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If you’ve taken a class from me in the past few years, you might notice that at the end, we offer this dedication of merit:

May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.

I’ve been practicing mindful movement for 20 years, but I don’t practice to get better at moving. I practice to get better at living. I don’t practice to be a better dancer or to be able to do Bird of Paradise pose. I practice to get better at being human. I practice in class and on my mat and on my cushion so I can go out into the world and live more skillfully. Dedicating merit is an acknowledgment of this deeper intention behind the physical movement and form.

The idea of dedicating merit is that by practicing, we are doing something beneficial, something wholesome, and that we can then choose to take that benefit and offer it into the world. While my personal practices definitely offer me personal benefit, dedicating the merit expands my view of it. Rather than making my practice all about me and the good things it does for me, I can choose to send it out to where it’s needed. This broadens my view not just of my practice but of my place in the complex web of the world. (Lama Palden Drolma wrote a wonderful piece on dedicating merit that articulates the desire to expand the goodness beyond the self. I hope you’ll read it. You can find it here.)

May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.

They are interesting questions, aren’t they? What are the seeds and roots of happiness? What are the seeds and roots of suffering? I might say swimming in the ocean or dancing with my friends or a square (or three) of dark chocolate make me happy. I might say that an achy low back or witnessing the abuse of power or losing someone I love cause me suffering. But those are just specifics. What are the seeds and roots?

Buddhists have been thinking about these questions for thousands of years and they identify greed, hatred and ignorance, or The Three Poisons, as the root causes of suffering. (I love this down-to-earth post by Kaitlyn Hatch about this.)

While it can be intellectually interesting and enlightening to explore Buddhist philosophy on these questions, I am a simple woman who can easily get lost in the weeds of thought. Here’s how I think about it: suffering is simply wanting things to be different than they are. When I want things to be different than they are, I either want more of something or less of something. The seeds and roots of suffering are grasping (wanting more) and aversion (wanting less). The seeds and roots of happiness are letting go of wanting more or less and being with whatever is happening just as it is.

May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.

Dedicating the merit is dedicating ourselves not just to our own betterment, to our own well-being but to the betterment and well-being of all. All people, all creatures, all beings everywhere. Given the state of the world, this is insanity, of course. Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, recognizes the enormity of the undertaking and calls it making the warrior commitment. Pema writes

It’s said that when we make this commitment, it sows a seed deep in our unconscious, deep in our mind and heart, that never goes away. This seed is a catalyst that jump-starts our inherent capacity for love and compassion, for empathy, for seeing the sameness of us all. So we make the commitment, we sow the seed, then do our best never to harden our heart or close our mind to anyone.

We’ll fail, of course. We’ll get caught in wanting more of this and less of that and being greedy and hateful and ignorant. Oh heck yeah, we’ll fail over and over. That’s why we practice over and over. And why, at the end of our practice we dedicate whatever merit we might have gained toward nourishing happiness and dissolving all suffering.

What does dedicating the merit mean to you? What do you experience as the seeds and roots of happiness and suffering? It would be a gift to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Has anyone ever told you that you’re too sensitive?
That you’re touchy? Or overreacting?
Or that you shouldn’t feel as much as you do?
Whenever I’ve heard this, it was never a compliment.
It was a judgment. A criticism.

Too sensitive?
I say there is no such thing.

 In a world that moves fast, rewards hardness and runs roughshod, the willingness, the choice, the ability to be soft and tender is extraordinarily courageous.

The softer we can stay in the face of everything that life gives us, the stronger we are.
It’s a paradox of living that most people never even consider, let alone practice.

Many of us were told to toughen up when we were kids. We were taught that the world was a mean place and you’ve got to grow thick skin so you can take it. But what if the opposite is actually true? What if, in a mean world, the way to make it through is to stay tender and open and willing to feel? What if bullying and lashing out is the ultimate weakness? What if sensitivity is the ultimate strength?

In the body, we can start with the skin. Experiment with feeling details and nuance with every cell of your skin. Feel not just with your palms and fingers but with the backs of your hands, the spaces between your fingers. Feel with your wrists and the backs of your knees. Feel with your cheeks and your shoulders. Feel all of it with all of your sensitive skin.

Practice sensitivity with your imagination: let your dreaming mind explore and create something. Draw or write or sing or dance or just think up something you’ve never thought up before. It’s a tender place, the imagining place. Spend some time there, it’s a seriously brave move.

In every day, there are opportunities for softening your heart. Talk to a friend who’s struggling. Watch the aching ebb and flow of Nature. Read a headline or two. Whatever you choose, stay open and soft and take it in. Without trying to fix it or change it or look away or pretend it’s not happening, stay open and soft.

It’s challenging stuff, sensitivity. Most people armor up and build a hard protective coating around them in an attempt to avoid the discomfort of staying tender. The paradox is that only softening strengthens us to live deeply and fully.

