Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gentleness Yields

V&V Diptic app

Tonight we had Qi Gong class.  Over and over the instructor reminded us that Qi Gong is gentle, that it is not about forcing; just gentle movements coordinated with our breath.  At a few points, I began to sense I was being overwhelmed, and I just paused, directed my thinking, and let go of an emotional reaction.  No need to be frustrated, just be gentle in my learning the new forms. 

Arriving home I recalled the thought that arose during class, of how gentle can I be in my approach to the guitar?  So little effort is required to hold a string down with my left hand and to pluck this with my right.  As I began to visit where the musical idea had led to last night, I recalled the line of " float on the air of ambiguity."  Could I be gentle as I explored the possibilities of this new section, which has a structure and a harmonic direction?

After 15 - 20 minutes of playing with the notion, the idea began to unfold.  When I pushed I lost it.  Pausing to direct via AT, I found the path again.  Slowly exploring, releasing my hold on finding the "answer," and maintaining a sense of myself.  Gently probing, moving in an area that did not come to fruition, and then trusting I explored more.  Employing this gentle trusting process a new section arrived.  I played this a few times, and then rested a few minutes before notating what I had.

While notating the instruction to proceed gently arose again.  I paused, checking in with my body, and again directed with AT.  Smiling I completed the notation, played the part, and then put my guitar away. Tomorrow is another day to live, work and play.  But tonight I saw that gentleness yields results.

How can you be gentle in your pursuits? 

Photo by Salva Barbera

Monday, January 30, 2012

Clouds Never Die


Last night I ended my practice with learning the first section of a sketch I made based on the Haiku form earlier this month.  Tonight this was where I began my practice.  After learning the first section, I began working on the transitions in the B section.  A thought arose of extending the A section, I played with this and was happy with the results.  I gave this piece a working title of "Clouds Never Die."

After completing my session, I enjoyed the company of my wife.  As I was preparing to go to bed, I reviewed the A section in my mind.  I'm still not familiar enough with the B section to hear it without playing.  While making notes in my journal, I reviewed the A section again.  The thought arose to return to the A section after B completes and to invert the second chord of the phrase.  Then just follow, allow, and float on the air of ambiguity.  Now I know how I'll begin tomorrows session.

How will you begin yours?

Photo by Petrov Escarião

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Hellish hallway.

Unwind and then don't rewind.  How might I state this positively.  Unwind and then stay present with my use.  That was easy, at least the wording.   "Staying present" is an ongoing aspiration, that is fortunately supported with practices and the loving support of others.  The actuality of Being present remains elusive.

Today I did unwind at last.  The stresses and strains of the past months melting under the loving and skillful hands of Robert True.  Come November as the holiday season begins, my professional duties ramp up in response to the season, as well as the ongoing family celebrations and preparations.  We also enter the "survey window" where I work.   Our annual licensure inspection becomes due, and this is a time when all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed.  The anticipation mounts within each department and individual, and with this anticipation, anxiety builds in otherwise good people.  Toss in the added reports to wrap up our fiscal year on December 31st and I am in over my head.

The days and weeks become long.  The end of year paperwork was filed and then the state arrived the last Monday.   Rising early to practice Qi Gong and my sitting kept my emotions pretty much at bay, and allowed for a calm and centered demeanor.  But I was eating lots of sugar and holding in and onto certain reactions.  All of which is fine for the short term, but is not the way I wish to live my life.  When the state left on Friday, the relief was palpable.  However my body was wound up. Yesterday I phone Robert and set an appointment for today.

At one point during the massage Robert asked me if I was stubborn.  An emphatic yes was my reply.  Then I attempted to soften this and restate that I am persistent.  Both are true.  Not only did he release my muscles, but offered me an area to explore.  Always something.   I came home and napped, waking to the wonderful aroma of an eggplant and potato curry my wife had made.  After lunch I read and dozed off again.  As I thought of moving to my guitar, I reflected on the opportunity I had in front of me.  My body, mind, and emotions were all relatively calm and neutral.  Obviously this has not been the case for some time.  How to allow this neutrality to generate new information on how I use myself when I play?  In a sense to remain unwound.

I began with an "exercise" or practice taught to me by Pedro de Alcantara of using my hands on my hips to generate a simultaneous downward release of my legs and an upward release of my torso.  After putting on my guitar, I worked with the Alexander Technique directions to invite in length and width.  Playing Gathered Hearts, I thought " I am free," when the music came to a rest.  From here I moved onto working with Kinnara, a piece with many rests and alternating slow and faster sections.  Again giving the directions and thinking " I am free."  While looking at a photo of the Zen Master Thich Naht Hahn, I thought " I am free when in motion," then " I am free when I play."  The latter a bit loaded perhaps as a striving and non-accepting of where I am.

