A Settled Body

 

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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?*

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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.

 

The Space Between

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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—-

 

 

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.

 

 

A Hundred Whiles Ago

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 youa hundred whiles’; all the time you need and more. Riches of the best kind—–

 

 

Missing

 

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Katie, at cakes, tea, and dreams, posted a list of all the things she misses right now, and asked her readers what they are missing. Here’s my top five, in no particular order:

the library. A few online purchases and re-reads of home library tomes does not compare to the endless and varied supply of books-on-loan. I love the thematic displays  librarians creatively provide, and long to browse the shelves.

happy hours. Zoom has sufficed, but prefer my people to be in-person. Plans are afoot to meet in P.J.’s lovely garden, sipping beverages in the open air. Can’t wait.

proximity. It’s the ability to catch another’s scent, to occupy the same multi-dimensional space, to avail myself of non-verbal cues and gestures, that I miss.

thrifting. It’s been too long since last strolling the aisles, treasure hunting, and the thrill of a ‘find’— the batik summer skirt, an exquisite cream and sugar set.

Leo. Ruffling his hair. Snuggling on the couch for a book read. Working side-by-side to give his dinosaurs their bath. (So messy, and so delightful.)

I  miss being with others.  I miss the America I thought I lived in, but probably never did. Perhaps racism and lack of civility are just more evident now, certainly more obvious to me. For all gathering to protest peaceably, thank you. Wear a mask.*

*And Thanks to Alicia’s friend and to Susan, for The McCullough Mask Collection.

 

 

 

Mutual Regard

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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 received me. 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.

Thank you, wee warblers. Thank you, Barbara.

 

 

 

Empty

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Five posts are waiting in the wings, and none of them ready to be published. I’ve tinkered and toyed with each, and will now avert my gaze, and begin again—-

On Saturday, departing for the farm, the book grabbed from the office shelf was 100 Favorite English and Irish Poems. Sitting on the cabin porch in a state of do-less-ness, leafing through the poetry collection in a desultory way, this phrase from William Morris’ poem, ‘An Apology‘ presented itself:

‘The idle singer of an empty day.’

Yes! That’s it! I wish to be an ‘idle singer of an empty day.’ It would seem many of us would do well to aspire to this goal. We, (I), have been altogether too stalwart in our attempts to live in a world turned upside-down with the pandemic. How about giving the efforts a rest?

As I write in the sunroom, able to view the neighborhood west, north and east, one household is busy setting up the back deck for the summer. He is carrying out potted plants, two at a time, and she is arranging them here and there. Folding lounge chairs appear, soon to be opened, I hope, and lounged in.

One wonders, though. Many of us have a habit of creating  lovely spaces for rest and restoration, then choosing to pursue the next chore (of which there is an endless supply), instead of the just-as-important leisure.

The sun is shining, at long last. Another neighbor to the east is lounging. So inviting. This post may just get published without the usual editing, so that I too might be,

‘the idle singer of an empty day.’

(And to Mr. Morris, no apology required. Enjoy your empty day—-)

 

Supple

Can you coax your mind from its wandering

and keep to the original oneness?

Can you let your body become

supple as a newborn child’s?

Can you deal with the most vital matters

by letting events take their course?

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—-

 

Fraught

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fraught  (frôt),  adj.   1. involving; full of; accompanied by (usually fol. by with); an undertaking fraught with danger.  2. Archaic. filled or laden (with): ships fraught with precious wares.   n. 3. Scot. a load, cargo, freight (of a ship). (The Random House Dictionary of the English Language)

An OSU Alexander Technique student wrote in his weekly essay, ‘Although I awake gritting my teeth some mornings, I try to find rest and inhibit my fraught.’  Both an adjective and a noun,  ‘fraught‘ conveys much of its meaning simply by sound—-the fricative ‘f,’ the sigh of the ‘ô’ and the percussive ‘t.’ It’s a tone poem, a miniature musical composition, all in one-syllable.

And evocative of life at present. The ships of our lives are indeed fraught, loaded down with the cargo of disruption, anxieties, loss, illness. However we can lighten the load, even just a bit, will give us a ship that travels more readily and lightly through uncharted waters.

Thank you, Max, for the gift of this word at just the right moment. And a big thanks to every student whose life has been turned upside down with the closing of schools and universities. Your individual sacrifices for the greater good have not gone unnoticed. I, for one, am grateful. As Dr. Amy Acton said in Ohio’s daily COVID-19 news conference, our efforts to stay at home and observe physical distancing are making a difference.