These times are calling to the depths of us. How do we answer?
Recently, a question and response showed up for me like a signpost, saying, "this way!" The question came at the end of a webinar on pain science presented by Kathryn Bruni-Young. A movement educator asked something like, "What's your advice when a client is too scared and uncomfortable to do movements that would be helpful for their condition?" In response, Kathryn offered that if the movements are not accessible to the client, then they are likely not helpful. She suggested supporting the client to discover what they feel they CAN do - and do that to build capacity. Even small, seemingly unrelated movements that feel safe and ok can add up to big developments in confidence.
In the midst of our pandemic experiences and our world urgently in need of social and environmental justice, I often find myself spinning my wheels or feeling paralyzed about responding to it all with wisdom and commitment. In this context, even the simple activities of daily life can seem overwhelming. So, each day I've been asking myself, "what do you feel you CAN do today?" This question gives me a place to start, a place from which to expand beyond my comfort zone and face challenges. I start with small, intentional movements, attending to one thing at a time. And while the actions may not be grand in scope, they are so much more than what comes of not starting because I'm afraid I can't do it all and do it all "right."
The concept of building capacity also comes up in Austin Channing Brown's conversation with Brene Brown on the podcast, Unlocking Us. Austin Channing Brown’s anti-racism work includes her book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. Listening to the podcast one night last week while doing the dishes, I stopped to write something down: "Have you built the capacity to care more about the well being of others than the pull of your ego?" This question grew out of reflections on how we may be so concerned with doing things perfectly, so afraid of making a mistake, that we don't put ourselves out there in whatever way we can to support justice and dignity for all people. Austin and Brene identify humility as key in getting over ourselves so that we can connect with each other.
Our mindfulness practices help us build capacity. On the Ten Percent Happier podcast, “You Can't Meditate This Away" (Race, Rage, and the Responsibilities of Meditators), Dan Harris asks his guest, Sebene Selassie, about the value of mindfulness practice in these times. She offers that so many of our thoughts are not personal. They are essentially our culture speaking. In cultivating awareness of our thoughts, we can discern, learn, and change.
I keep going back to the words of Dorothy Day: "People say, What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts [that will awaken, transform, and multiply the impact of our actions.]"
"So, what if healing was less about releasing something old and wounded, and more about returning to an inner sense of wholeness?
What if we could let go of any end goal around whatever being "healed" or "released" looks like? And instead, focus on cultivating our inner and outer resources so that we experience feeling more seen, held and connected (by/with our own selves and by/with trusted others)? How might that shift our experience of healing?"
- Jessica Schaffer
Mindful movement can wake us up and settle us down. It can spark vitality and enhance ease. This practice of kind, curious attention in movement and stillness can bring us a greater understanding of ourselves. It can offer us a present moment experience of connection and safety in our bodies.
I think of our practice of mindful movement, breathing, and rest as sharing a friendly cup of tea with the compassionate presence that dwells within each of us. We ground ourselves in relationship with the Earth and allow space in our bodies. We pay attention to one thing at a time: the feeling of feet on the floor, of contact between fingertips, of breath moving in and out. And we find that presence is just listening. It doesn’t promise to do anything or analyse what is arising. Presence is a quality of being and our embodied practice makes us aware of it.
This new year, let's take all the time we need to refresh our sense of presence and remember our wholeness in every circumstance. Come join me for mindful movement practices that welcome you just as you are and provide a space for refreshment and renewal.
Here we are together in December with little lights beginning to twinkle as nights grow longer. Maybe December is life's mixed cup magnified. The light and the darkness. Expanding in festivity and tucking in to rest. The sweet joys in the presence of sorrows. Finding the grace to live wholeheartedly with what is, what isn't, and the mystery of what is yet to be.
At the close of this year, I celebrate our ongoing connection, full of gratitude for knowing you and the opportunity to share reflections and news around our circle.
Today I was waiting for the elevator in our building while looking out the window at my bus approaching from a not so far distance. Would I make it downstairs on time? One of our custodians noticed my situation and as soon as the elevator doors opened, she jumped in with me, pulled out her ring of keys, and said, "I'll put it on EXPRESS!" Without stopping at any other floors, we made it to ground and I made to the bus stop in good time.
Kindness of fellow humans! This connection buoyed my spirits as the day began. I smile now just writing of it. Even if I had missed the bus, the nourishment of this moment would still provide sustenance. What a difference we can make for one another by seeing each other and responding with care. In this case, we were literally in it together.
As Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen writes, "There's a place in us that nobody can give us and that's our initial nourishment and our own protection...But also, if we feel we're so independent and don't need anyone, we won't be able to grow to our fullest ability. And that's where community comes in. To grow fully, we need ourselves and others."
This December, I hope my offerings may be a place for connecting inwardly with our initial nourishment as well as outwardly in friendly community. Blessings and gratitude to all.
This week, a new season of mindful movement begins.
I'm excited to see you again after summer's adventures and to gratefully celebrate the power of shared practice. Whether you can commit to a weekly routine or you join us now and then through the fall, your presence matters!
Last weekend, I gave myself a gift of presence in laying out a calendar for fall. I sat down with pencil crayons, markers, paintbrushes, a pot of tea, and plenty of time to spare. For me, these things make the task unhurried, fun, and special. I coloured in the spaces for classes and private clients, times away, appointments, and family commitments. I did some writing about how I wanted to be and feel this season and what kinds of practices and projects I wanted to include.
Clarity and inspiration emerged in this process. I saw some unclaimed chunks of time in my week. I understood that if I claimed them for the experiences and activities that best support how I want to be and feel, then all the already-coloured-in spaces would be illuminated by the blessing of that nourishment.
Lately I've been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass. I love this book and recommend it to anyone who feels kinship with the Earth and each other and questions how we live here together. There's one story she tells about learning to construct a black ash basket at the hands of an Indigenous master maker. Her teacher says:
"Just think of the tree before you begin and all its hard work before you start. It gave its life for this basket, so you know your responsibility. Make something beautiful in return...Slow down - it's thirty years of a tree's life you've got in your hands there. Don't you owe it a few minutes to think about what you'll do with it?"
This advice landed right in the heart of my fall calendar. It reminded me that I'm giving my life in exchange for how I spend my days. While I can't see and hold time and existence in the way I can a tree or a piece of paper, it's the medium with which I create and participate in my life.
I remember the late American activist and author Claire Wineland who passed away at this time last year. She was 21 and had lived much of her life in and out of hospital with cystic fibrosis. She wrote:
"We can make our lives into a piece of art...LIfe isn't going to stop unfolding itself to you just because you're sick or just because your life isn't how you think it's supposed to be."
We are surrounded by so much wisdom and so many teachings - from this planet and her web of life, from each other, from our experiences as we journey along, from the voices of our own hearts. I want my calendar to help me live into this learning. May my calendar cultivate gratitude and reverence in me, call me to courage and generosity, inspire loving action, and nourish me with rest. May my calendar to help me make something beautiful in return for the gifts I continually receive.
These longings and intentions bring me back to presence. I believe it's through presence and attention that we vibrantly live these lives that just keep unfolding themselves to us. We can't control all the details of that unfolding but we can slow down and think about what we'll do with it.
I hope you too will claim a chunk of time for a practice that nourishes you this season. And if that claiming brings us together, I hope our time will illuminate your already-coloured-in spaces. I hope our shared presence can be part of the beauty you make.
Four months have passed since I had the privilege of connecting with you through e-news. I'd say, "I don't know where the time has gone..." but I DO!
Over here, it's been four months of sorting, packing, moving, unpacking, sorting, painting, and settling in. Did I mention sorting? I've completed a lot of moves over the years and I figured I was an old hand. Well, guess what? It didn't all happen exactly how I expected and wanted it to. For one thing, the process took a lot longer than I imagined (it's still going on!). More than that, it took a lot more energy to get from one place to another than I thought it would. Add some painful inflammation of my Achilles tendons to the mix and this situation was practically the poster child for learning opportunities.
So what's the best thing I learned about movement (and life) from moving house? Sometimes it's really not you. It's your parameters.
Here's what I mean. When I realized that things were not unfolding in the crisp and timely manner I had planned, I started beating up on myself. Clearly, I thought, the disparity between my sparkling vision and this messy reality was the result of personal failure, the failure of an unmotivated and lazy procrastinator. Surely with self-improvement, I would not be sorting my filing cabinet in an otherwise empty room of our old house...two days after the movers left.
Thankfully, a wiser voice joined this mental conversation.
What if the picture I'd developed of how this process would go was not informed by (or supportive to) my current state of being? What if this picture didn't take in the whole landscape of internal and external factors influencing my situation at the time? I'd been slower than expected because I expected more than I had the bandwidth to do. There was a mismatch between my parameters for how things must go and my reality of the moment. And I didn't know until I tried.
My big take away? Compassionate self-awareness is a daily practice. It helps us bridge the gap between what we imagine and what happens on the ground. It helps us hold both our aspirations and an understanding of current capacities with love and clarity.
