Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Negating History

The T-prism is a snub triangle

Continuing to explore the use of "negative directions" within the Alexander Technique and how this may influence how I use myself.  Yesterday while reviewing an older musical idea I arrived at "I am not holding on to my history."  How might this apply to AT?  How might it apply to my musical pursuits?  How might this "not holding on to my history" apply to my life? 

Currently I am on vacation, which many times in the past means that I have time to explore new musical ideas.  I was torn about reviewing an older idea that has merit but which is incomplete.  So why the hesitancy, just because I am on vacation.   This was when the " I am not holding on to my history," arrived.  As I have worked with this direction over the past two days, I also see how this might penetrate my actual physical use.  A subtle shift in the thinking aspect of what Alexander refers to as our physcophysical function.  What "history" of mine might lead to the manifestation of physical tension? Where might the tension then lead my thinking, reinforcing my historical use of my whole self?

So the application of a simple thought, may crack the door open, revealing a possibility of a different relationship to space.  Today I added "I am not a guitarist" to these oblique directions.  The "not a guitarist" was being complemented by being open to constantly shifting plans that kept me away from the guitar.  Back to the music of life.  How I live one small part of my life, affects all the parts of my life.  Paying attention to the needs and desires of loved ones that support my life is no cause for turmoil over less time than originally anticipated for practice.

When I did practice in the late hours of the evening, the fruits of releasing my history and my expectations resulted in spirited improvisations and the joy of running through a few pieces.
As T. S. Elliot said "History is servitude.  History is freedom."  For me the conundrum resides in making the choices that allow for the release from the servitude of habits which lead to the freedom of making new choices.  Slowly, with gentle persistence, a different way of thinking evolves and supports a different way of movement.  One based on understanding and allowing the body to move from the whole structure, supported, free, and connected.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Music of Life

Montréal, 08 sept. 2011. Rue Saint-Denis.

In the day to day of my life, creating the time to practice music is tricky, requires creative juggling, and is a dance of give and take.  This is the music of life and is more important than any piece of music I might create.  As I learn to improvise and flow with the music of life, the notes become more available, my tone improves, and I am more receptive to the muse.  Today while practicing, loved ones had a few questions, the timing of which allowed me to see - When someone interrupts my practice they are my practice.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Simplest Direction Yet

which way?
Last night I was working on a tremolo piece.  I had turned the metronome down to 56 bpm and then brought it back to 60.  After working at this tempo, I decided to move to 64.  I noticed a slight but definite hunkering down in my upper torso as I began to play.  While pausing, the inhibitory or negative direction "I am not collapsing myself" arrived.  By continuing to gently invite this thought in while practicing, I was very aware of the space above me and around me.  My sense of up was "natural" and easy.  I continued to invite this thought in while watching the NBA Finals and once while waking at night.  So far this is a simple but powerful extension of my Alexander Technique work.

I just received notice this morning that my reserve copy of Missy Vineyards book is in, so I'll be able to explore her thoughts on negative directions further.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Improvised Directions

Sunset balloon flight
The summer solstice, our longest day of the year.  Suffice it to say that my dealings with business concerns today certainly felt very long, dark, and unending.  What to do when finally confronted with truth, after months of negotiated deceit?  Despair was looming, probably even fear.  Yet anger did not approach the surface.  A tinge of gratitude for the decent person who at possible personal cost, put an end to this calculated disaster.

Chocolate cake, ice cream, and conversation with my favorite person in the whole world certainly helped when I arrived home.  Reflection, letting go, and directing my thinking from dwelling in the muck allowed me to inch forward.  The laughter of children celebrating the solstice pointed me to faith in life.  Then, finally, I took my guitar from her case.  What to play?  Why play?  The latter easier to answer, because I know the act of playing almost always supports positive change  within me.  But what to play in this somewhat fragile state was important as I needed the support of what the guitar offers me, not the sometimes judgemental critic that can still arrive after all these years to dampen the playing.

