Grace is probably my favorite word, idea, whatever. I like it because it implies both spiritual and physical aspects of living.

Grace is a flow of peaceful presence, a trust in the depth and breadth of possibility, no matter how frail we feel.

There is a deeper, graceful sense of being alive which often bypasses me, in fact if often avoids me, or I it. It’s the sense of being in the body throughout the day. Those of us who are ultra sensitive or self-conscious can become paralyzed with thought and analysis and we lose the flow of grace.

A Sunday Afternoon...1884-6, Georges SeuratWhen I think of graceful people the image I have is of Victorian women. Though corseted and bustled and weighed down with clothing, they are trained to float their heads effortlessly over their bodies, and to flow their bodies around as if on wheels. Try walking around with a book balanced on your head.

Posture is another important aspect of physical grace. But posture is not about sitting up straight, it’s about balance, finding your center. Check out this nifty little guide to posture based on Aikido.

good postureThrough the Alexander Technique, I’ve learned to float my head better over my spine, and to flow with my body. But I struggle with old habits of misuse and self-consciousness. Thinking about doing it right doesn’t work. Learning the body’s language is tricky.

What I often forget is the flow of fearless openness, just being inside my body and gracefully flowing into deeper, more life affirming habits, letting the body flow without being affected by judgment or thoughts. Flowing forward is not very easy for me. I tend to wander deeply into the jungle of thoughts and analysis, underneath an idea, drilling for oil. These explorations have their value to me as an artist, but not if they imprison me physically, inhibiting growth and learning from the body.

jungleTo accentuate the problem I also fear being lost. (one great line from Frank Herbert’s Dune is: “Fear is the mind-killer”) I feel lost fairly often, wandering without direction, just ruminating aimlessly. I didn’t used to. Or at least I wasn’t self-conscious about it. Once one is self-conscious, either about the body or the mind or their uses, it’s hard to let go and get back into the flow.

And the symptoms of these misuses are catching up with me. I experience quite a bit of pain these days. I have pain in my knees, my shoulders, my gut, and especially behind my left shoulder blade. I’ve been working to get to the root of this pain, retraining my uses. And I’ve achieved some success. But the nagging pain has returned after a frantic day of gardening where I guess I mis-used my neck and shoulders yet again.

This retraining takes time. I’m slowly learning to be aware of each motion of body use without self-consciousness. That’s where another sort of grace comes in handy: knowing that I can only do my best, that I need to allow my humanness and its frailty, to be gentle with myself and with others.

So with trust and patience, I’m learning the mind and body flow which allows confidence and grace to grow.

Let my body and spirit flow gently forward in a timeless river toward grace.


Cherry BlossomsSo much takes place in the contemplative silence of observation.

How does one write of silence? …the silence of the sun setting, which closes the origami day of busy thoughts into curled, wet night? Of the clear pink ruffled petticoat and sweet smell of a cherry blossom in April? Of my aching back which reminds me not so much of all the garden work I’ve done, but of how old I feel?

A visit to family in Bethesda over the weekend allowed my body to relax, and also allowed a virus to infest my system, inspiring further sluggishness. I’ve been feeling like a slug in general these days: Don’t wanna talk, don’t wanna save the world, don’t wanna think. A general rejection of positive decorum burns within me. So I didn’t plan much for my visit. I just wanted to veg.

My sister and I ended up attending a performance of Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion. I wanted to do something to get out of the house. While near the big city, do big city things. The Passion was to be performed, appropriately, on Good Friday. Not being religious, I looked forward mainly to Bach’s glorious music. I had never heard this piece in it’s entirely. It’s very long and involved, basically recounting in detailed musical drama the last week of Jesus’ life. It ended up being a life turning experience for me.

How does one describe how great music kneads one’s emotions into a rum ball which silently melts in the hot breath of a hungry mouth?

The longest of Bach’s works, it fills three hours. This performance was led by Helmuth Rilling, the renowned German scholar and interpreter of Bach’s music. He led impressive forces, including two orchestra’s formed by members of the National Symphony, two choirs, a children’s chorus, and six soloists.

Believe it or not, Rilling conducted the entire performance from memory! Now that’s passion for music. He brought an ethereal lightness from the normally heavy music, yet it did not detract from the somber effect. He held together the large span of its structure by maintaining direction, with very little break between the many sections.

During the performance, an earthly problem added an ironic distraction. A guide dog whimpered a high pitched canine descant throughout most of the performance. It’s owner stubbornly remained, even as many patrons nearby had to leave. One patron finally convinced the owner to leave, perhaps offering to buy her ticket back. Too bad, since this music is rarely performed live.

passion of Jesus ChristWith a hefty head cold brewing in my head, I sat and absorbed this magnificent music, written centuries ago in 1727. With all the text set to music, it alternates between narration, dialog and emotional or poetic impressions. The narration and dialog tell the well known story from over two thousand years ago in a seamless set of scenes.