Setting nonjudgmental eyes on ourselves and our experiences helps us more accurately gauge what challenges we can meet and what support we may need in doing so. When we stumble in facing ambitious goals, we can more easily see our struggle as information about what's happening now rather than commentary about who we are. And when the unexpected comes along (as it almost always does), compassionate self-awareness helps us find the way through with grace, humility, and maybe even humour.
I'm bringing this renewed appreciation of compassionate self-awareness to my movement practice. I'm placing friendly, curious connection at its centre. May I know this moment.
At the closing of one year and the birthplace of another, I'm grateful for continued connection with all of you. Thank you for your presence in our shared practices, your friendly replies, and your generous receipt of my newsletters even when our in person meetings are few.
Today I'm reflecting on the fresh beginning that a new year presents and reminding myself that beginnings are available every day and in every moment. Still, there is something significant about putting away last year's calendar and opening up a new one.
Rather than making resolutions, I'm acknowledging all that supports kindness, vitality, love, and contentment in my life. In the spirit of asking myself how best to make space for these to flourish, I've looked at the landscape of my days and weeks with as compassionate an eye as I can muster. I've found spaces where more movement and meditation can happen for me, both self-led and offered by others. I've given myself a silent bedside clock so that my phone can stay outside the bedroom. I've rededicated myself to daily intentional practices of gratitude, recognizing that it's a blessing and a privilege to have the time, space, and resources to consider these things at all. And I'm holding in my bones the certain knowledge that no matter what happens, I am made of beloved stuff in every moment, just like every one of us.
For me this night is a quiet, restful one at home because that's the replenishment I need most right now. I wonder where this New Year's Eve finds each of you. Wherever you may be and however you observe this threshold time, I hope there is some soul food in it to bring along with you into the days ahead.
I'm grateful for a beautiful cup of tea.
It’s been a really full week since my return from a family visit to the prairies and, for me, sound sleep has been in short supply. Last night as we prepared for this next lovely adventure, a train trip to meet up with our dearly beloved son, I was starting to feel overwhelmed with it all. By “it all” I’m mostly meaning the list of tasks I believed I had to complete in order for “everything to be ok.” I felt my shoulders hunch up painfully and my neck and jaw get tight - and then I felt tired and unfocused and sat down with my phone (not one of the tasks on my list).
In moments like this, I realize I need to stop and look into what I need. It’s often some rest. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy over the years comparing myself to other people and coming up short in seeing my need for rest and quiet as a sign of weakness or a lack of motivation. More recently I’ve been reframing this need and honouring it as best I can as a wise signal from my body that slowing down now may prevent trouble later.
So, I looked over the landscape of the next few days and gave my regrets for a party I’d wanted to attend shortly after our train pulls back into the station tomorrow. I reminded myself that I can best show love to my family with wholehearted presence (and freshly vacuumed floors, a batch of cookies, and an organized spice shelf are totally optional). I let go of a bunch of stuff I’d arbitrarily decided had to be done before I left the house today. And I spoke up when I wanted to go back to the house 2 minutes after we left to make sure I’d turned off my bedside lamp.
Some mental habits are great thieves of joy. I celebrate the moments when I can see them and find other views and ways through. I’m breathing easier now. On the train, heading towards the apple of my eye, and grateful for a beautiful cup of tea.
Today I appreciated an unexpected offer of a ride across town. Conversation unfolded as we traveled tree lined streets and shared delight in the rich hues of leaves gracing branches and sidewalks. My kind companion said she had been walking in Gatineau Park the day before and I asked if the colours were at their peak. "The reds have lost their brilliance," she said, "but the yellows and golds were luminous."
This simple reflection on leaves tucked itself into my heart and I'm thinking about it in connection with embracing changes in our personal landscapes through the seasons of life. Trees bud and bloom, come into abundant green, and blaze with fiery tones. Then they relinquish their efforts - and rest. We don't expect them to stay the same from season to season and if we have the wisdom of my companion today, we find beauty in all their incarnations.
When we gather for practice, there's often sharing about adjusting to changes in our bodies, in our hearts, and in the circumstances of our lives. As we move through these experiences, we are also conscious of an invitation - an invitation to learn about how things are in this moment and find out what's possible now. What's more, to honour what's possible now. A mindful embodied practice calls us to discover the light of our yellows and golds, even as we recognize this season's passing of our brilliant reds. It calls us to cherish the gifts that have been while we keep eyes and hearts open to this moment's opportunities.