As I played I allowed the rests to be longer than usual and worked with my thinking.  At times removing my hands from the guitar and giving the AT directions again.  No hurry, now where to go, just be with the guitar.  I began working with inhibition during the first fast section and arrived at a wonderful place where I was affectionately holding the guitar as a dear friend.  I played the fast section slower than usual, pausing to direct, and then faster than required.  Observing a slight tensing of my neck, I paused for a lie down.  An area that Robert worked on extensively in my back earlier today,  releasing into the floor. 

Resuming my playing I moved onto Stepping Stones.  How would Thich Naht Hahn play this piece I wondered?  Listening to the notes, releasing my arms, neck and legs.  Returning to Pedro's "exercise" again to invite in opposition.  Noticing the occasional pull of my neck, I would pause.  Direct, release, inhibit and begin again.  Just enjoying the act of playing, I found the tone sweetening.  That elusive moment when the guitar sings beneath my fingers, is what keeps me coming back.  I realized that in the fifty minutes I had been practicing that a lot fewer notes than normal had been played.  My presence with the notes, the sections, and perhaps with music was greater than usual. Now that is I think is "good use of the self."

How are you using your self in your practice?  Why?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Of Course it's the Neck

brancabstract 7/7

This morning when I woke, I felt as if I had been run over.  A long stressful week professionally, ending with an 11 hour day Friday.  The sonic assault of my professional environment seems to take a great toll on me these days.  After rising I wrote briefly and read a few pages from Thich Nhat Hanh's Breathe, You Are Alive: The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, which  I've been studying since October.  Grateful for the day off, I was in a place where I just did not want to decide what to do today.  Fortunately I have my morning routine, and my loving wife with whom I practice.

She reviewed the Blue Heron Walking form from the Qi Gong class which I could not attend this week.  Becoming confused with the form, I wanted to let go of Qi Gong altogether.  Fortunately, she continued and I followed.  Taking us through forms which I am familiar, slowly my body let go of the stress and found release.  Towards the end of the session, we were standing and pausing, allowing the Qi to consolidate.  I found myself in a slightly unfamiliar stance, that had a sense of rightness.  I savored this moment for a bit as she began moving through the word for the day.  Smiling I began to move again, knowing that I can not hold onto anything, and just must continue to arrive in each moment.  An extremely pleasant contrast to the last couple hours of work yesterday.

Later in the day I was unclear with what to do next, so I rested.  After waking from my nap, I stayed in bed and meditated on the body.  Finding again the area of discomfort on my right forearm, I noticed a tightness below the right shoulder that appeared to be working to "hold" the shoulder in position.  As I just now tried to locate this area, I noticed the relationship between this "muscle" below the shoulder and movement I found myself doing while playing tonight.

Revisiting an exercise from Pedro de Alcanatara's excellent book Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique (Clarendon Paperbacks) I was putting a rest in during the second beat of a measure.  This brief inhibition of my regular playing, has proved illuminating when I worked with this previously.  I was also playing the piece slower than usual, focusing on observing the use of my right hand.  As I approached a section that I generally play with great intensity, I found my head slightly scrunching down and to the right.  Certainly not a surprise that a poor use of the neck would impact my playing from an Alexander viewpoint, but I was fascinated with finding this particular quirk on my own.  As I continued working in this manner, I noticed this again in relationship to a "mistake."  Subtle and as I write this I sense a dropping in my shoulder for some reason.  Pausing to inhibit my typing and thinking through the AT directions.  As I scrunch the neck and slightly lift the shoulder, I sense the "muscular holding" previously referred to.  Playing with this again there appears to be a habit of this "scrunch of neck and lift of shoulder " in my use.  No idea how this habit developed or why.  Now at least I have a sense of what I am working with. 

                           Photo by Luca Biada.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Day's Symmetry

                               Photo by Pedro De Alcantara

At the end of my Qi Gong session this morning, I noticed stiffness in my lower back.  Instead of my usual morning sitting, I decided that an AT lie down might serve me better.  During the lie down, I contemplated my body, giving the AT directions and hoping the stiffness would release. When I rose from the floor the stiffness was still present. 

