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When I was little, my mother put a piece of paper on the fridge with a magnet. On the paper she had written “NO COMPLAINING!” That paper stayed there for years. I wonder if it’s still there…
I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I’m a champion complainer. If there were a Complaining World Cup, my kids and I would dominate. So my interest was piqued when I received an email with the subject “Not to Complain” from Rabbi Brian, who sends out a funny and thought-provoking non-denominational spiritual newsletter.
Turns out the Rabbi had started a 21-day no complaint challenge and he was suggesting, gulp, that I, that is to say, his readers, including me, gulp, gulp, try it too. Well I’m not quite ready to commit to 21 days (yet), but I thought, heck, I’ll try it this morning and see what I find. I’m now a few days in, and I have been noticing some very interesting things.
On my early morning walk around the neighborhood that first morning, I found myself thinking, “What a beautiful morning. I’m so grateful to be out in it. Except I’m SO tired—” I stopped myself mid-complaint, and wondered: Why am I complaining to myself? I know I’m tired! And I found not only that I could let the thought go, but that it was a relief to let it go.
Weird.
While my husband and I got everyone ready to head out the door to camp and work, I told him about the challenge. (And in the back of my mind I wondered if we would even be having a conversation right now if I hadn’t taken on this challenge, or if instead he’d be listening to me complain about the kids and the cat getting me up in the night…) A question came up: What is the line between complaining and observing? We decided that it was the attitude and whether or not I intend to do something about it. For example:
“I’m STARVING!!!” (Said in an eardrum splitting whine.) [complaint]
versus
“I’m hungry. I think I’ll get something to eat.” [observation/action]
Later in the day I noticed that—drat—I have indeed caught the children’s summer cold. Thanks summer camp! Ordinarily this would lead to a great deal of complaining on my part. But since complaining wasn’t an option, when Brian got home from work, I informed him that I was sick and would be skipping my Spanish Class and getting into bed directly after dinner. The craziest part of this was that the whole evening was almost completely free of the usual guilt and insecurity.
Weird.
Later in the week, during the SNOT phase of the cold, I had more thoughts on not complaining. They came when my son woke me at 2 am and again at 3:30 am from my tenuous and hard-fought sleep. “I WANT TO COMPLAIN!” I gurgle-growled through my phlegm. I flopped over angrily, anticipating it would take me a looong time to fall asleep again. And thinking that maybe this no complaining thing is not all it’s cracked up to be. I mean sometimes it’s good to complain, right? Sometimes it lets off steam! Right?
Well I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that, without my typical pattern of griping and complaining, something sort of magical happened. My grumpiness went away. It was as if the fire lacked oxygen and just sputtered out. I didn’t fall asleep right away, but I realized I felt comfortable. Content.
Weird.
These experiments are making my Alexander Technique spidey sense all tingly. It occurs to me that complaining takes a lot of energy. Complaining, I’m finding, is a little like stiffening my neck (and is no doubt accompanied by stiffening my neck). It’s an unconscious pattern that takes conscious attention to resist (or as we say in AT, Inhibit). But when I Inhibit it, I realize how hard I was working, and how much easier and lighter life is without it.
Maybe I’ll keep it up for a few more days… Maybe you want to try it with me?
***
For further exploration of not wasting energy check out this blog.
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So maybe you notice that your child hunches while he writes. Or she slumps at the dinner table. Or is it only my kids who manage to spend a good chunk of dinner halfway underneath the table?
And I think “Boo hoo hoo, so recently they were toddlers and it was as if they didn’t even know how to slouch. But now they are proving to be slouching prodigies!”
First of all, why should we care about our children’s posture? Well, let’s start by briefly defining posture as the ability to be upright easily and without strain (for more details, read my “What is Good Posture?”blog). Being slumped over makes it harder to breathe, harder for circulation and digestion to function properly. And it may well lead to back and neck pain down the line. Also, how we posture, to use the verb form, is a terrific indicator of how we are balancing our systems overall. We can’t see the nervous system, directly. But it’s written all over the body. Hunching over or puffing up are not benign, but are instead powerful information about what is happening inside our children (and ourselves).
