Handwork

Grandma Bertha stitched quilts with her Ladies Sewing Circle. Grandma Irene made quilts on a large wooden frame next to the living room picture window. As a young girl, she did linen cutwork with my Great-Grandmother Rachel. My mother sewed most of our clothing, and following a cancer diagnosis, she began a fall scene crewel piece which I finished after her death. And so, the women in the family keep me company as I stitch, as does Mr. Alexander and his Technique.

Handwork is detailed and cross-stitch requires minute stitches a thousand times over, creating color blocks of designs. It’s the perfect activity for Self-Awareness, Inhibition and Direction, the Big Three of Alexander Technique practice. Observing my Self, the following are noted: arms pulled inward, gluteal muscles contracted (yep, who knew the body/mind would attempt to use gluteals to make a neat stitch! Shout-out: It doesn’t help), gripping the hoop.

On to Inhibition: it’s often enough to simply quit with the Habit. Merely stopping what I am doing, whether it be clenching gluts, gripping hands, or contracting arms, means the body (and mind) can then go about their business unencumbered by all the extra effort.

However, if needed, there is always Direction. ‘I allow my head to move away from my spine.’ ‘Long legs, feet on floor.‘ ‘I allow my spine to lengthen and my torso to widen.’ Thoughts only, not a ‘DO.’

Happy Mother’s Day to all—–

Psithurism

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

Gusts rattle the metal cabin roof, light breezes create a rustle in the dried brown leaves of the surrounding oaks. Wind can be heard in the distance, an approaching low-level roar that builds until all is immersed. I like to imagine the vast sheets of wind traveling across the plains of Indiana and western Ohio, arriving at our outpost along the glacial till, land of soft hills and wide valleys.

How happy was I to discover the word ‘psithurism,’ defined as ‘the sound of the wind in the trees and the rustling of the leaves.‘ It’s an onomatopoeia, a word that sounds like its meaning. In the pines, I become taller, longer, more fully upright as I listen to psithurism. It’s a community of UP out there in the woods.

Alexander Technique teacher, Frank Pierce Jones said ‘anything can be regarded as the stimulus to which you choose the response of lengthening and freeing.‘ Anything. Choosing ease and length when captivated by psithurism is an easy choice. Choosing to ‘think up’ in response to fear is quite another.

We resist expressions of fear, such as shaky knees, sweaty palms, pounding heart, by ‘pulling down,‘ successfully dulling sensation, making ourselves smaller, contracting. There’s a time and a place for that response, but not when there is a show to perform, a song to sing, a line to deliver. We can choose, even when the stimulus is fear; ease and space. This is precisely what Barbara Conable encourages us to practice in her primer, How to Learn the Alexander Technique. Her advice is ‘Embody the fear.’ Feel it, choose to not ‘numb out’ and ‘think up’ instead.

Now we’re talking! And moving, and singing, and dancing, and, and, and….

A Walking Week

Christmas Rocks Nature Preserve, April 1, 2021

Mike and I drove Fairfield County backroads and arrived at this magical preserve close to Lancaster but a world away. We were greeted by a kingfisher at the trailhead and the marvels continued. Hemlocks, clear-water stream rippling over rock beds, early woodland wildflowers, tight leaf buds on trees, and SNOW! Only light flurries, but still. It was cold.

The destination point of the hike is a vista view atop a rock escarpment, looking south over hills and valleys. Getting there meant a steep ascent. After all these years living with Alexander Technique principles, it’s still possible to be surprised at its usefulness. With thought and attention to my Use, and frequent rest breaks, the summit was crested. Mike and I paused to be astonished. Sitting on moss-covered rocks, at eye level with the tops of the cliff side trees, we breathed it all in.

Heading back, muscles and hip joints fatigued, it was here the Technique became most efficacious. I utilized a few lesson prompts from Monday’s AT class: ‘Give attention to the back leg of the stride. Let it propel you forward. No need to do anything else. Let the earth travel under you and support you. Spaciousness overhead. All the space you need to be long and wide.’

The week concluded with another student requesting a walking lesson. A Week of Walking, indeed. Grateful to be on the path with such fine students, and to receive the beauty of Christmas Rocks–

Gesture

Photo by Hebert Santos on Pexels.com

‘Of course, for each of us, there is the daily life.

Let us live it, gesture by gesture.

When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?

And should we not thank the knife also?

We do not live in a simple world.’

At the River Clarion, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver*

Gretchen McCulloch, in Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, writes of ‘co-speech‘ or ‘illustrative gesture,’ coined by linguists to describe the gesturing we do while speaking. She explains that gesturing is thought to be more about the speaker’s thinking than the understanding of the listener. In other words, the speaker is processing thought via bodily motion, rather than gesturing to ‘make a point’ for the listener’s benefit.

Although I had picked up the book curious to learn more about my students’ formative experiences as life-long consumers of online content, I became intrigued with the idea that our minds access language with the body, through movement, through gesture. Dances are often choreographed with a set of gestures at their core; expounded upon, returned to, and then modified, much like phrases in a musical score. We are ‘saying’ more than we know with our bodies. Dancers just do this on purpose, and to great good effect.

May we, as Mary Oliver invites us, whether dancing or slicing melons, live ‘gesture by gesture,’ mind with body.

*Heartfelt thanks to Alicia, who gave me this book as a 64th birthday present. How I cherish it, and Alicia.

