Gardening

 

abundant, profuse, extravagant, voluminous, plentiful, prolific, lavish, robust

That’s the garden these days. Each morning, weeds are pulled, branches trimmed, the bird bath refreshed. These mundane tasks, surprisingly, give joy. How so? For one, I am outside. All is lush and lovely. (See above vocabulary list.) Also, utilizing Alexander Technique principles means I get to be in the present moment while also in the garden.

Here’s how: Bending, I am both The Puller-of-the-Weeds, and The Observer. As such, I can consider the ‘means-whereby’ the weeds get pulled. Perhaps less force in yanking of  stems?

Less effort worked for a patch with loose soil and shallow roots, but now I am on to a section with deeper rooted weeds. Now what? Noting my response to the more strenuous requirement, I pause, returning to standing. Considering what might be most ‘mechanically advantageous,’ hips are invited to move back as my head and spine travel up and over.

And here am I. Just here. By giving thought, care, and attention to the ‘how’ of the task at hand, I am nowhere else. What a gift, this returning, over and over again, to Self-Awareness,  Inhibition (The Pause), and Direction (Choice). The Big Three of an Alexander Technique practice.

It doesn’t have to be a garden where the Alexander Technique intersects with daily life. But I certainly wish for you a beautiful bloom this glorious day—-

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.

 

 

 

Time

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Time does a number on the body, that’s for sure. Just yesterday, stretching before a workout, the sun shining through the window and onto my forearms, I ask myself, ‘Whose arm is that?’ The skin folded in finely wrinkled lines which I associate with the elder women of my extended family, now long gone. But these were my arms, not Great-Great-Aunt Margaret’s. A sobering realization.

And so I take consolation in Emilie Da’oud’s thoughts on the word, ‘supple:

If an adult body becomes truly supple, there’s a quality to its movement that the child’s doesn’t have, a texture of experience, a fourth dimension of time. When we watch a seventy-year-old hand move, we feel, ‘Yes, that hand has lived.’ All the bodies it has touched, all the heads it has cradled are present in its movement. It is resonant with experience; the fingers curve with a sense of having been there.’

For those of us who are ‘of a certain age,’ may we happily reside in our aging bodies, which are ‘resonant with experience,’ wrinkles and all.

 

 

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—-

 

Zoom

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It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.’

Gianpiero Petriglieri’s* tweet precisely encapsulates my experience teaching on-line Alexander Technique. Prior to the pandemic, the students and I met in a spacious dance studio, cultivating presence with small group engagement, conversation, and movement explorations.

Then, boom. Zoom-Time. Hands-on guidance was replaced with the tap, tap, tapping of fingerpads on the keyboard, and the clicking computer mouse. Students relied solely on their thinking and individual experimentation to improve Use of the Self. I can happily report, they quickly qualified as advanced practitioners of the Technique, ‘advanced’ being defined as able to apply the principles of Inhibition and Direction.

Online learning. Ideal? No. Our delicate and carefully crafted web of connections required proximity, and that we did not have in a Zoom Room. We were at a distance too great. The two-dimensional world of Zoom meant being ‘in the constant absence of each other’s presence,‘ a fatiguing endeavor. Possible? Yes, thanks to a splendid group, and to the initial in-person classes.

To my students, a big ‘thank you’ for your generosity of spirit, willingness to show up on-line and explore what was possible, your faithfulness in maintaining the weekly written assignments, and your sacrifices for the Greater Good, as you Sheltered-in-Place, upending so much—research projects, finances, jobs, and more. I am wishing you well.

*author, speaker, professor at INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires)

 

More Than

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However alluring the thought of warmth, there is no substitute for standing in the rain to waken every sense—senses that are muted within four walls, where my attention would be on me instead of all that is more than me.’*

May I give my attention, this day, rain or shine, to ‘all that is more than me.’

*Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Milkweed Editions, 2013, p. 295.

 

Grace

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‘…the grace of her gathered self…’, a phrase from Jeannette Haien’s novel, The All of It, jumped off the page. I had pulled the book from my office shelves for a re-read, having no public library supply, its doors now closed.

‘…..the grace of her gathered self…  became a mantra, as I observed Ohio’s Stay-at-Home Orders, launched online teaching, adapted to empty grocery store shelves, read daily alarming headlines, checked in with friends and family, and practiced vigilance with household cleaning routines.

‘...the grace of her gathered self…’ Gathered? Nope. Scattered has been more like it. And yet, as we know in Alexander Technique Land, mind and body co-exist. One affects the other, always. And so, the mere recollection of this phrase, over the course of several days, allowed me to entertain the possibility of possessing a ‘gathered self.’

‘…the grace of her gathered self…’  Moments of grace did arrive. A daily Constructive Rest practice helps. Spring’s arrival helps. And when my Self is gathered, collected, when my scattered thoughts quiet, ‘grace‘ is the gift.

I am wishing for you, for all of us, ‘the grace of our gathered selves‘ as we negotiate the days and weeks and months ahead—-

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.