Helping our children maintain their natural poise might be one of the most powerful and long-lasting gifts we can give them.
Step 1: Start with YOURSELF (I mean it!)
Really and truly try everything below on yourself first. Don’t even tell your kids about it. They might notice on their own that you’re a little more upright or a little less harried. Which will give you the perfect opening to share what you’re learning… Even if they don’t notice it consciously, one of the (myriad—don’t get me started) reasons we slouch is that almost everyone else does too. From our earliest days we are surrounded by a sea of slumping grownups. So is it any wonder we unconsciously do the same? Do yourself a favor and harness your kids’ mirror neurons for good. If you’re more “UP,” they will start to be as well.
Step 2: Don’t nag them to Sit/Stand Up Straight (no matter what your Grandmother did to you)
I confess, this step is SOOOOO hard for me. But nagging, badgering and bullying are particularly ineffective educational strategies. In fact they often backfire. Instead try…
Step 3: Play Games and Cultivate Curiosity (like Mary Poppins)
Can you imagine you have a floaty balloon head?What if your shoulders and your ears needed a little space from each other?Can you make yourself HEAVY? Now can you make yourself LIGHT?
What happens if you think of yourself as SOFT and TALL?
Ask yourself: Am I SEEING? Am I BREATHING? Am I BALANCING?Say Hello:
Hello Head
Hello Feet
Hello Back
Hello World
[An aside (sort of): Do you ever resolve to be more patient with your children? I know I do ALL. THE. TIME. Unfortunately, I have come to believe that the intention to “be more patient” is basically worthless. The best intentions in this direction are vague and mushy and don’t help me in the moments when my hair spontaneously catches fire. But here’s a goal that might just work instead—CONNECT MORE. All of the games and activities above are silly, fun opportunities to connect. When my kids and I connect, there is less need for me to be “patient” because we are all happier and more present.]
Step 4: Model
When you want to say “Sit Up Straight (!!!),” instead take a moment to PAUSE, let yourself breathe, let yourself be Soft & Tall. Then ask your child to try one of the above with you.
Step 5: Time for a Change
Sometimes I think collapse is functional. We shut down when we are over-stimulated, over-tired, over-cooked. When you noticing your child slumping, maybe DON’T try to get them to not slump in whatever they are doing (homework? video game? noisy restaurant?). Instead their slumping may be valuable information that they desperately need to change position or activity or venue.
Now I realize that some of these activities are geared toward younger children. My teen students might be okay with a “floaty balloon head” because they can dig silliness. And because I’m not their mother. Please be creative in adapting these ideas to your surly teenager and then report back so I have a head start!
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The middle-aged man with the receding hairline and the wedding band leaned down the bar to nudge my college roommate conspiratorially. “Your friend” (pointing to me) “needs to loosen up.”
“If I were any looser,” I deadpanned, “I’d be asleep.”
He left us alone. (Attending college in New York City, I triple majored Theatre, Philosophy and getting rid of creeps.)
This story spontaneously came back to me the other day, from the depths of my memory bank, as I was pondering the difference between “Stiff” and “Still.” They are often mistaken for each other.
Stiffness, rigidity, bracing. All words for a common strategy of working (too) hard to hold ourselves upright.
And when we start to notice we’re stiff, we may attempt to counteract it with what feels like the opposite—movement. Stretching, jiggling, shaking ourselves out, leaning back and forth, changing positions nonstop, rolling the shoulders and head, etc.
I’m a big fan of movement. But sometimes this moving-to-try-not-to-be-stiff is counter-productive. We go from working (too) hard being stiff to working (too) hard to stay moving (so as not to be stiff). It’s all a lot of WORK. Also, we may be still bracing in some parts even as we shake out others. We haven’t actually addressed the underlying problem of habitual stiffening. We’ve just added habitual wiggling.
