Making Do

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Seven Oaks

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.

 

 

Restraint

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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 certainlyhedged 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–

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whitman

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My OSU predecessor had this advice for the first week of classes:

Inhibit like crazy.’

To those unfamiliar with Alexander-Technique-Speak, that advice may sound crazy indeed. I received it as a nugget of wisdom, and Dale’s three words echoed a Walt Whitman quote I happened across recently, an excerpt from his poem, Song of Myself:

Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it…..I witness and I wait.’

Witness? Wait? I have teaching goals to achieve, knowledge to impart, so much that needs to be said and done. Nope. Wait, Diana. Be a witness. And as Dale went on to say, it’s in the teacher’s inhibiting, (i.e.-waiting, witnessing), that the student can engage in self-discovery. It’s where real learning happens. The teacher creates the conditions for explorations, and the rest is up to the student.

In FM Alexander’s experience, ‘inhibition’ came to mean the conscious decision not to direct a process toward a given end.’

That’s Pamela Payne Lewis, from her 1980 Carnegie-Mellon University dissertation, The Alexander Technique: Its Relevance for Singers and Teachers of Singing. As a young teacher, I received extensive training in the very task of directing a process toward a given end. And then in mid-life came my Alexander teacher-training coursework, which was devoted not to the achieving of goals, but to the means-whereby all wishes, wants, and goals could be pursued.

An essential component of teaching the Alexander Technique well, the practice of inhibition has on-going application for living a life well, too. And so I will grasp the steering wheel lightly as I commute through crowded city streets, inhibiting contraction and grip in response to the traffic, until eventually and surely, I find myself strolling into the hallowed halls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortune

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Reverse cannot befall that fine Prosperity whose sources are interior.‘  Emily Dickinson

Stock market dips, good health turning to bad, these and other reversals of fortune can be counted on to happen. Happily, last week’s tax returns appointment found Mike and I pleased with the news. There’s a refund on the way, already partially spent. And with both of us in a nice long run of excellent health, it would be easy to take for granted our prosperity.

When we are well, when fortunes are favorable, it’s the perfect time to cultivate resilience. And what better way than a study and practice of the Alexander Technique! Rather than stasis, rather than attempts to ‘get it right’ and keep it that way, it’s movement and flow, it’s the ability to respond to stimuli (i.e.-challenges) with conscious direction and ease which are the best approach to the inevitable changes of our life’s circumstances.

Wishing for you inner resources providing ‘that fine Prosperity.’

 

Broad Margins

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There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice ‘the bloom of the present moment’ to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life.‘ Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Most of us do not make Thoreau’s choice to sequester ourselves in the woods. As we sit in traffic and arrive home to feed the children, is it possible to delight in a ‘broad margin’ to our lives?

Thoreau arranged his Walden Pond life in such a way that he could stop what he was doing, whether physical labor or mental exertion, and indulge in ‘the bloom of the present moment.’  For parents of young children, not going to happen. For the person commuting two hours each day with a full office day between, I don’t think so.

Perhaps we have opted to acquire a few more possessions than Thoreau,  prefer central heating to a wood fire, and have tossed a few kids into the mix.  How about a broad margin right in the midst of that life? Let’s find out if it is even possible by allowing the present moment to bloom, whatever that moment holds.

thanks, pixabay. This photo reminds me of fall kayak paddles.

 

John Dewey and F.M. Alexander

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John Dewey (1859-1952) was required reading in my pedagogy courses at Bowling Green State University in the mid-1970’s.  I wonder if he is still read by undergrads. What I remember 40 years later is the three word summary of his ideas,  ‘Learning through doing.’

As a proponent of social change and educational reform, Dewey’s philosophy, called experimentalism or instrumentalism, was inspired by reading William James, an American philosopher of pragmatism.  Dewey’s other influences included Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955).  Dewey studied with F.M. for several years and wrote the introductions to two of F.M.’s books, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1923) and The Universal Constant in Living (1941).

Dewey claimed that humankind behaved out of habit, but that change was inevitable and required creative thinking and responding to the present, not the past or the future. Thought was the ‘means where-by’ the individual connected with the world.  Dewey touted education as the key to discarding habit and embracing active thinking, engagement, and creativity.

In these precepts, he echoes Mr. Alexander, or Mr. Alexander echoes him, I’m not sure.  They were co-existing in a particular milieu; a time of scientific discovery; an era of big ideas and those who devoted their lives to them.  Both Dewey and Alexander believed in the power of education, and worked with youth; Dewey as the founder of alternative schools, and Alexander, who established a school for youth in the United States and also taught young students in his London studio.

Could we, the international Alexander Technique teaching community, renew this commitment to youth and to insuring that the principles of the Technique are an everyday part of life in a classroom? I’m pondering this possibility, and welcome your thoughts/ideas on the subject—-

 

 

 

 

 

“Thy Mind a Kingdom Is”

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‘Thy mind a Kingdom Is’—-Granard.  This quote was on Mr. Alexander’s business/appointment cards in 1900, a paraphrase of, ‘My mind to me a kingdom is…,’ part of a longer poem  included in William Byrd’s 1588 collection, Psalmes, Sonets and Songs.  It has traditionally been attributed to Edward Dyer (1540-1607).

From 1588 to 1900 to 2016, the power of the mind has been a topic for our consideration. Mr. Alexander made a life’s work of teaching others to train what he called the Self, the Body/Mind. Most recently, Ruth Whippman took up the subject in her book,  America the Anxious:  How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.  She claims ‘the single philosophical consensus of our time is that the key to contentment lies in living fully mentally in the present.’  In a scathing review of the ways in which ‘mindfulness’ has been monetized in our culture, from employee workshops to spiritual seeker retreats, she questions the benefits of training the mind for living in the present moment.

She’s a good writer and funny.  It’s a worthwhile read.  She decries what she terms ‘self-help-based cultural thought policing,’ and ‘moralizing smugness’ towards the more distractible members of our western society.  Well, yes.  The notion that we can improve our lives via our thoughts is just another way to sustain the illusion of control.  (But I digress, with a smidge of smug.)

Let’s return instead to the 1500’s and leave behind this current age of opinions and pronouncements, visiting instead a poetic discourse on mind.  If, at these 200 words (the blog’s usual word cap), you have reached your on-line reading limit, I wish you a good week, and yes, many mindful moments.

For the rest of us, we time travel to the Elizabethan age, and the first and last stanza’s of Dyer’s poem—–

My mind to me a kingdom is;

Such perfect joy therein I find

That it excels all other bliss

Which God or nature hath assign’d.

Though much I want that most would have,

Yet still my mind forbids to crave…

My wealth is health and perfect ease,

And conscience clear my chief defence;

I never seek by bribes to please,

Nor by desert to give offence.

thus do I live, thus will I die,

Would all did so as well as I!

(The full six stanzas can be found at: http://www.poemhunter.com.)