Saturday, April 30, 2011

Words and meaning

I understand more and more why people sometimes choose to take vows of silence.  I have been getting more and more exasperated by words lately, although I still love them dearly, for each word is like a signpost pointing us towards something of meaning, a little doorway into the whole of everything.

Long ago in school, I read a wise quote that went something like this, if I remember correctly, and it has stuck with me ever since:

"Truth is found in all words or in no words, but not in just some words without all the rest."  

  • What are some of your favorite words and phrases?
  • Why?  What feelings do they evoke?
  • Is there one word or phrase you love that has an opposite?
  • Take some time to say it slowly, savoring its sound and meaning, and then say and experience the effects of saying the opposite.  Do you notice anything happen in yourself (body, mind, emotions) as you shift back and forth from one word to its opposite?
  • Can you inhibit your reactions to what you notice as you say the word(s), and embrace the meanings and feelings evoked by both words with open acceptance?
  • Can you be indifferent to a word and its opposite, and let them co-exist within you in peace?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where am I?

Consider this for a moment:
Ask yourself: Where am I?

Take time to think, and to elaborate on your answer, but only answer the question to yourself:
Where am I?

Don't read on, just take a moment to stop.
Give yourself the gift of a bit of heightened awareness.
Just take half a minute to think through: Where am I?


Was your answer clear?
Did you stick to answering only that question?
Or did your answer include answers to different questions, such as:
What are you doing? How are you feeling? What's going on in your life? What is happening?

If your answer was not clear, go back to the question:
Where am I?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Flowing upstream

I spent this weekend in Hocking Hills, Ohio, a place that amazed me by its beauty the first time I went there, and continues to do so every time I return.

We've been having a lot of rain in the Midwest, so the streams have become rivers, and the trickles of water over the cliffs have become waterfalls.  I spent a lot of time watching the water down in the gorges.  Streams, rivers, waterfalls, rain, mist, clouds, and droplets everywhere...  So many forms of one thing!

I'd like to write here about one particular moment I experienced.  As I was standing, quietly contemplating the river, I suddenly noticed a small black object underwater, swimming upstream.  It looked like a jellyfish, but I knew it couldn't be that.  It wasn't a fish, fact, it wasn't even alive.  It was a leaf!  Now, how could a leaf be moving at such high speed upstream?  I marveled at it for awhile.

If our life is a river, which flows constantly in a certain direction, we seem to think there is only one way to go.  In a certain sense, that's true, of course.  For instance, in every moment we move closer to death, and everything in our lives is swept downstream in that direction.  And no matter what our specific goals are, if 'A' is where we are (upstream), and 'B' is where we want to go, it makes sense to aim our whole selves towards 'A' (downstream).  But what is happening under the surface, below our conscious awareness?

It could be that there is a very strong current flowing in the opposite direction, as well, for better or worse--or maybe it's just neutral, because that's the way life flows.  In any case, it can be very interesting and potentially helpful to pay attention to what's going on under the surface.

  • As you sit at your computer, do you notice gravity aiming you towards the earth? Do you notice your body tending in that direction?
  • Now, remember that your blood is flowing through your body at high speed, even in the direction away from the earth and towards your head.  There is an upwards flow in addition to the downwards flow.  See if you can pay attention to both (this is not the same as feeling; this is just about conscious awareness).
  • Next time you have a goal today, notice if part of you wants to go in the opposite direction.  As you get to work, is your whole self in agreement, or is part of you resisting your work?  Does the resistance make your work easier or more difficult?
  • Acknowledging every direction is a key towards accepting our general direction, and letting ourselves flow where life takes us.
There is no point in asking the river to flow in only one direction.  The river is what it is.  It flows downstream, and also upstream.  Sometimes fast, sometimes slow.  And sometimes it makes whirlpools that stay in one place.  Sometimes the water gets stuck in a corner.  But the river always flows, and even if we interfere by creating a dam, the water will eventually flow around it, over it, or through it, unless we make it so high and thick that the river dies and becomes something else: perhaps a stagnant reservoir...

Friday, April 22, 2011

In praise of smallness

Why are we always desiring to expand?
Why the glamour of being large, powerful, and of greater stature?
Why the rush to grow up?
Why the need to hurry up and be at our peak?
Why the need to get better and improve NOW?

Why always lengthening and widening,
as if that were the only virtuous way?

Can't we just be still for a moment,
and notice the inescapable necessity of our smallness?

