Friday, 17 November 2017

Give Feelings a Home...

This came up on my newsfeed the other evening, just as I had been thinking about how my day had felt and the gift of which I had been reminded. Here's what I wrote...

I rumbled through the morning, noticing vaguely how ‘something was bothering me’. My mind chattered in a white-noise-sort-of-way as to what it ‘probably was’, but nothing really changed. I went out to do some errands, couldn’t find it on the drive, bumbled on some more, then a phone call later found my edge tipped over and a few tears came. With them came my mind’s pompous ‘See, it’s all ok? It’s obvious why. Surely you don’t need to bother to weep about it? I mean, all life is here, you know all will be well, you know you are ok, so I wouldn't bother with all that snivvly stuff.’ But my body just sighed and softened with the release. It didn’t need to know the whats and whys. It didn’t need to understand. It simply needed to be acknowledged. My whole self, feeling witnessed by its very self, sensed being given a tissue to dab away the tears, even though this self also contained the   mind saying ‘why bother’....

What a community is a person! What a community was involved in my feeling bleugh today. My community. The bleugh one, the ignorer, the pompously ‘fine’ one, the struggler, the noticer, and the one who sees this big picture. All talking away to each other, and some listening, some not. And the one who released the 'bleugh'? The one who really knew what was needed? It was not the interpreter, nor the ‘get on with it’ one. Not the ‘talk me out of it’ one, nor the shadowy ‘poor me’. It was the weeper. The one who cried. Who knew it needed only to be briefly. And who then took a deep breath, picked up all the others in my community, and led them into carrying on a heap lighter and a lot happier. 

Immediately I saw the children - the ones who cry deeply and passionately as soon as the need arises, only to be laughing and smiling again within two minutes, and in neither case needing to say why. We laugh at their ways, forgetting that we were once thus - we who simply forgot how to release feelings from the body when permission was no longer granted as we ‘grew up’.

It's sometimes good to 'grow-down'... Tears. They are ok. We don’t always have to know why they are there, but we sometimes, as we do with our laughter, we could do well to just let them flow and allow our body the inner hug they offer...

And how did I come to be able to benefit from this awareness and ability to cease suppressing my feelings and judging them as 'bad', so much so that, years ago, they became almost unbearable? From having learned both Alexander Technique and the Transformational Process - I will write more on how they have worked for me, and my students and clients, another time. They are ways I love to share because they have been life-changing, and life-changing things need sharing, just in case...!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Magic Pause

Following a week of intensive Alexander Technique Post-Grad curiosity and discovery I felt quiet and smooth. Steady and balanced. Open and soft. The ravages of June’s house-moving finally soothed away.

Then I came home and resumed the preparation for my major house renovation beginning four days later...

You see I tend to be a ‘get on with it’ sort of person; a somewhat creatively disorganised version, but my intentions tend to be about being-alive-action. Now, against the backdrop of last week, me and my usual patterns began to be revealed in ever greater clarity: basically ‘rush - push - rush - hurry’.... How did I know this? By my frequent, inquisitive, self-requests to ‘pause’ in my movement - by entering a moment of lightly suspended animation, not unlike ‘musical statues’ - and to make discoveries about what I was doing with myself.

In my belief that ‘this is a frustrating and unnecessary thing to have to do‘ I found myself winding up an electrical cable with my nose about 12 inches lower than it needed to be - as if there was a ‘nose-to-cable muscle' - and by shortening it the action of pulling my face directly down to the cable-holder would somehow get the job done quicker. This was not self-kindness, but a kind of self-bashing!

Smiling to myself I waited a moment in this scrunched pose, and then softened, released, and sensed my body’s uncurling, like a coil of fern in the springtime. Ah yes, even after 38 years in this work I can be caught out in pulling myself into a curl-up by things in my hands. I am so glad to know these things through the work; not knowing would mean I would likely stay in that shape forever.

I paused again a while later: I was crossing a room, ‘musting’ - I must get this done. I must hurry. I must sort this out. I must cover that in a dust sheet. I must, I must, I must.... I found I had my feet on the ground, but my head a foot in front of the rest of me... If I had let go towards the pull of gravity I would have fallen flat on my face, such was my Tower of Pisa angle.... Ah, another moment of self-unkindness. Again I softened and released, allowing my whole self to uncurl, as a bloom rises towards the sun...

Ah yes, even after 38 years in the work I can pull myself forwards of (or behind) my head so I am no longer over my feet and standing on the ground beneath me. In my keenness I can so easily be five minutes ahead of myself - which then becomes the five minutes ahead of that moment, and so on, until I end the day exhausted from being in all the five minutes I am not actually in - living in a space which doesn’t exist - a place called ‘soon’, but not ‘now’.

These ‘pauses’ are magic places; it’s in them I can discover how I actually am versus how I think I am. It is the space between me and my assumptions. It is there I can release the holdings and scrunchings, the liftings and pushings. I might end a day wondering what hit me, but if I bring in this pause I discover I am hitting me and can stop. I can push and pull, scrunch and lift... Or not. And the pause gives me the chance to see much more precisely what I am doing to/with myself.  The boxes, bags and people didn’t exhaust me, I did. 

