Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Brambles...inner and outer.

Fully brambled up! 4 feet high and 3 feet deep.

Today I cut brambles. And I was struck during the 45 prickly minutes as to how like life, learning, growth, change, the activity was.

It was on with the thick gloves and out with the secateurs; time to face the tangled task and begin. But where? At the beginning seemed best; the stem ends nearest me, even if nowhere near the root. I could have dived in right down there - in fact it might have seemed the 'right way to get right to the root' - but it would have been a real case of 'Ouch'!' As I went for my persistent 'clipping away at what was right there' method, I was pondering the many ways of 'attacking' something tangled and painful, whether it's brambles, the dilemmas in our life, or things in our past that come up for healing. Some folk might get out the Big Guys; the petrol strimmer from the shed and go at brambles like a bull at a gate, or maybe the scythe - a slightly smaller bull - or maybe with weed-killer? Or maybe even get someone else to do the job?... Possible with hedgerow brambles, not so effective with our own inner brambles. What might you do? And does your choice in the garden tie in with your choice of dealing with the 'inner brambles' of your life? 

So many of these choices could be called 'throwing the baby out with the bath water' - losing much of what is good along with the brambles. Ever the lover of analogy and metaphor, I found myself being aware of my method, and the many others that could be used, and how like the approach to the 'deeper stuff of life" they were. 

My awareness around today's brambles was:
- Step up to the task and look at it.
- Sense the overwhelm at the size of the clump of brambles.
- Start by trimming the bits nearest to me, even if only a short way down from the tip.
- Discover that much of the clump was long dead and incredibly easy to pull away.
- Experience the snipping of a long stem, pulling on it and getting snagged because it was caught up elsewhere.
- Having found that these long stems were often tangled further in, simply leaving them until I found them again later after clearing what was in front of them.
- Cut and snip, snip and cut, and then step back to see the long 'branches' over my head for the next go, but enjoy the clarity of what had been cleared, and smile at the power of persistence.
- Sometimes there was a really, really long stem, and to pull it out I had to stand up and step right back and away several feet from the clump in order to allow the tip of the stem to come free.
- Having seen the clump from afar again, I could see how it was going and where it was best to step back in.
- As the brambles cleared, there were all the hidden beauties of the old wall underneath ferns, foxgloves, primroses, and the old granite stones themselves. Those things that would have been lost with the strimmer, the scythe, the weedkiller - all those things that  'would have made the job easier and quicker'....but babies out with their bathwater.

80% of the brambles are actually dead and brittle.
There was something wonderful about the job; it reminded me of all the years I have been involved with facing things, teaching things, healing things, changing things, becoming more aware of the truth behind them, and inhibiting the desire to deal with them any old way as long as it was quickly and 'easily'. In my rush to do that, I would not see that beginning at the edges was just fine. That stepping back to see how things were going, or appreciating those moments when clarity-lending distance was offered (the long stems that need space to come free) as a gift. Understanding that even when I couldn't sort it out immediately, coming back to it later was fine. That sometimes the healing or answer isn't where we think it is, and we have to nurture patience and trust. (And that to deny the 'isn-ness' of a caught up stem can be a painful experience!) Enjoying the unexpected simple healing of what seemed a dreadful memory or difficult conundrum because, when faced as it revealed itself, it was found to now be dead stems that just crumbled into pieces. Revelling in the joy of steady, persistent, conscious, committed, trust-full 'snipping' which bears such rewards..... 

And what's the real reason I was clearing brambles? Was it to 'get rid of the brambles'? Or to reveal what is underneath? To focus on the obstacles? Or the dreams? The revealing of dreams is a far more effective way of working. It even, in this instance, allows acknowledgment of the beauty and benefit, the gifts and loveliness of the bramble bush - white flowers and delicious fruits. (Just not right there, please!) And the focus lends a gratitude to those 'inner brambles' that we have all experienced; there are always flowers and fruits to those, too.

