Amy Ward Brimmer

mother daughter wife teacher writer dreamer sister worker seeker activist minister healer student human


Summer News Update -- Celebrate Independence!

Here's the latest news from Way Opens Center:

Happy Independence Day! Celebrate freedom from tyranny in all its forms. 


Heaven is Under Our Feet

     Thoreau said:  "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."  Walking yesterday and today I have been feeling this viscerally. I've covered about 12 miles between the two days, breaking in a new pair of shoes, experimenting with different layers of clothing and socks, trying to avoid blisters and learning how to treat the ones I get. (helpful information here about that) Spring is such a great time to take long walks, and it is stunningly gorgeous here in Bucks County, PA.  Blazing azaleas, pink and white dogwoods, irises and tulips blooming -- and green absolutely everywhere, in every shade.  William Penn knew a good thing when he saw one.

     I walk along the Delaware Canal, just two blocks from my house. It's a wonderful state park that runs from Bristol to Easton, and offers a beautiful setting for exercise year-round.  In spring one has to be aware of the geese who nest along its banks, and when I spot a sweet  goose family with its mama, papa, and fuzzy yellow goslings, I am cautious. These geese are hell bent on protecting their young ones and often hiss at me as I pass by; they will attack if they feel threatened.

     I have been considering how natural it is to want to protect the younger generation, how strong the survival instinct is in us, so much so that we would kill to stop any serious threat to our child.  Yet we don't fight for the planet on behalf of the next generations. How can we be more fierce on their behalf?

     Walking along a canal means having to turn around and come back the way you came.  Some fundamental part of me does not like this. I'd rather walk in a loop, I suppose.  There is something difficult psychologically about that moment where I turn around and start walking back, knowing that I am only halfway done. I almost always hear "only" halfway in my head, not "already" halfway. Luckily, it is also the point at which the endorphins usually kick in. I had actually forgotten about how fabulous endorphins are, as they flood my system after I have walked a few miles. I begin to feel sore or tired or bored or I tighten up and want to stop but there's nowhere to stop so I keep going, and then boom!--there's that nice "all-over" feeling, that sense of integration, in spite of how hard my muscles and bones are working. Then the walking does itself, and when I am walking along the canal I feel myself flowing, as the water is also very slowly drifting along.  F. M. Alexander said, "The right thing does itself," and, like William Penn, he was really on to something there.

     I thought of F.M. today when I encountered a local great blue heron. I have a special connection with this bird, since the first time we met. A few days after we moved here I went out for a walk, harboring grave doubts about what we had just done to our lives by leaving Brooklyn for Bucks. As I rounded a bend in the towpath, I came upon this heron standing on one leg and instantly realized why I had chosen to relocate. Today when I saw the heron on the path ahead, I slowed down, fearing I would scare it. But as I crept closer, the bird remained still, until I was mere inches away. Our eyes met and I watched as it quite deliberately and delicately raised one foot and stepped away like the world's most elegant dancer, its long neck a reminder of "up."

     Such diversity of life, such strength and beauty all around.  Careful stepping of the bird, former dinosaur. ancient eye, primal connection, reminder of the interconnectedness of everything, reminder that we ought to step carefully too.

     May I walk with a fierce protection for the web of life in my heart.  May I be grateful for Heaven under my feet.

I welcome your positive wishes, prayers, and good cheer for me and everyone with the Earth Quaker Action Team as we embark on the Green Walk for Jobs and Justice, this Monday, April 30.


Just Walking

Yesterday I facilitated a training that explored the application of Alexander Technique principles to the activity of walking.  I was leading this training as both a fundraiser and in preparation for the Green Walk for Jobs and Justice, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT)’s upcoming 16-day, 200-mile walking expedition from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to build support for our campaign to stop PNC Bank from financing mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. I will be one of the “Mountain Justice Walkers”, walking between 10 and 17 miles a day over several days.

Like most everyday movement, walking is something that we take for granted, and in doing so we simultaneously interfere with our innate ability to walk with power and ease. As I prepare for the Green Walk, I am feeling especially reliant upon Alexander Technique to keep me moving with ease and balance, and hopefully build up stamina and minimize injury.

Yesterday was a bit chilly with a steady, soaking rain. The plan was to walk 3 to 5 miles for about 2 hours in Center City Philadelphia, but as a group we agreed to cut that down to just under an hour and about 2.5 miles. It was like walking inside a rain cloud, and although not horribly windy or frigid, it wasn’t exactly pleasant. A ways into this soggy walking practice, I heard myself ask, “why am I doing this again?” and then, “how is this helping anyone?” In the same instant I recognized the part of myself that believes everything in life should always be nice and comfortable and pleasant. And another part that expects all endeavors to be a means to an end and not an end in themselves.

In any case, it seems like now, just one week before I begin the Green Walk, would be a good time to try and answer the question of why. 