So what if we had another option? It’s also totally possible to just be STILL, without stiffening up. To do only what it takes to be sitting or standing here and no more. Not moving any more than I need to conserves energy for when I do want to be moving. And also allows me to move easily and freely when that time comes because I don’t have to un-stiffen my braced joints in order to do it.
Sort of like a 22-year-old perched confidently on a barstool. Self-contained enough to reject a bad come-on without working too hard.
***
To dig deeper into how the Alexander Technique helps us to be upright without being stiff, check out this blog.
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“I’m so mad at my body!” my student reported to me on Monday morning. I imagine many of us have felt this way, but not being in the business of body-transplants, I dug a little deeper to see what the problem was, specifically. We talked for a bit and then she rephrased it: “I’m mad that I overdid it this weekend.”
Aha!
Now that we can do something about.
And then it occurred to me that I am having exactly the same problem. And I was reminded of that old saying about learning the most from one’s students. Yep.
On my walk that very morning before work I had been pondering my Sunday. It was a fantastic day with my kids, only marred by intermittent grumpiness from me. What’s up with that? Why do I get so crabby? They weren’t even being particularly naughty, so I really had nobody but myself to blame.
I was able to break it down to factors:
Food. I waited too long to eat breakfast and then found myself stomping around the kitchen. A handful of nuts could solve that.
Trying to do Work. Sundays are typically a workday for me, but I had cancelled my students in order to attend an event with my family in the morning, and a rehearsal with my choir in the afternoon. So I had to fit in emails and admin work around the edges—before they got up and after they went to bed. Which actually was okay. The problems start when I’m hanging out with them and they seem totally occupied, so I sneak into the other room and open my computer. They have a sixth sense for this and before I know it there are three children looking over my shoulder, asking me questions. I shut the computer and then fume that I can never get anything done. So, FINE, I will try not to accomplish anything work-related when I’m with my kids. (I have to re-learn this lesson all the time…)
Tired. I’m just tired. It’s been a long couple of weeks. It’s been a long five years. I’m a mom. I’m tired.
As I completed my walk I basically shrugged my shoulders about number 3 and said, “Well, I can’t help being tired.”
It was only later, talking to my student during her lesson, that I saw the parallel between my belief that I couldn’t do anything about being tired, and her anger toward her body. Both are a little bit of clever buck-passing. In my case, I realized that while I may not predictably be able to get as much sleep as I’d like, I can still DO A LIE-DOWN. This is the sort of thing I tell my students on day 1: Take a few minutes each day to lie down on the floor and do nothing. I promise you’ll come up refreshed.
Did I lie down on Sunday? Nope!
So for my student and me and any other weekend warriors out there, while we can’t change how we overdid it last weekend, we CAN plan ahead for next time. My self-created tools? Stay fed, don’t try to work with the kids around and take a lie-down. My student decided that taking some moments to PAUSE might go a loooong way. That actually sounds doable (if we can remember).
What are your plans?
***
For more on how I use the Alexander Technique to Remember Myself in the midst of busy-ness (weekend or otherwise), check out this blog.
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Inbalance - Alexander Technique by Eve Bernfeld - 3M ago
Standing in the jet bridge, waiting to step onto the airplane, I remembered something I often say to my students: “We are in the habit of making ourselves small all the time—sort of like when you’re on a crowded airplane and you hunch yourself down a bit to take up less space, whether or not you are tall enough to need to do that.” So I decided not to shrink in response to boarding the plane, but instead to breathe and Lighten UP as I stepped on. Whooo, what a difference it makes!
I was able to engage in this whole, lovely thought process because I was boarding the airplane BY MYSELF, rather than surrounded by kiddos. I was on my way to New York to participate in a four-day workshop called The Developing Self, which addressed applying Alexander Technique to Education.
One of the first things we learned in the workshop was a practice called the Ready List. It’s so brilliant and simple—created for kids, thus perfect for adults. Very similar to my own “magic words” formula. It was the first of many moments in the workshop where I thought, “Ah this is what I’ve been trying to say!” Here is the Ready List:
StopSeeBreatheSoft and TallGo! (or not)
The group—Alexander Technique teachers from all over North America (plus the two teachers running the course who came from England) spent the weekend applying the Ready List all over the place.
