Amy Ward Brimmer

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


November Days of Thanksgiving

November was my month of gratitude, where I posted something I am thankful for nearly every day on Facebook. It was a great experiment and I enjoyed being grateful for everything I could think of, from people, to places, to fundamental elements, and so many other things.

Here's the list I created, with the number of "likes" each post received. I'm sure it depended on which day I was posting, and the time of day, but some posts got a lot more likes than others. Friends education got the fewest likes, and I'm happy to report that my expression of gratitude for my husband David got the most, by far. (Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert came in second!).

What are you thankful for? Meister Eckhart said, "If the only prayer you ever said in your life was 'thank you,' that would suffice." It's been my experience that saying this simple prayer every day has a huge impact on the quality of living. And I'm grateful for that.

November Days of Thankfulness

Thankful today for my family, especially the wonderful visit this weekend from Caitlin and her boyfriend Drew. Also good times with Rachel and her BFF Julie. Food in the oven, fire in the fireplace, deepening mindfulness, and an interview about the AT on the horizon. SO grateful. (9)

Thankful for dawn light this morning as I arose (no more pitch black at 6 am!) and the gold and red leaves that surround me. (8)

Thankful today for the learning and teaching process, this miracle of intimate sharing between people. Thank you Alexis Martin for trusting me with your growth and for keeping me on my growing edge. (7)

Today I am thankful for the body's ability to heal. I am grateful for bodymind unity and inherent wellness, for organic resilience. (15)

Today's thanks goes to mail carriers, delivery people, waitresses, truck drivers, janitors, and all workers everywhere who do the basic tasks that keep our everyday lives functional. (9)

Today I am thankful for my little red car. It's 12 years old with over 100K miles and still runs just fine. It was free, given to us by David's mom when she could no longer drive, and although it is not the car I would have chosen, it serves me well. If you have reliable transportation, be grateful. (15)

Today's thing I am thankful for: My freedom to choose. I have a lot of liberty, both socio-politically, and -- most importantly -- psycho-spiritually. I can choose my reality to a great extent. I often forget this, so today I'm thankful to remember it. Namaste. (8)

Today I am thankful for the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). No really. (18)

Today I am grateful for WATER. For access to clean, potable water and reliable plumbing, I give thanks. Water is remarkable. It's the only substance that occurs naturally as a solid (ice), a liquid and a gas (water vapor). It's basic and it's something which all living things have a right to. (6)

On 11.12.13 I am thankful for [drum roll please]... the aging process! Yes, it's true. Getting older is a good thing. Even though it's often the reason for my complaints, and some aspects of it can be hard to accept (sagging skin, flabby tummy, arthritis), just consider the alternative. (8)

Today I am thankful for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, as proof that civilization isn't completely dead yet. (22)

Thankful for the kind of sunsets we get in the northeast in November. Tonight's was simply spectacular.  (6)

Late-breaking thankfulness: Friends education, specifically George School. (4)

Today's thing to be grateful for: naps! (13)

Thankful Day #17: I am incredibly grateful to have served for two years as Clerk of Bucks Quarter, Rel. Society of Friends (Quaker). I learned so much, met many new Friends and deepened relationships with old ones. This would not have been possible without the expert leadership of Holly DiMicco Olson, Coordinator extraordinaire, and the able assistance of Boris Simkovich, our new incoming Clerk. (And, tbh, I'm thankful to be finished!) (17)

Today I am thankful that I can read and write, and that some people can write very well indeed, and I can read what they write and enjoy it. (14)

Thankful for silence, and the ability from an early age to be able to spend time alone with myself, to find nurture in quiet solitude. (19)

Thankful for BREAKFAST!!! The best meal of the day. (4)

Today I am thankful for forgiveness and for my ability to forgive. (9)

I'm thankful for television. That's right. TV. The vast wasteland. The idiot box. Yep. (11)

I'm so thankful for FIRE and a lovely fireplace in my home. My whole childhood I wished we had a fireplace. I thought well-off people had fireplaces, it seemed like a sign of stability. So here's to being stable and well-off (more or less)! (24)

Thankful for my dad, Robert Ward. Thankful that I can feel grateful for him. (8)