I didn’t just lift the box, I lifted me. 
I didn’t just push the shelving, I squashed me. 
I didn’t just pull the bags out, I dragged me down. 
The person didn’t just pressure me, I mostly compressed myself... 

Ah yes, it’s so easy to be pulled and pushed about - from the inside out.

But time? Is there really time for all this? I have things to do, places to be, people to see....!?!  All this pausing and awareness and softening and releasing - who’s got time for all that?

I do. You do. We all do. Even if it's perfect to not be pausing all the time, remembering to give it a go and reap such benefits!  Initially it seems things will take longer, but in reality time seems to stretch to accommodate the activity... Time slows down. The rushing ceases. The pressure releases. The effort reduces. The job gets done. 

Squeezing, contracting, pushing and pulling take so long! Without them there’s so much more space in the air, time on the clock, and energy in my body... 

Have a go? Even just a tiny bit? 
See what time feels like and how much easier it feels right now 
to release and lengthen your ‘nose-to-screen muscle' *......
and to be softly tall in your own space.........
and to know you are there............? 

Now that's self-kindness in action.

* A hint: how about these 'muscles'?
Nose to screwdriver?
Find me some more and post below?

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Mind and Body have a conversation late on Sunday night....

(From tuning-in to listen within following getting fed-up with feeling grumpy about having moved house and being about to renovate said house whilst pretending I'm not missing my old house....)

Mind: It’s all ok. Nothing’s wrong, just different, and things are reminiscent of the old days in their decor, sense, look...

Body: Don’t like. Want soft, clean, dry, light, space, surfaces, Tree House.

Mind: Well, I know, but things have changed now; we’re in a new phase of our life and it’s exciting. And we’re still so lucky in all we have.

Body: Don’t like. Don’t know. Don’t understand. Confused.

Mind: I’m here to guide you so don’t fret so. What’s worrying you so?

Body: Want shower. No shower. Want bath. No bath. Want clean mugs. No hot water. Want chop fruit. Nowhere to chop. Want to sit in soft chair. No soft chair. Want favourite books. Packed in a box. Want that box. Too many to un-do. Want sit down and settle. We keep going and going. Up and down - long car rides. Eyes want to see things which will stay. Instead eyes yes seeing things which will go very soon. Ears want to hear the sea. Ears hearing cars and broken floorboards creaking. Nose wants to smell sea. Nose smelling old house and not smelling sea. Eyes seeing rats and rat droppings....

Mind: Don’t worry about that; we’ll get the rats, you see. And the floorboards will be mended - it’s nothing. And we can shower at friends. And we’ll get a sofa as soon as the work is finished. And we can go live near the sea again one day. And the books will soon be on new shelves. And the new kitchen will have wide surfaces for chopping fruit, and hot, hot water all day....

Body:....want it Now. 

Mind: Impatience isn’t going to help. You know that....

Body: Don’t know that. Only know the Now compared to the data in my cells of old experiences. Liked the old experiences in that bright roomy house  - soft, clean, dry, light, space, surfaces.... They fitted me very, very well. Now + previous data is not computing. Now data upsetting. The result is grump.

Mind: Cheer up Head; there are so many worse off than us.

Body: I don’t dispute. That is you and Heart’s job. My job is feeling and giving you that information so you can make wise decisions for us. And I yearn for old data. Familiar data at least. Current data too strange. And you’re not listening to me. So, grump.

Mind: Hey! You’re meant to feel what I tell you to! And I’m telling you that all is well, we can do this thing. We can make discoveries about all sorts of creative and innovative means to get through the ‘interesting times’ of renovating a house. Sort of grown-up play! Come on, lighten up?

Body: No; don’t feel light. Feel heavy and clunky. Grumpy. Scratchy. Chalk on blackboard. Tongue on wooden ice-cream stick. Fingernails on polystyrene. Want somewhere to rest. To stop. To be still. To be held. To land. To feel safe. To stay in the same place for more than four days. To take time to know where the hell I am.

Mind: Attached to me, of course! Silly!

Body: Silly? Silly? Mind, it’s about time you remembered that listening to me is the only way. Argh, you and your imagination - mostly about how you think I am feeling! How I am coping - not! And what I might want or actually need!

Mind: Oh. Sorry. Yes. I guess so. I was just trying to reassure you all was, and will be, well. And all I was doing was using my worrying mind to reassure my worrying mind!

Body: Well, if you’d listened to me sooner for a nanosecond you’d have discovered why that’s really not working. Thanks for the good intention, but I’m the one who gets to tell you how you’re feeling, not your grandly assumptive mind! And I’m grumpy!!! And grumpy comes from uncertainty. And tiredness. And I’m tired from being uncertain most of the time. I’m in a new place. One that I gather is going to change again as it’s renovated so I can’t even get used to it. I don’t ‘get’ the place. I don’t much like it. And I miss where I loved so very much. I miss it. I yearn for it. I know you don’t want to think about our old home, and as a mind you know not thinking about it can be a way forward, but as a body, nothing will change the missing of it other than time. And a companion and witness in this time would be really, really nice. And I’d like it to be you. Please can we work together? I am tired of being squashed and ignored. And that’s why you’re tired. We need to listen to each other and respond accordingly the best way we can. At the moment you are riding rough-shod over me, dragging me disrespectfully behind you in the dust. And you wonder at the grumpiness in you! Yes, it’s me! I am grumpy!

