Mind-Body Connection, Pt. 2: The Morning Sitting
"Life without the morning sitting is like trying to walk without legs. This is the beginning, the foundation, of strengthening personal presence. If we are absent, then life is all stuff. Nothing real happens;" ~ Robert Fripp
"And so each venture Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate With shabby equipment always deteriorating... ~ TS Eliot
PREAMBLE: This is part of an ongoing series which deals with those physical-mental practices that have influenced me in a positive way and have helped me greatly with back/arm issues. One of the meditation-like practices I have learned is called the morning sitting. This is an extension of Alexander Technique (abbreviated AT) which we shall go into further depth in the next entry of this series.
How did you learn about this?
It was February 2008 and there was a blizzard atop Snowshoe Mountain. The trip up had been a beautiful, sunny winter drive up I-79, but once reaching the outskirts of Snowshoe, it was like entering a Stephen King novel. Up the winding mountain road, fog and a blinding snowstorm slowed driving to a crawl. Petrified by the inability to see the road more than a foot or two ahead, an angel of mercy must have led me to the fog-enshrouded "village" where the course was to take place.
It was a fitting beginning to a very intense four days with Robert Fripp and his students in what is referred to as Guitar Craft (Herein and henceforth abbreviated as GC). It is beyond the scope of this post to go into all the details of this course, but Mr. Fripp has an online diary which presents his perspective. Also, Guitar Craft has many defined terms (i.e. Guitar Craft, the morning sitting, etc.) on their website.
After dinner, we all descended to the basement and people were asked to share some brief biographical details and their goals for the course. Then Robert introduced us to the magical morning sitting. While the snow swirled and the wind howled outside, these 20 souls, 7 staff and 12 participants, listened in complete stillness as Robert lead us through this phenomenal exercise.
I became lost in a tangible silence. Silence was not the absence of talking, but a presence. A thick silence - a silence that is not emptiness, but is filled with a something. Something which defies words. From whence comes this silence? Was it our souls in communion? I don't know.
All else faded away. Sitting in the room with us was not the world famous guitarist. All were equal, all were not one (as the cliché goes), all simply were.
Sounds like big stuff, yes? It is and yet it is practical. There is no mysticism, philosophy, religion here, but rather an awakening to ourselves in a way we never knew existed or was possible.
I began my morning sitting soon after that 2008 course, but my practice was rather spotty. I was on-off again for a while, but eventually it became part of my morning routine. At first, it's an exercise in sitting still. I recently told a friend that, before he played a sound on his drum kit, to sit perfectly still for 15 minutes. His reply:"15 minutes? I don't think I can lay still 15 minutes when I'm sleeping."
What is this morning sitting business?
To be brief, it is a way of training the attention to be where we want it to be instead of it wandering hither and dither. It also sensitizes us to to our bodies, specifically our muscles so that we recognize unnecessary tension when we play an instrument or in any other activity of our lives. Over time, we can recognize the sharpening of this sensitivity as our morning sitting practice deepens. With more time and practice, an unexpected richness unfolds.
Why not just tell us what you do if it's so practical?
Because it has to be experienced. I do not feel at all qualified to speak on this as much as those whose practice is much richer than mine. I was taught by Robert Fripp who studied with John G. Bennett who studied with George Gurdjieff. I have also taken guitar lessons with Tony Geballe, a long-time GC and AT student, and have discussed his approach to the morning sitting.
I will share what I know only by request. Send an email to (after you removed the underscores) jlange_@_wvpublic_.org.
Why do I need all this?
You may not. I do. We seem to inhabit a world that cannot shut off and must be habitually filled with noise, noise and more noise. There is no down time, nor time to refresh mind, body and soul. We must be doing something at every moment or we are wasting our lives.
That is precisely the problem. We have no "off" switch. Our minds are turbulent, grinding, repetition machines creating a mental noise which is non-stop. If the noise would stop, would we like what we would find? Who is inhabiting the being I refer to as "me"?
If this labyrinth of philosophy becomes too circular, consider it this way: because we have no "off" mode, our "on" mode is fatigued and lacks focus. No clear distinction between the focus of attention and relaxation diminishes both.
What then do we do to learn how to shut off? To be able to control our attention before the next commercial break, phone call, Facebook, text, ad nauseam?
Turns out that there are teachers who can help us.
Next: Interview with Sandra Bain Cushman - The Alexander Technique.