I began to improvise, to stretch, to just see what might be there for me to find.  Then drawing upon my recent experiments with negative Alexander Technique directions I arrived at "I am not playing the guitar."  Smiling as I played,  just enjoying improvising, even noodling.  Noticing the hint of the judge arriving, I directed my thinking with "I am not playing any wrong notes."  Relief.  Twenty-five minutes later, having invited this thought back a few times, I let go of the playing.  Having tasted freedom, possibility, and a gentleness with myself I thought I might play a piece or two when I return to the guitar.  And then again, maybe I'll inhibit this notion and just see what arises.

Life is precious, too precious to allow this moment to slip away. Many thanks to Robert Rickover for the great work he does with the Body Learning podcast series on the Alexander Technique.  The podcast on Using Negative Alexander Technique Directions is well worth a couple listens and has been informing me for months. Hopefully tonight's use of Negative Directions was not too great a distortion but it sure was useful. Listen sooner rather than later.  Plenty of other very informative interviews there also.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Directed Freedom

Tropism of the vine
Somewhere along the way of taking Alexander Technique lessons, I began directing my thinking when I got out of bed during the night.  Oftentimes I just trudge off into the night to take care of business, but when I remember to pause and direct, the connection with my relaxed self seems valuable.  Last night I woke, got out of bed, and gave myself the negative direction* of "I am not compressing my neck."  Simple and in some ways a bit easier to comprehend then the traditional AT directions.  A sense of connection from my head to my feet, had me begin walking as if an AT teacher had been working with me and was now guiding me to take my first steps.  Powerful moments of freedom, harmony and ease fostered by a simple directive thought.  I'm not sure that I have ever achieved this freedom of use so easily.  As David Jernigan pointed out in our AT class tonight, I did have the collective knowledge of all the previous times I have directed my thinking and been guided by various teachers at my disposal.  I am certain these past experiences did come to bear positively on these steps.

Later in the evening, I woke again.  When I got out of bed, I paused, but this time I began thinking about what did that feel like when I woke the last time.  Seasoned Alexandrians will notice that I was attempting to feel my way back into a freedom of use rather than, use the means whereby the earlier freedom had been obtained.  What happened to my thinking?  Noticing this I smiled, but the urgency of what had awakened me took precedence and I moved on.  Two different but vivid illustrations of the power of direction and how easy it was for me to forget to direct and attempt to access the feelings of the previous freedom. 

* Negative or Inhibitory Directions were put forth by Missy Vineyard and I have listened to two podcast by Robert Rickover on this subject.  My experiments with them are yielding positive results.  More on this in a later post.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Balancing Mistakes

2005-09-29 nasher museum

Tonight's practice was shaped by two different blog posts I have read in the past 24 hours. The first was by Erica Sipes in her blog Beyond the Notes. I read these inspiring words last night - I don't let myself play the same mistake twice in a row.  If I do, I need to change the way I'm thinking. Wow! This is certainly not true for me, and Erica's post certainly got me thinking about how I might aim to make this my practice.

As I prepared to practice tonight I decided to address a section of a piece that I have yet to figure out how to play well consistently.  And this was where the second blog post arrived to assist me with changing my thinking.  This one by Bill Plake, a saxophonist and Alexander Technique teacher from California.  Bill's post was about the principles of standing while playing. There is lot's of good practical information in his post that I am not going to regurgitate here.  But while working with finding balance within my feet while standing, this shifted my habitual way of playing the section I was working on. I saw what I did not understand about the section and worked with this.

After a short break, I returned to practice, but seated this time.  Still finding and paying attention to how my feet supported my weight.  I began addressing the section again, in very small parts this time, to focus on the various transitions between chords.  After a "mistake," Erica's words arrived again.  I need to change the way I'm thinking. And the thought that arrived was a very Alexandrian -  think up!  As I did my body found a "better" balance while seated and an ease entered my hands.  I continued to direct my thinking via the Alexander Technique while addressing the particulars of this section of music.  Steady improvement was made and I enjoyed the process.  Grateful for the wisdom and insight that is freely shared across the internet.  Both Erica's and Bill's blogs have proven valuable to me in the past and I urge any musician to avail yourself of them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Switch

Walk This Way
Productive day at work today.  A consultant to our company that has a copy of Scattered Hearts was in today and raving to me about how much she and her children loved the music.  Words like this mean a lot, and have kept me going on many an occasion.  But the more we talked, the more I just wanted to leave and get home to my guitar. After dinner tonight I began thinking about the various pieces in progress, writing projects in progress, and tasks associated with both that need attention.  A bit overwhelming, and while I am forever grateful for the day job there is frequently little time and energy left.