Mind: Oh, Body, I am so sorry. Yes, you are so right. I have been so busy with all the plans and new work and old work and travelling and where to sleep, and, and. and....  And yes, I haven’t asked you how you feel because I didn’t want to feel your feelings; I don’t feel I have time to feel things because there is so much to do and fit in and get going. Plus, we can’t go back. We don’t live there any more - Tree House or Cornwall. But we are lucky in all we have. It is scary. It is new. It is odd. It is strange. It is cramped, dark, old, smelly, creaky. We can’t find things. We are having to do without favourite things for a little while. But I know I know that even having these things is a blessing, even if boxed up, because so many have nothing. But I know that isn’t Body language - you just feel as you experience - and I haven’t taken the time to speak with you, hear you, sense you, soothe you, and no wonder you’re in a grump. And no wonder today you grumped into irritation and fluster.... Would you feel happier if you had me being fully aware of all of you?

Body: I would. Would you feel happier if you actually saw, heard and sensed me instead of pretending you are but twisting my messages into lies?

Mind: Ah, since you put it so succinctly, yes. I don’t quite know how we’ll do this 24/7 because there’s a lot I have to get on with....

Body:....through and with me though; I am your earth-suit remember...!

Mind: Ah, yes... Well, is it ok if I don’t check in with you every nano-second because, well, I think I’d go nuts.

Body: Why?

Mind: Well, because some things just have To Get Done and I don’t think I have the head-space to be that aware right now. If I check in with you lots to see how you’re doing though...? How often?

Body: Hmm, well, ok... I reckon check-in every ten minutes? We’ll see what that does, but I’ll shout if I need to in the interim minutes? And if you would be willing to just keep a brain cell or two focussed on me all the time...? A light awareness? That would be great. I wont feel totally abandoned then. And I know you think you have been doing just this, but remember that moment earlier today when you saw you were thinking about looking after me but were actually just playing lip-service to me...? 

Mind: Er, yes....

Body: Well, make it real? For us? Please? And, yes, we can do this, but together - a pair, a team, not two-ones? Dear of you; you think you’re so clever, but you can’t do this without me. And I’d rather grump at you now to remind you of this than have to scream later on through something far more severe than a mood! So, you and me? Together? You using your immense computing ability and me my immense sensing ability? Then we can be ‘Knowing and Gnowing go forth’?

Mind: You’re such a star, Body. Thank you. Thank you so, so much. Sleep well now.

Body: You too. Good night.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Letting Go and Moving On...

Letting Go and Moving On.

A big subject for me just now as I prepare to leave the house of my dreams, and I Googled these words to see if there were any hints out there to help navigate this rather bumpy-feeling path. I hadn’t looked before because I thought it was only ‘the death of a loved one’ or ‘a painful breakup’, or ‘a business failure’, etc, which could in anyway validate my enquiry.... After all my current letting go and moving on is a choice I have made, one I am blessed beyond measure to even be in a position to make, and one where I have had about three years to work through the discomfort and regret before I move next week. And yet there is still this heavy, clunky, fear-full grief around, a 'something which just is’ as part of all our lives at times, and yet one I notice I feel I don’t want to have, or maybe even ‘shouldn’t have’; being a teacher and mentor of releasing and relieving uncomfortable emotions. And so, because I am ever learning about my trade (and I have to get on with the packing) I am pondering this ‘clunky feeling’.

It seems most words are written for those who actually have no choice in the matter of letting go and moving on; it’s more ‘ripped asunder with having no idea where to go next’, and my heart bleeds for them. No, for me I am standing on the edge of a precipice which I walked up to all on my own. But it’s still as scary as hell - ‘what ifs’ filling my mind like white noise, preventing clear and rational thought.

I remind myself that we live in a ‘mind’ world - change your mind, think positive, tell yourself it’ll be ok, lots of good things will happen, worse things happen at sea, you’ll be fine, you’re doing great, don’t worry so much..... But our minds live in our bodies and our bodies is where we feel. My body is used to certain items and how they feel, how they work - like the sofa, the washing machine, the lawn-mower, and the background sounds, and the way the light enters a room. New ones will take getting used to... And these feelings are unconditionally valid to our bodies, even if our minds like to mock at their seeming selfishness. Just now I feel trepidation as butterflies in my stomach. I feel sadness as an ache in my heart. And I am simply using my mind to relate to you the feelings I have in my body. 

I know that seems a separation - me and my body - but we’re a team, a ‘one-of-parts’, a relationship; each bringing different things to the party that is Me. And the mind does not know it all, it really doesn’t. My body did all the experiencing, and which it well remembers, and it wants to warn me of and protect me from the unpleasant experiences, and to care for me and its part of me. It doesn’t want to experience more of the ‘making a(nother) big mistake’ stuff, or the ‘stress from trying to do everything solo’, or the ‘exhaustion from not taking regular rests’.

