Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back to Basics -- A Non-Buddhist Prayer




Discovering Dogen's vital art, FM saw the place to start: "The neck releases," FM said, with hand on heart, and hand on head.

Head then heart? Or heart then head? Without either, I'd be dead.

Still more, when ears and shoulders part, and double spirals spread, the bowels and pelvis play their part, and thus the whole is fed.

That's why, in healing head and heart, we chew brown rice and munch French bread.

Thank God for guts, to step ahead, or take the backward step instead.

6 Comments:

Blogger Will said...

What a wonderful "mash-up". Big smile on this old face. Reminds me of our old friend, that great source of wonder, Dr. Seuss.

"Thank God for guts, to step ahead, or take the backward step instead."

2:39 PM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Will.

I think my mother, who taught English and Latin, did read Dr Seuss to me when I was a child. And I seem to remember reading to my brother, who is eight years younger than me, something about a cat who sat in a hat.

My mother's mother, when I visited her shortly before her death, said to me just as I was opening the door to leave, "Remember you were loved."

So I was fortunate to be brought up in quite a loving family. But in my early 20s, when I started studying so-called "real Buddhism," and started end-gaining strongly for what I felt to be the right posture, I experienced a very unwholesome disconnect between my heart and my head.

FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow, when I met her in my mid-30s, seemed to understand very well the mess that I had got myself into, and she seemed to understand very clearly a means-whereby I might go about redeeming myself -- i.e. going back in the direction of being one piece again.

It would be great if I could cause others who aspire to the Buddha's enlightenment to learn from my example -- to understand how, by my end-gaining, by not clearly understanding what the backward step involved, I went very wrong.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Mike Doe said...

I really like this picture. I presume that the bloke is FM Alexander.

Just looking at how he is standing you can see how balanced he is, how relaxed his body is and just how his weight is distributed throughout his body onto his feet.

It really does [I think] help to illustrate what he was trying to teach.

His pose and the woman's are quite different in substance.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Will said...

Mike, you are blessed to have such wonderful memories of your family. Thank you for sharing them. They have stirred my heart. When a stone is dropped in a still pond, the ripples grow and grow, preceptively and unpreceptively.

Please tell us more about what you mean by 'end-gaining'.

2:45 PM  
Blogger HezB said...

Howaya, Mike.

Hope you and your family have a great Christmas hollers.

Regards,

Harry.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you for the above comments.

Marjory Barlow used to live in an upstairs flat, 5b Wadham Gardens, in the leafy London borough of Hampstead. I would motorcyle down there from Aylesbury. It was a long way to go for a bit of nothing, a bit of non-endgaining. Generally she would teach four half-hour lessons in the morning, and I would be the last one. Sometimes I would go in with the person before me and spend half an hour in her hall/waiting room downstairs, quietening down after the bike ride.

The main part of my lessons with Marjory consisted of Marjory instructing me to move out a leg, while I was lying on her teaching couch with my knees bent. That was the end she set me to gain -- a stretched out leg. My job was to inhibit my desire to gain the end, to root out and give up any idea of gaining the end -- and yet, eventually, to go ahead and gain the end, to move out the leg. The longer I waited, the more thinking work I did, between receiving the stimulus and moving the leg, the better Marjory seemed to like it. "That's it!" she would say, "It always pays to wait."

By the end of the morning Marjory was often tired, but when she was less so we sometimes sat together in silence for a while after the lesson. Marjory had done plenty of vipassana sitting retreats when she was younger, under a Thai teacher called (if I can remember the spelling) Dhiravamsa.

Although by the time I met Marjory she was already in her eighties and quite frail, she retained a feisty voice that could travel, and a childlike wonder and enthusiasm for her uncle's work.

I would often express to Marjory my anxiety about where my life was, or seemed not to be, going. In response, Marjory would say that this work is a kind of growth process, that can't be hurried.

She would invariably talk me through the Alexander directions, as if she herself were listening to them for the first time: "Free your neck. That's it -- you can't do it. Head forward and up. Back to lengthen... and.... widen! Left knee up to the ceiling, right knee up the ceiling... the whole body informed with thought.... as you move your right leg out...." and so on.

Sometimes she would say: "Neck to release, head forward and up, back to lengthen and widen... Those directions will take you where you want to go."

It is only very recently that I realized that this was not only Marjory parroting the Alexander directions -- it was Marjory's delayed answer to my earlier anxious question about where my life was going.

Once on my way up the three flights of stairs to Marjory's teaching room, I heard the old widow of eighty-odd years exclaim, in a voice of girlish enthusiasm, "Lucky me!"

Later that day, to help me not forget the moment, I wrote the following verse:

From downstairs I hear "Lucky me!"
And start letting baggage go.
The wisdom of the indirect
Has more power than we know.

11:15 AM  

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