My Summer of Healing

lotus in the drivewayThis has been a great summer for me. A violinist friend, Orbella, has been staying with me 4 days a week. She plays part time with my orchestra here in Columbus. She has quickly become a very good friend. We joke that we are the happiest unmarried couple alive. If only I were straight…

Orbella, whom I dubbed “the Orb”, has allowed me to laugh my way back into a comfortable happiness. She has given me the confidence to know the respect that my 46 year old presence commands, to know the value of my questioning depth. She has showed me many things which I hadn’t experienced in years, a kind of exuberant, European sophistication. Her spirit is healthy, rich, subtle and yet very similar to mine, but younger. We are much alike. So we have learned from each other who we are capable of being. We are soul mates.

Since we both wear Chanel colognes/perfumes, we call ourselves the Chanel Twins. Watch out, here we come!

The other thing which has changed my life is the Alexander Technique. Here is that story.

For much of my life I’ve existed in a kind of abstract physical denial. I live in a world of thought and ideas and emotional reactions, barely present physically. I was always worried about the future of the past, anxious about my playing, uncomfortable with my instrument, never able to relax and just be. I was also mistrusting of everyone, including good friends. I never felt comfortable practicing clarinet where anyone could hear me, for fear of being judged, or some other neurosis. I think that being sick for so long in the 90’s, then being depressed, added to this problem. I would basically go through the day filled with anxiety, fear, inhibition, expectation, judgment and unbalance. Exercise helped. Meditation helped for awhile. Self-examination, which would seem to help, actually aggravated the situation.

I developed pain down my left neck side and behind my shoulder blade. It got worse with yoga and weightlifting. I finally resorted to chiropractic and massage therapy. I had heard of Alexander being good for musicians, but had never felt the need to explore it. It happened there was a teacher in the building right next to the chiropractor.

I went to my first lesson and was blown away at the good energy coming from the teacher. She showed me, with my own body, how it felt to have space and freedom in all movement. She suggested I stop playing with my legs closed and the clarinet sitting on my lap, since it closed a major flow of energy. For the next week, I floated as a lotus does above the water, barely aware of the drowning prison I had endured for years.

I went to another teacher, who came at the same technique more intellectually. He outlined the method:

Most of us react to stress unconsciously, and the body goes into “startle position”, head and neck pulled back and down. This position becomes a constant habit, and as a result, the rest of our body is never able to flow and becomes unbalanced and unhealthy.

The solution is to learn the body’s language and learn to consciously control it.

1) primary control, or primary flow- releasing the neck forward and up, where it is free from tension and free to flow with the body following.

2) global awareness- being aware of your 3 dimensional surroundings, your body in space.

3) kinesthetic awareness- being aware of the body “from the inside” as opposed to from the mind.

4)Part of this process is “body mapping”, learning what feeling in the body connects to what parts, and separating fact from fiction as to how things work.

5) inhibition- a positive way of “thinking before acting”; in other words, acting very consciously.

As with most people, I was acting and living unconsciously. And my unconscious habits were atrocious. My emotions were so doubting and anxious that my body felt the same. My breathing was forced, artificial and tight. My neck was constantly in the “startle position”, pulled in and back. My back was tense. My abdomen was tense, more so because of all my surgeries and the resulting scar tissue.

Some of the problems, such as the pain in my neck, will take years to solve. (Part of the reason I don’t blog much is that I had head and eye strain from sitting in front of the computer. Hopefully this will improve with better usage) But I’ve found that the body awareness I’ve learned has also helped me emotionally. My constant anxiety and fear were deeply held within my body. I had become an expert at looking relaxed on the outside, but was usually anxious on the inside.

This brings me back to the way I’ve lived my life, or at least how I’ve lived the past 12 years, but perhaps much longer: in a kind of abstract world of ideas and fantasy and emotional reactions, without ever listening to my body’s language.

I’ve learned that being in my body is a way of staying grounded. I am naturally full of imagination and millions of thoughts and observations, chunks of worlds, seeing through people, giddy with possibility, or slumped with emotional and physical stupor from self-doubt. My body was dragged around behind all those wild emotions. Now that I have “primary control” (at least learning it) I can stay grounded, while my mind is free to explore all kinds of stuff without me losing who I am.

My physical existence is also incredibly important to playing the clarinet. Now that I know better how to breathe, support, stay loose under pressure…I can play more freely, finding the path of least resistance to being a better player.

As you can see, I’ve been busy, in very good way.

I’m off on my summer travels now. For the next few weeks, until August 18th, I’ll be: hiking in the Adirondacks (the BEST healing for me), visiting Father in Cape Cod, visiting Mother in Bethesda, and attending the International Clarinet Festival in Atlanta for a few days.

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be back soon for more explorations of of Garnet-David’s existence.

