Poise and Presence. This is how it’s done. Feast your eyes on such beauty and ease. We have for a teacher this exquisite fawn, who was photographed courtesy of the hill’s wildlife camera. And the image will suffice. All energies and time this week have ended up being dedicated to semester preparations, and so I rely on the natural world to provide you and me with some visual inspiration—–
That’s a phrase from Resmaa Menakem,* author of My Grandmother’s Hands. Merely speaking these lovely words——–‘a settled body‘——- finds me resting back into the chair, no longer leaning forward as if preparing for a dive into the computer screen.
As participants in a pandemic and citizens of a country rife with systemic racism, Americans are experiencing ‘collective trauma,‘ a phrase used by the Dance Department Chair during a recent online meeting in describing the faculty, staff, and students. I concur.
Now what? For starters, settling the body. And so we shall, bi-weekly in Alexander Technique class. With settled bodies, vitality is more readily available, and action can be taken with conviction, whether it be to make oneself a cold brew, to engage in activism, or to get that course assignment started.
For Settling: Notice the places of contact between you and any surfaces. Right now, that’s my right heel on smooth wood floor, backs of thighs and sit bones on the chair cushion, the left hand palm resting on the keyboard, all fingerpads in contact with the keys. Eyeglasses can be felt on the bridge of my nose.
I’m settled. That was easy.
It isn’t always. And when it isn’t, be kind and patient with yourself. There’s no end-goal to achieve; even a slight shift in perception and kinesthetic experience is enough to calm, and yes, settle.
*Menachem is a social worker/trauma specialist in Minneapolis, MN. His work is based on the premise that racism affects not only the mind, but is embedded in our bodies. The Alexander Technique being a somatic endeavor, AT teachers are meeting in study groups to explore his ideas for healing and change.
(Thanks to Stephan Schweihofer for the use of his watercolor, courtesy of Pixabay)
What’s it going to be? A report on last week’s Alexander Technique workshop? (It was wonderful to be with colleagues from around the world. Thank you, Bob Lada, Debi Adams, and Tommy Thompson, organizers/presenters of, In the Company of Support.) Dismay at fellow citizens ignoring the pandemic? Missing summer vacation(s)? Preparing OSU course?
Questions. They are featured in the semester’s first presentation. What do I say about the question mark? ‘We will cultivate a spirit of inquiry, in the fine tradition of Frederick Mathias Alexander.‘ I add that it’s not so much about finding the ‘right’ answer or the ‘perfect’ posture, and more about exploration and discovery.
Well. I sure have lots of questions going into fall semester. Will the students be challenged by online delivery of the course material? Can we build the community which I consider to be essential for the learning of the Alexander Technique? Will OSU remain free from virus infections and subsequent shut-downs, or will we be confined to online-instruction-only within a couple weeks? (That’s the prediction of several colleagues—)
To all who are anticipating the return to school—-teachers, students, parents, and support staff, I send my best wishes for your safety and for the negotiating of this uncharted territory.
*And with a nod to Mrs. Whatsit, that remarkable creature found in Madeleine L’Engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time. If only we could all fly away on Mrs. Whatsit’s back, as did Charles Wallace, Meg and Calvin.
Dear OSU Students: We have yet to meet. I am preparing a place for us—-a place to be, to learn, to explore the Alexander Technique. And yes, we will do so online, in Flatland. Looking forward to meeting you there soon, Diana McC.
This week, it’s online meetings with Alexander Technique colleagues, as we negotiate the parameters of online teaching/learning. Asked to gaze softly on the little squares holding colleagues’ faces, my eyes fill with tears. Relieved to be with them figuring this out, compassion for the world in a pandemic, affection. I learned the Technique in community, and a recurring theme of yesterday’s workshop was how to create fellow-feeling, safety and support online, so that our new students, too, can learn in connection to others.
Much of Alexander Technique teacher training is about giving students the space they need, learning not ‘to fix,‘ but ‘to be with‘ and assist in the student’s discovery of body/mind integration. We spend countless hours learning how to teach with our hands, which for me, was mostly about learning how to be with my students by not imposing my will, my agenda, my Teacher-Self onto them.
How about re-writing My-Story-of-the-Pandemic, suggested by Tommy Thompson in the opening workshop session? Instead of giving my attention and energy to the confinements of online AT teaching, I might consider the space between us as a gift, an opportunity allowing for self-discovery and change, both for the students and myself.
Yes, the space between—-here is where we begin—-
Mary Oliver ends Such Silence with:
I sat on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps. Or dancers with the legs of goats.
No, I didn’t see either. but only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.
Morning coffee in the garden. Mike and I are about to move inside and get our respective days up and running. We pause, and here comes the hummingbird, whom we had been hoping to see. Settling back into our chairs, a pair of songbirds light in the dogwood which wraps the gazebo’s west side. One of them explores the latticework along the screen, a mere 2 feet from us, the gazebo serving as a blind. Its throat trembles with a melody, and Mike says, ‘If you wait, they will come,’ a twist on a line from Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, he will come.’
And next, three goldfinches. Following their swooping and chirping path above the garden, the moon about to set comes to our attention. Glory be.
Stay long enough today. Practice the Alexander Technique Pause.
Not to be confused with ‘Take a hike,‘ as in ‘get lost.’ No, this is an invitation to take your lovely Self walking. The Midwest is sweltering on yet another day expected to exceed 90°. Walk anyway.
Early, of course. Not for very long. And kindly, certainly. What do I mean by ‘kindly‘? Consider Use of Self as you walk. Instead of slogging through the humidity, doing battle with the elements, choose to receive the rich scents of a summer morning, the eggshell blue of the sky, the cardinal’s call.
