Sufficient

The pandemic rages. Domestic terrorism has arrived in America’s capitol and at statehouses around the country. We are reeling with the headlines. And yet there are beds to make, children to love and care for, meals to prepare, new students to teach. And we are sufficient to the task.

Amuse yourself, please, with a clip from the 1995 film, Babe. Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) enters his pig, Babe, in a sheepherding competition, instead of Rex, his sheep dog. Babe is quite a pig, as you will see (and hear). As are we. Not pigs, that is, but quite something, yes. Sufficient.

If your heart, your mind, your body are heavy with the burdens of this winter season, click here for a bit of lightness, and when you arrive at the utube site, scroll down the right side of the screen to Clip 9.

Sequester

All students are requested to self-sequester for 10 days before returning to their on-campus residence, and/or to in-person engagements on campus.’ —OSU’s President, Kristina M. Johnson, Phd.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language provides two definitions: 1.to remove or withdraw into solitude or retirement; seclude. 2. to remove or separate.

Students are being asked to remove themselves from daily life and others; to ‘withdraw into solitude.’ How extraordinary! Always in my 20’s and 30’s decades, I was wishing for quiet, for repose, for a chance to collect myself, and nary an encouragement from any quarter. And now this, from the hallowed halls of academia, no less. Sequester, please.

Alternate between doing nothing (Constructive Rest, anyone?), and performing needed tasks, along with outdoor walks. Refrain from seeking entertainment and/or distractions during the daytime hours, reserving your amusements for the evening time, if then. The silence that lives as a constant presence all around you will make your acquaintance, and you will find a deeper acquaintance with yourself.

Tomes to accompany sequestering: anything by Thich Nhat Hanh. The titles on my bookshelf are: Present Moment Wonderful Moment, Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and Peace is Every Step. Sylvia Boorstein’s, Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There, and John McQuiston II’s, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, are both excellent guides for a retreat.

May your sequestration be a fine one——

Respite

Having spent the fall semester immersed in exploring mind/body integration as illuminated by the Alexander Technique, it’s time for this:

‘Let the mind take a holiday,

the body put its slippers on.’

‘Banality,’ by Gregory Djanikian

May there be ease to your December days, dear students, readers, friends and family. See you in January 2021—

Wishing You Well

It’s that time of year when the beauty to be found is spare and muted, yet compelling. The bare trees branch out much like the neurons of my brain. This is the earth, and I am in it; I am of it.

The hill gave its gifts as it always does, this time on a blustery day that didn’t know whether to be sun-drenched or cloud-covered. As I collected bittersweet for the Thanksgiving table, the wind went soughing through the white pines. A couple of sweet wrens hopped through the fencerow bushes, their backs tawny smooth.

We gather at the holidays, in part, to push away the darkness of the short days. This year, with concerts cancelled, Open House events not happening, shopping excursions nixed, travel bagged, we are feeling keenly the lack. And then there are all those empty chairs at the table, not only due to everyone staying home, but because loved ones have died.

May the season bring you comforts, as simple as trees etched against clouds. Wishing you well this Thanksgiving——–

Walking

A morning walk through the neighborhood. Heading south on Foster, the earth became the one moving beneath me as the sun rose higher in the sky.

The Pacific Coast, somewhere between Los Angeles and Monterey Bay. Crashing waves on rock cliffs, the light bold bright, and an unexpected peace. All the while I had been grieving, these waves were in motion.

Malabar Farm State Park, Christmas Day. Mike and I awake to snow and lots of it. Bundling into our warmest layers, finding the backpacking stove and freeze-dried meals, pouring hot chocolate, and off we go. Well-being suffuses us as we trudge up hills and into valleys, the snow enclosing all in its beauty and quiet.

Erica Bauermeister has this to say in her recent memoir, House Lesson: ‘….if you are stuck in the middle of writing a book or trying to figure out your life, perhaps the best thing you can do is walk.’

if you are stuck.’ Yes. Erica and Amelia Nagoski, in Burnout: the Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, encourage movement, allowing the ‘flight or fight’ response to express itself in motion, any kind. I prefer walking. So many memories. So many miles.

And as I said to students yesterday evening, as Alexander Technique practitioners, we get to walk well, to walk knowing that we walk, allowing our heads to move up and away, our spines to lengthen, and our torsos to happily widen.

Wishing for you in the long winter days ahead, a few (or more!) walks-

Balance

There is much talk, study and thinking in Alexander Technique Land about balance. An AT course begins with the balance of head-on-spine. The premise of Good Use is that the body can be naturally at ease when the head-spine relationship is balanced. So true.

