retailer! You can find both Kindle and paperback editions! AND if you are already a reader and fan, PLEASE would you write a review? A review is one of the most powerful things you can do to spread the word. Find the book listing here! Thank you for your energy and support!

Buddha Cat Available at Local Stores!
If you’d rather not order online and/or if you’d like to support an independent bookstore, you can find the book at some local establishments!
Over The Moon Bookstore at 2025 Library Ave in Crozet, Virginia. It’s a beautiful store filled with great books, lovely things and chocolate and is well worth a visit. They also carry Buddha Cat postcards!
New Dominion Bookshop on the downtown mall at 404 E Main St in Charlottesville, Virginia. New Dominion is the oldest independent bookseller in Virginia, and carries books in fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature, and a unique selection of architecture and landscape gardening resources…as well as Buddha Cat – the book, prints and cards. Please do go in, ask for Buddha Cat by name and support local artists, local booksellers and local cats.
Quilts Unlimited / J. Fenton Gifts on the downtown mall at 118 West Main St in Charlottesville. This is a great place to find contemporary American Handcrafts, artisan jewelry and whimsical (even Buddha-y) gifts.
Hot Yoga Charlottesville at 216 West Water St., Charlottesville, VA. The home of hot yoga since 2004, HYC offers a variety of heated yoga classes that heal body, mind and spirit.
The Elderberry at 1917 Commonwealth Drive in Charlottesville. A full service herbal shop, The Elderberry is a place to get expert advice, a full herbal apothecary and a supportive community.
PawPrints on the downtown mall at 201 East Main Street near the fountain. A locally owned shop, PawPrints offers unique items for both people and pets. You can find fun cat and dog themed toys, treats, gifts and apparel – and Buddha Cat!
Integral Yoga Natural Foods at 923 Preston Ave, IY provides the foods, supplements, personal-care products – and Buddha books! – needed to maintain a healthy, happy lifestyle.
Pantops Veterinarian Hospital at 315 Winding River Lane, Suite 101
Charlottesville. PVH  is a full-service small animal veterinary facility, with practice for dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs and where they celebrate the Buddha in all of our fur babies.

Yoga Retreat in Mexico with Lynsie McKeown ~ February 9-16, 2019
It’s time to say YES to you and your well-being; to put you first. Join Lynsie McKeown, February 9-16, 2019, for 8 days of daily practice, luxury villas, delectable meals and immersive experiences in paradise. This retreat is designed to nourish, support and celebrate YOU. Immersed in beauty and nature, you’ll experience the benefits of a complete practice; asana (vinyasa tantra), pranayama, guided meditation and Yoga Nidra (a deep state of restoration, relaxation, and awareness). Body, mind, heart and soul will be rejuvenated. You’ll leave feeling full—full of more joy, motivation and inspiration to carry you through the rest of your year. Find out more here.

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

Monday, Dec 24, 2018, 1045am ~ It’s All About The Presence

What Child Is This 2:59 Dan Crary
Factor 30 9:34 Bjarno
When Doves Cry 4:04 The Be Good Tanyas
One Hundred Lights (Grouch Remix) 5:31 Kaya Project
Qalanderi 7:10 Cheb i Sabbah
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Afronaut 5:23 Shaman’s Dream
Carol of the Bells Medley 3:25 Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Little Drummer Boy 4:16 Pentatonix
Greensleeves 4:29 Steve Erquiaga
When Comes December 4:04 Tim Story

Tuesday, Dec 25, 2018 ~ It’s All About The Presence

Happy Merry Everything…

Wednesday, Dec 26, 2018, 11am ~ It’s All About The Presence

Eireann 5:10 Afro Celt Sound System
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Mission of My Soul 4:09 Peter Himmelman
Fingerbeat 5:57 Drumspyder
Little Talks 4:28 Of Monsters And Men
Black Horse And The Cherry Tree 2:51 KT Tunstall
Shakin’ It Up 6:15 Ganga Giri
Why Must I Feel Like This Today? [Feat. Baaba Maal, Michael Franti, Ulali, Radio Active & Krishna Das] 9:28 1 Giant Leap
Little Drummer Boy (Live) 4:38 for KING & COUNTRY
The Hounds Of Winter 5:51 Sting If
Peace 6:36 Ajeet Kaur

Thursday, Dec 27, 2018, 840am ~ It’s All About The Presence

Eireann 5:10 Afro Celt Sound System
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Mission of My Soul 4:09 Peter Himmelman
Fingerbeat 5:57 Drumspyder
Black Horse And The Cherry Tree 2:51 KT Tunstall
Shakin’ It Up 6:15 Ganga Giri
Why Must I Feel Like This Today? [Feat. Baaba Maal, Michael Franti, Ulali, Radio Active & Krishna Das] 9:28 1 Giant Leap
Little Drummer Boy (Live) 4:38 for KING & COUNTRY
The Hounds Of Winter 5:51 Sting If
Peace 6:36 Ajeet Kaur

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!