A little more to go, but the beauty revealed.

So, the 45 minutes of clearing today turned into a 'bramble meditation', and a wonderful experience of happy 'means whereby' (step by appropriate step) over leaden and fractious 'end-gaining'(any old way will do.)

Now, will I remember the steady, directed, one step at a time, patient, enjoyable, trusting, happy method of 'cutting back the inner brambles' next time I come upon them?
I don't know. I hope so. How will you do? What method would you use? 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Past meets present.....

OK, I'm going to be straight up - this is a time of self-beating, not self-kindness. And yet it isn't; it's a time of feeling respect-fully in the moment, very open, extremely sensitive, new, exposed...the old shell off and the new one not yet set, and I am being (slightly) kind to myself, considering.... I have a coffee in front of me in my old 'Now Panic and Freak Out' mug, dug out from the back of the cupboard to remind me that I am doing well in not doing too much of the freaking out bit. And that agreeing to stay in this place of utter wake up is being very, very kind to myself.

What's happened I have no idea - much is changing for all of us at the moment, and I am in the business of change so am always up for it in some way, but this one feels huge. Whether it's a big mid-life-crisis, or even deeper shift in consciousness, I feel as if great scales have fallen off my hitherto thought to be aware eyes in the last four days. Years of facing old 'stuff' and healing it, and yet now it is as if I am right back in the old events of my life, yet with today's wisdom of years. And boy can I see, with nowhere to hide, where I wasn't so hot, was right off line, and was always spouting off in an attempt to look good, seem knowledgeable, faking-it-and-defintely-not-making-it. I don't know an eightieth of what I think I do. I've 'seen' it before, but as if I was outside looking in, but now I am right in it; hearing every word, seeing every action, sensing every emotion with acute clarity. 'Useless' - a belief I inked in by my very agreement to it - has arrived on my doorstep in person rather than in memory. And we are facing each other warily, sniffing the air to see what will come of this re-encounter....

 I wrote this earlier today, "We’re working on these things not so much for what you can see, but for what you can’t see; when the body is balanced, when there is an ‘is-ness’ about us, all sorts of good things start happening. In this instance, it’s not the body that’s balanced, but the person, the self, the whole. This work might look all about ‘looks’, but it’s far more to do with something much deeper - that layer which, when open and clear,  acts like a magnet for all things good. That layer is still happening when it’s all cluttered up and messy too - and that’s the life most of us know and wonder why pain, both physical and emotional, happens over and over. Well, if we go on doing what we’ve always done, we’re going to go on getting what we’ve always got. The thing is, anything else feels so unfamiliar that it feels outright wrong. And who’s going to risk doing something that feels wrong in order for good things to happen? Hence the role of an Alexander teacher - in the safe environment of a lesson you have the chance to experience what it feels like to not do the old, familiar things and to experience other possibilities. If we can’t even stand up from a chair, or walk across the room in a way that feels different without tensing up and leaping into massive judgements about it, how on earth are we going to handle the somewhat larger things in life, like relationship problems, job arguments, big decisions? Consequently we go on doing the same old things and just getting a PhD in disappointment. The principle of how is the same - 

1. Be aware of what I’ve always done and how I’ve done it. 2. Say no to that old way - not resisting, just being present and open to new ideas as I consider what it is I am aiming for. 3. Allow those new ways to manifest, again without judgement, and see what happens.  And most importantly, to understand that I always maintain my choice to go back to the old way if I want; this is always my decision, just under guidance, not brainwashing or trickery, or being told what to do. However, it is so important to have support of a teacher in that place of, “But this feels wrong; I want to do it the old way, but I know that doesn’t work/gives me pain, so, what do I do?!?” At that point the hands and voice of the teacher are there to reassure and keep you on track until you discover that all is well and your confidence grows."

