Tag Archives: Maya Angelou


“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.

I’m doing my best to learn about positive social action…and there is a boat ton. As I open my ears, eyes, and heart, I’m committed to offering practical, tangible information so you can do your own heARTful action.


These days, I’m afraid. I don’t think of myself as a fearful person (A worrier? Yes. But fearful? Not so much.) but I keep feeling it with a clutch at my stomach and heart. Sharon Salzberg, one of my meditation teachers, wrote a helpful post about what to do in the face of fear. I recommend it highly.

She writes about feeling the excruciating pain of being seen as irrelevant in someone else’s eyes. To have someone with their actions, words or vote say, “You don’t count. You aren’t important.” She goes on,

I also [felt] a renewed commitment to never giving anyone that message of disregard. I felt the energy and uplift of remembering what has been, in a way, a big part of my life’s work — helping people practice tools that keep us from treating ourselves or others as less-than or irrelevant. To consider inclusion instead of exclusion, even when it’s hard. We can try to remember what we really care about in terms of what gives our lives meaning.

Which is exactly what heARTful Action is all about.


So today, even though I can feel the ache and tingle of fear, I’m focusing my attention on what I can do. To paraphrase Joan Baez, “Intentional, purposeful, heARTful action is the antidote to despair and fear.” Today, I’m focusing on what’s working and what isn’t.

What’s Working

See the good. Look for what’s working. If you see someone doing something that you are grateful for, tell them. When your teenager puts their dishes away, love on them for it. When your cashier finds a way to save you a couple of dollars, thank them sincerely. If a company or politician is doing something that is in alignment with what matters to you, write them a note and tell them how much you appreciate what they are doing.

What Isn’t

Some days, it feels like there is an over abundance of things that aren’t working. For today, for right now, focus on one. What is one positive step you can take toward shifting something that isn’t working toward something that is. How can I approach what isn’t working with kindness and inclusion?

This is the quote that is in my mind and heart today:

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
~ Edward Everett Hale


Join us online in the heARTful Action group (and we’re gathering in Charlottesville on Saturday)! heARTful Action is a place to share ideas and intentions and to gather support and colleagues in the actions that matter to you. All are welcome (Charlottesville or no). You can see what’s happening at the Facebook group or tell me and I’ll add you to the email list.


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.

I’ve been teaching wearing a superhero cape this week and I LOVE it. I may never take it off. Maybe this post should be called 4 Ways to Be Your Own Superhero: the first of which is to wear a cape all the time. Done and done.

Even if that sartorial choice doesn’t work for you, there are ways to bring out your inner superhero.

Being your own superhero is really like setting a super-intention: identify the qualities that matter the most to you and make them a priority in the choices you make. Of course, that can be way easier said than done. Here are three ways to support your superhero self.

1. Body Language Shapes Who You Are

The research of Harvard Business School social psychologist, Amy Cuddy (whose TED Talk is one of the most popular of all time and is totally worth watching ) indicates that how you hold your body affects your emotion, mind and even your physiology. Her findings show that holding a powerful position for 2 minutes (think Wonder Woman pose) makes you feel more powerful … and actually makes you more powerful. Notice and choose how you hold your body and pay attention to both how you feel and how others respond to you.

2. Act As If

There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.” – Theodore Roosevelt

What happens if you act as if you have the superpower you want to cultivate? While this isn’t a great idea if you want to fly or walk through walls, it can be extremely helpful if you want to be patient or courageous or kind. Pretend you are what you want to be and pay attention to how it is different than your habit. You may find yourself standing, moving and speaking differently simply by pretending you are what you want to be.

3. Bring in an Ally

When you’re going into a tricky situation or starting something you’re anxious about, bring an ally with you! Think of someone who you admire or who has the qualities that you want to have in this situation and imagine them coming with you. Before making choices or taking action, ask yourself, What would my ally do? Sometimes, I take a breath and ask my ally for help or advice. Maya Angelou has helped me out of more pickles than I can count!

You already have all the qualities in you that you want to cultivate. Really! Being a superhero is consciously choosing those qualities you want to bring forward. So put on your cape and go flex your superpowered self.

