Walking along the north perimeter lane, I stop at the sight of a warbler pair, nestled side-by-side on a low-lying tree branch. We regard each other in the quiet, a light breeze between us.
The warblers are well-versed in physical distancing, and we could learn a thing or two from them. Appearing comfortable and at ease, they are also vigilant to my presence, and when I do finally step forward, they twitter lightly, lifting off their perch.
They receivedme. I had been seen; regarded. This moment brought to mind a long-ago Alexander Technique lesson Mike had with Barbara. He was deeply moved by her presence, and the way in which she received him with respect and calm attention, just as the warblers did with me along the fencerow last week.
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—-
Standing at the kitchen counter, I survey the assembled: crock pot, cutting board and paring knives, a large silver bowl for scraps. A motley pile of apples drains in the colander. Not the beautiful orbs purchased in local orchards this time of year, our farm apples are un-sprayed and untended, leaving them much enjoyed by birds and yes, worms. This means plenty of slicing and dicing around imperfections. But, oh, my. The good bits are so good. Tart and sweet all at once.
With vats of apples to process, I can get ahead of myself. This is known in Alexander Technique parlance as ‘End-Gaining.’ Charging to the finish line, so to speak, with nary a thought for how best to get there. This means my wrists hurt, the right hand thumb tight and unhappy from an awkward repetitive motion, until I make the choice to notice.
The noticing is termed ‘Inhibition,’the pause in the midst of habit. Next is ‘Directions.’Gentle guidance. ‘Let the hand fan outward.’ Ulna and little finger aligned. So simple, this kindness to oneself.
‘The first stepin learning how to work on yourself is to observe others. Looking at the world around you with Alexandrian eyes is extremely instructive, and pleasurable too …….and if you search carefully you will find admirable instances of good use around you.
I drawenormous inspiration from looking at….great athletes and dancers and musicians, at animals both wild and domesticated…such models of good use are worth imitating.’
Pedro De Alcantara, Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique
Morning on the hill. Feast your eyes on this elegant form. To know a fawn was lightly treading the meadow around our little cabin as Mike and I slept snug inside is to know there’s astonishing beauty all around us, always. The wild world does provide us with inspiration—-
Singers!So much to learn. Start with a wren in song. No better example of full embodiment and whole-body singing exists. The wren serenades were an on-going feature of last week’s visit to the hill. A wren pair were even attempting to build a nest in the front porch rafters, but with little to no overhead space in their chosen spot, project was abandoned.
The cabin is surrounded with young oaks, and their boughs are a favorite song perch for the wrens. Petite creatures that they are, I recommend a pair of binoculars nearby for quick access when the piercingly sweet melody begins. Bring binocs to eyes and follow the sound. With magnification, you will see the wee body lengthen just prior to the tiny beak opening for the first salvo of sound. Take note. That’s precisely what we need to be about in preparation for our singing.
Stay alert,and you will observe the wren’s throat pulse with the trills, its entire body engaged in singing, much like a baby who responds to your voice with arms and legs akimbo and in motion. (3-month-old Vivi visited yesterday with her mother, doing this very thing.)
Life is our teachereach and every moment; availing ourselves of the lessons, our choice. Let beauty and amazement teach you today—
Within the 12-pane window is a universe. Small oaks in the foreground, their rusty leaves framing the distance. Meadow grasses of pale, tepid beige. A sagging wire fence. Fence row tree branches etched on overcast gray sky. Dun-colored rolling fields beyond. A slice of red barn and silver roof. Deep, thick pine grove the only green. Distance hills in mist and dark.
If thereis anything in the world more beautiful, I have no need to know what it is. This beauty will suffice, and does, each and every time I’m on the hill.
And then there are the mundane, even scruffy views, especially this time of year. Old piles of snow, an aging doughnut shop sign. With a beauty all their own. We each have a window to the world at any given moment; the view out a car windshield (see photo above, on back roads to a Ft. Wayne, Indiana friend), a sliver of sky seen from the office desk, a quick glimpse out the kitchen window as morning coffee brews.