 

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.


As often happens when I set a focus for the week, it kept showing up right. in. my. face.
On Tuesday when I was teaching, I started the music and about half-way through the first song, my iPod just randomly stopped. “Oh,” says my brand-spanking-new iPod. “You think you know what’s going to happen?? Think again.”

And then a post by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits popped into my email box. It’s called Give Up Comfort and it speaks directly to our habit, addiction even, to controlling our circumstances. What I love is how he keeps talking about relaxing into whatever happens. Check it out here.

We used the intricate and multi-layered music of 1 Giant Leap to play with getting comfortable with uncertainty. It struck me that this music is like a collage — sometimes the pieces blend together like a painting and sometimes the connections are more distinct. This song is one of my favorites in all categories and is a great example of how a piece of music can take you on an unexpected journey.

Find all the week’s playlists below. If you’d like to listen to them, you can find almost all the music on Spotify where you can listen for free! Please let me know if you have any questions about any of the music we dance to!

But first, here are some things that are coming up in our dancing community:

Locker Room Renovation at Albemarle Square starting soon
Renovations on the locker rooms at Albemarle Square are starting now. The men’s locker room is now closed and the women’s will be closed on Monday, October 1. For all the information I have, please click on the sidebar link on the right side: acac Locker Room Renovation 2018.

Buddha Cat: Learning Awareness, Presence & Self-Care from a Teacher Who Sometimes Barf on the Bed … Are Going Fast!
Buddha Cat is on sale now! If you haven’t yet, you can go to http://www.susanmcculley.com and sign up to be a Buddha Cat Backer. You will then have access to a discount code for free shipping – ALWAYS available to Backers! The first printing is almost sold out so now is the time to order!

Support Local Businesses! Buddha Cat Now Available at Five Local Stores!
If you’d rather not order online and/or if you’d like to support an independent bookstore, you can find the book at two local establishments!
Over The Moon Bookstore at 2025 Library Ave in Crozet, Virginia. It’s a beautiful store filled with great books, lovely things and chocolate and is well worth a visit.
New Dominion Bookshop on the downtown mall at 404 E Main St in Charlottesville, Virginia. New Dominion is the oldest independent bookseller in Virginia, and carries books in fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature, and a unique selection of architecture and landscape gardening resources…as well as Buddha Cat. Please do go in, ask for Buddha Cat by name and support local artists, local booksellers and local cats.
Quilts Unlimited / J. Fenton Gifts on the downtown mall at  118 West Main St in Charlottesville. This is a great place to find contemporary American Handcrafts, artisan jewelry and whimsical (even Buddha-y) gifts.
PawPrints on the downtown mall at 201 East Main Street near the fountain. A locally owned shop, PawPrints offers unique items for both people and pets. You can find fun cat and dog themed toys, treats, gifts and apparel – and Buddha Cat!
Integral Yoga Natural Foods at 923 Preston Ave, IY provides the foods, supplements, personal-care products – and Buddha books! – needed to maintain a healthy, happy lifestyle.

Buddha Cat Art & Book Exhibit Reception TOMORROW EVENING Friday, September 28, 6-730pm
A selection of drawings and mixed media pieces including some from the Buddha Cat book will be displayed at Buck Mountain Episcopal Church’s Deese Hall September 1-30 (4133 Earlysville Rd, Earlysville, VA 22936). The reception for Buddha Cat and More: Mixed-media Drawings and Book will be held there on Friday, September 28 from 6-730pm. Please join us to celebrate art, community, delight and insight.

Buddha Cat & More Art at Hot Yoga Charlottesville in October
A selection of drawings and mixed media pieces including some from the Buddha Cat book will be displayed at Hot Yoga Charlottesville (216 Water St W Ste 103, Charlottesville, VA 22902) October 1 – November 9. We’ll have books for signing and art for sale and snacks for snacking on Saturday, October 13, 12noon-1pm. Come sweat and celebrate.

Buddha Cat Book Launch Party on Saturday, Nov 3, 2-3pm at New Dominion Bookshop
Come to the historic New Dominion Bookshop on the historic downtown mall for a book launch party! I’ll be signing books and you can do some early holiday shopping and there will be very cool people there (you!) and, of course, snacks! Please join us.

