Monday, 10 January 2011

states of being

Various pix of life on Alonnisos this Christmas season including a vey strange lemon that was growing on my neighbour's tree.

I wrote this on my way back to UK, on a ferry headed to Volos..... Please tell me why it is when there are LOADS of spare seats around, a group of young Greek people decide to play their card games at a table right next to me, their mobile phones going off and the sun streaming through the window annoying them so they tweak the curtain back and cut off my vista? Sigh. Inhibit. When they played a pop song on their phone, I just switched my windows media, turned up the volume and played some opera back. Have I turned into a grouchy old woman? YES!! I was probably just as noisy space invading and irritating as a youth and thought myself justified. However they are now playing an action film without headphones....bloody hell!! Sounds like helicopters bombarding people.....

The last 3 weeks have been tiresome. I had a cold, the weather got cold and damp so plans for sunny outings in the car to other parts of the island were dashed. Also there were only two days I could do any gardening. I had bad news about my pay level and found myself feeling bad tempered. I observed this phenomenon, losing my cool, having a short fuse, and couldn’t do much about it. Outside things conspired to give me tricky stimuli. The stove went wrong and belched diesel smoke into the room, and had to be turned off. The electric heater only worked on one bar instead of three and the toilet began blocking up. Shit happens as they say! However, our neighbour leant us two if his heaters and having a little car meant trips to Patitiri for the bank and the shops in the pouring rain were a dream!

I have done a little planning for the summer workshops – a new poster- and my newly designed website is up and running.

From January I had hoped to run private classes for individual pupils in the school at ArtsEd but no-one has emailed me or shown any interest yet. This is marvellous as it will give me more time for my private practice and time to write and practice my violin!

The latter has benefited from my more regular practice though I am aware I might be practicing bad habits. I have recently discovered that sitting down seems to make me less tense and my violin playing has affected well my bar chords on the guitar. Bm is now a different experience.

I was on my laptop a lot, listening to the Archers or Radio 7 dramas. I am pleased that I have no symptoms of RSI yet, although it may have contributed to the back ache I received over the last few days. I joined a poetry group on FB which aim is to write a poem every day/week/month for a year. I chose a week, as i thought that might be just about reasonable, but others have clearly chosen a day and I am being flooded with poetry through my mailbox. Rather lovely even if I do delete most of the messages so I am not overwhelmed. It has made me write more, three in a week, so I am saving them up and will release them one week at a time for those moments when the muse dries up. I think this is a form of inhibition and not end-gaining. Being tortoise-like rather than the hare.

Last year I resolved to walk cheerfully and live adventurously. I will continue this and add courage and joy to my resolves. I enjoyed the film the Mystic River and the bit that really sticks in my mind is right at the end when the guy is rightly feeling guilty for wrongfully suspecting and killing his friend for child abuse. As I remember it, his wife embraces him and says how wonderful she thinks he is that he would take such a step to protect his daughter and others like her. And he walks back out on the street head held high. It was such a contrast to the friend’s wife who despised her husband and also suspected him of such a dreadful thing. In allowing myself to be joyful, I sang my way home from the headland to the village. The dog was very kind and put up with this, after years of accompanying this strange woman on her walks.

I have done my lying down sessions and I reproduce my report on this here, as I shall read out to my acting students this coming week. Some of them I am pleased to say have made entries in my Facebook page ‘I like lying down in semi-supine’.....

Reading through my notes there were two distinct types of lying down – before Christmas I lay down outside when I was walking my dog.

I found places beneath pine trees or by the sea or on paved terraces or on a deserted path, a rock or a plastic bottle under my head. The dog used to this strange behaviour over the years, would lie down nearby or right next to me expecting his tummy to be scratched before I pushed him away in Dog Whisperer style.

I noticed the trees, the dance of the clouds in the sky, the birds flying overhead, the dog snuffling an insect buzzing, my own ears ringing. I noticed the wind blowing cold. All this, the awareness of the outside world, is part of my system of bringing myself to the moment.

I would also notice the wandering of my mind, thinking of the philosophy of life, Alexander work, but a lot on problems – injustice in the world in general but mostly in my personal world. Sometimes I would notice the silence. And the wandering of the mind was like the wandering of the goats on the mountain – something to notice observe from a distance, another place that was not the living in and with the herd.

