Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Universe of Possibilities

2 of Force: Ideology

As I went to open my case tonight I paused.  This is not unusual for me, I frequently do this to check in with myself.  Be it through following my breath, using the Alexander Technique directions, or reciting a gatha that came to me years back.  I want to wake up and be present for the transition and the ensuing act of music.  Tonight as I paused this haiku arrived:

Opening the case, 
All possibilities are.
Now play the guitar.

Taking a few minutes to work with AT inhibition and direction, I then began to play Senseless Loss.  Playing at a slower then the tempo I have been working with this piece at, I heard perhaps a more meaningful expression in the bass register.  Pausing I decided to tape a slow take to listen to later.  Since my Tuesday evening AT class with David Jernigan, I have let go of using the pic to play this tremolo piece and have begun to play it fingerstyle.  This was David's suggestions as a possibility of the means-whereby to let go of end-gaining I was noticing in relation to this piece.

When I played this fingerstyle when I returned home that night I immediately found out I was able to play the piece at an increased tempo and with more accuracy.  Yet there was en energy missing. It took me a while to realize that I may have been mistaking the intensity of effort with a musical quality being expressed.  When in actuality the intensity that was now lacking appeared to have more to do with me tensing myself. 

So tonight when I heard/felt increased expression in the slower take I wondered why?  Was it purely musical or a result of less effort to play.  I increased the tempo and something was missing.  Alternating between slow and faster passages of a section of the piece, I arrived at perhaps a middle ground.  As I played faster both the attack of my thumb and my fingers were louder.  What if I lessened the attack of the thumb for a softer timbre while playing at the faster tempo?  There was something musical about this combination so I will continue to pursue this tomorrow. 

There truly is a universe of possibilities before any of us, in any of our pursuits.  We just need to begin and allow them to manifest.  Is your case open?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Days Like This

Qi Gong in the park with Master Li after a month off - Yessssssss.

An hour of practice using AT negative directions while practicing Senseless Loss.
Could hear & feel Senseless Loss coming Alive.

Letting go of determination.
 At least a bit.

Lunch in back yard with my Favorite Person in the whole world.
Discussions of the future, free of fear or worry.
This is miraculous.

Wrote first of seven Haiku today.
Where did these come from?

Read T.S. Elliot.
Best friend in freshman year of college told me I needed to.
Still looking to come to grips with his words.

Then dinner.
Second Haiku whispers as I dress.

Two Haiku adorn program
of recital of our friend, Melinda Hamerly.
Poulenc's La Carpe was sublime.
de Falla's Nana so sweet,
While Polo enlivened.
Happy to support friend and music.
Beauty nourishes all.

Home to just play guitar.
No direction.
Less judgement.
A wish conceived.


 To bed.

Unless another Haiku arrives.

Daybreak Guitar

Notes swirl at daybreak,
Natures energy rising.
Silently Hearts Whirl.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I Am Not Determined


Today is the third day of a five day commitment I made on the fly Thursday morning to further investigate Alexander Technique Negative Directions.  Since I have been playing with using AT in this manner, a new ease has entered my body for longer and longer periods of time.  Additional catalysts have been provided by the Bill Conable workshop two weeks ago and weekly classes with David Jernigan.  Throughout the course of my day I am increasingly finding myself pausing briefly to use inhibit what I am doing and release unnecessary tension with the simple use of "I am not (fill in the blank.)" These so called Inhibitory or Negative Directions were first postulated in Missy Vineyards excellent book How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live: Learning the Alexander Technique to Explore Your Mind-Body Connection and Achieve Self-Mastery

For my five day commitment I decided that I would spend 20 minutes per day beginning with the direction "I am not playing the guitar," and then respond to where this took me.  With my guitar in the stand before me, I sit quietly for a few moments and begin silently giving the direction to myself of "I am not tensing my neck."  From there I move on to the direction of I am not playing the guitar.   I notice slight releases of my muscles in various parts of my body as I do nothing but hold this thought. As the mind quiets more I than take my guitar.  While holding the guitar but still not playing any notes, I again begin to hold the direction "I am not playing the guitar."  After a couple of minutes while keeping part of my attention on forward and up, I begin to play.  Sometimes just a few notes, others a few bars.  Then back to the direction of I am not playing ...

I pause the playing when my mind begins to chatter, or I notice I am tightening in my back, neck, or often my right leg.  Somehow negative directions are clearing out habitual thinking patterns that precede my movement.  And just like in the hands of an AT teacher they reset my system, allowing me an opportunity to move in the manner in which I was created.