No, I think perhaps the "best" way includes all the directions,
all sizes,
all dimensions.

And that means we need to allow and appreciate our smallness,
alongside, before, and after,

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Acceptance Balm

You think you want change? Just try this--it works!
Great gift for teachers and students alike.

Open up a jar of Acceptance Balm! 
All natural ingredients, miraculous, and FREE!

Guaranteed to be empty, with nothing inside.
Won't do anything to you, no harmful side effects.

Drink it, inhale it, rub it into your joints.
Put it anywhere you encounter either pleasure or pain.

Nothing artificial or toxic or addictive to grab you.
No calories, no cholesterol, no gimmicks, no lies.

No judgments, no expectations,
No endgaining worries.

This is not snake oil! It's purely nothing at all!
Just look inside, there's nothing to see!

Nothing to feel, nothing to think about,
Nothing to know, to fix, or get right.

It's perfectly itself, whatever it is!
Anything is possible--with open acceptance.

You think you want change?
Something other than what is?

The key is open acceptance--
of everything, one and all.

Don't believe me?  Just try it!
Open Acceptance,
and See.

Tip for teachers: use Acceptance Balm regularly on yourself first, then apply liberally and consciously to your student at all times.

Tip for students: remember that your teacher needs Acceptance Balm just as much as you do!  This makes a wonderful unexpected gift.

Possible side effects: regular use of Acceptance Balm without expecting results may cause increased happiness or even bliss, which may be contagious; however, habitual use may lead to unexpected disillusionment and boredom.  

Keep Acceptance Balm fresh, use it in large quantities, and replace it often.  Make sure yours is pure and from a reliable source.  Store in a cool or warm place, in the dark or in the light.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Hold tight?"

I just received an automated response to an inquiry for technical support, which suggested that I "hold tight" as I wait for a response to come within the next 12 hours.

My immediate response was to resist mindlessly implementing that suggestion and question it instead.
"Hold tight" onto what?  To the expectation of a response?  Why would I want to do that?

No, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to "hold tight" in expectation.  I'd really much rather let go of holding onto anything tightly.  All I really have to hold onto is myself, anyway, and I certainly don't want to be holding tightly onto myself--that takes too much energy, and it hurts!  Besides, letting go makes it so much easier to breathe!

What if I were to "hold tight" onto patience?  Well, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad idea; I certainly would like to be patient as I wait for a response.  However, holding tightly onto anything will just increase my frustration if I still end up "losing it", so I'm not going to hold onto patience, either.

And what if a response to my inquiry never comes?  Then what would be the point of spending my energy on "holding tight"?  No, I won't "hold tight."

Instead, I choose to gently-loosely hold patience in my awareness, as I wait for a response that may or may not come.

  • Next time you are waiting for any kind of a response (whether online or from a person you're speaking with, etc.) notice if you are "holding tight" as you wait for a response.
  • Can you choose not to do that?
  • Can you decide to let go of "holding tightly" onto yourself with tension, and gently-loosely hold patience in your awareness, instead?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Being with

One of the most important things I have learned from AT teacher Yehuda Kuperman is to put these words to one of the most important aspects of what we practice and hope to transmit through the Technique: the experience of simply "being with".  The changes that we may desire cannot occur until we first accept what is, and that means just being with whatever is, here and now.

Let us be like the magnolia flower in springtime, opening up to the sky...accepting sun, wind, rain, storms, insects, falling petals, or the gentle loving touch of human hands... simply being with the existence of everything that is, within and without, with open acceptance.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nothing to hear

What do you hear?
Stop and listen for a few moments before reading on...

I hear:
the hum of this computer...

...and Silence.

Do you hear the silence?
Beyond all the other the's there.

Our constant stream of thoughts can get in the way of psychophysical well-being.  Stopping to listen for the silence is a wonderful way to calm those thoughts.

Stop and listen now for a few moments before you go on.

Do you notice any changes in your mood?
Do you notice any tension in your body that you weren't aware of before you stopped?
Can you let go of any of it while you pay attention to the silence?

You don't need to strain to listen to the silence...because there is nothing to hear.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Letting bones do their work

Do you remember a time when you had a specific job to do, which you were keen on doing, but someone else decided to take over and do it for you, keeping you from doing your allotted work?

