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)
It’s the best season for cemetery strolls, so lovely when the leaves are turning, the fall breezes blowing leaves about, carpeting the ground. Union Cemetery, situated along the Olentangy River, is a long-time beloved one, now where John McCullough’s remains reside, catalpa tree branches bending over the grave site.
A distant cousin to Mike, John died in August. He was our mail carrier for many years, a kind and gentle man who often walked his route with Maggie, a neighborhood dog. John, his wife and their twin sons became an important part of our lives, especially after genealogical research revealed John and Mike were cousins, having the same several-greats grandfather. At the funeral, honoring John’s request, Mike read from the McCullough family Bible, discovered on-line during the research project. We are missing John, and will remember his generous spirit.
John Keats suggested this for a tombstone inscription: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water.’ I like that. It captures the ephemeral nature of our brief time on the planet, and somehow makes me grateful to be in a body for the time being. How remarkable, this life, and then gone. But we are here today. Whatever your present endeavors, keep making, keep living, though it be ‘writ in water.’
Clothes washed, dried, folded and returned to closets and drawers, all while composing a blog post, writing Pelotonia donation thank you notes, reading student assignments, finishing up today’s class preparations, and making travel plans for a September Pittsburgh trip.
And while a busy day benefits from a few minutes (or more) of Constructive Rest, we cannot remove ourselves from the day’s business for very long. That leaves us with the challenge of being at ease even in the midst of crossing off items on the To-Do List.
This is the very place where the practice of Alexander Technique principles are to be practiced and applied, right in the middle of it all.
Example: I’m standing at the open washing machine, trying to get the last little squidge of detergent out of the bottle. To that end (End-Gaining, indeed!), I catch myself leaning my entire body to the side, along with the over-turned bottle, as if shifting my weight will coax out the last dribbles. I’m uncomfortable. This is when I could mentally slap myself on the wrist, but no. Instead, it’s a rueful laugh, and back to weight on both feet. Now at ease, I can wait for the remains of the detergent bottle to empty.
Learning the Alexander Technique is not about acquiring perfect posture, or flawless Use of Self. No. It’s about observing Self, and either choosing to continue as we are, or to make a new choice for how we wish to respond and react to the present moment.
The annual Drama of the Fledglings is underway. This past weekend, it was a tree swallow soon to fledge, but not quite ready. Her beak opened to bright orange-yellow on each fly-by of the parents. Landing on the box, the pair peered over the edge, chirping to their offspring, offering encouragement, but nothing doing.
On the porch for an afternoon of cloud watching, I periodically checked on the swallow’s progress through the binoculars. She began to extend farther out of the box opening, her neck lengthening (yes, Alexander Technique students, birds do it, too!) looking up, down, and all around. Still in the nesting box, however.
End-gaining was not in evidence on the hill. Mr. Alexander would be pleased. He observed in himself and his students the common habit of gaining an end, i.e.–striving to achieve a goal, by disregarding how we use ourselves to get there, and mindlessly pushing to complete a task. He was adamant that instead of trying to please, get it right, and get it done, we would benefit greatly from pausing (what he termed Inhibition), and considering the ‘means-whereby‘ any task is best performed.
The task of flying awaits the young tree swallow. Not responding just yet to the stimulus of cajoling parents, she pauses. She waits. We do ourselves harm when we push through our daily lives, using force of will and grim determination. Try a pause. Be kindly toward yourself in all that is required of you. The swallow will fledge. You will complete your tasks. Maybe tomorrow.