Tonight I began in the manner already described and then took this session beyond twenty minutes and off in a variety of directions.  Part of why I took the work beyond the 20 minutes is that I am working with a piece of music I am learning, not something that I already play.  In particular I was working with a difficult section of this piece.  I did take frequent breaks during my practice to keep my attention fresh and my body in a state that I did not aggravate my injury.

When I returned at one point the reliable "monkey mind" was back and disruptive.  Pausing I came up with "I am not thinking while playing."  Slowly my focus returned and I moved onto "I am not playing effortlessly." Mind you I was not forcing my playing, but as I probe the use of negative directions, I have found that my brain does understand more than I realize and by introducing this thought, I somehow move closer to effortless playing.  I have uses this direction for the past week and am noticing positive results.

Having isolated the section where the piece needed work to progress as a whole, I settled in.  In a moment of exasperation I arrived at "I am not playing this part well."  As if scripted, I then played the part beautifully.  Of course one pass does not make for a reliable technique, but I knew I was on the way.  I took another break and then returned to this section.

As this part come under control I then lengthened the amount of music on either side of the problem part.  I was beginning to tire and  just could not play well.  I noticed I was beginning to tighten my jaw a bit and saw that determined part of Patrick that will delve into end gaining.  What to do I thought?  "I am not determined" arrived and I let go of practicing.  A short walk along the rain swollen Sligo Creek provided a lovely sonic back drop to work with "I am not walking."

And so it goes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Charleville Castle Chapel Restoration ProjectMy system was out of balance, what to do?  Alexander Technique lie down of course. This simple effective practice allows the unnecessary tensions to leave me.  From this restored perspective I can begin again.  So much suffering at work these days.  Without a path that transforms suffering, I would be totally lost.  So I breath, direct my thinking, and get out my guitar.

My right elbow was irritated during my sleep last night, so I proceeded slow and gentle with my practice.  Sitting with the guitar and using the negative direction of I am not playing the guitar, I allowed my body to take in these thoughts.  A few bars and then I let go of playing.  More direction, a few bars and let go.  This continued to 15 minutes and then a break.

I was ready to let go altogether but then a twitter friend was seeking motivation to practice.  Offering support, I went back to practice.  Working with allowing my arm to have its' length, I continued to experiment with the aforementioned negative directions and enjoyed 2 - 25 minute sessions.  The magic of vibrating strings have revived my spirits.  Tomorrow is another day, if I wake. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One Lie Exposed

53c Detective Story Magazine (UK) Dec-1953 Includes My Body Lies Over the Ocean by E. Hoffmann Price
I'm a liar.  No harsh judgement with this statement, just part of my condition.  Grateful that it is not a major aspect of my being, and not at the level it once was, but the truth of the matter is I am a liar.  And those lies I tell myself are those that are most severe, if for no other reason than I believe them on some level.  Tonight at my AT class with David Jernigan, on of my lies was exposed.

David had been working with us and I was in a state where I was free in my body and mind was thinking constructively.  Alive to what I was doing and how I was doing it.  David invited me to get out my guitar while he was working with another student at the piano.  I'm still integrating the revelation I received from Bill Conable two weeks ago regarding the use of my right arm & hand.

David questioned me at to why I did something in a particular way. I responded that I was bring the guitar to the body, not bringing my body to the guitar which is a very valuable principle taught to me in Guitar Craft. As I began to bring my right hand back to the guitar, my old habit asserted itself and there I was telescoping my right arm to bring my hand into position.  I showed this to them and marveled at how easily this habit came out, after I have been so careful recently.

I then demonstrated the usefulness of my "old way" of using my arm and hand because I can get greater volume and hence have a broader range of dynamics available.  And then quite by accident I discovered that the difference in maximum volume I could attain in either position was negligible.  How or why I never discovered this early escapes me.  Perhaps when I was using my right hand in a position that I knew was better for my long term health, I did not want to find out how much power was available to me.  Then I would not need to do the work of letting go of the habit and cultivating the awareness and diligence to undertake this. Who knows.  But I did fit the information to support my habitual use.  In other words I lied to myself.  Years have been lost where this had not needed to be so and the recent suffering from tennis elbow may never have manifested.