During this time I had a cold and I found the outside environment comforting somehow. Occasionally I would fall asleep and other times noticed the viral ache in my muscles.

At Christmas onwards the weather turned colder and wetter and even when there were moments I could have lain down outside, I didn’t want to. I was feeling better. I waited till late at night and lay by the stove in the low light. A couple of times before I left, I did it in the morning. My lower back had started aching – I think due to a bad bed and my driving a car again after some years, and it became imperative to reorganise the spine and allow the psoas muscle to relax. Which it did.

Sometimes I would fall asleep. Always when I fall asleep in semi supine I have a very restful nap. Once after such a time I rolled over and played my violin and sang with my guitar for two hours with much joy. (My partner is very hard of hearing so it is easy for me to make such a loud noise late at night without disturbing him.)

During this latter time I also listened to the CD from the Open Focus Brain which has correlations with the unified field of attention in the Alexander World. I thought of my three dimensional self and the space between things – distances between my eyes, the volume of my head, the shoulders, all the way down to the feet. I felt like an Anthony Gormley sculpture. The space between outside things. And this brought me easily to an alpha brain wave state, a peace and nowness.

The CD goes through instructions very slowly and specifically and it began to annoy me so I stopped listening and used my own model – also over the years of my own work I can think myself into this state, all of me together, in a sweep of an arm, which is slightly longer than a blink of an eye, but that same idea of a steady clear shift from disparate thinking and being into a wholesome place. It may not stay for any length of time, but I know it exists and can find it anytime I choose to let go and dwell in this field of consciousness. It’s an easier place to inhabit without conflict, but o my ego does like to hang on to the familiar territory of worry, control and frustration.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Iceland Effect

I have spent a whole three months teaching in UK and not written a thing. Yet I had so many insights with the work and influences – a workshop with Tommy Thompson, a lesson and talk with Alex Farkas. I read the Open Focus Brain by Les Fehmi and reconnected with my work with David Gorman. My teaching had an extra edge to it and became an easy experiment, my students learning this stuff and responding and taking responsibility for their learning.

My practice expanded, although my hours at ArtsEd have decreased and I am still in negotiation with them about my new pay scale.

I have a wonderful new band of voluntary assistants helping my hands-on work at Arts Educational Schools in both BA and MA courses in acting.

My friends from Australia stayed for a three weeks and my lodger moved back in again. My Alexander friend C has had her adorable baby – conceived by donor as she doesn’t have a partner and the biological clock was ticking fast. He stopped crying for a while with me, and looks like his Mum.

I returned to Alonnisos for a week at half term and did lots of work in the garden, levelling a piece of land and planting some bulbs and redesigning another part. It was good weather, and I swam a few times.

My swimming had stopped in London and I took 4 lessons in the violin. I have brought it over with me for this Christmas visit to Alonnisos – a wonderful instrument that I purchased for about £50 on ebay. She is worth 4 times as much and I call her Belinda. She has to put up with a lot of squeaks and scrapes but I am making some slow progress. O the joy of learning something new! I don’t find my arms ache too much. I most enjoy putting on some Vivaldi and trying to play along. Or sit in a daze bowing along to a Leonard Cohen film.....It probably sounds dreadful but no-one is listening and I am having fun.

I haven’t yet decided whether to go to Lugano for the International Congress this summer. It is a year earlier so we don’t clash with the Olympics. And the second time we are using Lugano as our venue. I usually lead a workshop and am unclear what I would do it on. Maybe something about the repetition exercise in Meisner as a way of bringing us to the present moment.....or perhaps now this new insight about Unified Field of Attention. I need to purchase my air ticket before VAT rise in January if I decide to go.

All my students at ArtsEd along with me are supposed to be lying down in semi-supine everyday and writing up their experiments as their holiday assignment. I haven’t been assiduous with this myself – I spent four days in Iceland as soon as college broke up – marvellous place. Some years ago ArtsEd had a number of students from there and one man wrote me a great paper on AT entitled the Iceland Effect . Quite right. Iceland has a slow unhurried wide open space effect on the brain. Such an easy holiday and o those Northern Lights (my main purpose for going) dutifully performed as we waited in minus 13 on a thickly frosted landscape. It requires waiting and allowing them to appear. Then two days to get here. Travelling and semi-supine doesn’t work easily. Meditations and application of the principles no problem.

