Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh My!

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The Toddler Fully Present at the Aquarium

We are at the zoo. Three generations: a two-year old, a 30-something, and a 60-year-old.  In rapt attention at the glass enclosure wall, we watch two tiger cubs tumbling over each other in the morning sunshine. The moment shimmers with beauty and our amazement. And then the two-year-old says, ‘But I want to see the apes!’ His mama responds, “Yes, we will, but we are here now, with the tigers.’

What a vignette for an illustration of end-gaining, a term Mr. Alexander used to describe the habit of striving to arrive at the end-goal, get to the next place, satisfy our desires and wishes, complete our task. In attempting to arrive at the ‘end,’ we lose ourselves and the present moment.

This end-gaining habit starts early in life. Of course. We are born with a mind, and a healthy toddler has an active one. And so begins the life-long learning of mind/body integration. My body is here; my mind is there. Now what?

Follow the coaching of this child’s mother, and you will be on your way. Acknowledge that, yes, you would like to be done, you would prefer to be at the next place, you are getting just a little bit ahead of yourself. And then, notice where your body is in that very moment, and return to NOW.

That’s a primary practice of the Alexander Technique, so useful for the arts, for self-care, for the living of life itself. It also comes in handy at the zoo—

 

 

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Trying

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‘Part of my difficulty is that I am always trying to be right. I must stop this trying to be right, for immediately when I try to be right, I do things wrong  (i.e., in the old way that feels right).  I must cease this trying to be right.’

That’s Goddard Binkley, in The Expanding Self, a memoir of Binkley’s Alexander Technique training. His journal entry continues:

Inhibit this tendency (to try and to be right) and I shall then be free to project the guiding orders, that is to direct my neck to be free, and my head to go forward and up. Moreover, if I can inhibit this tendency, which is so overwhelming, to try and be right, I can then allow nature to assert itself.’

Yes. That. What he said. Quit with the trying. That’s all this Alexander Technique teacher has to say. Just stop with trying so hard. Often the trying has produced the physical tensions and misuse, and merely stopping will be enough to restore ease and poise.

 

Apples and Roses

 

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Strolling through the Park of Roses, fall’s arrival was the big picture. Straggling branches, limp in the unseasonable heat, created a scene of tangled decay. The up-close view was quite different and surprisingly fresh and beautiful.  Here and there could be found the most perfect of rose blooms, exuberant in their beauty, even on the last Monday of September. (Yes, this one—–)

With concerns for  the future of American civility and fear of nuclear war as world leaders exchange threats, the big picture is grim and unsettling.  But up close, there is a walk in the park with Alicia and Leo, applesauce in the slow cooker perfuming the afternoon house, and an evening rehearsal of Haydn’s Mass No. 3 in D Minor.

So. I’m going with roses and goodness today. And what better way to celebrate late roses  and right-on-time apples than with Bourbon Butter Apple Skillet.  Sauce is adapted from Sherry McKenney’s  maple pecan cake recipe, found in her cookbook, A Taste of the Murphin Inn. Thanks, Sherry!

Bourbon Butter Sauce:  Combine all ingredients and stir until heated through.

1 Cup sugar

1/2 cup half-and-half

1/2 cup butter

2 tsp vanilla

2 tsp bourbon (with lots of spill-over)

Thinly slice a few apples (leave on the skins) and toss them in a skillet with some of the prepared sauce.  Use medium heat until apples are cooked through but not soggy.  (5-10 minutes or so)  Serve in dessert bowls with a small pitcher of cream for drizzling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Air

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Worthington Presbyterian Church vocalists are meeting every Thursday night this month, preparing summer season solos and receiving coaching from me and from colleague, Sharon Stohrer.  Talk about lifelong learning!  Here are women, several of them in their mature years, continuing to make beautiful music as they hone the craft of singing.

They are an inspiration to this singer of 60 years.  To inspire is to ‘infuse an animating, quickening, or exalting influence into.’  To inspire also means ‘to inhale’; ‘to take air into the lungs.’  Isak Dinesen wrote this about her Ngong farm in Africa:

‘The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it, was the air….Up in this high air, you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart.’*

The sound we produce rides the breath.  Soundwaves require air.  It’s what they travel on. And each full and good inspiration has in it the potential to inspire as the lyrics and melodies reach the ear of the listener.

May you breathe, and yes, sing, with ‘lightness of heart’ this first week of summer—–

*Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen, 1937.

The Hike From Hell

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tiger swallowtail, courtesy pixabay

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.

What If?

 

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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.

Making

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a dahlia at The Bridge of Flowers, near Northampton, Massachusetts, with Darryl and Sherry McKenney

Make a little beauty each day.

It’s all that’s asked; all that’s required.

Just make a little beauty each day.

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——

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Susan and ‘making a dance.’