My body has moved house too many times to even count. And pretty well everyone of the moves were traumatic in reason and happening. So my body is resisting to the last. Calling out for reassurance. Reaching out to know it’s not alone. Checking this isn’t the same as all the others....

This house has been the first home I feel where I have felt safe. This house was where I thought I’d be forever. I saw this house in my mind’s eye in 1982. This house was the culmination of 28 years’ dreaming. And it was an out-and-out miracle when it came to me in 2010. So leaving it finds my mind being all grown up and my body being about three years old.  And my mind wants to shut my body up. But I also know this can have detrimental effects, if not now, later on down the line. 

So I am asking my body how it feels. What does it need? It wants to know it's being listened to. Nurtured and appreciated, not just used. And to be trusted to manage, not doubted. Mostly it needs to be acknowledged; to have the feelings felt, even the ‘I have no idea what I am feeling’ feelings. 

Given that there have been a lot of horrible feelings associated with ‘letting go and moving on’ for me, just maybe the ‘I’m not sure what I am feeling’ feeling is because it isn’t the same feeling as before. Just maybe I am doing this thing better than I ever expected. It just feels wrong because it is unfamiliar... I ‘should’ (ha!), in my role as Alexander Technique teacher, know that one because when we let go of familiar-but-unhelpful movement and life-reaction patterns the new seems all wrong. We need our AT teacher to not only reveal new ways of being to us, but to reassure us that all is going well, because relying on and needing our old sensory feedback can pull us straight back where we were before. I notice as I sit with this that something in me is expecting certain feelings - shame, guilt, embarrassment, resentment, anger, terror, self-damning, contraction, stiffness - but I’m not feeling them, and it’s weird. But it’s also pretty cool!

I’ve been able to do a lot more inner work here in this amazing Tree House; its been possibly the best teacher of my whole life. ‘TH’ taught me in to it, taught me during my stay here, and has taught me out of it too.  And held me safe during all of it. I am incredibly blessed. But, as the saying goes: ‘Ships are safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for’, and ‘TH’ said this to me about two years ago, and despite blocking my ears for ages before hearing, and then going through all those emotions a few lines back, I eventually listened, and now here I am, surrounded by boxes, change-of-address cards, and a sense of ok-ness I need to ok.

This ship-of-me will miss this beautiful ‘harbour’ very, very much. This me-ship is not gung-ho at all - really very timid - but will head out to ‘see’ anyway... 

No, I didn’t need others' words for letting go and moving on, however lovely they are; I just needed to hear my own. Listen to your own body’s words too? They are for you, by you, best for you.

Monday, 22 May 2017

What are you saying to your self?

I am moving home - soon. I sold very quickly 6 months ago, it fell through, new buyers were found, and now 9 weeks on, still no exchange. The thing which has me uncomfortable and squashed inside myself is the fact that I don’t seem to be ‘getting on with it’ - ‘it’ being everything which needs doing. Which is? Sorting, packing, clearing, tidying. Basically I think I should be sitting here totally ready to move out in half-an-hour’s time, and because I am not, I feel bad... Really bad.... 

This was/is creating some inner stress (!) and with my life’s work of learning and teaching awareness of responses to stimuli and being able to respond differently to any long-etched pattern*, I have been looking to see what I could do, or rather not do. 

How could I not do the not starting of the packing? Yes, that's right, how could I not do the not starting of the packing? Hmm. Just start it then? Yes, but it’s not happening though.... Why? 

Asking the question more firmly of myself and the ether this morning, I was gently moving around the house tidying and sorting (yes) whilst pondering my not getting on with just that..... (!) And my eye fell on two little laminated cards I make for students from time to time. Thinking of two students I would give these to tomorrow, something said, ‘Give it to yourself, too?’. And, despite being a quotation I use a lot in my work, I saw the card and its words more clearly for myself again.

Of course!! Duh! There it is, was, has been, yet again; the old inner words.... I said them out loud, with full inflection:
‘You ought to be packing!’
‘You’ll never be ready at this rate!’
‘If I were you I’d be all ready by now.’
What are you doing all day if not getting ready?’
‘Why don’t you just do what you’re told?’
‘Everyone else would be ready by now.’
‘Honestly, it’s shocking how you’re not way more prepared by now!’
‘Oh for heaven’s sake, no wonder you’re stressed because you’re not...’
‘I don’t know’ - with a lot of eye rolling...
‘You’ve So Much Stuff! It’s dreadful!’
'It's going be a nightmare, and all your own fault!'
‘Oh dear....’
‘You’re just no good at this, are you?’
‘It’s all going to go badly if you don’t.....’

Ha! There you are! The words which set up my belief that ‘I can’t do this thing’. Which, despite finding me actually doing it, still has me feeling bad as if I'm not. There’s the stress! There’s the ‘advice’ I’d be well advised to silence! Not ignore, for that’s the trouble; doing that is like living with negative white noise, noise my mind thinks it’s not listening to, but it is. As neuro-science now describes to us, we experience every single thing in every single moment of our life, our brain being the thing which works tirelessly to cut out what we don’t need in order that we don’t go crazy with over stimulation. But I can join in with this volume control with my own choice, and I do not want to hear this old stuff any more.