Why I Am Walking
  1. Because I can’t sit idly by
  2. Because it will make me stronger in body and mind
  3. To put my conviction to the test
  4. To make a bold statement
  5. To bring attention to the plight of the communities and culture of Appalachia and all the people who are living with the effects of MTR
  6. To become closer to the Earth
  7. Because I want to slow down
  8. To promote Earth Quaker Action Team
  9. Because I am just so fricking sick and tired of corporate culture dominating everything everywhere
  10. Because it will be fun, joyful, empowering, instructive, and totally ridiculous
  11. Because I know a leading when one hits me upside the head
  12. To become a better organizer and teacher
  13.  To give me something to blog about
  14. To meet some Pennsylvania Quakers outside of Philadelphia
  15. I feel it is my Christian duty
  16. To move and be moved
  17. Because it’s better than sitting on my ever-widening ass and doing nothing
  18. To find out more about praying with my feet
  19. To soak up every bit of wisdom and know-how from George Lakey that I possibly can
  20. To be humbled
  21. To get in shape!!!
  22. Because it will be nothing but a completely focused and directed experience, the sort of opportunity that doesn’t come around too often. 
This Green Walk for Jobs and Justice is about restoring the balance in our economic, environmental, and spiritual systems, or establishing right relationship. I am so lucky that I get to do nothing but walk, step by step toward a clear and obtainable goal: to ask PNC Bank why it prefers to invest in destruction and degradation instead of clean, sustainable, prosperous communities.

The whole time I can just focus on my body. Eugene Gendlin said, “’Body’ means interaction with the situational environment. Even the simplest living bodies are complex and purposeful interactions with their environments.”  So in restoring the environment through cutting off the money supply currently funding its destruction, I am engaging in a “purposeful interaction”, mile by mile.  I know I will be restoring myself, my own bodymind, as I walk. 

I am so blessed to have this chance to work intimately with people I admire and respect.  Seeing this group come together in about 6 weeks to literally put this Green Walk on the map has been a lesson in the miraculous.  When we say “way opens” we are not kidding. People are really ready to be helpful, to join in and give their support in many ways. I think a lot of the time most of us are anxious and afraid, and any tangible, practical thing we can do somehow mitigates that, and feels good. The best part is, we’re actually not doing all that much. Certainly we’re challenging ourselves mentally and physically by walking, but essentially that is all we are doing. Just walking. And maybe connecting with our neighbors as we go. So it feels productive, and it is, but not in the usual way of our daily, multi-tasking selves running around trying to Get Stuff Done. 

There is a refreshing quality of honest and direct communication in the planning process that I have seen, amongst ourselves and also between EQAT representatives and the hospitality and activist contacts we’ve been calling statewide. It seems that even when people cannot accommodate a request, they have been generally supportive and their reasons for saying no almost always have to do with what is best for their congregation or community group. In explaining themselves, they reveal their values and contribute something of themselves even in the refusal. That feels like good politics to me. 

These are just 22 of the possibly hundreds of reasons I am joining the Green Walk for Jobs and Justice. I do hope I will have enough energy on the road to write short, frequent posts on this blog.  Meanwhile, I welcome your comments. 

Why are you joining the Green Walk? If you want to but can’t, why would you want to?

What messages should we bring to James Rohr, CEO of PNC Bank, when we get to Pittsburgh?

Stay tuned.


Alexander Technique & Activism

Here is a link to the interview I mentioned in my last blog post, about Alexander Technique and Nonviolent Direct Action.
Thanks to Robert Rickover for producing these interesting and lively discussions about Alexander work. Robert is also responsible for the comprehensive website The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique.
Enjoy all these resources for ease of well-being.
And remember to think up when you speak up.

Me and my big mouth, at an EQAT action in December.


What is the Alexander Technique?

Recently I was asked to provide a brief definition or description of the Alexander Technique for an interview I was giving. This is always such a challenge, because the work needs to be directly experienced to be understood. However, I am rather pleased with the following, and I hope it helps you understand what AT is and does.  If you want to find out more, contact me -- -- or find another Alexander teacher -- or

The Alexander Technique is a way of learning to move mindfully through life. The Alexander process shines a light on inefficient habits of movement and patterns of accumulated tension, which interfere with our innate ability to move easily and according to how we are designed. It’s a simple yet powerful approach that offers the opportunity to take charge of one’s own learning and healing process, because it’s not a series of passive treatments but an active exploration that changes the way one thinks and responds in activity.  It produces a skill set that can be applied in every situation.  Lessons leave one feeling lighter, freer, and more grounded.

That’s vitally important in the modern culture we live in. It is so easy to become overwhelmed by the constant barrage of information and other stimuli coming at us every day, and so we shut down and get disconnected -- from ourselves and from one another. Alexander Technique is the work that reintegrates. It is a completely sustainable approach to living.


One After the Other, All At Once

As you may recall from my 2011 New Year's post, I don't much like resolutions, at this time of year or any other, especially when they involve "improving" oneself. I think we're all okay as is, that we each have more than enough within us to meet the demands of life. We're resilient. We contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman said. 

Nevertheless, we are continually either growing or stagnating. If you prefer evolution to entropy it is vital to keep learning more and more about your self, how you relate to that self, and how that self relates to the environment and those with whom you share it. This doesn't necessarily require learning a new skill; it might mean strengthening a skill you already possess or adapting a well-known skill to a new purpose.