I like best to lie down outside if I am wrapped up and it is warm enough, listening to the surf crashing down, the seagulls wheeling overhead. Otherwise, by the stove in the evening, the tv shouting loudly in the room above, the dog nestling up to me, maybe a cat or two....That’s what it will be today, lazy Sunday in Alonnisos......

Friday, 10 September 2010


Farewells. Just said the last farewell to the workshop members. What a great time we had again. The weather was unsettled and one morning we were doing our Chi Kung practice and swimming in a gentle rain! (I was intent on taking everyone for a walk into the forest, but my group insisted they wanted a swim....) The sun came out again for the last three days and a splendid time was had by all. My highlights: Romina’s lesson with us in Inner Tango, Aoife’s magic lemon experience, Fraser playing with his voice, and Susie’s Hot Seat answers and discovery of hip joints.

A few days ago I was travelling round Isomota with a friend and pointed up a driveway ‘ Helene the herbalist lives up there. She teaches Nia dance too.’ ‘She must be very strong woman to live here’ my friend responded – true it is in the middle of nowhere, but with such beautiful views over to Peristera. But tonight I am to drink a toast to Helene in celebration of her life, as that very evening she was driving back home from Steni Vala and turned the car over the edge and was killed. No-one knows what happened. Only the week before she had hosted our annual ‘4 strong women’ dinner at her place –for Waultraud, fellow herbalist, Uschi my CST practitioner and I. An evening of dance and salad and Pimms! ‘Send not for whom the bell tolls....’. We never know when our time is up.
My time is up here on Alonnisos for the summer. Spiros is following me around as he knows the signs. I have one more lesson to give, and then I will pack up the table, get out the suitcase, and try and stuff some of my life into it. Mo and I as usual are grown up and keep cheerful despite not seeing each other for 6 diary in London is full for next week, so I will be engrossed in settling back to urban life. The dog meantime will sniff my shoes miserably and Mo will sleep better without a restless Pen beside him.

Friday, 20 August 2010

August is the hottest month

Very hot and humid these past two weeks and today at last a little breeze but the temperatures are still in late 80’s/90’s. This is what Muffin does to stay cool....

I am very pleased with photographs I just took of the humming bird moth. The creature is very blurred because it moves so fast it’s the best I can do with my little Canon Ixus 70 (which i highly recommend by the way). But you will notice how enormously long its proboscis is to suck out the nectar from my Lantana flowers . Again! If you look earlier on my blog this summer you will see the pix I took of this bush with the butterflies all over it.

It has been a still busy month on the island despite the economics. The Aug 14th festival here, Panagia day when the Virgin Mary is assumed into heaven and also the day 15 islanders were shot by the Germans in 1944, was a little quieter than usual. However the band were really loud and I know some didn’t stay longer than 10 minutes. Too loud to talk to people. I love watching the line dances, and had a little go myself. Always a bit tricky when the foreigners join in as we don’t understand the 5 beat imperative, and as usual I found myself stretched between two people in different rhythms and pace.

I have also taken a trip further up the island to Monturo, where my good friend Waultraud lives. She is herbalist and there was a gathering on account of her birthday one evening. Delicious pasta with pesto made from Alonnisos pine nuts, which her companion Martin had hand peeled and mashed! And the home-made bread I took home with me, herby and fresh and wholesome. We ate and drank wine in their pretty garden, full of useful plants, overlooking the sea and Peristera. The heat has been making me very sleepy and in good quiet company speaking German or French, the muttering of voices and tinkling of laughter, I managed to doze off as I sat in a deck chair, looking up at the shooting stars...zzzzzzzz. How perfect. Uschi, another magic person who lives in the forest near the village gave me a lift home (my little motor bike got taken away to the knackers yard earlier this year). Uschi teaches yoga in Bavaria, as well as vision training and gives cranio-sacral therapy.