“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times


My husband is building us a house. It’s a big and exciting project full of details and a dozen workers. When I tell people about it, the one question that nearly everyone asks is,

“When will you move in?”

Sigh. Who knows? Maybe December. Maybe January. Maybe March. There are so many variables and so many things that are in flux and changing. We have no idea. But that’s not the answer anybody wants.

Our culture is addicted to attempting to know what will happen. Whole industries have been created around predicting the future.

Polling for elections.
Odds-making for sporting events.
And everyone’s favorite: weather forecasts.

These predictions have varying degrees of accuracy. (Hurricane Florence and the Trump presidential campaign are two good examples of predictions that looked pretty certain and then swung wildly and suddenly at the end.) Which begs the question, Why do we keep listening to them?

Fear.

We are afraid of not knowing. It is uncomfortable to live in uncertainty. So we create illusions that we know what will happen that give our brains a false sense of solidity and clarity.

Instead, what if we practiced getting comfortable with not knowing? What if we focused on allowing ourselves to relax into uncertainty? What if we were willing to embrace the bigger truth of complete groundlessness, as Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron calls it?

Experiment with letting your body and mind relax and let go of their grip on wanting to know. Soften into not knowing.

And when we move into the house, I promise I’ll tell you.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
― Pema Chödrön

‘Tis the season of March Madness: the thrilling culmination of the college basketball season. March was once my least favorite month given its not-quite-spring-enough-with-the-winter-already damp, chilly grayness. But then I moved to Charlottesville and married a UVA grad and now I’m right there all month in my orange and blue pulling for the Hoos.

Over time, I’ve discovered that during March Madness (and, well, all year) I need to cultivate two things: the courage to allow myself fully into the energy and excitement and the skill to settle myself down.

It’s not just the way of college basketball. Shaking up and settling down is the way of life. Things pull in and spiral out. Our muscles contract and then lengthen. Breath draws in and relaxes out. My heart and mind and spirit get stirred up and then they quiet again.

Despite this reality, I often fear and resist the excitement, the turmoil, the uncertainty. It feels easier and safer to stay in control, in comfort, in habit.

This is, in part, why I practice on my mat, on the dance floor, and on the cushion. I practice getting stirred up and then settling down. I practice literally shaking myself and finding my center and ground. I practice remembering that this is the way of things and that happiness is rooted in my ability to move in and out of both.

No matter how much I want to avoid the tempest swirl, life doesn’t work that way. Inevitably, I get stirred up. Inevitably, I get activated. If not by March Madness or Wheel Pose or the latest headlines, then by a health crisis or a relationship rift or the loss of a friend. And when this happens, can I be in the swirling stirring with skill and then can I find my way out again to a state of peace?

Join me this week to dance with this courage and skill, to shake it up, shake it off and settle down…and then do it again.

 

Small talk bores me.
When I ask you how you are, please don’t say, “Fine.”
(Unless you say, “Fiiiinnnne!”)
When I ask you how you are, I really want to know.

I believe in going deep.
In diving in.
In delving in.
The paradox is the deeper we go, the further we fly.

In the physical body, we can experience this by going deep into the strength and stability of the legs and core. The more we tap into our power there, the further we can reach out.*

For more on this, check out my Explore from Core post which, in turn, has links to other core-centric posts.

Of course, going deep isn’t only a physical experience. Our willingness to go deep ourselves directly impacts our willingness to be present and connected with others. As Pema Chödrön beautifully puts it:

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

Let’s dive deep, friends.

____________
* The inspiration for this week’s focus was not just Ben Howard’s beautiful song quoted in the art above but also some slow, down deep yoga classes with the brilliant Amy Kidd. Thank you Ben & Amy.

In the past year, I’ve used the mantra of Breathe Deep. Shine Bright. Show Up. when I find myself in frightening or overwhelming situations. I am still learning what to do when I feel afraid. My three-part mantra has been helpful…as have the words of my teacher, Pema Chodron:

How to Defeat Fear
“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, ‘May I have permission to go into battle with you?’ Fear said, ‘Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.’ Then the young warrior said, ‘How can I defeat you?’ Fear replied, ‘My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.’ In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.”

Breathe deep. Shine bright. Show up, my friends. No matter what is happening – breathe deep, shine bright and show up.

The playlists from the week are below. If you’d like to listen to them, you can find almost all the music on Spotify where you can listen for free! Put the music we dance together with other pieces that lift you up, calm you, and challenge you!

But first, here are a couple of things you want to know about:

Thanksgiving Nia, Thursday, Nov 23 ~ 830-930am at acac downtown, Group Ex Studio
Our annual Gratitude Celebration happens on Thanksgiving morning. Join us to dance in our delight in all the senses and in recognition of our outrageous good fortune. Bring friends and family (guests of members can come for free!) or put out some bagels and coffee and sneak out to have some time to yourself. Either way, see you there.