When transitioning from one activity to another.
When preparing to do something scary, like make up a story or lead a game we just invented, or present our own work to the group.
When the noise and chaos of five small groups inventing crazy games in one studio became over-stimulating and we needed a time out.
While walking down the street.
While eating.
While riding the subway.
Etc.
Let me unpack it a bit for you. Stop is classic Alexander Technique Inhibition (Pause, No, or “I have time” are other ways we often articulate this). “We can’t do the right thing until we stop doing the wrong thing,” F.M. Alexander explained. It’s our chance to notice what we’re doing and choose if that’s how we want to proceed. Shoulders to ears? Maybe not…
See involves letting ourselves see the room or wherever we are with a broad, panoramic view. It’s not necessarily about looking around, but about widening our focus. “Tunnel vision” is associated with stress and rigidity in the body. It’s amazing the changes people notice through their whole body and attitude when they suddenly are invited to See the room.
Breathe does NOT mean “take a deep breath.” It means let the breath out, so it can come back in. I often suggest people blow an imaginary feather. When we’re stressed, when we’re concentrating (tunnel vision?), we are often also holding the breath. This is a gentle reminder that everything works better, from the brain on down, if we let the breath move out and in.
Soft and Tall corresponds with the suggestion I often give to “Lighten UP.” What I particularly love about Soft and Tall is that we typically associate “Soft” with being slumped over and “Tall” with being stiffly upright, like a drill sergeant. What if we could be both SOFT and TALL at the same time??? (Hint: we can, and it’s awesome!)
There was ever-so-much more to the workshop than the Ready List. But that alone was enough to travel across the country.
Why bother with the Ready List? What’s the point? Well, the opposite of each step tends to be how we typically behave:
Rush!
Don’t see anything except the ground right in front of my feet or my screen or the work I'm really trying to concentrate on.
Hold the breath (breathing just enough to not pass out)
Making myself small—hunching, slouching, stiffening, flinching, apologizing
All of these habits are associated with stress. They are unconscious, and they are ubiquitous (for most of us). They have gotten us to where we are today, but if we’re not fully happy with where we are (like, maybe we experience back pain or headaches or anxiety or our shoulders always hurt or we’re short-tempered or we’re overwhelmed, etc.), it behooves us to try something new.
I used to live in New York. I went to college in Manhattan, then worked at a theater on 42nd Street. I could hunch and hurry and weave through pedestrians and traffic (never waiting for the walk sign) with the best of them. It was sort of a rush. And also exhausting. I recall hurting all the time—particularly my left shoulder, which felt like it was separating from my trunk.
So what a revelation to be in the city, and to See, Breathe, and be Soft and Tall. To be present, in a way I never was in my 20s. To keep the pace, more or less, and yet arrive at my destination neither in pain nor stressed out.
Stepping out into the golden hour following the final day of the workshop, rain clouds starting to break up, I wondered: Is it an extraordinarily beautiful evening? Or am I in extraordinarily good shape to experience it?
Both.
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I’ve noticed recently that a lot of things are “life-changing.” As in…
“Marie Kondo-ing the kids’ drawers has been life-changing.”
“Adding collagen to my diet has really been life-changing for me.”
Or, a variation:
“Advertising on Pintrest is a game-changer.”
Sometimes I feel like I’m on the local train, while everyone is flying by me on the express line, transforming their lives in a flash. I understand. I’m sure I’ve said something like this too. We all wish to be transformed. We all wish for it to be a relatively fast, easy and painless process. But I think we’re really all stuck together on that local.
The only truly “life-changing” experience that happened to me overnight was becoming a parent (which is neither easy nor painless). Real change is a much slower and slipperier process. Like a lot of women I know, I’ve been on an endless mission of self-improvement since I was about twelve years old. I’ve gone down some dead-end streets (usually involving self-loathing disguised as a fitness or diet routine), and I’ve also made a lot of—very slow—progress.