I have always found CST powerful work, first coming across it during my training in AT. Our co-director Margaret Edis was training up in this at the time and wanted guinea pigs. It is not uncommon for teachers of AT to further train in this work as it is very non-doing, and is affecting the cranial rhythms, the spinal fluids and deep connective tissue. My vertebrae T 9 10 11 get stuck sometimes twisted from my right SI joint and my neck vertebrae. Without AT I would be in a very poor state, but occasionally I need outside help to untangle these old patterns. (If osteopaths are the car mechanics, we are the driving instructors....) I recognise I have also been emotionally affected by the loss of some hours teaching at ArtsEd – my course has been hacked apart! - so it was no surprise that my back has been saying hello again in a big way. I also have osteoporosis in my L4 and took some heavy medication for this in February which I found really unpleasant. With discomfort in that area too, I decided to ask Uschi for help.

We have often swapped work in the past, and she gladly came over to my bower, my glorious teaching den, shaded with bourganvillea, vine, ivy , Virginia creeper and honeysuckle....It is fairly cool for this steamy weather, but connecting quietly in an Alexander way with such lovely people here year after year, the place has a really peaceful atmosphere. I lay down on the back on my table and my journey began, Uschi’s hands immediately hot with energy. And almost immediately I was drifting into ‘yugen’ as the Japanese call it, ‘half-concealed beauty’ half wake, half sleep, dream time. All sorts of thoughts and visions came up, none memorable except some understanding of pulling away from having fun, and this was the word that Uschi suggested I remember and use. When at the end she placed a finger on my forehead and another on my chin, my whole face/skull/jaw released opened and reshaped itself.....when she finished I floated off the table and felt refreshed and new and still in a state of wonder at the subtle energies and connections .....

Since then I have been singing to myself as I walk down to Mikros, or singing on the quay if no-one is there, singing myself into a present state, singing my bones into density and health, affirmations in song. Singing my surroundings in opera recitative is a wonderful way of halting the chattering mind and thinking only of what I see and hear and experience right now. And my back has been so much easier and freer, needless to say.

Because of the heat, I have been sleeping outdoors at night – sleeping under the stars on our balcony. I make sure I cover myself with anti-mosquito fluid, and lay looking up Jupiter who is shining brightly at the moment, till I fall asleep. When I wake at 5, Orion has risen, and today I slept more until the sun had woken properly and made myself a cup of tea, munching toast looking at the sea and the Two Brothers from my nest, faithful dog at my side, before the sun’s heat fiercely came round the wall. Sleeping out a night means I don’t feel I’ve been to bed! I’ve not done the usual ritual of climbing onto an inside platform and snuggled up to the pillow (and my partner!). Clearly I have had a night’s sleep, but it feels more intimate with the night, conscious of the movement of the earth, turning in space, changing the canopy of stars..... and I feel rested. Very glad dog is at my side and Muffin our cat came and found me this morning too. All helps to keep any other night creatures at bay!

I have been teaching now and then, but mostly resting and reading and swimming and walking. Teaching in this heat reminds me of Haifa, in Israel. In the 90’s I had a student teaching at the Technion there, a mathematician who was working on neural networks and had RSI. She had been working successfully with me in London so when she returned to Israel invited me out there several times to continue her lessons. Rivka Cohen had an Alexander training there too, so I would also take the opportunity to visit her school. One August I went, it was 40 degrees and no air conditioning. We were slippery with sweat as we put hands on and Rivka called to us ‘Up! Up!’ . Rivka is a great teacher and full of kindness to me at the beginning of my practice and very green. She was very open and wanted to find out what David Gorman’s work was all about. I also remember her lying on the table for me to work with her, her eyes closed and resting. They opened a slit and she said, ‘Penny, you have healing hands...’ This is separate to any ability I might have in getting the Primary Control going - which is her big thing. A very dynamic teacher, full of direction.

In two weeks I start the last workshop, possibly depleted by 2 as they had booked with a UK travel company Kiss airlines that have gone bust. One of them has had this happen for the second time, as they had booked with Gold Trail . When Gold Trail went into liquidation in July, three of my teachers had probably been on their last flight to Skiathos. Luckily one had phoned to confirm their return flight and discovered what had happened. A quick call to Dimitri at Skiathos meant they all managed to secure a flight back home – but they did all have to pay again. There are still flights available in September but all horribly expensive – over £400. I suggested they wait till the last moment and see if they can get a cheaper deal.