The Physicality of Spirit

I was riding one of those advanced elliptical running machines at the gym yesterday when it dawned on me. As I strove find perfect balance within the complicated motions of the exercise, at one point I found the right rhythm and released into it and suddenly it became effortless. All parts of my body were working as a whole. My body felt like a gyroscope, one of those toys I loved as a child because it appeared to magically defy gravity. I was spinning in space, completely present physically. My mind was present and free within my body. Both body and mind were thinking, “Wow, this feels cool!”.

Gyroscope balanced on wine glassOur bodies are more naturally in the present than our minds by a long shot. All the sense organs are part of the body. We see more than we can register, but we hardly ever see without filtering and judging. The same goes with hearing. As we all know, smell is one of the most powerful senses, connecting directly with the deepest part of the brain. Our sense of touch is available from every inch of skin encasing us. Yet we register only the information from these senses when it suits us, serves us, or annoys us.

There is another sense, which Alexander called “kinesthetic” sense. It’s the feeling the body has of itself in space, especially as it moves. As mental animals, we are barely aware of ourselves kinesthetically. As you read this, notice your body. Feel your body in the chair. Feel the room with your body. (not your mind) There’s a lot of information there, but we don’t notice it most of the time, since we are thinking about what we’re doing, thinking about what we’re going to do, what we did yesterday, why we’re not happy, what would make us happier, and on and on. Rarely are we ever really present, in our bodies.

We are barely aware of the depth of sensing our bodies are capable of. We have tuned out for so long we have lost the synapses, the sensitivity to our physical presence. Meditation is a practice which allows us to begin to be present. But we can also learn to be aware all the time. I like to take walks as a meditation. I enjoy and notice the flow of my body as I walk. I notice my breathing and allow it to deepen. I allow my head to float up and forward, releasing and almost lifting my body up a bit, making movement freer. I notice the smells, sounds, sights and touches of the scenery as I pass within it. Yes, we are within our surroundings, part of it. It’s different than just noticing with the mind. It allows the body to sense its own weight and thickness within gravity, air, sounds, sights, smells.

The body is the gyroscope of the spirit. It is the instrument which senses and measures the universe. When balanced, it notices subtle changes in surrounding energy which the mind often fails to register. When poised and relaxed, the body can feel the great, deep humming of the divine, the infinite. As it becomes more tuned to the divine, the body hums sympathetically with the universal spirit, living lightly and effortlessly.

Evolution of a Garden

Evolution of a Garden- 93 West Dunedin Road

Front, PanoramaMy garden was recently featured on a voluntary public tour of gardens in Columbus. One day per month from April to September anyone can submit their garden to be advertised for the tour. I was pleasantly busy with visitors for four hours. Of those who came by, several had seen my garden when it was on the tour 10 years ago. Gardeners are a dedicated bunch.

Front, Cherub gardenTo give visitors some perspective on what I’ve done with the garden, I printed out the following brief history. For this post, I’ve added a few photos of the main features. To view many more, larger photos of the garden from the tour, please go to this link (Garden Photos) and click on “start slideshow” in the top right corner.

Gardening is a duet with nature. I relish each new theme and variations.

I’ve always enjoyed plants: their habits, architectures, flowers, fragrances, leaf shapes and colors. My garden has a strong evergreen structure filled out by a great variety of plants for all seasons, with blooms from February to October. Given the amount of shade provided by two ancient “Chinquapin” Oaks on either side of my house, I rely less on flowers and instead explore whimsical combinations of plants with variegated leaves, whose colors brighten the shadows all summer long.

Front YardFront from Street

When I bought this house in 1990, the front of the property was nicely landscaped, having been done professionally in 1983. Since then, however, I’ve added to or renovated most of it.

Remnants of that original design line the porch, including the glorious 23 year old Miniature Blue Spruce, now 6 feet high and wide. You can see it in the above photo, smack in the center of the house.

Some of the specimen plants I added those first few years have matured nicely. These include the “Purple Fountain” Weeping Beech (pictured in the next photo)Purple Fountain Weeping Beech and a Japanese White Pine by the street, a slow growing “Fernspray” Cypress near the driveway, and the Weeping Japanese Maple next to the Blue Spruce. All of these have been established for 15-17 years.

I recently had a very large Bradford Pear removed from the front yard. (this post Beginnings and Endings contains before and after photos). This tree was shading the yard to death and was susceptible to splitting. Not only have I gained some sun, but now I can see my house from the street!

The newly open and sunny front yard inspired major re-landscaping. However, I tried to reuse plants from the previous shady garden, including hostas, ferns, azaleas and woodland plants. So far they seem fine in half sun.

"blushing" Japanese MapleIn the old Pear’s spot as the centerpiece of the front yard, is an “unlabeled” Japanese Maple, which I found at strader’s Nursery. As I browsed the store for interesting trees, an orange glow called to me from a row of plain, green maples! It has a unique orange “Fall” color at the tips of its branches, I look forward to watching this “blushing tree” mature.