Of course when I took out my guitar at home and went to investigate this further, at first I could not or perhaps would not attain the greater volume.  Persistence of habits is so strong and even terrifying.  I also know that a practice based on principle and intention can allow habits to be transformed.  C'est la vie.  Now my lie has been exposed to me and to you.  What's next?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Searching For the Question

... cenas de uma quinta-feira ... Sometimes I need to take a journey into the unknown.  Lately much of my travels into the unknown have been through the Alexander Technique.  Certainly this is not a bad place to question and investigate for my long term musical health.  But then sometimes, there is an urge - for something new, something different.

Yesterday I played with the negative direction of "I am not a guitarist" again.  A slight stripping away of pretense and permission for myself to not move right into an established mode.  I followed this with "I am not a composer."  Certainly I am not trained in a traditional music school, yet I do create and perform my own works.  For the sake of being open to change, to life, I continued to direct my thinking away from any usual pattern of thinking and using myself.

Then the intention formed - To create a love song.

I had fun exploring what arrived yesterday, and returned to this tonight.  Something was missing though.  What was missing?  Come back to my body, find my feet, release my length.  Revel in the good news that the search had begun.  The decision to go and embrace uncertainty, wade through the muck, and be in the process.  Breathing in, I let go of yesterdays idea, and began again.  Breathing out I explored.  Then a triad built on fourths, followed by another appeared; and I heard what was there.

A musical question, one of intrigue and this question was pulling me along.  I played this 30 seconds of notes for my wife and she heard it also.  I was off.  Listening to the question and searching for an answer.  And then another one.  Reformulate the question and listen, search, and listen once again.  A form was found and the ideas taped.  Now to rest, to listen again tomorrow.  To search, to question, and to listen; ready to let go and step out into the unknown again.

What questions await me?  What questions await thee?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Event Horizon

Infinity of Matter: The Event HorizonBalance the consistency principle with the inconsistency principle.  Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt

The wisdom of Oblique Strategies once again informs the practice of my life.  What is consistent - Habits.  And what is inconsistent - my conscious choice of how I use myself, how I move through life, how I respond to situations. By interjecting and inviting in moments of awareness throughout my day, the scales begin to tip and my habits are examined.  As these moments of awareness become more frequent through strengthening the habit of pausing and checking in with myself, life is enhanced for myself and the world.  May I become consistent with examining my inconsistencies.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Releasing One Small Habit

Canadian goose
When I woke on Monday, there was a familiar tightness in the area of the right elbow.  A stiffness was present in part of the right side of my neck and as I moved my arms about, a tightness in  a muscle of the upper right arm.  Some position I had assumed during my sleep had aggravated the muscles and tendons that comprise my condition of "tennis elbow."

Part of the great relief from the Bill Conable workshop on Saturday was having this situation alleviated.  Now I knew it was possible to have freedom in my right arm, I had experienced this on Saturday and Sunday.   So what to do?   I needed to pay attention to my whole use of myself and to direct my thinking.

That morning at work, I sat in front of my computer.  I noticed a slight pulling in the right side of my neck.  Pausing to observe, my head was slightly tilted to the right as I looked at the monitor, pulling & shortening this area of my neck.  Meanwhile my right arm was also "shortening" to accommodate my relationship to the keyboard.  Later while carrying a few sheets of paper back to my office, I noticed that my right arm was "shortening" again.  Back at my desk, I went to close my right hand and saw that when I would go to close the hand there was a "pulling back" of the arm and a slight "scrunching" of the right shoulder.

Carrying a cup of coffee with elbow bent, I again saw this "shortening."  Is this a result of strategy I developed to "protect"the injury?  More likely this is a pattern of use that has been unconscious to me and contributed to the injury.  I took this information to my Alexander Technique session with David Jernigan last night.  Through the use of his hands and suggestions my freedom in this area was once again restored.  The possibility of this habit of shortening being let go is real, but I need to cultivate the awareness to allow this to manifest.

When I came home I went to play guitar.  Pausing to direct my thinking,  I came back several times to my arms are long.  Thinking about my recent work with negative directions, the thought "I am not a short guy" arrived.  Laughing as my 6'4" frame played with this direction.

In the 45 minutes that I have been writing this, I have paused several times to notice how I was using myself at the computer.  In taking the opportunity to direct my thinking and introduce a small measure of freedom I have noticed small scrunchings  and tweakings of myself and let them go.  But habits are persistent and as my awareness withdraws from my use, the habits reassert themselves.  As Thomas Jefferson said "The price of freedom in constant vigilance."  I have my work cut out for me.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Maintaining Freedom - Is It Possible?