So, how to silence the words? Hear them. Consciously. Face them. Voice them out loud to myself. Feel how it feels to be talked to like that. Ask them to cease their unsupportive and bullying content. Then thank them for their concern and protection. And ask them to leave. 

I call them my ‘shoulder parrots’ - only their numbers often create the need for a long yoke on which to spread out either side of me - and they need to be asked, or even made, to fly, to go; they are old words heard and not necessarily relevant now. 

I know I have to clear and pack. I’ve moved many, many times. And I know it’s hard not having a date yet up to which to work out timings. But, as realised this morning, I am clearing and packing - and have been for weeks - it’s just that in my young life it seemed whatever I did was wrong - that I was wrong - so the old voices are yabbering away, pulling me down into doubt and self-unkindness...

Thanks voices, thanks awareness, thanks little card, thanks Lisa M Hayes; yes, being careful about what I am saying to myself matters, because I was, and am, listening!! 

What are you saying to yourself which, heard and silenced, could make a difference to your day? Say them out loud. Hear them from the outside. Hear how un-true they are. And, only after that, what could you say to your self instead? My words, because they’re true, are, ‘You’re doing just fine. One foot gently in front of the other and it will get done, Annie.’

(*Alexander Technique)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The ever-changing path of life....labyrinth style...

In June 2014 a group of friends and I put a classical "Chartres' labyrinth on the land here at Tree House. I then put the information about it on the World Labyrinth Locator webpage. And this morning, just as I am about to move from Tree House, there was a message on my answerphone from someone wanting to come and visit it... How typical of life! The first person ever to ask through this site, and it's covered in weed and not going to be here much longer!

So, as it was sunny this evening, I walked the labyrinth. I say 'walked it', for I - more correctly - gingerly stepped around in the grass and weeds, walking it more from memory than from seeing the path before me....

....which is so like life, isn't it?

I found a stone sitting in the middle of the path, nowhere near a space of a missed stone, so I picked it up, and found myself aware of how it will be nice to take this stone with me to the next house; a reminder of how a plan can come to fruition, and often in the most unlikely of times... To build a labyrinth had been a long, even if not understood, dream of mine, and in 2014, here at Tree House, it happened. So, take this stone and remember never to give up on dreams....

And then each step again gave me reassurance about life: in one part of the labyrinth the path was almost obliterated by weeds and grass - only my toes cautiously feeling out the track giving me any hint as to whether I was to turn 180 degrees on a switchback or to keep moving forwards...

Another part was exactly as I would wish the whole labyrinth to be; stones nestling lightly and visibly amongst smooth, low-growing moss - easy to see where to walk, and soft underfoot...

Then, almost immediately, there was the path, but with the early growth of fierce nettles beginning to fill it... And bramble strands ready to catch in my feet and trip me up....

A little further on the track was visible, but I had to step over large clumps of grass - grass which didn't want to depress under my step, instead to try and turn my ankle if I stood on them... Demanding, disempowering....

And then centre circle, the smooth egg-shaped stone still visible under the new spring growth, but this time of young foxgloves promising an abundance of tall, striking spikes of purple within only a few weeks. Feeding-stations of a thousand bumble bees and other creatures. That the low young plants almost totally obliterated the small white stones placed there by many a labyrinth walker over the last 3 years didn't seem to matter; the messages on them had now vanished - soaked into the soil for ever - leaving their love to be un-removable by anyone in the future. Again, maybe I'll take one or two of these with me to honour and remember all those wonderful people who came to help realise the dream.

So, even 'messy and unkempt' - grassed over, nettles and brambles thrusting forth - the labyrinth still gave me its gift, reminding me of the path of life; sometimes smooth, sometimes easy, sometimes clear. And sometimes rugged, demanding, invisible - only trust taking me forward. Maybe this is the best labyrinth to walk - real, honest, and life-like.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Simple Piece of Music

The young woman walked quietly towards the piano - something tentative in her step, but also something deeply respectful rather than fearful in her movement. She took her seat on the stool, rested her hands in her lap and her eyes on the keyboard. Then her hands rose like two delicate moths and alighted on the keys for a moment before beginning to play. 

The piece was gentle, not of many notes, and had a dreamy feel to it - like smoke wisps rising and evaporating in autumn air. Her fingers moved softly over the keys, everything about the young woman seeming to be involved only in the wonder of facilitating sound from the wood, steel, felt, and ivory; a conversation amongst and a communion with them all. Anyone present was simply being asked to be a witness to the composer’s message, the piano-maker’s skill, and the wonder of hearing music.

A stillness fell in the room whilst she played; the simplicity of her playing seeming to offer nothing but the gift of a space for personal images and discoveries in the minds of those listening.

It was not a long piece - just two pages long - and it seemed to come to an end as quickly as it had begun. There was silence while, her foot on the sustaining pedal allowing the last sound to die away, her soft hands floating on the air above the keys.

A murmur of appreciation went round the room and a light applause. 
“You’re very good!” exclaimed one of the guests.
“Yes! You should make a recording!’ cried another.
A quiet mumble could also be heard... 
“Well, it was such a simple piece. She’s not that good - she even needed the music!”
“I know - bless her" came a reply. “She’s no idea how good good really is....”