Here are some baby steps I’ve made recently:
1. I’ve set aside time on Friday afternoons to CLEAN MY HOUSE!
This has inspired more cleaning the rest of the week. (Cleaning has never been my strong suit. Bake a chocolate pecan pie for Pi Day? Sure! Organize the overflowing shelves in the office? I don’t want to! And I don’t have time! Can’t you see I’m busy with work and pie-baking?) If you stepped into my house right now, you wouldn’t say: “wow, it’s so clean,” but you also might not say, “yuck!” And perhaps more importantly, I’d feel okay letting you in without two hours of hard cleaning first. There’s been an upgrade in the state of “normal.” Which feels a lot better to live in.
2. First thing in the morning, before I stand up from my bed, I take a moment to…
Pause
Blow a Feather
Lighten Up
And I notice that I’m weirdly tense and hunched from sleep and I’m able to let that go and start the day a little lighter and freer. This is the “magic” formula I teach to my students and suggest they do throughout the day. But when I start the day with it, I find it so much easier to remember to do it later on and later again and even when I’m stressed and especially when I’m tired…. As with the cleaning, it tends to expand from its very humble start.
3. My family is going on three days in a row (whoop whoop whoop!) of getting out the door for school without anyone losing their temper or freaking out.
This feels like a small miracle. A miracle that involves a great deal of tedious work: everyone getting dressed sooner, a bunch of conversations and check-ins, a big heart on our kitchen calendar with—now—the number 3 in it. And all of us getting to school/work in a much better state.
I confess I’m a little wary of reporting these small changes, because I know how precarious change can be. How easy it is, for a looooong time, to slide back into old patterns. But that’s in the nature of change too. It gets boring to keep working at it once the novelty has worn off. Or to start over when I’ve been up half the night with a sick kid and the house is a pigsty and I’m yelling at people to get in the car and my shoulders are up to my ears…
We all want (easy) transformation. We want the poetry workshop or the Ted Talk to be life-changing. We want, as Alexander Technique teacher Patrick Macdonald wryly observed, to “change without changing.” I am often asked for guidance in all sorts of different situations, from “how do I play this song better?” to “how do I stop my neck hurting?” to “how do I deal with my husband/mother/kids/boss/self being so impatient?” And the answer I give is embarrassingly boring.
Pause
Blow a feather
Lighten Up
Repeat.
Slowly, slowly, slowly it will change your life.
If you want fast, I guess you’d better talk to Marie Kondo.
***
Want some more specific instructions on "Lighten Up"? Check out this blog.
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One Day…
I’ve been diligently doing my Warm-Up all week (See Part 1 for the full explanation and examples). And what an interesting week to take on this experiment. For various and intersecting reasons, this has been a week filled with anxiety for me, a gnawing sensation at the pit of my stomach. In fact, just writing about it, I’m feeling it well up again. How interesting.
But the warm-up has provided a remarkable reprieve. Oh, it feels good to move. Oh, I can breathe. Oh, no I’m not wearing armor—I’m flexible, malleable, awake. And while I’m sensing all these things, I’m NOT sensing the “fear and loathing” that have been my companions the last few days.
Another Day…
The warm-up sort of did itself. I didn’t really feel like doing it. I wasn’t motivated. I had other things on my mind. And before I know it, I find myself lying face down on the floor, lengthening each leg and allowing the breath to move all the way down to my pelvis. Oh, so this is happening. Much better than what I had intended (i.e. get straight to work because I don’t feel like warming up).
And yet Another Day…
Sunday afternoon at 2:30. I’ve been up since 5:30 am and taught all morning. This is my least productive time of day. But this is the time of day I have, so I’m valiantly trying to buckle down and finish this blog and a million other things on my to-do list.