Nia Moving To Heal Classes at acac downtown Sundays at 315pm
Join Rachel H on Sundays at 315pm for Nia Moving To Heal: a joyful, restorative practice that combines dance arts, martial arts and healing arts.  It is designed to empower your body, mind, spirit, and emotions.  Participants are encouraged to work at their own pace and personalize movement to adapt to their health needs. 

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

Monday, Sep 24, 2018, 1045am ~ Prediction Addiction

Dunya Salam 2:55 Baaba Maal, 1 Giant Leap
My Culture 5:39 Maxi Jazz/Robbie Williams, 1 Giant Leap
The Way You Dream 8:21 Asha Bhosle/Michael Stipe, 1 Giant Leap
Ma’ Africa 4:49 Mahotella Queens/Ulali, 1 Giant Leap
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech, 1 Giant Leap
Passion 5:46 Michael Franti, 1 Giant Leap
Daphne 7:03 Eddi Reader/Mahotella Queens/Revetti Sakalar, 1 Giant Leap
All Alone (On Eilean Shona) 7:51 One Giant Leap, 1 Giant Leap
Ghosts 6:36 Eddi Reader, 1 Giant Leap
Come To The Edge [Feat. Lila Downs & Huun Huur Tu] 2:22 1 Giant Leap

Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018, 840am ~ Prediction Addiction

Dunya Salam 2:55 Baaba Maal, 1 Giant Leap
My Culture 5:39 Maxi Jazz/Robbie Williams, 1 Giant Leap
The Way You Dream 8:21 Asha Bhosle/Michael Stipe, 1 Giant Leap
Ma’ Africa 4:49 Mahotella Queens/Ulali, 1 Giant Leap
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech, 1 Giant Leap
Passion 5:46 Michael Franti, 1 Giant Leap
Daphne 7:03 Eddi Reader/Mahotella Queens/Revetti Sakalar, 1 Giant Leap
All Alone (On Eilean Shona) 7:51 One Giant Leap, 1 Giant Leap
Ghosts 6:36 Eddi Reader, 1 Giant Leap

Wednesday, Sep 26, 2017, 11am ~ Prediction Addiction

Dunya Salam 2:55 Baaba Maal, 1 Giant Leap
My Culture 5:39 Maxi Jazz/Robbie Williams, 1 Giant Leap
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech, 1 Giant Leap
Passion 5:46 Michael Franti, 1 Giant Leap
Why Must I Feel Like This Today? [Feat. Baaba Maal, Michael Franti, Ulali, Radio Active & Krishna Das] 9:28 1 Giant Leap
Daphne 7:03 Eddi Reader/Mahotella Queens/Revetti Sakalar, 1 Giant Leap
All Alone (On Eilean Shona) 7:51 One Giant Leap, 1 Giant Leap
Ghosts 6:36 Eddi Reader, 1 Giant Leap

Thursday, Sep 27, 2017, 840am ~ Prediction Addiction

Dunya Salam 2:55 Baaba Maal, 1 Giant Leap
My Culture 5:39 Maxi Jazz/Robbie Williams, 1 Giant Leap
Each Step Moves Us On [Feat. Zap Mama & Speech] 8:34 1 Giant Leap
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech, 1 Giant Leap
Passion 5:46 Michael Franti, 1 Giant Leap
Why Must I Feel Like This Today? [Feat. Baaba Maal, Michael Franti, Ulali, Radio Active & Krishna Das] 9:28 1 Giant Leap
Daphne 7:03 Eddi Reader/Mahotella Queens/Revetti Sakalar, 1 Giant Leap
All Alone (On Eilean Shona) 7:51 One Giant Leap, 1 Giant Leap
Come To The Edge [Feat. Lila Downs & Huun Huur Tu] 2:22 1 Giant Leap

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!

When I teach Nia, here is my habit: I start with the focus. I think about it, read about it, draw and write about it. I post what I come up with here on this blog. Then I create playlists for the week based on that focus, choosing choreography and lyrics and energy that lend themselves to where we’re putting our attention. Then I listen to the music, review or create choreography, and BOOM, I’m ready to teach for the week.

I like it. It works for me. And it is definitely, without question my habit.

Several years ago, I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I found it to be utterly fascinating and I still think about it all the time. I totally recommend the book and you could also read/listen to this NPR interview to get a taste of the science behind how we do what we do. One of the things Duhigg talks about is how much of what we do is habit. Research shows that 40-45% of the choices we make aren’t choices, they are habits. There are excellent reasons for why our brains do this (like efficiency and freeing up space to do more creative things) but it’s worth understanding how habits work so we can make choices about them.