Superheroes were never my big thing. Oh sure, I watched Super Friends on Saturday mornings in the 70s, but it was just what I did while I waited for my real love, Kimba (not Simba, the Disney one, Kimba the Japanese one) to come on.

Despite not being a huge superhero fan, I do love the question about what superpower I’d choose – to fly or to be invisible — and what it reveals. (Are you kidding me? No question whatsoever: I want to fly.)

When Mary Linn and I talked about doing a Halloween class together, I didn’t feel too inspired to come up with a costume and dance to Thriller again. But then we wondered, what would we be if we became our own super hero?

Improbably, this idea grew from the conversation we’d been having about Nia, the practice of mindful movement we both teach. After a talking a moth-path all morning, we determined that the ultimate goal of the practice is for the teacher to make herself obsolete. We agreed that what we really wanted for our students (and for ourselves) was to cultivate inner resources. Our dream is for everybody to be their own superhero.

Everybody needs teachers to turn their light onto the path and to encourage us to keep going. Our teachers are external resources that provide insights, reminders, challenges, and love. I am deeply grateful to my many teachers, past and present. All kinds of teachers – family, friends, writers, thinkers, movers, guides, animals and nature, too, – all have offered invaluable help to me when I’ve needed it. But as much as I love and appreciate them, they aren’t always so portable. Ultimately, what helps me the most is when I can actually be their teaching.

My experience with teachers goes in three ever-circling and intertwining stages:
(1) Introduction
(2) Immersion (aka Superhero costume)
(3) Embodiment


First, I am introduced – sometimes intentionally, sometimes serendipitously – to a teacher. They might be an actual teacher by profession or they might be an artist or a thinker or an inspiring new friend. Something about them sparks my attention and makes my heart beat faster. Like the lady in the deli scene in When Harry Met Sally, something in me says, “I want what she’s having.”

Immersion (aka Superhero costume)

Then I dive into their work or world view and try it on. At first, I often forget the teachings almost as soon as I hear them or I take them on in a superficial way. It’s as if I’m wearing a Dalai Lama kindness shield under my shirt, or Pema Chödrön bracelets of basic goodness hidden under my sleeves, or a invisible Maya Angelou cape of courage. I’ve got them on me, but they aren’t really mine. But this is an essential step in making these qualities my own.


Finally, comes embodiment. Harvard Business School social psychologist, Amy Cuddy describes it as “Fake it until you become it.” After practice and study and time spent with a teacher, trying on their superhero garb, I find that I’m walking and talking the practice in my own way. Even if I haven’t consciously summoned up my teacher and the bracelets of basic goodness, I simply find myself living what they’ve taught me.

And then I forget. And get twisted up. And fall on my face with my foot in my mouth. Which is also part of the process. I just go back to the teachings, back to the closet of superhero outfits, back to the external resources, while I bolster my inner ones.

As Mary Linn and I thought about our Halloween Superhero class, I realized that I don’t want to fly or be invisible or be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. What I want is to be a

Enthusiastic heARTful Creativity Ninja

Looks like I’m going to need a pretty long cape.

home 004
“Make the pose feel like home.” ~ Liz Reynolds, yoga teacher

In a few days, Frank and I leave a house we love and step out into the next part of our life together. There are countless things in this house that I love: all the light and the windows and the arched openings, the view to the woods behind us, the front door that I refinished and the knocker we bought in Guatemala. And the kitchen. It has been just the most lovely kitchen to be in.

As good as these things feel, they aren’t what make it home. When Liz suggested making my yoga pose feel like home, it got me thinking. What is home really anyway?

“Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.” ~ Cecelia Ahern

I’ve felt at home in houses that were not my own and in many natural places with no walls and recently in a very small camper pulled by a big red truck. And there have been times in my life when my own house hasn’t felt like home to me. Ultimately, it is the feeling, the ease and peace and connection that I feel there that make a home. Circumstances and other people may contribute to those feelings, but the one who has the greatest impact on the hominess of any situation is me. It’s up to me to make myself at home.