Heat, flights, dreams and stars, all part of the rich tapestry of Alonnisos in August....

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Violin lesson, swimming and song

Sitting on cold marble tiled floor out of the reach of the sun’s hot steamy rays this day. No-one to teach today – hooray, a proper weekend!

And I did the usual walk down to Mikros Mourtias a little later than usual having ignored our cat Moaner’s plaintive cries to be fed at 6.30am and slept in for another 2 hours...

Despite my late arrival, there was no-one there. Spiros and I had the place to ourselves for a whole hour. I swam gently over to the quay remembering what I had learnt in my violin lesson with Angela.

Angela comes here every year with her daughter and busks in the evenings. It turns out she knew our cello player on the teachers course, and they hadn’t seen each other since the Royal Academy days x years ago. (That is not unusual on this island for old connections to be discovered. Our busking guitarist Akis turns out to be a friend of a friend living in Lamia.)

Anyway, I have a desire to learn the violin. It’s good for the brain apparently to learn an instrument, and I have always loved it. I had a go at 16 and got on very well – twinkle twinkle little star- but let it lapse. So I treated myself to 2 lessons with Angela, and discovered the essence of non-doing, how the bow will play the violin all by itself if I let it. I learnt with joy of my wings and the balance of the bow. I allowed myself to move, my arm to flow through space and lo and behold beautiful music came from the instrument! Very very Alexandrian approach, although Angela has only has 20 lessons in the Technique herself yet her teaching is the very essence of FM’s work, not end-gaining, and sticking to the means-whereby.

And as I swam this morning I heard Angela telling me gently ‘You’re doing too much’ and I effortlessly moved in the water till I arrived at the quay. So violin lessons can improve your swimming it seems!

During Chi Kung I sang. No-one was there so I could quietly sing Bach-type fugues affirming my bones as strong and dense and flexible, a singing meditation to keep my poor old bones healthy.

After Chi Kung I lazed on the beach as others gathered and dipped in and out of the cool clear waters, before heading back up the path continuing this sense of non-doing. Although always a huff and puff particularly in the heat of the day, yet I was walking as easily as I could, taking my time and enjoying the fragrance of the pine and herbs, playing with being present, staring at my clumps of thoughts as they arose....Some of the thoughts were more songs.

On the first workshop we experimented with singing as a way of helping us up the steep path, setting up a rhythm – as many armies do. I began with The Grand Old Duke of York, which was universally deplored, and then we began musical theatre scores.

Today I found myself singing ‘When we go big bug hunting , when we go big bug hunting, when we go big bug hunting, With a gun and a spray and hip hooray! When we go big bug hunting!’

This popped up from nowhere – but was a song from a Cap and Bells Puppet Theatre show I did in the winter of 1978 with Violet Philpott for her tour of Bandicoot stories. We toured junior schools and Mervyn (where are you now?) was the Lion and I did the voice and hand operations for Monkey. Monkey and Lion got up to all sorts of tricks with Bandicoot and each other when Violet and the children weren’t looking.

Funny how the brain works and remembers and associates. I hope I don’t have that banal song on my brain every time I tread the path now!

I am dipping into a very interesting book entitled the Mind and the Brain by Sharon Begley and Jeffery M Shwartz, in particular about quantum theory and how our attention affects things, and can change the hardware. It’s the sort of book that is fascinating for a small amount of time and then my personal quantum brain can’t take any more and needs to check out. To take another choice in the alternative universe of possibility. And now I choose to stop writing and sing my way out of the door.

PS I am teaching a terrific singer of Greek traditional songs. He did a concert at the bus stop last week. I took a video of him and we looked at it together discussing his pull down, and how much is needed for the style and how possible it might be to stay ‘up’ and not pull the head back when singing. I am delighted that he intends to continue the lessons in Athens on his return.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

another corker

My Teachers workshop finished on Friday
Another corker. Such good fun, great team spirit and learning for all.

My highlights: watching Michel doing the Chi Kung quietly on his own at the end of the workshop on the quay at Mikros Mourtias, realising how truly powerful and centred it is (Even when he has to suddenly hop about and swat the air to discourage large flying thing in the vicinity. );

Angela tromping up the prickly path to the monastery in her Crocs and swimming costume;

the late night drinks at Maureen and Michel’s when wine was quaffed and viola’s played;

James finding the lightness of ‘inclusive awareness’ ;

‘plastic bowl thinking’ for climbing up the steps;

Anthea realising monkey was an old skill she used when playing netball;

Susan floating in the shallows, experimenting with her fear of the water;

and the last evening at the sunset when all shared a heartfelt piece of music or prose for the rest of the group.

