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 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–
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—-
‘Slowly I came down the east staircase, shoulders back and chin up. The old P&D: poise and decorum. Poise was keeping your knees and your lips together, your eyebrows and your nostrils apart. Decorum was keeping your mouth shut. I needn’t have bothered. There was no one in sight.’ —— Flavia de Luce
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, by Alan Bradley (The most recent installment of the Flavia de Luce series. The first book is titled The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.)
At eleven years of age, living with her eccentric family in the English countryside, Flavia manages to entangle herself in murder cases, utilizing her boundless curiosity and knowledge of chemistry. She is intrepid, inspiring, and causes me to read with a smile on my face.
Ever alert for the pithy quote that speaks to the business of life in a body, I found Flavia’s description of herself to be a humorous example of the directions we often give ourselves, especially when wishing to make a good impression.
These were Mr. Alexander’s Directions with a Capital ‘D’:
I allow my head to move forward and up, that my spine may lengthen and my torso widen.
Next time you find yourself in a ‘shoulders back’ moment, give Mr. A’s Directions a try. And about keeping those nostrils apart, well, I’ll have to get back to you on that!
In Alexander McCall Smith’s My Italian Bulldozer, Paul is driving his rental machinery through the Italian countryside, and this happens:
‘…he felt as if he were suddenly lighter, able, if he wished, to float upwards and look down on the track, the trees, the farmhouse, the cluttered yard. It was a form of intoxication, a relief from self, a feeling of a sort to accompany being picked up by the wind and effortlessly borne away to a place that it alone decided.’
McCall Smith has aptly described the experience of release from downward pull. Students new to the Alexander Technique invariably use some version of the word ‘light’ to define their altered use of self.
And if you are seeking a light and heart-warming read, look no further. He has written several series; my two favorites are: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, set in Botswana with Mma Precious Ramotswe, and The Sunday Philosophy Book Club, featuring Isabel Dalhousie of Edinburgh, Scotland.