The young woman stood up, having heard all the comments. She turned to the people present, winding her hands around each other in shyness as she bowed her head in acknowledgement of those listening.
“I’m not sure what you mean about good and not very good,” she said softy. “I love this piece of music very much and I wanted to share it with you to see if you liked it too. There are simple pieces, like this one, but which can still touch deeply - and simple is especially welcoming those for whom this type of music is unfamiliar. Then there are long and complicated pieces which need way more skill than my simple piece, but that I can’t play these is not because I am not good, or that I am bad. I just do not have the talent gifted to those who, even from the start, play at a level I would never reach even with years and years of study. My skills lie in a different arena to those of the talented pianists whose days are full of practise and performance, so the great big pieces are not for me to play. I enjoy playing music I can play, and I love this piece. I hoped you would hear only the sounds and not see me playing, because it’s not about me, it’s about the music. Please, the only thing I would like to know is whether the piece I played touched you, and if you would like more?”

The guests were silent - some smiling in appreciation of her brave honesty, some rather open-mouthed, but there was a poignant stillness in the room.

After a short silence someone spoke.
“I was touched, touched by your very presence at the piano...”
Then another, “I was touched too; the music calmed and soothed me.”
“And me - you took me to a woodland of my childhood, and I felt a tear in my eye at the end.”

One of those who had mumbled the judgement then spoke, somewhat hesitantly, as if weighing up each word...
“Thank you. Thank you for reminding me that music doesn’t really have anything to do with an impressive technique... Playing huge concerti might need all that, but music itself doesn’t. And that being touched doesn’t have anything to do with speed, agility, strength, volume, and certainly nothing to do with virtuosic gymnastics... It has to do with heart... In both the player and listener. With letting the composer’s voice be heard, whether their messages are short or long - I see now we need more of this ‘musical Haiku’, not ever more notes..... And about the listener’s mind being freed - even just for an instant - in the space afforded by the player.... You’ve helped me remember that each and every note I hear is a blessing; that if I knew I was to go deaf tonight, I would know beyond doubt that the notes you were playing were the most beautiful in the world. And that when I am in judgement of a player’s supposed ability, I miss the very reason they play; to reveal magic through music. To move me. To give a moment’s transcendence out of the melee of my life. And to offer me the opportunity to be touched - which I was. Deeply. Please, I would love to hear you play again - that piece, or another - so I might hear with fresh ears, without the stale habit of my judgements.”

The room was so silent the woman felt a little overcome. But she smiled and turned back to sit at the keyboard and play again.
“I don’t know anything else very well”, she said. “I’ll play this one again.”

As her fingers flowed over the keys, the room felt so different. The sound, reaching empty ears - ears hearing as if for the first time - seeming to have more space than ever to mix and meld, meet and ignite, play and create within each person....

At the end there was just a silence, one of awe and deep gratitude,. Then one voice, that of the guest who had initially grumbled, spoke softly...
“Thank you. Tonight I discovered how to truly listen”, was all he said. And all anyone in the room needed to hear.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

To wait, or not to wait. That is the question... (8 minutes read)

I have been thinking a lot recently about a colleague's beautiful, wise, and helpful blog post* which includes considerations on 'waiting'. As in, Bruce rarely waits any more. He doesn't wait in line at the post office, or for news, or for a waiter to come take his order. Intriguing eh? A life without waiting? What does he do in that post office queue then? He stands in line. He moves forward a little. He stands. He moves forward. He greets the cashier and makes his requests, purchases them, and moves away from the counter to the door.... That way there is no waiting. Unless, as I see it, he tries to be further on into the intention than he actually is - both pushing and contracting in tension to be somewhere other than where he is right now. Falling into expectation and assumption.

And this fascinates me - an inveterate 'bad at waiting person'. A person currently 'waiting' for a house-buyer, 'waiting' to move, 'waiting' to start a new chapter in life, and not finding it easy.

Many years ago now, in the days leading up to the births of each of my children, I was a pretty hopeless case; not wanting to be left on my own in case.... Clutching my PhD in 'Waiting', I did nothing else so as to be ultra ready. (What, pray, is 'ultra ready'? We can be ready, or not ready, but not more than ready.) I was a bag of nerves - alert for any sign of labour. And then, when it happened - with my son in a rapid hour and a quarter - I was fine. Cool as a cucumber (or as cool as a cucumber can be in childbirth) and in the flow. But the days before? The not knowing when it would be? Hopeless.

This stress-from-waiting has tickled my curiosity many times in my life. And when Bruce wrote his piece, and spoke of its content in courses, I was drawn to listen deeply. How can I not wait, but instead just 'live until'? How can I just do what I am doing, or rest in the middle of doings, without the 'waiting flavouring'?