Jenga

Jenga begins with the stacking of 54 wooden blocks. Players then take turns removing one block at a time, the object being to keep the stack from falling down. Stacking is also a dance studio term, as students are encouraged to stack their joints, vertebrae and body parts.

A successful turn at the Jenga stack requires minimal movement, rather like a game of Pick-Up-Sticks. One slight vibration, and down goes the edifice. Stasis is essential. In contrast, a fine turn on the dance floor requires movement and vitality; stasis nowhere to be found.

In Jenga, stacking is done from the bottom-up, carefully arranging the blocks for stability, then figuring out how to maintain that base for as long as possible. Dancers, too, can stack themselves ‘bottom-up,’ feet to head, but this is not the only way to achieve stability. One can also balance from the top-down.

And this is how it is done in the Alexander Technique. Dancers free the primary place of balance in the body, that of head-on-spine. From the head/spine meeting place, the rest of the body’s structure, all the way down to the feet, can move with balance and ease.

Words matter. If stacking provides your heart’s desire as you dance, keep it! If not, examine what the word conjures up for you. If it is stasis, make a different choice. Let yourself move, and also consider the happy possibilities of ‘top-down’ thinking.

Game nights and dance concerts await! With high hopes all will be vaccinated, allowing a return to in-person gatherings and events. My second Pfizer shot is next Friday—-

Hospitality

For Yo-Yo Ma, performance is not about showcasing his technical prowess, but rather about extending hospitality to the world.’

Krista Tippett, On Being interview

Teaching, too. Here are a few ways in which I cultivate a welcoming Zoom Room, my teaching location for the past 12 months:

—Arrive at Zoom class early and greet each student as they arrive. This can be as simple as saying their name as they appear on the screen.

—Make yourself available after class. Several always stay to chat and ask questions.

—-Write to each student frequently. I do so once a week in response to their assignments.

—Divulge a few personal life details. Conducting class from my home office, I can smell the aromas of dinner which Mike is preparing, and sometimes say so.

It’s a strange world in which we have been living and learning, and it’s not over yet. As we tire of the pandemic and long for its end, may we offer hospitality whenever and wherever possible——

A Pick-Me-Up

Here’s my current favorite (see photo at right). There are others. Evening toddies, the bristle of Mike’s beard on my cheek, the sweet call of the garden’s blue jay, discovered this very winter. I thought they only made that horrendous cackle call. I was wrong. A card in the mailbox. A student singing in her Alexander Technique lesson.

Yesterday broke the longest streak since 1989 of consecutive below-freezing temps here in central Ohio. Our home’s brand-new solar array has been iced and snowed-over for almost a month. Looking ahead to warmer breezes and a post-pandemic life, Thursday’s Happy Hour Zoom meet-up is with BGSU girlfriends. We will discuss plans for the next get-together. Two falls ago now, it was a Pittsburgh weekend. Good memories. Wishing to make new ones.

It’s what I’m calling The Week of the Pause at OSU. Two days without classes, and encouragement from leadership to reduce course workloads momentarily. Instead of the week’s assignments, I suggest a Dove Bar. A coffee. A walk through a park. Anything but the usual.

The plan was a month-long series of posts with a Mary Oliver theme, but Dove Bars won out on Week 4. Change your plans. Discard The Plan. See what happens instead——

Attending

Leo in the Pine Woods. Standing-With-Trees Practice, anyone?*

I know I can walk through the world,

along the shore or under the trees,

with my mind filled with things

of little importance, in full

self-attendance. A condition I can’t really

call being alive.

I Happened to Be Standing, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

Oliver is adamant, ‘being alive’ isn’t possible if all thought and yes, attention, is being given to the self. While well-being does require self-awareness, this is not to be pursued by excluding the rest of the world.

Self and Other. Leo and Tree. Altogether now—–

*Standing-With-Trees Practice: ‘We can take our cues from trees as we stand. They really know how to be in one place for a very long time, yet they manage to be in the timeless present, however old or young they may be. It can be helpful to just stand next to a tree for a period of time, and practice standing outside of time. Imagine experiencing the light the tree is experiencing, feeling the air the tree is feeling, standing on the soil in which the tree resides, inhabiting the same moment the tree is inhabiting. Be fully in your body, imagining, if not actually feeling, that your feet are connected to the ground, and that your head is elevated with a sense of grace and ease toward the sky.’ (That’s Jon Kabat-Zinn, from his most recent book, Falling Awake.)

Time

Pine Woods at the farm

Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished

if you entertain a certain strict posture.

Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree

So I just lie like that, while distance and time

reveal their true attitudes; they never

heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.

On Meditating, Sort Of, from Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, 2017.

A student mentioned how her experience of time altered during an Alexander Technique class. Busy and stressed students live entire days, weeks, and months scheduled to the hour. Vigilance is required.

Which is what I love about an Alexander Technique lesson, a paddle in the kayak, working a jigsaw puzzle, walking the pine woods, a sit on the meditation chair. My relationship to, and interaction with, time changes. And that’s a refreshment.

Snow

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Storm

Now through the white orchard my little dog

romps, breaking the new snow

with wild feet.

Running here, running there, excited,

hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins

until the white snow is written upon

in large, exuberant letters,

a long sentence, expressing

the pleasures of the body in this world.

Oh, I could not have said it better

myself.

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

A body that writes! A body that dances! May you delight in both this winter day—–