“Just keep coming home to yourself. You are the one you have been waiting for.” ~ Byron Katie

I have laughed a lot in this house. I’ve cried, too. I’ve felt calm and relaxed and I’ve felt rattled to my very bones. In the five years that we’ve lived here, I’ve deepened my practices, my marriage has gotten stronger, and made better friends with myself. One of the main reasons I get on the cushion, on the mat, in the studio, at the computer is to cultivate more ease and friendliness with my body, my mind and my emotions. Whenever my (multiple and easily accessible) buttons get pushed, I ask myself, how can I be easy and peaceful with whatever is happening in or around me?

“Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

The coming weeks will be a slow motion transplanting, with our roots hovering in the air for a while until our next house is ready. As we’ve prepared for a summer of peripatetic adventures, we’ve talked a good deal about the difference between “need” and “want.”

When I’ve felt most upset by the uncertainty, that’s when I’ve been most attached to what I “need.” I get tight and make lists: my favorite sundresses, my yoga mat, blue tea cup, my computer, my four-color pens. I need my pillows, my hiking boots, my decaffeinated green tea and all my earrings.

The more I can relax and be present, the more I can trust that everything will work out, and that I have the power to change what I need to, the less attached I am to what I “need.” The less I need, the freer, the more peaceful, the more content I am. And the more at home I feel.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~ Maya Angelou

This is my intention for the summer and beyond. May it be so for you. Make yourself at home wherever you are and however you are.

809 last days 007

P.S. For more on this topic, read Rick Hanson’s post Be Home from Just One Thing

allowing new years ball“I find surcease from the entanglement of questions only when I concede that I am not obliged to know everything. In a world where many desperately seek to know all the answers, it is not very popular to believe, and then state, I do not need to know all things.” ~ Maya Angelou from Death and The Legacy

2014 has been a rough one. In my own little circle, my community, my country, there have been an unrelenting series of injuries and illnesses, injustices and tragedies, unexpected heartbreaking deaths. I’m not a fan of New Years parties but this year, that Times Square ball cannot drop fast enough for me.

To be more precise, my mind can’t wait for ball to drop. My mind reels after a year of frightening diagnoses and uncertain treatment plans. My mind staggers after so many distressing phone calls and emails and Facebook posts. My mind wants to understand why these things happen and what it all means. My mind wants to know.

My mind hates the mystery of living.

This week has been a particularly painful one. (As a friend said last week, just when we thought we were through it, 2014 saved the worst for last.) When every fiber of me feels raw and aching, my mind can sincerely kick into overdrive. Difficult circumstances stir up long-buried stories and emotional patterns from lifetimes ago. I hear words in my head like “you don’t deserve to feel this way” and “you’re going to do something wrong and make everything worse” and “you should be able to do this without help.”

Luckily, my wounded mind is housed within my wise body. When my mind is resisting the unfathomable and kicking up defended story lines from my childhood, my body is ready to tell me the truth. My body is fine with the mystery. My body tells me how it is.

When things fall apart, thinking only confounds me. From a place of reflexive recoiling, my mind can lash out and give me all kinds of confusing information. It’s much more helpful for me to go to my body: walk, move, dance, do yoga, meditate, or breathe deeply. If I go to my body, I don’t need a story, I don’t have to listen to the chorus of directives in my head, and I don’t have to understand or know anything. I can just feel what is happening.

This week I discovered a guided meditation called Soften Soothe and Allow by Kristin Neff on the Insight Timer meditation app. In it, Dr. Neff approaches difficult or painful emotions somatically by softening, soothing and allowing. First, she guides us to feel the sensation of the emotion in the body and soften into it rather than tightening. When difficult feelings arise, my natural reaction is to tense and pull away. Instead, I can make the choice to turn toward the pain and soften it. Even a little at the edges. Then, she suggests breathing into or touching the body to soothe the painful place. Even a little at the edges.

Finally, she directs to simply allow the sensation to be without pushing it away or masking it or running from it. Imagine that: just allow it.

Everybody responds differently to painful circumstances. There is no right way to be hurt or angry or frightened. There is no right way to grieve. Dr. Neff’s meditation creates space for all experiences. In times like these, it’s a helpful reminder to stay open to suffering, to respond to it with tenderness and to allow it to be. I find that I’m grateful for my life even in troubling and difficult times, grateful for this very moment.