I considered this long and hard, but there was no substitution for discovering for how I was 'flavouring' the moments until until they felt like I was lost in waiting. For me, my 'flavouring' includes holding my breath (more usefully to know, not breathing out), a 'heightened' sense of awareness - aka, everything in me comes up to the top height all around my chest and head, and I'm not really aware at all; I am actually in fear, lost in my mind's 'what ifs'. My legs are tight and or jiggling -  full of 'be ready to move suddenly' - and my hands slightly clenched. I am not balanced over my feet, or over my sit-bones on a chair; I am living about 2 feet in front of my chest. Oh, and we won't mention my tongue and jaw - tight in readiness for a million 'buts' and 'what ifs'. Barely noticeable, but I have caught the tensions many a time and 'stalked' them to discover their deeper nuances. It's become ever clearer to me that I 'do' a heck of a lot as I 'wait', and whilst doing and waiting seem to be complete opposites, it's becoming ever clearer to me that they are secret and dodgy bedfellows.

Now understanding the traps of 'attachment', my 'flavourings' are no longer such a big reaction and daily I am glad of the work I do, because I can't imagine how I would be without it, but some of them are still there. I look for them; weeding them out from the melee of 'I'm stressed' at times of what might be called 'waiting'. Right now, in the 'waiting' to find another buyer for my home, I can talk about it, justify the slowness of the process, understand it, and act on some of the preparations for moving home, but the real change takes place when I stop doing what it is I do which constitutes me sensing that I am in waiting mode... What I constantly find I'm doing in most cases is trying to be cool, calm, and collected. So, next self-question is, what am I doing with myself when I am trying to be calm? I find I repress myself - squeeze, tighten, hold, compress, restrict, forbid myself - into the sort of stillness I long ago perceived to to be 'cool, calm and collected'. The ability to repress was a quality much lauded during my upbringing, but that's not the stillness I am after; it's fake. And there are too many vestiges of it still around.  In Alexander work we talk about 'inhibiting ones habitual way of reacting', and although this inhibition isn't suppression, instead the absence of the habit happening at all, it feels to me now that even that way might not necessarily be real each time; it isn't allowing for characteristic differences. I am looking for the space in between suppression and nothing; the being at peace with the way I am within the process I am in.

It's very important for me to discover with my students what their 'shoulds' are.... How do they want to be vs how they think they ought to be. And to discover that when the how they actually are is given permission and witnessed, they often find that their way is perfectly fine. So, what if my 'un-cool' way of un-supressed fidgety waiting isn't bad at all? What if it's just my way? What if some wait by simply being still where they are until.... And some wait by jiggling about? What if there isn't a right or wrong way, but only the way which most fits each person's authentic way of being? Today. Different - maybe - to tomorrow's way. And that when we say 'yes' to this, there is no friction, no suppression, no 'other than who I am', and so we feel fine all round.

When I rode polo ponies there were many pony-characters on the yard. All were fast on the pitch, but some were placid and quiet on exercise or on the yard. They stood still as I opened a gate, or we awaited our turn to come back onto the yard. But some were jigglers; they danced and pranced their way through exercise - never walking, instead jogging, skirting numerous invisible scary things along the way, nipping through gates ahead of everyone, and clip-clopping their hooves on the concrete in the yard as, tied to the ring on the wall, they swivelled back and forth, waiting (not) to be tacked up and un-tacked before and after the ride. That was just what they did. That was their character. And our job was to respond to them appropriately. Novice riders didn't ride them. You got a quiet ride if you felt a bit poorly. Mostly the head-groom rode the jiggly ones as he loved being jiggled. But no one said they were 'bad' horses. And nor were the horses who stood still and waited 'good'. They were just seen as different characters.

So, my students and I make discoveries around this: what is it they do when they are waiting for something? Some say they try to be quiet and just trust, but it's hell. Some say they jiggle about and they 'shouldn't'. And we play with just allowing what they do to be experienced consciously and find it's ok..... Ah, so letting what wants to happen happen stops the sense of waiting?

And the answer, I have found, is 'yes. Being able to not go into melt-down in the post-office queue is good. As is the less-likely reaction of falling to the ground asleep and tripping up the person behind you in the queue. But in the space between these are all sorts of responses; some standing, until moving, until more standing, until the transaction accomplished. Some jiggling about, dancing, weaving, swaying, filling the 'time until' with movement - just plain moving because they are movers.

What do you do? What is it you do which lets you know you are 'waiting'. Because something does let you know. Without this doing-of-something, you are just there, standing in line, or living until moving house day, or sitting in  a chair until a waiter asks you what you want. And we know this because when happy during the time we cease to call it waiting. When talking with a friend, even on the ubiquitous cell phone, or with lots of time, we don't call it 'waiting'.

So, waiting is a state of mind and the response to the mind lies in the body where it is interpreted. Waiting is not an event in itself. Go play with this? Maybe take another look at the image at the top of this post whilst noticing what happens inside you. See what you come up with? You can't be wrong. Let's make some new discoveries, and maybe feel lighter towards ourselves because of it? When do you wait? Where within yourself do you 'do waiting'? And most importantly of all, HOW do you 'do waiting' - how are you being in yourself which creates the act of waiting? Can you soften that into something different? I'm playing with this. Join me?

PS Writing a piece on not waiting seems to be impossible to do without using the words 'wait' and 'waiting' over and over and over... How many times are they here in this piece?!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Being Enough - and Snowflakes. (6' read)

How do we do this ‘I am enough’ stuff which flies across our Facebook and Twitter feeds? What does it mean? Sounds good, doesn’t it? To be enough? To not be found wanting all the time? To chase those sibling monsters ‘NE’ (not enough) and ‘NGE’ (Not Good Enough) out of the room? 