I missed my daily post of thankfulness yesterday. So today I am grateful for two things: 1. Knowing the Alexander Technique and being able to teach it to others. 2. Being part of the Alexander community and having wonderful colleagues who respect and support me. (12)

Thankful that Caitlin is home for the long weekend! (13)

Gratitude on Thanksgiving Day for my growing ability to follow the way as it opens, no matter what. May we all become more available to meet life on life's terms, to be human in our guest house. Namaste. (11)

Today's thing to be thankful for: A new bed!!! My lower back is most grateful of all.  (12)

Thankful beyond words for my amazing husband, J. David Brimmer. He is kind, compassionate, intelligent, creative, a great father, a hard worker and wonderful provider, and in my case, truly my "better half." (45)


Contracting and Expanding

My intention today is to write about our habitual resistance to reality as it arises, moment to moment.  I have been planning this post for a few days, making notes, adding thoughts, imagining it in odd moments of reverie. I was inspired by a series of teachings given by Pema Chodron at Omega last May, entitled "The Marks of Our Existence."

Pema reminds us that life is fluid, dynamic, and always shifting. Ultimately, this is very good news, but we have been conditioned to expect reality to be solid, fixed, and predictable. The essential groundlessness of our existence frightens us, or at best, takes us by surprise, and when that happens, we react by resisting. You don't get what you want, or you get something you don't want. People don't do what they say they will, or they do things you wish they wouldn't. We get worked up or hooked in, we collapse and cave in, we pull back, push away, or grasp at some aspect of what is happening at any given moment. These reactions are experienced physically and mentally as tension. Habitual, unconscious resistance shows up in the body-mind as contraction.

So this morning I sat down at my desk with great enthusiasm to wax eloquent on this topic of contraction and what to do about it.  Then, of course, one thing after another just kept arising, preventing me from getting a start on my writing.  Some of these interruptions were positive, some neutral, and one was very annoying indeed.

My plan was to finish before noon, because I had agreed to take my husband to the hospital for a minor procedure, which required him to have someone drive him home afterward.  I was struggling inwardly as we arrived on time for his appointment, troubled that I had not even begun to write.  I hoped I could drop him off, go home for an hour, and get going on it already. When we inquired, we were told they'd call for him in about 15 minutes and the procedure would only take about 15 minutes, so we decided I should just stick around. Sounded good to me.

You know where this story is going, right?

A half hour later, when they still had not come for him, I decided to have lunch in the cafeteria. In an attempt to cultivate patience, I took my time, used the meal as a chance to practice mindful eating, and returned after about 30 minutes. David was still sitting there.

I won't recount the details of the next part except to say that I did indeed contract.  Like most of us, I am very good at resisting what life throws my way, and I do it regularly. When they finally came to get him, I decided to sit outside in the hospital's meditation garden, and recognized the irony of being resistant to the fact that I was delayed in writing a blog post about resistance. I was able to smile at myself and feel grateful for irony, which is so often my teacher.

Contraction is an opportunity for mindfulness. The practice is simple: when you are contracting, notice it, and then expand. Don't judge yourself for contracting, or even try to stop it. Just contact the contraction, and find a way to open to it, to bring about expansion. This is a core principle of the Alexander Technique, which provides a method for restoring balance and poise to the way we use ourselves in activity.
Closing down and opening up.

There are some tried-and-true ways to expand when we are contracting, including:
  1. Open up physically.  Spread your arms out wide and take a big, deep breath. You might not be able to do this in all social situations.
  2. Smile. It has to be a legitimate smile, not a phony, mask-like thing. (This worked wonders for me today, even though it was kind of rueful.)  Thich Nhat Hanh teaches "thinking a smile" and so do many Alexander teachers.
  3. Speaking of the AT, expansion can happen when you readjust how you're sitting or standing, to allow your spine to lengthen into its full integrity of support.  Notice how your shoulders let go and your breath expands when you do this.
  4. Open your sense perceptions. Really see, hear, smell, or feel your body weight in space.  
  5. Exaggerate the contraction, then release it.  Some people need to do this because they cannot feel expansion otherwise. It helps to make the tightness even tighter, and then follow the outward direction as the tension releases.
  6. Extend kindness to yourself. The resistance is a fear reaction to the reality of our constantly shifting, fluid, and groundless life. It is universal and very fundamental for most of us. Instead of being hard on yourself or indulging in the critical inner voice, why not be kind? Pema's teacher used to say, “Place the fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness.”
Notice the many strategies you have for resisting life, and contact contraction as it happens.  Choose to expand instead.  Practice this and see what happens.


