Re-readinga 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 TheLittle 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 projectsincluded 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–
Three questions found in Stephen Mitchell’s 1988 Tao Te Ching, which I tossed into the travel tote for a day trip to the hill. His translation notes included a quote from somatics educator, Emilie Conrad-Da’oud:
‘There is no self-consciousness in the newborn child. Later on, the mind wanders into self-images, starts to think Should I do this? Is this movement right? and loses the immediacy of the moment. As self-consciousness develops, the muscles become less supple, less like the world. But the young child is pure fluidity. Suppleness is really fluidity. It transcends strength and weakness. When your body is supple, it feels like there’s no barrier in you, you can flow in any direction, your movement is a complete expression of yourself.’
Limber, lithe, pliant, yielding. Wishing for all of us thoughtful questions to ask, with suppleness of mind and body to seek the answers. Be safe. Be well. Wear your masks—-
‘…the grace of her gathered self…’, a phrase from Jeannette Haien’s novel, The All of It, jumped off the page. I had pulled the book from my office shelves for a re-read, having no public library supply, its doors now closed.
‘…..the grace of her gathered self…‘ became a mantra, as I observed Ohio’s Stay-at-Home Orders, launched online teaching, adapted to empty grocery store shelves, read daily alarming headlines, checked in with friends and family, and practiced vigilance with household cleaning routines.
‘...the grace of her gathered self…’Gathered? Nope. Scattered has been more like it. And yet, as we know in Alexander Technique Land, mind and body co-exist. One affects the other, always. And so, the mere recollection of this phrase, over the course of several days, allowed me to entertain the possibility of possessing a ‘gathered self.’
‘…the grace of her gathered self…’ Moments of grace did arrive. A daily Constructive Rest practice helps. Spring’s arrival helps. And when my Self is gathered, collected, when my scattered thoughts quiet, ‘grace‘ is the gift.
I am wishing for you, for all of us, ‘the grace of our gathered selves‘ as we negotiate the days and weeks and months ahead—-
Looking for an inspiring read? Here’s my pick: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Meticulously researched, but reading like a suspense novel, Daniel James Brown weaves a gripping tale of the working-class boys from Washington State who made history at the 1936 Olympics.
Here’s a timely excerpt: George Yeoman Pocock, builder of boats, giving advice to one of ‘the boys’:
‘He told Joe that there were times when Joe seemed to think he was the only fellow in the boat, as if it was up to him to row the boat across the finish line all by himself. When a man rowed like that, he said, he was bound to attack the water rather than to work with it, and worse, he was bound not to let his crew help him row.’
Fellow boatmates,we can row these choppy waters. Together.
*Local Prologue Bookshop owner, Dan Brewster, welcomes online orders. Two books and a jigsaw puzzle arrived a few days ago, along with a cheering note from his staff. If Brown’s book is not in stock, I’m sure Dan can get it ordered for you.
Watchinga New Zealand rugby team perform the haka before a match, Paloma finds herself barely breathing in amazement at what she sees on the television screen. In a later journal entry, she writes this:
‘I’d noticedhim right from the start (a Maori player), probably because of his height to begin with but then because of the way he was moving. A really odd sort of movement, very fluid but above all very focused, I mean very focused within himself. Most people, when they move, well they just move depending on whatever’s around them. At this very moment, Maman just went by in the direction of the front door, and you can tell from the way she’s moving; she is headed toward. She’s going out shopping, and in fact she already is out, her movement anticipating itself…when we move, we are in a way de-structured by our movement towardsomething; we are both here and at the same time not here because we’re already in the process of going elsewhere, if you see what I mean.
To stopde-structuring yourself, you have to stop moving altogether. Either you move and you’re no longer whole, or you’re whole and you can’t move. But that player, when I saw him go out onto the field, I could tell there was something different about him. While the others’ dance gestures went toward their adversaries and the entire stadium, this player’s gestures stayed inside him…and that gave him an unbelievable presence and intensity.
So I watchedthe game attentively, constantly on the lookout for the same thing: compact moments where a player became his own movement without having to fragment himself by heading toward. And I saw them! I saw them in every phase of the game: with a player who’d find the right speed without thinking any more about the goal, by concentrating on his own movement and running as if in a state of grace. But none of them came near the perfection of the great Maori player who was running without moving, leaving everyone else behind him.’*
Paloma’s ‘heading toward‘ is Mr. Alexander’s ‘End-Gaining.’ My wish for each of us today is a moment when we are no longer getting ahead of ourselves, and can ‘become our own movement.’ No fragmentation or de-structuring required! It’s an Alexander-Technique-worthy pursuit—-
*The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, 2008. Europa Editions, translated from the French by Alison Anderson.
(With thanks to Barbara H., who mentioned Barbery’s book, reminding me I was due for a re-read.)
Diane Ackerman, in her 2008 book, Dawn Light: ‘Here only this once and never again, I want to stop ten times a day, stop whatever I’m saying or doing, and behold the human pageant with its uncountable dramas…’
Stop. Behold. And in the pause between, something new can happen, in our bodies and in our minds. That pause, termed Inhibition by Mr. Alexander, is a primary practice of the Technique. When Ackerman stops, the world expands beyond her words and actions; she includes in her thinking ‘the human pageant.’
