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.
In 1988, my father died suddenly of a heart attack, and having lost my mother 10 years earlier, I was officially orphaned. Often I found myself in a one-sided conversation with my parents, and once in a while, imagined hearing back from them.
One of those times a ditty began to sing itself in my mind’s ear, and although the melody has been lost, I do remember the lyric: Make a little beauty each day….It’s all that’s asked, all that’s required, just make a little beauty each day.
Yes. Making beauty. A roast chicken, a song, an Alexander Technique lesson, a pleasing arrangement of pottery and pictures on the mantle, a linen napkin under the sterling silver at dinner. A kind word, a lavish party. A photograph. A friendship. A marriage. A life you can love. It’s enough.
In this spring season, when the natural world is wild with making, may you be inspired to make a little beauty too. It’s all that’s required——
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.
Nocturnal visitsto the back porch composting toilet often turn into sky watching events, with stars, planets, constellations and occasional flaming meteors streaking above. It is also extraordinary to be up and about when a crescent moon is setting to the west. Its proximity to the horizon enlarges its size as its white brilliance slides under the horizon in utter silence.
As one who appreciates these night-time interludes, I was pleased to find myself in good company on the reading of a Junichiro Tanizaki essay, ‘In Praise of Shadows.’ He devotes two pages to the glories of the Japanese toilet. A quote: ...‘the toilet is the perfect place to listen to the chirping of insects or the song of the birds, to view the moon, or to enjoy any of those poignant moments that mark the change of the seasons. Here, I suspect, is where haiku poets over the ages have come by a great many of their ideas.’*
Mr. Alexander applied the principles of good use to the requirements of daily life: sitting, standing, moving from seated to standing and vice versa, traveling stairs, walking, resting. And to them we can add the middle-of-the-night constitutional.
Notice the beauty wherever you find yourself today. Be present to your Self and your Use. Yes indeed, even in the water closet.
*Tanizaki’s essay can be found in The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from theClassical Era to the Present, editor/Phillip Lopate.
All is well with the world when the horizon can be seen; a luxury not often afforded to city dwellers like myself. And finally the election season has ended…all the more reason to get myself to the farm for restoration. As the leaves fall, the vistas open up to distant rolling hills beyond the valley. The wide horizon lengthens and widens me into spaciousness and a long deep breath. Space to move. Space to breathe.
Opera Workshop students recently received a list of Alexander Technique Prescriptions, which included an attention-training practice and instructions for Constructive Rest (a future post). I would now add, as a prescription for election season recovery, giving yourself an horizon-view-stroll. Get outside, even if it’s overcast, windy, and dank. Dress well and go. Only then will you and I stand a chance of rallying our resources and making our next contributions to this 240-year-old experiment in living well together. We’ve got a ways to go. Start where you can. Take a walk first, and often.
(This horizon thinking stroll was made possible by Mike, who cleared the perimeter lane of the hill meadows and woods. Thank you, Mike. It was a wonderful walk.)
Coral beds can scratch and cut, and yet we jump in, all in the name of pursuing beauty with a breathing tube and googles. And then there are the soft corals, undulating softly in the aqua waters.
My husbandwas working at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center in the late winter of 1982, and I joined him on my ‘spring’ break. After the gloom of Ohio’s grayness, Hawaii seemed surreal with its brilliant colors. The outing that stays in memory was an afternoon spent on a white sand beach, filled with families, both local and touring. The abundance of whimsical striped and polka-dotted fishes, the coral bed hues of turquoise, pink and purple, astonished my Midwestern sensibility for the subdued, as this vast reef was anything but!
Fast-forward (a dated reference to the tape cassette, you younger readers) to 2015. Mike and I vacationed in Hawaii for two glorious weeks with my brother Greg, sister-in-law Colleen, nieces Kenzie and Maddie, nephew Grant, and several of Colleen’s cousins. Snorkeling was a popular past-time and multiple beaches were visited for the purpose. Vibrant color and abundant life were found daily in the joy of being with my nieces and nephew, but alas, vibrance was not to be found in the coral beds.
This was disturbing. Everywhere we went, the beds were gray, covered in a white-ish film that resembled yeast or a coated tongue. Reading about the world’s dying coral reefs is one thing, snorkeling among them is alarming. The corals, living creatures, are dying, their lost beauty a ‘canary-in-the-coal-mine’ reminder of what is happening to the planet’s eco-systems.
We live within the element of air, in the same way as the splendid creatures of the ocean live in their element of water. Can we be as the elegant anemone pictured in this post, supple and responsive to water, as we can be to air and gravity? Let us learn from these soft and beautiful creatures while they still live. Give yourself the gift of the word ‘soften.’ Just a word. So simple. So priceless.
Saw one!I had read about mumurations and longed to witness this natural wonder somewhere in my lifetime. Who knew that place would be the hill?
First, a definition. A murmuration is a flock of birds flying together. Lots of birds. The flock dips, turns, splits into smaller groups, then merges. The patterns formed in the sky are wave-like, spiral-shaped, and varied. How they do this is a great mystery, but ornithologist Claudio Carere of Rome, Italy suggests that in addition to acoustic and visual cues, a bird may even use the tactile sense of onrushing air from close neighbors to help guide its direction.
Thousands(Mike and I are guessing starlings) flew over the hill cabin as we stood on the west-facing porch last evening, jaws dropping in stunned silence as a wave of wings shimmered over our heads. The hairs on my arms lifted with the fly-by breeze. We dashed through the cabin to the east-facing porch, where the show continued, the flock descending onto a fence row of trees. The branches bent with the weight of bird bodies.
The wing-generated-breeze whooshing across my arms returned me to Wednesday afternoon’s Alexander Technique class. Students were invited to ask themselves two questions:
1. What am I touching?
2. Where am I breathing?
These simple questions, offered by on-line colleague and AT teacher Lauren Hill, are intended to return us to what Mr. Alexander called The Self, the integrated Mind/Body.
Check inwith yourself now and then. Notice what surfaces you are touching. Where does your body move with an inhalation? An exhalation? Glory in your design, which permits you to experience the world via your senses. Here’s to an alive day—–