This has happened to me in the past, and I remember that it did not feel good to be prevented from carrying out what I considered my "duty" at the time.  Accomplishing our own work feels good!  Watching someone else do work that we believe is ours to do does not necessarily feel good.*

With this in mind, imagine what might be going on inside you when your muscles take over the job of your bones.  Your bones are designed to be weight-bearing; they are meant to take on the entire weight of your body, transferring it into the surface you are on.  They are made to be strong!  We have this erroneous idea that our muscles are what make us strong and hold us up, and this causes us to grip and tighten our muscles when that is really completely unnecessary.  Muscles move your bones around in space, but bones are where the real, inner strength lies.

The habit of directing our muscles to take on the work of our bones isn't such a good idea in the long run.  Doing the job of bearing weight keeps bones strong and healthy; taking away their job can lead to osteoporosis from underuse.  Bones are all about inner strength.  It's interesting to remember that the inside of a bone is actually not solid: the marrow is where red blood cells are produced. Our greatest strength lies in being fluid, resilient, and willing to let each part take on its appropriate job.

So, let's let our muscles stop working so hard to be strong, and let our bones get stronger by allowing them to do their job of bearing weight.

Just keep thinking thoughts like these:

"I am not stiffening, hardening, or otherwise trying to make my muscles do the work to hold me up.  I am not preventing my bones from being strong and weight-bearing.  I am letting my bones be strong and resilient.  My strength is bone-deep.  I am not using my muscles to interfere with the work my bones do best."

* Of course, it can actually be very nice at times to let someone else do some of our work out of a spirit of kindness and generosity, to help us when we're tired, etc.  The skill of allowing others to help us--for their benefit as well as ours--is a whole different topic for another day!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

About bones

I find that many of my students have unhelpful ideas about their bones.  Here are some helpful ones:

The bones in my body...

are ALIVE!
- are made of resilient, spongy, elastic material.
- are shock-absorbing.
- contain movement within them.
- have fluid inside: bones are where the red blood cells are created.
- are not a solid, unmoving mass.
- are weight-bearing; they are strong!
- are made to hold me up and give me shape.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Practicing Life and Love

Having a clear intention is essential to accomplishing a goal.  Without a clear intention, we easily get sidetracked and confused along the way.  Alexander Technique is not a spiritual path per se, although it can be a great help to a person's spiritual life.  AT does not in itself make us moral people, even though  Alexander speaks about "the right thing doing itself."  I do think it is helpful to have a very clear idea first of what that "right thing" is for each of us, in general terms.  

For instance, today I am choosing the general intention of Life and Love for myself.  For me, today, that is "the right thing"; I want to not interfere with That, so Life and Love can flow through me unobstructed, "doing itself."  Here's how I practice this today:

First, I ask myself stop the chatter, making space, practicing emptiness (what we could call spiritual poverty).

I raise my awareness up to the prefrontal cortex, placing my awareness in my forehead, so that I can better formulate clear intentions, inhibit and direct, from there.

In accordance with my chosen intention, I think inhibitory thoughts such as these:

"I am not stiffening. 
Not hardening. 
Not freezing. 
No hard coldness. 
No iciness. 
I am not indifferent. 
I am not hardened. 
I am not dead."

I am not interfering with Life.

Fervent faith.

I direct my whole self to flow into this intention,
allowing this loving, living space to be within and without.

From high above, I oversee this activity,
and from deep within the heart, I live it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A mind-expanding exercise

Sometimes a little bit of imagination can go a long way!  How open is your mind? Here's a simple exercise to expand your thinking. 
  • Take some moments to become aware of your skull: the top of your head, front, back, sides, and bottom (the bottom of your skull is above the roof of your mouth, and where the skull rests on top of the spine).
  • Imagine your brain resting inside your skull; imagine the periphery of the brain on all sides.
  • Now imagine that your mind dwells inside the brain, taking on the shape of the brain (remember, this is just an experiment of the imagination, not necessarily factually exact!).
  • Next, imagine that this mind-brain is expanding beyond the confines of the physical brain and physical skull, growing larger in all directions, in three dimensions.
  • Can your mind expand into vertical length (above and below the head)...width (out beyond the sides of the face)...depth (in front of you and in back of you)?
  • How large can your mind grow?  How much space can you become aware of in all directions?
  • Do you notice any changes in your body as you expand your thinking?
  • Can you tell a difference if you think in the opposite spatial directions?  Try shrinking and compressing your thoughts into a "smaller" imaginary mind-brain?  Do you feel "small-minded" or "narrow-minded" this way? What happens in your body?
  • Go back to expanded spatial thinking, and play with sending your mind-brain out into all directions at once, like a giant, glowing sun, and enjoy a greater sense of freedom of thought.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Grateful for the breath

It's quiet here, morning quiet.  I could interpret the quietness in such a way that I pull down in response; 
instead, I listen and appreciate the silence.  Not completely silent, I hear birds and the hum of a machine, and a car going by... 