Warm up? What was that about? Did I do anything today that could count as a warm-up? I took two walks. I made that epic to-do list. I Paused. Blew some Feathers. Lightened UP. These are good things. The most essential, in fact. But not quite what I intended when I suggested I do a daily warm-up for a week. So maybe now would be a good time to STOP and…
check to see if B. got cat food?
NO!
have a snack?
NO!
I’m back. I got myself down on the floor and loosened everything up for about nine minutes. I don’t feel like a new person. But I do notice I’m breathing more. I also notice that my hip and head aren’t currently aching, the way they were before. My fingers are moving faster over the keys. Actually, I feel quite a lot better.
The hardest thing for me is not finding the time. That’s a handy story, but it’s really not true. The hardest thing is the RESISTANCE. Because actually taking the simple, straightforward steps that would make me function better is still SO HARD.
So I invite you once again to join me. To continue to find ways to pause and re-tune ourselves. To continue to find this process challenging and rewarding and worthwhile. How’s it going for you?
***
For more on how to practice (even with resistance), check out this Blog.
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Last Friday I woke up feeling hung over. I had NOT been drinking, but I had been burning the candle at both ends by traveling (including a red-eye) over the previous weekend, and then rolling right into a week where I taught four extra classes on top of my normal schedule. And I still had a two-hour class on Embodied Education to teach that morning at the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education. Ugh.
As I trudged around the house getting ready to go and wondering how I would possibly have the energy I needed to teach, I remembered a part of the lesson plan: the power of a warm-up. Oh, right. I should probably take my own advice. By then I didn’t have much time. My warm-up lasted approximately seven minutes. I did a brief lie-down on the floor and then rolled a tennis ball under each of my feet. And I swear, I felt like a new person.
Of all the tools I routinely use to keep myself from completely losing my head, this is probably the oldest, and one I keep rediscovering.
The Warm-Up.
A warm-up is a preparation. It may, quite literally, warm one up, but it also gets one in the right frame of mind to do whatever is next. Dancers are all about the warm-up, as are singers. There’s an old saw about the actor’s warm-up being a cigarette and a cup of coffee, though I think most take their craft more seriously than that. I hope you would warm up before running a 5K, and I also want to suggest that a warm-up can be just as effective for everyday life.
I have done a warm-up before an interview. Before I’ve sat down to write. Before giving a presentation or teaching a workshop. Before heading to work in the morning. A friend recently told me that she did a warm-up before her mammogram. No, she didn’t imagine it would improve the results, but she certainly went in feeling more at ease.
So what do I mean when I suggest a “Warm-Up”? There is no particular recipe. I have my own preferences based on a few decades of movement research, but that is not a prerequisite. I’ll describe some ground-rules (for you to take or leave) and then give a few examples.
Features of a Warm-Up:
It involves your Whole Body. This one is kind of easy, as I like to tell my students that everything is a whole-body activity. But most of us tend to forget that, so it’s good to remember that whatever you do, it should de-gum you in a generalized way.
It is Mindful. If you do it while you watch TV or check your email, that doesn’t count. Three minutes spent mindfully moving is, for the purposes of centering and preparing you, far superior to 30 minutes sweating on the elliptical trainer in front of a screen.
You Enjoy it. This doesn’t mean you don’t experience resistance. I can convince myself to just about anything except what I most need. But I am ALWAYS glad I did it.
When you are done you feel centered, yet lively. Your engine is running but not racing. You’re ready to go, but not amped. If you try an activity that doesn’t do this for you, try something else.
I gave you an example of what I did last Friday (Alexander Technique lie-down and rolling a tennis ball under each foot). Here are a few more ideas:
Dance to a favorite song.
Walk backwards around your house.
Empty the dishwasher very slowly and thoughtfully, as if it were Tai Chi.
Engage in your favorite workout or movement routine, but, again, slowly and thoughtfully. Allowing yourself to be present.
Take a walk or a run or a bike ride (sans headphones).
A warm-up can be as short or long as you have or need.
I am hereby challenging myself to take my own advice and do a warm-up every day for a week. Will you join me? I’ll check back next week to tell you how it’s going and I hope you will too!