There is no telling, of course, what 2015 holds. My mind sorely wishes for a promise that everything will be okay next year. Luckily, my body is there to integrate the pain with the gratitude, the bitter with the sweet. The integration gives me space to appreciate all my experiences and embrace the mystery of living.

Even so, my mind and I wish you a happy and peaceful new year.

savoring living meditation rock-cairnsAt the end of May, I had this cute idea: I noticed I tend to rush to get places and that I pack a peck of projects into my days and wouldn’t it be funny, I thought, so smart and right for the times, to write about being a Rushin’ Refugee. Aren’t I clever and yet simultaneously profound and all that?

I should know better. I should know by now that whatever I focus on shows up either right in my face or biting my backside. Or both.

What began as a cute title to a blog post has expanded into an exploration of savoring that has included the malleability of time, the delight of taking things one step at a time, the difference between looking and seeing, and the richness of nourishment. My personal inquiry delved into my habits of drinking and eating and driving, and the difference between efficiency and rushing. In this month, we’ve celebrated lots of birthdays and marked the passing of my shero, Maya Angelou. We danced in the summer solstice and as a community created a strand of prayer flags of gratitude and welcome for another hero, Michael Franti. Personally, it’s been a month of holding space and staying present while many people I love are in terrible pain, including my beloved Frank.

For someone who is practicing non-rushing, it sure looks like a lot went on in these 30 days.

Not so fast, lambkins.

It may look like this month was full-to-bursting, but that’s just what life looks like sometimes.  What has really emerged in this month of savoring is simple: savoring is a living meditation. Savoring is really just about awareness, about paying attention, about receiving and allowing what is so to be so. There are lots of ways of exploring it and talking about it and explaining it, but savoring is simply choosing to be present and live life as a meditation.

Which sounds kind of high falutin’ new agey and even a little heady, I grant you. But bear with me. Living meditation, like many core human experiences, is simple and not always easy. Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote that life is like a raffle: you must be present to win. That’s all living meditation is: the moment-to-moment choice to be aware and present.

This savoring, this living meditation is a state the most of us come in and out of. We forget and then we remember. We get distracted and then we come back. Maybe Jon Kabat-Zinn is present all the time, maybe the Dalai Lama stays in awareness from dawn to dark, but for most of us, it’s a practice of remembering to come back. Over and over.

It’s been a full and rich month that has, at times, sucked royally. I’ve discovered untapped sources of love and support and strength both inside me and around me that I’m now tapping like crazy. I’m noticing that some long-held habits of hurrying are beginning to release their anxious, mindless grip. I’m sure I will come in and out of them. I’ll forget – perhaps even for long stretches of time – and then I’ll remember to savor again. The practice isn’t about staying present and centered and savoring, it’s about remembering to come back when we inevitably forget.

Whatever this month has held for you, I hope you’ve done some savoring. Remember that no matter what is happening, there is always something to savor. And if you’ve forgotten completely about savoring the whole month, that’s fine. Remember now.

rushin refugee AngelouObamaIt’s really something, this addiction to rushing. I’m finding that it’s more than just about scheduling less and doing one thing at a time.

The habit runs deeper than that.

What with taking care of business and taking care of others and taking care of myself, what choice do I have but to hurry and rush?

And then yesterday with the passing of Maya Angelou, such a bright inspiring source, well, dammit, we just don’t have that much time. There is so much I want to do and say and feel and read and write and move and see and be that it’s no wonder I feel the push to rush. And that’s not even to mention all the beliefs I have around equating my worth and value with what I accomplish.


Since this has turned out to be an iceberg of a focus, I’m officially declaring June 2014 to be Savoring Month. Each week in June, we’ll focus on an aspect of savoring: Time, Process, Seeing, Nourishment and Living Meditation (or that’s what it looks like now, anyway).

On Wednesdays in June, I will offer a Rushin’ Refugee Report in a comment on the Rushin’ Refugee post and on the Focus Pocus Facebook page about how I’m doing with my experiment in breaking my rushing habit and doing more savoring. In particular, my personal focus is on eating (fork down, chew, swallow breathe, relax), drinking (sip and breathe, sip and breathe, even after yoga), and driving (leave extra time to get there without the adrenaline rush), but I may throw some other observations in there, too.