However, we get off-track when we equate balance with ‘the correct position,’ or with ‘getting it right.’ That’s the fallacy, that we can somehow arrive at perfection.

In terms of life balance, I spent years trying to get that right; the proper mix of work, leisure, personal life and community service. Can’t say I ever achieved balance. Instead, I was busy attempting to control things and keep the chaos at bay.

As John O’Donahue* wrote, ‘we live every moment in the condition of contingency.‘ We prefer to forget and repress this fact, but there are those who got up this morning (maybe you), and something happened that will change their lives from this day on. Balance can be truly precarious.

But here’s what I have learned. Balance is movement. Balance is not a monolithic thing, an arrival at stasis. The daily schedule adhered to, the body accurately mapped, these alone do not give me balance. I must move.

All is in a state of flux, and our flexibility and on-going curiosity about our ever-changing inner and outer worlds is what will provide us the balance we wish for.

* O’Donohue, John. Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World

Breathing

An Alexander Technique maxim: ‘As we think, so we move.

First and foremost, have an accurate body map of the breathing structures. Amazingly, after an extensive search on pixabay for a correct depiction of lung placement in the torso, the only one that did not mislead was this X-ray. Other sketches, drawings, and graphics placed the lungs much lower in the torso. No wonder breathing is a performing artist’s struggle, with our knowledge of breathing so limited, or worse, inaccurate.

Study the X-ray above. Of primary importance to note is the location of upper lung lobes. They are slightly ABOVE the clavicle. What does this mean for Use of Self? For one, there is no need to ‘dig deep‘ for a good breath. The lungs are right there, close to the airways of nose, mouth, throat.

If we think of our ribs as ‘The Ribcage,’ this will also hinder our Use of Self. Cage bars are immobile. Ribs move. Simply drop off ‘cage,‘ and you can say ‘ribs‘ to your heart’s content, with improved Use a result.

Ribs move at joints, 24 of them. Where each rib meets the spine, there is ‘give;’ there is movement. So, too, where ribs meet the sternum. Ribs travel out and up with an inhalation, down and in with an exhalation.

An easeful day of breathing to you—–

October

Ohio, today. Mike and I toured Union County covered bridges and out-of-the-way cemeteries. Discovered a bike path unknown to either of us, and enjoyed a long walk alongside soybean fields. A downy woodpecker kept us company.

Wishing for you a fall day to pause and be—–

Direction

Motor Neurons/Nerve Pathways

I allow my head to move forward and up, that my spine may lengthen and my torso widen.’

I confess to a conflicted relationship with Mr. Alexander’s Directions. Much of what I find useful in the Technique is to be found in the other two components of an AT practice, that of Sensory Awareness and Inhibition. With the kinesthetic sense invited to join the other five senses, and the person engaged in non-doing (i.e.–merely stopping a habit of use), the best Use of the Self will emerge without any further fuss and bother.

However. In yesterday’s office hours, Yildiz was describing a recent dance technique class, strenuous and demanding. She found herself repeating an AT Direction, ‘My neck is free. My neck is free. My neck is free,’ with no small amount of irony, as her neck was NOT free. She simply continued with the directing, and her neck did indeed become free. I responded, ‘That was a neurological event.’ Yildiz went on to say, ‘Yes! It was not psychological.’

The words were few and the realizations many. Slowly, it was dawning on this long-time practitioner of the Alexander Technique that perhaps Mr. A’s Directions are not about The-Brain-Bossing-the-Body. Yildiz did not need to convince herself that her neck was free, nor have positive feelings about it. She simply gave herself the Direction. It was her intention that mattered.

Directing, in Alexander Technique terms, ‘is not to train the mind or to train the body, but rather to cultivate and refine the connection between what you think and what you do.’ (Tommy Thompson, with Rachel Prabhakar, Touching Presence.)

That’s what Yildiz was up to! Much different than bossing.

And glorious.

The Pause

On the hill, Saturday, September 26, 2020. The light. The life. The beauty. Pausing in the unspooling of the days to rest here for a moment.

Years ago, attending a meditation workshop, the facilitator asked each participant to name a location nearby where peace could be found. A densely populated historic district, just blocks north of the Ohio State University campus, the streets were packed with cars, jets roared overhead on their landing approaches, and raucous late-night parties were the rule rather than the exception.

Surprisingly, several places were lovingly described—a small shrine next to the Catholic Church with a statue of the Virgin Mary, a certain tree whose canopy sheltered several Victorian homes, a walking path along the Olentangy River.

A farm is not required. Although grateful to Mike’s parents for bequeathing the land to us, I am also a city dweller, and know that a pause can be found anywhere. May you find refreshment and peace today, wherever you may be.