Taking time, I listen and wait.  I smile as I notice my breath surfacing spontaneously from the core of my being, and I feel gratitude for the reliable anchor of the life-giving breath.  When all else seems to consist of layers of confusion, within silence the breath is always found, waiting for me to enter it.

Through the breath, I am comforted.  I
t is safe and has a "mind" of its own.  When I stop interfering, the breath breathes itself; all I need "do" is rest and allow.

Why not give up the striving for elusive things, and simply be grateful for the ever-present breath?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Being Here Now

Why does it feel so often like the body-mind is gearing up to go somewhere?
Even when still, it seems like we're itching to move...
Even when we move and get to the places we want to go,
our insides remain restless and unsatisfied,
as if there were someplace we'd rather be than where we are right now.

There is nowhere else to go, 
nowhere to be but Here!

Here is the place to be, and Here is where I always am.
How could I be anywhere else but Here, in this moment?
To be somewhere else is impossible--we are all seeking the impossible!

And if it is true that nothing is impossible,
Then we must realize that Here is Everywhere,
And our consciousness will expand to fill the infinitude of space.
In either case, there is nowhere else to be but Here.

To be Here; there is no escape from that.
This is simply in the nature of things.

No more pushing ourselves into another place,
No more wanting to be somewhere else,
No more lack of contentment with what is right now, right here.

Here and Now go hand in hand,
so let us stop trying to get somewhere else in the next moment.

Everything will unfold exactly according to intention.
Let us look deeply at our motivations,
and stop interfering with spontaneous movement from Here to Here.

Helpful inhibitory thoughts:

  • I am not trying to get somewhere
  • I am not trying to be somewhere other than Here
  • I am not interfering with contentment
  • I am not limiting my idea of Here
  • I am not fighting what is--Here, Now

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Don't try

Don't try!
("Don't try what?")

Don't try anything.
Don't try to get it right.
Don't try to succeed.
Don't try harder.
("What?!?  But then I'd get nothing done! I'd never do anything new! Of course I have to try!  How else could I succeed?  I would be lazy if I didn't try, and I'd never get anywhere!")

Don't try.
Our habitual understanding of trying implies too much inappropriate effort.  Putting in a lot of effort is an unnecessary expenditure of energy, because the power to do whatever you want to do is already within you, ready to be channeled through your system and released into activity, without any added effort.

Don't try.
Just allow and flow and Be.

You want to do something?
You want to move?
You want to try something new?

Don't try.
Wonder and experiment instead.
Formulate a very clear intention, and inhibit (stop) everything that interferes with that movement/idea being carried out through you.

and release.

But don't try.
To give up trying is better.

Trying in itself is not the problem.
It is how we try.
So stop trying to try!
It simply doesn't work.

To stop, give up, trust, and allow...
now that works.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

the Unknown

the Unknown cannot be known
as soon as it is known, it ceases to be the Unknown

the Unknown is what unfolds in the next moment in time
after this one now which has already passed

change and newness emerge from the Unknown

can I inhibit my desire
to stay holding onto the present moment
to keep the comfortable, known experience of now
refusing to give it up...

can I instead open myself up to the mystery of the next moment,
whatever the Unknown may bring?

yes, of course, the eternal Now is where peace is found,
but this worldly life is made of time and space
it is in constant movement and flux

can I embrace the element of the Unknown
that moves and flows from here to there, moment to moment,
even as it stays perfectly still and changeless within?

can I stop chasing after the future
and grabbing onto the present
allowing the Unknown to unfold itself before me
carrying me along
as I stop interfering with the nature of life itself?

Let go of your thoughts

let go of your thoughts
like you let go of a pen
because you don't need the thoughts
and you don't need the pen
because you don't need the words
if you know and live
the meaning of the Real behind them

and the Real is made
of the blissful joy
of your own true nature within

so stop
look inside
wait and allow

the Real
to Be
and Love
through you

Monday, April 4, 2011

Feeling successful

How often are you successful? 
What does that mean?