Well, I have that PhD in (self-)disappointment staring me in the face right now. And yet, if I go on doing what I’ve always done, I'm going to go on getting what I’ve always got.' So, what have I always done? I can tell you right now, uncomfortable as it is for me to say so; it is pretending I am someone other than I am. And that I know a great deal of Important Stuff, which I don't. And now I leave a space, on purpose.... allow time for my no reaction, no old running off into "but if I...", or "If I imitate so-and-so...', or 'that book assures me that really I am beautiful inside...' Space to sit right with it and not run away inside or outside....

'Pretending I am someone other than I am'....I've been working on this one for years - I even run courses called "Living Your Truth". But this layer is a biggy.  What's different about this one? It seems much, much deeper than the previous ones. Because the one I am inside, the one who has been hiding - who feels she wont ever be successful, wont ever reach her dreams - is now standing in the room, looking at me, reminding me of all I failed at. Yet is this really true? It's also as if that young girl is looking at me as if to say, "Yes, you acted. You pretended. You were too scared to do anything else. In fact you were told that was the right way to live and good people acted really well. But that was then. I thought you would have dropped that agreement by now. Why are you still acting you instead of being you?"

Because it's a deeply ingrained habit - I've done it for years. As Tommy Thompson often says in workshops, "What is it you do in order to be who you think you need to be?" I thought I had that one cracked, but now, oh boy, how long have you got?!.... I remember a great release many years ago when I read Jeremy Chance's words, "I gave up all the effort I was putting into being Jeremy". But this feel even deeper. Now, like the writing above, I need to experience (yet again) what it feels like to not do the old, familiar things and to experience other possibilities... Fortunately I have had this work with me for many years now; I recognise times of change with (tentative!) gratitude. I am more used to sitting in that place where unfamiliar feels so wrong, but heck, right now I admit it would be lovely to have a teacher in here with me!

Still, I have my higher power, my soul-self, with me as I sit, walk, garden, teach, carry on the day 'doing nothing about this feeling'; simply acknowledging the strangeness and risking all for the shift within by posting words like these... Do-or-dare, go for it, drop the mask and share what's really going on inside instead of what I hope people will like and approve of. Maybe stupid, maybe wise - but a chance for me to 'not react' to the outcome nonetheless.

And now to not write an effacing, doubtful, apologetic final sentence - just leave it.... There.... End.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

"I used to, but I can't any more." This is not always so.....

Subtitle headline: Teacher Goes On Learning!

A photo I took of Paul Collins on his run from Helston to Minehead in 1981
(Helston in Cornwall and Minehead in Devon - 162 miles in 4 days. He then ran the 220 miles to London.)

I used to run everywhere..... What was the point in walking if I could run? Why walk when the joy of running felt so much fun - lighter, free, sometimes even like flying.... And I ran as I got older, not a sort of 'everyday-ready-for-a-marathon' type run, but I could run for a bus, step on the gas a bit when out with the dog, chase the children, win at school sports days... Then it got tough for some reason - no pain, just tough. But I still danced happily and energetically (using a step meter one night revealed I had danced seven miles!), and one evening last year, in the gloaming, I actually decided to dance (Cornish fashion, which is kind of sideways, which is why I did it at dusk) down to my post box at the end of the track - some 80 yards. (Metres for the young, and meters for the friends over the ocean!) And I could do it just fine, no problem. But run it? No, I couldn't do it - well, I could have done in 20 yard increments, but I feared for a heart attack, a faint from lack of breath, and had leaden legs that disappointed me greatly and I would despondently stop. My 'dance-run' had sown a seed of hope in that I clearly wasn't for the knacker's yard yet, but I was going to look mighty funny dancing for a bus when I was a pensioner!