Here’s a way to work with The Pause, courtesy of Barbara Conable, from her book, Howto Learn the Alexander Technique:
‘Whenever you notice that you have cut out half your experience by losing awareness either of yourself or of your world, simply open attention to the other half.’
Example: Tornado sirens sounded several times around midnight as rain pounded on the roof and lightning lit up the bedroom ceiling. Our little corner of the world was spared, but nearby, in the Dayton area, tornadoes caused extensive damage in the night. Scrolling for news feeds and watching videos of the aftermath, I finally noted my attention was exclusively on the computer screen and entirely with the anguish of those being interviewed. Hmm. ‘Open attention to the other half,’ Barbara advises. In this example, the ‘other half’ is me. Sit bones contacting chair seat. Right foot crossed over left. Cork floor in contact with sole of left foot. Returned to myself while also taking in the dramatic reports of the storms.
Your turn! It goes both ways. Ackerman opened her attention to the world, and I needed to open mine to myself. Ten times a day is her wish, but I’d be happy for you and me to stop and behold just once or twice today. Be safe, heed those sirens, and practice The Pause–
Sidi Hessel’s 1978 book, The Articulate Body, was a serendipitous find at yesterday’s library book sale. For $1.00, a treasure came home with me, and its first section, ‘Articulations,’ is precisely what was needed to supplement content for this fall’s Alexander Technique class. Where are the joints, how do they work, and how can we restore their full mobility? Questions for me and the students to explore.
And the first stop on that journey? Finding head on spine and moving from this primary joint. The head leads and the body follows, or, as Barbara Conable specified in How to Learn theAlexander Technique, ‘the head leads and the spine follows insequence.‘ Watch a cat get up from lying down. You will most certainly see a demonstration of head leading, what Mr. Alexander termed Primary Control or primary movement. And with ease at the joints comes vital expression of body and self.
Hessel soughtto convey this dual understanding of jointed-ness with her use of the word ‘articulate,’ as ‘having to do with being jointed,’ and also, ‘skillful, fluent self-expression.’ We only move at joints. The articulate body is a physical structure able to move easily and fluently and expressively. Here’s to articulation!
Not to be confused with iced coffee. That beverage is on purpose. Cold coffee is not. Looking up from Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, I see my cuppa, sitting forlornly on the end table, cold yet again, having been warmed up not once, but twice. ‘Words will do that,’ I say to myself, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s words in particular. Love this quirky memoir.
Published 14 years ago, it’s one of those titles that came to my attention when first out, and then got lost in the shuffle of too-much-too-many. Books that is. But the book found me, as books often do. I have learned to rely on this mysterious phenomenon, knowing that an oh-so-special book will appear when needed.
And then this: padding around the studio, returning chairs to their places, picking up anatomy tomes from the floor, tidying up after last evening’s Alexander Technique student, I linger at the poetry shelf, pulling out Jane Kenyon’s CollectedPoems, opening randomly to:
‘Like a mad red brain
the involute rhubarb leaf
thinks its way up
A fitting conclusion to an Alexander Technique lesson, yes? Plants are ‘thinking their way up’ all over the place right now, inspiration for us to do the same.
Wishing for you good words in a good book, good enough to cause your coffee to go cold—
In Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding, Ellen is observing her brother-in-law George, her eldest daughter Dabney, and Ranny, her next-to-youngest child:
‘He had, and he gave, the golden acquiescence which Dabney the bride had in the present moment—-which Ranny had.’
TheRandom House Dictionary of the English Language tells me that when we acquiesce, we ‘assent tacitly.’ We consent, comply, accede, concur, and this last one is my favorite, we ‘find rest.’
This exquisite gem of a sentence is found near the end of a story in which a 1920’s Mississippi Delta family gather for the wedding of the firstborn. Throughout, various family members are brought to the forefront, their foibles and rich humanity aptly depicting the beauty and also the dark side of family life.
But that phrase, ‘golden acquiescence’! It’s a yes to life, an affirmative to all of it. In the present moment, we can shine.
May you acquiesce to this moment. Find rest. Say yes.
‘There is a certain kind of heaviness and insulation we can grow used to. The body can feel strange when it inhabits the world in a lighter way, when it encounters a form of happiness or fulfillment for which it has no apprenticeship. A lightness and litheness that gives us a sense of ease, movement and potential….‘
David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea
Where are you on the light-to-heavy scale? And what are your preferences? Do you like the feeling of heaviness and insulation? I sure do in the winter time. After last weekend’s snow/ice storm with below-zero temperatures, venturing out required two layers of socks, a hefty pair of boots, lined pants with leggings underneath, multiple pullovers, coat, hat and hood. Completing this ensemble with bulky black gloves, the total effect reminded me of Ralphie’s brother in A Christmas Story, lurching down the sidewalk on his way to school.
I look forward to summer days of warm breezes, arms and legs bare to the sun, when getting out the door requires nothing more than sliding on a pair of flip-flops. Until then, it’s heavy on the insulation and light in spirit!
Car trips, domestic tasks, writing at my desk, reading a book, laughing in a coffee shop with a friend, all these daily activities are experienced differently when giving some attention to my physical self, inviting length and space. In the midst of this cold snap, as we welcome the heaviness and protection of our winter layers, include a light heart and a few Directions for good use. The phrase I found myself using yesterday was, ‘Lengthened, widened, grounded.’