For now, let's say that being successful means accomplishing what we set out to do.  If you think about it, it's highly likely that you are highly successful most of the time!

I notice that I am able to achieve most of my goals, because most of them are quite simple.
After all, when I want to walk, I walk.
When I want to speak, I speak.
When I want to move my hand, it moves.

Why only rejoice in the successful accomplishment of our more complex tasks?
Do we even fully allow ourselves that pleasure when we do reach our complex goals, lingering to savor the juicy fruits of our labors? More often than not, I find myself noticing what was imperfectly accomplished, instead of focusing on allowing myself to feel the pleasure of a job well done.

Hmmmm.......maybe letting ourselves enjoy feeling successful is a skill that requires practice!

  • Think about your day thus far.  Even if it's very early in the day, you have surely successfully accomplished a large number of tasks, successfully completed many goals.  Why not celebrate the fact that you got yourself out of bed?  (Even if you're still in bed, you were able to get to this blog!) Why take that for granted?  You had a goal, and you achieved it.  Nobody else did that for you! Why take for granted that you were able to move your legs across the room to get where you are?  Why not express appreciation to yourself for the successful completion of your goal, even if the goal was not consciously formulated?
  • Make a list of three very small things that you have accomplished today.  Here's my list:
  1. I was able to press the correct keys to type this sentence. (That made me smile, as I recalled the many things that went into my successfully learning how to type long ago; I also notice the pleasure of moving my fingers in a coordinated fashion as I continue to type.)
  2. I was able to walk over to this desk.  (Learning how to walk was surely no easy thing, and I accomplished that long ago; I am so grateful that I am able to coordinate myself successfully in order to carry myself from one place to another.)
  3. Goal: think of something to write for #3.  (I laugh as I realize that I can accomplish every teeny-tiny bit of this goal in the moments that I think and type at the same time, and my goal carries itself out for me.  I really appreciate that I can think and type at the same time!)

  • Now go back to your list, and, for each item on the list, take some time to get in touch with the deep feeling of pleasure that comes from feeling competent and successful.
  • If we can feel competent many times throughout the day, we are practicing creating that feeling in ourselves.  Feeling competent is a great feeling, and it brings strength and joy with it.
  • Realize that you are actually a very competent person!  The simplicity or complexity of a goal makes no difference.  Every complex task is achieved through the successful completion of many many simple ones.  Appreciate each small, simple step successfully completed, and you will (a) be more likely to continue on to successful completion of the larger, more complex task, and (b) enjoy the process even if you never successfully complete it, because you've enjoyed the little steps along the way.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Irritating tasks made simpler

When we stop doing something mindlessly and bring consciousness to our activity, movements become much more efficient and enjoyable.

Yesterday morning, I found myself trying to get peanut butter out of a near-empty jar.  All of a sudden, I realized that I had completely contorted myself--arms, torso, head, neck, etc.--as I put a ridiculous amount of energy into trying to scrape the hardened bits of peanut butter off the bottom of the jar.  In the moment that I noticed what I was doing, I stopped and just had to laugh!

Thankfully, I had enough presence of mind to stop completely for a moment to consider whether I really wanted to be doing this or not (the answer was a clear 'no'), and I remembered that I knew perfectly well how to approach this irritating task in a non-irritating way!

It only took a few seconds to bring my awareness out of the peanut butter jar (!) and back up into the upper front of my brain.  As I did this, my body straightened up again and my whole self released into a calmer, more relaxed state.  Staying forward and up, asking myself to not stiffen myself, I managed to get the peanut butter out faster and with dramatically less effort, and I actually enjoyed making the movements instead of wasting my energy on needless contortions and irritation.  The whole scene was very funny, really.

  • Next time you have a small, potentially irritating task to do (maybe something as silly as pouring milk out of a full jug or scrubbing a hardened bit of food off of the stove or the table), stop for a moment before diving in. 
  • Ask yourself, "Do I want to save my energy and enjoy this task with efficiency, or do I just want to 'muscle it', get it over with, and get on with the next thing which I will (supposedly) enjoy more than I usually do?"
  • Bring your awareness forward and up and wonder what might happen next.
  • Staying forward and up in your brain, say, "I am not stiffening myself.  I'm allowing my torso and arms to be long and wide".
  • Stay forward and up as you observe your body lengthen into the necessary motions below with the minimum amount of tension required for the task.
  • Notice whether you are moving differently now because you are more conscious.  
  • Enjoy!