Welcome to Moving Into Mindfulness

It's time to reorganize and redefine.  This blog, formerly known as Way Opens, is now called Moving Into Mindfulness.  I have changed the title to reflect the new project I am developing of the same name.  I want to separate this ministry -- and I now accept that it is a ministry to which I am called -- from my professional website, Way Opens Center.  The companion blog on that website is specifically about topics in the Alexander Technique and the other somatic energy healing work I do.

Moving Into Mindfulness gives me more latitude to write about my adventures in mindfulness practice, what I am exploring spiritually, and in all other areas of my life. I'll post more personal reflections, stories, dreams, memories, fears, joys, and questions.  Lots of questions.

I hope you will follow me on both blogs, and I hope you will support my Alexander bodywork practice by becoming a client and sending your friends to me, too.  I do need to make a living, after all.  I am entering a period of uncertainty about my so-called career, and I actually don't know at this moment what I will be doing to earn a living.  Will it be in addition to Way Opens Center or instead of it?  Will I have one full time job with benefits or many consulting gigs?  Will I become a barrista at Starbucks or work the checkout line at the local grocery store?  I don't know the answer to that today.

What I do know is that I have turned a corner somewhere. I do believe that my Moving Into Mindfulness project is a response to a call, and I am excited about developing a workshop and series of classes that I plan to start offering as soon as possible. So I am stepping out in faith, knowing that if I stay open to life as it arises and practice accepting life on its own terms, interesting opportunities will present themselves.

I am held, as we Quakers like to say.  I am not worrying about what I will eat or what I will wear or how I will pay my mortgage (to paraphrase Jesus).  I invite you to follow my writing. Looks like it might be an interesting adventure!


Fasting Like a Fool

Today is April Fools Day, known among environmentalists as Fossil Fools Day.

It is also the first of three Mondays on which I will be fasting, as part of Earth Quaker Action Team's 40 Day Fast.
When I signed up to participate in the fast, I shared this:

I am choosing to fast for three consecutive Mondays, from midnight to midnight.  My motivation to fast is to clear myself of anything unnecessary so that I may become lighter, stronger, and more prepared to participate in our direct action on April 23 in Pittsburgh. Having just returned from traveling in Appalachia and meeting with our activist allies there, I am more passionate than ever about the need to convince PNC Bank to cease financing the destruction of nature and communities, and instead to use that capital to invest in alternative, sustainable economic opportunities.  In that way, we can slow the advance of extreme climate disruption and end generations of systemic oppression.

I awoke this morning a bit earlier than usual, and noticed that I was already pretty hungry.  Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and in spite of preparing myself to face a morning without coffee, I felt a little deprived. Then I realized that I was 6  hours into my fast already--25% done! That helped, so I went about my day as usual. After meditation and a little stretching, I sat down at my desk to work.

Now I am more than halfway though the 24 hours of fasting, and I have worked for 6 hours straight without much of a break, except to get water or pee.  That is no way to live, whether you're eating or not.  In fact, it's downright foolish.

Why do we push ourselves beyond sustainable limits, ignoring the signals to stop? In the Alexander Technique this is known as "endgaining," using ourselves in an unconscious way, pushing for some outcome at the expense of ease and well-being. Endgaining is frequently justified in the name of "efficiency," but as a way of operating it could not be less efficient, because it wears down a person (or a system or a community), and the outcome is attained poorly or not at all.

Instead, Alexander (and many other wise ones) taught about paying attention to the "means whereby" something is done.  What are the necessary steps to arriving at a destination?  How does each step emerge from the previous one and build upon the next one?  When cultivating this kind of awareness, whether in moving through the day or in building a movement, it becomes readily apparent that no one step is more important than another. Because of this, the destination itself is contained in each step, here and now, while at the same time the entire journey can be considered.