Time went on and I would ponder this fact, and try a few yards from time to time, but with the same result - bad news for an Alexander teacher. Yet still the dancing was fine - so I knew all was not lost. Then a student came recently and said he had begun 'Barefoot Running'. I was intrigued; as a teacher of this work I am curious about what students are doing, and what things are out there attracting people's attention. He explained a little, and after the lesson I looked up the website of John Woodward  I knew of his name because I had supported Paul Collins on many of his ultra-marathons during my Alexander teacher-training on his course in the early 1980's. John had worked extensively with Paul later in Paul's life. And there it was, written on John's page; "Cultivate a silent footfall - "What you cannot hear from your feet will not hurt you" was one of Paul's favourite sayings." 

Well, I'm going to dare to say that I haven't ever been known for heavy-footedness - 'so light on my feet' was the usual comment - but I did my main running with Paul 30 (ish!) years ago when I was a mere 23 - youthful bounce still being right there, no matter how I was feeling. And Paul went on to refine and deepen his teaching of running long after I had qualified and lived many hours away from him. So, I had clearly let unhelpful thought processes and habits creep in. Yes, the teacher always goes on learning, and happily so, but what were these habits? I got on the case....

I watched the little video on John's site, read the words, and set off around the big, wooden floored living area in my home - barefooted, and with my awareness raring to go. And it was quite remarkable what happened; ease, lightness, bounce, and no breathlessness. The feeling of years ago was back!

I looked up the 'toed-feet-shoes' that are suggested for early barefoot running before actual bare feet, and in the meantime I bought some cheap beach shoes - the ones that are stretch elastic tops (pink in my case, just because...!) with soft 'rubber' soles on the bottom, usually sold for walking over the rocks on the beach. They give no restriction to the foot, but offer some protection to the sole. And off I went down my track - to the post box and back with the ease of a 10 year old! And with such enjoyment of the sensation of....well, of nothing. No breathlessness, no fatigue, no jarring, just the joy of running again. 

And for a few days that is what I did, including running inside when it was just too wet outside. And today? Well, almost Gump-like, I ran down the track, past my post box, down the bridleway, on past the houses, past the telegraph pole that I used to 'aim for and then die', past the farm, and on... all the way to the gate at the reservoir and beyond - some half a mile, 10 times further than I had run for years. And I wasn't even breathless. 

I tried a few steps the 'old way', and it was hopeless - horrible. The 'heel-to-toe- roll (like the bottom of a wheel) that so helps in walking seriously doesn't work for running - for me anyway, despite the Alexander 'up' being present. No, the way that works is the way of lightness, of 'silent footfall' from the front of the foot meeting the ground with the heel only just brushing it in the name of feedback. Of being present in each moment with each of my feet, with my miraculous ankles and willing legs, with my whole body, my head, my eyes, with the grateful sensation of my sole and the earth meeting lightly - a brief connection - and my body, always over my feet - not behind or in front - having spring to it, resilience, support, 'ping' - no thudding, no pushing, no pulling myself along - even though I could have sworn I wasn't before! At one point I smiled; I suddenly felt like I used to, and how I used to see Paul run, even after all these years - light, short, economical steps that allowed him to run races of 24 hours and even six days. I am sure he was pleased to see the discoveries being made! And I still found 'leading with the thumbs' as helpful as it ever was when Paul showed us its power in the grounds of Alexandra Palace in London in 1980. Thanks, Paul!

When I got home I tried the 'new' way in shoes for a few steps, just to see, and the difference was, to me, incredible; my feet just didn't know what to do without the freedom to do what they know best. Restricted by shoes, or trainers, they seemed to give up, I landed on my heels, and all sorts of other parts had to start struggling to move me along. I have long said that the plantar reflex in our soles is too important to block with thick soles, and our feet and ankles are well able to support us and we do not need to have boots that 'protect our ankles', or shoes that 'help us run', but I had still allowed 'poor use' to slip in round the back in my own running!