We move according to how we think we are structured not according to how we are actually structured. -  Bill Conable

Here I am, a mass of habits.  Many good habits and some bad ones, with most of my habits engaging below the level of my consciousness.  Yesterday at an Alexander Technique workshop with Bill Conable, he introduced a great level of comfort and freedom into my left arm in particular and my whole self in general.  Bill has been working with AT for over fifty years and has an amazing ability to transmit freedom with his hands coupled with an astounding ability to see one's self-imposed limitations.

The freedom he took me through was and is still very palpable.  How may I maintain this freedom?   Certainly by use of the AT process. Using inhibition of an action and directing myself.  Noticing what I am doing and then working through the technique to let go of what is not useful.  Lie downs and more lie downs.  But what of those habits that might lie outside of pure movement.

As I began to move about my kitchen this morning the urge, habit really, to grab a few handfuls of granola stuck me.  At this time I also noticed how free and up I still was from yesterday's work.  The unity of my system is a sum of the parts.  Habits form and shape these "parts."  What if I inhibit this particular habit of early morning snacking and choose to direct my thinking instead.  After all this "grabbing a handful of granola" generally lies within my automatic behavior.

When ever I can disrupt my automatic behavior my entire system benefits.  One small act can and does influence the whole.   Pausing to direct my thinking right now and introduce length and width to myself as I type will positively impact how I use myself with the guitar.  These moments of freedom are fleeting and rare, yet powerful.  When one continues to comes back to the moment to notice and direct what one is doing, change becomes possible.  And this act of coming back to the body and unifying my actions with my thinking strengthens the ability to notice again later.

As I learn more about how the human system actually is designed to work and choose to direct my use along these lines rather than my habitual way of doing, a small measure of freedom is obtained.  Vigilance in observing how I move and taking the time to direct my thinking maintains these small freedoms.  Change is possible, freedom is possible; it requires a gentle persistence.  Just now I paused again to notice how I was sitting with the computer.  Bringing my actions within a conscious intentional act changes everything, if only for  a moment.

Friday, July 6, 2012

. . . . . . . . . . ... I Am Not

A nap.
I really wanted a nap.
But it was late.
Too late to nap.
I must play my guitar, I must.
Because the nap would lead to me staying in  bed the rest of this day.

But first.
A Blessed AT lie down.
Played with a lie down in the prone position.
Using Missy Vineyards instructions.
This opened up something new.

Playing with AT directions.
Misdirecting my mind to allow freedom.
I am not playing the guitar.
And I did not.
I was not even holding a guitar.

Finding my center.
I am not holding my neck.
And I Am
Forward, up,     wide.
And then again. 
Lightly bringing
Different & various combinations,
of one hand or both and then again.
To the space where I am not playing guitar.

My guitar
Graces my body.

 I allow my hands to float to the guitar.
As if driven by ocean currents.
I am not playing my guitar.
Moving hands.
Quieting mind.
Finding my center again,
and again.

Finally notes sing.
As I sing with them.
The act of singing like this requires
Most of my attention.
And my hands play on.

I come to an end.
Think more negative directions.

I am not compressing myself.
And voila,
I was not.
More playing, 
More Alexander Technique.
More quiet.

More not playing while playing.

I am not a slave to my practice.
Another lie down.
First semi-supine.
Then prone.
More quiet.

Then this 
not playing Gathered Hearts 

A break w/out my nap.
Ready for more.
I am not holding my neck.
The setting sun
Silhoutes my shoulders, neck and head.
On the brick wall.

I am not doing the Alexander Technique.

It just may be
Doing me.

More playing.
More directing.
And now
A long big nap.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Negating Up

What goes up, must come down (Explored)
While waiting for someone at work today, the thought arose - I am not holding myself down.  Smiling as I saw a possible way around the often confusing "forward and up" of Alexander lingo.  I have used the direction  "allow my neck to be free in such a way that mu head is forward and up ..." for years.  And I still will, but there is something fresh about finding and exploring negative directions.  Jumping about Missy Vineyards book  I see she is very much concerned with her students developing spatial awareness by simplifying the AT directions.  From what I have garnered from others more experienced in the teaching and application of AT she is the first one to use "negative directions."

In the few instances I have directed "I am not holding myself down," I sense a lightness and easing upwards of my torso, while maintaining a connection with my feet.  Taking this one step further with "I am not holding myself back" as the negative corollary to "forward" I also found that I was not attempting to "do anything" in response to the "holding myself back" direction.   There is also another sense inherent in "not holding myself back" that could serve me well musically. 