Nia classes for people with cancer, survivors, caregivers & staff at UVA with Susan Tate ~ on Mondays and Wednesdays
Join Susan Tate, Black Belt Nia Instructor for Nia classes with a focus on moving to heal on Mondays, 5:30-6:30pm & Wednesdays,12-1pm on the 4th Floor of the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center. These free classes start October 16 with a kick-off celebration class at 5:30 pm.  Registration is not required. Contact Susan Tate at susan@susantate.orgfor more information.

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, Nov 6, 2017, 1045am ~ Breathe Deep. Shine Bright. Show Up.

The Air That I Breathe 5:58 k.d. lang
Nourah 6:51 Makyo
Dubuasca (with Michael Kang) 6:55 Bassnectar
Smokey Quartz 6:59 Shakatura
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech
Sometimes 4:06 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Shadowman 6:36 Afro Celt Sound System
All People (feat. Gina René) 4:09 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Breathe 4:12 Blue Stone
Good to Be Alive Today 4:15 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Gratitude 6:27 Jamie Catto & Alex Forster

Tuesday, Nov 7, 2017, 840am ~ Breathe Deep. Shine Bright. Show Up.

Shine On 3:43 Eric Bibb
Nourah 6:51 Makyo
Dubuasca (with Michael Kang) 6:55 Bassnectar
Smokey Quartz 6:59 Shakatura
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech
Sometimes 4:06 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Shadowman 6:36 Afro Celt Sound System
Instant Karma 3:14 U2
Good to Be Alive Today 4:15 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Gratitude 6:27 Jamie Catto & Alex Forster

Wednesday, Nov 8, 2017, 11am ~ Breathe Deep. Shine Bright. Show Up.

Passing Through 5:19 Bob Holroyd
Shine On 3:43 Eric Bibb
Journeyman – AO 6:41 Bob Holroyd
Hey Hey Hey 3:47 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Ray of Light 5:21 Madonna
Raag Trance 5:32 Biddu
Domination 7:26 Peace Orchestra
Central Reservation [Ben Watt Mix] 4:02 Beth Orton
Wherever You Are 3:15 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Hey World (Don’t Give Up Version) 4:09 Michael Franti & Spearhead
The Sheer Weight of Memory 5:28 Bob Holroyd
Hide And Seek 4:22 Imogen Heap

Thursday, Nov 9, 2017, 840am ~ Breathe Deep. Shine Bright. Show Up.

Passing Through 5:19 Bob Holroyd
Shine On 3:43 Eric Bibb
Journeyman – AO 6:41 Bob Holroyd
Hey Hey Hey 3:47 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Ray of Light 5:21 Madonna
Raag Trance 5:32 Biddu
Domination 7:26 Peace Orchestra
Central Reservation [Ben Watt Mix] 4:02 Beth Orton
Wherever You Are 3:15 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Persistence of Memory [Remix] 5:14 Afro Celt Sound System
Somehow Familiar 3:40 Fabrizio Paterlini

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!

https://focuspocusnow.com/fingers-and-toes-from-the-nia-white-belt-manual/

 

What DOES, your little pinky finger have to do with compassion, anyway?

You can find Brene Brown’s audio course here. 

Here’s what she says in the course: “The most compassionate people I have interviewed in the past 15 years…oh my God, what do these people have in common? They are SO compassionate. I thought it was going to be spirituality, religion, faith, inherent kindness, tragedy in their past. I didn’t know what these people were going to have in common. But when we started digging in we found they only had one thing in common. There was only one variable threaded through every single one of their life experiences. And you know what it was? Boundaries.”

 

In her course, Brene Brown says: “The most compassionate people I have ever met and interviewed are by far the most boundaried. Because it is impossible to extend an assumption of generosity to someone who is taking advantage of you, being disrespectful, hurting you, not hearing you, not seeing you. You cannot be generous toward those people. We can only be generous to people with whom we have set boundaries, demand boundaries and stay in our integrity.” 

 

 

Here’s what Dr. Brown says, “But this gets up in how many of us were raised: To be easy, to not ask for what you need, to suck it up. But that is the only way we can extend true compassion to other people is from a place from where I am clear on my boundaries, I’m clear on your boundaries, I’m standing solidly in my integrity and from here I can be generous in my assumptions of you.”

So many times, I’ve attempted to be kind and compassionate but without boundaries and it NEVER went well. Judgment and resentment were always immediately in the mix. And uncomfortable as it might have been, I always feel genuinely open-hearted and generous when I am clear about my boundaries. What about you? What do you notice about the connection between generosity, compassion and integrity?

Want to learn even more about fingers and toes? Check out this post from 2013!

 

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