Front bed, with Tiger Eyes SumacsOther newer plants of note in front are a “Silver Cloud” variegated Redbud, a contorted Filbert on a standard, and two “Tiger’s Eye” cutleaf Sumacs, and a “Golden Moon Glow” Japanese Maple. Each offers some ornamental leaf color and/or shape feature to add interest.

Back Yard

In 1990, the backyard had little landscaping. A huge, wooden “Jungle Gym” playhouse took up most of the back. It was surrounded by a sea of pea gravel. The soil was terrible, mostly limestone rubble and clay.

As you can see, much has taken place since then.Back Garden, whole, from roof

I resued some of the materials from the original backyard. For example, the floor of the vine covered gazebo way in back is the recycled platform of that old playhouse, used as it was. The pea gravel has been spread out among the flagstones of the patio and the driveway.

I recently removed a large, overgrown Blue Spruce from the back right corner. Replacing it is a Columnar Red Beech and a Bottlebrush Buckeye. The columnar Beech will eventually tower up to 60 feet, but will never grow wider than 10 feet. Therefore it will never interfere with the powerlines running along the back of the property. The Bottlebruch Buckeye will form a 10 foot mound in the back corner, covering the ugly chainlink fence. It’s summer flowers really look like bottle brushes.

Back, featuring the 3 structure plantsA mature Holly Tree near the garage is an orphan plant which had been discarded by a friend, and which had been chopped off to flatten it. It has come a long way in 16 years.

The tall, slim Hinoki Cypress (in the middle), the Holly Tree (on the left) and the Columnar Beech (in the back right), form the structural triangle of the back yard. The rest of the design is built around these plant bones, along with the “hardscape” elements of patio, gazebo and path.

Enjoy your stay, and please let me know if you have any questions.

Tinges of patriotism

fireworks 2, by tollerSCREAMI have to admit, I feel safe, so far, in my country. I feel privileged to have the freedom to express these feelings, both good and bad. And so far, I also feel safe with the occasional rebellious thought of burning an American flag. Like a kid, I know I won’t do it, if I have the possibility of doing it. But if it’s forbidden, I know, as an American, I’ll have to challenge that.

Though many people still judge me for being gay, most Americans have made progress in accepting me as a full and valid citizen, especially young people. I can’t blame some for not understanding everything about me. But I know if they met me, they wouldn’t think me so bad. If they feel safe in their discomfort with me, they might feel safe enough to admit I’m just another person just like them. And I know that someday they’ll want to encourage me to commit in marriage to the person I love, no matter who that is. They’ll be proud of themselves for accepting me as an equal. I know this will happen in this country.

I feel some pride to be in a country which tries its best to accept just about anyone, regardless of their religion or nationality. I understand many people’s fear that too many people will try to take advantage of this privilege. Who can blame them. At least in the USA we can rely on the common decency of most citizens to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Even if someone doesn’t fit in, we give them a shot. Though not if anyone’s beliefs involve hurting others.

I feel that my privacy is respected in general, at least in my neighborhood. If everyone can do their thing with out my interfering, then they’ll also leave me alone. Shouldn’t it be that way? For example, I don’t like the “God centered classrooms” sign in the neighbor’s yard two doors away. But I know they deserve the right to their view. I don’t think Americans will give up the “live and let live” policy easily. You can’t spy on one person with out all of us wondering if we’ll be next. I know we won’t let things get out of hand in the USA. We’ve come too far.

fireworks, by tollerSCREAMI’m enjoying hearing the loud thumping of huge fireworks in my neighborhood, which are being shot off despite the rainy weather. I like that we all can shout and explode a bit about how good we all have it in this country. And how most countries don’t even come close. Even when it’s gray and rainy, we know we have it darn good.

And then there’s my dear friend Orbella, who comes from Albania. She is truly enlightened in the ancient European ways of rich and solid culture, about morals and tradition. I respect her depth of understanding about the world. And she also knows about deprivation, having lived under communism. Yet, the other night she looked me straight in the eye and told me this is the most free country she can imagine living in. That makes me proud.

I think we have it pretty good. We’ll all somehow get through these troubling and doubtful times. We have to stick together and trust each other, and try to understand why some of us are afraid. Goodness knows we have many good reasons to be afraid. But I hope we can all see we shouldn’t fear or hate each other, no matter what our differences.

Our current administration wants to take advantage of our fears. Some of their tactics have worked pretty darn well. But I also know that most of us Americans are on to them now. We know in our guts we have to stick together. All of us. No matter what.

We have to listen, even when we don’t want to. We have to speak our minds, even when no one is listening. But we have to stick together, no matter what. That’s what being an American is all about.