So, what's the message here? To me it's that being a teacher of the Alexander Technique isn't about 'knowing it all', or having 'got there' (where ever 'there' is!) It's about understanding the process. The Alexander Technique itself isn't about 'doing things right'. It isn't about me having qualified in 'rightness' all those years ago so that this was a grave error on my part, making me no good at 'teaching others where right' is. No, the technique assists me to become conscious of what it is I am doing in any moment I choose. And that is what I teach - consciousness in every day life. The technique has shown me over and over the power of empirical learning, of curiosity and experiment based around the knowledge of how the body best works.  Why did I 'forget' around running for so long? Well, I too am human; sometimes whilst looking at one spinning plate, another one falls off the pole behind me! But what learning in the 'mistakes'! What discoveries I continue to make about how I respond to the stimuli of life  - I believe it is these discoveries that help me to be a more effective teacher. You might have read one of my first blogs when I recounted how my aunt said that a good teacher is only ever one step ahead of their students, and is often one step behind - as I was in gaining so much from my 'barefoot running student'.

So I am yet again grateful to the extraordinary Alexander Technique which offers me the tool to stop, wake up, assess, check, look, find, discover, let go, play, experiment, learn, and change into ever more ease and freedom. This has nothing to do with 'being right' - which is incredibly fixing - but with agreeing to be 'wrong', and thus to let go, free up, and move into a place of being able to still do the things we used to do, and still can, no matter our age! The work offers the antidote to 'I can't' in its 'Let's see if that's really true'. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Why the name 'self-kindness'?

Today I was pondering the name of this blogspot - Self-kindness - and how it relates to my teaching of the Alexander Technique. I had a new student this morning and was again gratefully reminded of the power and depth of our work; this was a delightful lady who came in with arguably the longest list yet of “I can’t”s, and “They say I will never again”s. And yet she skipped out with a smile from ear to ear saying, “Look! I can!”, and “I can’t believe it; it straightens!”, and “Look what I just did!” as she put her coat on and went to her car. And the reason, I believe, was not so much the hour of work from both ‘hands and voice’, but from the hour of inviting her to enter into self-kindness, even though I never used those words. It wasn’t that she was being self-brutal (common enough on this planet), but that she dropped the ‘instructions and beliefs’ of the things she had been hearing for 7 years and allowed her body To Be Just As It Is Right Now. To be present in those places of pain and restriction with no expectation, no judgement, no comparisons. And delightfully she herself noticed and welcomed the unexpected softenings and releases that ‘just happened’.

I remember the ‘success’ of my early days’ lessons in 1980, but I remember, with a great deal more depth and joy, the ‘success’ that came about when I simply met my body - and later my whole self - just where it was right then and didn’t judge it any more. And by that I also mean not even saying ‘Thank goodness I now do that right’, or ‘At last I have stopped doing this or that when I move’ ; that too is a judgement, perhaps even a secret pleasure at having ‘beaten into submission’ that un-liked part of ourselves. But that is the same as the glorious part of ourselves that just knows (gnows) and can function beautifully when we get out of its way - when I get out of my own way. (Yes, what is the ‘I’ ? But that’s for another time!) The first, early days’ ‘success’ in my lessons was probably 100% the suppression method - my interpretation of the AT. My later discoveries carried ever growing amounts of self-kindness - the saying “What we resist, persists” finally experienced consciously. Only when I allowed the shortenings, the pull-downs, the tightenings, and narrowings to be there, did they truly soften and melt away. (And I didn’t even use the word ‘success’ in the later example!)

What an exciting thing it is to invite a student to look for, see, and accept with inner kindness, those previously dreaded things in themselves, and to sense the results of those ‘softenings’. Despite our being a psycho-physical unity, I believe it is worth seeing how our bodies are so kind to us, so willing to ‘be our earth suits’, ever loving and trusting in their ‘inhabitants’ - like a loving parent that just knows their child is wonderful and capable and watches for the moments that they ‘show up and shine’. 