That is not what we've been taught, it goes against our conditioning. We don't want to pay attention to each moment or task within a process, we just want to get there, be done with the job, grab the reward, cross the finish line, move on to the next thing. Endgaining tricks us into thinking that if we just work harder, do more of what we've been doing, we'll succeed. The truth is, by ignoring our present moment awareness and fixating on an end, we are apt to miss the cues that give us vital information about what's up ahead, and so we gain less or miss the mark completely.

Banks like PNC that keep investing in mountaintop removal coal mining (and fossil fuels in general) are master practitioners of endgaining.  I have been so surprised at how shortsighted these financial groups are. They seem to think there's an unlimited supply of coal (or oil and gas), and if they just find more aggressive ways to extract these natural resources -- blow up mountains, drill in the arctic, inject dangerous chemicals into unstable shale fields -- our energy problems will be solved.  Not that they care a whole lot about responsible energy use, extreme climate disruption, or the crushing poverty that results from generations of an oppressive mono-economy (King Coal).  No, as long as there's a profit in it for them, it's head down, charge forward, grab what you can as fast as you can. The goldrush mentality.

PNC is the ultimate fossil fool, because they choose to ignore the facts: coal is dying, burning coal is killing us and the planet we share, and to invest in mountaintop removal is to invest in the slow death of the people of Appalachia. There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that alternative and sustainable economies can restore the health and well-being of the land and the people. But PNC hates mountains, it profits from their destruction.

EQAT activist Eileen Flanagan posted this comment today on Facebook, and it could not be more apt:
My grandfather trained as a blacksmith in Ireland before he immigrated to Philadelphia at the dawn of the 20th Century. He set up a successful business shoeing horses and trained his two sons in the trade, though he could see that many of his wealthy clients were switching to cars, so he had my Uncle Joe study auto mechanics, too, so they could keep their customers through the transition. Too bad the fossil fuel companies aren’t as smart as my grandpa who had a Fourth Grade education.

Eileen's grandfather was smart in the best sense -- he saw what was coming, and could respond. Too bad PNC's not smart like that. They could be investing in a sustainable future for everyone, not selfishly financing the destruction of the planet for the temporary enrichment of the 1%. But the "means whereby" doesn't interest them, they are too busy endgaining. 

So I am fasting today in solidarity with all those who are beginning to wake up to the fact that we are a part of the web of life and want to start behaving accordingly. I am cultivating a sense of compassion for myself and all of us, who are noticing that the way you do something is the most important factor in accomplishing any desired outcome.

Next week:  It's the Buddha's birthday! I'll be fasting again and posting more specific stories about what I am learning about the fine folks in Appalachia.


25 Spiritually Significant Movies

You know how Jesus, and Gandhi, and loads of other master teachers used stories to teach?  Well, clearly movies have the potential to do the same.  Here, in a very limited and incomplete way, are some films that have pointed to deep spiritual truths for me.  These are not necessarily stories about spiritual people or subjects, per se.  They just resonate with my own spiritual search, and have done so consistently after several viewings.
What movies have shown you your spiritual truths? Please share.

I've included comments on the first 11.  I'll say more about the others in a subsequent post.

Groundhog Day
                Although mine is not a ranked list, this is first for a reason.  What a perfect movie. Don’t be fooled by its mainstream comedy veneer.  That’s just what got it greenlighted. Harold Ramis has created a modern masterpiece that takes complex Buddhist theology and explores it in a literal way.  With a last line that rivals the one in “Casablanca.”

Jacob’s Ladder
                More or less tied with Groundhog Day for #1, except it’s just harder to take. I can watch GD any time, but this one I have to gear myself up for.  Deeply upsetting much of the time, this movie may nevertheless have the most hopeful ending ever. Directed by Adrian Lynne with a flawless script by Bruce Joel Rubin, who later took a similar concept and wrote a mainstream movie that Hollywood could love (Ghost).  Jacob’s Ladder comes as close to describing spiritual reality as I can bring myself to accept. Danny Aiello wins for best supporting chiropractor/angel. “Just relax. This is a deep adjustment.”