And today, in honor of Maya Angelou, allow yourself to be inspired…and allow others to be inspired by you. (The two poems that I used in class this week are below.)

Dance on. Shine on.

Susan sig


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Monday, May 26, 2014, 1045am ~ Rushin’ Refugee

Kecharitomene 6:35 Loreena McKennitt
Center Of The Sun 5:01 Conjure One Feat. Poe
Hero Dead And Gone (Discotheque Mix) 4:55 De-Phazz
Qalanderi 6:55 Cheb I Sabbah
I Know What I Know 3:13 Paul Simon
The Boy in the Bubble 3:59 Paul Simon
Coolsville 4:53 Rick Braun
Sexual Revolution 4:48 Macy Gray
Wake Me Up 4:10 Avicii
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
Falling Into You 4:19
Céline Dion
Under African Skies 3:37 Paul Simon
The Boy In The Bubble 4:30 Peter Gabriel

Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 9am ~ Rushin’ Refugee

Sofa Rockers [Richard Dorfmeister Remix] 8:34 Sofa Surfers
The Hush 5:24 Rae & Christian
Nostalgia Worship 6:46 Bassnectar
Air Batucada 4:40 Thievery Corporation
Open Your Heart 5:46 M People
Hermes 4:09 Carlos Santana
Run (Radio Edit) 2:41 Gnarls Barkley
La Da Da 3:32 The Makepeace Brothers
The Remedy (I Won’t Worry) 4:16 Jason Mraz
Colour In My Name (Featuring Precise) 6:08 Spiral System
Falling Slowly 4:04 Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova
Unidentified Stillness/water 4:39 Unidentified*

* I hate to include unidentified music in my playlists, but this piece was too lovely not to use in class. I use the Shazam app to identify music but it didn’t recognize this one. If anyone has software or other means for identifying music, let me know!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 1055am ~ Rushin’ Refugee

Éireann 5:10 Afro Celt Sound System
Marisi 6:33 Cantoma
Alba 5:16 Paul Mounsey Featuring Nahoo
In Caelum Fero 7:49 Adiemus/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Miriam Stockley
Dalmore 3:59 Nahoo
Stranger in a Strange Land 6:20 Nahoo
Adagio for Strings [Remix by Ferry Corsten] 6:35 William Orbit
Phenomenal Woman 4:24 Ruthie Foster
Kayama 7:58 Adiemus/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Miriam Stockley
Hymn 2:42 Adiemus/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Miriam Stockley

Thursday, May 29, 2014, 9am ~ Rushin’ Refugee

Égypte 4:28 Cirque du Soleil
Rumeurs 10:09 Cirque du Soleil
Caravena 5:14 Cirque du Soleil
Kunya Sobé 5:20 Cirque du Soleil
En Ville 4:59 Cirque du Soleil
Birimbau 6:12 Cirque du Soleil
Sandstorm 7:26 Darude
Rondo 6:07 Cirque du Soleil
Kalimando 6:31 Cirque du Soleil
Horizon 4:00 Garth Stevenson

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

Two Upcoming No-Membership-Required-Anywhere Classes in June ~

Friday, June 20, 6-7pm at the Buck Mountain Episcopal Church Parish Hall in Earlysville ~ more info to come soon

Saturday, June 21, 5-615pm at ACAC Downtown ~ Nia Jam with Adrienne, Mary Linn and Susan
As part of a club-wide solstice celebration, we’ll be teaching a special Saturday evening Jam with a reception on the rooftop deck afterwards (weather permitting, of course).
Members (including instructors!) can bring a guest for free, so grab a friend and be part of the celebration of summer!


We’re excited to support a weekend of classes and workshops with Nia Trainer, Julie Wylie, July 18-20 and then a Nia White Belt training September 16-22. Events will include lots of things for everyBODY as well as for belts wanting to reconnect to the principles and practices. More info coming soon. For now, mark your calendar!


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

If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going. 

Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. There is one planned in Charlottesville in September (see above) and lots of other places, too.

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