Yet I do what I can.  Noticing that my thinking was moving in a negative direction, I knew I needed to take positive action.  I sensed the right action had nothing to do with the tasks and projects but to play some notes and allow the vibrations to harmonize my thinking and emotions.  I began an improvisation but quickly abandoned it.  Then another one, when I noticed I was being too judgmental of myself and I let go of this effort.  Switching to playing Gathered Hearts, I then stopped this as my thinking was too active and not on making music.  I paused for a moment to breathe and settle, but again the thinking was active and damning.

I began another improvisation and immediately noticed the magic of the two opening arpeggios.  My thinking quieted as I entered the moment of this unfolding improvisation.  The magic had switched on and music was whispering.  I followed as I could awash in the waves of sound, engaged in the act of music.  Returning to the opening arpeggios, I choose a different direction and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.  Exploring this path for a bit, I paused to rest my body and notated the opening phrase.  Upon returning to the guitar, I still was intrigued with this beginning and explored this further.  When I found the improvisation was stalled, I began to play Gathered Hearts, this time from a unified space of body, mind, and spirit.  Ever so grateful for music, the guitar, and life itself.  Never sure why I can notice when the switch flips on and the creative juice trickles or flows.  So much more than I deserve, what more can I desire?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Releasing, Always Releasing; When I Remember

strange loop 3

Release.  Release. And then release some more.  Entrenched habits release slowly over time. The past week has been fruitful in my Alexander work related to my tennis elbow. As time permits I will firm up my notes on the work I have been doing with this.

Tonight I returned to reviewing the various posts in this blog referencing my application of the Alexander Technique.  More than one person has told me that there may be a book in here.  Time to find out if this is true.  After 40 minutes or so at my desk, I stood and knew that I must do a lie down.  Smiling at the appropriateness of this noticing, I hit the floor and let my back and spine release.  No matter how many times I partake of the lie down (also known as constructive rest), I still marvel at the affect this has on my body and mind when I am done.

While practicing the guitar tonight I paid particular attention to directing my neck to be free and my arms longs.  After my initial improvisations I played through a piece much louder than I normally would to hear what this might sound like and to also develop that as a latent ability.  Then  I played this same piece through again at normal volume paying attention to the emotional quality of the piece.

I moved on to a technically challenging piece that is currently challenging my stamina to get through the piece.  As I was playing through this I noticed myself tensing as the last section arrived.  Part of me wanted to keep going and sacrifice my use to end gaining once again.  Instead  I paused for 8 beats.  With my hands still on the guitar I just took a moment for constructive thinking.  When I had released the unnecessary tension I resumed playing through to the end.  Instead of "toughing it out," making mistakes and possibly aggravating my elbow, I took care of myself.

After this I took a break to practice Qi Gong for 10 minutes.  With the energy flowing, I returned to the guitar and this particular piece again.  At the same tempo my playing was even throughout the piece and I was able to release energy into the notes, not just hold on until the end. I noticed as I frequently do in my morning practice, how the Qi Gong allows my spine to release out of my pelvis. That as my energy flows, I become centered and connected.  But this release takes effort on my part - to do the Qi Gong exercises or to direct my thinking in AT.  Always back to releasing.  And now I release this post into the world.

What do you need to release.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Be Here Now

you are here
While getting ready for work this morning, I glanced at the clock and thought, I need to get out of here.  Then right behind that another thought arrived - Be Here Now.  Yes.  Smiling I paused and then continued my preparations.  A simple Zen thought that says it all. Perhaps if I was Here Now more, I would not be experiencing tendinitis and analyzing my use to let go of the "wrong thing."