Now a break from workshops till September to teach some individuals, and spend more time with my darling Mo who has been my ‘wind beneath my wings’ - sorry I always think of wind being about farting, but once that schoolgirl joke is over, I really mean he’s been my support, just there and being him and socialising when necessary, and watching his tv and feeding me.....thank you Mo!!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Workshops, boat trips old friends and a trip to Volos.

Two successful workshops have been and gone, and my fellow teacher Becky came with her family to visit me from Cape Town.
She and I trained at the same time, so come of age together – 18 years - this Thursday. It’s always good to talk of old times and discover how we’ve grown, how life has developed. She teaches singing and has had a lovely child Rouane who is tall and 14 now. Her husband Paul is also a teacher but does muscle relaxation therapy too. He used this on Costas at Paraport, their favourite tavern. He saw him limping and recognised immediately where the trouble was and had him face down on a bench (there weren’t other customers at that time) giving him deep massage in the lower back and showing him how to do it for himself. It was much relieved and his mother gave me a spinach pie to give to Mo.

First workshop was dogged with changeable weather, our last session under the canopy of ivy leaves on my pergola was just possible as the raindrops fell. The boat trip was an experience of waves and rain and sunshine and calm – sunny for us to have a nice lunch at the fishing village of Kalamakia and a snorkel across in Peristera, before the clouds arrived again. But much learning and joy in the work itself.

Second workshop boat trip was great and we saw three dolphins on the way back. We searched for a wreck on the Two Brothers but didn’t find it, just some debris of guard rails. And we visited Skantzoura and walked up the top of the hill to the abandoned monastery. So peaceful.

In the morning walks down to Mikros Mourtias, snorkelling was preferred to help rid us of pulling the head back as we swim, and for one anxious swimmer, a way of breathing more easily. With my small knowledge of Shaw Method, having watched both Jan Jordan and Stephanie Dutton teach beginners, I was also able to give some sound advice to June to not hold her breath when floating, but breathe out as she gently let the water take her and breathe in as she came up. It was a revelation and by the boat trip was confident to be happily snorkelling about - with her better half keeping a watchful eye and towing when needed.

I have also been helping a Dutch yoga teacher for a couple of weeks. She was getting terrible neck pain after practising so we were really playing with her not trying hard! Her new iphone sadly stopped working whilst she was here, and the greatest story is that she discovered our local priest is a whizz at modern technology and mobile phones! But sadly even he couldn’t fix it. I think sometimes the universe speaks to us very loudly and clearly to stop and let go. The island is very good at this.

A long term resident is having a few lessons in return for doing some washing for us (we have no washing machine). I am so happy as I know she has had a lot of back pain in the past and at last I can give her some help. A doctor recently diagnosed a herniated disc in the thoracic spine, and suggested AT might help. So far so good, and her head is turning more easily in both directions now and she has a smile on her face.

The other big event is taking my partner off the island yesterday to go the Volos hospital to get an infection checked out at casualty. It cost a return flight from London to Athens to get us both there, but well worth the relief of knowing all was well, and the antibiotics should do the trick. There is a medical centre here, but it is limited.

Last time Mo had septicaemia he left it very late to go to Volos and it left him with two months in a UK hospital, three skin grafts and a bad foot. So we don’t take chances anymore.

And it was very good for him to leave the island. He has lived here for nearly thirty years. I took him away for five when we first got together, but in the last 12 years he has left the island once for an overnight in Athens, three or four times to get his IKA card in Skopelos and to make a will, and now this. It wakes the brain up to have new surroundings and I enjoyed travelling with him- particularly on the way back when we were no longer anxious.

Our lovely dog Spiros was a very good boy without us. He did howl from the balcony (sorry neighbours!) for about an hour or two now and then apparently, but Cathy and Simon, two of my students who are dog lovers, looked after him for the day and took him for his usual morning walk and wade to Mikros Mourtias.