After each scene, the poetic exposition of its emotions featured the richest music. This is where the text and music appeals to the listener across time and history. As Bach’s music worked its magic, I silently warmed to a compelling message; one of empathy, forgiveness and renewal. I also felt a deep comfort under the mantle of gentle Spirit of this Son of Man, who suffered far more for his innocence than I ever will for my sinfulness.

My spirit unfolded its origami way into a new sheet of uncreased joy.

Pansies in PotsThe rest of the weekend was spent enduring the rise and fall of an empire of virus, which blossomed into a full head cold. Nonetheless, beautiful weather inspired some yard work to maintain and ever improve Platinum Glamor’s voluptuous garden.

This time my brother-in-law and I added several new Camellia bushes to replace some rhododendrons which had croaked. There wasn’t much else to do, except prune and clean a bit. My mother’s garden is healthy and vigorous. Each year it fills up and out as it matures. I’ve watched that garden grow for 35 years. Much has come and gone. I love the stories Spring gardens tell of years past, when I remember what used to grow there, or how small that tree was way back when. I’m more aware of time’s passing in Spring. Each dawn urges the garden into a new array, surprising us into noticing.

How does one measure the teaming chorale of Springs quiet vigor as it sprawls out over the abyss of time with such assurance?

Colored Easter EggsSomewhere in between gardening, shopping and attending the concert we managed to have several wonderful meals, including lamb for Easter dinner. We even dyed some eggs, color therapy to wash away winter grays.

I quietly breathe in these reminders that newness is always at hand, even when I’m feeling sick with an aching back and a sluggish soul.

Garden of Growth, II

Clivia, African Lily

Upon revisiting and revising this poem, I noticed how much its message applies to life in general. As I age and hopefully grow wiser, I am learning that letting go of habits is not only vital to happiness. It’s also vital to learning and to growing as a person. I’ve recently started studying Alexander Technique, which I will write about more soon. One of the basic lessons of the method is to let go of the tension in the neck and stay open in your awareness. This is harder to do than one might think. Alexander called it Primary Control. I like to think of it as Primary Flow. Let each second go as it happens. Repeat. Rather than creating a superficial life, this idea allows one to experience the richness of the moment much more deeply.

The seeds emerge naked from gray, rough soil,
though most will perish as grist of earth’s scheme.
Their compost holds kernels of mealy toil,
micro teams, tiny mules carrying molecule dreams.
This war marches on. The drama rolls fresh
with each rising and falling of seasonal flesh.

I used to gently cradle those leafy twigs,
pining within their rhythmical trance.
I fiddled and darted, lost and ready
to control that volume of verdant folly.
I toiled from dawn to dusk to cage this romance.
I staked stems, preened buds,
willed red berries on holly’s branches.
I beamed with delight at delphiniums blue night
but daily squished aphids with horrible fright.
Hinoki’s form would finally reach balance,
necessitating tragic hacking of nearby Hamamelis.
Trailing Nasturtium must ramble freely
over carefully chaotic, mossy patio.
Cardinal Richelieu finally gave up the ghost
after five uprootings to aptly pair
his wine purple rose with more heathen hosts.

I strove to capture kairos*, embed its seething flair.
This chimera dwindled with thousands of hours
of pushing days in a stubborn wheelbarrow,
driving my load to pattern and style this living
sculpture into rank and file soldiers of my lair.
Time ground me down with its meticulous power.

As I feared, things went wild. They flattened
and ruptured and cheated my rules.
The Lungwort blasted forth, had its own way
and colonized insouciantly with its spotted tribe.
Autumn Clematis scrambled over trellises
and basked in the sun, surveying the fool’s
game down below, laughing at all the fun.

Then, tough rubric knots let loose their tether
as my life became twinned by other urgent events.
Watching from afar, the garden seemed closer than before.
And Plumbago’s happy scurry beneath
pink Asters fence seemed their own private
dispute, their outcome to pass sentence.

Five years have passed since I relinquished power.
Ten years before that I clutched at this stream
while its crumbled message sifted through my fingers.
From my rough hubris sprouted this quiet lesson:
The constancy of change remains new for the ages.
I come away sage, having learned not to confuse
dreams of perfection with nature’s carnival muse.

*From Wikipedia- Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the "right or opportune moment". It is now used in theology to describe the qualitative form of time. In rhetoric kairos is "a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved." (E. C. White, Kaironomia p. 13)