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 practiceof 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—
‘Part of my difficultyis 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.
Strolling throughthe 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 concernsfor 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.
Truth-telling. Not enough of that in this present political age. Since I’m not in control of our society’s unleashed lying habits, I’m proposing to start here:
Be honest with myself.
Hmmm. As in, a long, hard look in the mirror? What I see there these days is my mortality.
You too can stare death in the face with a read of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and OtherLessons From the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty. It is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart, but I found it to be bracing and yes, refreshing. Death is acknowledged. No lies. No subterfuge.
My Alexander Technique teaching studio has two skeletons in daily use, along with multiple anatomy tomes. Some students are uncomfortable with considering the bones beneath their flesh, and a bit of light-hearted cajoling is required for a engaged lesson of curiosity about the body and its structure.
Facing the truth of death and decay is to embrace living. In a death-denying and truth-negating culture, this can be a radical practice. Let’s begin with some courageous honesty all around, and who knows, we could be contributing to a new cultural norm; telling the truth!
In Alexander McCall Smith’s MyItalian 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.
You have a pair of them. They are also known as the scapula, two shields on your back for protection of the ribs and lungs. Unknown to many is the happy fact that these ‘wings’ fly. Yes, they do. Try it out for yourself.
Ask someone nearby to place the palms of their hands on each of the scapula. Next, extend your arms out and up from your sides, initiating the movement with your fingertips. Both you and your someone will observe the scapula also moving out and up with the arms.
If you sufferfrom a stiff neck, try a little flying motion every 20 minutes or so as you sit at your desk, affixed to the computer screen. Bodies love to move. Get re-acquainted with your angel wings and take flight. And may you be lighter on returning to your earthbound desk.
(Thinking of you, dear nephew Colin, as I wrote this post. Your wings are so beautiful. I am wishing you well today and every day.)
We have a choice. We can view the natural world as scenery akin to a stage backdrop, or we can experience the natural world as a living being, the element in which we live. This was the primary take-away on reading David Abrams, The Spell of theSensuous.
It was summer 2009, and the annual Seven Oaks Alexander Technique Workshop was giving its gifts, including the discovery of Abram’s book, tucked onto a musty library shelf in the guest house. His writings dove-tailed beautifully with the daily AT sessions, and on leaving, I tucked the book into my suitcase.
Lest my readers think me a thief,be assured I purchased another copy and mailed it to the Seven Oaks Retreat Center, preferring to keep the wrinkled and worn copy of my happy find. Immersing myself in Abram’s scientific yet mystical world was akin to a previous summer’s reading of Diane Ackerman’s, A Natural History of the Senses.
As August ends,and the fall flurry awaits, either or both of these books will cast a spell over your habitual ways of viewing and being in the world. Here’s to a little magic –