But another wise thought is to begin where you are and where I am is injured so I must find the error in my use and let this go.  That will only happen if and when I am present with what I am doing.  Are you here?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Finding the Wrong Thing

That's interesting

If you stop doing the wrong thing the right thing will do itself.
FM Alexander 

Such a simple notion - stop doing the wrong thing. But at least in my case, finding and understanding "the wrong thing" is an elusive and complex task.  I had the good fortune to be working at the Guitar Circle Course in Massachusetts recently and during the six days of the course I was exposed to much quality Alexander Technique work.  With the guidance of the skilled hands and directions of Sandra Bain-Cushman; her two assistants, Garnett Mellen and Thea Schenck, I was able to release and find a greater presence within my movements.  Alas all things pass, and I returned home to perform at two gigs. 

With each passing day at home, those small everyday habits of thinking and use of time began to clutter my mind. Is any habit really small I wonder?  Developed over a lifetime, any habit has a power over me.  To release a habit, takes understanding, motivation, work, and frequently assistance from the beyond.  But since once again the stiffness was appearing in my right elbow, along with tension in certain muscles of my right neck I knew I need to find this "wrong thing" and to stop doing it!

This morning I returned to my professional duties, rested, invigorated, and grateful for the opportunities this employment affords me.  Wearing a compression bandage on my right elbow and a magnetic bracelet I took to my duties.  At one point I was walking down the hall with a clipboard when I noticed that my right shoulder was slightly elevated.  Why is my shoulder "helping" my arm carry this item that does not weigh more than a few ounces?  Smiling as I had detected a similar pattern of use in my left shoulder years ago in relation to "holding" the strap and hence the weight of the guitar.  Now I knew I had something to work with on my own. 

During lunch I perused Alexander's chapter Evolution of a Technique from Alexander's , which still happened to be in my computer bag.  His employment of his reasoning processes which he lays out there spoke to me in a new way:

    (1) to analyse the conditions of use present:
    (2) to select (reason out) the means whereby a more satisfactory use could be brought about:
    (3) to project consciously the directions required for putting these means into effect. 

So tonight with guitar in hand I began my analysis.  Reflecting on tendencies I observed during Qi Gong class yesterday, I knew I was onto something  as I decided to play with and inhibit this action.  This will probably take continued attention on my part to release this and more will be detailed as time permits. Currently I am smiling as I realize that for months, I have been trying to do the right thing, without understanding nor even seeing the wrong thing that I have been doing with my use.  C'est la vie.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Putting the Head on the Buddha

Thailand '06 - 09 Buddha head at Ayuthaya

Rushing to close the windows two days ago, I saw the possibility of a stone Buddha we bought in Cambodia being knocked off by the blind.  I've closed this blind numerous times successfully, but on this day I was rushing and the Buddha tumbled and lost his head.  This morning I chose to repair this situation.  Before applying glue I manipulated the head about the shoulders on the statue to understand when it felt snug.

Suddenly I was thinking about my own head.  Where is my head in relationship to my spine?  Is my neck free or am I pulling back and making myself rigid as I undertake the task before me?  If I had taken the time to check in with my body before yanking the string on the blind two days ago, might I have inhibited my end gaining and not need to repair this statue now?  As I directed my thinking towards freeing my neck, I let go of the judgement of my actions and entered the moment.  Opening the glue, I opened my heart to myself.  Attaching the head of the Buddha to the neck, I simply smiled and breathed as I held them in place to allow the glue to set.  A minute of breathing and observing, I noticed my spine lengthening, and enjoyed a moment of peace. Watering the seed of practice of the Alexander Technique, while allowing the roots of understanding to deepen, I smiled.

Before editing this post, I did an AT lie down for 15 minutes.  Now my neck is releasing, my back and spine long & wide.  This lie down inhibited my urge to publish and move on the items on my list for today, both personal and what I need to do to prepare for tonight's gig at Artomatic.  Grateful for the reminders that bring me back to the practices that guide and inform my life.  Where are you right now?