Stand By Me
                Generally seen as a coming-of-age story, this one is more than that.  Essentially it is about following a leading, and bringing along a support group as you satisfy your need to face death. An exploration of the tension between beauty and decay, love and cruelty, social circumstance and personal power. I adore Stephen King, arguably the most spiritual popular storyteller of our generation.

The Shawshank Redemption
                The other King-based film on my list.  Is there anyone who has not seen this? It’s on TV every single day, just about. Also the other Tim Robbins movie. I won’t insult you by outlining the spiritual metaphor of unjust imprisonment and the liberation that can result from a daily discipline of chipping away at the barriers, literally. Oh wait, I just did.

I Heart Huckabees
                Is spiritual growth funny? Hells yeah! And wouldn’t it be terrific if all our teachers could be Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
                Oh *sigh*.  I’m not sure this one qualifies as a spiritual movie exactly, but it certainly touches on themes of timelessness and the enduring qualities of love. And it stars Jim Carrey, who most people do not recognize as a modern-day mystic.  I know he seems like a movie star, and God knows I’m baffled by the productions he chooses to do, but this man is waaay enlightened. And so in Eternal Sunshine, he gives us the vehicle to follow the thought we’ve all had about ex-lovers: I wish I could just erase you from memory. What happens when there is no more story? Who are we then?

The Matrix
                What if I told you…  I usually hate this kind of futuristic, sci-fi genre?  I discovered The Matrix one day when I was sick in bed and surfing for something to watch.  Surprise! Waking up to reality can be fun!  In spite of predictable plots and characters, I am not immune to entertaining movie-making. Plus, for all I know, it could be true.

American Beauty
                Unlike The Matrix, this story was full of surprises the first time I saw it, while at the same time clearly moving toward an inevitable conclusion. Just like life as a human.  Every time I see a plastic bag wafting in the wind, I feel connected to everything. And nothing.

Crimes and Misdemeanors
                Woody’s masterpiece, IMHO. People get away with murder, and worse, every day.  Who sees?  If there's no G-d, why behave in a moral way? An attempt to answer the question, "how can you live with yourself?"

It’s A Wonderful Life
                Every single person matters. Nothing we do is meaningless. Corny but true. Also, women who don't get married end up as the town librarian and need glasses.

Jesus of Nazareth / The Greatest Story Ever Told
                Two totally different movies based on the same myth.  I lump them together unfairly, I know.  But they air during the same week or month each year, and they both have a blue-eyed Jesus. Only one, however, has Max von Sydow asking Michael York to “Bap-tize me John,” in a Swedish accent. And only one has John Wayne confessing, “Truly this man was the son-o-God.”

And, for comment later:
The Sixth Sense
Harold and Maude
Being There
The Hours
Angels in America
2001: A Space Odyssey
Wings of Desire
My Dinner With Andre
O Brother Where Art Thou?
Pulp Fiction
84 Charing Cross Road




30 Days of Constructive Rest

My friend and colleague (and website designer) Imogen Ragone, is conducting a wonderful experiment in the power of Constructive Rest.  I have decided to join her in this 30-day challenge.  I want to deepen my understanding of this simple procedure for “doing nothing” – yet gaining everything. Taking 10-20 minutes a day in semi-supine can have revolutionary, life-enhancing benefits, including:

  • an increased ability to remain calm under stress
  • natural realignment of the body
  • clarity of thought and improved ability to focus
  • more ease and balance in movement
  • improved, healthier sleep cycles
I invite you to join me in this daily experience of self-care.  The most challenging thing about it is committing to give yourself that few minutes a day.  I’ll be sharing what I’m learning with regular blog posts here. I’d love to hear what you’re discovering too, so please leave your comments, and start following me if you aren't already.

The link is above and also here:

Imogen provides full and clear instructions about how to engage in the Constructive Rest process.  Of course, the best way to learn is by coming to see me for an Alexander lesson!  Constructive Rest with hands-on guidance? All I can say is, aaahhhh…

I’m teaching from my home studio in Yardley, or I can come to your home or office.  Give me a call at 215-493-1313, or email