Habits aren’t just fascinating to me but to some of my favorite writers:

James Clear recently wrote about replacing bad habits with better ones (and before that, wrote about how habits work…based on Charles Duhigg’s book!)

Leo Babauta, blogger at Zen Habits writes extensively about habits (obvio from his blog title) so there’s lots to explore on his site but I like his Habit Change Cheatsheet as a starting point.

Seth Godin writes a genius blog with short, wonderful posts. You can see some good ones about habits here, here and here.

In my experience, habit-breaking isn’t just beneficial for the results it can offer (like quitting smoking or meditating regularly or eating more dark leafies). I believe that there are intrinsic benefits to breaking any habitual pattern. Years ago, my friend Marga Odahowski, author of The Way of the Hammock,told me that she would start habits intentionally (chewing gum was the one I remember) in order to then break it. And I think there is something to this.

It is an act of mindful awareness to notice what we are doing and how we are doing it. Do you always step onto the first stair with your dominant foot? Do you always put take your right shoe off first? Do you always dance the same way during freedance? There isn’t anything inherently wrong with doing any of those things and (unlike smoking or eating Hardee’s every day) they aren’t likely to hurt you much. But what if the very choice, the very act of doing something new or doing something old differently has tremendous benefits? Would you be willing to play with the possibility of changing things up?

We’re going to explore neuroplasticity in a future focus (you can read a little about it here and there is lots more to find on the Interwebs) but my short answer is YES. Understanding the way habits work is the first step toward not only building the habits you want to have but also to making your brain stronger and healthier.

So, here’s what I’m doing: I’m breaking my class-preparation habit this week. I’m picking music based on my whim. Then for each class, I will let a focus show up somehow in the time just before class: it might be something someone says to me, something that I see on the drive in, or something that pops into my head as I set up the stereo. It is what it is and we’ll see what it is. For each class, I’ll do a sketch or some piece of art for the focus that arrives. We’ll see what it is and it is what it is.

The idea is that breaking the habit of how I do what I do makes it more than whatever it is.

Focus Gallery

Mon, April 30, 2018, 1045am

Trust. The health of any relationship comes down to the trust that each side has for each other. Think of the relationship you have with a friend, a business, your body, a beloved. What do you trust? What don’t you trust? What is the sensation of trust?

Tue, May 1, 2018, 840am

Chest: the home of the heart. I woke up this morning with a tender, achy heart. A tendency when I feel this way can be to stabilize my chest to protect my hurting heart. Instead, this morning we focused on mobilizing the chest to keep the heart soft and sensation alive rather than numbed. Breathe into the feeling.

Wed, May 2, 2018, 11am

First Chakra. On a physical level, we focused on releasing the low spine/sacrum and engaging the low abdominals. On an energetic level, we focused on the first chakra which resides at the sacrum. The first chakra is the center of security, stability, and your right to take up space in the world. By releasing the low back and engaging the low abdominals, we offer ourselves support from the inside while also resting in the support below us. Any time you accept help or fully relax and let go you are energizing your first chakra.

Thu, May 3, 2018, 840am

Squeeze & Release. Energize and relax your body in the most basic and powerful way. Your heart and lungs and muscles all work in this way. Feel it for yourself.

comparison apples“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Bottom line: Comparing myself to others is pointless. Any time I start a little tally going on how I’m doing as compared to someone else, it’s time to take a breath and a step back. We all do it (in fact, our culture encourages it), but comparison is a habit worth breaking. Leo Babauta in his ZenHabits blog has written a bunch of posts about comparison (and they’re all good), but I love this one for pointing out how absurd it is to compare ourselves to others. There are too many variables, too many unknowns, too many incomparables. Comparison just doesn’t make sense.

And yet, it’s so tempting, to either knock myself down (“she’s my age and way more fit than I am”) or make myself superior (“I would never talk to my child like that.”) as compared to someone else. It’s so easy to do, but our absolute uniqueness makes it completely meaningless. As they say in AA, don’t compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.

Contrasting, on the other hand, can be a delicious practice of wonder and appreciation. Last year, my husband and I visited his parents in Arizona. One afternoon, we went to a skydiving center to watch people jump out of airplanes. It was strangely mesmerizing. Dozens of us sat on the grass craning our necks skyward and watched tiny colored dots fly out of the plane, cruise around for a while, and then pop their parachutes and float gracefully to earth on a rainbow of fabric. After watching several plane-loads descend like colorful thistle down, I said to everyone and no one in particular, “People are amazing.” A stranger, a woman sitting near me said, “You could learn to sky dive, and then you’d be amazing, too.”

And without missing a beat, I looked at her, smiled and said one of the greatest things I’ve ever said, “Oh, I am amazing…only in a completely different way.”