After dinner and rest, I moved to the basement.  Beginning with an AT lie down, I recalled last week when I choose to not move to the guitar immediately after the lie down.  I thought it might be good to disrupt this habit again.  Then a thought arose of where to take the musical idea I was working with last evening.  Ah, the ever shifting mind, generating excuses - real and imagined.  After completing the lie down, I choose to run through some Qi Gong forms.  Something about the symmetry of lie down to Qi Gong in the morning, coupled with the reverse in the evening seemed right.  A few minutes later, I put on my guitar.

 Improvising with the idea, I enjoyed the exploration.  Nothing definitive arrived, but the musical landscape was broadened.  As I thought of my friend, Mal, a haiku began to form.  I took a break to play with this and then returned to the guitar.  Enjoying the freedom to move between and explore, music, movement, and words.  Gently untangling the stories I tell myself, the habits that for better or worse serve me, and the possibilities of my life.  May their energy serve the Creative.

To exist is a habit I do not despair of acquiring. - E. M. Cioran

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Kindness was the word for the day I chose as I completed my Qi Gong session this morning. My body happy to be moving with ease again, after four days of illness.  Hopeful that I might not be totally wiped out after work, like the past two evenings.  Grateful that I was kind to myself during the illness, rested, and yet did enjoy 15- 20 minutes of playing each evening.  This playing was without demand, just the simple act of enjoying my instrument and flirting with music.

As I went through my day, a few opportunities arose to reflect on my actions related to kindness.  After all the Dali Lama has stated " My religion is kindness."  Such a simple way of thinking, just difficult to live. Good stuff for me to think about.

 As I began to play tonight I was improvising, a sweet extended melody arose.  Another flirt with the muse, another opportunity to learn.  Thinking about our friend Malcolm Davis who recently departed this life, I began exploring to see if some notes might speak to me of Mal.  A melody arose and flowered a bit; sweet, short - like life.  Tomorrow I'll visit this again, provided I wake up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Around the Edge of Habit

we uncoiled as we relaxed in the sun

One of the reasons that Lynn Brice Rosen suggested playing around with my guitar during a lie down is "A musician's instrument is a powerful stimulus, often triggering patterned responses even when nothing's being played."  So very true.  This was illustrated last night at my session with David Jernigan when, as I was semi-supine on the floor, he simply plucked an open string as the guitar lay in the case.  There was a flutter in my chest, almost a longing, and a bit of who is that playing my guitar.  As he continued to play open strings I worked with staying with my body but the distraction of merely hearing my guitar was pulling me.  When I could see him begin to lift the guitar from the case, I had another reaction, but then he set it back.

Tonight I was preparing to play, by first doing a lie down to release the toll of my day.  As I hit the floor I wondered, suppose I did not play after the lie down but did something else.  Seeing an opportunity to exercise a real choice here, I choose to not move to playing right after the lie down.  Then the stories began, but then the time doing constructive rest is wasted if you just clean your desk.  You could sit with the guitar. Or play your dumbek instead, at least this would be musical I reasoned.  But the habitual pull of moving from lie down needed to be inhibited.  Upon arising I sorted through some old food sections for a few minutes.  Then as I moved toward the guitar I began singing and even began to dance.  Some spirited playing ensued.

Habits are so strong, and sometimes even very good habits need to be examined and set free.

Photo by Michael C Clark

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Deconstructive Rest


Thanks to a comment left here by Lynn Brice Rosen, an AT instructor, I did an experiment with doing a lie down with my guitar.  I had contacted David Jernigan about exploring this in our AT class tonight and I am grateful that we did.

David did a little AT work with me, inviting in length and width before putting me on the floor.  I am going to jump right to the results of our work.  When I rose from the floor there was an expansiveness in my upper torso, a solidity in my relationship to my feet, and a deconstruction of what it meant to have a guitar in my hands.

Arriving home, I was improvising with an idea that came to me during my commute this morning and noticed how free and in the space I was.  Ironically when I began later to play a piece, the mental chatter arose.  This continued, even with pauses to inhibit, until I abandoned the idea of playing a piece from this wonderful state and returned to improvising.  I taped the session with David and may blog about the details at a later date.  David's openness, directions, and leaps into the unknown were immense. 

The work remains, as always, how to be available to the guitar and music in the present moment.  Tonight offered a oblique way in, that I suspect will have repercussions for some time.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Question Remains - Where Am I?

Leucantha, Lady in the Lake (2)

Doing a pre-guitar practice lie down, I noticed the area below my right shoulder blade that sometimes becomes sore from playing. Direct anatomical expression of this area is beyond my competence, and the muscle in question may even lay deeper within my back or within my neck.   I do know the area was sore.  I focused my thinking on letting go of this tension.  Then I took a more universal approach and thought of allowing my neck to be free.  Where within the muscular pathways of my neck am I "holding on," or using myself poorly.