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Day 10 of this New Year and already a theme emerges—things rarely go according to plan.
Kid-friendly New Year’s Eve bash? Didn’t make it due to puking kid.
Students eager to get back to work after winter break? Five lessons cancelled this week due to various sicknesses and work obligations.
Visit to the Alexander Teacher Training course to work with my teacher? Her car wouldn’t start so I ended up running the course for the morning.
Brunch with mom friends? Didn’t make it due to puking me.
I’m a planner, see? I already have my summer schedule of kid camps and family travel more or less ironed out. So it’s a hard pill to swallow when everything goes awry. But it occurs to me that there is a bit of a silver lining (as I lie here in bed typing a blog instead of brunching and chatting). Because this deep attachment to planning is kind of a control-freak thing. As if I can control life, death and the unruly world itself by scheduling the right meetings and picking the right summer camps. Which is, to use one of F.M. Alexander’s great words: delusional.
So I’m reminded AGAIN to keep a light grip on the wheel. I’m reminded again of Heraclitus’ basic philosophical tenant: “There is nothing permanent except change.” Which I love in theory and hate in practice. I’m reminded again that the only thing I can (sometimes) control is how I react to this constant flux.
I’ll keep making plans. And hopefully some of them will work out. And hopefully I can still get something out of it when they don’t.
***
For more about a time when things REALLY didn't go according to plan, check out this blog.
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The Holiday season can be a stressful time of year for many of us. This was never more evident to me than the year I worked the customer service desk at REI through December. Oh my goodness were people stressed and grumpy!
But perhaps inside that preposterous fruitcake of December are some little pockets of transcendence. Here are a few moments that have really helped me Lighten UP and the lesson I took from each…
The other night found me sitting on the floor of a steamy bathroom at 2 am holding a croupy child. I was tired and anxious and trying not to show any of it as I explained how the steam helps her lungs open up so she can breathe better. Suddenly I heard my daughter make a strange noise and I peered down at her in the half light—was she having more trouble breathing?? No, this four-year-old was practicing the “Whispered Ah,” an Alexander Technique procedure to help coordinate breathing. A few minutes later, helped by steam, ibuprofen and “Whispered Ah,” her breathing was easy enough for her to go back to sleep.
My Lesson: OH MY GOD MY KIDS ACTUALLY LISTEN TO ME! (even if they don’t want me to know)
Near the end of the semester at Lewis & Clark College, I asked my students to start class by writing on the board all the things from the semester that they would like to revisit that day. A predictable assortment of our favorite games and “how to” questions (like “how to shake a maraca for 40 minutes without my arm falling off”) went up. I was surprised to see “Singing Together” appear. I do that exactly once per semester and I thought they all hated it. But there we were, sitting in a circle, enjoying a round of “Row, row, row your boat.” It was sublime. And everyone left (to go finish papers and prepare for finals) looking noticeably lighter and happier.
My Lesson: Singing with other people really is magic.
My children (sort of) learned the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at preschool last week. On the way home they explained it to me. There is nothing more hilarious/endearing than hearing three Jewish 4-year-olds (for whom Rudolph and Santa aren’t cultural touchstones) earnestly tell the story of a deer who had mean friends who wouldn’t let him play. But it worked out ok because…and here an argument broke out: did Santa let him “guard” the sleigh or “pull” the sleigh?? I resisted settling the argument and just enjoyed the conversation.
My Lesson: Life is more fun when I’m not a know-it-all.
I hope you too will find delicious moments of light as you navigate the Holiday Season. If you want a little help, try the following:
Whispered Ah (a simple version): Blow out your breath on an Ah sound, as if you were fogging a mirror (but take care not to jut your chin toward your imaginary mirror). At the end of the breath, close the lips and let the breath drop back in through your nose. Repeat til you feel better.
Imagine you are a candle. Your head floats up with ease like the flame. Your feet melt into the ground like wax. Maybe you even make light for someone else!

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