9:07 p.m. Friday, June 9, 2017. It’s showtime and we are standing on the crest of the hill, facing east. Where’s the full moon? The sky has that summer haze, and the horizon is looking cloudy. So we wait.
How to Wait for Moonrise:
Feel the grass prickle your bare ankles.
Wrap your arms around your beloved and inhale his summer-rich scent.
Hear the swallows chortle as they ride the evening breeze.
Notice the cooling air on nape of neck.
Continue returning to the moment and practice patience.
The best things in life are free. There it is, whole and entire, now visible in the dusky sky. It travels quickly, changing from white to an orange-mauve hue, gaining in brilliance with every minute. Yes, I could be in the city indulging in any number of entertainments, but this is where I want to be. On the hill.
May you find a place, a moment, of beauty today. It’s worth waiting for.
Humid, sunny, no breeze, no water, no hat. A horse-fly repeatedly dive-bombs, then burrows into my hair with an angry buzz. Waving walking poles at it, I whack myself in the head. Good Lord. Did I mention 7 ticks on my person? S-E-V-E-N.
Trudging up the final crest, a litany of complaints was in rehearsal, performance scheduled for an audience of one (my husband). With gaze fixed glumly on the ground, I happen upon a pair of tiger swallowtails. Returned to the present moment by astonishing and surprising beauty, I stop in my tracks.
And you know what comes next. This stopping of whatever you are doing Mr. Alexander termed ‘Inhibition’. Having stopped usual habits (i.e.–trudging, mental rehearsals, downward pull compressing my spine, etc.), I then have the opportunity for something else. Usually something much better.
Please note: optimal conditions are not required for choosing optimal Use. In other words, you can, in the most unpleasant of circumstances, stop and receive whatever is right in front of you. This provides greater ease and comfort in the physical body, and a lightness of mind as well.
That performance of complaints? Never happened. The swallowtails stole the show.
Glory be.It’s a fine morning on the hill. Bird chorus was a cacophony, and early. Sighted a Baltimore Oriole! A flash of brilliant orange and there he was, singing in a meadow bush. On lifting from his perch, he flew straight toward me, veering off to land in the nearest oak. Oh, my.
To enhance your birding experience, add some Alexander Technique thinking. Begin by simply noting and observing your usual patterns of use. Mine: 1. In the excitement of a closer view, I plop the binocs right up against my face, blurring my vision. 2. In a mis-directed attempt to obtain the best look, I scrunch down into the binocs, often not noticing this until my neck begins to hurt. 3. Arms get pulled tightly in toward torso in an effort to keep the binocs steady.
Next, having observed Habits (patterns of Use), ask yourself the question, ‘What if?’ ‘What if I didn’t ram the binocs against my face?’ The body’s inherent wisdom asserts itself when we get out of its way. We get to find out what the body would like to do instead. Instead of plopping, ramming, scrunching, pulling, there is now the option of lightness, lengthening, widening; all choices that make for more comfortable birding in a happier body.
Stand in the middle of a hill meadow on a late April morning. Clutch in your left hand a bag of feathers. With the right hand, hold high one of those feathers and wait.
The swallows will begin to notice you. Heads will jut out from a few birdhouses and others will swoop around you with their liquid chittering. Release the feather. Watch as a swallow dives and angles and deftly maneuvers to catch the feather in its beak. When this happens mere inches from your head, listen to the snap of its bill. Say, ‘You are welcome,’ as the swallow flies directly to its box, disappearing inside.
Repeat.Many times. Those nests will be veritable featherbeds and your heart will be full.
Postscript: This is the second April assisting the swallows in feathering their nests. At last year’s nesting season close, a swallow saw me standing on the back porch and flitted into his box, emerging with a single feather. With it he flew straight to me, releasing the feather before my startled face. I kid you not. Befriend a bird today and prepare for wonder.