Pushing causes rebelliousness. Demanding causes resistance. Pulling causes stubbornness. Pressure causes doubt. Invitation creates possibility. Acceptance creates ease. Trust creates confidence. Companionship creates self-belief. Working from only ‘where we/they are at’ creates the possibility for self-kindness, and, as you know, I am all for that. My question to myself in teaching? Is this action, or this word, creating or causing? Is  even my 'direction' creating or causing? If they're not the former, it’s time for a pause... 

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Imagery and analogy in teaching.

I asked one of today’s students if the use of analogy and imagery was actually ok for her. (We have been using them for several lessons.) She said they were fine and very helpful - I said I felt directions like ‘lengthen your spine’ or ‘widen your shoulders’ (or even ‘allow your shoulders to widen’) often brought about ‘doing’ in students. She agreed and said, “I think they work especially well as when I direct with words I am not sure that I am doing what I think I am doing, but with images, that confusion seems to happen less.” Wonderful! I asked if I might use this in this blog and she agreed. 

We both agreed, she from her lesson experiences and me from sensing and observing many different students over the years, that imagery embodies itself more directly than words. The mind mulls over words and decides if they are good or bad and gets into all sorts of ‘old stuff' about them, but the body, if it likes it, simply responds to the imagery even before the mind has had a chance to think. I told my student today how I had recently found a ‘poster’ I made years ago for my then singing workshop series. It said, “Let your shoulders be full of sunshine”. She smiled, and then laughed as her shoulders had ‘just got it’. It really does seem that you can’t ‘do’ sunshine, but you can ‘do’ widening, and 'doing' isn't what our work is about. So I stand somewhat corrected by myself as to the giving of ideas and tips to non-students about the Alexander Technique. Perhaps if words are used that stimulate imagery, all can be well. If the words stimulate the mind to think, it can - sometimes and in some people (me included) - go rapidly pear-shaped in the way of 'doing' and 'trying'. Of course our work is about thinking, and clearly there are many different ways of thinking, but some are useful and some are not. Time for some pondering on that one. (Oh dear, yes; pondering is just another word for thinking, isn’t it!) But I will say that I have been amazed over the years to discover just how powerful the image of endlessly creating 'champagne bubbles from the soles of the feet or sitting bones upwards' are for a uniform, three-dimensional, and non-doing, upward release, and I have many more images that I wont post here now. But I go with if they work, I use 'em! (Champagne, not soda - (don't) think about it! ;-) )

I have also started a ‘ban’ on the word ‘monkey’. I am guessing many don’t use it now anyway (?), but as a teacher qualified in the early ’80’s, it has been a big part of my AT vocabulary for some years. Another student said recently that he didn't like it; it wasn’t a good word as its very name implied a shape, and a shape can be ‘done’ and is fixed. So today we threw it out, and played with watching how the body simply moved and kept moving in flow in response to a given stimulus. Using a ‘script’ (which I always do in my teaching because it links any stimulus to move to a real life situation,) it could be said the body moved through a million ‘shapes’ as a book was “picked up off the chair in order to show it to someone” - but we didn’t go naming any shapes; they can cause us to stiffen and try too hard. We both simply enjoyed the beautiful flow of her purpose. “So much easier and lighter!” was the verdict.

She also noticed a big difference between the experience of picking the book up (light) and putting it down (not so light.) She said reason was that for the former we had played with the idea that ‘something’ was taking up a ribbon attached to her fingertips and drawing them gently towards the book, and she simply followed as she moved through what might have once been called ‘many monkeys’. When putting the book down she forgot the ribbon and started moving with the book instead - close, but it was not as light. Bringing in the ‘ribbon-mover’ to lead the book back to the chair brought back the lightness. Yes, it was pure direction, but using imagery and not words. I know this isn’t going to work for everyone, teacher and/or student, but it might work for some and I pass it on as today’s experience.

Ah, the learning continues and I am delighted to be confirming - for me - the positive use of analogy and imagery, and dropping yet more of my possibly way outdated AT vocabulary. Bless him, but FM was around at the time of very different language - time to move on perhaps. And yet again I am ever grateful for all that my students teach me!