But to ‘be enough’ surely suggests we don’t have to bother, or keep trying at anything? To do what it takes to achieve mastery? And I want to - don’t you? To feel that sense of purpose and success. At something, anything.... Making cakes, managing a family’s frantic timetable, getting that doctorate, playing the piano, or chess, knowing how to update your website, to paint, or groom cats.... But, contrary to our hidden beliefs, there is no one dream better than another for giving a human being a sense of achievement - it’s just that society tells you there is an importance hierarchy: ignore it - each of us has something we want to do well.  So, where does ‘I am enough’ fit into all the above? Into life itself?

For far too long, being enough has been to do with ‘doing enough’ (i.e, more. Oh, and more. Then more...) and ‘doing it better than everyone else’. But being enough is just that - being enough. And there’s one simple way of putting this: if you’re here on planet earth, alive and kicking, you are enough. YOU are enough, because there can only ever be one you, one me. So there is no one for you to be held against as comparison. Unless you are Dolly the cloned sheep, you are it in the enough department. As I am enough. I am enough Annie. You are enough ..................... (insert your name here.). How can you be more than you are? You can do more, learn more, get more - gain more certificates, if certificates are your thing, or a faster car, if cars are your thing, play longer piano pieces, if longer pieces fire your rocket, paint bigger canvasses if big canvasses float your boat, but you need not, and plain cannot, become more than you already are.

But what if you feel utterly useless? The worst creature ever to arrive on a planet - any planet? A total failure? Then to be told you can’t become more than you are is kinda harsh, and also very worrying! What to do? Where can you grow into? How can you change the feelings inside of not good enough if right in there is all there is ever going to be of you? .......

This is how - by coming to terms with the fact that you are enough where you are right now. Not deciding to believe it, but coming to terms with what actually is: enough is in the being ...................... (again, your name). A being, as you, who does contain extraordinary potential to achieve mastery in things of your choice, but a being who knows it is not what you experience which makes you you, but that you are you, and quite enough as you, way before you begin any experiencing. An enough you experiencing any number of things to any level of expertise you want - bearing in mind ‘expertise’ is subjective; to one it is medals, to another it is pure enjoyment, to some it is both. And each desire is as equal as the other. Each is quite satisfactory and the experiencing of all things will do nicely; each is your experience, not another’s expectation.  

When a friend sees you across the street and calls out and waves, they are not waving as they think, ‘Oh my, look at .............(you). So lacking. So not enough. So wanting’, any more that you think the same of her when you wave back. (Are you?) You might think her coat isn’t the one you would choose, but does that make you think she is less than enough? No, she’s enough-in-a-weird-coat. The only person who thinks you are not enough is you. (If anyone else truly does, sack them from your life immediately; they don’t get life at all.) Your not-enough-ness has crept in the back door because all the messages of family, school, college, employment, and mostly the media suggest you should be somewhere other than where you are right now, and someone other that who you are. You know the sort of thing: wear this, weigh that, look like this, achieve that.... Ya da ya da ya da ya-awn... Boring! Yet, advertising companies don’t pay and charge a squillion dollars per second for nothing; they pay for the skill to hook you in in a nanosecond, even when you’re not listening. And they are frighteningly successful, unless we poke our tongues out at them whilst saying, very firmly, 'Not listening! Not watching! It’s all a game of lies!' 

You are you. When someone hears your name they imagine you, not the person who lives next door to you. You. And if they see you with judgement, it’s their judgement, a mere subconscious habit because we live in a world which functions on judgements. (Note the popularity of shows like X Factor with all the suspense-music judging-moments. Where everyone thinks they know a ‘star’, and yet their ‘star’ isn’t the same as that of the person next door.) So, the only thought on seeing yourself in the mirror needs to be, 'Wow. That’s me. ME! A me I can call my very own!'   You’re a human being who is like a snowflake - all snowflakes are snowflakes, but each is unique. And whilst we might all express a preference for this pattern over that pattern (and isn’t that great; how dull if we all liked the same things!) preferring a certain snowflake doesn’t mean the one next to it is not enough? I’ve not met anyone who judges snowflakes as harshly as they judge people, so snowflakes have much to teach us. 

Thank God you sound different to anyone else. Thank God you look different to everyone else. Thank God you do different things, or the same things differently. Without that you would completely disappear - the very thing of which we are deep-down most afraid. Becoming white noise within white noise, beige on beige, you wouldn’t show up at all and the world would pass you by completely. Yet the already enough you tries to disappear in your not-enough-ed-ness, in your ‘I am failing to be the someone else who I deem is more enough then me’. 

It’s your very differences which make you ‘enough’. I’m enough. You’re enough. We’re here, solid, heavy-enough-not-to-fly-off-the-earth beings. When we bump into someone, we feel the bump of enoughness meeting enoughness.  If you were a shadow, full of holes, nothing but see-through-mist, maybe you would need ‘inking in’.... But you’re not. You are Here. Present. You arrvied. You have a birth-day. You are enough. And thank you for being you.