As I continued the lie down and thought of releasing my neck, the discomfort left.  I wondered about the discomfort I have noticed in the upper part of my forearm of late.  What is the relationship between what I often notice in my back and what is happening in my forearm.  How am I using myself right now as I type?  I found a slight lifting of my shoulder and a shortening of my arm.  Where and when did I learn this pattern of use?  This is not the first time I have observed this manifestation.  Certainly there is a cause, a habit that has evolved within me that has led to this being regular and now causing discomfort. Now my work is to let go of this habit as a typist, as a guitarist, even in how I hold a cup of coffee.

Finding freedom of use within any activity, invites in this freedom to all activities. So the question becomes Where am I?  Am I typing mechanically or am I aware of my body, my breath, as I express these thoughts with my lap top? 

From my work with the Alexander Technique and examining anatomy texts, I have gained a much greater appreciation of the number of muscles that comprise what we call our necks.  These muscles extend deeper and further in the back and the chest than I had ever imagined.  As they layer and extend through the passages around bone, tension in one will impact the flexibility of others.  Conversely freedom in one affects the rest. Regardless of my state before a lie down, I always rise in a better one.  Free and aware, my musculo-skeletal system placed at an advantage for me to undertake activity. Time for another lie down before I pick up my guitar.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Connected, Happy, and Free

binars1d Ever so grateful for the day job, but the work sure does take a lot out of me.  Fortunately there are the practices that nourish and sustain me physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Without them I'd be either a raving lunatic or dead.  So I practice.

Even with my exhaustion I was eager to pick up my guitar tonight, until I hit the basement that is.  Noticing the tension and tiredness I was carrying, I hit the floor for an AT lie down.  A nice long one, just over twenty minutes.  Contemplating my body and letting go of the unnecessary tension that was clouding my thinking and hampering movement.  I did not want to get up, and as I rolled over to get up, I was tempted to just go to bed.

But I have my goals and one of them is putting myself out there and looking for new music for 15 minutes a night.  I knew I could do this.  And I also knew that the energy inherent in reaching for and taking responsibility for my goal, my wishes, would carry me further.  I began playing Journeyman's Way Home to touch innocence and then began improvising in a pattern of 5/7/5.  The attention required to do this, coupled with the relaxation induced by the lie down, woke me up.  I was connected, happy, and free.  What more could I ask for.  Where would I be without Music?

Art is not what you see but what you make others see.  - Edgar Degas

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Haiku Informs Me

Mixed Media in Progress - Haiku Anchors Me # 3

Since December 31st, I've been on a Haiku kick. Writing Haiku has never been a pursuit, but suddenly I find myself playing with these 5/7/5 syllable word patterns.  Some of the outcomes have surprised me. Time always becomes very precious and in short demand in my life come mid-November.  Professional demands amp up with the Holidays, the end of our fiscal year, and our pending annual licensure inspection.  Then there is my own family and personal Holiday celebrations.  Thus thinking/writing in 17 syllable bursts appears to be efficient. Who knows why this has arrived, but I am in welcoming mode.

On my drive home, the thought arose around using the 5/7/5 as a form for a series of solo guitar pieces. Shortly afters the winter dusk inspired another Haiku, I pulled over to jot this down.  Maybe even a combinations of spoken Haiku and music arose.  Felt good to be open to the possible.

On Sunday I was working on my personal goals for this month, but did not complete writing them out.  After a good short talk with my friend Tom Redmond today, I completed this important task this evening.  Tonight I was a bit more realistic regrading my goals, with my time and circumstances this month.  I've already worked 30 hours in 3 days this week. The goals are actionable, which is a very important factor.  One of the goals is to spend 15 minutes per day to invite in new music.  Playing with the idea of a Haiku form tonight, I enjoyed an hour and a half of creating a new piece.  As Tom has frequently stated these personal goals energize me to do the work I need to do both professionally and personally.  If you happen to be in sales check out his book, Selling From the Inside Out.  Even if you are not in sales, Tom's thoughts and ideas will add value to your life.

While taking a break from my playing earlier this Haiku arrived

                         Haiku informs me.
              Notes form sentiments in sound.
                         Listening to sea.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Silent Seeing

      Habit - what to play?

Letting needed notes appear,

In the Hothouse

             Music whispers, sighs.