I am practicing in a room that has a beautiful oval mirror which captures my torso from my navel to the top of head.  Framed in this manner within the oval gives me a great sense of width to complement the spatial relationships I am playing with.  Feeling light and free as I play guitar tonight. So onwards with playing with the AT directions and assesing the results.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Be in the Space

Looping Hot
Grateful tonight for simple conveniences such as lights and air conditioning after having done without the past two days. As I was taking my guitar out of the case I had a wish - May I be in the space where I am practicing.  So simple, yet so difficult to just be where I am.  To be alive in the space I am living in this moment.  Using the Alexander Technique principle of inhibition, I paused and directed my thinking, rather than just allowing my habitual responses to having a guitar in my hands to arise.

Using the negative direction of "I am not compressing my neck," I then moved on to "I am not playing the guitar."  From these thoughts and then thinking forward, up, and wide, I took in the space that has been offered to me tonight.  Enjoying the sound of my guitar in a different room, while lightly thinking to keep myself free.

Slowly the thought of "I am not playing the guitar," is offering glimpses of non-doing as I play.  While singing the bass notes of a tremolo piece as I played, I entered the piece in a new way; perhaps I entered the space within the piece.  Hearing what is possible for this piece and realizing I do not need to think about what the music means, but rather to play the meaning.  Slowly, ever so slowly, I learn.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Waves of Change

Texture/Background 5

I am not compressing myself as I type is the direction that just manifested as I moved toward beginning this blog post.  So easy to become lost when catching up with email, Facebook, etal after having lost power at home due to nasty storms in this area Friday night.  Wishing that I could have again began my day with a dip in the Atlantic Ocean and Qi Gong in the surf but alas live moves on.

I have found that vacations at the beach is a wonderful opportunity for me to devote more time to all the pursuits in my life that nourish me.  Meditation, Qi Gong, exercise, music, and the Alexander Technique coupled with an environment that inspires hope and joy throughout the day.  Awed by the sheer immensity of the Ocean, I am invited back to the present moment.  How can I not be inspired to think "up" when the sky is so beautiful? How can I not be inspired to think "forward" when I have time to reflect, nourish, and be with the people who mean the most to me? Allowing the stress and strain of everyday life to float away, while allowing waves of reflection to fill my day.  How can I not think "Wide" when the horizon is nothing but life sustaining water? Not only the ocean of unimaginable width, but also of a length that spans between continents and is not "fixed" in a position?

As my arm reaches through the water, I notice my length as I swim.  Floating I sense my spine, subtly shifting and adjusting to the energy of the ocean moving about me.  My sense of the space about me heightened.  A space that is alive with energy and life forms I can not sense.  The ocean expands me as I respond to the moments of it's waves.  I like to stand in chest high water and while directing up allow my hands to float up as if I were playing the guitar. I have been playing with AT in the waves like this for years.

This past week, I have added the negative direction - I am not playing the guitar, as I play with my arms in this manner in the sea.  Part of the beauty of this experiment with bringing my arms up in the ocean is that due to the waves constantly pushing against and shifting my feet and torso, I can not being my hands up in a habitual manner.  The ocean's inhibition of my habitual use of this action is light, fun, and free.  After several days of this, I introduced the thought - I am playing the guitar, while bringing my hands up through the surf.   Just enjoying the possibilities and being open to this inquisitively playful experiment positively impacting how I actually do play the guitar.   Smiling, floating, and continuing to direct as the waves splash about me. Ahh, wishing I was back there now, but grateful for where I am.

In the  evening, when I approached my guitar I thought of how might I incorporate these experiments of movement in the ocean with how I bring my hands and arms to the guitar.  I found myself thinking, now how did that feel?  Laughing as I saw once again the trap we all fall into when applying the Alexander Technique, perhaps more clearly this time than ever before.  I do not need to access what the "freedom" felt like, but to access that thinking that led to this freedom.  To pause, inhibit, and then direct my thinking.  Currently my use of negative directions is bearing fruit.  I am finding that introducing the " traditional" AT directions, after the negative directions for instance - I am not compressing myself - offers a different and perhaps clearer path to my movement freedom.

The search terms I used in searching for a photo to accompany this post also turned up photos of ice.  Chuckling as I thought may my movements be like waves of freedom, not stuck in my habitual frozen patterns.  I wish this for all of you also.  How are you experimenting and introducing change with the Alexander Technique?