Few words have ever felt so good to say. I could easily have gone with, “Oh no, I could never do that” or “Yeah, you’re right, I should try it” or something that in one way or another compared me to the skydivers. Instead, I loved appreciating them for what they were doing and recognizing that their achievements in no way diminish my own, totally different, coolness. This is contrast, and contrast is delicious.

One of my favorite things in Nia is the Joy of Contrast. In my very first class, after years of aerobics and traditional dance classes in which the whole class basically has the same energy and the same feel, I loved the feeling of contrasts in Nia. I loved feeling tight then loose, linear then circular, big then teeny-tiny. My body devoured the sensations and the challenge of completely shifting from one to the other. My mind focused intently on crisp shifts between those sensations.  And my spirit loved the expansive possibilities that were inherent in every contrast…even the possibility of blending and integrating them.

Strong isn’t better than flexible. Mobile isn’t better than agile. Fast isn’t better than slow. Skydiving isn’t better than Nia dancing.  The Joy of Contrast is appreciating the amazingness of it all.

The next time you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, experiment with appreciating the contrasts instead. Acknowledge that you and the other person are both amazing…just in different ways. Then move on to be your amazing self without keeping score. Whether you jump out of airplanes or knit baby blankets, you are amazing. Just being yourself is amazing. So, be that amazing and let everybody else be their amazing. That’s the Joy of Contrast!

Copyright 2006 Liquid Sculpture - www.liquidsculpture.comThe drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence but by oft falling. – Lucretius

This week, I’m traveling to the mountains of southwestern Virginia to spend some time in Nature with Frank and friends. As many of us take time away from our normal schedules and routines, I have been thinking persistently about persistence.

It can be easy, in the summer, to let go of positive intentions for making healthier, happier habits or of shifting away from those not-so-helpful tendencies. Why? Well, because, you see, the kids are out of school and I have to drive them more places and we went on vacation and I like to play in the garden and ice cream tastes so good when it’s hot out.

That’s why.

I’m not here to rag on summer for messing up our path toward growth and overall enlightenment. On the contrary, I think it’s good and healthy to break out of our patterns and shake things up at least a couple times a year. My suggestion is, though, to set an intention for getting back to those helpful practices when you come back from your vacation/taking the kids to the pool/the ice cream spree.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common that unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” — Calvin Coolidge

There are many ways to support ourselves in maintaining or returning to the practices that sustain us. One of my favorite thinkers on the subject is Leo Babauta on his ZenHabits blog and one of my favorite posts of his on the subject is called The Four Habits that Form Habits. What I’m talking about here is really about Habit #4: Have a Plan for When you Falter. Presume that summer will set up some kind of obstacle that will take you away from your intention. The suggestion is to make a plan for getting back to doing what you want to be doing.  Accountability is big in this endeavor.  Get a buddy to do it with you or at least tell somebody your intention.  It makes a huge difference.

“The most essential factor is persistence – the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.” — James Whitcomb Riley

This summer, I knew wanted to continue my yoga practice even though I knew I’d be away for several weeks. My intention is to take yoga every day that I’m in Charlottesville this summer. So the day after Memorial Day, I started a 30-Day Yoga Challenge: 30 classes in 30 days (I did 33 days, actually  — just finished this morning!) Mostly, it was great fun and I feel really good…and there were definitely days that it would have been easier not to go. That 615am class comes right early, I’m telling you what. But I knew that my other Challenge Buddies would be there and my teachers were encouraging me, so I really wanted to show up and put the date on the chart at the end of class. I was mostly happy once I got there (maybe with the exception of the evening that they’d cleaned the carpets — it was so humid it was like doing yoga under water). When I get home again, I’m planning a 38-Day Challenge from the last week of July to the end of August! I’ll let you know how that goes.

So what would you like to do more of this summer? Where could you apply some persistence to help yourself do/be/have what you’d really love? Woody Allen famously said that “80 percent of success is just showing up.” And while we have to do our best even at the 615am yoga class, showing up really is the biggest and most challenging part. So get your butt on your meditation cushion. Tie on your sneakers and go for a run. Buy and prepare some green veggies this week. Make a commitment not to yell at your kids. You’ll falter, you will. It’s the nature of things. What is key is what your response is when you do.

One step at a time. Drop by drop, my friends, we can make the Grand Canyon!
Have a great week!

PS For my ACAC Nia friends, all of my classes this week will be taught by other members of the fabulous ACAC Nia team. Check out the teaching line up throughout the summer (and any time you want to know the latest info on who’s teaching when) at the ACAC Web site.

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