For 2012 I am reviving a discipline I had going about ten years ago, when I was teaching Alexander Technique to groups of graduate students in MFA programs, first for opera singers then for actors. I nearly always began each class with a 20-30 minute warm-up, which stretched muscles, opened joints, got people breathing fully, and unified mind and body (at least for a few minutes at a time). After that we could really get down to work (or play).

I have become much less physically active than I was in those years, and while I do manage to find time once or twice a week for exercise, I don't do it every day, and so I need something to keep my bodymind in shape and centered. As with sitting meditation, consistent practice is essential.

So I now get up one half-hour earlier than I used to, grab my yoga mat, and begin the sequence I taught 3 or 4 times a week when I was teaching groups.  It feels really good to be moving in this familiar way once again. Plus, rather than having to split my focus and track my students as we do it together, I have the freedom to pay full attention to myself as I slowly wake up through movement.

That's the nice part. Here's the not-so-wonderful thing: I am ten years older. That's ten years of an increasingly sedentary existence. That's the difference between age 40 and 50. I knew I would not be as flexible and that in some ways my body would resist even as it hungered and thirsted for the stretching and the lifting and the balancing and the deep breathing. Yet I was surprised -- shocked, even -- to discover how simultaneously stiff and flabby I have become. In both body and mind. 

All I can say is, it's a good thing I don't talk to my students the way I talk to myself. 

There is the notion in Alexander world, and in some yoga traditions, that we bring our most prominent habits into every activity.  In my case, the very first habit I noticed on Day One was my mental/emotional habit of negatively judging myself.  All the time. No matter what. Despite any reality to the contrary.

Thus, as I began my first few mintes of stretching, grounding, and centering (which was going pretty well, by the way) I heard,
          Boy, are you out of shape!
          You call yourself an Alexander teacher?
          Who do you think you're fooling?  You are fat and old and doing this won't change that.
          This is pointless. 
          (and a bunch of other really mean things.)

Luckily, as I heard myself say "pointless," I stopped and took half a second to consider whether or not that was true. I instantly concluded that even if it would not change how I looked, it would certainly change how I feel, because even five minutes into it I was feeling my energy rising and I like that feeling.  So, not pointless at all.

How could I stop the inner critic, or at least detach from it? Mindfulness has taught me to always return to the breath, so I did that.  And as I did, I remembered something I learned more than 20 years ago at Kripalu Center, where I often visited once upon a time. Some of the yoga teachers there were heavy into holding yoga poses for long periods of time. Maybe that's characteristic of "Kripalu style" yoga, I don't know, but man, we maintained those poses for hours ! Okay, it was only a few minutes. But it felt like hours, and so the teachers gave us a strategy for being with the challenge of  lengthy posture-holding:
In my experience, few procedures, mantras, or advices have worked as well or as consistently in as many different situations as these five words have. I cannot recall a time when I applied them and they did not help at least a little. Usually a lot.

When I practice this simple method I change the word "relax" to "release" because that fits better with my Alexander work and my own sense of what needs to happen. I don't think it's possible, or even optimal, to relax in many circumstances, but it is always possible and beneficial to release whatever I might be holding unnecessarily, or however I might be efforting too much.

Here's a description of how it has been working for me this week as I renew the discipline of my morning warm-up. When I'm stretching my hamstrings, for example, and they start to scream and my lower back starts to burn and my mind begins to give unhelpful advice like, "be afraid, be very afraid," I breathe as fully and deeply as I can without effort. I notice as my breathing deepens that I'm gripping my shoulders a little and furrowing my brow and clenching my jaw ever so slightly. So I release that, and it moves me more fully into the stretch. That increases bodily sensation, so I feel what arises as I let go. If it's a particularly intense feeling, maybe one I'm not too fond of, that's okay, because the next step is to observe what is actually happening, and not get too caught up in the feeling. Just noticing what is occuring in any given moment is truly liberating, especially if it can be done without judgment. So I make the choice to allow it to be however it is. That includes my dislike of my inflexible hamstrings and whatever else I'm judging. 

It also opens up space for me to notice that I'm hanging in there, showing up for my warm-up (and my life), waking up to the amazing psychophysical structure I call my body, which moves in wonderful ways and provides strength and support and balance if I let it. My negative self-talk won't let it, so I really love having an effective strategy for bypassing my inner critic.

The most interesting thing about this process that I've just attempted to describe is that, like the classic Alexander Technique "orders" it works best when I apply all five words one after the other, yet all at the same time. It's a fun little mystery to me: how important it is to breathe, release, feel, observe, and allow -- in that order -- and to keep cycling through all five in any given moment.

It is difficult to describe in words, like all the really truthful and important things in my life. The list above makes it seems linear, and it is not. Represented graphically, the process looks more like this:

where each circle contains the whole sequence of five. Or maybe it's more like a spiral:

In the coming weeks I will write more about my experience of transforming my stiff and flabby bodymind into something more responsive and alive. Meanwhile, when you find yourself in a challenging, difficult, or painful situation (whether by conscious choice or not), test this process. See what happens when you breathe, release, feel, observe, and allow.

One after the other and all at once.