What does all this noticing have to do with the Alexander Technique? Everything. Our inclusive awareness, of Self and Other, is the doorway into ease and comfort. And on a hot summer’s day, a bit of comfort is most welcome.
Continue strolling with attention to your structure, head moving away from the spine, inviting the spine to lengthen and the torso to widen. You can integrate thought with action, as you ease-fully stroll through the neighborhood, the city street, the park path. A good walk to you—–
It’s Week 5 of my online Alexander Technique course pilot, and this week’s Thinking-in-Activity lesson is Bending. To begin, let’s find our middles. A standard habit of thought is to consider the ‘middle’ of the body to be somewhere around the belly button. Nope. Re-mapping is required if this is how you think about middle.
The mid-place of our body’s structure is at the hip joints. Now that’s another body mapping challenge, as we often think of the iliac crest as our hips. Nope. They form the pelvis, and the pelvic bowl. Keep going. Hip joints are further down.
The best way to find hip is to stand with thumbs along the crease that forms when you lift your leg up from the knee, like a prancing horse. That’s the locale of the hips, and believe it or not, it is also the mid-point of your body. Legs/feet are the same length as head/torso.
Now, back to bending. We bend, most efficiently, ease-fully, and comfortably, when we move from the hips, NOT the imaginary waist. We are multi-jointed and move at joints. Hips, knees, ankles.
Drop a pen on the floor and before picking it up, employ Alexander Technique thinking: Observe Self. (Note your impulse to pick up the pen, without thought.) Inhibit/Pause. (Don’t pick it up. Just stand there.) And finally, Direct: ‘I move back with the pelvis, and forward/over with the head/spine.’
Here’s to healthy and happy bending (see youngsters above)—-
To follow-up last week’s post, here’s a quote from Diane Ackerman’s gardening memoir, Cultivating Delight:
As with all creativity, Paula’s art (landscape design), requires spontaneity bound by restrictions.’
Ackerman’s design requests included preserving large swaths of the standard suburban mowed lawn, preferred by her husband. Paula had to ‘make do’ as she sketched and schemed, not able to utilize the full panoply of her talents, but work within the boundaries of a client’s preferences.
My mother did it too, this ‘making do.’ She made a life of it. Her ability to create a lovely, if tiny, home for her family, was often about lack. On my father’s teaching salary, the end of the month usually found us dining on beans and cornbread, no steak to be found.
And my Alexander Technique community ‘made do’ on Sunday afternoon, meeting in a Zoom Room for a Seven Oaks Reunion. Seven Oaks Retreat Center, in Madison County Virginia, is the location for an annual outstanding Alexander Technique Workshop, cancelled this year in response to the pandemic. Within the parameters, and yes, confinements of a Zoom Room setting, director Jan Baty, and the workshop faculty created a lovely microcosm of a Seven Oaks week.
Making do. We can do this. We are doing this. For the fortunate who have not been ravaged by COVID-19, or suffered as loved ones take ill, we can make do. Hardship? Constraint? Limitation? Yes. Make do. The creative life awaits.
Re-reading a treasured memoir discovered at Blue Hill Books years ago, I came across this quote:
‘By using restraint in most things I intended to be joyfully unrestrained in a few. For this was always my favorite way of doing things.’ That’s Katherine Butler Hathaway, in The Little Locksmith, describing the budgeting of expenses for her 1920 home renovation in Castine, Maine.
Restraint. Highly esteemed by the Alexander Technique community, to ‘restrain‘ is to ‘hold back from action.’ This is the very definition of the Alexandrian principle of Inhibition. We pause, we stop, we refrain. Working with what we have—-whether it be pandemic restrictions, or a limited budget, we pause to consider the possibilities and then act.
Hathaway’s other projects included painting and writing: ‘I could never work with great spirit in any material unless I knew that the amount of it was limited–I had to be hedged in by a boundary of either space or material, in order to awaken the feeling of creative excitement.’
We are most certainly ‘hedged in‘ due to circumstances not of our own making. But I do choose boundaries, and they bear creative fruit; the 250-word-count of the weekly blog posts, for instance. Observing word count limitations contributes to clarity and cleaner prose. Another example–with fewer trips to the grocery, meals are created from what is at hand. The results are often delicious.
Within the boundaries of your present-day life, I am wishing you well, and hoping for you ‘creative excitement‘ in the midst of limitation and restraint–
Leo is on his way to my house, with sister, Vivi, and their mamma. We will play in the garden all morning, and his 4-year-old-Self, along with my 63-year-old-Self, will delight in games of hide-n-seek, stories to read, and adventures with The Tuesday Morning Friends. (see above photos)
And so life under a pandemic’s terms continues. I have always cherished these playdates, but this spring and summer, they have become a primary event of each week. Life simplifies. What was I doing before that was so important? Seeing friends, meeting up with students, being social. Writing. Preparing for OSU classes. Life is quieter now.
With the exception of weekly jaunts to the farm, travel stopped. A godson’s graduation, a visit to my sister, a trip out west, gone. My OSU teaching contract has not renewed due to the pandemic’s financial toll on the university. Much has been lost.
Gained? Peace. Ease. At yesterday’s Alexander Technique Online class, I found my pace and speech slowing as I directed the participants through an Inhibition practice. A colleague responded, ‘The timing was just right. It gave us the time we needed.’
Playdate Postscript: Leo and I were trying to figure out how long it had been since the dinosaurs were last given their baths. We couldn’t decide, until Leo said, ‘It was a hundred whiles ago.’ Yes. That.
Wishing for you ‘a hundred whiles’; all the time you need and more. Riches of the best kind—–